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International Socialism, Winter 1960/61


Notes of the Quarter

2. Russia and China


From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, pp.2-4.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Differences of emphasis are one thing, but when they reach the proportions they have done in the recent Russian-Chinese altercation on matters as fundamental as nuclear war and colonial struggles, it is clear that ‘comradeship’ and ‘common interests’ have taken on an unfamiliar ring.

It is well worth recording the intensity of conflict. Speaking at Vladivostok on 8 October last year, Khrushchev [1] made it clear that ‘Only an irresponsible person can be fearless of war in our days’. Four months later, on 11 February this year he told the Indian Parliament: ‘let us not approach the matter commercially and figure out the losses this or the other side would sustain. War would be a calamity for all the peoples of the world’. He repeated the lesson to members of the French Peace Council shortly afterwards, on 23 March: ‘Imagine what will happen’, he said, ‘when bombs begin to explode over cities. These bombs will not distinguish between Communists and non-Communists ... No, everything alive can be wiped out in the conflagration of nuclear explosions’. Repetition had little effect on his Chinese opposite number, however. Mao Tse-tung’s view was quoted in extenso in Red Flag, the theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party, on March 30 this year. ‘If the imperialists insist on unleashing another war’, said Mao, ‘we should not be afraid of it ... World War I was followed by the birth of the Soviet Union with a population of 200 million. World War II was followed by the emergence of the socialist camp with a combined, population of 900 million. If the imperialists should insist on launching a third World War, it is certain that several hundred million more will turn to socialism’.

The argument is one of long standing. When Khrushchev told the twentieth Congress of his Party in February 1956 that war between ‘communist’ and capitalist countries was not inevitable and that ‘peaceful co-existence’ was possible, the message was received very coolly by the Chinese press. During the Lebanese crisis just over two years ago, Khrushchev declared himself in favour of a summit conference within the framework of the Security Council, only to meet with open hostility to the plan from Peking and the shelling of Quemoy and Matsu from the mainland. After visiting China at the end of July, Khrushchev withdrew from summitry for a time. Again, it was at the height of China’s border dispute with India and her conflict with Indonesia over the three million Chinese resident in that country at the end of 1959 and beginning of 1960, that Khrushchev chose to pay. a visit to the two countries. Last summer, policy towards disarmament was brought into the quarrel with Pravda stating editorially that ‘disarmament is not only necessary but possible’ (June 20) in answer to a contrary assertion from the New China News Agency (June 8): ‘There are people who believe that such a proposal (for disarmament) can be realized when imperialism still exists, and that the danger of war can be eliminated by relying on such a proposal. This is an unrealistic illusion’. The following month, China and Russia fell out over policy towards the Congo, with Russia supporting the 14 July resolution calling for United Nations intervention and the Chinese characterizing the decision as ‘a shield for new crimes of the US pirates’ and a ‘resolution (which) would open the door for intervention by US imperialism in the Congo’. On Algeria, Khrushchev is remembered for his statement in March 1960 about the ‘historic ties’ between France and Algeria, while Mao has recognized the Algerian Provisional Government and is reported to be supplying them with arms. More recently, two papers devoted to Chinese affairs have been closed down in Moscow; Russian technicians have been withdrawn from China; and the Chinese have boycotted an international orientalist conference held in Moscow. Without a doubt, feelings were running high along the Moscow-Peking axis until very recently.

The argument centres on different evaluations of East-West relations. For Khrushchev, so long as nuclear rocketry can ensure ‘peaceful coexistence’, there is hope that the dynamic Russian economy will encroach on western preserves and weaken western capitalism. His greatest weapon is Russian industry. Mao has no such weapon. He is not party to the ‘balance of terror’ as yet, and it will take years; if not decades, before Chinese industry can sustain a strategy of encroachment. Indeed, it is China’s very poverty, in industrial assets that allows Mao ‘to shrug off the danger of nuclear bombardment: hundreds of millions might die, but the scattered labour-intensive Communes form a base for social regeneration which Russia – like all industrially-advanced countries – lacks. Encroachment from a national industrial base entails a certain policy towards the colonial and ex-colonial world. Since 1953 Russian credits to non-Communist backward countries have risen from nothing to $850 million per annum and are now over one-third of the American flow. She can deal with the existing ruling classes and influence their policy in terms they can understand – in rubles. She has little call for revolutionary organizations or revolutionary politics in these countries. Hence Nasser can keep the Egyptian Communists in jail and still buy Russian arms; Sukarno and Kassem can outlaw their Communist Parties without fear of reprisals. Khrushchev believes he can buy his way into the world as it is; why then upset it?

Not so Mao. He has no lien upon the status quo nor can he hope to find the price. On the contrary, so intricate is the job of lifting China from peasant poverty to industrial power, so beset by conflict and social strain at home, that stability abroad is a threat in itself and an external threat a source of stability. Peking thus acts host to the Algerian Government in Exile and is the only Communist state to do so. A border dispute with India is manufactured and inflated to threatening proportions although the tracts in question mean nothing strategically and little in any other way. So deep has the siege mentality bitten that the Chinese Communist Government has yet to accredit an ambassador to Britain more than ten years after recognition.

The denouément is yet to come. A Chinese Bomb is more than likely in the making. Its connotations are unfathomable, but one thing is certain – it could be a mighty argument for the Russians to purchase their friends in Peking rather than in Delhi, Jakarta or Cairo.

It is difficult not to speculate when the argument is carried on behind closed doors. Yet three conclusions present themselves. One was underlined by Gomulka when he addressed his Party’s central committee in June on a different issue and stated forcibly in the most recent issue of Zycie Warszawy. It is that whatever the degree of collaboration between Eastern Block countries on matters of foreign trade and technology, it was each state for itself in the vital field of investment. The basic determinant of development remains thus uncoordinated on any but a national level, leaving the door wide open for national rivalries, uneven development, economic bargaining between states and economic chauvinism. Trainloads of returning Russian technicians, reams of boasts about China’s ability to go it alone economically hide a narrow nationalism that has no affinity to the socialist tradition.

To tackle the point from a different angle, so long as inequality with regard to controlling the economy exists within a country, equality cannot rule between countries whether or no they call themselves socialist. The ruling minority – be they capitalists or bureaucrats – measures its power and that of its neighbours in terms of the productive machine they control. Unevenness in development thus implies for them a justified inequality of power and prerogatives internationally.

Finally, what of the merits of the argument? Might either protagonist be right? It seems unnecessary for a socialist journal dedicated to revolutionary change East and West of the Iron Curtain to waste words on Krushchev’s underpinning the status quo. His version of ‘peaceful coexistence’ within the context of Cold War, his damping of revolution in backward countries, his summitry, are the necessary counterpart to Washington’s exercise in world regimentation and oppression. His diplomacy of détente is contained in the narrow mould of national interest as conceived by a ruling bureaucracy. But Mao’s ‘revolutionariness’ is as suspect. It is not so different from Russian caution in that it too derives from a narrow nationalist expediency seen through the eyes of a ruling bureaucracy. Both encompass so deep and cynical a disregard for the well-being and, in one case, the very existence of humanity, that socialists can only recoil in horror. They are both utterly alien to international socialism.

Note by ETOL

1. In this article the Soviet leader’s name was consistently spelled “Khrushchov” – we have replaced it by the more common transliteration “Khrushchev”.

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