Stalinism: Its Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993

The Sino-Soviet Split

The theory of 'socialism in one country' is not just a 'theory' – it is the theoretical expression of the interests of the bureaucracy of a workers' state. Thus, the theory, originated (for all intents and purposes) by Stalin, contained an unintended internal contradiction.

This contradiction manifested itself in the development of relations between the Chinese and Soviet Communist Parties. At first, the significance of 'socialism in one country' for Communist Parties outside of the USSR was that they were obliged to subordinate their own interests to those of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, in order to defend and build socialism in the USSR. Thus, for Communist Parties outside the USSR, 'socialism in one country' was an expression of internationalism – the subordination of the interests of a national section of the working class to the needs of the working class internationally.

Pretty soon however, it became apparent that it was equally possible to 'build socialism' in China, Italy or Britain. Indeed, in the early 1950s all the CPs adopted the “Our-land Road to Socialism” as their national program. The seeds of the disintegration of the world Stalinist movement had been sown. The apparently internationalist perspective of 'socialism in one country' became transformed into its opposite!

In the wake of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, the Chinese and Soviet bureaucracies were more and more at odds with one another. After an intense exchange of insults over several years, Khrushchev withdrew Soviet aid from China in August 1960. The resulting Sino-Soviet split cut through the entire world Stalinist movement irrevocably.

Although the content of the split was national differences (the interests of the Chinese bureaucracy as opposed to the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy), the form was a struggle over differences in political perspective (the political line of Mao Zedong as opposed to the political line of Khrushchev). Consequently, the Sino-Soviet split spawned splits over political perspective in the national CPs around the world, ultimately leading to the formation of two rival international formations adhering to rival programs and rival international centres. But fundamentally the split was national in its source.

How does this help explain the adherence of parties to rival international centres? Is this explained by identifying something inherently 'Russian' or 'Chinese' in the rival political perspectives?

The issue is not supposed national differences between the two leading parties, but the different historical development of the revolution in Russia and China, and its conjuncture with the development of the workers' bureaucracy in the different countries. The split manifested itself in the national parties of the Communist movement around the world in tendencies reflecting different phases in the historical development of the bureaucracy. [118]

This observation does not contradict the thesis that splits in the workers' bureaucracy (or in the bourgeoisie or any social formation for that matter), reflect economic conflicts. For these economic differences themselves develop historically. The social development of a class, and its politics, rests upon the underlying historical development of the productive forces.

Nor does the thesis that the Sino-Soviet split reflected national differences contradict the thesis that class differences lay behind the split. National differences could manifest themselves only on the basis of the petit-bourgeois nature of the bureaucracy and, particularly in China, the peasant masses.

The main geo-political and historical differences between the Chinese and Russian Revolutions at this time, reflected through the standpoints of their bureaucratic leaderships were:

  1. the different level of development of the productive forces – China was more backward. In 1956-1960, the USSR was at a stage in the development of the productive forces at which national resources were no longer able to develop the economy in isolation from the world economy, and the capacity of bureaucratic command to develop the economy was becoming exhausted, while China was at an earlier stage in the construction of a planned economy;
  2. the dominant role of the peasantry in the Chinese revolution, as opposed to the Russian Revolution. The working class was the leading force in both cases, but the Russian Revolution was made in the cities, and was taken out to the countryside; the Chinese Revolution was made in the countryside, and rolled in from the countryside to the cities;
  3. the different perspective in relation to imperialism – the USSR now felt less threatened, both internally and externally, but wanted trade with the West, while the Chinese rightly felt immediately threatened by imperialism.

Despite these differences in the development of the Russian and Chinese revolution, the leadership of the Chinese Revolution was an integral and generic part of the Communist International created by the Russian Revolution, and corrupted by the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. The Chinese Revolution had achieved victory thanks to the Chinese Party’s readiness to empirically interpret Stalin’s directives (which were based on the requirements of the Soviet bureaucracy) according to the perceived needs of the Chinese revolution.

However, the leaders of the Chinese Revolution were trained in the Comintern during the 'struggle against Trotskyism' and the purging of the Chinese Left Opposition and never questioned the fundamental correctness of Stalin’s line.

I: The Great Leap Forward, 1958 – 1961

During the 1950s the Chinese had carried out a program of land distribution coupled with industrialisation under state ownership. The Soviet Union provided some technical assistance to China in its industrialisation program, but this aid was grudging and insufficient. Unlike the European countries occupied by the Soviet Red Army, the Chinese were very much masters of their own destiny.

The USSR had definite economic, political and military interests in aiding the Chinese, the more so while the Cold War kept them isolated from the world market.

By the mid-1950s, the situation in China had somewhat stabilised, and the immediate threat from the imperialist wars in Korea and Vietnam had receded. The Chinese capitalists had been expropriated in 1952-3, and the Trotskyists (and their families) all rounded up and imprisoned at the same time. The remaining Kuomintang on the mainland had been eliminated.

In 1953, the Communist Party and government officials were all graded on a twenty-six level hierarchy, with information, privileges and salaries (in a ratio of 20:1) precisely graduated from top to bottom. For the first time in history, China seemed to have a strong and stable national government.

However, Mao Zedong was extremely alarmed by the turn taken by Khrushchev. He perceived that the Soviet economy was being allowed to fall behind, uprisings had taken place in Europe, and Khrushchev was seeking peace with imperialism. These policies meant for Mao that China had to be prepared to go it alone, and that the time was ripe for a 'Great Leap Forward'.

The “Great Leap Forward” policy borrowed elements from the history of the USSR in a uniquely Chinese combination. Forced collectivisation from Stalin’s “third period”; ultra-centralisation expressed through an exaggerated cult of the leader; Stakhanovism from the early 30s and workers' brigades from the “military communism” period; and the uniquely Chinese policy of establishing communes as relatively self-sufficient economic units, incorporating light industry and construction projects.

The success of the first 5 year plan led the Chinese leadership to believe that the perspective of 'catching up and overtaking' the capitalist powers could be achieved at break-neck speed. The perspective also expressed the desire of the Chinese to secure their national independence by overcoming the legacy of backwardness.

The plan failed disastrously. Fundamentally because it was misconceived, based as it was upon bureaucratic command and the utopian perspective of building Socialism in isolation in a backward country and having no regard for a planned development of all sectors of the economy. The entire population was mobilised to produce one commodity, symbolic of industrialisation – steel. Harvests were allowed to rot in the fields while peasants produced “turds” of cast iron made out of scrap; factories, schools and hospitals abandoned their work to smelt iron. Simultaneously, the peasants were collectivised. The collective farms were provided with ample food via communal canteens to ease the way. But stocks were soon exhausted, and by the time food ran out, it was too late to rescue the harvest. Ten million people died in one year as a result of the disastrous harvests. An estimated 30 million died of famine during the period of the Great Leap Forward. [119]

The already rampant “cult of the individual” around Mao Zedong was elevated to a level of national insanity in this period in order to force through the policy which was driving millions to death by starvation. The steel project was extended to “socialist miracles” in every branch of industry, every one a figment of imaginative double-speak and collective self-deception, in which no-one dared to tell the King he had no clothes.

There is a considerable degree of commonality between the policies pursued by Khrushchev and Mao’s policies during this period, particularly in the arenas of economics, science and technology. Also, both Mao and Khrushchev were engaged in battles to establish their authority over their respective Parties. However, in the arena of ideology and international relations, Mao and Khrushchev’s policies were heading off in entirely different directions.

Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes was perceived by the Chinese Stalinist leadership as extremely threatening, given the fact that they were drawing the ideological justification for their policy from Stalin’s role in Soviet history. Mao was attempting to adopt the cloak of Stalin, just as Khrushchev was smearing this cloak with mud. The policy of the “Great Leap Forward” was imposing considerable hardship on the people, and it did not help them at all to have 'Comrade Khrushchev' encouraging other comrades to look critically at the historical dogma upon which it was justified. The uprisings in Poland and Hungary were practical proof of the conclusions that workers could draw from Khrushchev’s statements.

And things were none too smooth in the Soviet Communist Party either. When the Chinese challenged Khrushchev’s position and his proposed changes in economic policy, both sides found supporters within the other camp. Consequently, the ideological dispute rapidly escalated into a split, and Khrushchev withdrew Soviet technical support to China in August 1960. This was the final blow for the Great Leap Forward, which was abandoned a few months later.

The failure of the Great Leap Forward was a huge blow for the CCP and Mao Zedong in particular. Nevertheless, the Chinese people had made their own revolution. They had united the country and freed China from foreign intervention. And there were a thousand million members of the Chinese Revolution. This represented an enormous social force, independent of imperialism and independent of the Soviet bureaucracy. Within a couple of years of the abandonment of the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese economy was able to recover itself, and by the end of 1962 China was relatively peaceful, stable and economically sound.

Much like Stalin when he invented the perspective of 'socialism in one country', the Chinese CP made a virtue out of the necessity of their international isolation. Mao now challenged Khrushchev for the leadership of the international Stalinist movement. The principal logic behind this challenge was to further the foreign policy objectives of the Chinese bureaucracy, just as had been the case with the Comintern.

The independent military strength of the Chinese which had been demonstrated so forcefully in Korea, was again dramatically proved in the border conflict with India in 1961. The Chinese army suddenly swept deeply into India, and then withdrew as rapidly as they had entered a few days later. In 1964 China tested its first Atom Bomb, and in 1967 the H-bomb.

The fundamental thesis of this book is that Stalinism is the political expression of the social interests of the bureaucracy of a workers' state. The emergence of a new workers' state bureaucracy with its own powerful national base naturally spawned an independent, but generically similar political creed.

II: Maoism

At the time of the international split in the Communist Parties, Maoism was clearly identifiable as a left tendency. However, like any other Stalinist formation, it has embraced a wide range of political tendencies in its growth and differentiation.

Whereas the split between Tito and Stalin did not lead to any significant and permanent splits [120] in the international movement, the Sino-Soviet split triggered splits in virtually every national section of the movement. The Stalinist monolith was broken. Hitherto, fragmentation had seemed to be the characteristic of formations to the left of Stalinism. Now, there seemed to be no limit to the extent to which the Stalinist movement itself was capable of fragmenting.

Given that all varieties of Stalinism encompass a wide range of politics, it is not easy to give a precise political characterisation of Maoism. Its fundamental thesis is that the USSR was transformed into a capitalist state by means of the election of Nikita Khrushchev as its national leader. The other distinguishing feature derives from the nature of the Chinese revolution – a national democratic revolution, led by the Communist Party, based on a peasant army, which grew over into the establishment of a deformed workers' state resting on the peasant masses.

“Soviet-Social imperialism”

One of the central contradictions of Stalinism in the theoretical domain is this. Its very legitimacy rests upon its claim to be the inheritor of Marxism, the continuators of the Russian Revolution, and the representatives of the international working class; and yet the very existence of the bureaucracy belies this. Their political perspectives run counter to the perspectives of Marxism, and the blood of the leaders of the Russian Revolution is on their hands.

The result of this contradiction is that Stalinism manifests itself as 'revisionism'. That is, Stalinism seeks to validate itself by drawing upon and utilising Marxist language and theory, while rationalising political positions which are at odds with Marxism.

In the case of disputes within Stalinism, this tendency to revisionism may lead to absurdities which beggar belief. Given that this dispute within the ranks of the Communist International lead to the rupture of the Comintern and military conflict, it is worth a short diversion to investigate how fraternal parties, arguing on the basis of a shared interpretation of history, arrived at the point of regarding each other as 'the main enemy'.

Marxism holds that political differences ultimately reflect class antagonisms. For example, in this very work, I have tried to explain the nature of Stalinism in terms of the social position of the bureaucracy, rather than by a logical criticism of its theoretical positions. However, Trotsky warned:

'[Some comrades] assert most flatly, with the greatest insistence and sometimes most brutally, that every difference of opinion ... is an expression of the interests of classes opposed to the proletariat' but 'there should be no over-simplification and vulgarisation in the understanding of the thought that party differences ... are nothing but a struggle for influence of antagonistic classes. ... The party is able to resolve a problem by different means, and differences arise as to which of these means is the better ... but that does not necessarily mean that you have there two class positions'. [121]

Not heeding these warnings, the Chinese leadership felt obliged to carry their polemic against Khrushchev’s policies to the point of ascribing a bourgeois class origin to them. Once a socialist has publicly ascribed bourgeois class origins to an opposing argument, all possibility of compromise or fraternal discussion has been closed off. Debate is replaced by class struggle.

The Chinese characterised Khrushchev as a 'capitalist roader' and the Soviet Union as a 'social-imperialist' state. In its foreign policy, and in the propaganda of their sympathisers in the capitalist world, the USSR was portrayed as a worse enemy of the working class than imperialism itself, the 'greatest danger to world peace' (read 'number one target for war'), etc etc.

I am not aware of any substantial argument to justify the assertion that the USSR had suddenly become an imperialist country, other than criticisms of the policies of the government. For those claiming to be Marxists, it would hardly be satisfactory to reduce characterisation of the social relations of a country to analysis of the policies of the government of the day. And yet, the Maoists' whole political rationale rested on just such a puerile distortion of Marxism.

Communists in the capitalist countries who sympathised with the Chinese CP and split from the pro-Moscow factions, were encouraged to regard their former comrades, not simply as 'mistaken', or as Communists belonging to a different tendency, but as representatives of an imperialist power – and what is more – a super-power representing a greater threat than US imperialism itself!

Under these conditions, the possibility of Communists in a capitalist country maintaining a united front policy against the common enemy was scant indeed.

That the USSR was not 'socialist' was of course true. Nor was China. That Khrushchev’s policies threatened to open the way to capitalist restoration may well have been true; but that he actually did restore capitalism is patent nonsense. That in Khrushchev Mao confronted the leader of a imperialist power is nonsense.

That the USSR subordinated countries to its own interests is true; but it also often sacrificed immediate material benefits in favour of other nations within its orbit. What it did do, was to tie the economies of other countries into markets and a division of labour dominated by its own statified economy. But this is not the same thing as “imperialism” in the very specific meaning of the word as understood by Marxism.

The way in which finance-monopoly capital dominates the economies of other countries is quite different from the way in which the degenerated workers' state did. Therefore, it does not follow that trampling upon the national rights of other nations is tantamount to being 'imperialist'. The USSR was not an imperialist country in the sense defined by Lenin, in the sense understood by Marxism.

In his famous work, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin gave a very precise definition of imperialism:

  1. the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life;
  2. the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation on the basis of this “finance capital,” of a financial oligarchy;
  3. the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;
  4. the formation of international monopolistic capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and
  5. the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.

'Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed'. [122]

Lenin described imperialism specifically as the highest, or last, stage of capitalism, because it has ushered in all the pre-requisites of socialism – world market, world-wide division of labour, the possibility of centralised planning, the transcendence of the nation-state – and at the same time it has taken humanity into an epoch of decay and destruction. The contradiction between the private ownership of the means of production, and the socialised character of the forces of production developed on a world scale has become absolute.

Imperialism grew out of colonialism, which had forcibly dragged the peoples of all continents into the world-wide system of capitalist production and distribution. Based on the most modern forces of production built up in the 'home' country, colonialism gave way to the decline of the 'home' states into rentier states, living off the proceeds of exported capital.

How does this definition of imperialism compare with the nature of the USSR?

In the first place, the post-war USSR arose not out of a colonial power or out of capitalism, but by the degeneration of a workers state; not through the concentration of capital but through its expropriation.

Secondly, the penetration of the products of the USSR into the countries it dominated did not take place by export of capital (investment in local industries and repatriation of profits). Trade between the USSR and its “satellites” was organised by bureaucrats by means of planned export and import of products, not by a “financial oligarchy” exporting and importing capital.

Thirdly, the backward nature of the Soviet economy meant that it was the USSR that supplied raw materials, oil and gas, to the countries it dominated, in exchange for manufactured goods and machinery, rather than the other way around.

The economy of each country was planned independently, and interconnected through trade. This is quite different from the penetration of the economy of the dominated country through foreign ownership of the means of production and the extraction of surplus value in the form of repatriated profits or products. The isolation of a country from the world market and the world-wide division of labour is not the method of imperialism. The tying of a country’s economy instead into a common market (i.e. COMECON) dominated by trade with the USSR, is not the same as imperialism.

This economic domination of a country was certainly a feature of colonialism, but imperialism corresponds to the breaking down of this exclusive colonialist relation (such as pertained to the way Portugal maintained its colonies up until 1974) and its replacement by domination which is founded on “free trade” and capital investment.

The majority of capital investment in the economies of other countries made by the USSR was not in Eastern Europe for instance, but in the Middle East. This policy was dictated by the military need to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring capitalist countries. The USSR’s relation to these Middle Eastern countries was not that of an imperialist power, other than in the narrow military sense.

What was the real meaning of this gross mis-application of Marxist terminology on the part of the Chinese Stalinists? On the arena of international diplomacy, it was not long before the need to fight 'Soviet social imperialism' meant making diplomatic overtures to the US, and making deals with the US aimed against any national liberation movement which chose to remain within the orbit of 'social imperialism' – i.e. continue to accept aid from the USSR to fight the US, and refuse to bite the hand that fed it.

This diplomatic struggle led to a division of the world’s national liberation movements into rival pro-China and pro-Soviet camps. The USA was then able to choose to make it a three-way fight or lend support to one or another party in the internal struggle, choosing their tactics solely in order to maximise the advantage for imperialism and most weaken the liberation struggle. One of the most scandalous episodes in this saga was the aid that never seemed to be able to reach the Vietnamese from the USSR because it travelled through China.

The rapid transition from the apparently ultra-left denunciation of Khrushchev in favour of a harder anti-imperialist line, to forming close pacts with US imperialism to betray and undermine the anti-imperialist struggle, took place over approximately a decade from 1960.

“Bloc of four classes”

In 1949, Mao defined the nature of the Chinese Revolution and its task as follows:

'... the people’s democratic dictatorship ... to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right. Who are the people? At the present stage in China they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism – the landlord class and the bureaucratic-bourgeoisie, as well as the representatives of those classes, the Kuomintang reactionaries and their accomplices. ... Democracy is practiced within the ranks of the people, who enjoy the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, association and so on'. [123]

Just as the declarations in favour of 'freedom of association' in the above passage cannot be taken at face value, the same article quoted also refers to the leadership of the working class, within the alliance between workers and peasants, within the 'bloc of four classes'. But the fuzziness in Maoist theory on these questions in the 1940s developed over time.

In the early 1950s, the “bloc of four classes” meant attempts to incorporate bourgeois representatives in the government; it meant limiting calls for expropriation of capitalists to 'foreign monopoly capitalism', in the interests of maintaining a bloc with the 'national bourgeoisie'. In the 1960s, it meant the shackling of the urban proletariat and their subordination to the peasantry. In international relations, it meant forming political blocs with bourgeois governments at the expense of the working class. In other words the Popular Front policy which proved so disastrous for the communist movement in Europe and China in the 1930s. [124]

One of the most repulsive characteristics of Maoism is its promotion of chauvinism. The nationalism of the people of an oppressed nation is progressive in so far as it strives for national liberation and is directed against imperialism. When this nationalism is transplanted to an imperialist country such as Australia, it becomes down-right reactionary.

The Chinese Communist Party was obliged to engage in very complex political manoeuvring during the 30-year-long national liberation and civil war struggle. Once the CCP had taken power, it progressed to complete indifference to principle when it came to the formation of blocs and alliances. The tactic of uniting as broad a front as possible against the common enemy is habitually and mechanistically taken to an extreme – an extreme which has no regard for class divisions.

Maoism is 'Popular Front-ism' par excellence.

“Socialism in one commune”

The leadership of the Chinese bureaucracy was recruited from the working class and urban intelligentsia, but it rested on the peasantry. But the peasantry demanded of the Communists leaders a solution to the principal problems facing the peasantry, that they could not resolve on their own: national liberation and industrialisation.

Having been obliged to make a virtue of national self-sufficiency, the Chinese CP devised a unique solution to the problem of industrialisation which would avoid increasing the political power of the urban workers. Industrialisation would be delivered directly to the rural communes. Each commune would establish a miniature self-contained economy with its own steel manufacturing, light industry and so on, and the urban workers and professional people would be dispersed into the countryside to 'learn from the peasants'.

Decentralisation of industry, by raising the technical level of the rural economy, seemed to make sense in a country as vast and as backward as China. But it was a mistaken policy, based not upon the proletariat turning to the countryside to lead the peasantry, but upon the bureaucracy turning to the peasantry to maintain the subordination of the urban working class and the intelligentsia to the bureaucracy.

III: A conflict of interests

For the Soviet Union, a degree of liberalisation, especially in science, education and technology, and decentralisation of planning was essential. Otherwise, the bureaucratically controlled Soviet economy was going down the tube. The Chinese bureaucracy felt no such need.

Furthermore, political liberalisation was incompatible with maintenance of the Stalin myth. There was reason to fear that this may open the way to counter-revolution. Since Stalin had been made into the personification of the Revolution, there was always the danger that by opening the possibility of criticism of Stalin, Khrushchev had legitimised criticism of the revolution itself.

Secondly, Khrushchev believed that it was necessary for the Soviet Union to open up trade with the West. This meant doing whatever was necessary to soften the Cold War isolation policy of imperialism, whatever that meant for the governments, Communist Parties and liberation movements relying on Soviet support.

From every point of view these policies were extremely threatening for the Chinese. Chiang Kai Shek remained with his Army just across the Formosa Straits; a vast American Army was garrisoned in Korea, and more were pouring into Vietnam. The economy of China was extremely backward, and political liberalisation was a million miles away from the thoughts of the Chinese bureaucracy (and none too close to the hearts of the Soviet bureaucracy either, as it happened).

The Split in the CPA

Since 1949, the Communist Party of Australia had had quite close contacts with the Chinese Communist Party. It was not surprising then that they were initially more than sympathetic to China’s condemnations of Khrushchev following his 1956 'secret speech'. The more so because 'communists', who had maintained the faith for so long by way of unquestioning belief in the infallibility of Comrade J V Stalin, felt personally threatened by the leader of the world Stalinist movement condemning Stalin in the most extreme terms – “despotism”, “criminal murder”, “mass terror”, “monstrous falsification”, etc etc.

The CPA did not finally commit itself to support of the CPSU until the end of 1961. The leadership, especially Lance Sharkey, hesitated for a long time. A small party like the CPA depended more than any on the unity of the Stalinist movement. The prospect of a split was horrific for them. But as the split became inevitable, the majority of the CPA leadership sided with the Soviet Communist Party.

As is common in Australian working class politics, the CPA split along geographical lines. Ted Hill, Victorian State Secretary of the Party, supported the Chinese position. He was able, in August 1963, to leave the CPA and establish a pro-Chinese Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), with the support of Flo Russell, Clarrie O’shea and a significant number of Communist Party members prominent in the trade union movement in Victoria. Shortly after the split, Ted Bull, a CPA(M-L) member in Melbourne, won the leading position in the Wharfies union. Support for the CPA(M-L) was minimal outside of Melbourne, even as it reached about 200 members by mid-1964.

The rival workers' state bureaucracies maintained their political [125] sponsorship of the two factions, and the split was consolidated into two rival CPAs. By 1966, the CPA(M-L) had begun to establish itself in the other states.

Initially, the CPA(M-L) concentrated on propaganda, rather than directing the work of activists in the trade union and social movements. From the end of 1964 however, it combined its propaganda with serious work in the trade union movement. Just as the CPA had slavishly followed the Stalin line since 1923, the CPA(M-L) followed the Mao Zedong line. The M-L’s tendency towards dogmatism verged on being a serious problem with the English language.

Nevertheless, the Maoists still held some key positions in militant industrial unions. In 1969, Clarrie O’shea defied the penal laws which had been put in place by Menzies to crush the militancy of Stalinist-led trade unions in the 1950s. O’shea was sent to jail, and a million workers came out in his support in a powerful general strike movement. This movement destroyed the penal laws, and was the beginning of the end for the Liberal-National regimes which had held power in Australia since 1949.

The polemic inside the CPA during the period from 1956 to 1963 was one of “unity” versus the “purity” of Stalinist theory. But this polemic was but the outer form for the struggle over the issues of political perspective posed by Khrushchev.

While many CPA members were attracted by the political liberalisation implicit in Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, many in the leadership of the CPA never reconciled themselves to this denunciation. The seeds of a later split were already present. 'Even though we now rejected the substance of Chinese attacks on Soviet policy, we were unsure what to make. After the events of 1956, of the theoretical and political soundness of the regime in the Soviet Union itself', reflected Eric Aarons in his autobiography. [126]

The split had broken the monolith. Many left the CPA in the years after 1956, notably among the CP’s most prominent intellectuals. The authority of the leadership was undermined; the faith was weakened.

Brezhnev put the lid back on in the Soviet Union, but the cloth had already begun to unravel in Europe and elsewhere.

Massacre in Indonesia

One of the Communist Parties under Chinese influence was the Communist Party of Indonesia. The confusion of class-lines propagated by the Chinese led in 1965 to one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall the Communist movement.

By the early 1950s, as a result of its failure to take the leadership of the national liberation struggle, the Indonesian Communist Party had been reduced to a relatively marginal force. In the urban centres however there was a working class numbering tens of millions.

Beginning in 1950 – 1951, a new group of young leaders inspired by the victory of the Chinese Revolution, turned the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) from a small, defeated and demoralised Party into a large and dynamic force with three million members and more than 20 million supporters in affiliated organisations.

But by the early 1960s it had become reliant on the ability of the ageing President Sukharno to protect it from the CIA-supported right-wing leadership of the Army.

An unsuccessful coup by Lt. Col. Untung’s September 30th Movement in 1965, provided the pretext for devastating repression of the Party. While some PKI leaders had supported the coup, the initiative had not come from them. Hundreds of thousands of Communists and others were killed in the following months and equally large numbers imprisoned. Having destroyed the mass organisations of the working class, the Army removed President Sukharno and installed General Suharto in early 1966.

Four of the five leading figures of the PKI’s Politburo were summarily shot, but Sudisman was put on trial. Sudisman’s final address, delivered on July 21 1967, before he was sentenced to death, analysed why the strategies of the PKI led to the terrible debacle of 1965.

In this speech, [127] Sudisman explained the PKI’s policy in relation to the government of Sukharno: 'to support its progressive policies, criticise its hesitant policies, and oppose those policies which harmed the people'. In fact, the PKI collaborated with the government through the system known as Nasakom – the equal representation of nationalist, religious and communist groups in each sector of government, and supported Sukharno’s principle of Manipol – 'guided democracy'.

While the PKI was tied into this 'power sharing' arrangement, the military was plotting its overthrow. The PKI 'believed that action by the progressive officers would be the thing to safeguard President Sukharno’s left-wing policies particularly as we regarded the political situation' as 'steadily developing into a revolutionary offensive'. Thus, the PKI believed that 'the People would be made more prepared and capable of defending themselves' as a result of the action, and supported the 30th September Movement. In reality however, 'the Movement was totally isolated from any upsurge of the masses'.

The PKI declared that it was not anti-Army, 'In fact the PKI once even put forward the slogan “Two in One, the Armed Forces and the People,” and “For Civil Order Help the Police” ... [although] the PKI disagreed with the right-wing policy of certain Army generals'.

Asked whether Communists could support a petit-bourgeois military coup such as that of the September 30th Movement, Sudisman said “Both Yes and No.” The overthrow of the pro-imperialist regime in Iraq by Kasim was cited as an example of a coup which Communists rightly supported.

But “once the September 30th Movement broke out, the PKI was passive, made no resistance, and even became a ready victim of arrests – as a result of Army orders to “take action on the pretext of the PKI being directly involved.”' In fact, the Army moved swiftly and ruthlessly to liquidate the PKI and every person even remotely connected with it.

Summing up the ideological errors of the PKI, Sudisman said:

“First: In the field of ideology the mistake was subjectivism, originating socially from the ocean of the petty bourgeoisie, and based on the narrow minded working methods of the petty bourgeoisie. This means looking at something from one point of view, one-sidedly, not as a whole, with the result that reality is faced not as a coherent totality but as a cluster of discrete fragments.

“Consequently, at the height of its power, the PKI forgot to be vigilant, forgot that the imperialists and the reactionaries here at home could become consumed by a rage to strike. What was required under such conditions was essentially the Marxist-Leninist skill to calculate scientifically the concrete balance of forces on each side, on the side of the PKI and on that of its adversaries. ...

“Aside from subjectivism, the PKI leaders were also infected with modern revisionism, which comes from the embourgeoisement caused by attaining official positions in the state. These ideological weaknesses were the origins of certain theoretical conceptions of [co-operation] with the bourgeoisie. One example was the slogan “Manipol is a common programme.” This particular formulation was correct. But it became incorrect when it was expanded to run: “If Manipol as a common programme is carried out consistently, it will be identical with the programme of the PKI.” As a common programme, Manipol also makes room for the interests of the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie), and therefore maintains the existence of exploitation of the working class. On the other hand, the programme of the PKI is Socialism, which completely abolishes the exploitation of man by man. Thus the Indonesian capitalists cannot possibly be brought along to Socialism – they will certainly resist Socialism. ...

“Second: In the field of politics, the PKI leadership correctly stressed the importance of unity and struggle in carrying out a popular front policy. But in practice the PKI sank deeply into the sea of unity and did not pay enough attention to struggle. Working in a front means working with other classes: consequently it is only proper to wage a class struggle in the interests of the driving forces of the revolution, in other words, the workers, working peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie. Without struggle, the work of the front is dead; with struggle, the work of the front comes alive. ...

“Third: In the field of organisation the PKI leadership did not consistently put into practice the proper method of settling contradictions in the Party through criticism and self-criticism. On the one hand, this resulted in liberalism, on the other in commandism. Without criticism and self-criticism we became uncritical and criticism from below did not flourish.”

Sudisman’s speech is inspirational. He frankly exposes how the Maoist policies of 'People’s Democratic Dictatorship', Popular Front-ism, and Stalinist organisational methods led to disaster for the Indonesian workers. He also totally accepts responsibility for these policies; but at the same time expresses total confidence in the future of the Indonesian Revolution.

While Sudisman identified the right-opportunist aspects of Maoist policies as being the main source of their defeat, it is interesting to note that pro-Soviet Stalinists, such as the CPA, blamed the defeat on China’s ultra-left over-estimation of the revolutionary situation in the mid-60s.

IV: The Cultural Revolution

In September 1965, Mao’s closest associate, army leader Lin Biao, made a speech urging school pupils to criticise 'bourgeois liberalism and Khrushchevism'. In the frenetic campaign which ensued, the cult of Mao was elevated to a pitch surpassing even Stalin’s cult. The youth particularly were mobilised against any and all tendencies towards independent thought or action in every sphere of Chinese life. All cultural, scientific and educational work was paralysed. Production plummeted as workers spent long sessions in the study of Mao’s 'thoughts'.

Just as Stalin had used “Lenin levy” to defeat the leadership of the Revolution in the Party, and then the Moscow Trials to liquidate the entire leadership of the Revolution and the Red Army, Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” was aimed at smashing the Chinese Communist Party, and re-building an administration owing allegiance to Mao alone. The politically uneducated youth and the peasants were to be his battering ram against the Party that had made the Revolution. [128]

Prime targets of the campaign were Liu Shaoqi, the head of state from 1959 (accused of the 'heresy' of asserting the primacy of the working class, rather than the peasantry), and General Secretary of the Party, Deng Xiaoping.

In the first phase of the Cultural Revolution, the urban youth were mobilised against the intelligentsia and better-off or educated sections of the working class (equated with the intelligentsia). To this end, Mao appealed to the loyalty of the youth to the Revolution, and taught the youth to regard all manifestations of culture as bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. Lessons were stopped, all entertainment and social life other than 'politics' denounced, and 'politics' reduced to mindless repetition of 'Mao’s Thoughts' and the witch-hunting of anyone unwilling or unable to reduce themselves to the same idiotic level.

Mao appealed to all the most anti-social and backward aspects of the youth. He encouraged and let loose a gigantic force, while there was no force capable of restraining it.

Food production was maintained (at a primitive level, being without the support of industry, because the workers were engaged in 'revolution' rather than production), to ensure that there was energy left over for witch-hunting.

In the second phase of the Cultural Revolution, the atomised and terrorised population was mobilised against the Party.[129] In December 1966, Mao declared that the 'bourgeois headquarters' was in the top leadership of the Party itself, and called on the population itself to overthrow the Party administration in their area. By-passing the Party apparatus in this way (something Stalin never dared do), Mao had no mechanism for controlling or directing the “revolution.” As a result, in all areas of the country, rival groups claimed the mantle, and launched holy war, not only against the “capitalist-roaders” – generally the best elements of the Party – but against each other. China once more degenerated into the chaos of factional fighting which had afflicted China for centuries, and which the Revolution had only just succeeded in overcoming.

The means of Mao’s war against the Party was quite different from Stalin’s. Mao mobilised the general population rather than the secret police as the actual weapon of terror. For Stalin, once the ranks of the revolutionaries had been diluted in the “Lenin Levy,” the general population was simply a passive base of support for campaigns waged inside the Party. By contrast, in China torture and murder were carried out quite publicly, by the public, and were supplemented by very effective social control through the eyes and ears of a thousand million neighbours, friends and family members.

Only four of the seventeen members of the 1956 Politburo survived to the Ninth Congress in April 1969 – Mao himself, his acolyte Lin Biao, the pragmatic and revered Zhou Enlai and Li Xiannian.

In the third phase of the Cultural Revolution, Mao faced again the objective fact that his policy had brought the country to the brink of destruction. Some way had to be found to halt the disintegration. To this end, the urban youth which were out of control in the cities were broken up into small groups and sent to the countryside to “learn from the peasants”. Scattered around to vast hinterland of China, put to manual work under back-breaking and primitive conditions, under the control of the conservative Chinese peasantry, they were kept out of harm’s way, while the surviving Party apparatus was given limited “rehabilitation” to get the cities back into working order.

The Cultural Revolution, that is, Mao’s war against the Chinese Communist Party, did not really end until Mao’s death in September 1976, although from 1971 onwards there was a gradual return to 'normality'. Less than a month after Mao’s death, Mao’s wife Jiang Jing, and the other members of the Gang of Four, who had led the Cultural Revolution against the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese working class, were denounced as 'counter-revolutionaries' and jailed indefinitely.

So discredited were the slogans of the 'cultural revolution' that in a short time the 'capitalist roaders', most notably Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping, rapidly consolidated their power.

Deng Xiaoping was eventually to succeed in taking Chinese Stalinism over to the policy of the restoration of capitalism under the political control of the Communist Party.

What do we make of the Cultural Revolution? To its supporters in the West, it was a brave effort by the ageing and isolated Mao to rouse the urban youth against reactionary government and Party bureaucrats who wanted to restore capitalism. Isn't that exactly what Marxists should be doing? And haven't they been proved right by what has taken place in China since Mao’s death?

Quite frankly, anyone who cannot distinguish between a revolution and a witch-hunt should stay out of politics.

And how does it educate the youth (or anybody else) to tell them that education, art, science,[130] grass and trees, nice clothes, love and affection, let alone reasoned argument, Marxist analysis and truthfulness, are “bourgeois”? How is the working class to raise the cultural level of society and “catch up and overtake the West” by idealising backwardness? In the long run, isn't that just going to convince people that capitalism must be better than socialism? Unfortunately, that was eventually the conclusion that many urban youth drew from the experience.

If the only means the masses have of expressing their own aspirations and interests is to tear each other to pieces under the banner of total, blind and unqualified support for the Leader and Great Helmsman – is this anything to do with the emancipation of the working class?

Let us accept that Deng Xiaoping was a 'capitalist roader'. The evidence of the policies of the Chinese Government today would seem sufficient evidence to justify Mao’s warning that top leaders in the Party wanted to restore capitalism. The accusation that these leaders wanted to follow Khrushchev’s path is equally tenable.

Did the Cultural Revolution raise the level of consciousness, their self-organisation, independence and combativity? Or did it sow fear, confusion and disorientation? Undoubtedly the latter. The ineffectiveness of the Cultural Revolution is proved by the fact that it only delayed the triumph of the 'capitalist roaders' a few years, and made it all the more secure when it came. If the Cultural Revolution was intended to empower the working masses, and alert them to the dangers of capitalist restoration, then it patently failed to do so. And the masses who responded in such an awesome way to the call of their Leader can hardly be blamed for that failure.

China comes in from the cold

From early in 1969, still under Mao’s leadership, China began to take a rightward course in its foreign policy. The People’s Republic of China was admitted to the UN in October 1971. 'Ping-pong diplomacy' – beginning with an exchange of ping-pong teams – opened up contact with the US, and Nixon visited China in February 1972. Every new diplomatic contact or trade agreement was now hailed as a 'victory' along the road to 'Socialism'.

The Maoist movement in Australia has since largely disintegrated. The 'Gang of Four' had their followers, as did the Albanians. The massacre in Tien An Min Square in 1989 brought the spectacle of Australian Maoists denouncing the Chinese government as 'fascists', an epithet they formerly reserved for Trotskyists.

As a political leading centre China was past its use-by date by the mid-1970s so far as the workers in the advanced capitalist countries were concerned but China remained a potential source of political and material assistance for national movements unable to get support from imperialism. Even this role declined over the decade of the 1970s. By the time that the Chinese government enjoyed negligible support among revolutionary or national liberation movements, the Revolution itself still remained an inspiration to national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Chinese Stalinism in the National Liberation Struggle


Along with the USSR, China was instrumental in pressuring the Vietnamese into the hopeless peace agreement eventually signed in Paris in January 1973. This agreement divided the South into a checker-board of US and NLF-controlled areas. The US military gradually withdrew, deceiving themselves with the illusion that the puppet Saigon regime could take over the War. The NLF eventually burst through, sweeping the US and local capitalist forces before them.

The day before May Day 1975, the teenage soldiers of the NLF drove their tanks into the grounds of the US Embassy as the last helicopter took off, overflowing with collaborators clutching their suitcases of banknotes.

Such was the fraternal support given by their Chinese neighbours, that within three years Vietnam had joined COMECON, an economic bloc joining nations on the other side of the world from them. China invaded Vietnam in February 1979, withdrawing 3 weeks later, as part of a protracted campaign of harassment and isolation against the Vietnamese Republic. The Chinese have collaborated to this day with the US in punishing the Vietnamese people for their victory over the imperialist super-power.

The Victory of the Vietnamese Revolution

The victory of the Vietnamese people in their 30 year war against first French and then US imperialism is of significance comparable to that of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in 1945. It is also of considerable significance in relation to the task of this work – namely to elucidate the nature of Stalinism.

In 1944, Ho Chi Minh went into the countryside and regrouped the young revolutionaries fleeing the Japanese repression in Hanoi. In 1945, he collaborated in the reimposition of French colonial rule and the massacre of the Saigon workers, on the basis of a promise of Vietnamese independence from the US. From his base in the countryside, Ho then led a 10 year long successful struggle against the French, in which the tactics and strategy of the Viet Minh were closely modelled on those of the Chinese Communist Party in their war against the imperialist agent Chiang Kai Shek.

The Stalinists then again accepted a US promise and withdrew their forces to the north of the 17th parallel, facilitating the setting up of a US protectorate in the South.

In the anti-American war of 1955-75, the Vietnamese Stalinists built on the lessons of the earlier struggle and won a stunning victory. The victory was won despite the attempts of Moscow and Beijing to pressure them into a “peace” with the puppet Saigon regime, despite the pacificistic line of Moscow Stalinism in the West, despite a deliberate denial of sufficient arms from China and the USSR.

After 1975, it appears that the Vietnamese leadership swore never again to be betrayed as they had been in 1945 and 1955, and that they remained convinced of victory. The heroism of the Vietnamese workers and peasants and their leadership is legendary.

Nevertheless, by the time national liberation had been achieved in 1975, Vietnam had been devastated. Invasion and blockade by China, military involvement in Cambodia and above all the US embargo would keep it one of the poorest countries in the world for a further 20 years.

The generic attribution of 'cowardice', 'treachery' and such like to Stalinism is of little value in understanding the role of Vietnamese Stalinism, as apt as such epithets may appear from time to time.

Stalinism is a political creed, a creed which was learnt by the leaders of the Vietnamese Revolution who were trained in the Comintern of Stalin, and a creed which guided the leadership of the Revolution’s allies in the Chinese and Soviet bureaucracy. By its very nature Stalinism was able to “marry” with the revolutionary aspirations and energy of the workers and peasants of Vietnam.

The source of the victory was the marriage of the gains of the Russian and Chinese Revolution with the revolutionary spirit of the Vietnamese masses, in a period of crisis for imperialism and upsurge in working class struggle internationally.

Stalinism, the specific influence of the bureaucratic usurpers of the Russian Revolution, has been responsible for untold suffering for the Vietnamese people, both in prolonging their war and in shaping the world into which liberated Vietnam was born.


After the overthrow of the 'neutralist' Prince Sihanouk in a US-organised coup, the Stalinist Khmer Rouge began to grow in strength. Sihanouk moved to Peking and allied himself with the Khmer Rouge which was sponsored by the Chinese.

Saturation bombing of Cambodia by the US on a scale which is unprecedented in history (and never officially sanctioned by the US legislature) led to a total breakdown in the social fabric of Cambodia. Cambodia was the first ex-colonial country to be subjected to the full might of modern warfare, and then be left to its own devices.[131]

In April 1975, shortly before the victory in Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh without facing any significant resistance. What then took place was unknown outside of Cambodia for four years, but ranks as one of the greatest atrocities that a regime has ever perpetrated against its own people.

The entire population of the capital, sick and injured, young and old alike, were marched into the countryside and put to work under inhuman conditions of Stalinist repression. Pol Pot took up the principles of the Chinese Revolution and pushed them to the extreme: adulation of the 'simple peasant' as the sole source of wisdom (apart from the Great Leader), to the point of systematically liquidating not only the bourgeoisie, but also the urban middle-class and working class; national self-sufficiency, to the point of self-isolation; abhorrence of all manifestation of independent thought or action; antipathy to the 'West' translated into hatred of the Twentieth Century, including systematic destruction of any machine or tool more advanced than an axe (apart from guns and instruments of torture); extreme chauvinism and in particular anti-Vietnamese racism.

Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh in September but resigned as head of state seven months later. He continued however, to represent the Pol Pot government at the United Nations, which facilitated the US and China using their veto on the Security Council to continue recognition of the Pol Pot government as the only legitimate government of Cambodia until the UN intervention in 1991.

Escalating conflict across the border with Vietnam eventually led to war in December 1977. The USSR withdrew support and the Vietnamese invaded in alliance with pro-USSR Heng Samrin forces on Xmas Day 1978. Under crushing pressure from China, and economically isolated by the US embargo, the Vietnamese withdrew June 1988, leaving behind a government sympathetic to its own Soviet version of Stalinism. Pol Pot, aided by the US via Thailand and by China, remained an ever-present threat, still wreaking havoc in Cambodia to this day.

The depth of inhumanity manifested in Pol Pot’s movement beggars the imagination, as does the cynicism of governments such as the Chinese, who supported Pol Pot solely to further their diplomatic-military strategies in the region.

However, Pol Pot also tests to the utmost the concepts by which we understand the nature of Stalinism. How can we describe as a tendency in the working class a political tendency which adopts as its task the physical annihilation of the working class? The genealogy of the Khmer Rouge is clear enough – it was the Cambodian section of the Communist International. Viewed within the context of the historical development of Stalinism one cannot avoid the conclusion that Pol Pot is indeed accurately described as a Stalinist.


Angola gained its independence on 10 November 1975, after 320 years of Portuguese rule, following the collapse of the Caetano regime. The MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) had been fighting Portuguese colonialism since 1960. The colonial regime had long been in decay, and the MPLA had been fighting a civil war against not only the colonialists, but also UNITA, an outfit created by imperialism and led by foreign mercenaries, the weaker FLNA forces, sustained by neighbouring African governments, and the South African Army which intervened across the border from Namibia. China supported UNITA!

Within three months, the MPLA was able to claim victory. The support of Cuban soldiers and Soviet arms was vital to their victory. However the MPLA, now the effective government in Angola, has had to wage a debilitating war on several fronts, essentially against foreign intervention. Despite a UN sponsored settlement in December 1988 the war continues to this day, even more bloody since Soviet aid has been cut off.

Why did China support an imperialist creature against a national liberation movement? One can only presume that it did so because the MPLA was supported by 'Soviet social-imperialism', an 'even worse enemy than imperialism'. Support from the Chinese was indispensable in providing UNITA legitimacy as a nationalist force.

From being the principal source of inspiration for national liberation movements across the world for the first two decades after World War Two, China became by 1975 the chief military and political opponent of national liberation struggles in countries such as Vietnam, Angola and Cambodia.

Maoism – a “Brand” of Stalinism

Stalinism came into the world as the leadership of the first world political party – the Comintern. It is an irony of history that all the negative features that we associate with international political organisation – which could be summarised as bureaucratic centralism – were introduced by Stalinism, and thus have their origin not in internationalism, but in the narrow outlook of 'socialism in one country', the negation of internationalism.

Unlike “Titoism,” Maoism grew to become an equal rival of “Moscow Stalinism” partly due to the specific features of the Chinese Revolution, but mainly due to the awesome base upon which it rested.

The appearance of Maoism broke the monolith of Stalin’s hold on the communist movement, and initiated a process of disintegration. There is now no international centre of proletarian revolution and capitalism is being restored in both the USSR and China.