China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
WHEN the popular discontent in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe came to a head last October in the uprising in Hungary and Gomulka's coup d'état in Poland, the whole Communist world was involved. It was not a matter which could be of concern only to the Soviet Union and the European Communist countries, leaving unaffected the great Asian adherent to the Marxist-Leninist faith, the Chinese People's Republic. Despite their geographical remoteness from the scenes of conflict, the Chinese Communists were, in fact, greatly alarmed at the course of events, and their concern showed itself in two ways: in a diplomatic policy of intervention and mediation between the Soviet Union and the European satellites; and in domestic policies designed to apply what were considered to be the lessons of the outbreaks in Europe.
Communist China's position in relation to the Soviet Union differed greatly from that of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. The primary factor in the contrast was one of sheer size; whatever the truth about the census claims of the People's Republic, the Chinese are certainly the most numerous nation in the world and at least potentially a great Power, in quite a different category of bigness from Poland, Czechoslovakia or Rumania. This from the beginning caused the Russians to be more careful and respectful in their dealings with the Chinese Communists than they were with the parties of the smaller European countries. Further, there was a great difference in the degree of indebtedness to the Soviet Union. In capturing power the Chinese Communists owed less to Soviet military occupation and political support than any European Party except the Jugoslav. The Chinese Communists might not have won the civil war against the Kuomintang but for the aid which they received from the Russian occupation authorities in Manchuria; however, that aid was confined to one region of China, and the new rulers could plausibly claim to have made their revolution by their own efforts. Thus, on grounds both of China's size and importance and of the Chinese Communists' own revolutionary achievement, Mao Tse-tung's government always took an attitude of independence and equality in its dealings with Moscow, and Stalin, in contrast to his treatment of the new party-states in Eastern Europe, took the greatest care not to offend or humiliate the Chinese. During Stalin's lifetime there was, in fact, no dispute between Moscow and Peking which reached the dimensions of a publicly acknowledged conflict.
Those Western observers who pointed out that Communist China could not be listed as a satellite of the Soviet Union were quite justified. But they were wrong when they drew the conclusion that China might be expected to "go Titoist." The rupture between Stalin and Tito occurred because Stalin tried to interfere in the affairs of Jugoslavia in a way he never tried to interfere in the affairs of China—partly perhaps because Stalin learned something from the Jugoslav experience. Since Mao never had to put up with the kind of treatment Tito was expected to endure, he felt no practical need to become a Titoist. On the other hand, since Mao was asserting for China a position of partnership with, rather than subordination to, the Soviet Union, it might have been expected that he would show some sympathy for Tito's claim to the same status. In fact, throughout the whole course of the quarrel he committed China to Stalin's side in condemning Tito as a traitor to the Communist cause. This attitude cannot be attributed simply to Chinese dependence on the Soviet Union for economic and military aid or even to the unanimity of the support given by other Communist Parties to the Soviet position. By the strict interpretation of Marxist-Leninist principles to which Mao has always held, Tito was in the wrong. Although Mao may have had his own views about Stalin's handling of Tito in the first place, the latter's action in publicly taking a neutral stand in international relations and accepting economic and military assistance from the United States was unpardonable. Then, as now, Mao insisted that there must be solidarity of the "socialist camp" in the face of imperialism; neutralism may be a virtue in a non-Communist state, but it is impermissible for a government professing to base itself on Marxist-Leninist ideology.
In spite of his disapproval of Titoism, Mao remained potentially sympathetic to any movement in a Communist country aimed at attaining greater equality in relations with Moscow, so long as it did not endanger the domestic supremacy of the Communist Party or make compromises with the international enemy. His attitude during the crisis of last autumn was quite consistent with this general outlook. In Poland, Gomulka came to power as spokesman of a national demand for independence from Russian control and exploitation, but with a firm intention of maintaining the rule of the Communist Party and of keeping Poland within the military alliance system of the Warsaw Pact, which affords Poland its only international guarantee against German territorial revisionism. Gomulkism thus remained within the limits of Marxist-Leninist legitimacy and was worthy of Peking's support; it did not surrender Communist supremacy and, unlike Titoism, it did not involve international neutralism.
In Hungary, on the other hand, the rebels demanded both free elections with rights of opposition and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact; the Nagy government, powerless to cope with the national uprising, capitulated to both demands. This put Nagy outside the pale, as far as Peking was concerned. If the Soviet troops had not intervened, Hungary would have become another Austria, and Communist rule would have been at an end there. Logically, Mao gave his approval to the Soviet intervention. The official statement on events in Europe published in China at the end of December referred to "the righteous action of the Soviet Union in giving assistance to the socialist forces in Hungary" against a counter-revolution.
The Party leadership in Peking considered the situation so serious that Prime Minister Chou En-lai was directed to interrupt his good-will tour of Asia and go to Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest to use his good offices in resolving the crisis. In Moscow, according to reports which cannot be confirmed but are believed to be well founded, Khrushchev's "Stalinist" critics were demanding the use of force to crush Gomulka, but Chou strengthened Khrushchev's hand by warning that China would not support the Soviet Union in such a policy. In Warsaw, on the other hand, Chou tried to get Gomulka's consent to a joint statement which would acknowledge Soviet leadership of the "socialist camp" and condemn the Hungarian revolt. Whatever Gomulka's own inclinations may have been, public feeling in Poland was too inflamed for him to make these concessions, but at least China's emissary made clear to the Polish leaders what the Chinese attitude was in these matters. The Polish public was aware of the part played by Chou in restraining Russia, but does not seem to have realized the extent of Chinese reservations on behalf of Russia, so that news reporting from Poland tended to represent the Chinese policy as more pro-Polish than it actually was. What did emerge, however, from the exchange of views was an increased intimacy in Chinese-Polish relations and the definite establishment of China as an interested party in East European affairs.
In Budapest, Chou En-lai confined himself to efforts to build up the prestige of the Kadar government by showing that China as well as Russia stood behind it. It was noted that he did not try to make contacts with any Hungarians other than members of the government.
Thus the Chinese policy in relation to the October upheavals in Europe, as shown in practice by Chou's diplomacy and in theory by the ideological declaration issued at the end of December, was a two-edged one; it included support for the type of "national" Communism represented by Gomulka, but it was also directed against "revisionist" tendencies, which might impair either the principle of permanent Communist Party supremacy in each country or the stability of the system of military alliances of which the Soviet Union was necessarily the pivot. The principles of Marxism-Leninism, according to the declaration, must be applied with reference to the "special national features" of each country, and "great-nation chauvinism" must be avoided in relations between Communist states. But the smaller nations also had their responsibilities; all nations must subordinate their particular interests to the international movement in order to present a united front against imperialism. The Soviet road of revolutionary capture of power and dictatorship of the proletariat was the road that every country must take in order to gain victory, and the Communist Party must always take the lead in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat, which Lenin had repeatedly declared to be "the most essential part of Marxism."
Mao and the Chinese Party did not presume to interfere directly in the internal affairs of the Soviet Communist Party, but in so far as the latter was divided between contending factions the Chinese undoubtedly played a part in the outcome of the factional struggle. At the end of 1956 Khrushchev was in a weak position politically in the Soviet "collective leadership" because of the events in Poland and Hungary, which had been the sequel of his policies of de-Stalinization for the satellites and rapprochement with Tito. There had always been opposition to these policies from the group led by Molotov and Kaganovitch which held that any relaxation of control must endanger the whole system. It was argued that there would have been no major break in Eastern Europe if so many political concessions had not been made to the forces of discontent; the Polish and Hungarian upheavals had not, after all, occurred while Bierut and Rakosi had been in charge but after Gomulka had been released from prison and rehabilitated and after the Hungarian Party had spectacularly repudiated its own past by the state funeral given to the reburied Rajk. The "I told you so" reproaches directed at Khrushchev might well have led to his downfall; he was saved mainly by his firm hold on the Party machine through his position as First Secretary, but partly also by the friendly attitude of Peking towards the new Poland, which implied that it was no longer possible to return to a policy of forcibly dragooning the European satellites without incurring a grave dissension with China.
Chinese moral support was also given to Khrushchev in his struggle for power in Moscow on quite other grounds. Khrushchev was opposed, not only by the "Left" opposition of the Molotov-Kaganovitch group standing for the maintenance of firm control by repressive methods both in the Soviet Union and the satellites, but also by Malenkov's "Right" faction, which called for an increased reliance on market relations in the economy, more economic incentives and a substantial transfer of industrial capacity to the production of consumer goods. The situation was in some ways similar—though the issues at stake were different—to that which had prevailed in the Soviet Party after Lenin's death, when Stalin's faction had had to contend both with the Left Opposition of Trotsky and Zinoviev and with the Bukharinite Right. In the recent purge Khrushchev has followed Stalin's example of making an amalgam of oppositional trends which were of opposite significance, and the policies represented by Malenkov have been lumped together with those of the "Stalinist Old Guard." But in relation to Malenkovism, it was Khrushchev who, as the unrepentant champion of heavy industry, was the Stalinist. On this issue his stand corresponded to the self-interest of Communist China, whose crash program of industrialization depended on the maximum flow of capital goods from the Soviet Union and the more industrially advanced of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Changes of economic policy providing for concentration on the production of consumer goods might ease the economic and social strains of the Soviet Union, but they must mean a reduction of the Soviet capacity to provide for the urgent needs of China's industrial expansion.
On this question also, therefore, as on the issue of relaxation of control over the satellites, the Chinese were on Khrushchev's side. It may seem, however, that there was some discrepancy between the two positions, because relaxation of control in Eastern Europe meant in most cases an abandonment of the extreme priorities for heavy industry which Soviet domination had imposed. However, it could be argued that the decline in the output of capital goods which might result from this would be less serious than the losses which would be incurred as the result of armed intervention to preserve—or rather restore—the old system in the satellites.
What, then, of China's own road to socialism? How far did the Chinese assertion of political independence from Moscow and disposition to support similar claims in Eastern Europe imply a theory and practice of Communism really divergent from the Soviet model? As we have seen, the Chinese manifesto of December 29 balanced its support for national roads to socialism with a reassertion of the "universal truth" of Marxism-Leninism and an insistence that the national roads must conform to this. Conditions in China nevertheless differed in important ways from those in the Soviet Union and also from those in Eastern Europe.
The most important differences were those of time since the achievement of the Revolution. Communism has been established in Moscow since 1917; in all the European countries where it is now established it was at least politically predominant by the end of 1945. But the principal cities of China fell into Communist hands only in 1949. The Chinese is thus the youngest of the Communist régimes, and its subjects have the most recent memories of the pre-Communist era. In Russia today only those over 60 years of age had reached adulthood when the Bolsheviks came to power, and those who had achieved any distinction in their careers before the Revolution are a disappearing handful. In China, on the other hand, the new system has not yet had time—outside the remote rural areas where it had long held sway—to rear a new generation in its own ways. In the economic and cultural spheres it still has to operate mainly with people whose minds were formed in a non-Communist environment. This is, of course, a situation which the Communists have had to face also in Eastern Europe, but the circumstances of the capture of power in China made the Party there much more dependent at the outset on the conciliation of potentially hostile social elements. In the East European countries, except Jugoslavia, Communist domination was secured by the overwhelming might of the Russian Army and no effective resistance to it was possible; in Jugoslavia the Communists had gained supremacy through their rôle in the national resistance to foreign invasion and Tito's power was firmly established before the war ended.
In China there was a Russian occupation only in Manchuria and the Communist part in the national resistance had been only a subsidiary one; after Japan's surrender, four years of civil strife were needed to achieve the victory of the Revolution. In this struggle the Communists owed much of their success to their skill and lack of scruple in concealing their real aims and making all kinds of promises to all kinds of people. While the urban workers were encouraged to look forward to a socialist utopia, the peasants were promised shares of landlords' estates for their private ownership, the "national bourgeoisie"—capitalists not belonging to the privileged group of "bureaucratic capitalists" connected with the Kuomintang Party—were promised a private sector of industry for an indefinite period, the intelligentsia were promised political liberty and an end of currency inflation, and even generals and officials of the Kuomintang régime were promised forgiveness of sins and jobs for the future if they passed over to the Communist side. Thus the Communists came to power in China on the basis of a broad united front, with very many Chinese as well as foreigners believing that they were not "real" Communists, but simply patriots, democrats and "agrarian reformers."
The wide social appeal was reflected politically in a coalition which linked with the Communists a number of minor parties classified as "democratic" or "progressive." These parties retained their own separate memberships and organizations, but formally pledged themselves to follow the "leadership" of the Communists, whose claim to supremacy was strongly based on their direct control of the troops and security forces of the People's Liberation Army. The leaders of the conciliatory parties put their signatures to all the policy declarations issued by the Communists and they received a number of high administrative offices, including some of the economic ministries of the central government. In accordance with the Marxist-Leninist theory that all parties must represent classes, the non-Communist parties of the coalition were supposed to represent the national bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia; the Communists reserved to themselves the exclusive right to represent the workers and peasants. The arrangement at the outset suited both sides. The Communists were able to utilize the services of many individuals of high administrative or technical qualifications from outside their own ranks, and also to spread their propaganda through subservient agencies in quarters alien to them, without having to admit unreliable and opportunist elements to membership in their own Party. For the members of the auxiliary parties the bargain provided careers under the new régime in spite of embarrassing past associations as well as the hope of exerting a limited influence on policy.
The most important of the auxiliary parties was the Democratic League, itself a federation of smaller groups, which had appeared to some foreign observers in earlier days as a liberal "third force" between the Kuomintang and the Communists; it had obtained a large following among the professional and business classes, but had been ineffective in the struggle for mastery in China because of its lack of a party army to support its politics. It had finally moved into alliance with the Communists, and two of its vice-chairmen, Chang Po-chun and Lo Lung-chi, became Ministers of Food and of the Timber Industry respectively in the Central People's Government. Another important group of fellow-travellers formed the so-called Revolutionary Kuomintang; they were former generals and officials who had for one reason or another been at odds with Chiang Kai-shek, including Li Chi-shen, who had been Chiang's principal military rival in South China, Tsai Ting-kai, who had commanded the Chinese troops fighting the Japanese in Shanghai in 1932, and Lung Yun, who had been for many years the virtually independent "warlord" of Yunnan.
As long as these parties existed, they provided the basis for an alternative government if ever the power of the Communists should be weakened. Down to 1956, however, the Communists had things all their own way. They were successful in establishing a unified administration for the whole of China, in curbing the venality of officials and in halting currency inflation. The Korean War, in which the Soviet alliance had effectively deterred the United States and its allies from any action against the territory of China, had strengthened rather than weakened the Communist position by enabling the new rulers to exploit national patriotic sentiments and claim the glory of fighting a coalition of great Western Powers on equal terms. The victories of the Viet Minh, won with Chinese aid, had further enhanced Communist prestige, while on the home front the ruthless slaughter of known or suspected Kuomintang supporters as counter-revolutionaries had at once eliminated active opponents and intimidated the rest of the population. At the same time the grandiloquently advertised plans for vast industrial construction aroused the enthusiasm of the younger generation and the reluctant admiration of many older people who, although far removed from the Communists in their outlook, remembered the international impotence and humiliation of the China in which they had grown up.
With these assets of force and popularity the new régime was able within seven years to effect the transition to a socialist economy by nationalization of industry and collectivization of agriculture. Trying to profit from the lessons of Soviet experience, Mao made a great effort to minimize the resistance to the expropriations; persuasion was used as far as possible; special credit facilities were provided to make collectivization more palatable and the peasants were promised that they would have the right to leave the collective farms if they wished; capitalists were given ten-year fixed-interest bonds in compensation for their properties.
The socialization, nevertheless, came much sooner than people had been led to expect, and it inevitably alienated large sections of the population to whom the "agrarian reformer" line had been successfully sold during the forties. The discontent thus produced could be ignored as long as the strength of the régime was unimpaired. But from the spring of 1956 it began to get into difficulties.
The first setback was the repudiation of Stalin in Russia. The exposure of the follies and horrors of Stalin's rule did not directly reflect discredit on the Chinese Communists, but did so indirectly because of the way in which Stalin's Russia had been built up as the paragon of revolutionary wisdom and virtue and the example for China to follow. As elsewhere, the Chinese leaders were confronted with the awkward dilemma of having to admit either that they had known what went on under Stalin and had deliberately concealed it or that they had not known and had thus themselves been dupes of the Soviet panegyrics.
Also, in China perhaps more than anywhere else, Communism lost face on moral grounds, for in the Orient it had made a special bid to establish itself as a rule of superior ethical virtue, a creed of men selflessly dedicated to historical progress and the welfare of the people. In so far as Khrushchev's disclosures reached quarters in China outside the higher Communist leadership—which they did mainly through radio broadcasts from abroad—the effect was to cause bewilderment and dismay among Communists and a reduction of respect for the Party among people outside it.
In the period following this blow to the faith, things began to go wrong with the economic plans. The troubles were of a kind familiar from the experience of all Communist countries. Bottlenecks and shortages developed in almost every branch of production; projects were held up for lack of materials and priorities were continually being changed as one shortage after another made itself felt; masses of peasants were brought into the towns to add to the industrial labor force and were then sent back to the country as there were neither jobs nor houses for them. The difficulties have now been admitted and the plans drastically cut back, but the failures have been accumulating for over a year and already last autumn the blundering in the economic field was plain for all to see.
Then came the news of the Hungarian uprising. It became widely known that the Hungarian workers had been in the forefront of the insurrection and that the Communist régime would have been overthrown but for the Soviet military intervention. Even though the Hungarians were defeated, the prestige of Communism as upholder of the people's cause everywhere was severely shaken and the myth of the irreversibility of its conquests was shattered.
The events in Hungary caused alarm in Peking not only for their international implications, but also lest the example be followed in China. As Mao said later in his speech of February 27 of this year: "Certain people in our country were delighted when the Hungarian events took place. They hoped that something similar would happen in China, that thousands upon thousands of people would demonstrate in the streets against the People's Government." There was not in fact any uprising in China, but the Communist leadership had been thoroughly scared and set itself to learn the lessons of the Hungarian catastrophe. The results of its study were contained in Mao's speech "On the correct handling of contradictions among the people," delivered on February 27 to an enlarged session of the Supreme State Conference.
According to Mao the Hungarian rising was caused by improperly handled contradictions among the people which were exploited by counter-revolutionaries. The Hungarian Communist Party had failed to win a sufficient basis of support among the workers, peasants and intelligentsia; on the other hand it had been negligent in the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. It had been tough where it ought to have been lenient and lenient where it ought to have been tough. As applied to China this two-edged interpretation has led on the one hand to a campaign for correcting the "three evils" of sectarianism, subjectivism and bureaucratism in the Party's relations with the people and on the other to an even stronger campaign against "rightists," particularly in the ranks of the auxiliary parties of the government coalition.
Mao divides society under the Communist rule into two parts: the great majority who form "the people" and the small minority who are the "enemy." Contradictions may exist among the people, both between various classes and—an innovation which has not been well received in Moscow—between the government and the governed, but, if properly handled, these are "non-antagonistic" and can be resolved by democratic persuasion. Contradictions with the enemy, on the other hand, are antagonistic, and can be resolved only through the use of force. The enemy can be defined theoretically in class terms as consisting of landlords, bureaucratic capitalists and foreign imperialists, or more practically as comprising all elements in active opposition to the Communist Party.
There are, however, according to Mao, categories of people on the borderline who can belong to the people or to the enemy. It has been, he maintains, the policy of the Communists "in the concrete conditions existing in China" to "treat the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie as a contradiction among the people." But, he adds, "if it is not properly handled, if we do not follow a policy of unity, criticizing and educating the national bourgeoisie, or if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy, then the contradictions between the working class and the national bourgeoisie can turn into an antagonistic contradiction as between ourselves and the enemy." In other words the Party cadres ought to be more patient and conciliatory in dealing with the bourgeoisie—many of whom are now managers or technicians in state enterprises—but if the bourgeoisie do not respond to this kind treatment, they can always be reclassified as enemies and treated as such.
Similarly, with regard to the intelligentsia, Mao recognizes that "many of our comrades are not good at getting along with intellectuals" and that "administrative measures" to ensure conformity of thought do not convert intellectuals, but only alienate them. Hence he is all for "letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend," for allowing people with erroneous ideas to express themselves and then persuading them with "scientific analysis and fully convincing arguments." He shows appreciation of the principle that "crude, coercive methods" should not be used in ideological struggle, and some of his utterances taken out of context may appear to show that he is advocating freedom of speech as it is understood in the West. But he also threatens the penalties of the law against those who "take advantage of our policies and distort them, deliberately put forward unreasonable demands in order to stir up the masses, or deliberately spread rumors to create trouble and disrupt social order." Very little thinking about public affairs is possible without giving cause for offense in one of these ways, and since it is for police and judges strictly controlled by the Communist Party to decide whether anyone is trying to "create trouble" or not, Mao's formula provides the Party with an effective curb on the freedom of discussion which he proposes to permit.
Since February the principle of "democracy for the people, dictatorship for the enemy" (with the Communist Party reserving the right to classify or reclassify anyone in these categories at its own discretion) has been applied in practice. There has been a certain amount of "de-Stalinization"—or perhaps it should be called "de-Maoization," since the evils of sectarianism, subjectivism and bureaucratism, for which the Party cadres have recently been reproached, had previously flourished under Mao's own leadership. The cadres are exhorted to be more considerate, conciliatory, patient and attentive in their dealings with all categories of the people over whom they exercise power. But since June the self-criticism of over-authoritarian Communists has dwindled away in the midst of the furious struggle against the rightists. The campaign has been designed to destroy the non-Communist auxiliary parties which might be dangerous to Communist supremacy in a crisis. The method used has been to compel their leaders to denounce one another or make abject recantations of views which under the "hundred flowers" policy they were encouraged to express; the compulsion has been in the form of threats that they will be designated as counter-revolutionaries if they do not do as they are told. As the principal Chinese Communist newspaper put it: "We can afford to be lenient with them if they mend their ways; only if they are obstinate will it be necessary to punish them." Thus, in accordance with his view of the way to avoid upheavals of the Hungarian variety, Mao has balanced his concessions with more thorough measures for crushing serious political opposition or insubordination.
The Russian Communists liquidated allied parties in the first year of the Revolution. In so far as Mao accomplishes this in China—it does not matter if empty shells of these parties remain—he will have brought his country nearer to the Soviet ideal of pure single-party rule. In another regard, the Soviet Union has recently also moved nearer to the practice of Peking. There has never been any doubt of the personal supremacy of Mao Tse-tung in the Chinese Communist régime, and the Soviet glorification of "collective leadership" since the death of Stalin has been somewhat embarrassing for a government in which it obviously did not exist. But now that Khrushchev has made a clean sweep of his rivals and abruptly put an end to collective leadership in Moscow, he and Mao will be able to meet on equal terms as fully autocratic leaders of totalitarian party-states.