Part 05: Proletarian Internationalism

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 22, 2016

Chapter 14: The Theory

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 22, 2016

The Bolsheviks came to power on the assumption that the events of October 1917 would be the signal for the seizure of power by the workers of Western Europe. They did not see themselves as a separate national group, awaiting the action of workers in other countries, but, by historical accident, the temporary leaders of an international movement. It was the duty of the Bolsheviks to ferment revolution in the rest of Europe by all the means in their power. Since, in their opinion, the revolution in Europe was the political and material condition of their own survival, it was understandable that they poured their energies into the new international workers’ party, the Communist International. This was the key to the paradox: a workers’ revolution in a country where the working class was a minority and the material conditions backward.

Nonetheless, the new State had also to ensure its own survival. That required opening up relations, particularly trade relations, with existing States. The “international bourgeoisie”, with sections ruling each of the constituent units of the advanced world, was riven with internal rivalries (just as each country was riven with the rivalries between individual firms). It was the rivalry between the Austro-German and the Anglo-French-American “imperialist predators” which permitted the Soviet Union its temporary lease on life. It permitted the treaty of BrestLitovsk with Germany whereby Russia ended its involvement in the First World War.

The treaty evoked considerable opposition within the party, and Lenin spent much time explaining why it was necessary: “The outcome might have seemed something like a bloc between the first Socialist Republic and German imperialism, against another imperialism [Anglo-French-American imperialism]. However, we did not conclude a bloc or defame the socialist state; we simply took advantage of the conflict between the two imperialisms in such a way that both were ultimately the losers. Germany obtained nothing from the Brest peace except several million poods of grain, but she brought the disintegrating force of Bolshevism into the country. We, however, gained time, in the course of which the formation of the Red Army began.” [1] The treaty cost Russia the Ukraine. “In the case of the Brest-Litovsk peace, we sacrificed Russia s interests, as understood in the patriotic sense, which were in fact secondary from the socialist point of view.” The Bolsheviks sacrificed the national interest in order to spread disaffection among the Kaiser’s armies and mobilize support for German workers in the task of overthrowing the Kaiser. The policy was the reverse of what came later, the sacrifice of the international purpose for the defence of the Russian State.

In the aftermath of the treaty, the, Bolsheviks were preoccupied with fighting the civil war at home and supporting the revolution abroad. By 1920, as we have seen, the party and the country were exhausted; the revolutionary assault of 1919 in Western Europe had been beaten off. The need now was to retreat, to bind up the wounds, to prepare for a future assault. While the International endeavoured to consolidate its membership round the world, the Russian State needed to pursue policies which, as far as was possible given Soviet material weakness, would sustain the rivalries between its enemies (so preserving some measure of security for its own survival) and restore the Russian economy, the material base of world revolution.

“To restore the economy ... is more difficult than fighting ... victory will not depend on enthusiasm, dash or self-sacrifice, but on day-to-day, monotonous, petty and workaday effort. That is undoubtedly a more difficult matter. Where are we to procure the means of production we need?” Russia had too little gold to buy the means to rehabilitate the economy; it could not pay in raw materials because the urgent need was to feed the population. It must offer “foreign concessions”, quasicolonial rights over some of the raw materials unexploited in Russia’s vast territories.

Such a proposal evoked considerable unease, indeed alarm, in the party ranks. With characteristic bluntness, Lenin laid down the priorities: “For Kamchatka, we shall pay in terms of 100,000 poods of oil, taking only two per cent for ourselves. If we do not pay up, we shall not even get two poods. This is an exorbitant price, but while capitalism exists, we cannot expect a fair price from it. Yet the advantages are beyond doubt.” [2]

Surely this was to sacrifice the fruits of the revolution for the sake of a pittance? It was not, for the primary justification was not Russia’s survival, but that it gave the Russian State the means to exacerbate the rivalries between its enemies. Not all rivalries were involved: “We must take political advantage of the differences among our opponents, but only of major differences that are due to profound economic causes. If we try to exploit minor and fortuitous differences, we shall be behaving like petty politicians and cheap diplomats.” [3] For only major differences exhibited the structure of world power, the drift of conflict. In the case of Kamchatka, Japan eyed it as part of its sphere of influence. The United States was offered the concessions, and the by-product was the means of material survival for Russia. But the conflict of the United States and Japan which, according to Lenin, would sooner or later produce an open war should not induce the Soviet Union to side with one or the other: “To support one of these countries against the other would be a crime against communism; we Communists have to play one off against the other.”

The Brest peace and the foreign concessions raised different issues. The justification of Brest was that it made possible Bolshevik survival and intervention in Germany; in the case of foreign concessions, when the revolutionary movement abroad was in temporary decline, it exacerbated rivalries in the enemy camp and assisted the survival of Russia.

The Soviet Union extended aid to Ataturk in Turkey, to the Shah of Iran and to Sun Yat-sen in China. Yet in certain circumstances, such aid could make it more difficult for local Communist parties to lead a revolution against these rulers. The Russian leadership endeavoured to prevent the agreement between the Soviet Union and Weimar Germany being construed as political support for the German ruling class, the target of the German Communist party. Without such a distinction, the policies of the Russian State directly obstructed the aims of the Communist International.

In the case of the backward countries, the possibility of confusion was much greater. For the alliance between the Western proletariat and the “oppressed nations” could with ease be construed as support for the ruling classes of the backward countries. Then working-class internationalism faded into something else, the “internationalism of nations”, the fraternity of ruling classes. Lenin had no doubt what this meant: “Petty bourgeois nationalism calls the mere recognition of the equality of nations internationalism, and (disregarding the purely verbal character of such recognition) considers national egoism inviolable. Proletarian internationalism on the other hand demands: (1) subordination of the interests of proletarian struggle in one country to the interests of the struggle on a world scale; (2) that the nation which achieves victory over the bourgeoisie shall display the capacity and readiness to make the greatest national sacrifices in order to overthrow international capitalism.” [4]

The Bolshevik view, then, was that the October revolution was a temporary victory; its justification was that thereby Russia could “make the greatest national sacrifices” for the overthrow of the world order. State relations were subordinate not to abstract principles but to temporary survival while the revolutionary movement was built to overthrow, with Bolshevik material aid, the States with which Russia had relations. Russian State relations must not be such that they could be construed as political support for a ruling class. Similarly, the Russian State could not extend material aid to a foreign State even if it was effective as a bribe for certain purposes or exacerbated the rivalries between States, if that aid could be used to repress a domestic revolt, to eliminate the possibility of revolution. Above all, State relations must at no stage prevent or inhibit local Communists making independent propaganda against the local ruling class and endeavouring to build a workers’ alternative. If that did occur, then the interests of the Russian State had taken priority over those of world revolution.

(i) The Chinese Communist Party

How far do these elementary principles apply to the external activities of the Chinese Communists and the State they direct? The most striking observation is that there is no International, no instrument of a world working class and no strategy for creating a “world proletarian alliance”. Up to the 1960s, it might have been argued that the Chinese party accepted the leadership of the Soviet Union in external affairs and was unwilling to challenge Moscow by the creation of a new International (the Comintern was ended in 1943 as a Russian gesture of Allied solidarity to its British and American partners in the Second World War; its successor, the Cominform, included only nine governing and two non- governing parties – it did not include the Chinese – and lasted from 1947 to 1956). But in all the polemics between Moscow and Peking, the Chinese party never reproached the Soviet Communist party with scrapping the Comintern or failing to create a new International. Indeed, it opposed any such proposal since it saw an International solely as a method of Russian domination of China. After the Sino-Soviet break, the Chinese party took no serious initiative in the matter. It is thus reduced to being a passive spectator in most domestic confrontations; it has no instrument for changing the world, and is confined to the role of commentator, distributing praise and blame but without active involvement. Supporters of China explain this anomaly as flowing from the weakness of the world movement. This presents a paradox, for, on the one hand, the Chinese Communists proclaim that the world situation is “excellent”; on the other, the proletarian forces are weaker than in the 1860s when the first International was formed!

The Chinese party has encouraged some of its supporters abroad. But so far as can be seen, it has never given such groups material aid. This is confirmed repeatedly by the Chinese leadership, and there is no reason, despite Western propaganda, to disbelieve it. Nor do such groups pursue any common strategy; “national egoism”, as Lenin called it, is all. China’s material aid to “unofficial forces” such as it is has been given, not to its declared supporters, but to other forces fighting foreign occupation – the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, FRELIMO in Mozambique, the FNLA in Angola, and, briefly, to the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East.

The entirety of the Chinese Communist party’s policies abroad is therefore directed through the official foreign policy of the People’s Republic. State policy is thus no longer a minor tactic to secure temporary survival. “Internationalism” must mean relations between States, between ruling classes, not a world class alliance. It must mean also that the Chinese State is bound to accept the States concerned, to accept the given order of the world; it is impossible to maintain State relations while simultaneously taking active steps to encourage revolt or even using Chinese diplomatic missions abroad to proclaim the need for revolution. The People’s Republic recognized this convervatism in the principle of “peaceful co-existence” (as did Stalin, who originally formulated the idea), which is espoused officially by China and, indeed, by all the States of the world – domestic revolt is solely a matter for the ruling class concerned, and no “foreigner” has the right to interfere. Chinese Communists may sympathize, but they have no instrument other than the Chinese State with which to influence events.

The principles of Chinese Communist policies abroad have remained remarkably consistent, although tactically there have been different phases in their application. Whereas Lenin was concerned to secure the temporary survival of the Soviet Union in order to prosecute world revolution – and to “utilize the contradictions” between rival powers to this end – the Chinese party has expended much energy in endeavouring to “utilize the contradictions” solely for its own survival. What have been the phases in this effort?

Up to the Civil War, the party was primarily concerned to divide the Kuomintang from the United States. Much effort was devoted to wooing the US military mission in Chungking. So far as can be seen, no efforts were made to foster mutiny in the Japanese army or rebellion in Japan, the primary purpose of the relationship between the Bolsheviks and Germany in 1917-18.
From 1949, the party accepted of necessity (particularly during the Korean War) the international leadership of the Soviet Union. The Cold and Korean Wars ended all relationships with the United States and drove China into an alliance with Russia. However, the Chinese party seems to have endeavoured to form a bloc of Communist parties under its leadership, committed to rural guerilla warfare (not necessarily without Soviet blessing). It was not accidental that such warfare broke out in 1947-8 in Burma, Malaya, the Philippines and Indonesia. The movements were contained by the established governments in all cases. China also extended, from 1949, considerable material aid to the Vietminh in Vietnam against the French attempt to re-establish its control.
With the ending of the Korean and the first phase of the Vietnam War, the People’s Republic endeavoured to form a bloc of States, the “Third World”, under its leadership. The close relationship between China and Nehru’s India, and Chou En-lai’s role at the 1955 Bandung Conference, were the high points of this endeavour. China’s position was somewhat ambiguous since the dominant theme at Bandung was “non-alignment” between East and West, whereas China was aligned with the Soviet Union.
In the late 1950s, the relationship with the Soviet Union deteriorated rapidly over a range of issues, while the relationship with India began to decline from 1959 over the question of Tibet, finally being destroyed in the border clashes of 1962. China now sought to create a new bloc of States, more narrowly defined in ideological terms than in 1955 – North Korea, North Vietnam, Sukarno’s Indonesia, Ben Bella’s Algeria, Nkrumah’s Ghana, and even, at one stage, Castro’s Cuba. It was short-lived. North Korea and North Vietnam opted for neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute (both attended the 23rd Congress of the Soviet Communist party which the Chinese party boycotted) and for Russian material assistance. Cuba, in urgent need of Soviet aid, chose to try to create a rival International, the Havana Tricontinental Congress (January 1965), and ultimately opted for the link with Russia. Sukarno, Ben Bella and Nkrumah were all overthrown.
China simultaneously attempted to secure close relationships with the advanced States (other than the Soviet Union and the United States); an effort continued after the Cultural Revolution (when, very briefly, other policies were pursued, although in general the external activities of the People’s Republic declined markedly). This brought material supplies to make up for the loss of Russian help or sales.
In the late 1960s, by a fortunate conjuncture of events, China was able once more to achieve a relationship with the United States. After the armed clashes with Russian forces on the Chinese border in 1969, the threat of Russia increasingly came to dominate all the external policies of the People’s Republic, including the fluctuating relationship with Washington. The American link permitted the People’s Republic to gain entry to the United Nations, and this became a central forum for China’s continuing efforts to create a bloc of backward States, the “Third World”.

What is the theoretical underpinning of Chinese foreign policy? The Chinese party has revised Lenin’s concept of imperialism in an interesting way. Imperialism now is not a world system dominated by the rivalries of the advanced powers, each advanced power being compelled to compete by the world system itself; it is a world of States, dominated in the 1950s by one “superpower” (the US), in the 1960s by two “superpowers”, and increasingly in the 1970s again by one “superpower” (now the Soviet Union). The word “imperialism” refers not to a world order, but to the relationship between the “superpowers” and pre-eminently the backward States (but latterly, as we shall see, the advanced capitalist powers other than the superpowers are also oppressed). In practice, such a view implies that the superpower has the most freedom to manoeuvre; it can choose whether or not to “oppress”. In Lenin’s view, the advanced capitalist States have very little choice but to compete, and thereby oppress.

What is the prize for the superpower? According to the Chinese, it is domination of the backward countries, not the defeat of other advanced powers (as it was for Lenin; competition in the backward countries was only the arena of struggle for the advanced). In 1945-6, when Stalin warned the Chinese party not to start a civil war lest the United States attack Russia in retaliation, Mao claimed that the United States was not interested in dominating the Soviet Union, only in the zone between Russia and America. [5] In Mao’s terms, the “principal contradiction” was not between the advanced rivals, but between the United States and all the other States of the world other than the Soviet Union. Thus in 1958 he saw the purpose of NATO not as competition with the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact, but as “an attack on nationalism and domestic communism (the emphasis is to attack the intermediate zone, Asia, Africa an Latin America)”. [6] In 1964, he described the aim of the United States eighteen years earlier as “to invade the buffer zone and not to fight the Soviet Union. The anti-Soviet slogan was a smokescreen.” [7] By the mid-1960s, however, the situation had apparently become less clear, for Mao told Edgar Snow that he had not decided whether the “principal contradiction” was between “neo-colonialism” and “the revolutionary peoples” or between the capitalist countries themselves. [8]

The contenders were States, national ruling classes, not international classes. It followed, as it had for Stalin, that the “revolutionary peoples” included “also the patriotic national bourgeoisie, and even certain kings and princes and aristocrats who are patriotic”. [9] The States were constant, but all the other terms – for example, “superpower”, “intermediate or buffer zone” – could change according to temporary tactical needs. Thus in 1965 Mao startled a French parliamentary delegation with his use of the term “the Third World”: “France itself, Germany, Italy, Great Britain – provided the latter stops being the courtier of the United States – Japan and we ourselves: there you have the third world.” The definition was of no particular importance since it was not part of a strategic orientation on an objective world situation (that was due, in Lenin’s words, “to profound economic causes”). Theory, concepts, were rationalizations after the tactics had been decided upon, not the basis for the tactics. It is this factor which gives Chinese politics such a timeless character. At any given moment, the situation is equally excellent, the revolution always rising, there are no defeats, all is ever onwards and upwards. For example, in 1958 Mao observed that “The Western world is disintegrating. Currently, it is in the process of breaking up ... Final disintegration is inevitable.” [10] And again: “The enemy is in disarray, more and more so. We are getting better, better and better every day ... the truly discouraged is imperialism. They are rotting, becoming disorderly, full of conflicts, splitting apart, experiencing a bad time. Their good days are over. Their good days were before they turned into imperialism, when they only had capitalism.” [11] This, at the height of a quarter of a century’s unprecedented growth in world capitalism, well before the Vietnam war! Sixteen years later, the Chinese press was still repeating: “The imperialist camp has split and disintegrated as a result of the daily decline of US imperialism. The socialist camp no longer exists as the Soviet revisionist renegade clique has restored capitalism and turned the socialist Soviet Union into social imperialism. Meanwhile, the third world flourishes with its ranks growing stronger and stronger, its political consciousness raised daily and its unity strengthened daily.” [12] Morale is all, truth nothing. There was, on this formulation, apparently nothing to be done except assume power in all countries.

The concepts were ambiguous to preserve tactical flexibility. However, the clashes affecting China’s borders invariably prompt the régime to take a much firmer line than on other occasions (in contrast to Lenin’s attitude to the Ukraine at the time of Brest-Litovsk). The bitterness of the relationship with the United States in the 1950s was provoked by the Korean War and the US defence of Taiwan. The relationship to India was completely reversed, regardless of all such classifications as the “Third World” and “oppressed peoples”, by the 1962 Sino-Indian border clash. And the bitterness, at the time of writing, in full flood against the Soviet Union was sparked by the 1960 withdrawal of Russian experts, but heightened by the border clashes of 1969.

(ii) The mode of struggle

The aim of Chinese foreign policy is to win greater security for China. To achieve this, the People’s Republic has endeavoured to win foreign ruling classes as allies against the “superpowers”. To this end the Chinese leadership has never been so naïve as to rely on political argument and propaganda. They have used “material incentives” – that is, aid and trading agreements. Overwhelmingly, this is the main part of China’s assistance abroad, not aid to revolutionary organizations.

China began its foreign aid programme in the 1950s. Aid was used to secure certain relationships, to give sinew to diplomatic détente. After the Cultural Revolution – with the physical threat from the Soviet Union – China extended its aid programme in an effort to secure a seat in the United Nations and create a loose voting bloc within it. Between 1970 and 1974, cumulative Chinese aid was about US $2,400 million, more than double the total for the years between 1956 and 1969. From 1970 (when foreign estimates of cumulative Chinese grants, loans and credits put the figure at about US $1,200 million) the chief recipients have been Vietnam ($400 million) Romania ($200 million), Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zambia, but have included Guyana, Chile, Malaya, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Mauretania, Somalia, Iraq and Burma.

Chinese aid has been heavily concentrated on Africa. By 1975, it was larger in cumulative total than Soviet aid, although China’s total world aid is only sixteen per cent of all Eastern Bloc aid, of which the Soviet Union supplies seventy-seven per cent (Eastern Bloc aid in 1975 was US $1,715 million, compared to Western aid of US $26,000 million or more than the total cumulative Eastern Bloc aid in twenty-one years). Some twenty-three countries in Africa are in receipt of Chinese aid, but the largest expenditure has been on the Tanzam railway (completed in 1976). In Asia, seven countries have taken a quarter of all Chinese aid, and in the Middle East, five countries have been the chief beneficiaries. In South America, Peru has been the main recipient, although there is a wide scatter of other countries, some of whom were granted aid without according China diplomatic recognition (for example, Guyana). [13]

Aid seems to have been extended for two related purposes: to secure entry to the United Nations, and to block Russian influence. Because Russian aid is roughly five times larger than Chinese, the contest is difficult. It is obligatory that Chinese terms are more favourable than those of its rivals. The political nature of the régime to which aid is extended has, with a few exceptions, never been an important calculation. For example, Pakistan in 1966 was the main military client State of the United States in south Asia (a member of the two American-sponsored pacts, CENTO and SEATO, and the location of the US spy base at Peshawar); it was also a conservative authoritarian régime in which the Communist party was banned; nonetheless, Chinese aid was extended to the government without obliging it to withdraw from the US relationship. Chinese aid was similarly advanced to the “feudal” régime of Hailie Selassie, aid taken from the surplus product of Chinese workers and peasants was used to support a régime comparable, in Chinese terms, to the Ch’ing dynasty!

However, with regard to the first aim, under the benevolent neutrality of the United States, the policy worked. In October 1971 the People’s Republic was admitted to the United Nations. China had hitherto rejected the United Nations, although not as “the League of Imperialist Bandits” (Lenin’s phrase for the United Nations’ predecessor, the League of Nations). For example, it was full of praise when Sukarno’s Indonesia walked out of the United Nations in the l960s. Now the United Nations became an “arena of struggle”, a world court for the indictment of the superpowers. Pursing the same logic, China applied for entry to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but subsequently withdrew its application when those bodies refused to expel Taiwan.

Is China using the United Nations to publicize its condemnation of the world order? It would be a poor way of achieving this purpose since the deliberations of that body have no popular following. The delegates are the audience and, by objective criteria, members of the world ruling class. Such tactical considerations have not guided China since it is dedicated to supporting the United Nations. It increased its contribution to the UN budget from four to seven per cent of the total in October 1972, so becoming the third largest contributor after the United States and the Soviet Union. China’s declared policy is not to denounce the United Nations as a conspiracy of the “imperialist bandits”, an employers’ confederation, but “to uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter”. For example, on entering the United Nations, Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, Ch’iao Kuan-hua, proclaimed: “We hope that the spirit of the United Nations Charter will be really and truly carried out. We will stand together with all the countries and peoples that love peace and uphold justice and work together with them for the defence of national independence and State sovereignty of various countries and for the cause of safeguarding international peace and promoting human progress.” [14] The United States delegate could not have put it better. Was the statement a subterfuge? It was published in China and around the world; there was no accompanying commentary which suggested any alternative strategy, of which this was only a tactical diversion. Nor does China go further than the conservative principles that govern the United Nations in its main interventions. For example, in August 1972, China vetoed the application of Bangladesh for membership on the grounds of “defence of the principles of the United Nations Charter, the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council, which gave expression to the will of the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world and the fundamental interests of the entire people”. If the United Nations in any sense represents the interests of the people of the world, clearly so do the national governments represented there – the world order, apart from a few anomalies, is the best possible!


1. Speech delivered at a meeting of activists of the Moscow Organization of the RCP(B), 6 Dec. 1920, CW31, p.440 passim; stress added.

2. Ibid., p.457.

3. Ibid., p.442, stress added.

4. Second Congress, Communist International, in The Communist International 1919-1943 (edited by Jane Degras), London, 1971, I, p.143.

5. Cited by John Gittings, from Wan Sui, 1969, in CQ 60, October-December 1974, p.756.

6. In Miscellany I, p.136.

7. Ibid. II, p.364.

8. Mao Speaks, in the Sunday Times, London, 14 February 1965, p.11.

9. A Proposal concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Peking, June 1963, p.15.

10. 25 November 1958, in Miscellany I, p.123.

11. December 1958, ibid., p.148.

12. NCNA Peking, 22 Jan. 1974, SCMP 5545, 4 February 1974.

13. For further details, see Lynn Yamashita, The Times, 28 September 1976 and Far Eastern Economic Review, 30 July 1976, pp.45-6.

14. PR 46, 1971.


Chapter 15: Foreign Policy

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 22, 2016

detailed account of Chinese foreign policy is beyond the scope of this book, but some examples will illustrate the central thesis: that China’s foreign policy is in no way different from that of other world powers.

(i) The Superpowers

The United States

The revision of Lenin’s concept of imperialism did not originate with the Chinese, but with Stalin. He needed to portray a world in which the Soviet Union was not bound by an external logic, but could present whatever it did as freely chosen by a free society. He needed also a justification for distinguishing between the “peace-loving democratic” imperialists who became his allies in the Second World War and the “warmongering fascist” imperialists. For Mao also, some imperialist powers were “aggressive”, and others “anti-war, anti-aggression, anti-Fascist”. [15] It seemed historical accident, or the function of the temperament of the leaders. Mao did not explain, as Lenin might have done, that the “anti-war” ones were on top and holding down the “pro-war” ones.

In the Chinese context, the distinction before 1949 meant an orientation on the main foreign power influential there, the United States. The policy had no ultimate success since American strategic interests changed when it was decided not to invade the north China coast. [16] The Cold War made this early lack of success into something of a principle. The prowess of Chinese arms in Korea perhaps also led the People’s Republic to reassess its relative weakness. Nonetheless, American rivalry with the Soviet Union ruled out any rapid restoration of relations, even though China displayed great “reasonableness”§ at the Geneva Talks in 1954. It became taken for granted that: “The US is not dependable. She would give you something but not much ... How could we expect imperialism to give us a full meal? It won’t ... Imperialism is stingy” [17] and that “US imperialism is a very ferocious imperialism”. [18] Foreign minister Chen Yi was even so rash in 1965 as to formulate this tactical rift as a principle: “Peaceful co-existence with US imperialism, which is pushing ahead its policies of aggression and war, is out of the question.”

It was rash because the late 1960s produced a reversal of this position. It was rash also since throughout these years, overshadowed by the US war in Vietnam, representatives of the United States and China held regular talks with each other – up to May 1971, there were 137 Sino-American discussions in Warsaw. [19] These talks, it was presumed abroad, stabilized China’s relationship to Vietnam -the PLA would not intervene in Vietnam unless American troops crossed the seventeenth parallel dividing south and north. China was thereby enabled to undertake the Cultural Revolution without fear of US intervention. On the other hand, the United States was assured that China would not, for example, launch attacks on Taiwan (as occurred in 1954 and 1958) in order to divide American forces operating in Vietnam and so relieve the National Liberation Front; this was no idle threat, since in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 China had divided Indian forces by threatening India on the Sikkim border.

What caused the reversal in Chinese foreign policy? It was the change in the situation of the United States. President Nixon was faced with military stalemate in Vietnam and heavy American losses; the costs of the war were fuelling world inflation and jeopardizing the ability of American businessmen to compete abroad (a situation reflected in a steadily weakening dollar and increasing currency instability). Furthermore, opposition to the war was mounting in the United States. It was therefore urgent that the United States extricate itself from Vietnam, but without appearing to have been defeated. On the Chinese side, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 (illustrating the willingness of Moscow to put down rebels within its own “sphere of influence”), and armed clashes on the Sino-Soviet border in 1969, sharply brought home China’s relative isolation. China needed allies and entry to the United Nations, particularly after having allowed external relations to decay during the Cultural Revolution.

Contrary to Chen Yi’s promise in 1965, China did not require an end to American “policies of aggression and war”. Mao had, at the height of the Cold War, laid down the correct line: “Our policy is that we will not invite him [US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles] as a guest, but if he should knock on our door, we would entertain him.” [20] In 1969, Nixon instructed his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to “knock on Mao’s door”, perhaps calculating that the Soviet threat would induce Mao to open it, despite the continuation of the war in Vietnam. In December 1970, Snow interviewed Mao, who invited Nixon to visit Peking. The following spring, an American table tennis team visited Peking; the US government relaxed its embargo on trade with China, and ordered the mining of North Vietnam’s harbours (China protested when two Chinese ships were damaged). The US announced that it had dropped 6.2 million tons of bombs in Vietnam, or 262 pounds per head of the Indo-Chinese population. In June, China condemned the United States for having extended its bombing raids in Vietnam right up to the Chinese border, but when Kissinger visited Peking the same month, he was received with “extraordinary courtesy”. In July, the United States had some 100,000 troops in Vietnam, and again extended the massive bombing of the North; President Nixon, it was announced, would make a State visit to China. The Hanoi daily, Nhan Dan, attacked Nixon – for “dividing the socialist countries” (19 July 1971).

Publicly, the attacks on Nixon and US government policy – “Nixon’s fascist atrocities”, as Mao put it in 1970, “have kindled the raging flames of the revolutionary mass movement in the United States” – ceased, although not the atrocities themselves. The crowds turned out in their millions to cheer the American architect of Vietnam’s destruction. Nixon was received by Mao, and duly secured his release from Vietnam (in return, China gained entry to the United Nations, and was permitted access to the US market – it purchased ten Boeing aircraft in September 1972). Who was using whom? The United States could claim with more substance that it had “exploited the contradictions” between China and the Soviet Union – to the loss of Vietnam.

Mao’s support did not, to his regret, save Nixon from the consequences of his appalling record. The Watergate scandals forced him from office. They were a dramatic revelation of the corruption of the most powerful State in the world, yet they were not reported in the Chinese press. Furthermore, in the autumn of 1975, Mao personally invited the ex-President, then the least popular American in the world, to make a further visit to China, despatching an aircraft to California to collect him, and greeting him as “one of the greatest leaders of our time”. Presumably, the Chinese Communist party were not concerned about the effect of this quixotic behaviour on their supporters in the United States. The suggested explanation – the possibility of embarrassing the new President, Ford, just entering his first election campaign, and so forcing him to make greater concessions on the question of Taiwan – was of greater significance.

China had too little weight in the world system to influence the major powers in conditions of relative peace. It might complain bitterly that Ford had dispensed with the services of a leading anti-Communist, James Schlesinger (who was promptly invited to China to inspect the Chinese defence preparations); that the West was appeasing a Hitlerite Soviet Union; that the Helsinki agreement was a second Munich, with Kissinger playing the role of Neville Chamberlain and anti-Communist Senator Jackson that of Winston Churchill; but it did not influence US policy. [21]

The Soviet Union

The relationship between the Chinese party and Moscow was, as we have seen, full of difficulties, but Chinese self-restraint ensured that these did not become public. The Cold War prevented any independent initiatives on the part of China and although the PLA performance in the Korean War was highly creditable, outside its own “sphere of influence” in east Asia China remained dependent upon Soviet nuclear and military power.

However, as China’s strength grew, its tolerance decreased. The Russians were more concerned with their rivalry with the United States and with competing for allies in the “non-aligned” world, than with helping China to build an industrial economy (for example, Soviet aid in 1959 to Iraq was 78 roubles per head of the population; to Egypt, 154 roubles; and to China, 9 roubles). [22] The Russians were more worried about the danger of world war than helping China to regain Taiwan; the launching of the first sputnik in 1957 gave the Soviet Union a military lead over the United States, and China inferred from this that the threat of US attack need no longer intimidate the Eastern bloc. The Russians refused to help during the Great Leap Forward and afterwards; and supported India in the Sino-Indian dispute which began in 1959. Finally, the Russians unilaterally withdrew all aid from China in 1960, the onset of the most severe crisis in the history of the People’s Republic.

To that date, however, the Chinese leadership made no public criticism of Russia. They apparently accepted the nature of Soviet power in Russia and East Europe. The beginning of a workers’ revolution in Hungary in 1957 found the Chinese party insisting “on the taking of all necessary measures to smash the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Hungary”, and attempting to stiffen the resolve of Moscow when it “intended to adopt a policy of capitulation and abandonment of socialist Hungary.” [23]

Twelve years later, an identical action by the Russians in Czechoslovakia evoked a completely contrary response from China – fierce protests at the denial of the Czech right of national self-determination.

In the early 1960s, the Chinese view was still expressed as irritation. The fierce attacks were reserved for Yugoslavia, the surrogate for Russia, just as Albania became the whipping-horse for China. All those inside the semi-secret debate knew the code – China’s delegate to the Sixth East German party (SED) Congress in January 1963 was howled down for criticizing the “Tito clique”. The only people left in the dark were the mass of the population in Russia and China. However, the split was open by 1962 but not until 1964 did Mao suddenly announce: “The Soviet Union today is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of the grand bourgeoisie, a fascist German dictatorship, and a Hitlerite dictatorship. They are a bunch of rascals.” [24] In the ensuing years, this startling reassessment was explained in more detail – a “monopoly bourgeoisie”, presumably lurking in the Soviet Union through the years of Stalin’s rule, had seized power by a coup between 1953 and 1956 under the leadership of N.S. Khrushchev, and “restored capitalism”.

We have some idea of the massive social upheaval required in Weimar Germany and Italy to bring the fascists to power – and in particular, the role of a major threat from working-class parties. There is no evidence of such an upheaval in Russia, nor of the appearance of a new class, a “monopoly bourgeoisie”, qualitatively distinct from the ruling order of Stalin’s years. The changes in the Soviet Union of the 1950s were trivial in comparison to those of the 1920s and 1930s. The Chinese press might proclaim that, “Fascist white terror reigns in Soviet society today”, but to all appearances, there were fewer political prisoners, arbitrary arrests, sudden disappearances than in the 1930s. To make any sense, Mao would have had to examine the years of Stalin’s rule; but if he had done that, not only would he have jeopardized the apostolic succession he claimed, he would have challenged a social order based on the imperative to accumulate, an order he was seeking to duplicate in China: State capitalism.

Mao’s “analysis” was no more than an expression of extreme irritation after the Sino-Soviet break, not the theoretical justification for the break itself. It was not a new use of the term “fascist”. Stalin identified Tito as a fascist at the time of the break between Russia and Yugoslavia: “The bourgeois nationalist Tito clique in Yugoslavia, having taken the anti-Soviet, anti-Marxist path, has reached the logical end of its anti- Communism – fascism.” [25] The Chinese shared this view, but it did not prevent them giving a hero’s welcome to Marshal Tito on a State visit to China in August 1977. As we shall see, the term “fascism” describes only the attitude of the State concerned to either the Soviet Union or China; it denotes nothing about the domestic order.

The Chinese party set out to split Communist parties round the world and organize a counterforce loyal to its own position on the questions in dispute with the Soviet Union. They did not pursue their goal with great zeal or publicity, so that results were meagre. The only major party to accept Chinese leadership was the Indonesian, the PKI. Others moved towards a position of neutrality.

Although the private polemics against the Soviet Union were sharp, publicly China was still restrained. What changed the situation was the increasing military competition of the mid-1960s (the Soviet Union placed forty to fifty divisions along the 6,850-mile Sino-Russian border) and the events of 1969. Now, China’s “sacred territory” was at stake. The United States was defeated in Vietnam, and, in any case, had begun a withdrawal from south-east Asia (a withdrawal partly contingent upon its new capacity to fly American troops to most parts of the world at short notice, without the need for fixed bases; partly to force US allies to provide their own troops). It was further constrained by domestic political difficulties, and again defeated, politically if not militarily, in Angola. China was vulnerable, and began to identify the Soviet Union as the main threat to the world: “This superpower is even more greedy and more cruel than old-line imperialism in its plunder and exploitation of the third world.” [26]

The United States, fresh from the ruins and terrible death toll in Vietnam, became a friendly neighbourhood imperialism. There was no coherent argument, merely the assertion that the Soviet Union was in an “expansionary phase” and the United States in decline, as if somehow national souls, the rise and decay of civilizations, so beloved of conservative historians, were at stake.

Characterizing Tito as “fascist” did not prevent the Soviet Union from once more embracing its old ally, Yugoslavia, and the same is true of China. Since the “theory” is only a rationalization of short-term tactics, it can be reversed by a change in the tactical situation. At which stage, the Soviet Union will become a secondary “superpower”, perhaps another “superpower” will appear (Japan or West Germany), the Chinese press will switch off its ferocious anti-Russian propaganda, and a few of China’s supporters round the world will be shed.

(ii) The Intermediate Zone

At one stage, the “intermediate zone” was composed of all the powers between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, however, there is a hierarchy in which the “first” world is not the Western industrialized bloc (as opposed to the “second” world, the Eastern Bloc, and the “third” world, the economically backward countries) but simply the two superpowers. The “second” world, the new “intermediate zone”, becomes the advanced industrialized countries other than the two superpowers, a kind of world middle-class between the two ruling powers and the proletarian-peasant masses of the backward countries. [27] The structure is pure fantasy in Marxist terms since the participants are not world classes but national States; the States are not peoples but national ruling orders.

The “intermediate zone” is identified solely by its relationship to the “superpowers”. It therefore has no independent competitive role; American fear of competition from Japan and the European Common Market is thus merely private foolishness. On the analogy of the “middle class” China’s role is to show the regimes of the intermediate zone that they are oppressed by monopoly capital (alias the two superpowers) and ought to ally with the proletariat (alias the third world), under the leadership of China. As Teng Hsiao-p’ing described the task to the audience of the United Nations in 1974: “The developed countries in between the two superpowers ... are in varying degrees controlled, threatened or bullied by the one superpower or the other ... all these countries have the desire to shake off superpower enslavement or control and safeguard their national independence and the integrity of their society”. The industrialized powers of Europe are invited to demand their right of national self-determination, their right to break up the international economic system which grants them power and wealth. In the 1960s, this meant the encouragement of France under De Gaulle in its challenge to NATO, and Romania in asserting its independence from the Soviet Union. Indeed, China went so far as to denounce East Germany’s demand to be recognized as an independent power, and champion West Germany’s “right of national self-determination” – that is, the unification of Germany under the West Germans. [28]

However, once the Soviet Union became the main threat, the disunity of the Europeans, their continued maintenance of elements of national autonomy, became a factor of vulnerability. China began to urge unification in the Common Market, which, in practice, now means the acceptance of West German hegemony. Chou described the official position in 1973: “The cause of European unity, if it is carried out well, will contribute to the improvement of the situation in Europe and the whole world.” The fact that much of the European Left regards the European Economic Community as a rationalization of “monopoly capital” – and some even see it as a plan by the United States to create a large market for its industries – is of no significance for Peking in comparison to the Russian threat to China.

This produces curious paradoxes. Elements of European and American domination of the world become favoured by China – from the Commonwealth military security arrangements for south-east Asia to that traditional object of the Left’s opposition, NATO. The NCNA published in the People’s Daily extracts from the British Conservative Government’s Defence White Paper on the need to increase military spending and to strengthen NATO against the Russian threat. [29] It is the most anti-Communist Right-wing politicians who are received with most warmth in Peking – the Cold War warriors of the United States, the Conservative politicians of Europe – Heath of Britain, Franz Joseph Strauss (of the CSU, the right wing of the Christian Democratic party) of West Germany, Tanaka of Japan, Frazer (rather than Whitlam of the Labour party) of Australia, and Muldoon of New Zealand (who had for twenty years opposed the diplomatic recognition of China).

The paradoxes are more extreme. In February 1974, the British Conservative government was overthrown by a miners’ strike. In the union, the leader of one of the most militant sections was a Communist, Mick McGahey, president of the Scottish miners. China invited the leader of the Conservative party, and, although now only an ex-Prime Minister, he was accorded a reception appropriate to a head of State – a guard of honour, gun-salute, military band playing God Save the Queen, and a personal interview with Mao. The new Labour Prime Minister was not invited. But the miners’ union had been invited to send a delegation, and appointed McGahey as its leader. While Heath, the man the miners had defeated, was feted in China, McGahey, one of the miners’ leaders, was refused a visa as leader of the delegation (the British Communist party was pro-Moscow).

China’s relationship to Japan illustrates the predominance of tactical questions in Chinese foreign policy. In the 1960s, Peking criticized the Liberal Democratic government for being instruments of American imperialism. In the late 1960s when negotiations were under way with the Soviet Union for Japanese exploitation of raw materials in Siberia, the attacks became sharper. The People’s Daily put the official view confidently in 1971: “Look at the past of Japanese imperialism, and you can tell its present; look at its past and present, and you can tell its future.” [30] What was its future?

“Japanese monopoly capitalism is sure to protect its colonial interests by armed force and scramble for spheres of influence. An ‘economic power’ is bound to become a ‘military power’, and economic expansion definitely leads to military expansion. This is the inexorable law of development of Japanese militarism ... What Japan should take is another road, the road of independence, democracy, peace and neutrality. That is to say, Japan must free herself from US imperialist control, dismantle US military bases and achieve national independence; she must renounce fascist dictatorship.” [31] The advice might seem a little irrelevant, given the “inexorable law” which indicated that Japan must become a “military power”. In fact, it turned out to be quite unnecessary for Japan to follow China’s advice in order to buck the “inexorable law”. It required only a visit by Prime Minister Tanaka (a millionaire, subsequently imprisoned for implication in the Lockheed scandal). He met Mao, and the “inexorable law” disappeared. The joint declaration provided a brilliant explanation: “China and Japan are neighbouring countries separated by a strip of water, and there was a long history of traditional friendship between them. The two peoples ardently wish to end the abnormal state of affairs that has hitherto existed between the two countries.” Chou En-lai, with admirable discretion over the record of Japanese pillage of China in the preceding one hundred years, welcomed the agreement with a country, “with whom government relations had not been good since 1894 ... The new relationship was not directed against third parties. Neither was seeking hegemony in the Pacific region, and both were opposed to those who were.” [32] Those alarmed at the possibility of Japanese expansion were no doubt reassured; that is, until new irritations re-created the instant theory of Japan’s inexorable imperialism.

Spain has a special place in the history of the European labour movement. When Franco led the forces of Spanish fascism to overthrow the elected government in the 1930s, an international brigade of volunteers fought alongside the Spaniards to save the republic. The bitterness of their defeat, compounded by Franco’s collaboration with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy during the civil war and the Second World War, made Spain and Franco outcasts even in establishment circles in Europe. The Soviet Union did not restore diplomatic relations with Spain until February 1977.

In 1973, Franco’s Prime Minister, Admiral Carrero Blanco, was assassinated, no doubt to the moderate delight of the clandestine Spanish Left and those in the European labour movement who remembered the past. But China’s response was to despatch its Prime Minister to Sr. Jaime de Ojeda to express condolences to the Spanish chargé d’affaires in Peking, an event solemnly publicized in China. [33] Two years later, the admiral’s master declined in health, but held off death for an extended period. A group of socialist dockers in east London endeavoured to hasten Franco’s departure by despatching him a telegram, “Die, you bastard, die!” (it was sadly refused by the telegraph authorities).

When Franco’s end finally came, there was much opposition in the British government to sending a representative to his funeral; Labour MPs boycotted the House of Commons in protest at the government’s decision to despatch a Cabinet minister. They might have quoted Byron’s comment on the burial of George the Third:

“It seem’d the mockery of hell to fold
The rottenness of eighty years in gold.” [34]

Of the European powers, only Monaco sent its head of State; in Latin America, only Generals Banzer (of Bolivia) and Pinochet (of Chile) attended.

The People’s Republic did not send its head of State (the post had been vacant since the fall of Liu Shao-ch’i), but, as the Chinese press reported to the masses of China: “Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, Chu Teh, mourns the death of Spanish Chief of State Franco.” Wreaths were sent from Chu Teh, premier Chou, and the foreign minister; and the following day Chu Teh sent the official congratulations of the People’s Republic to King Juan Carlos on his coronation. [35]

Such niceties are the trivia of relations between States, but China claims to be something other than an ordinary State. In the case of Spain, it might – wrongly – have been thought to be committed to the forces fighting to overthrow Franco and his heir, the King.

(iii) The Third World


(a) South-east Asia. Only in China’s traditional “sphere of influence” has the People’s Republic given consistent material support to powers abroad – to North Korea and North Vietnam – and verbal support to movements against governments with which it has friendly diplomatic relations.

In the case of Vietnam, China extended recognition and material aid before the Soviet Union, and its artillery was an important factor in the final siege of Dien Bien Phu. However, at the Geneva Peace Talks in 1954, both the Soviet Union and China tried their utmost to persuade the Vietminh to accept partition and not to sweep the French out of Vietnam. [36] It was not clear whether this flowed from the same fear of extending the war as guided Stalin in his efforts to force the Chinese Communists to make concessions to the Kuomintang in the 1930s. However, the Vietnam problem remained unsolved and broke out in a much more massive form in the 1960s.

As we have seen, China’s role in the second war in Vietnam involved both an expanded flow of aid and a careful stabilization of its role with the United States. The détente with Nixon provoked a reaction in Hanoi, but perhaps the Vietnamese simply wished to keep both its powerful patrons at arm’s length. The new united State took over the claims of its southern half, including the Paracel (Hsisha) and Spratly (Nansha) islands in the South China Sea, both of them also claimed by the People’s Republic. It is said there may be oil reserves beneath the islands, and also that China fears the establishment of a Soviet base in the area which would dominate the far eastern shipping lanes. Whatever the reasons, China stated her position unequivocally: “All islands belonging to China must certainly return to the bosom of the motherland”, and “The archipelagos of the South Sea are our sacred territory and we have a responsibility to defend them.”. [37]

Perhaps this territorial issue became as sharp as it did because of the estimate of the Soviet threat, which also caused China to revise her attitude towards four countries hitherto seen as US clients – Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

In 1971, Thailand, in the view of the People’s Republic, was ruled by the “Thanom clique” of American puppets. However, the first contacts between the two regimes were made in that year. They agreed to end hostile radio propaganda and open up trade. The Thai Prime Minister, Pramoj Kukrit, made a State visit, and signed an agreement with China, Article 8 of which instructed Chinese nationals in Thailand to “abide by the law of the Kingdom of Thailand, respect the customs and habits of the Thai people and live in amity with them”. [38] that is, not to “make revolution”. Mao, according to Kukrit, denied that any aid was given to insurgents in Thailand or to the clandestine Voice of the Thai People radio; he advised Kukrit not to be troubled by the insurgents of the Thai Communist Party – “since it is small, it should not be dangerous”. No protest was made when the Thai civilian régime was once more overthrown with great bloodshed in the autumn of 1976.

In the Philippines President Marcos was engaged in a four-year programme of establishing a civilian dictatorship, destroying all opposition, including both supporters of Mao Tse-tung thought (operating for twenty years as partisans in the Central Luzon province) and a Muslim rebellion in the south. In September 1974, Marcos’ wife, Imelda, was invited to China where she met Mao and was offered Chinese crude oil in a trading agreement. In June the following year, her husband followed her on a State visit. Marcos was overwhelmed by the hospitality, referring to China as the “natural leader of the Third World” (Chou reassured him that no material aid went to the Communist rebels in Luzon), and adopting the slogan of “self-reliance”. Indeed, the President, one of the closest allies of the United States in the east Pacific, despatched a stream of missions to China to learn how to copy certain institutions, and even set up a “Commune” in Leyte, Manila.

Malaysia made the same transition. In 1970, the NCNA reported that the “Rahman-Razak clique” was terrified by the guerillas of the Malaysian Communist Party and its power was crumbling. [39] Nonetheless, diplomatic relations were announced in 1974, and half of the “clique”, Tun Abdul Rahman, duly made the pilgrimage to Peking. He was assured no material aid was being given by the Chinese to the Malaysian guerillas. Later, in April 1975, the Prime Minister was upset by the Chinese Communist party’s greetings to the Malaysian party on the occasion of its forty-fifth foundation anniversary (the actual message was critical of the warring factions of the party, and urged it to stay away from the urban areas). No doubt the Chinese ambassador reassured the Malaysian Prime Minister that the message had no real significance. However, it could be used as a bargaining counter on some future occasion, much as Stalin tried to use the Chinese Communist party in bargaining with Chiang Kai-shek.

Singapore’s opposition has been successively repressed by the régime of Lee Kuan Yew. On his State visit in 1976, Prime Minister Hua Kuo-feng assured him that Singapore’s treatment of rebels would evoke no protest from China (an assurance published in the Singapore press but not in the Chinese).

What were the contradictions the People’s Republic sought to exploit in these four cases? They were not utilizing any “major contradictions” at all, nor were they trying to compete with the United States, which was no longer seen as an enemy. It was a simple territorial security exercise, an exercise that in all but open expression consigned the domestic rebels to insignificance and permitted the regimes concerned to claim that they had Chairman Mao in their support.

Indonesia remained, at the time of writing, the last country of the area (apart from Singapore) without diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic. The régime under General Suharto originally came to power through a military coup in 1965. Up to that time, Indonesia was governed by President Sukarno, basing himself latterly on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the army. The PKI had followed a policy of creating a United Front, but without independent territories or armed forces. In practice, this meant sacrificing its radical policies – for example, land reform – to maintaining the alliance with forces that, in some cases, represented those liable to suffer in any land reform. It meant also that the PKI offered entirely uncritical support for Sukarno, calling for a strengthening of his government (his so-called “Guided Democracy”). Sukarno, on the other hand, needed a civilian counterweight to the powerful army, which the PKI provided. Sukarno therefore protected the party from the army and advanced its position in the government (although never in the decisive agencies governing the defence forces). Under Sukarno’s patronage the party became the largest Communist party outside the Eastern Bloc, with a claimed membership of three million, and between eight and ten million in party front organizations. But it was captive to Sukarno’s purposes, for it could raise radical demands for domestic change only at the cost of its position in the Indonesian government.

China gave strong support both to the PKI and to Sukarno, even though the PKI’s policy was one of united front without armed struggle. It was impossible to have the one with the other; had the PKI tried to create its own military forces, the army would have seized power.

In September 1965, a section of the palace guard launched a coup against the main leadership of the army. The army counter-attacked, alleging that the conspiracy was hatched by the PKI and China; it was further alleged that China had flown arms in to the leading air force base for use in the coup. The military rapidly won control, and there followed one of the most appalling massacres in modern history. More than half a million people were slaughtered by the army and its supporters; 200,000 PKI members lost their lives, including forty-five of the fifty central committee members. Many hundreds of thousands of others were gaoled.

China did not comment publicly at the time of the coup, nor has any balance sheet of lessons drawn from the catastrophe appeared since. For the ordinary Chinese newspaper reader, revolutionary Indonesia simply disappeared, in due course surfacing as fascist Indonesia. The People’s Republic continued its aid programme to the new military régime and did not break off diplomatic relations until an attack was launched on the Chinese embassy in April 1966, The Russians behaved in a similar fashion. Pravda published no protest at the destruction of the PKI, and the 700 Soviet advisers in Indonesia continued at work. But the political role of the Russians in Indonesia is not as important as that of the Chinese, who form a large minority in control of much business and commercial activity. The attack on the PKI and China could therefore draw on anti-capitalist sentiments.

In these circumstances, the restoration of diplomatic relations is more of a problem than elsewhere in south-east Asia. However, it will almost certainly come. Then China’s criticism of Indonesia’s repression of the Freitlin struggle for national independence in East Timor will disappear in time for the arrival of General Suharto (or his successor) in Peking. The fate of the survivors of the PKI, the insurgents lying low in Central Java, is of less importance to Peking.

(b) South Asia. Asia was China’s main area of operations in the 1950s. India was an important ally, and given that, after China, it was the most populated country in the world, what the Indians called “Hindi-Chinni bhai bhai” included over half the population of the “third world”. However, the two countries had a common border and were also competitors. At various times India attempted to dabble in China’s “sphere of influence” in Tibet. Yet in terms of its domestic régime, India seemed to be a natural candidate for the title of “progressive State”; it was republican, secular, and operated a planned economy within “a socialistic framework”. It was also “non-aligned” between the two major blocs, a position it reached in advance of China.

Such details, however, were irrelevant compared to the imperatives of the defence of Chinese territory. After the much publicized clash of 1962, India was excluded from the grand design. Mao put it thus: “We have an anti-imperialist task. We have the task of supporting national liberation movements, that is, we must support the broad masses of the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America, including workers, peasants, the revolutionary national bourgeoisie, and the revolutionary intellectuals ... But they do not include the reactionary national bourgeoisie like Nehru.” [40] Why did the commitment exclude Nehru, but not Emperor Hailie Selassie of Ethiopia or General Ayub Khan of Pakistan? Supporters of China later argued that India’s close relationship to the Soviet Union was the reason. However, at the time when strains began, 1959-60, it was China who was the close ally of the Soviet Union and the recipient of Russian aid. Since Mao did not discover that the Soviet Union was “fascist” until 1964, Nehru was perhaps to be forgiven for not having discovered earlier. What, for Mao, determined the character of India’s domestic order was not the Soviet relationship, but the actions of Indian troops in Ladakh.

The break with India led to the rapid promotion in Peking’s eyes of Pakistan, up to that time considered the closest ally of the United States in south Asia. An equally important factor, however, was the attempt by the Soviet Union to establish its influence in Pakistan (Russia assumed the role of mediator in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, and instigated the agreement signed between the two countries in Tashkent). China’s promotion of General Ayub Khan from “American puppet” to “anti-imperialist force” was not an idle commitment, since, as earlier mentioned, Chinese intervention in the 1965 war on Pakistan’s side divided the Indian forces. China’s role placed its sympathizers in India in an extraordinarily difficult position, only exceeded by that of its supporters in Pakistan. In the case of Maulana Bashani, one of the leaders of the Pakistani Left, he was induced – after a visit to Peking – to give “critical support” to the quasi-military dictatorship, and to its role in exploiting the Maulana’s own province, East Pakistan. It was also China’s interests which led the East Pakistan Left to oppose the demand for Bengali independence, so giving the movement up to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League and to Indian influence.

Between 1968 and 1971, both wings of Pakistan – East and West – were in revolt, culminating in the collapse of Ayub Khan’s power and the demand from the Bengalis of the East for the “right of national self-determination”. However, China’s geopolitical considerations took priority in Peking over the national liberation of Bengalis. In June 1970 the Soviet Union received a State visit from Ayub Khan’s successor, General Yahya Khan, who accepted a Russian offer of aid in constructing a heavy industrial sector. China could scarcely risk losing its most consistent ally in south Asia to “social imperialism” for the sake of a handful of Bengalis. Accordingly, the Bengali revolt became a “CIA-Soviet Union-Indian” plot to destroy the Pakistan nation. As the Pakistan army moved to crush the revolt in the East, China extended material and moral support to the Pakistan régime. [41] Maulana Bashani might appeal directly to Mao, but Chou En-lai congratulated General Yahya Khan on “safeguarding national independence and State sovereignty”. [42] The Chinese people were given the General’s speech justifying the repression, and the General in turn quoted China in explaining his action to the Pakistanis.

The repression produced an enormous flight of refugees to India. The Indian régime could not afford to neglect the opportunity. Only a few days after the repression began, the Indian high command began to formulate plans to achieve the central aim of Indian foreign policy since 1947, the destruction of the threat of Pakistan. Thus, Chinese policy both directly and through its influence over the Pakistani Left was instrumental in achieving the exact result it was supposed to be aimed to prevent; it opened the door to Indian intervention, and made it possible for the Indian government to establish a dominant position in the independent Bengali State of Mujibur Rahman. To compound the paradoxes, in August 1972, the Chinese delegate at the United Nations vetoed the entry of the new State of Bangladesh; and in May 1975, Pakistan reaffirmed its fundamental loyalty to CENTO at the Ankara meeting of the alliance.

Some supporters of China have attempted to protect Peking’s honour by suggesting that officials in the Chinese foreign ministry were privately appalled by events in East Pakistan. No doubt in the high days of the US war in Vietnam, the State Department was full of officials grieving over the behaviour of American troops in Vietnam, Such private qualms may be face-saving, but they do not relieve the regimes concerned of their responsibility. Others have found retrospective justification in the corruption of the Bangladesh régime and the famine of 1974. Yet China was indirectly instrumental in permitting that régime to come to power; no alternative was offered by the Bangladesh Left. Forcing East Pakistan back into the authoritarian rule of Islamabad would in no way have prevented the famine. But none of this was acknowledged in Peking or in the Chinese press; no lessons were drawn, no explanations offered either to the Chinese people or China’s supporters abroad.

For Sri Lanka, China has been an important ally since 1952. By 1975, China took eleven and a half per cent of the country’s exports and supplied twelve and a half per cent of its imports. In 1972, China’s financial aid covered three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s budget deficit.

1971, however, was a difficult year. Mrs Bandaranaike’s government, having done very little in its short time in office, provoked a Left-wing mass revolt in the rural areas. [43] Possibly three to four thousand young people were killed, and many thousands imprisoned. China – along with the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, India and Yugoslavia – rallied to give moral and material help to Mrs Bandaranaike’s government. The Sri Lanka press published an official letter from Chou En-lai, released by the Sri Lanka government (but not published in China), which offered a further long-term interest-free loan of £10.7 million (extended twice later in the year) and congratulated the government on defeating the insurgents – Chou was “glad to see that the chaotic situation created by a handful of persons who style themselves as Guevarists ... has been brought under control”. On her State visit to China two months later, Mrs Bandaranaike was able to thank her hosts publicly for their support; in return, Chou thanked Sri Lanka for supporting China’s application to enter the United Nations.

(c) The Middle East. China appears to have given some aid to the Palestinian Liberation Organization until King Hussein of Jordan endeavoured to destroy the movement; then China assisted the government of Syria (the main force seeking to destroy the PLO in Lebanon in 1975-6). But although Chinese propaganda made much of this aid at the time, it was the least important component in China’s foreign policy in the area.

What raised the most difficulties for the supporters of China was the relationship between the People’s Republic and the Imperial State of Iran. As a long-standing ally of the United States and a pillar of CENTO, the régime of the Shah was at once aligned with a superpower, internally repressive and “feudal”. Yet in April 1971 when the indefatigable Chou En-lai was busy congratulating General Yahya Khan of Pakistan and Mrs Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, he also found time to receive Princess Ashraf Pahlevi, sister to the Shah, on an official visit to Peking. The Princess was received by Chairman Mao, and even accompanied him on the rostrum during the May 1st celebrations, no doubt to the delight of the parading masses. Simultaneously, the Shah’s notorious secret police, SAVAK, were launching a widespread attack on all opposition in which thirteen urban guerillas were summarily executed. Chou praised the Shah’s “struggle against foreign aggression and for national construction”, a phrase that possibly referred to Iran’s massive military expenditure. In August, diplomatic representatives were exchanged, and the Chinese people informed that it had congratulated the Shah on his sterling work for his people. [44] The following year, the Shah himself and Empress Farah Diba “were accorded a warm welcome by tens of thousands of people lining the streets” of Peking. In return, Chinese representatives graced the Shah’s grotesque extravaganza, the Persepolis celebrations of 2,500 years of Persian “feudalism”.

The Shah had joined the “progressive forces”. The clandestine Iranian Left might denounce the corruption and repressive character of his régime, but this was an entirely marginal matter so far as China was concerned. The Left might deplore the continued arms drive of Iran and the use of Iran’s oil revenue to finance Western arms manufacturers, but the People’s Republic decreed otherwise: “As an independent sovereign State, Iran has the right and every reason to ensure her self-defence by strengthening national defence. As to the kinds and number of weapons it intends to buy and from where it buys them, it is the internal affair of Iran and other countries have no right to intervene.” Whence came this “right”? From Iran’s 1,562 mile border with the Soviet Union.


The creation of national States on the African continent coincided with the development of an independent Chinese foreign policy. As a result, it was possible for China to be more effective in contest with other world powers which had not had time to consolidate positions. It is said that African guerillas were trained in China in the early l950s. But by the late 1950s, it seems, diplomatic representatives of China were engaged in training militia and youth organizations in some African countries that received financial aid. Those financed included Ethiopia, the Batutsi government in the former Ruanda-Burundi, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Somalia and Congo. However, a contradiction soon emerged; training youth organizations could only take place if there was no hint of mobilizing an opposition to the established régime (the United States was prepared to manufacture such hints to secure influence among independent African States). Revolutionary propaganda opened the door to United States, and later Soviet, intervention. Thus the military government of Congo (B) was induced to disband the youth movement. In Mali, a military coup against President Modibo Keita ended the Chinese link. Chinese diplomats were expelled from Burundi, Dahomey and Central African Republic.

In 1964, a new diplomatic offensive took place, culminating in an African tour by Chou En-lai. Although a number of African States were irritated by Chou’s declaration, “Africa is ripe for revolution”, the visit had solid achievements. Before his visit, seven countries recognized the People’s Republic, and fifteen Taiwan; afterwards, fourteen recognized China, sixteen Taiwan and four remained neutral.

These efforts were slightly nullified by the neglect of external relations during the Cultural Revolution. However, immediately afterwards Peking began a new drive to win diplomatic recognition as the stepping stone to membership of the United Nations. Financial aid was expanded, but this time without any hint of organizing subversive youth groups. Aid went overwhelmingly to established governments, although some assistance is said to have been given to the liberation struggles in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau (and possibly some, but very little, to the Zimbabwe guerillas in Rhodesia). The largest share went to Zambia for the building of the Tanzam railway. President Kaunda has divulged that, at one stage, Chinese representatives did distribute propaganda in Zambia, but withdrew it and apologized when he complained. China’s aid tends to contradict its stress on “self-reliance”, and possibly raises problems at home. During the negotiations for the Tanzam railway, it was rumoured that there was opposition to the project in Peking because it would considerably delay China’s own railway programme, and would do so for a country, Zambia, where the per capita income was double that of China.

To Hailie Selassie of Ethiopia, China was a generous patron from the mid-1950s, despite the presence of US military bases in the country. The Emperor made numerous State visits to Peking. Chou, in October 1973, toasted the aged scoundrel: “We admire the Emperor of Ethiopia, Hailie Selassie ... I raise my glass to commemorate his struggle against colonialism, racialism, and slavery.” Chinese loyalty was in no way deflected by the protracted war of national liberation forces in the province of Eritrea, a revolt the heroic Emperor endeavoured to root out. Nor was China more than embarrassed by the student movement in Addis Ababa which precipitated a general strike and the collapse of the imperial régime in 1974. The Chinese people were told nothing of these events. Peking rapidly recognized the new military rulers, extended financial aid to the Emperor’s successors and refrained from comment on the escalation of the war against the Eritreans and the savage persecution of the Ethiopian trade unions and Left.

Nineteen seventy-one was a year of embarrassment for the People’s Republic not only in Asia. In July, a section of the Sudanese army, with the support of the pro-Moscow Communist party, carried out a short-lived coup against the régime of President Nimeiri. The President reacted in force with a severe repression of the Communists. In Peking, the China-Sudan Friendship Society organized demonstrations in support of Nimeiri. [45] Officially, the People’s Republic congratulated the President on his victory and offered him a grant equivalent to US $45 million. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and North Vietnam made strong protests at the slaughter. China saw the events in the Sudan not as they affected the Sudanese, but only as they affected its competition with the Soviet Union (an attitude shared in Moscow and Washington).

However, it was in the south that Chinese foreign policy received its greatest humiliation in Africa. The disunity of the liberation forces in the former Portuguese possession of Angola provided an opportunity for both Soviet and South African influence there, which in its turn divided the loyalties of the African States. Zambia, already immersed in a détente with South Africa, called for no more than an end to foreign intervention. Nyerere of Tanzania, the recipient of much Chinese aid, and Machel of the recently victorious Mozambique, led the majority of the Organization of African Unity in support of the MPLA, Russian and Cuban assistance or not, and against the South African-backed UNITA and the Zaïre-backed FNLA (the two subsequently allied).

Zaïre, a corrupt and brutal right-wing régime under General Mobutu, financed the FNLA, a force based upon the old tribal kingdom of the Bakongo. The leader of the FNLA was Holden Roberto, the ex-king of the Bakongo, and a successful businessman in Kinshasa, the Zaire capital. Like his father-in-law, General Mobutu, Roberto is reputedly strongly anti-Communist. By contrast, the MPLA had a much less defined tribal base, had a major following among the urban working class of Luanda (the Angolan capital) and was explicitly opposed to private capitalism and foreign domination of an independent Angola. However, General Mobutu has received financial aid from China for a number of years (as well as military assistance from the United States). In December 1974 the General made the customary State visit to Peking. Both the MPLA and the FNLA sent representatives to Peking to secure aid. [46] However, China, presumably on the grounds that the Russians were assisting the MPLA, chose to support the weaker of the two, the FNLA. Roberto himself claimed in May 1974 that 200 Chinese instructors were in Zaire to train his troops. As a result, China found itself supporting a front, the FNLA-UNITA, which was not only defeated, but was supported by South Africa and the United States, a factor sufficient to shift the loyalty of virtually all the African States to the MPLA. It was an ignominious disaster.

China will live down the exposure, and the tides of rhetoric wilt once more cover the credibility gap. Yet the case illustrates the relative weakness of China’s foreign policy as an instrument of change. China lacks the material power to be as effective as its rivals. As a result, it has too often been compelled to fall in with purposes it has previously condemned, simply in order to retain influence. For example, China condemned all talk of détente between the independent African States and South Africa, but by 1975 it was obliged to accept this if it wished to retain its influence in Zambia. [47] Again, despite having fostered a long relationship with Ethiopia, China was displaced by the Soviet Union in 1977 with the onset of war with Somalia; China could not match Russia’s arms supplies.

Latin America

Latin America, most advanced of the three backward continents and most penetrated by foreign capital, was the least suitable for Chinese preoccupations. For no amount of argument could have persuaded the Left there that the threat of the Soviet Union was greater than that of the United States. In any case, there was a home-grown revolution, that of Cuba (in 1959) which more clearly epitomized the conditions of the continent for the Left (and without the obfuscation of Peking’s jargon). Fidel Castro in the 1950s opposed forming a “united front” with the “national bourgeoisie” of Cuba in order to create “new democracy”. Guerilla struggle, its class basis unspecified at the time, led straight to “socialism”. Peking might ritually intone in 1960 that “the tide of national and democratic revolution in Latin America is surging to unprecedented heights”, but Fidelismo blocked any real influence. For a time it looked as though the two might collaborate, but the importance of Russian aid for Cuban survival (despite the Soviet defeat in the 1962 missile crisis) finally proved decisive.

China turned to “material incentives” for established governments. Peru, governed by a military régime but with the largest Chinese minority in the continent (estimated at 60,000) became the main recipient of Chinese aid. A Sino-Peruvian trade agreement was signed in June 1971, shortly after the signing of a Soviet-Peruvian treaty.

In the case of Chile, China warmly supported the Allende government of Popular Unity, despite the fact that it was not the result of a revolutionary seizure of power and despite the warning of the Indonesian disaster. One week after the Sovet Union offered Allende a loan of US $150 million, China capped it with an interest-free loan of US $65 million. By 1972, China had become the fourth largest buyer of Chile’s copper. The Chinese press described Chile as a revolution, without qualification or warning. The coup by General Pinochet might have been an embarrassment, except that coups were by now a frequent occurrence among China’s associates abroad. The embassy of the People’s Republic was one of the three foreign legations in Santiago (the others were the British and the French) that refused to offer refuge to the hunted supporters of the government, and China was the first country in the Eastern Bloc to recognize the new régime. No official statement was published in China on the question of how another progressive force had slipped through the interstices of history, although in the United Nations delegate Huang Hua expressed regret at the murder of Allende and the attack on the Cuban embassy as “in violation of international practice”. Subsequently, China extended the financial aid made to Allende to Pinochet. The régime was grateful; under-secretary of foreign affairs, Cmdr. Claudio Collados specifically praised the People’s Republic as one of the few countries which had not tried to isolate Chile. [48] The opportunity to scoop the Soviet Union by securing privileged access to the new régime proved a temptation too great to be resisted.

Hypocrisy is the stock-in-trade in relations between States, each flattering the other while arming. What is surprising is not that China conforms to this rule but that so many people should be able to disregard the evidence and believe that China’s activities abroad reflect the cause of world revolution. The consistency of Chinese policy is impressive; its principles have remained constant throughout the period. What has changed, unfortunately for Peking, is the world. That is not China’s fault, but it is the source of the “mistakes”. Policy is tested not by its rhetoric in times of stability. It is in crisis that the test comes. Unswervingly, each crisis finds the People’s Republic “failing” by the criteria laid out in the opening section of this chapter.

The current changes in the world signify the onset of a long-drawn-out crisis, and herald a new opportunity for revolution. If China were devoted to world revolution in anything other than a rhetorical sense, now would be the time for a radical change of gear and the creation of an International. Foreign policy would be subordinated to building mass movements dedicated to the overthrow of the States with which the People’s Republic has relations. Yet the Chinese State has consistently sacrificed that purpose to the maintenance of its competition with the Soviet Union. Its material support to national liberation struggles has been too marginal to affect the domination of the major powers. Its border conflicts, the defence of its “sacred territory”, has been the primary concern of its foreign policy: which is why the Soviet Union, still economically far weaker than the advanced capitalist bloc, is offered as the main threat. As a result, China is more often used by the other powers of the world than it is able to use them; it is China which is dragooned behind the United States or Holden Roberto.

Many of China’s supporters abroad do not examine the record closely. They claim that the People’s Republic has policies superior to those of other States, not that it practises something different, “proletarian internationalism”. Then the fact that the terms of Chinese aid are better than those of its rivals, and its rhetoric borrows on a tradition of using the word “revolution”, becomes the substance of the case. The evidence proves otherwise.


15. Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, London, 1937, p.95.

16. For details, cf. Gittings, in Horowitz, op. cit., p.182 passim.

17. Mao, 8 December 1956, in Miscellany I, p.37.

18. June 1964, ibid. II, p.364.

19. NCNA Peking, 19 May 1970, SCMP 4665, 27 May 1970; cf. also NCNA, 20 May 1970, SCMP 4666, 28 May 1970.

20. May 1958, in Miscellany I, p.115.

21. Reported, The Times, London, 24 October 1975.

22. Neue Zeit, No.13, Moscow, 1961, p.23, cited T. Cliff, China-Russia: the monolith cracks, International Socialism 14, Autumn 1965, p.6.

23. The origins and the development of the differences between the leadership of the CPSU and ourselves, JMJP, 6 September 1963.

24. May 1964, in Miscellany II, p.349, cited Joint Editorial, JMJP Hung-chi, 1 January 1970, and PR 17, 1970.

25. For a lasting peace,for a people’s democracy (journal of the Cominform), 1 September 1949, cited by Ian H. Birchall, Workers against the Monolith, London, 1974, p.49.

26. Vice-minister of Foreign Trade, Chou Hua-min, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Nairobi, 11 May 1976.

27. A structure outlined by Teng Hsiao-p’ing to the United Nations, reported PR 15, 12 April 1974.

28. NCNA Peking, 7 July 1974.

29. JMJP, 27 February 1973, reported by Peking correspondent, The Times, London, 1 March 1973.

30. JMJP, 18 September 1971; see also, Down with revived Japanese Imperialism, JMJP, 3 September 1970.

31. PR 39, 1971.

32. Interview, The Times, London, 27 October 1972.

33. NCNA Peking, 22 December 1973, SCMP 5527, 4 January 1974.

34. The Vision of Judgement, in Byron: Poetry and Prose, Oxford, 1940, p.111.

35. NCNA Peking, 21, 22 and 23 November 1975, SWB 3, FE/5066/i, 22 November 1975.

36. Chou En-lai: “he had wrongly persuaded the Vietnamese to make concessions at Geneva in 1954 to get a settlement: he was wiser now than then” – Interview, The Times, London, 13 July 1972.

37. Kuang-ming JP, 24 November 1974.

38. PR 27, 4 July 1975.

39. NCNA Peking, 23 April 1970, SCMP 4647, 1 May 1970; see also ibid., 14 May 1975, SCMP 4662, 22 May 1975.

40. Tenth Plenum (8th Central Committee), 24 September 1962, in Mao Unrehearsed, p.189.

41. See 23 March 1971 message of support, Chou En-lai to General Yahya Khan; NCNA 2 April 1971, and JMJP, 11 May 1971 – “The relevant measures taken by President Yahya Khan in connection with the present situation in Pakistan are the internal affairs of Pakistan in which no country should, or had the right to, interfere.”

42. Bashani’s telegram to Mao: “The ideology of socialism is to fight oppression ... and if Mao refused to protect against the atrocities of the military junta, the world may think you are not the friend of the oppressed.”

43. For details, cf. my: Ceylon 1971, International Socialism 48, June-July 1971.

44. The NCNA statement reads: “Today, under the direction of his Imperial Majesty, the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, the Government and the Iranian people work without cease to safeguard the sovereignty of the State, to protect national resources, to advance the programme of national culture and to educate the country, and has registered success in these aims. The Chinese Government and people congratulate them sincerely and applaud their efforts to achieve new victories in their march forward.”

45. The People’s Daily reported that the coup had been undertaken by “some Sudanese officers” – JMJP, 27 July 1971.

46. MPLA’s Augustinho Neto visited Peking in 1971; both organizations sent delegations there in June 1975 – cf. NCNA Peking, in SCMP 75-24, June 9-13 1975, and Le Monde, 6 June 1975.

47. Vice-premier Li Hsien-nien, at a banquet in honour of the secretary of the Zambian UNIP, 16 September 1975, in PR 38, 19 September 1975.

48. Press statement, Santiago, 26 January 1975, reported The Times, London, 27 January 1975.


Chapter 16: Mao Tse-Tung Thought Abroad

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 22, 2016

Chinese foreign policy is only one aspect of the influence of Mao Tse-tung thought. Supporters of the Chinese Communist party would argue, indeed, that it is only a minor aspect. Is it possible that this wider influence could stimulate revolution in the world, independently of China’s official activities?

Before the Sino-Soviet split, the Left was crippled by its identification with the notorious tyranny of the Soviet Union. Every challenge forced socialists on the defensive, and it was Western capitalism that was able to lay claim to “freedom”. For the Communists, only an immense intellectual evasion could keep their faith alive. Indeed, theory became a faith, an opaque scholasticism no longer accessible to any except the most dedicated student. For workers, “the Party” remained for many years the most consistent defender of their immediate shop-floor interests, but the link between those interests and the conquest of political power became so tortuous few could identify it. For politics in the Party had now become identified with the interests of the Russian State, not the struggle for workers’ power. The material basis of “Marxism-Leninism” – the defence of the national interests of the Russian ruling class – was in contradiction to its supposed principles, the international emancipation of the oppressed.

Without the Sino-Soviet split, it is possible, for example, that the new Left in the United States in the 1960s would ultimately have gravitated towards Moscow. As it was, the idealism of the student radicals spread outwards to embrace a wealth of doctrines, from anarchism, experiments in new ways of life and new religions, to the orthodoxies. In the short term, the unity of a common cause, rooted in the interests of the Soviet Union, was irrevocably weakened, but in the longer term, the change compelled socialists to rethink the tired formulae of Moscow, and rediscover what the struggle for freedom was supposed to mean.

The pace of the process of intellectual emancipation is not, however, determined politically by cogitation, but by events, by the crises which test the relevance of the responses inherited from the past. Events are determined independently of the Left, and most frequently without socialists playing even a slight role. Socialists who will not or cannot be involved sometimes conceal their unimportance by pinning labels over events, by trying to colonize them intellectually, and thereby reconcile rectitude with impotence. The real need, however, is not labelling but to reshape thought and action so that the socialists become relevant, become able to learn anew the tasks required to shape revolt so that it is aligned with the principle of universal emancipation. Does Mao Tse-tung thought assist this process?

There is an immediate problem. The practice of the Chinese Communist party in its ascent to power was only indirectly related to the theory it claimed to follow. The party’s basic aim was to create a strong national State, not to precipitate a world movement of self-emancipation (although its supporters would argue that the first was a step towards the second). The material basis of power was not the party’s relationship to China’s working class or peasantry, but its command of an independent army and territory. The Japanese invasion gave the party its opportunity to champion Chinese nationalism, not workers’ internationalism.

However, these material factors play little role in Mao Tse-tung thought. There, it is suggested that revolution flows, not from material factors, but from “ideology”.

The party has, in Marx’s terms, an “esoteric wisdom”, sustained independently of the perception of workers. The wisdom does not contribute to the struggle of workers, except in the sense of giving it a style of rhetorical extremism. The party is united by doctrine, not by its relationship to a class, and it is doctrine which identifies all other parties, not their class. The party thus conforms to Marx’s criterion of a sect: “The sect sees the justification for its existence and its ‘point of honour’ not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it.” [49]

The party grows by inducing people to accept its ideology, and this accounts for the stress laid on “education” and psychological transformation. Theory does not explain the perceptions workers derive from their own experience. Rather, faith provides a spiritual consolation and direction independent of those perceptions. The faith has sometimes echoes of non-conformist Christianity, for it embodies a moral attitude rather than a scientific theory that relates the experience of a class to society as a whole. Part of the faith may be an abstract emphasis on science. For example, the Australian Marxist-Leninists say of Mao Tst-tung thought that “it teaches us to study actual conditions and respect the facts”, a proposition sadly not implemented in their publications. [50]

A faith requires enemy doctrines to give it definition and unity. The differences are doctrinal, not about the appropriateness of the theory to an independent material reality. Since doctrine is all, the greatest animosity is directed at those doctrinally closest – whether Communists or Trotskyists. These are traitors, not to be argued with or shown the error of their beliefs, but anathematized. Above all, the true believers are always threatened with the virus of “revisionism”.

The word “revisionism” sums up the confusion. For the word is rarely defined, and therefore disagreements can never be specified and argument directed at a particular question. Yet the word has become the small change of Left-wing circles today. It carries the connotation of corruption among the true believers, arising from the combination of greed and bribery by the enemies of the party. This implies that what is “true belief” is clear, and not revisionist. Yet it is precisely that which is in dispute.

The word was not unclear when it began its life. At the turn of the century, a group of thinkers in the social democratic movement argued that some of Marx’s important predictions were wrong and, furthermore, that Marxism was a science of economic analysis, showing the inevitability of socialist revolution, without indicating why anyone should do anything about it. It lacked, they said, a moral imperative to inspire workers to revolution. Some of them later formulated such an imperative, drawn from the work of the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and employed much ingenuity in trying to graft it onto Marxism. The issue is complicated, and the criticisms depended for much of their force on the peculiar character of the “Marxism” presented by the leading theoretician of social democracy, Karl Kautsky.

“Revisionism” in this form was the point of re-entry for philosophic Idealism, for a re-emphasis upon morality, moralizing and voluntarism. Marxism was misconstrued as a bourgeois science, and then a bourgeois ethic brought in to “restore the balance”. It had the effect of asserting the decisive role of those who could understand what it was all about, the intellectuals. Ideas in the hands of those most adept at manipulating them were made the primary force, rather than the material reality facing the majority.

The issues in dispute died with the creation of the Communist International (the revisionists went with the Socialist International and social democracy), but not the need of intellectuals to expropriate workers intellectually within the workers movement. The impact of Stalinism was to achieve just this result. After Stalin, it took extraordinary intellectual dexterity to master what had become sacred texts, to smooth the contradictory twists and turns of Soviet policy into one continuum. The Sino-Soviet dispute removed what is required to sustain an orthodoxy an international authority defining what is orthodox. China has established no new defining authority, so the field is open to all with the ambition to perform that role. Neo-Kantian ethics could now emerge in the guise of the “correct Marxist-Leninist leadership”. But the sheer diversity of correct lines jeopardizes the authority of each; for one group, all other “correct lines” are “revisionism”.

“Revisionism” is apparently not reformism – the argument that socialism can be achieved gradually through the accepted institutions of existing society. Nor does it mean revising certain propositions advanced by Marx, for Mao has done as much of that as anyone. It is an individual error and can be overcome simply by changing loyalties.

If “revisionism” is a dividing line between socialists, separating the true from the false, there is a similar supposed division between ruling classes. Much of the literature argues that a ruling class is wrong because it is greedy, corrupt, arrogant, the implication being that if it were not these things, it would be acceptable. Bad ruling classes are the problem, not ruling classes per se, much as in China, as we have seen, bad bureaucrats are a problem, not bureaucrats in general. The literature of Maoist groups employs the word “fascist” to denote bad ruling classes. Thus, in recent years, in the eyes of many supporters of China, almost the entire capitalist world is governed by fascists – Presidents Nixon and Ford, Mrs Gandhi, Edward Heath, Mr Frazer of Australia – all have been at times “fascist” or “semi-fascist”. Governments can become fascist, and then stop being fascist, as we have seen in Peking’s view of Japan. There is no objective structure which defines the term, only subjective responses.

The term has another function. It provides the rationale for “stages”. All “democratic” classes, including the “patriotic” part of the ruling class, must be united under the leadership of the party to overthrow fascism and create “new democracy”. There is thus apparently an interest common to all classes in the existing national State. Once the party secures power, the workers are supposed gradually to establish their “dictatorship” through a series of peaceful reforms, culminating in socialism. Thus, revolution through class collaboration is followed by a gradualist and reformist stage. The effect is to displace workers’ interests as the primary force in revolution (except in so far as workers are part of the “nation”). The politics of class alliance entail that the workers must restrain their instincts to the pace of development of their “ally”, the national bourgeoisie; the exploiters determine the tolerable degree of activity of the exploited. The party is, above all, the supreme mediator balancing between contradictory class interests. An almost identical set of propositions is embraced by pro-Moscow Communists.

Supporters of Mao give legitimacy to these propositions with citations from a tradition. But the quotations are not seen as responses to concrete problems at a particular time, but as abstract principles, universally applicable as are religious principles. The writings of Lenin, for example, become reduced to a set of abstractions, and since Lenin said many things which are contradictory when taken out of context, there is a vast field for doctrinal disputation. Furthermore, the Lenin of What is to be done? becomes the manual of party organization, not the practice of Lenin’s party organization between 1905 and 1917.

In this way the “ultra-leftist” slogans of the Comintern’s Third Period (1928-33) can, in Maoist publications, be sumultaneously conjoined with their contradiction, the right-wing directives of the Comintern’s Seventh Congress (1935). It will be recalled that the Comintern introduced its Third Period by arguing that the world was about to enter a phase of unprecedented revolutionary activity. It was therefore no longer necessary to have defensive collaboration with other working- class parties, the united front. On the contrary, such parties were an obstacle to radicalizing the workers; the largest of these parties, the Social Democrats, was described as “social fascist” to emphasize the point. Communists must now prepare for armed insurrection for an immediate seizure of power. By contrast, the Seventh Congress relinquished all intention of revolution. It was argued that the world was about to be swamped by fascism, and the Soviet Union might be embroiled in devastating war with Nazi Germany. Defence of the Soviet Union became the overriding priority, and Communists must take action to unify all national forces opposed to fascism and secure an alliance between their own State and the Soviet Union. Regardless of the validity of either strategy, they were based on quite opposite assessments of the immediate future. Yet, as we have seen, Mao’s estimate of the two key elements in the Chinese party’s experience are armed struggle (armed insurrection) and the united front.

The effect of this combination is paradoxical – a refusal by Maoist groups to collaborate with other working-class parties, a rejection of efforts to unite the class, and a willingness to collaborate with parties of the bourgeoisie. The result is nationalism with a left sectarian rhetoric. Because the strategy is founded upon “principles”, mere experience cannot invalidate it. That Spain was lost to Franco, Indonesia to Suharto or Chile to Pinochet are not relevant to testing the validity of the united front. In fact, there are apparently no circumstances where success is not possible. The prairie is always equally dry and needs only the spark of “Marxism-Leninism” to ignite it. It is this abstract activism in some Maoist groups that gives it the flavour of anarchism: In the Beginning was The Deed.

However, identifying the doctrine does not allow us to comprehend the sheer diversity among the supporters of Mao Tse-tung thought. All do not conform equally to the scheme. Some are drawn to Third Period slogans (to the point of acts of isolated violence), some to the more comfortable patriotism of the Seventh Congress; some to the doctrine of psychological change, with few political implications (but embodying a quasi-Christian ethic of “Serve the People”); others are fascinated by a version of the culture of China, quite independent of the reality facing the majority of Chinese. Around such groups there is an even wider range of thought that seems particularly powerful among the European and American professional classes. A claim to support the Great Helmsman thus does not indicate any predictable political behaviour.

Usually the organized supporters of Mao Tse-tung thought are not tested by the demands of practice. As a result, the most serious questions concern ideological differences that may in no way be related to what the group does. However, in relationship to China’s foreign policy, there are tests few can escape. For example, if the countries of the “intermediate strata” are part of China’s progressive world alliance against the superpowers, is it justifiable to pursue revolution in one of those countries? If it were successful, it might jeopardize the security of the People’s Republic and permit the intervention of “social imperialism”. Yet if China’s foreign policy takes priority in this equation, the group concerned has no other function than to defend the existing ruling class.

China offers little guidance to its supporters abroad. In the early 1960s, it was rumoured that the Chinese party intended to create a new authoritative body to define tactics – a small conference of its supporters was said to have met in Auckland in 1964 – but nothing came of it. China’s leadership has preferred to remain neutral, or at least intervene only to the extent that some are invited to visit Peking, some not. A closer identification might embarrass State-to-State relationships (as has happened in south-east Asia, for example). The obverse of this neutrality is that movements can develop under the banners of Mao Tsetwig thought which are actually inconsistent with it.

Below, three examples are examined to illustrate some of these points.

(i) The Naxalbari Movement in India

In the mid-1960s, India was already in crisis. The optimism which accompanied the early years of independence had faded. Economic development seemed to be permanently jeopardized by the incapacity of agriculture to support industrialization, and of the external balance to support the required volume of industrial imports.

In the last half of the 1960s, real factory wages declined by seven per cent. The central government cut public investment radically, and this afflicted most severely heavy industry and India’s “Ruhr”, the eastern region centred in Calcutta. Between 1965 and 1969, some 100,000 people were sacked in the registered factory sector of the Calcutta Metropolitan District (and, on the trend line of 1951 to 1965, 326,000 jobs were lost). Inflation accelerated and there was a sporadic but severe crisis in basic food supplies. [51]

This is the background to the rapid escalation in class warfare. In the State of West Bengal (of which Calcutta is the capital), the number of workers in dispute as a percentage of all workers in registered factories rose from an average of fourteen to fifteen in the 1950s, to eighteen in 1966, thirty-two in 1967 and 1968, and fully eighty-five in 1969. The figures illustrate imperfectly the persistent militancy of workers in eastern India. For example, at the giant Durgapur steel works there were in 1969 517 gheraos (in a gherao, the workers “lock-in” the management until they concede), or many more than one per working day.

The economic crisis and the class battles placed an intolerable strain on India’s fragile political order. The dominant national party, Congress, split in 1969. The Communist party – with its leading stronghold in Calcutta – had divided into a pro-Moscow party (the Communist Party of India, CPI) and a supposedly pro-Peking party (the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPM) in 1964-5. The events of 1967-9 again split the CPM, the dominant party in West Bengal, into a majority that retained the name, and a new overtly pro-Mao Tse-tung thought party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), CPML. The CPML embarked on a course of action designed to achieve power by revolution.

The split in the CPM was impelled by the party’s participation in the State government of West Bengal. In 1967, the CPM was a coalition partner (with the CPI and twelve others) in a short-lived administration. It fell in late 1968, and after a short period of central administration (President’s rule), new elections in February 1969 produced a CPM-led coalition. This survived until March 1970 (when another period of President’s rule ensued).

In early 1967, a group of CPM cadres, without the authority of the party leadership, began an agitation for the peasant seizure of land in a district of north Bengal, Naxalbari. Peking identified the “Naxalite” movement as led by a “revolutionary group in the Indian Communist party” (it refused to distinguish between the CPI and the CPM). It was full of praise for the movement, and affirmed confidently that: “So long as the Indian proletarian revolutionaries adhere to the revolutionary line of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought and rely on their great ally, the peasants, it is entirely possible for them to establish one advanced revolutionary rural base after another in the huge backward rural areas and build a people’s army of a new type.” [52] Peking gave no evidence that the revolutionaries were proletarian, nor whether bases could be established in modern India; nor did it report a number of other peasant agitations parallel to that in Naxalbari since they were directed by an “unrecognized” leadership (for example, under the Naga Reddy group in Andhra Pradesh). By its praise of the Naxalites and by its criticism of individual “CPI leaders” (for example, the chiefs of the CPM, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu), Peking distanced itself from the CPM. However, in general there was little coverage of India in Chinese publications, particularly in 1968 when, apparently, the Indian revolution announced in 1967 disappeared from view. In 1968, the West Bengal State government with its strong CPM contingent (and Jyoti Basu as Home Minister, in charge of police) was obliged to launch a police counter-attack on the Naxalites.

Naxalite publications continued through 1968 to report the spread of the movement far beyond Naxalbari. Indeed, the relative weakening of the movement in Naxalbari was explained by the leadership as the result of the lack of a strong party organization. In November, the first steps were taken to set up a new party and make a formal break with the CPM (but the new organization contained only a small minority of the groups identified as followers of Mao in India). Charu Mazumdar, a former CPI district secretary, became the new leader of the organization. He proclaimed that the “main contradiction” in India was between the peasantry and feudalism. Armed struggle was the priority for the cadres as a method of inciting the peasants to seize the land and crops of landlords. Finally, in March 1969, at an open rally in Calcutta (not in Naxalbari), the CPML was inaugurated.

The new party had, apparently, no programme or constitution. It was to be clandestine, rural-based and armed. Peking gave unstinted public support to the party in general and Charu Mazumdar in particular, even attributing a new agitation in Andhra Pradesh (in the Srikakulam district) to his personal leadership. The Andhra movement, it was said, now included 300 villages, administered by revolutionary councils and committees. [53] An attentive reader in Peking must have been astonished at the speed with which so much had been accomplished.

In fact, the CPML had had some success in maintaining small armed groups in various areas, but had not succeeded in inciting the participation of the peasants in any significant numbers. The cadres remained overwhelmingly Calcutta students. The illegality of the party’s activities obliged it to work in conditions of extreme secrecy which had the effect of blurring the distinction between the party and ordinary bandit gangs, so limiting its appeal to an uncommitted rural population. Police and military units became increasingly successful in pursuing and infiltrating the partisan units, and the party was obliged to be even more secretive. This was no Chingkang mountain region, but densely settled areas, within easy access of district towns; peasant informers, whether eager for police favour or simply to defend themselves and their villages from reprisals, were everywhere. Mazumdar finally concluded that any “open” organization would lead to the domination of the party by rich peasants and “revisionism”, so that all must be secret. Only a completely clandestine group could lead the landless! Apparently the politics of the party and the landless were too weak to withstand revisionism. When the party had secured areas against class enemies, it would become possible to create mass organizations. Peking apparently expressed no disapproval of this change of emphasis.

Later, after the defeat of the CPML, it was argued that Mazumdar’s change of emphasis constituted “neglect of mass organization” and a deviation from Mao Tse-tung thought. Is this correct? As we have seen, in the early days of partisan warfare in China, “mass organizations” were not formed until after the party had secured a stable administration. Indeed, Mao went much further in 1930, suggesting that the party must hold cities before mass mobilization was possible: “Only after wiping out comparatively large enemy units and occupying the cities can we arouse the masses on a large scale and build up a unified political power over a number of adjoining counties. Only thus can we arouse the attention of people far and wide.” [54] The needs of military survival rendered any alternative approach in areas close to enemy-occupied towns wilfully “irresponsible”.

If there is a criticism of Mazumdar’s orthodoxy, it is that – unlike Mao – he pursued a “poor peasant line”. He set the party to incite land seizure against the rich peasantry. By contrast, Mao urged an alliance with the rich peasantry and, during the second United Front period, with the “patriotic landlords and gentry”. Mao’s alliance was to be directed against Japanese imperialism, but Mazumdar had already defined the “main contradiction” as between peasant and landlord. Presumably, Mazumdar would have had to identify foreign capital in India as the main enemy, and endeavour to build a class coalition against it (but that would have made CPML politics indistinguishable in this respect from those of the CPI and CPM).

Peking made no effort to point this out. It continued to offer public support. In late 1969, Mazumdar announced that the party was on the verge of forming a People’s Liberation Army to begin full-scale civil war. By early 1971, the PLA would have begun its triumphal march across the plains of Bengal.

So far as tactics were concerned, Mazumdar and his associates did not restore the earlier emphasis on mass organizations. On the contrary, they moved in the opposite direction: to the “annihilation tactic”. Now it was not so much self-reliant mobile guerilla groups, inciting the peasants to seize land, but individual cadres assassinating particular landlords in the hope that this would set off peasant revolution (February 1969). Peking voiced no criticism, but, on the contrary, stressed that the CPML had “unswervingly taken the correct road of seizing political power by armed force”. Now, Peking Review reported, 100 square miles of Andhra Pradesh were under guerilla control as well as areas in six other States (West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Kerala). The Indian government was “tottering”. [55]

In mid-1969, a major change took place. Mazumdar directed the CPML cadres to return to Calcutta. There, the CPM-led government, it was claimed, were imposing a reign of white terror (presumably the CPM had become fascist). Only red terror could defeat it. It is not clear why this change took place: whether it reflected the party’s relative lack of success and increasing police harassment in the rural areas, or the need to replenish the ranks of the cadres from Calcutta. However, the result was open street warfare between the two parties. The CPML proclaimed a small-scale “Cultural Revolution” in educational institutions. Mazumdar described it as the students destroying the superstructure of bourgeois culture while the peasants destroyed the base.

Peking presumably disapproved of the change since it lapsed into silence. For the ordinary Chinese reader, the heroic Indian revolution disappeared without explanation. But in Calcutta, the war between the CPM and CPML gave the national government the opportunity to intervene with military power. Most of the cadres of the CPM L and many of those of the CPM were killed or imprisoned (Charu Mazumdar died or was killed in captivity).

It is said that, in November 1970, Peking did privately inform Mazumdar of certain criticisms, and extracts from this letter have been published in a source sympathetic to the CPML. [56] The excerpts make a number of points of which the most important is that the CPML misunderstood the concept of the United Front and neglected “mass struggle”. Both, it said, must be created in the course of the conquest of power, not afterwards. As noted earlier, this is not true of “mass organizations” in China. The Chinese party stressed “the need for unity between the exploiter and the exploited [those exploiters who are not the main target of the revolution]. The characterization of the bourgeoisie as a whole [as] comprador is wrong.” The letter did not divulge whether this was also true of landlords, nor what political force in India would play the role of the Kuomintang in China in the United Front. The logic of the case, if not the realities, suggested the CPML should ally with the Congress (the line pursued by the pro-Moscow CPI!).

However, our central interest is not the personal role of Mazumdar and the CPML leadership but rather whether the party followed the line of Mao Tse-tung thought in essentials. In that respect, the Chinese party confirmed: “The general orientation of the CPML is correct, but its policy is wrong.” Amid the ruins of the party, there were few to ask how the “general orientation” could be correct and yet invoke such a terrible defeat. Nor did anyone draw political conclusions from the fact that Calcutta’s working class had been through a movement of revolt more massive than that seen in the rural areas, but without the self-proclaimed “proletarian leadership”. India in 1970 was not China in 1930 or 1937 or 1947. There was no Japanese invasion that paralysed the Kuomintang government and permitted the building of the Yenan base. Indian forces in 1970 could reach almost all parts of the country speedily in a way the Kuomintang could not, even before the Japanese invasion. There were no local warlords jeopardizing the power of the national government. Even if there had been a foreign invasion, it seems unlikely that a stable rural base could have been created in areas with a potential for material and political survival. In this scheme of misjudgements, Mazumdar’s errors were of relatively minor significance.

Peking published no lessons. Mrs Gandhi had been given a unique opportunity to re-establish central power in West Bengal, to purge a stronghold of the Left; thousands of the most idealistic and self- sacrificing young people of India had been thrown to destruction for no useful purpose at all; the CPM was defeated for six years. Yet Peking felt no need to correct any errors. The Indian revolution merely disappeared from the pages of Peking Review.

(ii) Portugal in revolution

The fascist régime of Portugal collapsed in April 1974 after more than forty years in power. General Spinola inherited office and was obliged to take steps to restore representative institutions and a free press. Almost immediately, there was an upsurge of popular agitation against what remained of the old order, in particular the secret police. Sections of the army were radicalized and Spinola fell. The creation of militant trade unions, together with massive strikes and demonstrations, pushed politics rapidly to the Left. The Communist party which emerged in April with the largest following among workers found itself holding the centre, with the Socialists and Social Democrats on the Right and a scatter of organizations the Communists called “ultra-left” on the other flank. The party’s aim was to use its worker following as a bargaining counter to secure a firm position among the junior officers of the army, the Armed Forces Movement, which held the balance of power.

The Right, with substantial foreign help (particularly from West Germany, Britain and the United States), reorganized. There were physical attacks on the Communist party and some infiltration of the Socialists. However, the Right’s opportunity to reverse the tide came with an ill-judged and abortive coup by left-wing officers and men in November 1975.

Mao Tse-tung thought was important on the Left, whether as a form of vague emancipatory populism, a formal doctrine of “armed struggle”, or the inspiration of an organization. There were four groups of significance: the Portuguese Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), PCP(ML) or AOC (Workers’ and Peasants’ Alliance), publishing a paper, Voz de Operaia; the MRPP, with a paper, Luta Popular; FEC(ML); and the UDP (Popular Democratic Union). All four organizations in one form or another accepted the idea of stages: the first task was to build a broad class alliance to carry the country through a “democratic stage”, not a workers’ mass organization for the conquest of power. The MRPP was initially the most extreme – its cadres courted imprisonment and deflounced the Left’s stronghold in the army, COPCON, as simply the old fascist secret police. However, as the Communist party advanced its influence in the Armed Forces Movement, China’s foreign policy con- cans overshadowed both the PCP(ML) and the MRPP – a restoration of fascism became relatively less important than the threat of “social fascism” that is, the pro-Moscow Communists.

In 1975 the situation was highly unstable. The Western powers used their influence to discredit the Communists and, by implication, those further Left. In such circumstances, the PCP(ML) allied with the Socialist party and parties further to the Right (building the United Front), denouncing the rest of the Left as creatures of “social fascism”. There were even reports that members of the PCP(ML) participated in the armed attacks on Communist headquarters in the north. The MRPP described these attacks as the peasantry rising up against “social fascism”. When the luckless Communist cadres at Leiria endeavoured to defend themselves, the party was accused of “shooting down peasants”.

Both organizations adjusted their politics to defeat the Communist party. The PCP(ML) supported the right-wing programme of Major Antunes in the Armed Forces Movement, and the MRPP supported the candidate of the Right, General Eanes, for the presidency. The MRPP worked closely with the Socialist party to split the Communistcoiitrolled trade union federation, the Intersyndical, and organized demonstrations against the general strikes of August and 24 November. Both groups supported the FNLA in Angola.

Both the PCP(ML) and the MRPP were loyal to the thought of Mao Tse-tung, and, as a result, were consistently on the Right of Portuguese politics. They added a tone of left-wing rhetoric to the efforts being made to stifle a revolution. The Communists were not concerned to make a revolution in Portugal, but the attack upon them was designed to make a revolution impossible, and, although neither organization had great influence, the two groups added their weight to the counterrevolutionary movement.

FEC(ML) was a federation of groups that argued that any struggle for power was utopian until the party had been built. They were thus able to combine extremist rhetoric with conservative and cautious practice. In the great events of the time, they chose to abstain. The UDP, on the other hand, the largest of the organizations, diverged from Mao Tsetung thought when this collided with the movement of the Left as a whole. Thus their paper stressed the dangers of “social fascism” but treated the threat of Russian and American domination as equally dangerous (where in fact the United States had a much more powerful position in Portugal). The UDP collaborated with other groups on the Left, but not with the Communists.

In China, Mao Tse-tung thought summarized retrospectively some of the tactics the party was obliged to pursue for survival; the tactics were “flexible” because the party had an independent military base. But in Portugal this historical residue became a straightjacket, inhibiting even the tactics appropriate to survival. The Right might, in certain extreme circumstances, have tried to use the followers of Mao as a disguise for its advance to power; once in power, the followers of Mao would have been annihilated along with the rest of the Left. The only defence for the Left was to build a basis of independent power in a mass workers’ movement, and that was only possible if the politics of winning State power were fused with the real material interests of workers. No mere party, even with clandestine military units, could substitute for this. The FEC and the UDP diverged from the logic of Mao, and operated pragmatically, with resulting muddle and inconsistency.

In all cases, the doctrine of “stages” was a means to insert a separate class interest, to make the party and its leadership the master, not the leader, of the workers. It was a utopian aim since Portuguese workers remained unconvinced that either “stages” or “protracted struggle” were necessary. To choose these was to opt for the victory of the Right. [57]

(iii) The “Intermediate Zone”

In the industrialized countries, there has been no continuing upsurge in political activity. Mao Tse-tung thought has not been tested in practice as it has in India and Portugal. The followers of Mao, organized in a few clearly-defined groups within a broader current of opinion sympathetic to China, have therefore been largely restricted to doctrinal matters.

A recurrent problem is to define the class of country in which the group operates since this determines the “main contradiction”. For Norway’s AKP(ML), “the most important contradiction in the world is between the peoples of the world and imperialism” – that is, between the two superpowers and the rest. Thus the task appropriate to Norway is to build a united front to eliminate American and Russian influence on the basis of “independent national capitalism”. [58]

In Australia, the CPA(ML), a clandestine organization, identifies the country as part of the “third world”, struggling for its national independence. At first the struggle was primarily against American influence, but latterly it has been directed against the threat of Soviet aggression. The change produces a familiar paradox. In 1975 Frazer’s conservative Liberal and Country party replaced Whitlam’s Labour Government. The Frazer administration was more anti-Communist than that of Whitlam, so the “threat of Soviet aggression” loomed larger in its preoccupations. A shift from Left to Right in the domestic scene produced a shift from Right to Left in foreign policy! Vanguard, weekly paper of the CPA(ML), praised Frazer’s foreign policy, even though on other occasions it referred to him as the “fascist Frazer”: “While the result of the coup [against Whitlam] is to have a more realistic foreign policy, it is also bound to lead to attacks upon the living standards and democratic rights of the people.” [59]

China’s foreign policy imposed a comparable paradox on the pro-China KPD and KPD(ML) (the initials of the pro-Moscow German Communist Party are DKP) in West Germany. When China welcomed West Germany into the comity of progressive opposition to the superpowers – receiving with particular hospitality the leader of the German parliamentary Right, Franz Josef Strauss – the supporters of Mao loyally demonstrated for a strengthening of NATO. Indeed, it is said that the KPD(ML) tried to sue the Bundesrepublik Defence Minister, Georg Leber, for neglecting Germany’s military preparedness in the face of the threat of Russian aggression.

The contradiction between external and domestic policy in Maoist eyes was duplicated in France. General de Gaulle’s reassertion of French nationalism abroad was approved while growing “fascization” was detected at home. Attempts to prevent “fascism” in France might have included the agitation of the United Socialist Party (PSU) and other socialist organizations for trade union rights in the French army in 1975. However, supporters of China did not see it in this light. They attacked “subversive activity” in the army, attributing it to the intrigues of the “social fascists” (the French Communist party) as part of Russia’s grand scheme to suborn France.

Maoist groups are reasonably consistent in their orientation on local nationalism and building a coalition of classes. They are less consistent in their attitude to the working class. Some have orientated on the trade union movement – the Swedish KFML (now the Swedish Communist party, SKP), Norway’s AKP(ML) and the Communist Party of Britain (ML). But, for example, the Appel tendency (KAK) in Denmark and Sweden holds that the entire working class of the industrialized countries is a “labour aristocracy”, living off the exploitation of the backward countries. KAK’s activity has therefore been restricted to charitable efforts to help particular backward countries. In the same way, the Danish KF(ML) operated for a long time to spread “friendship” between Danes and China, as did the October League in the United States. Politics fade into a cultural identification with China, but a China charged with fantasy. This view of China is popular among sections of the intelligentsia, it is a kind of daydream, and in no way inconsistent with extreme hostility towards organized labour. The image of the selfless Guardians of the Chinese Communist party, a dedicated élite serving a grateful but untutored mass, has appeal in some professions, for example, medicine and teaching.

Perhaps another section of the professional middle class is drawn to the rhetorical extremism characteristic of La Cause du Peuple in France. In 1969 the paper promised the French bourgeoisie: “And when we want to, all together, we’ll kidnap you, we’ll spit in your throats and hang you – first, by the feet, and if you don’t understand then, by the neck.” The paper was banned in 1970 for advocating murder, theft, pillage and arson.

These side-currents – the one, the daydream of the professional classes, the other, its Nihilist nightmare – reflect social tensions and alienation, but not particularly Mao Tse-tung thought. It is the stage props of the united front, class collaboration, and loyalty to China’s foreign policy which reveal that. Foreign policy was the only area of difficulty, the only point where reality could touch the doctrine. Some prided themselves on following China through thick and thin. Humanité Rouge wired its congratulations to Pakistan’s General Yahya Khan on the slaughter of Bengalis in 1971. Australia’s Vanguard pronounced in 1971 on events in Ceylon: “The people of Ceylon have taken to arms against the great tea plantation owners, against exploitation ... Their efforts to date have revealed the essential capitalist character of Mrs Bandaranaike.”

Shortly afterwards, Peking revealed that China was on the side of Mrs Bandaranaike and the “great tea plantation owners”. Vanguard did not flinch: “We have made a mistake. Chairman Mao has shown us the correct way again.”

The “mistakes” are supremely unimportant, for the audience is tiny, the proclamations no more than shadow play. But the “mistakes” show a method of approaching questions, the same servility to authority that Stalin bred among the Communists. The “Marxist-Leninists” have no independent criteria, no world view founded upon the material existence of a world class, no disciplines rooted in an objective social situation.

The impact of Mao Tse-tung thought on the world has been small by comparison with that of the October revolution. In general, established Communist parties have not been afflicted by severe splits. The greatest impact has been felt by the intelligentsia of the backward countries, particularly in Asia. In conditions of major social upheaval, Mao’s ideas can be important. For example, in the 1973-6 revolt in Thailand, the workers of Bangkok fought alone; those who claimed to be revolutionaries were far away in the hills of the north-east, practising guerilla warfare with a perspective of surrounding Bangkok after twenty years’ struggle, long after many of the workers on strike would have died of old age. Mao Tse-tung thought robbed the Thai movement of a leadership, and ensured Sino-Thai relations were not embarrassed.

The Sino-Soviet dispute did have a liberating effect, but if we restricted our attention to “Marxist-Leninist” groups, the proposition would be doubtful. The supporters of Mao seem most often to have created only new prisons of the mind, new “esoteric wisdoms” to isolate themselves from workers. Not all Mao’s supporters had the stomach to pursue Peking’s logic to its conclusion, the defence of local capitalism. Their instincts rebelled against the transformation of revolution into its opposite. But instincts, like common sense, sensible fellows in their own sitting rooms, as Engels once put it, are not enough in the outside world. In so far as supporters of Mao are loyal to his thought and Peking’s foreign policy, they are counter-revolutionary; in so far as they bend it to fit their instincts as workers, they are confused. No collective self-emancipation can result.


49. Letter to Schweitzer, 13 Oct. 1868, in Correspondence, op. cit., p.251.

50. The Australian Communist, No.57, p.48.

51. For more detail, see Chapter 1, India: Capitalism and Revolution, in my India-China: Underdevelopment and Revolution, Delhi, 1974, pp.3-41.

52. JMJP editorial, 5 July 1967, translated and republished in PR 29, 14 July 1967.

53. PR published Liberation’s article launching the new party, and also one by Charu Mazumdar – see PR 28, 11 July 1969; PR 32, 6 August 1969; PR 44, 31 October 1969; also PR 1, 2 January 1970.

54. January 1930, SW I, p.123.

55. See articles in PR 5, 30 January 1970; PR 7, 13 February 1970; PR 8, 20 February 1970.

56. Frontier, Calcutta, 4 November 1972.

57. See, for further details on Portugal, Tony Cliff, Portugal at the Crossroads, International Socialism 81-2, September 1975, and Tony Cliff and Chris Harman, Portugal: The lessons of the 25th November 1975, London, 1975.

58. Prinsipprogram, February 1973, II, p.12.

59. Vanguard, 29 January 1976.