Letters from China

Letter Number 8

May 15, 1963

Dear friends,

The chief news as seen from Peking is, in mid-May:

1) In Laos the U.S.A. seeks by bribery, intrigue and assassination what she failed to get by civil war and the Geneva Conference. Dangerous to peace!

2) China's chief of state Liu Shao-chi visits Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, Viet Nam. Joint statement with Ho Chi Minh very important, no space to comment here.

3) Weather still smiles on crops; consumer goods flood the land.

4) Conference of Communist Parties of U.S.S.R. and China set for July 5, see below.


Letters about the Great Communist Debate come to me from all the world, especially from Americans. Some express panic lest "UNITY': be lost. A man from Vancouver speaks of "regrettable, internecine differences, now, let us hope, a thing of the past", and I smile wryly, for the discussion is barely beginning. Others welcome "this clearing of the air". From New York to California they report that discussions go on over coffee cups and other beverages wherever Progressives gather. "The Progressives have come alive to Marxist theory," one writes. "It was high time."

I am especially moved by a woman in Los Angeles who begs my assurance that "this quarrelling will soon stop", and adds: "Our paramount concern is not who is right but that 'UNITY' be preserved. It does not so much matter that leaders in the U.S.S.R. and China have different views on some basic matters, but our hopes for the world would be STRICKEN if the socialist world should split in two." (Capitals are hers.)

How can I assure her? I cannot tell her what to believe. Too many already make up their minds by rubber stamp. I can at most tell the great importance of this debate and what it seems to me to be about. Perhaps I may refute a few slanders and give a few facts that may help. I shall not even try to tell her "China's case". China has done that already in eight pamphlets that for three months circle the world in 14 languages. As for Khrushchov's views, they have been in World Marxist Review for years and even filled pages of NY Times.

I shall tell my friend: Do not expect this discussion to be quickly over. This is not just "quarrelling". This is an attempt, in a dangerous epoch, to chart man's way. This is a quest that comes down ages, sought by all religions and philosophies. Since Marx, some people seek the way by analysis of class struggles and lessons from history. Communists call it prosaically "the Party Line".

I shall tell her next: The debate need not indulge in name-calling, slanders, dirty tricks and expulsions. These are harmful but in the end injure chiefly the perpetrators. When organizations built by years of devoted labor throw out members, this is loss. But clarity of thought and the awakening of the human spirit are greater values. Revolutionaries strong enough to risk expulsion will go on organizing under new forms. It will not set back the world Communist movement.

I shall tell her third: This will strain the unity of the socialist camp but will not break it. All people in the socialist camp want unity. They will see to it.

And last I shall say: One thing might be worse than disunity in the socialist camp; that would be unity of the socialist camp against the world revolution. Now in our time when two-thirds of the world's people on three great continents rise up and seek the way, it is hard if they hear conflicting voices, but it would be worse to hear only one voice and that one wrong!

I feel for this friend because I myself not long ago thought that ideological differences didn't much matter. Then I learned how the Chinese viewed it. It was late summer of 1960 when Khrushchov cracked down on China's economy. An American weekly--I think Newsweek, claimed he said in Bucharest: "I have means to bring them to their knees." One doesn't believe Newsweek, but those words stuck because he was so clearly trying it. Within a month he jerked out all Soviet specialists from the big constructions and enterprises all over China and stopped certain deliveries on machines, spare parts and services that had been contracted.

I never got the full picture, for the Chinese wouldn't talk about it. But nobody could miss it when great housing areas, built for Soviet experts all over China, went dark. Or when Peking and Shanghai auto-bus lines cut services and ran with great plastic bags of sewer-gas on their roofs for want of gasoline; or when the swank Turbojets that made the Peking-Canton run in four hours were parked on the edges of airports--dangerous for lack of servicing. Or when tractors halted in fields in the midst of the drought, lacking parts. Chinese refused all details, saying this was best "in the interests of the unity of the socialist camp and the reputation of the U.S.S.R." Not to this day do they ever blame those troubles on the U.S.S.R., but only that "some comrades behaved badly".

In the midst of all this a Chinese leader invited me to dinner. An ideological discussion had been going on that I hardly noticed. So I was taken aback when my host suddenly said: "It seems you are disturbed by the ideological differences." I tried to find words.

"No, I don't think the ideological differences worry me. They seem different sides of the same coin. Moscow sits in the United Nations and deals with Eisenhower and DeGaulle; perhaps they can persuade him to act better to Algerians. China is a U.N. outlaw; she can help Algerians directly. It's a useful division of labor, as long as Moscow and Peking cooperate. What disturbs me is this economic crack-down. If Khrushchov had any regard for the strength of the Socialist Camp, he would pour money and machines and experts into China. Nobody does so much on so little as the Chinese. But he tries to ruin you and injures the socialist camp thereby. I am much upset by such action from a Communist."

My host replied, almost sternly: "We do not thus regard it. An economic setback can be relatively soon overcome. A mistaken 'Line' could curse our children's children. The Second International disintegrated because of a mistaken Line, with grave results for the world. The results would be wider now."

My mind flashed to 1914 when the Social Democratic Parties betrayed their international theories, and voted war credits, each in his own land, giving the green light to the First World War. I saw that the "wider results" meant the danger of nuclear war for the world. My host was saying that no economic loss to China could be mentioned in the same breath with China's convictions on the way to defend world peace.

That is the rank the Chinese give to ideology.

Man's way to peace and progress--in short, the world revolution--takes precedence of everything else.

Such is the importance the Chinese give to finding and holding the way through this epoch of conflict, which Marx and Lenin foresaw as a possible hundred years of revolutions and wars, into the Great Harmony, as the Chinese often call it, of the future Communist world where wars shall cease.

* * *

For a century Marxist ideology has advanced through polemics; the past fifty years have seen three Great Debates. The first was between Lenin and Kautsky and other "revisionists" of the Second International; it led to the October Revolution and the forming of Communist Parties all over the world. The second was the debate in which Stalin won over Trotsky; this led to the building of the world's first socialist state, encircled by capitalist foes. At the same time Mao Tse-tung's fierce ideological struggles with Left and Right deviations, integrated Marxist thought with the concrete problems of China, and led to the liberation of China, the world's first victorious anti-imperialist revolution. This broke the encirclement of the U.S.S.R. and tripled the population of the socialist camp to 40 percent of the world's people.

Today's Great Debate takes place when imperialism disintegrates on a world scale, yet still holds the H-Bomb in its hands, when two-thirds of the world's people surge forward in anti-imperialist struggles, in Asia, Africa, Latin America. This debate must concern the triple relation of these awakening peoples, the dying but still deadly imperialism, and the socialist nations. It must consider the laws and limits of coexistence, the relation of the national liberation struggles to world peace.

This debate will not be a short one. Even the agenda is not yet agreed. The Chinese Party, in its March 9th letter about the Bilateral Conference, proposed five main subjects for discussion, the first of them being: "The strategy and tactics of revolution in the contemporary world", which is not something to settle in a week. The other four subjects concerned: opposing imperialism and defending world peace, the liberation struggles of oppressed nations and people, the strengthening of unity and power of the socialist camp and the strengthening of the unity of the world Communist movement. The Chinese added that any point on which agreement could not now be reached, might be laid aside for later conferences. The Soviet reply on March 30 also came out with five subjects for discussion, in which "revolution" was conspicuously omitted, being replaced by "coexistence and disarmament".


Why is the debate needed? Let us look at Iraq. In 1958 a colonel named Kassim overthrew an evil ruler who served Western oil interests; the Iraqi Communists were his strongest political support. A united front. True to his type, Kassim moved to the Right, began to disarm all "people's organizations". The Communists, dutiful to Khrushchov's ideas, allowed him to do it. They were publicizing Iraq's "peaceful transition" just before they were all slaughtered--thousands of Communists and Kassim too--by local friends of the U.S. oil interests. This was a major tragedy for the people of Iraq. Moral ... in a united front, it is no kindness to your ally to let him disarm you.

It might have happened in Cuba, had not Castro held out against U.N. unilateral inspection and thereby saved the sovereignty of Cuba, instead of being handed over to Kennedy as the Congo was handed, via the U.N., without even needing American troops. It could happen in Laos right now if the Pathet Lao gave up their arms. The Pathet Lao won't; they learned from China.

China learned the hard way the strategy of revolution, in twenty years of armed struggle, by mistakes that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Some of these mistakes were China's own, some were not. "You have a united front with Chiang; support the head of state." This was the "Wang Ming Line" during the early years of the war against Japan. The New Fourth Army's Deputy Commander, Hsiang Ying, followed it into a trap where his forces were slaughtered. The leader of one detachment followed Mao's line instead; he avoided the trap, eventually took East China, Nanking, Shanghai and is today China's Foreign Minister Chen Yi.

The problem repeats now on a world scale. The anti-imperialist revolution begins in a nation as a "national front" which contains military men, landlords, bourgeois and intellectuals as well as workers and peasants. Who leads? Usually a military man or upper-class ruler at first--Chiang, Nehru. But what is the backbone? Usually the hunger of peasants for land. What shall be the relations between groups and how shall these relations develop? The rising peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America desperately need to know. The Russians never had the problem; their revolution was short, and was not a revolution against foreign imperialist rule and any men now alive who led it have been tossed aside by Khrushchov. The Chinese have rich experience. The men who developed China's strategy are still alive. Other people should be able to learn from China's experience.

So now the great debate will not cease until it moves through struggle to a new unity as Marxist debates have done before.


...I briefly note a few:

1) Some think this is primarily a "quarrel between China and the U.S.S.R." affected by "national interests" of territory, trade, power. It isn't. I have shown above how firmly China subordinates "national interests" to questions of basic theory. The debate is worldwide; it has been gathering for years in world conferences. Chinese tried to prevent it from polarizing as a debate between China and Russia; for a long time they only argued against "Tito". An American friend in Ghana thinks the true polarization of debate is on racial lines, but my Chinese friends think this would be even more dangerous to the world than a "Sine-Soviet" debate. The debate should be seen not as China against Russia, not as white peoples against colored, but as two different concepts of "the way", revolutionary and non-revolutionary.

2) Some think China "diverged" from the "general Communist path". This is not true. Khrushchov diverged and was proud of it. In the 20th Congress of the CPSU Feb. 1956, he consolidated power by attacking Stalin and portraying the entire period of socialist building in the U.S.S.R. as unrelieved blackness to which the Khrushchov period was "the Dawn". Khrushchov's new ideology-now called "creative Marxism-Leninism"--shook the entire world movement, and encouraged counter-revolution in Hungary and trouble in Poland that nearly came to armed clash. China moved to consolidate "unity", both by the two pamphlets on "Historical Experiences of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" and by Chou En-lai's personal visits to Warsaw and Budapest. Khrushchov was grateful to China at the time.

A common "Line" was set by two international conferences, in 1957 and 1960, which produced the Moscow Declaration and the Moscow Statement of 81 Parties, unanimously agreed by all, as the "world Communist path". China accepts them and follows them. Khrushchov violates them unilaterally as he chooses and then expects the' world Communist movement to go along because of the prestige of the U.S.S.R. China mentions some violations in the pamphlet "Whence the Differences?" (Feb. 27, 1983). I note the unilateral assault on Albania in Oct. 1961, the re-endorsement of Yugoslavia in 1962, and especially that, after the Moscow Declaration and Statement clearly stated that imperialism, led by U.S. imperialism, is the main world danger, and "as long as imperialism exists there will be soil for aggressive wars", Khrushchov exalted "the spirit of Camp David", spoke of Eisenhower as a peace-lover, and promoted the idea that all revolutionary struggles are dangerous, and may escalate into world war, while even with imperialism it is possible to secure by negotiation a "world without wars".

Statements that China thinks world war "inevitable", or even "desirable", that she opposes "coexistence" and "disarmament", are plain lies. China promoted "the five principles of coexistence" before Khrushchov came to power. China stands for total destruction of nuclear arms, the abolition of all foreign military bases around the world; she has repeatedly proposed a "nuclear-free" zone in Asia and the Pacific, including the U.S.A.


a) Is coexistence to be seen as a policy whereby socialist nations keep out of war with capitalist nations by mutually respecting each other's sovereignty and not intruding in each other's internal affairs, or as a "new era" introduced in Camp David whereby "only the heads of governments ... invested with great power ... are able to settle complicated international problems" (Khrushchov in speech to Supreme Soviet, Oct. 31, 1959)? Shall Kennedy and Khrushchov "divide and rule" the world?

b) Does disarmament start by abolishing worldwide foreign military bases which imperialists maintain or by suppressing national revolutions by U.N. police?

c) Is "world peace" defended by activating all "peace forces" - the socialist camp, the national liberation movements, the revolutionary struggles of workers and the peace movements generally--to increase joint pressure against imperialism until they bring it down, or by deals between the strongest socialist power and the strongest imperialist power imposed on the lesser nations? These are some questions for the Great Debate.

3) Some people say China has few followers. This also is not true. Marxist debates do not vote by show of hands; they argue till unanimity is reached. But indications exist that show clearly where many Parties stand. Those who have flatly stood up for China's views form a minority of Communist Parties, but contain a majority of Communist members in the socialist camp and in the world. China's 17 million Communist members form nearly half of the 35 million in the socialist camp. Add 1,160,000 from Korea and 60,000 from Albania to get more than a majority.

On the world scale, add Indonesia, whose more than two million members make the largest Communist Party outside the socialist nations, and you hardly need Japan's strong Party of 100,000, and New Zealand's small but energetic Party, and various small Asian Parties, mostly illegal, to get more than half the estimated 40 to 42 million Communists in the world. Moreover, many Parties whose central committees attacked China contain groups of members now endorsing China's views; the New York Times May 2 noted that China's views are gaining converts.

China's views have been largely unknown in much of the world. Now they are out very widely. They make converts. An American friend in Ghana wrote me, on seeing three of the Peking pamphlets: "It is clear that we have not been getting China's views on ANYTHING." A young woman in New York wrote with joy: "What lovely and accurate mincemeat they make (of the opposition). The greatest clarity of thought, simplicity of expression, and creative Marxist-Leninist practise seem to be Chinese."

Never in history has there been such an appetite for ideology as the demand for these pamphlets shows. In part it is due to their clear thinking, but basically it is due to the worldwide hunger for any hint of the way. This is not the only way and certainly not the final way, which can only be charted when the best brains of the most progressive leaders of all the world's peoples combine. But it is the way as learned by one-fourth of earth's people in more than a century of anti-imperialist struggles, scrupulously analyzed by the leaders who won final victory and who place man's way to peace and socialism above the economic advance of their own land.

China publishes all sides of the Great Debate. Some other Parties publish both sides; New Zealand's does. But none with the exhausting thoroughness of the Chinese. Page after newspaper page of Khrushchov's long speeches, Togliatti and Thorez, the attacks on China by 44 Communist Parties, including the CPUSA, all see print in major newspapers. At first the editors answered the attacks; in the end they ran out of time and space. The last of the 44 attacks were published with only the comment that the Chinese people had to know everything and this was it.

Chinese study it diligently. They work harder at Marxism than any people I know. An American friend in Peking told me he found it hard to absorb all the ideology. "But our cook," he said with awe, "lets our potatoes scorch on the stove while he masters Togliatti's structural reform and Italian Constitution." Chinese intend to qualify for the Great Debate. For the world revolution is thundering down time's corridors.

* * *


If they argue so hard and rank ideology so high, why will not the socialist camp split?

1) The only splits that have threatened the socialist camp came from Khrushchov and were mended by the help of China. These were in 1956-57 in Hungary and Poland, and in 1961 when Khrushchov tried to expel Albania. Chou En-lai helped with the consolidation of unity in Hungary and Poland, and stood up for Albania. One result: the East European nations followed Khrushchov only half way; all of them kept their embassies and trade relations with Albania, only withdrawing ambassadors. Lately Rumania returned her ambassador. Albania stays in the socialist camp after all.

2) China will not break the Sine-Soviet Alliance; Khrushchov would not be able to. He didn't succeed in bringing even Albania "to its knees" but only threw away the China market and is probably sorry he did.

3) The Soviet and Chinese people both deeply know their need of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, for their own security, for the unity of the socialist camp and for the peace of the world. Any leader of either nation rash enough to tamper with this Alliance will be stopped by his own people. No leaders are omnipotent or all-wise.

The Chinese, confident that this basic unity is unbreakable, prepare to argue as long as need be to reach unanimity about the way, that must not only unite the socialist lands but work out forms for their Alliance with the national liberation movements and the workers' revolutionary movements, on a basis not of dominance but of equality and mutual benefit. Marx and Lenin both took a lifetime at it, but today it shouldn't take so long.




The day was brilliant. I spent the morning in the parks watching the merry-making, and the evening on top of Tien An Men, seeing fireworks. Ten days later a clipping gave me the news as wired by UPI from Tokyo:

"Communist China celebrated May Day with mass parades, giant pictures of Stalin, and verbal attacks on India, the United States and Soviet Premier Khrushchov.

"The Communist 'New China News Agency'... indicated that the Russians were absent from the main reception on the eve of the holiday.

"The Chinese reaffirmed their 'militant friendship' with their tiny European ally Albania, an outcast in the East European Communist bloc.

"Peking's blast against Khrushchov's policy of coexistence was shown by" -- the alleged quotation given didn't mention Khrushchov, coexistence or May Day.

* * *

Astounded by this description, I checked my memory with friends and the press and confirm:

1) There were no "mass parades". For three years China's May Day goes in, not for parades of military and economic might, but for dancing, playing games and seeing shows in parks all over town. Over three million people came out, half the city's population. The nearest thing to a "mass parade" was when sportsmen, dancers, acrobats and children from the central parks poured into the Tien An Men Square for an hour at noon to show their floats. These were good.

2) There was one "giant" picture of Stalin. It stands in a row with Marx, Engels, Lenin, all pictures of equal size, historic revolutionary leaders, looking down on the square at all celebrations. There were no others; China's May Day does not feature individuals, but flags, drums, firecrackers, tissue paper flowers, children.

3) The "main reception" was not held by the state but by "people's organizations", chiefly the Trade Unions. The "New China News Agency" published at length the list of foreign trade-union delegations, with names of leaders. First in the list, as usual, came the Russians, preceded only by the World Federation of Trade Unions. Inquiry showed the Soviet Ambassador also there.

4) There were no "verbal attacks" and no speeches, except for a fairly long toast by Liu Ning-I, chairman of Central Trade Unions, and a short one by Chou Enlai. Neither mentioned India, Albania or Khrushchov. The only mention of the United States was indirect when Liu toasted "the Cuban people for frustrating U.S. imperialism's war provocations". The only reference to "militant friendship" was in Chou's brief, eloquent toast "to the liberation of the working class ... and the oppressed nations and people, to world peace, to the militant friendship of the people of all countries".

* * *

I never saw such clamorous joy as I saw in the parks that morning. I never knew there were so many kinds of dances and games. Or that children by thousands could sit on the ground so neatly on handkerchiefs to applaud the clowns and acrobats. I never knew there could be such thousands of children moving happily and freely, gaily dressed and well behaved.

In the evening the foreign guests saw the fireworks from the top of Tien An Men. We drank tea and munched sweets at little tables, applauding dancers and jugglers in intermissions. In the great square below and far out the converging boulevards, half a million people sat on the ground or danced, watching the fireworks too.

A big New Zealand trade-unionist strolled with Rewi Alley to the parapet and flung his arm out over the crowd and the mist of lights that covered the city, and up to the red, green and golden bursts of fire that obscured the stars: He sighed:

"No b-bastard in New Zealand will believe it!"-

-Try again, UPI! It must be hard to imagine from Tokyo.

A. L. S.