This piece will take as its starting point the Sino-Soviet Split, which today may seem a rather pointlessly historical reference. While it is largely forgotten today, one of the important events of the Cold War period was the split between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China of the year 1960 and on, maintains its’ key role in the comprehension of the history of socialism as well as the state of contemporary political affairs.
The lack of a Soviet Union today is something that most communists take for granted, often unfortunately without engaging with the reasons for its demise or the relationship of various trends within the international movement to this entity while it existed. Those of us who make use of copious references to Cold War-era intrigue therefore find ourselves in the odd position of being the only ones who notice that those who most uncritically defended the Soviet Union while it existed are the very same tendencies who today most uncritically defend the People’s Republic of China. But despite the formal similarities (they were both at these times the largest self-declared “socialist state” on Earth), this ignores the fact that while both states existed, an ideological gulf developed which became at times irreconcilable. These historical rivalries cannot merely be glossed over, as they had real political consequences at the time. What were the causes, implications, and results of various phases of the rivalry between Moscow and Beijing when both countries claimed to be at the vanguard of the world revolution?
What was the basis of the Sino-Soviet split?
To briefly remind today’s China-defenders, who accuse all of us who claim the People’s Republic of China is not at present in any essential way a socialist state, and is certainly no vanguard of world revolution (the ruling party has long since abandoned all such language even in its most “Marxist” speeches), the original basis of the Sino-Soviet split, in which the People’s Republic of China (and the much smaller People’s Republic of Albania) made a decisive split with the Moscow leadership, was that the leaderships of China and Albania felt that the Soviet Union at the time had abandoned class struggle at home and internationally, made peace with the capitalist world-system, and was failing to lead the world revolution to which we as Marxists are committed.
To those of us who accuse the Chinese party as the Chinese party once accused the Soviet party, this contradiction is easy to account for: the dynamics of class struggle which can result in capitalist restoration simply occurred in China as they did in the Soviet Union. Even Deng Xiaoping, the practical poster-child for capitalist restoration in China, refers most explicitly to this possibility, and instructs us to be merciless if this possibility were to become a reality:
If capitalism is restored in a big socialist country, it will inevitably become a superpower. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which has been carried out in China in recent years, and the campaign of criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius now underway throughout China, are both aimed at preventing capitalist restoration and ensuring that socialist China will never change her colour and will always stand by the oppressed peoples and oppressed nations. If one day China should change her colour and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.
There is a wealth of literature in the anti-revisionist tradition stating that this has indeed happened, from Enver Hoxha to various militant Maoist parties around the world. Most recently, we might cite the example of the declaration by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which states:
Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party built a substantial society through socialism without any social barriers among the people. Workers, peasants, women, students, intellectuals, and other oppressed groups in China laboured to transform their motherland into a modern industrial country, a country that could provide education and healthcare to all the people within the span of three decades. They transformed their country into the most progressive system from a social, political and economic perspective. The outstanding achievements of the people resulted in their country becoming the 6th largest industrial power in the world.
Yet there will continue to be opportunities for the bourgeoisie and other inhibitors of growth to arise and multiply, even in socialist society. The new bourgeoisie can arise in many places – production of essential commodities, money-exchange and distribution according to work, such as pay in 8 variable grades. Even with the bourgeoisie overthrown, means of production and money still exist; some peasants and petty-bourgeois classes retain properties. These become the foundation for small-scale production. Nascent capitalism can grow from these seeds by leaps and bounds. There remain under socialism basic differences between mental and physical work, agriculture and industry, working class and peasantry, towns and villages and different areas and communities. Backward factors such as hangers-on in culture, traditions, and practices then become bases for attacking the foundations of socialism, as all remain present in the superstructure. Resistors of socialist construction, revanchists and revisionists become a “holy coalition” with support from the external imperialist powers. Neo-bourgeois power-blocs arise due to growth in capitalist elements. To develop the productive forces and superstructure in accordance with the economic base of socialist society, it is necessary to revolutionize the relations of production constantly. One of the prime duties of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to create conditions unsuitable for the emergence of the neo-bourgeoisie to prevent it from gaining a foothold in the superstructure.
Exploiting these conditions, very few capitalist roaders who captured upper-level power in the CCP openly crafted schemes to restore capitalism in China. They implemented their revisionist “productive forces” policy both secretly and openly. The waging of internal struggles exposed capitalist conspiracies. Mao taught that revolution should continue until communism is reached. The great Chinese working class continued its cultural revolution in accordance with Mao’s call to “Break the Centres of Capitalism” for over ten years (1966-76) under the leadership of the CCP. However, after the demise of Comrade Mao followed by the leadership of Hua-Deng, the capitalist roaders […] were successful in installing capitalism in all spheres, be they theoretical, political, economic and cultural. They succeeded in their goal of changing the communist party into a revisionist party, working class dictatorship into bourgeois dictatorship, and it was an outstanding achievement on their part to install a capitalist state in place of a socialist state within the span of 3 years. In this way, the global proletariat met a formidable historical defeat by the restoration of capitalism in China. (CPI (Maoist), 2017 p. 7-8)
Today’s defenders of China are free to critique such texts in detail, penning responses explaining how China’s ruling party is building communist productive relations, and not ruling in accordance with the profit motive. But when they do, we invite them to recall that the party in power in Beijing today was once the same party that attacked in the harshest terms Moscow for being too “reformist”, too much at “class peace”, not leading the world revolution as China at the time seemed to be doing. Who can deny that the Chinese party today is far less revolutionary on any of these points than the Soviet Union was at any point in its history, whatever the latter’s flaws? Yet, the Chinese Party continued taking such an antagonistic stance towards the Soviet Union long after China’s own claims to being “more revolutionary” had become as hollow as those of the Trotskyites. So, if we are “ultra-left”, or “puritanical” for pointing out what China today is, must they not, in historical context, judge Mao Zedong even more harshly?
But Mao Zedong was far from ultra-left or puritanical in our eyes. Indeed, we can say that in the face of Khrushchovite revisionism, the Chinese and Albanian parties represented a concrete and revolutionary criticism of trends in the Soviet Union, which relate to the universal problems of rebuilding society on the basis of new productive and reproductive relations. In our assessment, one cannot go “too far” in this class struggle, one can only push it forward or, by whatever means failing to do so, allow it to regress.
Contradictions at the time of the split
The direction of travel in the Soviet Union was indeed regressive, and partisans of both the Chinese and Albanian lines, along with various Latin American trends, have produced a great deal of literature on this subject. While we would have no problem writing a piece summarising our own criticisms of Soviet revisionism, due to the continuing existence of a revisionist party in power in China, we consider it would be more worth summarising the trajectory of the Chinese party.
Following the initial split between Moscow and Beijing, few fully formed parties were willing to fully cast in their lot with Beijing. The Chinese party’s harsh stance against Moscow’s revisionism mainly failed to win over the larger “official” communist parties, whether in power or not. Exception must of course be made in China’s immediate region, where parties that drew largely on ethnic Chinese cadre were naturally easier to sway towards Beijing’s line. The authors emphasise here that this is not because of some “nationalist weakness” to either the Chinese party or to Chinese cadre in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, or British Malaya, but rather because the shared language allowed the (frankly correct) Chinese condemnations of Soviet revisionism and its doctrine of peaceful coexistence to spread more quickly among the cadre.
Among the noteworthy examples of parties elsewhere whose central committees were moved to take a firm stance against Moscow in favour of Beijing at the time of the split, one can name the Albanian Party of Labour, who in fact rather famously took an even more furious stance towards Moscow than Beijing did, and the New Zealand Communist Party, who followed Beijing until Mao’s death, after which they followed Albania until the end of the Cold War, after which they splintered into a number of groups with opposing theoretical explanations for the fall of socialism and ultimately the original party liquidated itself.
The effect of the Sino-Soviet split around the world was more strongly felt in the creation of entirely new movements. The 1960s in particular witnessed an upsurge in interest in “the Chinese model” from young revolutionaries across the world. Inspired by the model of guerrilla warfare employed by the Chinese, Cuban, and Vietnamese revolutionaries, as well as the dynamism of the youthful participants in the headline-grabbing Cultural Revolution (cautiously endorsed at several points throughout the theoretician Paulo Freire’s text “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”). In Turkey, Mahir Çayan wrote polemics defending Mao Zedong against the Soviet revisionists, İbrahim Kaypakkaya was famously inspired by the Cultural Revolution in his identification with China, and even the most pro-Soviet trend among the major youth movements named itself “the People’s Liberation Army of Turkey” after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Revolution in the most populous country on Earth, defiance by a former victim of colonialism against the imperialist powers, what could inspire the world revolutionary movement more than this?
There was a problem, however: the dynamics of the revolution actually happening in China itself. Having warned of the danger of “Soviet social imperialism”, Mao Zedong met in secret with Nixon (in 1972) to coordinate work with the largest and most powerful imperialist force on Earth against the Soviet Union and its allies. Mao Zedong himself spoke of the importance of this move and the “reactionary” nature of choosing the Soviet Union over the United States in his meeting with Nixon:
Chairman Mao: Those questions are not questions to be discussed in my place. They should be discussed with the Premier. I discuss the philosophical questions. That is to say, I voted for you during your election. There is an American here called Mr. Frank Coe, and he wrote an article precisely at the time when your country was in havoc, during your last electoral campaign. He said you were going to be elected President. I appreciated that article very much. But now he is against the visit.
President Nixon: When the President says he voted for me, he voted for the lesser of two evils.
Chairman Mao: I like rightists. People say you are rightists, that the Republican Party is to the right, that Prime Minister Heath is also to the right.
President Nixon: And General DeGaulle.
Chairman Mao: DeGaulle is a different question. They also say the Christian Democratic Party of West Germany is also to the right. I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power.
President Nixon: I think the important thing to note is that in America, at least at this time, those on the right can do what those on the left talk about.
Dr. Kissinger: There is another point, Mr. President. Those on the left are pro-Soviet and would not encourage a move toward the People’s Republic, and in fact criticize you on those grounds.
Chairman Mao: Exactly that. Some are opposing you. In our country also there is a reactionary group which is opposed to our contact with you. The result was that they got on an airplane and fled abroad.
Following Mao’s death, China continued further down this path. In his speech to the United Nations, Deng begins one section condemning “the two superpowers”, before lapsing into condemnation of the Soviet Union as “especially vicious”, first for the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and then for defending the Bengali people whom China abandoned to the CIA-backed Pakistani military dictatorship (!):
The two superpowers are the biggest international exploiters and oppressors of today. They are the source of a new world war. They both possess large numbers of nuclear weapons. They carry on a keenly contested arms race, station massive forces abroad and set up military bases everywhere, threatening the independence and security of all nations. They both keep subjecting other countries to their control, subversion, interference or aggression. They both exploit other countries economically, plundering their wealth and grabbing their resources. In bullying others, the superpower which flaunts the label of socialism is especially vicious. It has dispatched its armed forces to occupy its ‘ally’ Czechoslovakia and instigated the war to dismember Pakistan. It does not honour its words and is perfidious; it is self-seeking and unscrupulous. (Deng 1974)
Deng Xiaoping, in his party’s hatred of the “especially vicious” Soviet Union, would go on to defend Pol Pot against the Vietnamese and Soviet-backed Cambodian government, with the help of the UK, not a “superpower” in their assessment, and the US, which, although a “superpower”, was not “especially vicious”. France, not being a “superpower”, must be presumed to have been even less “vicious” than the United States. Non-imperialist states were clearly harmless to the classes and peoples living under them, in Deng’s assessment.
We are hard pressed to sympathise with Pol Pot as an “independent” leader of the Cambodian masses, both due to his international allies and due to his policies. Whatever the failings in terms of socialist construction under the pro-Soviet People’s Republic of Kampuchea, were they greater than those of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea, who abolished money, sent the workers to till the fields, sold the rice to imperialist powers, and claimed this constituted the building of communist productive relations? Allow us to quote again from the Maoists to make our case against China’s international “revolutionary” comrades:
In fact, the CPK’s approach to economics was capitalist in essence. Both socialism and capitalism need surplus product (over and above what people need to live) to build up the productive forces, but in the CPK plan rice was taken as capital in the strictly capitalist sense, as a commodity to be traded for other commodities on the international market. For all of the CPK’s nationalism, the calculations in this plan to build socialism had to be – and were – expressed in American dollars.” (AWTW 1999)
But in the Chinese Party’s assessment, this was of increasingly little importance. The question was if they were “especially vicious”, which anyone backed by the US could not be, by definition, citing Deng’s speech. Class relations and internationalism were thrown out the window in favour of side-choosing among imperialist powers, and thus the Chinese Party not only took equal part with the US and Soviet Union in the war over Cambodia, but shamefully fought a war with Vietnam in 1978, in which the Chinese were defeated just as the former US occupiers had been.
Such incidents were frequent in the late 1970s, another example was to be found at the conclusion of the Angolan War of Independence, when the pro-Chinese faction UNITA was backed not only by the US, but by Apartheid South Africa in its war against the Soviet-backed MPLA. While the peoples of Africa were united in fighting the most obscene settler-colonialist minority rule in South Africa, UNITA invited the white South African military to fight alongside them, while Cuba fought shoulder to shoulder with the Angolan fighters at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale against these settler-colonial mercenaries.
The real content of the relation behind these practices was exposed at the time by the Albanian Party, who condemned the reality that the so-called “Three Worlds Theory” was nothing more than a pretext to bury class contradictions in any society whose “independence” stood in the way of the Soviet Union (regardless of which imperialist power’s interests this “independence” served). It would be a flagrant revision of Marxism to deny that even oppressed nations are nonetheless divided on the basis of class, and the ruling classes of every nation want to exploit the working classes of any nation they can for the sake of profits. How the “Marxist-Leninists” who supported China could think that the Pakistani state had any goal but this in Bangladesh, for example, is a question that could never be convincingly answered by anything but hand-waving and an unfounded and to this day untested, indeed, quasi-religious belief that states such as Chile or Ecuador with which the Chinese party dealt favourably would somehow be swayed to the right side of history.
What happened was of course the opposite: today China’s efforts in courting the favour of Ecuador have only resulted in profits for Chinese corporations, not any liberation of the oppressed peoples of Ecuador, or any strength to revolutionary Marxist trends in that country, who rightly oppose them. The PRC and Chile are on good terms today, just as they were in Pinochet’s time, and the Soviet-backed popular government of Allende remains a tragic page in Chile’s history books, a lost opportunity.
Wait, we’re confused, are you defending Beijing or Moscow?
There is very little point in debating the sort of people who would say that China was right to support an anti-communist military dictatorship in Pakistan against the oppressed nationalities in that country because Soviet “social imperialism” might benefit, just as it would be fundamentally anti-socialist to do so under any circumstances. The fact that the United States, the most powerful imperialist country on Earth then as now, also backed this military dictatorship merely implies the “direction of travel” by the Chinese leadership was reactionary and not progressive, but the most cursory knowledge of the class and national contradictions within Pakistan itself are, in the final instance, the proof.
It is of course the productive and reproductive relations which determine whether a society is undergoing a process of constructing a new socialist life that has overcome capitalist relations, but the international relations are no less important for genuine Marxists. Why is this? On a theoretical level, because in the final instance every Marxist must be a proletarian internationalist, and the international proletariat cannot but view each other’s particular “local” struggles as reflections of our universal struggle. But this is not merely out of a dogmatic insistence on Marxist dialectics: it is an observed fact about the material world that productive and reproductive relations are internationalised, and the Soviet Union’s goal of outproducing the west was doomed to failure because the rubric of production was one based on capitalist efficiency and not on social need. From at least Khrushchov on, they accepted the anti-Marxist revision of socialism as a more efficient form of capitalism.
Those who follow the CPC’s line today have an opposite conception of internationalism, contrary to proletarian liberation from capitalist yoke on an international level united with the oppressed peoples of the world, a perspective limited to defending their “country” i.e. the state under which they live and the ruling classes that state represents. Turkish social-fascist and the country’s main defender of Chinese “socialism” Doğu Perinçek summarizes this line with his dictum “Internationalism means consistent patriotism in our age.” (Perinçek 2013).
Loyalty to Moscow meant loyalty to a leadership that, in so many cases, would let down the revolution. Ignoring the Soviet withdrawals of assistance in the form of economic experts and aid to China and Albania, crucial to industrial development, it was a well-publicised fact by the Chinese party and its allies at the time that the price of Cuba’s loyalty to Moscow was development on terms of economic reliance on Moscow (which was only possible because the Soviet Union had developed itself on terms that it was now denying to its “allies”!). A switch to Beijing, as we have shown, meant a switch to a leadership which would similarly, perhaps even more strongly, betray the idea of socialism and, in Mao’s own words “restore capitalism” by “building a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie”, since “We ourselves have exactly built such a state, not very different from the old society”:
To summarize, China can be characterized as a socialist state. Before the Liberation, it was not very different from capitalism. Now there is still the eightgrade wage system, distribution according to labor, exchange with money, all of these are not very different from how things were in the old society. Only that the property relations have changed … Now there is the commodity system in our country, and the wage system is an unequal one … These can only be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, if Lin Biao and his like come to power, it will be very easy to restore capitalism. [originally from People’s Daily, February 22, 1975, cited in Mao 1976]
Lenin said, petty production generates capitalism every day, every hour. Lenin talked about building a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie, to secure the bourgeois rights. We ourselves have exactly built such a state, not very different from the old society… [Mao Zedong, cited in Li 2008, p.59]
The enemy, it would seem, is everywhere. In Moscow, in Beijing, in Tirana, in Havana: the enemy doesn’t only live on Wall Street, but in the social relations which we all inherit from the old society, which we cannot merely abolish, but must rather painfully overcome through a protracted process of resolving these social contradictions. When we fail to do this, the enemy only grows strongest in the very states to which we were loyal.
But loyalty to a state leadership is fundamentally a revision of the Marxist method. If we are Marxists, we understand, to borrow the terminology Marx uses over and over again in Capital, that exploitative relations of production are objectified in people, they do not merely arise from the people themselves. Grasping this allows us to approach the dialectic of history as genuine revolutionaries. Today in China, it is the partisans of socialist struggle who appropriate Mao Zedong’s heritage against the ruling party which has become the objective site of the rebuilding of the bourgeois state. They understand, as we too must, that loyalty is not to the state or the party, but to the toiling exploited, the oppressed masses whose only interest is the overcoming of this state of affairs; those who have nothing to lose but their chains.
Who won the Cold War and why?
Despite the claims of those who think China is still at the forefront of a class struggle that their own leadership has plainly given up on decades ago, the Cold War is over. Jose Maria Sison, one of the most respected Maoists still operating in terms of revolutionary politics today, summarised the status quo as such:
We are still in the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution because the modern revisionists betrayed socialism and succeeded in subverting socialism and restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, causing a temporary retreat of the socialist cause and preventing socialism from becoming dominant in the world for the time being. However, upon the integration of former socialist countries in the world capitalist system, with Russia and China becoming big capitalist powers themselves, contradictions among the imperialists, between capital and labor, between the imperialists and the oppressed peoples and between the imperialists and countries assertive of independence have intensified more than ever before in what is now a multipolar world.
So, while there are still rival powers to the US, principally China, the capitalism-imperialism of which US imperialism was and remains the head has actually won. With all twists and turns between the Sino-Soviet split and now, we have seen the US’s vision for the world, one of continued capitalism-imperialism, alienation, exploitation, and oppression, has won a great victory, reigning uncontested precisely because of the surrender to it by its once great foes and now mere economic and political rivals: Russia and China.
When Khrushchov recalled all 1400 Soviet economic-industrial specialists from China in 1960 (together with the consequent cutting of economic-commercial relations) the result was an unmitigated economic disaster for the PRC. Although Khrushchov may have claimed to act as a Marxist-Leninist, as a scientific socialist, his actions objectively served the interests of capitalism-imperialism. For his part, while Mao spent many years actively struggling against imperialism on an international level, he later took part in efforts to ally with the US against the Soviet Union and reached some informal agreement with President Nixon, not on a conjectural or survival basis, but in precisely such a way as to be maximally useful to the US and capitalism-imperialism more broadly. The rupture between the two socialist states represented, at different stages, a rapprochement with the United States as the objective form of capitalism-imperialism in the final instance. The 1959 meeting of Khrushchov and Eisenhower triggered the Sino-Soviet split, whereas the 1972 meeting of Nixon and Mao changed the character of the break between the two. Where initially the Chinese were breaking on the basis of standing against a neutering of Leninism as the fighting reality of Marxism in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, the capitalist turn in China left even this revisionist Soviet state as more revolutionary than the “Marxist” theoreticians in power in Beijing at the time. Socialism as a distinct social and economic existence has at any rate “withered away” in both countries.
The USSR cut diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of Albania in 1961, as a “punishment” for the latter’s extreme ferocity in siding with the PRC in the ongoing dispute. A year later, the Soviet Union cut ties with the PRC as well. Cutting diplomatic ties can hardly be viewed as a proper means for resolving ideological conflict in the socialist camp, particularly when these countries maintain diplomatic ties with the imperialist states which seek to dismantle them. This is a bourgeois nationalist understanding of international relations, and not a Marxist one in the least. Unfortunately, this is rarely pointed out even by pro-Chinese and pro-Albanian Marxists, in spite of the fact that the severance of relations was a “social imperialist” punishment under the revisionist line of the Khrushchov-led party. Unfortunately, the ideological debate (in which, we must emphasise, the CCP and the Albanian Party of Labour were correctly issuing revolutionary criticism of a reformist and revisionist leadership in the Soviet Union) rapidly transformed into a crisis of states.
We would be remiss if we did not mention that this history is witness to questions about what lies beneath the ideological forms of the aforementioned conflicts. We can say that nationalism has played a great role here. Quoting Stalin:
[…] the danger of nationalism, must be regarded as springing from the growth of bourgeois influence on the Party in the sphere of foreign policy, in the sphere of the struggle that the capitalist states are waging against the state of the proletarian dictatorship. There can scarcely be any doubt that the pressure of the capitalist states on our state is enormous, that the people who are handling our foreign policy do not always succeed in resisting this pressure, that the danger of complications often gives rise to the temptation to take the path of least resistance, the path of nationalism. (Stalin 1925)
This holds no less true for the Sino-Soviet split – in this specific case, differences on which economic model to pursue, border disputes which eventually led to months of border conflict, etc. one cannot help but compare them to the conflicts between bourgeois states. As in our understanding, the bourgeois state is somehow preserved in the form of the socialist state because states are class formations which exist until class society has “withered away”, this is not altogether surprising.
Speculation on the course of history is not a materialist method, but one cannot help but wonder about an alternate history in which the PRC, the USSR and Mongolia had united in a full economic federation, in place of breaking with each other. From a Marxist point of view, the level of socialist construction depends deeply on the level of international integration of the socialist states. Also worth asking what would happen if there had not been a sole “People’s Republic of China”, but instead of union of socialist republics which would have included a Han Soviet Socialist Republic, an Uyghur Soviet Socialist Republic, a Mongol Soviet Socialist Republic (including both the long-independent Outer Mongolia and “Inner Mongolia” which remains in the PRC today), a Tibetan Soviet Socialist Republic, etc.
Real rupture from the capitalist mode of production cannot occur by working to preserve the form of the nation-state which is itself fully a product of the capitalist productive relations. Socialism can only be national and particular in form, but must be international and universal in essence. Its goal must be the highest level of integration of socialist formations on the largest possible geography, accommodating the most diverse human experience to develop both quantitatively and qualitatively, the highest levels of social production and reproduction for the de-alienated society as such.
When we speak of a “real rupture”, we mean the real transformation of the mode of production and all social relations, which is basically what Mao meant when he said “how things were in the old society”, as cited in Li 2008 (p.59). Both of the two greatest then-socialist states, putting their full emphasis on the productive forces and not the social relations of production, turned their back on each other and marched towards bourgeois nationalism and capitalism.
Conclusion: why is “socialist” China still standing?
We should, however, still acknowledge one difference between Soviet and Chinese revisionism even by the 1980s, which explains the fall of one state and the preservation of the other. When Mao criticised the Khrushchovites’ theory of “peaceful coexistence with imperialism”, he understood, as we must, that either socialism or capitalism-imperialism would prevail. They could not indefinitely coexist as states or as ideologies, as one would eventually overcome the other. As the socialist camp splintered and retreated ideologically and practically, the Soviet Union was doomed to be routed by the enemy, as we saw with tiny Albania which fiercely fought back against revisionism within a tiny economic base in the Balkans, like an anarchist commune in Berlin attempting to thrive in spite of the capitalist city around it.
The Chinese revisionists indeed learned a lesson from their Soviet predecessors: this was, with the Three Worlds Theory, to not concern themselves with the Capitalist and Socialist “worlds” at all, but to ingratiate themselves with US imperialism and develop themselves into one of the more successful capitalist powers at the cost of any pretense of internationalism or socialism which needed to be discarded for this purpose. Where the Soviets revised Marx’s economic and political theories out of pragmatism, not seeing the disastrous effects thereof, the Chinese party’s later revisionism was not merely an act of ignoring Mao’s rhetoric and engaging in precisely the same pragmatism: the difference was that the Khrushchovites did not see themselves as integrating into the capitalist world-system, they viewed themselves as the head of a socialist camp which kept weakening itself out of necessity. This necessity, however, was not the result of the Soviet economy in a vacuum, but of the entire world system in which the Soviets were increasingly uninterested in revolution, pursuing “revolutionary” foreign policy on extremely cautious terms befitting their “peaceful coexistence”. The Chinese understood full well, from Mao on, that two internationalised modes of production cannot peacefully coexist, but will be in conflict. Mao, at least at first, pursued this conflict. But later on, and certainly with his successors, they rather embraced the dominant internationalised mode of production and have thrived within it as the most successful capitalists of the 21st century.
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