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International Socialism, Winter 1965/66


Editorial 2

What Dominoes?


From International Socialism, No.23, Winter 1965/66, pp.2-4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


If anything was needed to demonstrate the decay of the old Cold War blocs, the collapse of a whole row of America’s dominoes in this autumn’s games rubs everybody’s nose in it. How stands the defence of Asia against Communism in Vietnam now, with Indians, Pakistanis and Indonesians all demonstrating that there are other things in the world they feel they want to kill each other over?

The effects have been electric throughout Asia and the world, and they might briefly be summarised:

1 – Both the ‘Third World’ and the China ‘Axis’ (Indonesia, North Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea, China) are demonstrably no longer with us, or in such a tenuous form that they no longer need discussion. A majority of Afro-Asian countries were dragging their feet over a second Bandung long before Ben Bella lost Algeria, fully aware that it might only be an arena for Chinese gratification. The rearranged conference of 5 November, also in Algiers, looked even more doubtful up until China forbade it to be held (because Indonesia would not automatically supply the other pillar for an anti-imperialist bloc, and a majority of Afro-Asians seemed likely to define Russia into participation), when a surprisingly large number of Afro-Asians suddenly decided a conference might be quite a good thing. But despite a line-up in favour of the conference that a year ago would have seemed impossible – headed by India, Algeria and Indonesia – inertia gave in to China’s ‘inexorable will of the toiling peoples’ and the conference was cancelled; it will probably not appear again. China’s dominoes have also moved under their own steam, and in Algeria and Indonesia, in such a volatile way that it is clear China’s diplomatic manoeuvres leave little residue of Maoist popular politics behind them.

But the Chinese dominoes affect each other whenever one is rebellious, and the Indonesian army’s search for modern weapons, a search that leads automatically to Moscow (and Washington) not Pekin, can only strengthen the other members of the ‘Axis’ in the same pursuit. Only four days before Lieutenant Untung’s abortive escapade in Jakarta, Indonesia and North Korea vowed indissoluble friendship. But North Korea itself has recently been fidgeting within the Chinese embrace – a visible cooling between Pekin and Pyongyang is evidenced in the decline in mutual exchange of platitudes, in the appearance at the North Korean 20th Anniversary of the Liberation celebrations (mid-August) of a very high-powered Russian delegation, contrasted with a Chinese delegation of relatively minor functionaries, and in the distribution of praise by the Koreans at this festivity – in order of precedence, on the Soviet army, Cuba, North Vietnam and Indonesia. Pekinological trivia cannot clinch whether the straws are in the wind or not, but the North Korean political line on the issue of revisionism or dogmatism has tended to retreat into a vagueness that suggests that the nationalist infection (and the pursuit of aid) is shifting Korean hostility from the first to the second. If Korea moves even slightly westwards, North Vietnam must be emboldened to greater bravery in the same direction, although Hanoi has always been less keen to denounce revisionism and politely enthusiastic about the educative benefits of ‘open controversy in the movement;’ it has also had what little useful military aid is going in the Eastern Bloc from the Soviet Union, not China, and it continues to receive with acclamation distinguished visitors from Moscow (including Kosygin last February). As for Cambodia, much painful heart-searching must be going on in Phnom-Penh, for Sihanouk was deliberately snubbed by Moscow when he offered to come and see them, snubbed undoubtedly because of his association with China – Russia is now indicating to Cambodia (as Johnson indicated to Shastri and Ayub Khan in the spring) that one cannot be on both sides simultaneously, and Sihanouk must do his sums on who fills his wallet before he decides his future foreign policy. Cambodia would no doubt have felt cosy inside the Axis and neither rich nor brave enough to venture alone into the world outside, but now that the Axis is growing thin perhaps new orientations will be needed.

2 – All this is only a prelude to pinpointing the decline in China’s prestige throughout the Communist world, and, correlatively, the rise in Soviet attractiveness. China bluffed most adventuristically on the Sikkim border in September, simultaneously ending abruptly the Indo-Pakistan war, precipitating Pakistan back into calculations as to where its real interests lie (and they aren’t with China), refurbishing the United Nations by giving it the job of auntie in Kashmir after its long spell in the doldrums, and providing a ready-made issue for Soviet-American collaboration. More than this, Pekin carried out an essay in pure power politics, replete with a show of massive force to terrify the enemy, bluster and threats, a hastily run up pretext (those 59 Yaks the Indians pinched), collusion in a border dispute in which China has no interest, and total abandonment of any political influence amongst the Indian masses: Pekin left the Left Indian Communists absolutely high and dry. And more to the point, China won absolutely nothing except general irritation. The results have been a noticeable hardening of hostility towards China among the Afro-Asians and intensified difficulties for Maoists everywhere in trying to defend the indefensible. But more than this, China has been unable to give any concrete help to North Vietnam beyond blustering from the safety of Pekin, and it is now accused of smuggling arms to the PKI in Indonesia while declaring eternal friendship to Sukarno and the Indonesian army. Adventurism, unscrupulous opportunism, the use of pure diplomatic means over attempts to influence mass politics, these are rapidly becoming the marks of Chinese foreign policy as they became the marks of Soviet foreign policy in the twenties.

The lessons are not lost, and Moscow has made the most of them (Pravda’s long reply after a year’s moratorium on polemics against China, appeared on 13 and 27 October), as the prelude to holding that long-promised conference of 81 Communist Parties in Moscow to settle the Sinp-Soviet dispute once and for all; the conference is now rumoured for this January. The recent Prague meeting of 35 Communist Parties demonstrated clearly that most parties have made up their minds against China – Hungary sent a special emissary to Pekin to be quite sure, and Rumania is sidling back into the ‘polycentric’ fold; the Prague parties suggested a new Comintern to focus the unanimity. This partial return to a more conservative position was formulated by the reassertion of Russian predominance – ‘Who bears the chief burden of the struggle with imperialism?’ Pravda asks, and replies, ‘This is being done by the socialist countries, first and foremost by the strongest among them, namely the Soviet Union.’ Consultations have gone on throughout the autumn between Moscow and the Communist Parties. China’s own policies have presented Russia with the most favourable opportunity hitherto to condemn China from a position of strength.

3 – Washington has only mixed reasons to celebrate, however. Indonesia’s inclination to China has certainly received a setback. But the elaborate cordon sanitaire, originally designed to insulate the increasingly a muffler to keep out Chinese infections, has been breached at a number of crucial points, not by the onslaught of Communism itself, but by the internal instability of the bulwarks themselves. Within the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, forces of hostility have been restimulated by the necessary embarrassed neutrality of the United States – a ‘stab in the back’ myth for the Pakistani army. The stalemate on the border has settled nothing but has whetted some appetites, and there are other generals in the Pakistani army who could try to use smouldering chauvinism to repeat Ayub Khan’s 1958 coup. On the other side, Shastri is back to square one with a poor monsoon this summer promising a poor harvest, and therefore increasing Indian dependence on US food doles – not a prospect the Americans are likely to welcome, particularly given the total hostility of the Left Communists and their potential to rouse a peasant revolt against India’s weak-kneed land reform and encroaching foreign domination. In any case, neither country is much of a basis for the Grand Design of an anti-Communist Front.

In south-east Asia, the paradoxical result of the moderating of confrontation by Indonesia could be the disintegration of what is left of Malaysia. The hostility of Jakarta kept the sheep in the same pen, that is, except Singapore whose departure from the federation turned it much more clearly into a Malay Kuala Lumpur rump. Perhaps Tunku Abdul Rahman will be reduced to giving foreign aid to Jakarta in order to sustain confrontation (Singapore has already offered bilateral trade). Whatever the result, the British will find it difficult to keep their balance, and one arm of the joint Western presence will have come unstuck, to the immediate detriment of the Americans in Vietnam.

However, what has been lost in Asia has been recouped by the US in the advance of its detente with the Soviet Union, now raised to the level of the UN Security Council. The Soviet Union has been disentangling itself from too deep a commitment to India, a posture that is a remnant of the Cold War days when backing India matched the US backing Pakistan. Kosygin accepts, for the first time, that there is a ‘dispute’ over Kashmir, a shift Pakistan rightly regards as a victory, particularly when complemented by the beginnings of Soviet aid to Pakistan. Balancing between India and Pakistan reproduces for the Soviet Union the same position held by the United States, so that common policy and action on the Security Council immediately becomes possible: divide and rule again comes into its own once the division of the rulers has been ended in Soviet-American rapprochement.

Of course, none of all this reflects the wishes of the ordinary inhabitants of any of the countries concerned. ‘Indonesia’ may swing from Pekin to Moscow, but the Central Java peasants remain in Central Java; the Muslim refugees of the Indo-Pakistani war look forward to a life of intolerable poverty in the slums of Lahore, and 1,900 Indian radicals, gaoled during the hostilities, remain in gaol. The drama at the top is as volatile as it is because its roots are so shallow – the Sandhurst generals in both sections of the Punjab, despite their squabbles, have more in common with each other than they do with the sea of poor and desperate behind them. The answers here remain the same.

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