MIA: History: International: Sino-Soviet Split


The term "Sino-Soviet Split" refers to the gradual worsening of relations between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, and between their respective Communist Parties.   While discomfiture between them had long roots, reaching back to civil wars in China prior to the establishment of the People's Republic, the disagreements gained momentum in the decades after China's liberation and would eventually lead to the Soviets referring to the Chinese as "splittists", "left-wing adventurists", "anti-Marxist" enemies of Socialism "in league with Imperialism", while the Chinese came to regard the Soviets as "revisionists" and "social-imperialists", or "socialist in words, imperialists in deeds", and as "the principal danger in the world today."  Graduating from words to deeds, the conflict was expanded from an ideological one between two political parties to a conflict between nation states as relations between the USSR and the PRC were severed and, in 1969, their troops clashed across their common border.

Though various authors place emphases differently, its pretty generally agreed that the main issues separating the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) revolved around the questions of evaluation of Stalin, "Peaceful Coexistence", "Peaceful Transition to Socialism", and War and Imperialism.   Briefly:

1. On Stalin:  The CPC objected to the CPSU de-Stalinization campaign, arguing that the general line of the International Communist Movement (ICM) had been correct during Stalin's tenure, that he was not just a Russian or Soviet leader, but a leader of world stature with a world-wide legacy which could not be swept aside by the CPSU leadership, and that overall, his successes outweighed his failings.

2.  On War:  Whereas the CPSU recognized the power of the imperialist coalition arrayed against the socialist bloc and saw disastrous consequences for the world as a whole from nuclear war, the CPC tended to disparage the imperialists, a sentiment echoes in Mao's famous aphorism that "Imperialists are paper tigers", and instead spoke of turning world war into revolutionary war.

3. On Peaceful Coexistence:  Deriving from its views on the dangers of nuclear war, the CPSU saw coexistence with the West as in the mutual interest of both systems.  The Chinese saw this as capitulation.

4. Peaceful Transition:  The CPSU and its allied parties advocated using democratic and peaceful means to advance the struggles of the working class and toward winning state power wherever those means were available. The CPC, on the other hand, disparaged such methods and proposed that the need for revolutionary war in order to seize power was a universal law of class struggle.

The conflict wound down after the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution in China.  In the 1980s, relations between the two countries were normalized, and any remaining conflicts were more or less rendered moot by the dissolution of the USSR.  Nonetheless, thanks in part to the Chinese flooding the world with pamphlets outlining their views, and mainly to the importance of the two countries and the issues they brought up, for a large portion of the latter half of the Twentieth Century whether one was "Pekingese" or "Muscovite" was pretty much the question for the world's non-Trotskyist Left.


  Points of Departure

In 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a report criticizing Stalin. This report caused quite a stir internationally when it’s text was released. The CPC quickly expressed its disagreement with Khrushchev’s report.  As part of these exchanges, the CPC published “On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (April, 1956) and “More on the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (December, 1956), seeking to refute several points made in Khrushchev’s report.


In this context of growing dissent, a series of meetings of the world’s Communist Parties were staged.  The two principal such meetings were those held in Moscow in 1957 and 1960. Though ostensibly to build the unity of the Communist Movement, they were dominated by the widening rift between the CPSU and the CPC, and at each both sides fought to have their views incorporated into the final documents. Although China could count on the unqualified support of only the Albanian delegation, it reportedly managed to have some important amendments included in the documents issued from the conferences.  The documents of those meetings were among the last efforts made to compromise on several major issues between the two parties and themselves became reference points in the polemic that followed.



  Rival Views Propounded

Up to this time the CPC and the CPSU took care to not criticize each other openly by name, instead referring obliquely to "revisionists" (from the Chinese side), or to "splittists" (from the Soviet side), in the International Communist Movement (ICM), or using the issue of Titoism and Yugoslavia as a stand-in for the larger issue of conduction of the ICM.   Nonetheless, tensions were often high.  In June 1960, Chinese officials -including Zhou Enlai- had pointedly criticized Soviet policies in front of the Soviet delegates (some would say "attacked" the Soviet delegation).  The Soviets attempted to bring the CPC to heel by suspending distribution of Chinese periodicals in the USSR, and in July of that year, all Soviet technical assistants -some 3,000 in all- were withdrawn from China.  Nonetheless, later in 1960 things were still cool enough that the CPC could proclaim "Eternal, Unbreakable Sino-Soviet Friendship" (Peking Review,No. 49/50 of 1960). 



  The Chinese Proposal Concerning the General Line of the ICM

In June of 1963 the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in response to its letter of March 30, 1963.   In it, the CPC took the offensive and, reasserting that "revisionism" was the main danger within the socialist camp, spelled out its differences with the leadership of the CPSU and made a number of proposals.  The Chinese quickly translated it into several languages and published it, along with the texts of the CPSU letters of  February 21 and March 30, 1963, and the CPC letter of March 9, 1963, as  A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement.



 Soviet Response to the Chinese Proposal

The CPSU responded to the publication of the CPC's Proposal by publishing an Open Letter detailing its position on the matter and holding the CPC responsible for the divisions in the ICM.   Having made its point, the CPSU followed by proposing -e.g. in a letter to the CPC, dated November 29, 1963- that the polemic be taken out of public view, as well as advancing a set of counterproposals which, it claimed, would "normalize" relations.



 Chinese Commentaries on the Soviet Open Letter

 Further Commentaries

 Letters Between the Central Committees of the CPSU and the CPC

  Some Reactions Abroad