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Sal Santen

The Chinese Communist Leadership

(It Feels the Need for a Revolutionary Orientation
But Remains a Prisoner of Its Bureaucratic Conceptions)

(April 1960)

From Fourth International (Amsterdam), No. 9, Spring 1960, pp. 39–44.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Much attention was given in the world press to an article published on April 1st by Red Flag, the theoretical journal of the Chinese CP, and entitled: On Imperialism as the Source of War in Modern Times and also on the Way for All Peoples to Struggle for Peace.”It was written for the forthcoming 90th anniversary of Lenin’s death. The main passage, republished by the bourgeois press, read as follows:

Lenin taught us that in the era of imperialism, the imperialist system is the source of war. Imperialist war is a continuation of its policy of aggression and enslavement. (Emphasis of the Peking Review translation) In times of peace, the imperialists always pursue a whole set of policies for the continuous extension of the rule of monopoly capital. The exploitation and oppression of their peoples at home, their domination and plunder of the colonies and semi-colonies and the rivalry among monopoly capital groups in various countries do in fact breed new wars. To the imperialists, peace is no more than an interval between wars. Taking advantage of the interval, they work energetically to expand their arms and prepare for the next war. (...)

(...) Of late certain representative figures in US ruling circles seem to be paying greater lip service to peace than hitherto and playing more peace games. They hope to create the illusion among people that Eisenhower and his kind are capable of “laying down the butcher’s knife and turning into buddhas.” They want people to believe that US imperialism will offer the gift of peace to the world.

Will Eisenhower and his like really lay down their butcher’s knives? Does US imperialism actually desire world peace? Facts are most eloquent. Numerous events have demonstrated that juggling with peace, Eisenhower and those like him are actively preparing for war. (...)

(...) US imperialism being what it is will certainly not abandon its policy of war. The peace which US imperialism seeks is nothing but peace with US global domination. (Emphasis of the Peking Review translation) Neither Eisenhower today, nor Dulles yesterday, made any effort to hide the meaning of their “peace with justice.” In their eyes, the socialist countries are “captive nations,” all revolutions are “means of evil” and “peace with justice” is a peace in which socialism is eliminated, revolutions in all countries are “strictly verboten” and the peoples of the world submissively knuckle under to the oppression and exploitation of US monopoly capital.

For some time, more precisely since the Chino-Indian border disputes and since Khrushchev’s trip to America, such statements – though in a less concrete form – could frequently be found in the Chinese press, and in official speeches. They stood in sharp distinction to the honey-sweet official Russian statements on the possibilities of “peaceful coexistence.” Revolutionary Marxists can only welcome this distinction, favorable to the Chinese Communist leadership. But their doing so does not mean that the last word has been said.

Though much less cynical and conservative than the Russian bureaucracy, the Chinese leadership is nevertheless a bureaucratic one. It is true, by its origins and experience since the victory of the Chinese revolution, it has no illusions about the character of the imperialist enemy. By its ties with the colonial revolution, it welcomes every defeat of imperialism, and – what is essential – it does not fear the revolutionary mobilization of the masses in the way the Soviet bureaucracy does. But fundamentally its policy is also a bureaucratic one, though more sensitive to the revolutionary changes in the world.

Whilst stressing Lenin’s teachings on imperialism, it does so much more through opportunism than for reasons of principle. It does so much more in order to bring pressure upon the Soviet bureaucracy (which did not hesitate to “forget” the interests of its Chinese ally while looking for a compromise with imperialism), than to work up a revolutionary communist policy in the fight against imperialism.

It is absolutely necessary to be aware of this.

Insofar as the Chinese Communist leadership criticizes imperialism as such, it has a revolutionary position. At the same time, however, it is incapable of drawing clear, valid Marxist revolutionary conclusions from it. It welcomes defeats of imperialism, of course, and that is a good thing. It supports, also materially, the colonial revolutions, and this can only be welcomed, though it should be said that its aid, e g to the Algerian revolution, is absolutely insufficient. But on the ideological field, it continues to create confusion by its uncritical support of the colonial national bourgeoisies, and by doing so, it reveals all the conservative – and even anti-revolutionary – traits of a bureaucracy.

This contradictory, and empirical attitude is also reflected in the article in the Red Flag quoted above. Though it begins by stating, and correctly so, that the “peace” of imperialism is a “peace in which socialism is eliminated, revolutions in all countries are ‘strictly verboten’ and the peoples of the world submissively knuckle under to the oppression and exploitation of US monopoly capital,” it immediately afterwards jumps over to the position (”discovered” and defended by Stalin shortly before his death) that the present epoch is characterized by “inter-imperialist contradictions.”

In order to justify such a position, it throws overboard every time the revolutionary conclusions it had (spontaneously) reached. The same thing occurs when it speaks about the character of the imperialist war preparations:

To realize its ambition for world hegemony, US imperialism is on the one hand actively preparing for “total war,” that is world war, while on the other is energetically engaged in preparing for “limited wars,” that is, “local wars.” (...)

(...) The US imperialists consider the strategy of carrying on local wars on the basis of active preparation for world war most advantageous to them. They are aware that lagging far behind the Soviet Union in military science and technology, they will suffer extremely serious consequences if they venture to start a world war.

If we disregard the exaggerations, which of course have a political foundation, this is correct. But immediately afterwards, the Red Flag drops its own conclusions, and states:

Nevertheless, they are neither willing nor able to abandon their policy of war. That is why in the hope of step by step realizing their imperialist objectives they have adopted the strategy [emphasis by me, S.] of “limited wars” (i.e., “local wars”) short of world war.

If this were true, it would mean that imperialism had abandoned its strategy of “eliminating socialism,” as this “purpose” could be reached (if it ever could be reached) only by an “overall war, that is a world war.” Thus it could try to maintain itself for some time by intervening in this or that revolution, by “local wars” only, but such a strategy, as is clear, would be one only of defending the “status quo,” of accepting the existence of a series of workers’ states as an accomplished fact. It would be a strategy of defeat for the imperialist enemy, as it would start from the invincibility of the workers’ states. It would mean an imperialist retreat before the forces of world revolution, and therefore would be of world historical importance. It would open a new epoch, in which the final defeat of imperialism would be a short-term perspective, as imperialism would not be capable of maintaining itself very long with the sole weapon of “local wars” against the rising forces of world revolution. Militarily stated, imperialism would have decided to fight against its downfall by means of guerilla-warfare. Unfortunately, the combined forces of world revolution are not yet strong enough to provide grounds for such conclusions. The Red Flag, however, does not hesitate to draw them:

The US policy of “local wars” is a kind of conclusion drawn from historical experience in pursuance of its policy of aggressive wars. US control over the Western Hemisphere was effected by resorting to this tactic of “local wars.” The era of’ imperialism has a history replete with “local wars,” besides (!) the two world wars. The Second World War began (!) with a series of local wars. From the end of World War II until today, there have been an uninterrupted series of local wars started by the imperialists: wars of imperialist intervention against the revolutions of other countries, wars of imperialist suppression of the national liberation movements and wars of imperialist aggression against the socialist countries.

Here we see a clear contradiction with the beginning of the Red Flag article, in which it was said that “To the imperialists, peace is no more than an interval between wars.” The era of imperialism being “a history full of local wars,” even “besides the two world wars,” i e, even in “peace” time, it should be a duty for revolutionary Marxists to draw some more general conclusions from the “local wars” which have characterized and are still characterizing the period after World War Two. They were and are, as is correctly stated in the Red Flag article, “wars of imperialist intervention against the revolutions of other countries, wars of imperialist suppression of the national liberation movements and wars of imperialist aggression against the socialist countries.”

For Marxists, who have the courage to think things through to the end, the conclusion is not so complicated. The “local wars” after the Second World War have a common denominator: they are directed against the rising revolutionary forces in the world in all their forms, that is to say: they are counter-revolutionary in essence. They form part of a world strategy of imperialism, led by the strongest and most conscious imperialist power, the USA, which – inevitably – will lead to a final showdown between imperialism and the forces of socialism. To conclude, as does the Red Flag, that the imperialists “have adopted the strategy of limited wars.” is, au fond, a “theoretical” capitulation before the combined forces of imperialism, that is: an effort to escape from the most burning problem with which humanity is faced in the present epoch.

In order to justify its overhasty conclusions, the Red Flag of course is obliged to minimize the strength of the imperialist enemy. Faithful to its contradictory conception, it walks again on “two legs”: one revolutionary and the other bureaucratic. On the one hand, it speaks of “the inevitability of revolutions in the imperialist countries” as “an objective law of history.” But on the other hand, it plays the card of “inter-imperialist contradictions,” and says:

According to the Leninist theory, the contradictions between the imperialist countries are irreconcilable and antagonistic in nature and constitute one of the root causes of modern wars.

It prefers to forget that the world has changed a little bit since Lenin’s death; that, the relationship of forces in the world having definitively changed in favor of the forces of world revolution and to the disadvantage of imperialism, the fundamental contradictions on a world scale in the present epoch relate to revolution and counter-revolution, and no longer to inter-imperialist rivalries, however important they may be. What are now irreconcilable and antagonistic in nature are the contradictions between the workers’ states, the colonial revolution, and the working-class movement on the one hand, and on the other hand, imperialism. There is, in spite of their rivalries, a holy alliance among the forces of imperialism, from Franco to Eisenhower, from Adenauer to de Gaulle, in order to face the rising forces of world revolution.

Prisoner of its own confusion, the Red Flag develops a kind of schema which should prove the predominance of the inter-imperialist contradictions over the contradictions between revolution and counter-revolution.

It therefore states:

The resurgent imperialist powers of West Germany and Japan are two sources of serious war danger. The inevitable (emphasis by me, S.) outcome of the US fostering West Germany and Japan will be, as the Chinese saying has it, to lift a rock only to smash its own toes.

The argument is not very convincing, as a child in politics knows that the arming of West Germany and Japan by American imperialism forms part of the over-all war preparations a-gainst the workers’ states, the USSR, and China in particular. For the Red Flag, this is not a problem:

According to the wishful thinking of the United States, a rearmed West Germany will serve as a mainstay in an anti-Soviet war in the West and a rearmed Japan in a war against the Soviet Union and China in the East. But did not the United States, Britain and France, prior to World War, also plan to use Germany and Japan to wage war against the Soviet Union? History, however, followed a course quite independent of their will.

Wishful thinking, we fear, is this time on the side of the Red Flag. It simply projects the present situation from the one existing before World War II. As it is not possible, however, to convince anybody with such reasoning, it suddenly adds:

In this respect, the situation today differs from that before the Second World War only (emphasis by me, S.) in that the socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union has grown incomparably strong. Whoever dares launch a war against the socialist countries will only be courting his own destruction.

So there is no reason to worry. “It is in the nature of imperialism to bully the weak and fear the strong,” is the consolation of the Red Flag, and it continues:

Raw materials and markets are vital to the imperialist powers and they will fight for them by every means available. World War I was a war among the imperialist powers and World War II began in the first place among them. Though West Germany and Japan owe what they are today to US help and support, they will not always bow to US dictates. Who can guarantee that West Germany will not unleash a new war of aggression in Western Europe and Japan in Southeast Asia? And who can guarantee that there will be no repetition of Pearl Harbour or that a new world war will not break out among the imperialist powers?

Really, sense becomes nonsense here. And this is written to commemorate Lenin, who knew the class enemy better than anybody else, who never minimized or underestimated its “will to survive,” its counter-revolutionary capabilities, who always orientated toward what was fundamental, who untiringly analyzed the changes in the relationship of forces between revolution and counter-revolution, and who relegated those who stuck to outdated formulas (correct in a certain concrete former situation, nonsense and therefore anti-revolutionary in the new one) to the “museum of antiquities.”

And as the question “Who can guarantee that a new world war will not break out among the imperialist powers?” is only meant to stress that this variant is unrealistic, the Red Flag is looking for another “guarantee.” It quotes Mao Tse-Tung in order to assure that “the real, direct contradictions in the post-war world are not contradictions between the Soviet Union and the United States.” [Emphasis added.] But then, again “walking on two legs,” Mao Tse-Tung contradicts himself, and adds:

The propaganda about an anti-Soviet war consists of two aspects. On the one hand, US imperialism is really preparing a war against the Soviet Union (emphasis by me, S.); the current talk about an anti-Soviet war and other anti-Soviet propaganda is the political preparation for an anti-Soviet war. On the other hand, this propaganda is a smokescreen put up by the US reactionaries to cover up the many real contradictions US imperialism is now facing. These are the contradictions between the US reactionaries and the American people and those between US imperialism and capitalist countries and colonial and semi-colonial countries. At present the US slogan of waging an anti-Soviet war actually means the oppression of the American people and the expansion of its aggressive forces in the capitalist world.

In reality, the article in the Red Flag is full of such contradictions. One sentence is in opposition to the next, from the beginning to the end. It does not want openly to attack Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence”; it repeats – as is clear from the above quotations – the really Stalinist “conception” of inter-imperialist wars in the present epoch; but at the same time it wants to warn against too many illusions about it. It brings to mind Lenin’s words that “we are surrounded by people, classes, and governments who openly express the greatest hatred for us,” and it adds:

Today, US imperialism still surrounds us with a network of military bases and guided missiles; we must still maintain the keenest vigilance with regard to the danger of war which it creates.

It preaches “peaceful coexistence,” or, better said: it wants to “force imperialism to accept peaceful coexistence,” but with quite another conception than Khrushchev’s:

... peace for which the people of the whole world thirst cannot be won if we beg it of imperialism instead of rallying all peoples to a struggle to defend world peace and oppose imperialist wars so as to tie the hands of the imperialist war-makers.

It disregards the need for an independent proletarian leadership in the colonial countries where the revolution is a living reality, but at the same time it flirts with the idea of a proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries, where it says:

According to the Leninist theory, the contradictions between the monopoly capitalist class and the broad masses of the people are irreconcilable and antagonistic in nature and constitute one of the root causes of modern wars. (...)

(...) He also said, “Only the proletarian, socialist revolution can bring mankind out of the blind alley created by imperialism and imperialist wars. Whatever the difficulties of the revolution and its possible temporary setbacks, or whatever waves of counter-revolution may arise, the final victory of the proletariat is inevitable.” Lenin further pointed out, “Civil wars are also wars. Whoever recognizes the class struggle cannot fail to recognize civil wars, which in every class society are the natural, and under certain conditions, inevitable continuation development and intensification of the class struggle. All the great revolutions prove this. To repudiate civil war, or to forget about it, would mean sinking into extreme opportunism and renouncing the socialist revolution.” Has there been any relaxation today in the contradictions between the monopoly capitalist class and the broad masses of the people in the imperialist countries? Has the imperialist system been transformed into “people’s capitalism” and even reached the point “nearest to the communist ideal of ‘prosperity for all’” so that the above mentioned principles of Lenin no longer hold good as claimed by the imperialists?

No doubt, the Red Flag’s article is – compared with the opportunism and revisionism of Khrushchev, who in the theoretical and political field is in reality a liquidator of the communist movement in the world – a great step forward. Only sectarians could neglect this positive side of the Chinese attitude towards imperialism. It reveals at the same time that there are great contradictions between the Chinese Communist and Russian bureaucratic leaderships, and that China is orientating towards a more revolutionary policy on a world scale. This can only be welcomed by every revolutionary Marxist.

But it would be light-minded and irresponsible to be satisfied with noting this. For the colonial peoples, and for the working class in the West, the policy of the Chinese Communist leadership continues to contain many dangers.

This becomes clear, even when the Red Flag “forgets” its speculations about “inter-imperialist rivalries,” and, at the end of its article, implicitly starts from the conception that a war would be a world class war, directed against the combined forces of revolution, whilst stating:

We have full confidence in being able to shatter the war plans of imperialism. But should we be afraid if the war maniacs, defying the will of the people of the world, unleash a war? Comrade Mao Tse-Tung has given a Marxist-Leninist reply to this question in his work On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People. He said: “We stand resolutely for peace and oppose war. But if the imperialists insist on unleashing another war, we should not be afraid of it. Our attitude on this question is the same as our attitude towards all disturbances: firstly, we are against it; secondly, we are not afraid of it. The First World War was followed by the birth of the Soviet Union with a population of 200 million. The Second World War 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; then there will not be much room left in the world for the imperialists, while is quite likely that the whole structure of imperialism will utterly collapse.

If they are taken as such, every revolutionary could only applaud these words, insofar as their meaning is a revolutionary one. But at the same time they have an anti-revolutionary aspect, are contradictory, like the whole policy of the Chinese Communist Party. They correspond to similar, though less courageous, routine statements from the Soviet bureaucracy, which have the tendency to “threaten” the imperialists with the consequences of a war, in order to make them accept “peaceful coexistence.” Here the proletarian revolution (or better said: the threat of the proletarian revolution) is used only to serve the interests of the bureaucracy. Fundamentally, such a policy is in full agreement with the policy of Stalinism, which permanently subordinated everything to the interests of a privileged bureaucratic caste.

For the world working class, the necessity of overthrowing imperialism, in order to establish its own proletarian rule and a planned socialist economy all over the world, cannot be “postponed” to the catastrophic event of a new world war. If it is true, and it is true, that imperialism is preparing such a war, the world communist movement has more than ever the duty to fight such preparations effectively by the means of proletarian revolution: by disarming imperialism, by breaking it before it can drag along a great part of humanity with it in its downfall.

Never before in history have the exploited masses had to face such a dangerous, criminal, rotten enemy as imperialism. While it is true that the strength of the world revolutionary camp is constantly increasing, thanks to the heroism of the colonial peoples and the rapid economic development of the workers’ states, imperialism is nevertheless still a very real force on this globe, which we cannot yet exchange for another. “The historical experience of mankind shows that the ruling class will not give up state power of its own accord,” the Red Flag teaches in its article. Even though it refuses to drawn the necessary lessons from this, for the world working class and the fighting colonial peoples it should be a warning.

Only a world revolutionary strategy, aiming at the concrete downfall of imperialism in our epoch, by combining the strength of the workers’ states, the colonial revolution and the proletarian movement in the West, could open the perspectives of the transition of humanity to socialism without the calamity of a Third World War, or, if imperialism, in despair and in a last effort to react, should launch such a war, its immediate transformation into international civil war on the highest level.

History has still to give its final answer to the question whether the coming showdown between the combined forces of revolution and those of imperialism will take the form of an overall nuclear war, or whether imperialism, definitively weakened by the rising forces of revolution, would have to retreat to the defensive. There cannot be the slightest doubt, however, that imperialism is preparing for the first variant. It would have launched such a war already (and it set the time-limit of 1953 for it, as it revealed later on), if it had not been surprised by the rapidly increasing forces of revolution on the one hand, and the “generosity” of the Soviet bureaucracy in making concessions on the other hand.

Commemorating Lenin, the Red Flag should not have forgotten that Vladimir Ilyitch, drawing a perspective for the fight against the class enemy, always started from the worst variant as regards the strength and the intentions of the enemy. This is the only way to prepare victory.

“Know the enemy and know yourself, and you will win any battle,” is a Chinese saying, as we learn from the Red Flag. Alas, the Chinese Communist leadership still has many illusions about the “inter-imperialist rivalries” amongst the enemy; that is to say, it does not know the enemy well enough.

In spite of that, the saying is a good one. It strengthens our conviction that the irresistible fusion of the Fourth International with the rising revolutionary forces in the world will make the battle victorious. The rapidity of this process will be decisive for the question, whether imperialism will be compelled to change its perspective of nuclear war for the coming showdown into one of merely defensive fights. Contrary to the Red Flag, however, we do not want to lose our time, and to confuse the vanguard, by similar speculations. We know the enemy, and we face the problems by starting from its worst intentions – which, moreover, correspond with its present strategy and counter-revolutionary activity all over the world. If our “pessimism” should be rejected by the further course of history, so much the better! This would depend, however, upon the rapid conscious combination of the forces of the workers’ states, the colonial revolution, and the proletarian movements in the West.

No movement other than the Fourth International can provide the bases for it, and change it into an invincible force.

April 1960

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