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China and Russia

Peking and Moscow

by Klaus Mehnert
Putnam, 522 pp., $6.95

Escape from Red China

by Robert Loh, as told to Humphrey Evans
Coward-McCann, 384 pp., $5.75

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union…cannot share the views of the Chinese leadership about the creation ‘of a thousand times higher civilization’ on the corpses of hundreds of millions of people.”

Communist Party of the Soviet Union, July 14, 1963

The leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has allied itself with United States Imperialism, the Indian reactionaries and the renegade Tito clique against socialist China and against all Marxist-Leninist parties, in open betrayal of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism…”

Communist Party of China, September 6, 1963


The partnership of Peking and Moscow has failed, I believe, for two major reasons. First, China desperately needs great capital assistance for economic development. This assistance Russia has consistently refused to supply. Second, China has wished to make militant opposition to “United States imperialism” the keystone of the world strategy of the partnership. Russia has temporized, wavered and eventually rejected this Grand Design.

The Khrushchev leadership in the USSR may believe that much of the world can be won for “the socialist camp,” in the long run, by the attractions of future Soviet economic achievements. Even if it believes nothing of the kind, this Russian leadership is disposed to concentrate, for the present, on becoming rich in goods, while engaging some stakes, involving limited risks, in the competitions of world politics. The Maoist leadership, on the other hand, has demonstrated outstanding capacity in training infantry but not in producing rice. Its potential of capital accumulation is too meager to make a long rivalry in world economic competition at all attractive. This leadership strains for a Great Leap Forward and dreams that, if such a Great Leap might only once succeed, China would pass out of constriction into freedom.

The partnership founders on inequality and the absence of community. China wants much from Russia. But the Russians would be content if the Chinese would quietly lie down and die.


On October 1, 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the population of mainland China was perhaps 535 million. Now it is probably in the general area of 730 million. The fourteen-year increase is about equal to the total population of the United States. And the overwhelming majority of these 730 million live, still today, in the borderland where hunger fronts on starvation. Fragmentary information suggests some improvements in food supplies since the worst days of 1960-61. It is less well known that China is now straining her pitiful foreign exchange resources to purchase more grain abroad in 1963 than ever before. Such grain purchases—all from non-Communist countries—totalled 5,715,000 metric tons in 1961 and 4,750,000 in 1962; commitments for 1963 shipment now exceed 6,100,000 metric tons.

Mao was acutely aware of China’s need for foreign aid even before he took power in Peking. He then conducted a polemic against the comrades who said China could go it alone. In April 1949 he warned them that the speed of China’s economic construction would depend partly on “…the support of the working class of the countries of the world and chiefly the support of the Soviet Union…” Again in June 1949 he rebuked those who said, “Victory is possible even without international help.” He responded flatly, “This is a mistaken idea.” He looked for “genuine and friendly help” to “the anti-imperialist front headed by the Soviet Union.”

After taking power, Mao spent the winter of 1949-50 in Moscow. There he received from Stalin, in financial assistance for economic development, practically nothing. In this, the death of Stalin and the rise of Khrushchev made no change. Perhaps the Russians paid for some of the munitions used in the Korean war—to which the Chinese, for their part, contributed an American-estimated 900,000 casualties. Until the summer of 1960, thousands of Russian technicians did serve in China, though at Chinese expense. The Russians apparently made a gift of many thousands of blueprints. Otherwise they made no capital grants. They sold goods for money. And of credits, for economic development, it is unlikely that the maximum capital sum outstanding (including both formal loans and trade deficits) ever amounted to as much as two dollars per capita of China’s population. Even a Maoist finds it difficult to build a brave new life with two dollars. In reduction of previously outstanding debts. China exported to the USSR, in the seven years 1956 through 1962, according to Russian official figures, more than $1.1 billion more of goods than China imported from the USSR. To satisfy these debts, China exported food to Russia even in the years 1960-62, when most Chinese lived close to starvation.

In October 1961, Chou En-lai was privileged to be a guest in Moscow at the Congress which adopted the new Party Program of the Soviet Union. In that lengthy program of a fraternal Party, together with one bland sentence on China, he could read:

In the current decade (1961-1970) the Soviet Union will surpass the strongest and richest capitalist country, the U.S.A., in production per head of population;…everyone will live in easy circumstances:…hard physical work will disappear; the U.S.S.R. will have the shortest working day.

The statement is false: no competent person can believe that, by 1970, the Soviet Union will surpass the U.S.A. in production per capita. And yet, what a bitter contrast with China! Chou came from a country which had barely averted mass starvation. In China, people were named heroes for working night and day—sleeping in the fields or at the work bench. What to him was this talk of Russian “easy circumstances” and of their “shortest working day”? What would there be in all this for China? On the record, nothing.


For nine years, Peking reported—and, I think, believed—that Communist China was making unprecedented economic progress. In this reporting, it was seconded by the plaudits of Simone de Beauvoir, of Joan Robinson, of C.P. Snow and of similar voices from the West. Then came five years of acknowledged reverses, errors, “shortening of the front,” calamities. In the first period, the belief in achieved progress dulled the edge of Chinese resentment over Russian niggardliness. But not so in the conflict of world political strategies. There the clash came much earlier. Indeed it would be possible to argue that, in broad world policy, the Chinese have never moved. Only the Russians have considered, then probed, reviewed, shifted, reconsidered, and changed.

A statement made by Mao in November 1948 will do service as an epitome of his policy in 1963. This 1948 statement will also serve as a summary both of the justly famous Chinese editorial of December 31, 1962 (“The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti And Us”) and of the decisive letter (of June 14, 1963) from the Chinese party to the Russian party. The 1948 document carries a title adequate for all three Maoist pronouncements: “Revolutionary Forces Of The World Unite, Fight Against Imperialist Aggression!” At that time Mao already said:

Since the victory of World War II, U.S. imperialism and its running dogs in various countries have taken the place of fascist Germany, Italy and Japan and are frantically preparing a new world war and menacing the whole world; this reflects the utter decay of the capitalist world and its fear of imminent doom. This enemy still has strength; therefore, all the revolutionary forces of all countries must likewise unite, must form an anti-imperialist front headed by the Soviet Union and follow correct policies; otherwise, victory will be impossible. This enemy has a weak and fragile foundation, he is disintegrating internally,…he can be defeated. It will be a very great mistake to overestimate the enemy’s strength and underestimate the strength of the revolutionary forces.

That is what Mao has been telling the Russians for fifteen years. “Imperialism is weak. U.S. imperialism is its one citadel. The Revolution is strong! The Soviet Union is the Revolution’s historic leader.’ Be of good cheer! Lead the assault. We will follow.” But the Russians—and particularly Khrushchev’s Russians—were not of the stuff of Mao’s dreams.

Even the characteristic clichés of Maoist world policy are more than fifteen years old. In August 1945, he wrote, “U.S. imperialism while outwardly strong is inwardly weak.” At the same time, “Can atom bombs decide wars? No, they can’t.” A year later came the famous phrase, “All reactionaries are paper tigers.” Then also, “The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the U.S. reactionaries use to scare people.” And in January 1948 Mao named as the first “erroneous tendency” in the Chinese party “fear of U.S. imperialism.” So, in the years before the formal birth of the People’s Republic of China, a view of the world political contest had been developed. Friends and enemies had been named. The foundation for the later Chinese “Hate America!” creed had been laid. Mao’s strategy of world politics had been formulated.

It was the great misfortune of the Peking-Moscow partnership—otherwise it might still be in moderate good health—that it blundered decisively at birth. (Whose the fault, we do not know.) The irretrievable error was to attack Korea before Formosa. Truman and Acheson had already declared U.S. neutrality in the Chinese civil war. The U.S. would not then have opposed Mao’s blow at Chiang. The attack on Formosa would undoubtedly have succeeded. Once finished with Chiang, Peking would have been the capital of all China. Its claim to China’s seat in the United Nations would have been without a challenger. Then would have been time enough to proceed with mediatizing or subverting puny neighbors.

But the aggression in Korea brushed all those opportunities aside. American policy on east Asia was reversed. The United States rearmed, so that by 1953 American military expenditure was greater than any nation had previously spent on armament during peace. The United States did indeed now set a policy of “containing” Chinese offensives. In time, this United States policy became more and more comprehensive. Its decisive step was from Korea and Formosa to Vietnam. And the Russians never agreed to a direct clash with the United States for China’s sake. The Russians gave Mao only rhetorical support in the two probes (1954-55 and 1958) of what were now Formosan-American defenses. It was in this theater that the Chinese may have first hoped to use a few little Russian-designed nuclear bombs. And it was probably in fear of just such a use, as I suspect the archives will one day show, that the Russians first temporized, then promised, then qualified, then withdrew an offer to supply their Chinese partner the technology of nuclear weapons. This sequence—of promising, then qualifying (possibly through newly stipulating Russian control over nuclear warheads), then withdrawing—seems to have run 1957, 1958, 1959. The Russians may well have felt themselves safer with the quiescent American enemy than with the adventurous Chinese partner. And just that was the rub.

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