China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
Much of the discussion in Western countries today of the problem of relations with world Communism centers around the recent disintegration of that extreme concentration of power in Moscow which characterized the Communist bloc in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, and the emergence in its place of a plurality of independent or partially independent centers of political authority within the bloc: the growth, in other words, of what has come to be described as "polycentrism." There is widespread recognition that this process represents a fundamental change in the nature of world Communism as a political force on the world scene; and there is an instinctive awareness throughout Western opinion that no change of this order could fail to have important connotations for Western policy. But just what these connotations are is a question on which much uncertainty and confusion still prevail.
The historical development of the process of polycentrism, particularly as it has manifested itself in the growing differences between the Russian and Chinese Communists, is a subject to which a great deal of careful study has recently been devoted and on which there is already an excellent body of analytical literature. There is no need to attempt to recapitulate here the conclusions-remarkably unanimous, in the circumstances-at which leading scholars have arrived concerning the causes and course of this process. Suffice it to recall that it had its origins, generally speaking, in two great events of the year 1948: the forced defection of the Jugoslavs, and the Communist seizure of power in China. The unity of the bloc never fully recovered from the shock of the Jugoslav defection. Had the Jugoslavs undergone something like a counterrevolution-had they shaken off their own Communist dictatorship, adopted a form of government which permitted democratic freedoms, and relaxed the governmental hold on the economy to a point where the system would have been no longer classifiable as a Leninist- Marxist one-the effect on bloc unity would have been less; for then the defection could have been regarded simply as the loss of a position to the capitalist world: a regrettable setback but not unprecedented, and no fit cause of doubt or questioning for a movement which had always prided itself on its ability to pocket losses and to recover from them. But when the Jugoslavs failed to do any of these things-when the Jugoslav Communist Party remained in power, and Jugoslavia did not go over to the capitalist camp but carried on much as before, claiming to be a Communist state and talking like one but not recognizing the discipline of the bloc or accepting any political obligations toward it-this was really unsettling for those who had remained faithful; for it raised the appalling question whether monolithic unity and discipline were essential at all to the development of Marxian socialism: whether one could not be a perfectly good Communist without taking orders blindly from Moscow and without following slavishly the pattern of institutions and methods established by the Soviet Union.
And since the strains of Stalinist rule were greater in the more Westernized states of the satellite area of Eastern Europe than in Russia itself, this suggestion-that there might be more than one path to socialism- was particularly insidious in its effect on the satellite régimes. Many were the satellite Communists who, in the years following Tito's break with Stalin, groaned under the necessity of pursuing Stalinist policies obviously unfitted to the traditions and psychology of their country and stole envious looks at the Jugoslavs, who could now cut their cloth to suit their own figure and yet maintain the claim to be good Marxian socialists. It is instructive to reflect that precisely that feature of Jugoslav behavior which so many Americans today find it impossible to forgive, namely, that the Jugoslavs did not, so to speak, "go capitalist," but carried on as a Marxian-socialist state, was the factor which more than any other proved disrupting in its effect on bloc unity.
So long as Stalin remained alive, the effects of the Jugoslav defection could be reasonably well contained by the Moscow headquarters. But after his death, this proved no longer possible. The de-Stalinization campaign of the mid-fifties implied at least a partial justification of Tito's earlier defiance of Stalin's authority. It was awkward, in these circumstances, to leave the Jugoslavs wholly outside the camp; and Khrushchev felt it necessary to try to draw them back again-something which could be done only by conciliatory means. But this, implying as it did at least a willingness to forgive the earlier Jugoslav defiance of bloc discipline, proved unsettling in its effect on the other satellites, particularly the Poles and Hungarians, and had a good deal to do with the events of 1956 in those two countries. For the Polish and Hungarian Communists had to ask themselves: if Tito is to be forgiven and treated with deference, where are the rewards of obedience? Why should not we, too, select our own path?
As for China, rivalry between the Soviet and Chinese Communist régimes was latent from the beginning, but it began to appear on the surface only after Stalin's death; and it was not until 1957 that it began to assume forms which threatened seriously to disturb bloc unity. It is interesting to reflect that it was in part differing reactions to these same events of 1956 that caused the Chinese-Soviet disagreements to become acute. For what the Russians found necessary in absorbing the shock and the lessons of Hungary proved intolerable to the Chinese, whose revolution was in a different stage and who had different political needs. Here is seen how one thing leads to another, how the threads of causality lead on from the original Jugoslav disaffection and the Chinese Communist conquest of China in 1948-the one considered at the time a loss to world Communism, the other a victory-to the polycentrism of today. If there is any lesson in this, it is the demonstration of how poor we all are, even the Communists, at knowing what is a victory and what is a defeat.
We are now confronted with a situation in which what was once a unified and disciplined bloc has disintegrated into something more like an uneasy alliance between two ideologically similar commonwealths: one grouped around the Soviet Union, the other around China. But even that element of order and symmetry which this description would suggest is not complete, because one nominally Communist country, Jugoslavia, is not embraced in either of these alliances, and another, Albania, is nominally and formally embraced in the one (it still belongs to the Warsaw Pact) but is politically closer to the other. And beyond this framework, there are a large number of Communist parties not in power which are greatly torn and bewildered by this division; and some of these parties have an important voice in bloc affairs, even though they lack the prestige that comes of being in power in their respective countries.
Barring unforeseen disturbances in international affairs, I think this state of affairs should be expected to endure, in its essential aspects, for a long time. Efforts will be made, of course, at one point or another, to patch up Soviet-Chinese differences and to restore something like the previous unity. The Poles, who have always had a special hankering for close relations with the Chinese Communists, are apt to be particularly assiduous in trying to assuage the Chinese-Soviet differences. Perhaps at some point changes of personalities in Moscow and Peking will help. But such tendencies can scarcely go beyond a point. An attempt to establish either Moscow or Peking as the unchallenged center of the movement would today involve prohibitive strains. Communism has now come to embrace so wide a spectrum of requirements and compulsions on the part of the respective parties and régimes that any determined attempt to re-impose unity on the movement would merely cause it to break violently apart at one point or another. There can scarcely be any meeting ground today between, say, the Chinese Communist Party and the Communist Party of Italy that would not be disastrous to one or the other.
A complete restoration of unity seems therefore to be out. But a total break, to the point of all-out hostilities and the alliance of one or the other faction with parts of the non-Communist world, seems equally improbable. Excruciating as are the differences which have now developed within the world Communist camp, all of the disputants are aware that they have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by tearing themselves to pieces. Chinese and Russians, furthermore, are both highly skilled at the delicate gradating of hostilities of every sort; and while it would not be surprising to see at some point the development of armed conflicts along the Soviet-Chinese frontier comparable in seriousness to those that developed between the Russians and the Japanese along the same frontier in 1938, it would be surprising to see them develop, any more than did those of 1938, into a full-fledged state of war between the disputants.
While this state of affairs is, then, likely to last for some time in its major outlines, it allows of considerable variation and evolution in terms of the relations between various Communist countries and the non-Communist world. This is a point of great flux and uncertainty throughout the bloc. Not only do the Chinese-Soviet differences center around disagreements over this point, and not only are there further differences on this score between the Russians and individual satellite states of Eastern Europe, but almost every Communist party in the world is afflicted by sharp internal differences or gradations of opinion along these lines. It is not too much to say that the entire bloc is caught today in a great crisis of indecision over the basic question of the proper attitude of a Communist country toward non-Communist ones. The question is whether to think of the world in terms of an irreconcilable and deadly struggle between all that calls itself Communist and all that does not, a struggle bound to end in the relatively near future with the total destruction of one or both, or to recognize that the world socialist cause can be advanced by more complicated, more gradual, less dramatic and less immediate forms, not necessitating any effort to destroy all that is not Communist within our time, and even permitting, in the meanwhile, reasonably extensive and profitable and durable relations with individual non-Communist countries.
The lines of division of opinion over this issue are by no means clean; very often both viewpoints struggle against each other in the same troubled Communist breast. But this is in essence the question. It is this which is buried under the long ideological arguments as to whether socialism could conceivably, or could not conceivably, be achieved by means that did not involve violent revolution. It is this that underlies the arguments about the inevitability or non-inevitability of war. This is the explosive substance with which the controversial concept of "peaceful coexistence" is charged. And none of us, I am sure, can fail to note that this is only the mirror-replica of the similar question which divides Western public opinion and tortures the policy-makers of the Western countries.
It is important to recognize that the degree to which polycentrism has already advanced means that individual Communist countries now have a far wider area of choice than was the case some years ago in shaping not only their own relationship to the non-Communist world but also their internal institutions and policies. These two things are, in fact, closely connected; for the more internal institutions and policies come to resemble those that once prevailed in Stalin's Russia and/or prevail today in China, the more one needs a state of apparent tension and danger in external relations, as a means of justifying them. And in both these fields, as I say, the smaller Communist countries, and particularly the Eastern European satellites, now enjoy a far wider range of independent decision than was once the case. At one time there was only one model; today there are a number of them: the Soviet, the Chinese, the Polish, the Jugoslav, etc. And the fact that Moscow and Peking both need the political support of the satellite parties, and are therefore obligated to compete for their favor, means that neither can afford to discipline them, beyond a point, if the paths they choose are not ones that meet with full approval on either side.
On the other hand, the area within which this freedom of choice exists is not unlimited; it has, in fact, certain very sharp limits, and it is important to bear these in mind.
The satellite régimes of Eastern Europe cannot, first of all, sever the bonds of military alliance which united them with the Russians. Jugoslavia, it is true, did this in effect; but one must remember that when this occurred, the Warsaw Pact did not yet exist-nor did the Atlantic Alliance. Further, the Jugoslavs had a very special geographic and political position.
Secondly, the satellite régimes cannot abandon the profession of fidelity to Marxist ideals or the monopoly of power which those ideals imply and purport to justify. To do anything like this would be to destroy the very theoretical basis on which their power rests, and to commit, in effect, political suicide.
What the satellite régimes can do, and are doing to some extent, is to shape their own internal economic and social institutions along more liberal lines, or at least individualistic lines. They can, furthermore, ease the restraints-as the Jugoslavs have done-on all forms of contact and dealings with non-Communist countries and their citizens. As a part of this process, they can resist-as the Rumanians are doing-efforts to pull them into a tight and exclusive trading association with other Communist countries; and they can insist on the right to expand their trade with non- Communist nations to a point where it constitutes an important element in their economic development.
Finally, while they cannot leave the Communist military alliance, the satellite régimes could, conceivably, if conditions were right, help to deëmphasize the military factor to a point where it would not stand in the way of at least a partial political rapprochement with some of their Western neighbors.
Altogether, then, the choices open to the satellite régimes cover a range which lies somewhere between the extremes of the full independence of the Jugoslavs on the one hand, and a slavish, timid clinging to Soviet patterns and authority on the other. This is a circumscribed range of choice; but what they do within it is by no means unimportant. It could, conceivably, make all the difference between a Communist orbit with which the West could coexist peacefully and without catastrophe over an indefinite time, and one with which it could not.
Now the West has it in its power, ideally speaking, to influence extensively, by its own policies and behavior, the choices that the satellite régimes make in this connection. It can reciprocate or fail to reciprocate moves to relax tensions and to facilitate collaboration in various fields. It can shape its policies in such a way as to create advantages and premiums for efforts on the part of the satellite governments to extend their relations with Western countries; or it can decline to create such advantages. It can exert itself to deëmphasize the military factor in the mutual relationship; or it can take the opposite course. Finally, and of overriding significance, it can show itself reconciled to the existence of these régimes, without accepting responsibility for them; and it can convey to them that they have nothing to fear from it if they will only refrain, themselves, from hostile and subversive policies; or it can hold to the thesis that its object is to overthrow them, and permit them to conclude that any concessions they may make will only be exploited, ultimately, to their disadvantage.
Obviously, in the totality of these choices, the West is confronted by a pervasive and fundamental problem of policy: whether to promote a trend toward further polycentrism, in the hope that there might prove to be a portion of the Communist world with which one could, in the long run, contrive to live, and that living with it and encouraging it to see advantages in a situation of coexistence might tend at least to narrow the area and power of that other portion with which one could not live, or could not yet live; or whether to discourage that trend, on the theory that a differentiation of outlook and authority among Communist powers does not materially affect their status as a threat to the security of the Western peoples, and that the impression of such a differentiation serves merely to disorient and demoralize Western resistance to the phenomenon of world Communism as a whole. This is the question facing Western policymakers; and there can in my opinion be no doubt that the trend of political decision within the Communist world will be importantly influenced by the answers they find to it. It could well be argued, in fact, that if the major Western powers had full freedom of movement in devising their own policies, it would be within their power to determine whether the Chinese view, or the Soviet view, or perhaps a view more liberal than either, would ultimately prevail within the Communist camp.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the major Western powers do not enjoy this full freedom of movement. In the case particularly of the United States and Western Germany, but also to some extent of the NATO powers in general, the area in which they could conceivably meet the problem of policy posed by the trend toward Communist polycentrism has been severely circumscribed in recent years either by engagements they have undertaken to one another or to parties outside of Europe or by policies to which they have so deeply committed themselves that any early renunciation of them would scarcely be feasible. A glance at their position with relation to the various points of flexibility in the position of the satellite régimes will suffice to demonstrate this.
If it is a question of alteration of the internal institutions and policies of the satellite régimes, it is evident, on the example of Jugoslavia, that neither the United States Congress nor the West German Government is inclined to attach importance to this factor. The Jugoslavs have abolished forced collectivization. They have adopted a system of management in industry fundamentally different from that prevailing in the Soviet Union. They have practically abandoned the active application of police terror. They have adopted policies on travel, contacts with foreigners and access to foreign informational media which seem closer to those of most Western countries than to those prevalent in the bloc. It is evident that none of this constitutes, in the eyes of our own Congress or of a great part of our public, any reason to treat Jugoslavia greatly differently from any other Communist country. A similar disposition seems to prevail in Bonn, if only as a reflection of the Hallstein doctrine, which bars diplomatic relations with any country recognizing the present East German régime. Since all of the satellites do recognize it, they are obliged to see in this doctrine at least a limitation to the possibilities of any future political rapprochement between themselves and the German Federal Republic.
When it comes to economic policy, a similar situation prevails. There are the NATO arrangements for economic controls. There are the various legislative restrictions prevailing in this country. There is, finally, the Common Market, established and being developed on principles that appear to leave no room for anything like the eventual economic reunification of the European Continent. It will be recalled that in the original Marshall Plan concept, American policy-makers were careful to leave open the possibility of the extension of the respective arrangements to the entire Continent, and to phrase the proposals in such a way that if the Eastern European régimes were to be excluded, they would have to exclude themselves, which, in effect, they then did. But the European Common Market has failed to include this feature either in letter or in spirit; and the impression is being given to the Eastern Europeans, including the Jugoslavs, that whatever may be the future of this novel and important entity, they are to have no place in it.
When it comes to the military factor and the question of its emphasis or deëmphasis, the bald fact is that the Western powers, over a period that now runs back for several years, have committed themselves more and more deeply against anything in the nature of a military disengagement in Europe. Not only do they reject the possibility of any extensive withdrawal of foreign troops from the Western part of the Continent, even if this were to be by way of reciprocation for a similar withdrawal of Soviet forces, but they appear to have set their face, in present circumstances, against anything in the nature of a European pact or a nonaggression pact between the NATO and Warsaw Pact members. They are also averse to any sort of arrangement for the de-nuclearization of the European area, even, again, if this were to be on a reciprocal basis. Finally, they have exhibited no very convincing evidence of any disposition to place effective limits on the rearmament of Western Germany, where one restriction after the other, established in earlier years, has quietly gone by the board, and where the Germans are now, in the view of everybody in Eastern Europe, well on the way to becoming in all essential respects a full-fledged nuclear power. Yet at the same time the Western powers, with the exception of the French, have been unwilling to recognize the finality of Germany's eastern frontiers; and the West German Government, with the blessing of the others, still pursues a policy of total irreconcilability toward the East German state.
These aspects of Western policy are not mentioned for the purpose of taking issue with them. Opinions can differ on the degree of their justification, individually or collectively. But even those who are enthusiastic about them should remember that there is a price to be paid for them in terms of their political effect on the Communist bloc. To the East European satellite leaders, faced with these attitudes, and noting the extreme rigidity with which they are adhered to by the Western governments, anything like a deëmphasis of the military factor in East-West relations can only appear today as discouragingly remote. In present circumstances, they can hope neither for the removal of Soviet forces from those Eastern European positions which they now occupy, nor for any further East-West agreements that could take the heat off military tensions. Particularly discouraging and disturbing to them is the progressive rearmament of Western Germany against the background of a West German commitment to the liberation of Eastern Germany, even though that commitment professes to envisage only peaceful means. The effect which the combination of these two things has had on the feelings of people in Eastern Europe cannot be emphasized too strongly. Either one without the other might have been less unacceptable. A strong commitment to the reunification of Germany might have been tolerable if it had not been supported by a military policy designed to make Western Germany into one of the two strongest states in Western Europe. Or a rearmament of Western Germany, while never fully defensible in East European eyes, might have been more tolerable if it had been coupled with a greater readiness on the part of West German political leaders to faire bonne mine à mauvais jeu, to accept the existence of a Communist Germany at least as a regrettable necessity of the present epoch, and to regard the cause of German unification less as a programmatical commitment and more as an historical inevitability, to be left to the healing hand of time. But the spectre of the violent liberation of Eastern Germany, by means not resting on any agreement with the Russians, and coming either against the background of, or by means of, a revived German military ascendancy, unites both governments and peoples in Eastern Europe in a common reaction of horror and apprehension; for the Communist leaders there, however little they may like or respect Ulbricht, know that their own stability would not easily withstand the shock of the sudden and violent overthrow of his régime; and the peoples of Eastern Europe, including the Jugoslavs, see in this eventuality only the beginning of a reëstablishment of the German military ascendancy of unhappy memory throughout Eastern Europe, and 18 years have not been sufficient to allow the horror of this prospect to fade in their minds.
Behind all this, and connected with all of it, is the heavy extent of the Western commitment, and particularly the American and German commitment, to the eventual destruction of Communism generally. We have our Captive Nations Resolution; and the satellite régimes of Eastern Europe and Asia are specifically listed there as ones we have committed ourselves in effect to destroy. In the Far East, there is our similar commitment to the Nationalist Government on Taiwan, with all its far-reaching political ambitions. And Western opinion, not just in the NATO countries but in certain of the neutral European countries as well, is heavily affected by attitudes which are at least skeptical toward, and in some cases strongly averse to, any thought of an accommodation to the permanency of Communist power anywhere.
It is true that the West European NATO governments are in a somewhat better position to face this problem than is the United States. They are not committed to the Captive Nations Resolution. There is no formal reason why they should not, if they wished, shape the policies of the Common Market in such a way as to give to the Eastern European peoples a more reassuring impression of the prospects for their future relation to Western Europe in the economic field. In the case of export controls and other restrictive measures, the degree of their responsibility is obviously smaller than ours; and it would, presumably, be easier for them to take a more conciliatory line. Particularly is all this true of the Italians, whose understanding attitude has already helped to ease Jugoslavia's delicate relations with the West, and who, more than any other Western people, have possibilities for exerting a reassuring and helpful influence on the East European satellites. But further north, the German problem and the aversion to any discussion of disengagement still loom up on the horizon of the Eastern Europeans as impassable barriers to anything like such a lowering of tensions as would make it possible for them to create a basically new political relationship with the West; and for both of these situations, as they well know, Western Europeans are as responsible as ourselves.
It is clear, in these circumstances, that the West has, as of today, only limited possibilities for reciprocating any disposition the satellite countries might evince to reduce the dichotomy of the two worlds and to bridge the gap that divides present attitudes on both sides from the possibility of truly peaceful and mutually profitable coexistence. It is in a sense tragic that this should be the case just at a time when there is so great a longing for a better East-West relationship in the hearts of tens of millions of ordinary people in the East European area, and so important a willingness to move tentatively in this direction even on the part of certain of their Communist leaders. And the fact that things are this way is something which should give pause for thought not just to those who would like to find ways of living peacefully with Communist neighbors but even to those who can contemplate no permanent reconciliation with world Communism; for to deny to the East even the possibility of the development of a better framework for coexistence is to affect the terms of the argument which goes on within the Communist camp and to forego the advantage which a division of opinion there provides. If there is really strength in unity, Communist leaders can only be grateful for a Western policy which slights the values of polycentrism and declines to encourage them; for a rigidly unreceptive Western attitude may eventually enforce upon the bloc a measure of unity which, by their own unaided effort, they could never have achieved.
To say that the West is in a poor position to encourage polycentrism is not, of course, to say that it will not continue to develop. There are instances in which, as in the case of Jugoslavia, the desire for national independence may be so strong that governments will wish for, and seek, relief from the disciplinary strictures of the bloc even if there is no apparent place for them, or even for good relations with them, in the Western scheme of things; and it is not to be assumed that they will find no means of achieving that relief. The West, after all, does not represent the entirety of the non-Communist world. There are other areas where the trauma of the conflict with world Communism have struck less deeply and where both the readiness to forget or ignore ideological differences and the willingness to look at international relations in terms other than those of military conflict will be greater; and people who feel the need of more independence of policy but see no place for themselves in the vision of Western statesmanship can look, as the Jugoslavs are already doing, in other directions for the alternative to isolation.
Polycentrism may thus continue to develop, in spite of, if not because of, the face which the West turns to the troubled and vacillating world of Communism. But there are risks involved here. There is a relatively short- term risk, from the standpoint of the danger of war and of the effect which an absence of polycentrism could have in increasing that danger. But even if military complications do not ensue, there is still the long-term question of the effect on the minds of those tens of millions of people in Communist countries who still look to the West with longing and with hope and who expect from it policies which take account of all the subtlety and contradiction of their position. If such a response on the Western side is not forthcoming, who can say how this will affect their attitudes in the more distant future? Will they be best influenced by a Western policy which, through its quixotic commitment to a highly unlikely violent liberation, appears to condemn them by implication either to the miseries of a new world war or to an indefinite further period of languishing under oppresive Communist régimes? Or will they be better influenced by a Western policy which accepts as its goal the less ambitious but more promising prospect of a relaxation of the severity of those régimes and, by the same token, of the barriers that separate their peoples from contact with the outside world? This is a question which Western policy-makers will do well to look at all over again, as the Chinese-Soviet conflict proceeds and as its effects continue to make themselves felt.
In the nineteenth century, the colonial mother-countries of the West alienated many millions of people in other parts of the world through lack of imagination and feeling toward those who were in effect within their power. There is, surely, a danger lest history record that Westerners of the twentieth century alienated just as many more through lack of imagination and feeling toward those who were in the power of their ideological adversaries.