From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.2, Spring 1962, pp.40-45.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
THE first explicit support of the Russian position versus the Chinese position in the current Sino-Soviet dispute has appeared in the US over the signatures of the editors of the Monthly Review, Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy. On the other hand, those publications which usually reflect the views of the Communist Party, The Worker and Political Affairs, have yet to mention the existence of this conflict. Like Moscow, which factionally attacks the Chinese CP leaders by pretending that its main dispute is with – Albania, the American CP follows suit. It is, of course, impossible to begin a serious discussion of the Moscow-Peking debate if one persists in treating it as an “unfact.”
The MR editors have abandoned such evasions and have frankly entered this discussion, broadly speaking, as defenders of socialism and the Sino-Soviet bloc of nations. While defending Moscow against Peking, they support both against the imperialist cold war. Thus they obviously hold that a responsible public discussion of this major division in the “socialist” world will not provide aid or comfort for imperialism.
In their December 1961 issue, after a summarized description of the two positions, the editors write, “When it comes to their evaluation, we have no doubt whatever that the Russians are right and the Chinese wrong.” In the February 1962 issue the editors report that there was “more than the usual number of letters praising or criticizing” the editorial statement on this dispute and said:
“Further discussion would definitely be in order, but we think it can proceed fruitfully only if we can get a candid expression of the Chinese position, not from official sources but from some relatively detached observer who has studied the official materials with care and believes that the Chinese are right. So far we have not been able to find anyone who fits this description and is also willing to commit his views to paper. We will be looking.”
We certainly welcome the decision of the Monthly Review to open a discussion in its columns on this important question. We for our part have been urging, for some time, the need for at least a report on the Chinese CP viewpoint in the American radical press and the need for a discussion. Eleven years ago, in the December 25, 1950 Militant, George Breitman expressed the Trotskyist evaluation of the incipient struggle between the Chinese CP and the Kremlin as follows:
“Capitalist propaganda persists in depicting the Mao Tse-tung regime as a Chinese puppet of Stalin, but it must fly in the face of the facts to do so. The Chinese CP came to power without help from the Kremlin or the Soviet army, just as the Yugoslavs did, and it is therefore no more disposed than they were to blindly obey Stalin’s orders. Their [Peking’s] alliance with the Kremlin – as partners – will last only so long as they believe they are benefiting from it ... If Stalin has his hands full maintaining ‘law and order’ in Eastern Europe, where Russian bayonets put his stooges in power, he will have a ten times harder job trying to regiment revolutionary Asia, which will decline to surrender to anyone the independence it is winning with its own blood and muscle. But Stalin will seek sooner or later to impose his dictation because the nature of Stalinism does not permit any power within its sphere of influence to indefinitely retain independence of the Kremlin. That is why it is superficial reasoning to view the victories of the anti-imperialist movements as elements contributing to the permanent strengthening of Stalinism.”
MORE recently, two years ago on May 9, 1960, The Militant editorially said:
“We have made clear that despite our thoroughgoing disagreement with the Chinese CP leaders on many questions, we believe they are absolutely right in their appraisal of the real policy of American imperialism. We think the Chinese have every right to be worried about a reactionary ‘summit’ deal behind closed doors at the expense of their country ... In the meantime, the American Communist Party continues to remain silent about the position of the Chinese CP. The Worker and Political Affairs have not even reported the Chinese viewpoint let alone commented on it ... It must also be noted that a similar silence has afflicted other radical publications like the National Guardian and the Monthly Review. Isn’t it high time that the debate be reported and frankly discussed in the American radical press?”
At this time we want to confine ourselves to preliminary comments on the view presented by the Monthly Review in the spirit of beginning, at last, what promises to become a thorough and fruitful discussion.
The MR editors have assessed the depth and intensity of the differences between the two regimes.
“When division is publicly admitted,” they say, “it may therefore be taken as evidence that a crisis has long been building up and that no resolution is in sight.”
The editors say that their
“... description of the Chinese and Soviet positions ... should be enough to show that on a number of extremely important issues the gap between the views of the two powers is wide indeed. Moreover, these are not recondite ideological questions ... They concern the analysis of the actual international situation with all its complexities and dangers. Above all, they lead to divergent and often sharply conflicting conceptions of the right policy for the socialist camp to follow.”
We share the view that the Moscow-Peking conflict is indubitably severe. We would add here, however, that the quantity of divergences and the qualitative depth of ideological differences signify a historical crisis within the workers states themselves, within the association of workers states in the Soviet orbit, within each of the Communist parties, and the world socialist movement at large.
The MR editors attempt an explanation of the divergences. More accurately, they seek the fundamental basis for the Chinese views. But they do not propose to uncover the social, historical and economic roots of the Russian position since this position is believed to be realistic and flexible and therefore doesn’t require probing into its understruc-ture. Here is what is behind Peking’s position, according to the MR:
“China’s dogmatic leftism today would seem to be rooted in both the domestic and international situations which confront the country. Domestically, China is in what may be called a ‘heroic’ period of revolutionary construction, the inevitable tensions of which have been greatly aggravated by what appears to have been ant almost unprecedented series of natural disasters affecting the country’s crucially important agricultural economy. Such circumstances, by fostering a mood of revolutionary intransigence and militancy, always predispose to dogmatic leftism. China’s unique international situation has not only worked in the same direction but also has imposed on the Chinese a special view of the world of the mid-twentieth century. The new China’s experience with imperialism has been almost exclusively in the form of a malignantly hostile United States ...”
BEFORE considering some of the historical roots of this struggle we must note that the editors’ theory of an ultra-left domestic policy as the basis of an ultra-left foreign policy simply does not match up with the facts. Actually the Chinese leadership domestically has been moving away from adventures and ultra-leftism. In agriculture they have seriously retreated from the earlier “great leap” to communism and now are accommodating themselves more to the real situation on the countryside. Politically they have revived the “hundred flowers” campaign as an accommodation to the intellectuals. Whatever one may think of these more recent policies, concerning nothing less than the major economic and political problems, they can hardly be described as ultra-left.
But back to the real roots of the conflict.
“It should hardly be necessary to stress that the Soviet and Chinese positions are built on common Marxist foundations,” writes the Monthly Review. This is inaccurate. It is far closer to truth to say that the original organizational and programatic foundations of the Soviet and Chinese leaders was Stalinism.
There is no record of open political disagreement between the present leaders of the Soviet Union and China with Stalin while the latter was alive. All subscribed publicly to the dogmas of “socialism in one country,” the “popular front,” “collective security” and even “peaceful coexistence,” – the political expressions of the Stalinist monolith. All submitted to the “cult of the individual,” the organizational expression of the monolith.
The breakup of this Stalinist monolith since the second world war, provides the basic context for an evaluation of the Moscow-Peking dispute; it is the most important of its “roots,” so to speak. What, therefore, was the nature of the Stalinist monolith and how is it being undermined?
The undemocratic aspect of the Communist parties arose as the product and instrument of the ruling, privileged, bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union, during the period of the ebb of the Russian and international revolution. This bureaucracy, after destroying the institutions and traditions of the Russian revolutionary workers democracy, engulfed the system of world Communist parties and the Communist International itself; the enormous authority of the Russian Revolution and the power of the Soviet state apparatus made this take-over possible. This process rendered impotent the independent revolutionary capacity of these Communist parties and replaced revolutionary leaders with servile functionaries; the end result of this was a series of tragic defeats for the working class, which permitted the growth of fascism and the outbreak of the second world war.
ON THE other hand, the increasing barbarities of capitalism: fascism, colonial oppression, genocide, war, gave rise to revolutionary impulses which could not be contained within the Stalinist monolith, itself invaded by these impulses. While the Kremlin was capable of “pacifying” the proletariat of France, Italy and Greece, it could not restrain the masses of Yugoslavia and China; revolutionary breakthroughs occurred; the day of the unchallenged grip of the Soviet bureaucracy on Communist policy had passed; the interests of the working class were once again beginning to be expressed in the Communist movement.
The specific theory of Stalinism, the ideological incarnation of the Soviet bureaucratic caste, was the invention of Stalin himself: socialism in one country. And the Monthly Review has presented the gist of this theory in its formulation of the Soviet position in the current dispute:
“The best way to fight imperialism, contrary to the paper tiger view [reference to the alleged Peking position], is to negotiate, compromise, settle specific disputes as they arise – above all, avoid war and gain the necessary time for clear and convincing demonstration of the overwhelming superiority of the socialist over the capitalist system. As this superiority is driven home to the peoples of the world, the third camp will prove to be a mere way station on the road from imperialism to socialism and ultimately there will be mass desertions from the inner core of imperialism itself. In the meantime, a premature showdown could lead to a disaster for all concerned.”
The specific and significant point of the theory of socialism in one country under Stalin and today under Khrushchev is not related to the need of a workers state to negotiate, trade, compromise and gain time as well as strive to gain overwhelming superiority. Here is the kernel of this theory: above all avoid the risk of socialist revolution against capitalism. It means not simply to avoid war and disastrous plunges into military adventures; no, it is the bureaucratic concept that the task of the Communist parties and allied movements is at all costs to avoid revolutionary showdowns. And the fact that the Chinese CP finally did not abide by this prescription is certainly one of the roots of the present conflict.
The early years (1925-27) were marked by the growth of a vast democratic revolution led by the Chinese bourgeoisie, its party, the Kuomintang, and its leading figure – General Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese proletariat led by the Communist Party was moving on the road of Bolshevism modeled on the October Revolution of 1917. The Chinese CP was independent of the national bourgeoisie; it possessed its own daily press. An armed proletariat in Shanghai was moving towards a showdown with the aim of completing the democratic revolution.
Cutting across this revolutionary development was the intervention of the Stalinist machine which imposed a “realistic” course upon the Chinese CP. According to Stalin, the next step toward socialism in China, a backward, colonial country unripe for a socialist revolution, was to be achieved through the collaboration of the Chinese proletariat and the bourgeoisie for an extended period.
The consequences of this policy foisted by the Russian bureaucracy on the Chinese CP were tragic. The Chinese CP in the face of an advance on Shanghai by Chiang Kai-shek, was ordered by Stalin to hail Chiang as a conquering revolutionary leader. While Stalin was honoring Chiang as a member of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, the Generalissimo was engaged in butchering the Chinese proletariat, just as the Trotskyist opposition had warned. The Central Committee of the Chinese CP in effect submitted to the monolithic control of Stalin, gave up its independence, its organization, its press; and above all, disarmed the working class. When Chiang entered Shanghai on April 12, 1927, tens of thousands of Communist workers perished. Following this betrayal, Stalin persisted in repeating this course in another round of submission to the bourgeoisie, this time shifting to the “left” Kuomintang, led by Wan Chin Wei, with the same consequences: the arrests and massacres of Communist Party members in the bloody coup of July 14, 1927 in Hankow.
After these tragic defeats, Stalin veered from ultra-right opportunism to ultra-left adventurism by directing the Chinese CP to engage in continuous putchist uprisings. Finally, the abortive Canton uprising took place on December 11, 1927. It was crushed in fifty hours at the cost of 5,700 workers, among them, the best remaining revolutionary cadres.
THE loss of the Chinese revolution in terms of casualties and demoralization is impossible to calculate. But despite these frightful consequences the Chinese revolution survived and eventually revived.
Stalin made a deal with the Western imperialists at Yalta in 1945, stipulating that the Chinese CP would accept a government coalition with Chiang Kai-shek giving the Generalissimo veto power, and thus refrain from the “risk” of a socialist revolution; and, for this, Stalin would receive military agreements and the settling of post-war boundaries.
But there was one stumbling block: the Chinese CP refused to give up its own armed forces, the Red Army, in the course of its coalition attempts with Chiang Kai-shek. This key decision in turn enabled and even compelled the Chinese CP to stand at the head of a socialist revolution. (The same held true in essence for the Yugoslav CP during and after the second world war.) This historic event in 1949-50 completely upset the Stalinist perspective; namely, that after World War II a stable peaceful coexistence of mutual assurances would prevail. The Kremlin banked on maintaining control of the CPs and revolutionary forces. This control would prevent revolutions and the capitalists in turn would promise not to attack the Soviet Union.
Stalin during World War II had no confidence whatever in the possibility of a socialist revolution. He particularly ordered the Chinese CP to avoid any head-on clash with Chiang Kai-shek. Granted the premise of a non-revolutionary perspective, Stalin’s peaceful coexistence advice appeared “reasonable,” “realistic” and “mature.” But the Chinese thought otherwise. 
Were the Russians right in opposing the Chinese socialist revolution? Or were the Chinese right? If the Chinese nationalist bourgeoisie headed by Chiang had remained in power would this have strengthened a perspective of genuine peace or heighten the prospect of an imperialist drive for World War III? Since, in our opinion, the victory of the Chinese socialist revolution has been an enormous deterrent to World War III, we think it has considerable bearing on the roots of the present controversy about peaceful coexistence. And by the same token one’s stand on the current Sino-Soviet dispute requires taking sides on the earlier dispute between the Chinese CP and Stalin over the question of revolution.
The Chinese revolution was a refutation of the Stalinist theory of socialism in one country, as were all the socialist revolutionary transformations during the post-war period. That is why these victories resulted in a crisis of the Stalinist conservative, narrow, national, bureaucratic policies; that is also why the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union itself endures a breakdown of equilibrium, de-Stalinization and finally, that is why this is all accompanied by the fragmentation, cracks and fissures in all components of the monolithic structure.
The current debates should properly be viewed against this theoretical and historical background. It is this background which explains the “unexpected” eruption of public disagreement. The Chinese lack of confidence in the Russians is not a momentary mood. It has been a long time coming. The beginning goes way back and the end is not yet in sight.
The cracking of the Stalinist monolith, a result and a cause of the Sino-Soviet conflict, has let loose a storm of political currents and cross-currents within the international working-class vanguard movements. New or previously suppressed points of view are getting a hearing; whole tendencies and even parties are shifting positions; new alliances are being forged. There is a very real struggle for ideas, methods and goals. This takes place as a contention of political tendencies leading eventually to the establishment of a new revolutionary leadership based on a new program. Such a world regroupment process has promoted a vigorous atmosphere of “bloom and contend,” review and revaluate, test and retest in the crucible of new revolutions.
The international communist vanguard originated in the Russian Bolshevik cadre. The great authority won by the Bolsheviks in their victory of 1917 permitted them to become the nucleus of a world organization of a new type.
THE subsequent degeneration of the Russian Communist Party under Stalin strangled the Communist parties and the Communist International as an effective revolutionary weapon. Stalinism, however, produced its own opposites within the Communist parties; first, in the form of Trotskyism and more recently, new revolutionary socialist forces. The Left Opposition, or Trotskyism, arose in the nineteen-twenties as a defender and continuator of the traditions of Leninism against the onslaught of Stalinist reaction. In the decades of working class defeats caused in great measure by Stalinist policy, the Trotskyist movement succeeded in “remembering” October; thereby maintaining the historical thread of Marxist theory as it was expressed through the action of Lenin’s party.
In the Forties and Fifties under completely altered conditions the new revolutionary forces have emerged through breaks with Stalinism, Social Democracy and bourgeois nationalism. These forces displayed no outward signs of similarity or even direct relationship to the cadres of Trotskyism. They did not originate as self-conscious, ideological and theoretical oppositions to Stalinism, relating themselves to the classic revolutionary Left Opposition. The de facto anti-Stalinist, or non-Stalinist revolutionary formations began on the field of action, over differences of tactics and strategy.
But the course of history points to a fusion of the movements of Leninist continuity with today’s newly aroused revolutionary forces. Although from different starting points, the Trotskyist program and the revolutionary forces breaking with Stalinism have an area of intersection. However, there is nothing in this process that is determined a priori: it is a central target of revolutionary will and revolutionary struggle.
In general, every forward leap by the workers movement has witnessed a breakup within the leadership of the established organizations. In the US in the Thirties, the mass upsurge by the working class split the AFL bureaucracy into two distinct wings. One group, led by John L. Lewis, accommodated themselves to the insurgents, even providing leadership to the movement that was eventually to form the CIO.
Although analogies are always limited, the present dispute between Mao and Khrushchev can be usefully compared to that fight between Lewis and Green: both cases involve a division in the top apparatus of a workers movement.
We support the Chinese in the same sense that the revolutionists of the Thirties supported Lewis. Support of Lewis was a way of manifesting identification with the semi-revolutionary wave he was riding. The great need of the moment was the organization of the industrial workers. Support to the CIO furthered that cause. While recognizing in Lewis’ break with Green a significant contribution to the forward march of American labor, the revolutionists, at the same time, were aware that Lewis’ action had outstripped his own consciousness: that he was not aware of the implications of what he had done, and most assuredly was not programatically prepared for the further requirements of the situation. In addition Lewis had not broken with his own privileged position. (In that regard he remained in the same category with Green.)
Thus, support to Lewis was “conditional,” or “critical,” which permitted the revolutionists to support and identify with the forward step of the masses in such a way as to allow them (at least in program) to go further than Lewis eventually was prepared to go. In a word, the revolutionists of the Thirties were supporters of Lewis without becoming “Lewisites.”
IN A comparable manner today, we support Mao without being Maoists. To be more concrete: on the main theoretical questions in dispute between the Russians and the Chinese, we think the Chinese are correct. In addition, the Chinese leaders base themselves on revolutionary social strata aroused by 650 million people entering the arena of history. On the other hand, the Chinese leaders have yet to probe the source of their disagreement with the Kremlin, to ask the question: how is it that the leaders of the Soviet CP could arrive at such a treacherous position? The Chinese dissolve this problem in an abstract “revisionism” which becomes, in their theoretical structure, the original source of all evil. Were the Chinese courageously to undertake to answer this question, were they to dig behind the Khrushchev interpretation of peaceful coexistence and discover the very real material interests of a privileged bureaucracy – in the Soviet Union as in China; were they, in a word, to discover the essential source of Stalinism and their own historic relationship to it, then it would be possible to state with confidence that Maoism is the modern version of Bolshevism. Then it would be possible to assess more positively the Chinese CP claim to constitute the new international revolutionary leadership.
Will the Maoists have the capacity to continue the excellent progress they have been making in their break with Stalinism? Will they be able to proceed from their trenchant polemics against specific Stalinist theories to an understanding of Stalinism, per se, including the latter’s role in the Chinese revolution itself? Only further experience can answer these questions. It is sufficient at this point to note that the success of the Chinese against the Russians in the current dispute is having beneficial effects: it further weakens the grip of the Khrushchev brand of Stalinism on important workers movements around the world in favor of revolutionary tendencies. The growth of the revolu-toinary tendencies by reflex action may in turn further the progressive development of the Maoist leadership.
The Moscow-Peking conflict constitutes a beginning, by no means final, stage in the process of international re-groupment of the revolutionary movement. The victory of Peking at this stage would be, in our opinion, a significant step forward.
Every serious political analysis implies a prediction of the future. Understanding the dispute in the manner they do, the MR editors foresee that the solution to the current conflict will occur in the following manner:
“In general, it is only a change in the objective situation itself that undermines a dogmatic leftist position and leads to its abandonment. And this we believe will turn out to be true in the case of China, as it has in other cases in the past.”
They, then, indicate the nature of the predicted change in the objective situation:
“... China is now suffering from a severe case of dogmatic leftism. The disease will abate and eventually disappear, one would suppose, when China is admitted to its rightful place among the nations of the world, especially if this takes place against determined United States opposition; and when the internal situation in the country eases as the great efforts of socialist construction begin to yield their fruits.”
This seems, at first, very much like begging the question. How China will be able to win “its rightful place among nations” is the subject of the disagreement. The fact of the matter is, however, the MR editors, as they themselves say, agree with Khrushchev on the question of world perspectives. They expect that Khrushchev’s policy of peaceful coexistence will be successful; that clever diplomacy will prevent the imperialists from launching World War III; and that, in the meantime, the Soviet bloc will increase in wealth and power, paralyzing all opposition by force of example. In such a manner China will gradually be moved out of her present isolated position into one of strength and “acceptance”; and the ideological divergences between Moscow and Peking will disappear as the Chinese recognize the folly of their infantile measles.
AS THE Chinese assert, the real perspective is the opposite of the one expected by the Russians. The growth of the revolutionary forces emerging from the second world war has by no means reached its peak. The recent victory of the socialist revolution in Cuba is but one more piece of evidence of this fact. The masses, in the imperialist sector, grinding under heavy poverty in most cases, inspired by the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, do not display any mood of quiet patience awaiting the miracles supposedly contained in Summit Diplomacy. On the other hand, the masses in the non-capitalist sector, their desires awakened by their own revolutionary victories, see in the imperialist domination of two-thirds of the globe an excruciating, therefore impermissible brake on their own progress.
The growth, since World War II, of Soviet-bloc industry is undeniable. But encouraging as this economic development is, it has been far outstripped by the swift rise of the revolutionary movement, which more immediately affects events. Looked at from this aspect, Khrushchev’s program is an appeal to the masses to restrain their revolutionary “impatience,” keeping their demands and the tempo of their struggles in accord with the relatively slower tempo of Soviet industrial growth. The emergence of the Chinese position within the Soviet bloc indicates a mass sentiment to reject the Kremlin’s go-slow prescription. Khrushchev will not succeed where Stalin failed.
All signs point to an epoch of increasing social tensions, violent eruptions, that is, an epoch of explosive class struggle leading to the victory of socialism throughout the world. There will be a “resolution” of the Moscow-Peking conflict on this variant as well. But in this context the Chinese position, rather than appearing as aberrations of one-sided leftists will seem to be the valid theoretical expression of the urgent needs and desires of the most underprivileged sectors of the world’s population. The Kremlin position, of necessity by-passed in such a process, will appear for what it really is: the theoretical expression of, actually an apology for, the needs and desires of an economically privileged and conservatized sector of Soviet society.
1. Isaac Deutscher in the London Observer, January 28, 1962, refers to the well-known break between the Chinese CP leaders and Stalin over the question of the revolution. In connection with the current dispute he wrote:
“Is the quarrel then mainly over the ‘wrong’ done to Stalin posthumously? But Mao had been, throughout his career, in tacit conflict with Stalin – he seized power against Stalin’s advice. After the Twentieth Congress he sought, with his ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom,’ to out-do Khrushchev in de-Stalinization.”
Last updated: 28.1.2006