In November 1920, after Bolshevik armies had smashed White Russian forces in eastern Siberia, three young Mongolians went to Moscow to ask help against the recently reimposed Chinese control of Outer Mongolia. Vladimir I. Lenin received them. He advised them that the Soviets would help establish a separate state of Mongolia and it should be a Marxist one. "With the aid of the proletariat of advanced countries," Lenin had recently told the Comintern and paraphrased to his visitors, "backward countries may make the transition to the Soviet system and ... to Communism, bypassing the capitalist stage of development."

Few places were more backward than Outer Mongolia, or less touched by capitalism. Once a remote province of China, it had been allowed to fall into decay after modern firearms reduced the importance of its mounted warriors to the Manchu empire. Chinese merchants, living in the nearest thing Mongolia had to a city, the monastery settlement at Urga, and traveling among the herdsmen, provided the only commercial interests in a practically self-sufficient, low-level subsistence economy. Most Mongolians, who totaled perhaps 550,000 sharing more than 600,000 square miles with some 100,000 Chinese settlers, lived from the livestock that they followed in seasonal migrations, fearing the blizzards and pasture icing that every four years or so cut back the herds' natural increase and sometimes brought famine to men and beasts. Some 40,000 men were directed to the monastic life.

Since Tibetan Buddhism was established in Mongolia in the sixteenth century the lives of lamas and laymen had changed little. Neither modern medicine nor modern agriculture had penetrated the roadless range. Diseases were rife and life short, but malnutrition was not a problem. Some travelers thought the nomadic Mongolians more prosperous than the average Chinese farmer, but it was a rugged life based on an economic pattern established before the time of Genghis Khan, seven centuries earlier. A Russian traveler, Ivan M. Maisky, found "a decay-fostering spirit of resignation and indifference."

The contrast with the Mongolian People's Republic of today is sharp. The 1,230,000 people still live simple and often rugged lives, close to the bleak weather and the inhospitable soil, but they are healthy, well doctored and, by the standards of less developed countries, fairly prosperous.

The change is the result of "the aid of the proletariat" of the Soviet Union to what is probably a far greater extent than Lenin envisaged. Mongolia has bypassed capitalism and entered the modern world not by the sacrifice of domestic savings, for there has never been much margin above consumption needs to save, but by outside aid. It now leads other developing countries by a wide margin in per capita aid received. In its fourth five-year economic development plan, 1966-70, aid was about $220 a year for each person, compared with an average $4.20 in the late 1960s for 80 noncommunist aid-recipient countries and the $36 of U. S. economic aid for each South Vietnamese citizen in 1970. Only France's aid to some of its former colonies in Africa came close to the per capita aid of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to Mongolia.

The Soviet Union has received in return political loyalty from Mongolia, but it has failed to get the small economic payments that it asked. Although details have not been made public, it appears that Mongolia has been unable in recent years to fulfill agreements to supply meat and other livestock products for the Soviet Far East. This failure has contributed to the general shortage of meat in the Soviet Union, one of the more noticeable shortcomings of the Brezhnev leadership's efforts to improve living conditions.


The fifth five-year plan for Mongolia is intended to avoid such failures in the future. The main blame for deficiencies in the production of livestock has been placed on bad weather-the blizzard problem still, and also drought in the late 1960s-although mismanagement and the lack of personal interest in collective herds have also been problems. The new plan was approved in June 1971 by the Sixteenth Congress of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (as the country's communist party is called). While still stressing industrialization, it is a marked departure from Marxist economic doctrine as interpreted by Soviet theoreticians: agriculture is given a far larger share of investment capital than industry. The arm of the Soviet planning committee, Gosplan, which allocates aid to Mongolia and integrates its economy with that of the Soviet Union, can be seen behind this. Moscow needs meat, Mongolia produces meat, so investment is directed into improving the livestock industry in Mongolia rather than building up a wide range of industries which Moscow does not need. The basic question of whether it would make more economic sense to convert Mongolia, a land rich in coal and presumably other minerals, into a producer of a few specialized industrial products and leave livestock to less inclement climes of the Soviet bloc probably has not been considered because the Mongolian tradition is so firmly one of herds and herdsmen.

This increasing attention to agriculture parallels the trend in development economics in the West in the past decade to give more importance to a sound agricultural basis for modern industry. Some academic economists in the West credit Mao Tse-tung with being one of the first to see the need for spreading modern knowledge and implements throughout rural areas, and Leonid I. Brezhnev has personally identified himself with ending neglect of Soviet agriculture. So Mongolia is moving in phase with its two neighbors.

Soviet aid to Mongolia is so huge that it cannot be considered in normal terms of foreign aid. Rather, Mongolia is an investment that Moscow has made for 50 years and will continue to make into the indefinite future for political reasons. The investment can best be understood in Soviet domestic, terms. There is a striking similarity between the economic relationship of Mongolia and the Soviet Union and that of the Soviet Central Asian republics and the central government in Moscow. The development pattern of Mongolia has many of the features of, say, Kirgiz, Tadzhik, Turkman or Uzbek, in terms of capital flow and investment priorities. Even the architecture of Ulan Bator, the capital built up from Urga in the last half-century, looks Soviet provincial. Just as Central Asia has been fitted into the Russian economy, at the cost of considerable aid from European Russia, so Mongolia has been given a specialized role in the U.S.S.R. economy.

The aid which Lenin gave Mongolia to escape from Chinese control also had parallels in Moscow's dealings with Soviet Central Asia, and the Soviet republics of the Caucasus. It followed the pattern used by Bolshevik forces to end the brief independence of Caucasian and Central Asian parts of the Tsarist empire after the October Revolution (and later in Czechoslovakia in 1968). The technique was to find or invent someone inside the coveted area who would appeal for Soviet help and use him as the expendable front for an eventual takeover. Mongolian nationalists who wanted help to escape Chinese control were available. The legend of Mongolia's winning independence by the efforts 50 years ago last July of a small armed brotherhood of communists led by Sukhe Bator and Khorloin Choibalsan has been rewritten into both Mongolian and Soviet history books, but original Soviet accounts show that the Mongolians rode into Urga in the baggage train of the Fifth Red Army, which had the excuse of suppressing a psychotic White Russian commander there. The previous status of Outer Mongolia as a Chinese province saved it from the absorption that was the fate of those former Tsarist provinces which had sought independence.


The history of Mongolia is remarkable in that its colonial period came after the date celebrated for its independence. Chinese governors had largely left provincial government to the neglect of a degenerate Buddhist hierarchy led by the area's most revered incarnation, an astute man who declined into alcoholism. The Soviet Union moved to establish a firm lay government under its control while paying lip service to Mongolia's theoretical status as an autonomous Chinese region. Handy instruments for this were the Buryat and Kalmyk branches of Mongols. Outer Mongolia, whose predominant group is Khalkha Mongols, had and still has only a minority of East Asia's people of Mongolian ancestry. Inner Mongolia, now firmly part of China, has the most, but since the seventeeth century Russia has also had some in the Buryat region north of Outer Mongolia and as Kalmyk settlers on the lower Volga. They long offered a tool for the ambitions of St. Petersburg in the Mongolian world, and the new Soviet leaders made use of it.

Buryat and Kalmyk Mongols played the leading role in running Outer Mongolia in the 1920s, when two of the three men who had gone to see Lenin were executed. The third was not shot until 1939, when Choibalsan emerged from obscurity to conduct Mongolia's version of the Stalin purges and establish under the Soviet dictator's shadow a local version of his police state. By that time, the comparison with Soviet Central Asian republics could be carried a bit farther. Local Khalkha communists had been trained and their Khalkha opponents destroyed, so that it became possible for Moscow to put native leaders in charge of Mongolian affairs instead of Buryats and Kalmyks. Then the Soviet embassy in Ulan Bator seemed to play the role that in Central Asia was played by each republic's communist party second secretary of Great Russian blood-making sure that the ethnically different natives in the more prominent positions did the right things.

In those days the Soviet Union did little to help Mongolia. There was no incentive. China, weak and torn by civil war and the Japanese invasion, posed no threat to the insecure young communist régime, nor did it offer an economic lure. Mongolia itself could offer almost nothing to further the headlong Soviet drive to industrialization, except mutton and beef to eat and horses for the Red Army cavalry to ride. From 1921 until 1952, all Mongolia's foreign trade was with the Soviet Union (99 percent is still with communist countries). An adjustment of prices in January 1954 indicated that Gosplan had sold high and bought low from its captive market. In the first 27 years, little was invested in developing the Mongolian economy.

Following the Soviet pattern, a five-year plan was launched in 1931, but it quickly broke down over nomad opposition. As happened in the Soviet Union, owners slaughtered their livestock rather than surrender them to collective control. Local rebellions sputtered futilely. Most of the limited investment went into mechanization of a coal mine near Ulan Bator, an electrical generating plant it fueled, and a small industrial complex in the capital which it powered. The complex produced basics like shoes and cloth. (Expanded, it now produces 20 percent of the nation's industrial output with 5,000 workers.) For the country as a whole, there was almost no economic improvement. That had to await the emergence of communist China as a competitor for the affections of its old territory.


In 1924 the Soviet Union signed an agreement with the Republic of China recognizing "that Outer Mongolia is an integral part of the Republic of China and respect(ing) China's sovereignty therein." But Moscow soon explained that it considered Mongolia's autonomy so wide within the theoretical Chinese sovereignty that it could conduct not only its own internal affairs but also foreign relations. In fact, Mongolia had no foreign relations because it was sealed off by Soviet domination. One rare foreign visitor reported finding the Mongolian "foreign ministry" to be only an unmanned letter-drop for the Soviets. At the close of World War II, Chiang Kai-shek's government agreed with Moscow to recognize the independence of Mongolia if a plebiscite showed that its people wanted it. The plebiscite naturally did, by 100 percent according to the official announcement. Four months later, on February 13, 1946, the Republic of China established diplomatic relations with Ulan Bator. But in 1950 the Nationalist régime renounced this and reasserted its claim to Outer Mongolia. By then it had retreated to Taiwan, where it has obstructed U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Mongolian People's Republic despite the Republic's admission to the United Nations in 1961. With the Nationalist retreat, a new factor appeared on the borders of Mongolia.

The Mongolian army, equipped, trained and controlled by the Soviet army, pushed into Inner Mongolia at the end of World War II, together with the Red Army. They showed no intention of leaving quickly. In the late 1940s and into the early 1950s, Stalin's government tried to repeat the old technique of using local appeals for help as an excuse for adding territory, but the efforts were hotly contested. Sinkiang, the western Chinese province which had been under de facto Soviet control in the 1930s was the target of one abortive takeover attempt. The situation in Inner Mongolia grew increasingly confused, as the fading Nationalist government, the growing Chinese communist power and the combination of Soviet and Outer Mongolian agents sought to win the loyalty of various Mongol groups. One opening gambit was the formation of an "East Mongolian Government" in Manchuria by a Soviet general who was a Buryat Mongolian, but it did not last long enough to accede to Outer Mongolia.

Right up to Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviets apparently hoped to detach some areas from Inner Mongolia and add them to their satellite. A Soviet author asserted that year that there had been a spontaneous desire for this. But the communist government that was establishing itself in China in 1949 had no intention of yielding territory. Its own Mongolians, led by Ulanfu, who fell in the Cultural Revolution, held the area.

And then Peking counterattacked. In October 1952, the first agreement was signed in Peking for Chinese economic coöperation with Mongolia. This was the first in a long series of documents signed between Peking and Ulan Bator as two sovereign and independent capitals, indicating complete Chinese acceptance of the loss of Outer Mongolia. The point is not so clear, however.

Mao wrote in 1936 that, "when the people's revolution has been victorious in China, the Outer Mongolian republic will automatically become a part of the Chinese federation, at its own will." In his long, tough negotiations with Stalin in Moscow during the winter of 1949-50, Mao conceded Mongolia's independence, but when Nikita S. Khrushchev made his first visit to Peking after Stalin died Mao sought unsuccessfully to reopen the question. A decade later, in 1964, Mao raised the subject with visitors who quoted him publicly. The Soviets replied angrily with a Pravda editorial. Ulan Bator faithfully echoed the Soviet attitude with the additional fervor of its small population's fear of being submerged by the Han people, in the way that the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia have been reduced to a small minority.

The subject remains as obscure as the rest of Mao's territorial claims along the Sino-Soviet frontier. On the one hand, Chou En-lai's government conducts normal state business as if there were no claims. It signed a border treaty with Mongolia in 1962 and it asserts a reasonable desire to settle the Soviet boundaries on the basis of the status quo. On the other hand, Mao's ideas remain the guiding force in China, and Mao has never renounced his revanchist hopes. His neighbors may not rest easy;


When economic planning began in 1948, livestock raising was still the basis of the economy. But techniques had changed little since the thirteenth century. The breeds of sheep, cattle, horses, camels and goats were poor- they were scrawny animals better adapted to survival on the open range than producing for market. There were almost no animal shelters, wells or cultivation to produce fodder for hard winters. With herds still mainly privately owned, the government lacked control over this essential element in any economic plan.

Perhaps in frustration at this, perhaps because Soviet Marxist doctrine seemed to require it, the first five-year plan allocated more money to industry than agriculture while setting wildly unrealistic goals for both. But despite the failure to reach goals, a start was made toward modernization. In the second plan, compulsory elementary education was introduced and collectivization of livestock was largely achieved by peaceful pressures and incentives. Incentives included medical, educational, cultural and veterinary services in collective centers from which seasonal pasture movements now radiate.

Chinese aid began in the second plan. As industrialization developed, Mongolia's population (then approaching one million) could not build or staff all the projects being lavished on it in a Sino-Soviet rivalry. Chinese laborers were imported, beginning about the same time in the mid- 1950s that Soviet troops ended their World War II garrisoning of the country. For a time Khrushchev seemed willing to concede China a larger role in Mongolia, although he later regretted and reversed this decision. Chinese laborers reached about 15,000 before the split between Moscow and Peking forced Ulan Bator to choose sides in the early 1960s; then the laborers went home.

The Soviets have lately contended that Chinese aid to Mongolia was not much good-most promised projects were never built, and those built soon broke down. By contrast, claimed one Soviet broadcast that praised Soviet-bloc aid to Mongolia, "we can definitely say that without this economic coöperation with the Socialist countries, nothing would have been built on Mongolia's vast plain." It is a fair claim. Even today, Mongolian exports pay for only about half the consumer goods which the country must import and none of its imported capital goods.

More than 30 percent of Soviet aid in the new fifth plan will be for agriculture, particularly livestock breeding. The emphasis on livestock became obvious after the worst blizzards in the history of the People's Republic killed almost four million head of livestock in early 1968. This reduced herds to below 20 million, the lowest level since 1931, and set off a chain reaction that hurt the entire livestock-based economy. But, according to Premier Yumzhagiyn Tsedenbal, who is also first secretary of the Central Committee of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, weather does not deserve all the blame for continual failures to meet plan goals for increasing herds; irresponsible management and cattle theft are also contributory factors.

Problems with livestock and fodder production have been paralleled in industrialization. But progress has been steady if slow. Industrial output, nil in 1921, was approximately $400 million in 1970 by the artificial exchange rate. The early goal of converting from "an agricultural- industrial to an industrial-agricultural" economy is still mentioned officially, although the recent emphasis on agriculture throws the date of such an outcome (now set at the end of the 1970s) and even the goal itself into doubt.

Tsedenbal told the party congress last June that the goal remains "building Socialism" in Mongolia and that the primary step on this path "consists of solving the tasks of transforming the Mongolian People's Republic in the immediate future into an industrial-agricultural country." However, he also made the point twice in the same speech that this would take into account "the international Socialist division of labor and the steady growth of international coöperation between Socialist countries." This meant Mongolia would concentrate on livestock and some other contributions to the Soviet economy rather than hankering after a diversified economy with such things as steel plants.

Tsedenbal and Chou En-lai discussed a Chinese-sponsored steel plant for the third five-year plan, and in the early 1960s the Mongolians talked about a 300,000-ton plant as part of the new industrial city being built at Darkhan, north of Ulan Bator near the Soviet border. But after Chinese aid was withdrawn, the Soviets refused to indulge this whim of political rather than economic logic, causing the ever-loyal Tsedenbal some problems in answering awkward questions at home. Interestingly enough, a recent Moscow Radio attack on Chinese foreign aid programs, broadcast to South and Southeast Asia, criticized Peking for helping developing countries mainly with small and medium-sized factories of light industry. "The basis of the economic development of any country is its heavy industry and power industry, that is, big metallurgical and engineering plants ... a national heavy industry is the foundation of a country's economic independence," the broadcast argued.


The continual failures of Mongolia to meet its economic goals, and especially its inability to supply its meat quota to the Soviet Union, might have been expected to have had repercussions. Economic shortcomings have been the cause of the downfall of a number of political leaders in the Soviet bloc. And the failure of Mongolia's second plan probably was the main reason for the disgrace of Dashiyn Damba, who replaced Tsedenbal as the party's first secretary from 1954 to 1958, and several of his colleagues. But that was exceptional. The top leadership is too thin for the Soviets to indulge their dissatisfaction at waste of their aid money by sacking the culprits. And the workings of the Mongolian-Soviet Commission of Economic and Scientific-Technical Coöperation are apparently such that some of the culprits sit in Gosplan in Moscow.

The changes in the Mongolian leadership in the two decades since Choibalsan died are explainable mainly in terms of the country's geographic position between the Soviet Union and China, and by Peking's ardent wooing of Ulan Bator with aid. As a poor, weak and isolated country, Mongolia had only three policy choices in the 1950s and 1960s. The traditional stance (since 1921) of dependence upon the Soviet Union had been reinforced by a Russification of the leadership. Thus, language and cultural barriers made a second alternative, switching allegiance to China, rather remote. However, they still had a third choice-a neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute that would permit playing both sides for aid and establishing a separate identity in the wider world, as North Korea has done since Kim Il- sung escaped from control of his original Soviet sponsors.

This third possibility began to worry the Soviets in the late 1950s. The most notable demonstration of their concern came in 1962 when Mongolia celebrated the 800th birthday (more or less, the date being uncertain) of its most famous son, Genghis Khan. The strong nationalism evidenced then appeared a danger to Moscow's control. To Mongolian praise of the warrior as "a brilliant organizer, an able statesman and a great general," came agreeing echoes from Inner Mongolia. The Soviet Union, where historic memories of the Mongol Hordes are part of a "yellow peril" complex that is to this day a factor in the Sino-Soviet feud, replied that Genghis Khan was a bloody, reactionary ruler. Within three months the member of the Mongolian leadership personally responsible for the birthday celebration, Daramyn Tomor-Ochir, was purged from the party politburo and secretariat. The Soviets later linked the Chinese to the Mongolian mistake of fostering a "Genghis Khan personality cult."

In December 1963, the party's second secretary and the number-two man to Tsedenbal, Luvsantserengiyn Tsende, was removed from the secretariat and politburo and from a top post in parliament, the Great People's Khural. Accusations against him included careerism, intrigues and "often cunningly supporting nationalistic ideas." Although the case has never been publicly elaborated, it appeared to foreign observers that, aside from personal rivalry with Tsedenbal, Tsende was guilty of thinking that Mongolia might become neutralist within the communist world and continue to benefit from Chinese as well as Soviet aid. There is no indication that he or three party central committee members purged in 1964 and local officials replaced in 1965 purges were actually pro-Chinese. But to the Soviets, any hint of disloyalty in the widening Sino-Soviet rift would be readily interpreted as taking the other side.

The new Chinese foreign policy flexibility could create fresh strains on Mongolia's loyalty. China recently made new economic aid offers to Ulan Bator in an apparent attempt to regain some influence there. The Soviets have indicated concern over this.

The Mongolian leadership has been unchanged since 1965. The seven-man politburo as constituted after Tomor-Ochir's ouster was reëlected at the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1966 and again at last June's congress, and the five party secretaries were also renamed. It is a leadership of experienced party and government workers, heavily weighted toward economics-four of the seven politburo members, including Tsedenbal, had been chairman of the state planning commission at various times. A fifth, Jamsarangiyn Sambu, whose title of chairman of the Great People's Khural presidium is equivalent to president of Mongolia, is the author of the leading textbook on livestock care.

The commitment of this group to the Soviet Union intensified as the Sino- Soviet rift widened. In January 1966 the Soviet Communist Party's first secretary, Leonid I. Brezhnev, signed in Ulan Bator a 20-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Mutual Assistance, renewing an earlier treaty. Soviet troops, which had left a decade earlier, reappeared in 1967. The international Institute for Strategic Studies now estimates the Soviet forces in Mongolia at two divisions, but other sources report elements of a third division. Soviet medium-range missiles are believed emplaced there. Mongolia lies closer to Peking and some of the most important Chinese nuclear and missile centers than any point in the Soviet Union itself, hence its value to Soviet strategic planners. But Mongolia's 2,500-mile border with China, which divides the two-part Soviet frontier of 4,575 miles with China, adds potential problems for the Soviet high command.

Mongolia is estimated to have two mechanized infantry divisions totalling 28,000 men who are trained and armed by the Soviet Red Army. The army's share of the budget, which was more than 50 percent from before 1939 until after World War II, dropped to just 2.6 percent during the beginning of economic development, but had risen to around seven percent at last report. This increase, due to the Sino-Soviet confrontation, presumably has been hampering development although troops have been used for civil construction projects like Darkhan.

Because of the new military strength on its Mongolian border, China has broken up Inner Mongolia in the last few years. Three leagues, or districts, from the northeastern end of the crescent-shaped province were added to Manchurian provinces and one league on the west was divided between Kansu and Ningsia provinces, according to indirect evidence. The purpose seems to be the realignment of military commands to run at right angles to the border-instead of one long command which lacked internal communications. The political effect is negligible. Mongolians had already become unimportant in the leadership of the province, where Chinese outnumber Mongolians by at least six to one.

Soviet broadcasts frequently accuse Peking of destroying Mongolian culture in Inner Mongolia. Whatever they think of the Soviet influence, the people of the Mongolian People's Republic are aware that Moscow has saved them from submergence by the Chinese in the way that other minorities within the People's Republic of China, such as Tibetans and the various Central Asian people of Sinkiang, are being submerged now. The Mongolian Constitution of 1960 has the remarkable provision that "every citizen of the Mongolian People's Republic must in every way strengthen the unity and cohesion of the peoples of the Socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union." The unity is their protection, regardless of the price.

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