The foreign policy of the first few years of the People’s Republic developed from a complex mix of new conditions in the world after World War II:
--The development of national liberation movements in the vacuum created by the breakdown and collapse of the old European and Japanese colonial empires; in East Asia, communist-led revolutionary struggles arose in Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia.
--The new forms of imperialist domination (neo-colonialism) throughout Asia, Latin America and Asia led and created by the United States, which disguised itself in clever anti-imperialist and anti-colonial pretense and rhetoric; and
--The extension of the socialist bloc into Eastern Europe on the basis, not of revolutionary upsurge, but from the defeat of Germany by the victorious Soviet armies; the theoretical development of people’s democracies as “states of the whole people” to justify the East European countries’ entrance into the “socialist bloc”; and this bloc’s failure to keep pace with and support the rising revolutionary movements in the colonial world;
After World War 2, the Soviet Union, concentrated as it was on the tasks of post-war reconstruction and bloc integration, had actively discouraged the revolutionary movements in China, Greece, Iran, and elsewhere from seizing power,3 risking confrontation with U.S imperialism, and “over-extending” the reach of the socialist bloc. Mao and the CCP did not heed Stalin's advice, and in 1949 won nationwide victory.
After establishing the People’s Republic on October 1, 1949, the Chinese party and people were confronted with the daunting task of rebuilding a country devastated by 30 years of civil war and thousands of years of feudalism. They were consolidating nationwide political power, and land reform was just getting underway. Still, they shouldered the internationalist responsibility of supporting revolutionary struggles and liberation movements beyond their borders, beginning with major sacrifices during the Korean War. In this case, there was a direct and immediate convergence between the necessity of defending China and supporting the revolutionary struggle in a neighboring country.
Support for the Korean People
In late 1950, the U.S. military drove deep into northern Korea and towards the Chinese border, committing dozens of civilian massacres and leveling entire cities. A major campaign was launched all over China to "Resist America and Aid Korea." In the Northeast, factories drew up “anti-American aggression emulation targets," and popularized the slogan "Our factory is our battlefield and our machines are our weapons." 4 In 1950, more than 30% of China's national budget was dedicated to support the war to resist U.S. aggression in Korea.5
The Chinese government insisted that their forces fighting in Korea were highly motivated volunteers in order to deflect U.S. charges of "Chinese communist aggression."
Politics was in command of military recruitment. In the course of the government’s political mobilization known as the "Volunteer Movement," significant numbers of worker, peasant and student volunteers, infused with the same consciousness that allowed them to triumph over the Guomindang, joined the Chinese People’s Volunteers to fight in Korea. 6
In October and November 1950, 300,000 Chinese soldiers crossed the Yalu River.7 The devastating attacks of the CPV on the U.S. Army in close cooperation with the Korean liberation fighters fought U.S. imperialism to a stalemate. Only a year after the victory of the revolution, China's willingness to go head to head with the most powerful military machine in history inspired and riveted the attention of revolutionaries and the oppressed in many countries.
Support for the Vietnamese People
Even while civil war raged in China after World War 2, the Vietminh and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) units were coordinating military operations against French colonialism in Indochina. As early as 1946, a joint Vietnamese-Chinese unit (the Doc Lap, or Independence, Regiment) was created to engage in guerilla warfare against the French in the border area. As the CCP's forces advanced rapidly in northern China in 1948, the PLA became more active along the border with Vietnam and increasingly took part in operations with Vietminh units.
In December 1949, two months after the proclamation of the People's Republic of China, Ho Chi Minh traveled to Beijing to meet with CCP leaders concerning questions of political and military strategy. In 1950, the PLA equipped and trained 20,000 Vietminh soldiers in China's Yunnan province, and continued to ship weapons and munitions to the Vietminh while Chinese forces were fighting U.S. aggression in Korea.8 Chinese military advisers worked closely with Vietminh officers, and a campaign was launched in the Vietminh in 1950 to study the CCP's experience in the wars against Japan and the U.S.-backed Guomindang. 9 After the armistice in Korea was signed, the PLA sent large quantities of weapons to North Vietnam, providing important support for the Vietminh's historic victory over the French army at Dienbienphu in 1954. The CCP also supported the efforts of communist forces in Laos, Malaya, Burma and Thailand to initiate armed struggle against reactionary governments allied with the U.S., French and British imperialists.
B. The Development of Neocolonialism and the Bandung Period
In the 1950s, as many of the countries that had emerged from colonialism sought to defend their independence, they developed conflicts of varying degrees with the remaining colonial European empires and with U.S. imperialism. China sought to unite with these countries with a program of developing mutual support and a common shield against imperialism.10 This diplomatic strategy culminated in the Bandung, Conference, and later in the formation of the Non-Aligned countries group.11
The Bandung Conference was a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, organized by China, Egypt, Indonesia, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, and Pakistan. The conference's stated aims were to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism or neocolonialism by the U.S. or any other imperialist nation. The conference met from April 18-April 24, 1955, in Bandung, Indonesia.
It is not well known that pro-Western, anti-communist governments had a significant presence at the Bandung Conference. During the conference, leaders from Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Prince of Thailand assailed communism and China as “colonialism of a new type.” Zhou Enlai responded that China had its hands full with national reconstruction, and wanted to create a peaceful international environment. In the wake of Bandung, Zhou led a “goodwill mission” in late 1956 to Cambodia, India, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ceylon. In his discussions with the leaders of these countries, he held out the “five principles of peaceful coexistence”--which included the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries--to reassure them that China would not support revolutionary movements in their countries.12
The Chinese advocacy of the “Bandung line” as a diplomatic initiative, principally shaped by Zhou, did help to break socialist China out of international isolation. However, the Bandung line came to define China’s foreign policy as a whole during this period. The leaders of the newly independent countries were seen as the most basic alliance of the united front against the Western imperialist powers.
As a strategic political line for Marxist-Leninists, the Bandung line took a heavy toll in diminishing and denying the independence and initiative of communists within the united front against imperialism. It replaced the internationalist line of support for people’s liberation struggles and for the strategy of protracted people’s war, with a line of support for bourgeois nationalist governments who were, it was claimed, the defining characteristic of the “post-colonial period.”
The Bandung line incorrectly understood the class character of these newly independent states and the neo-colonial relations developing within them. On the one hand, most of them were ruled by the national bourgeoisie with varying degrees of popular support from the petty bourgeoisie, workers and peasants. On the other hand, comprador bourgeois and feudal elements held strong points of economic and political power, backed up by the European and U.S. imperialists. Thus, these countries had not broken out of the Western economic orbit, and their political independence rested on shaky ground.
One of the defining characteristics of the Bandung line was its failure to comprehend and challenge the dramatic change which the United States, as it occupied the shoes of the old European empires, had brought to both the appearance and the mechanisms of colonialism. Under the banner of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, the U.S. was replacing direct-rule colonialism with the disguised yet more comprehensive controls of neo-colonialism.13 In the Bandung period, the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement were being actively, and for the most part successfully, cultivated and recruited into the U.S.’ neo-colonial empire. Some resisted, such as Sukarno, Lumumba and Nkrumah, and were overthrown by CIA-orchestrated military coups.
The failure to recognize this neo-colonialist strategy and the developing role of the nationalist bourgeoisies within it, became the focus of one of the sharpest struggles over foreign policy in the People’s Republic to that time. In March 1958, it led to a comprehensive self-criticism by Foreign Minister Zhou, which described his “conservative and rightist tendency" in handling the PRC’s foreign relations. “He admitted that the Foreign Ministry’s work under his direction had neglected the necessary struggle in dealing with nationalist countries, had maintained a kind of wishful thinking concerning imperialism (especially toward Japan and the United States) and had failed to conduct necessary criticism of the revisionist policies of other socialist countries.”14 While he remained as Premier, Zhou was replaced as Foreign Minister by Chen Yi.
The Bandung line served to undercut China’s support for liberation movements and revolutionary struggles. China had gained a prominent place at the meetings of independent countries by, among other things, promising to limit or deny support for revolutionary groups in those countries. For example, in 1962, the resolution of a border dispute and the announcement of Burmese "neutrality" led China to cut off support for the Burmese communist movement.15
In Indonesia, the impact was particularly dramatic—and disastrous. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), the largest non-governing Communist Party in the world, had strong relations with both the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the CCP in the 1950s. Though its political program was more similar to that of the CPSU, the PKI sided with the Chinese party when polemics between them broke out in the early 1960s. Finding support in the Bandung line, the PKI subordinated itself to the national bourgeois program of President Sukarno and advocated an illusory peaceful transition to socialism. Of great importance, the PKI failed to develop rural base areas and to arm its mass base 16
Many people’s movements were blindsided by the events which led, in just ten years from the Bandung Conference, to the coup by General Suharto against the Sukarno government. Beginning in early October 1965, U.S.-backed generals mobilized military units and rightist Muslims against the politically and militarily disarmed PKI and its mass base. This resulted in the death over one million communists and supporters—one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. The PKI was destroyed, and the revolutionary movement in Indonesia has still not recovered 40 years later.
While by the end of the 1950s the CCP was taking a more aggressive policy of supporting national liberation movements in some countries, sharp differences between revolutionary internationalist and bourgeois nationalist orientations remained.
In 1962, Wang Jiaxiang, director of the Party's International Liaison Department (which was responsible for relations with communist parties and organizations in other countries),
argued in several reports that the strategic goal of China’s foreign policy should be the maintenance of world peace, so that it would be able to focus on socialist construction at home. According to Wang, China should reconcile with the Soviet Union before the polemics escalated, adhere to the principle of peaceful coexistence with imperialism, and forestall a Korea-style war in Indochina. Wang was especially worried about the effect of the sharp increase in foreign aid since 1960 (one-third of which went to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) on the Chinese economy. Wang was able to convince Zhou and Liu Shaoqi, who directed the Party's daily work, to support a peaceful settlement of the Laotian people's struggle at the ongoing Geneva Conference.17
Mao, on the other hand, lit into Wang. At a Central Committee meeting in September 1962, Mao explicitly connected the domestic class struggle, including the danger of capitalist restoration, to support for national liberation struggles. On Indochina, Mao insisted that China must support the armed struggles in South Vietnam and Laos without conditions because they were "excellent armed struggles":
The CCP Chairman characterized Wang’s ideas as an attempt to be conciliatory toward imperialists, revisionists, and international reactionaries, and to reduce support to those countries and peoples fighting against the imperialists. Mao stressed that this policy of ‘three reconciliations and one reduction” came at a time when some leading CCP members (as it turned out, he had Liu and Deng in mind) had been frightened by the international reactionaries and were inclined to adopt a “pro-revisionist” policy line at home. He emphasized that his policy, by contrast, was to fight against the imperialists, revisionists, and reactionaries in all countries and, at the same time, to promote revolutionary developments at home and abroad.18
It is significant that Mao took this internationalist stand shortly after the Great Leap Forward, and at the time that he was preparing to launch the Socialist Education Movement, a direct precursor to the Cultural Revolution. At this and other decisive points, Mao's promotion of revolutionary social transformations in China was closely connected to his support for the world revolution.
C. Mao and the Chinese Communist Party Launch the Struggle against Soviet Revisionism
As the 1950s progressed, and especially with Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power, the Soviet Union withdrew its support for revolutionary struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America. During the Algerian people’s war of national liberation, the leaders of the CPSU withheld all forms of aid in the name of “non-interference in the internal affairs of other states”—that is, French colonialism. The French Communist Party even took the position that Algeria was part of France. For actions such as this, the Chinese described the CPSU and parties that took similar positions as “apologists of neo-colonialism.”19 In contrast, China gave full support to the war of resistance of the Algerian people, and refused to establish diplomatic relations with France until well after the end of the war.
For the CPSU, national liberation struggles became bargaining chips and were expendable
in order to negotiate arms control and détente with the U.S. According to CPSU General Secretary Khrushchev, “even a tiny spark could lead to a world conflagration.” “Local wars in our time are very dangerous… We will work hard to put out the sparks that may set off the flames of war.”20
At this time, the Soviet Union under Khrushchev promoted the "three peacefuls": Peaceful coexistence with U.S. imperialism, peaceful competition between the capitalist and socialist camps, and a peaceful transition to socialism. According to Khrushchev, peaceful coexistence with the imperialist countries was the general line for the foreign policy of CPSU and other communist parties.
In 1963, the Chinese party publicly issued A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, followed by nine other documents.21 These polemics were written by Mao Zedong or under his direction. This electrified the ranks of revolutionaries and genuine communists all over the world. In these documents, the CCP attacked Khrushchev’s distortion of the principle of peaceful coexistence between countries with different social systems to justify the Soviet Union’s collusion with U.S. imperialism and its withdrawal of support from revolutionary struggles worldwide. These polemics also identified Khrushchev and the other top leaders of the CPSU as revisionists--bourgeois forces in the party who had betrayed revolution.22
Beginning with the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, Khrushchev put forward
“the transition to socialism by the parliamentary road,” claiming that for the working class to
win a majority in parliament is tantamount to “setting up a new proletarian state in parliamentary form.” In response, the CCP argued that only revolutionary violence can overthrow the bourgeoisie, smash the old state apparatus and achieve socialism:
The proletariat would, of course, prefer to gain power by peaceful means. But abundant historical evidence indicates that the reactionary classes never give up power voluntarily and that they are always the first to use violence to repress the revolutionary mass movement and to provoke civil war, thus placing armed struggle on the agenda.23
As part of promoting a peaceful transition to socialism as a “new development” of Marxism-Leninism, Khrushchev claimed that the development of nuclear weapons and their possession by the U.S. and other imperialist countries made the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism too dangerous, and therefore impossible. While it noted that the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is immense, the CCP argued that these weapons do not change the nature of capitalism, which never exits peacefully from the stage of history. The Chinese stated bluntly that imperialism is a paper tiger, ferocious in appearance but weak internally.
These polemics with the CPSU addressed other issues as well, such as the abrupt withdrawal of thousands of Soviet experts from China in 1960. The Chinese party understood this as a high-handed attempt to disrupt China's economic and military development, and to make China toe the Soviet line.24 It was also in these years that the Soviet Union started to consolidate imperialist relations within the socialist camp. Now the Soviet Union would serve as the "center of the socialist camp" while Eastern Europe and other countries would serve as the periphery, with "limited sovereignty."
According to many U.S. leftists at the time, the “Sino-Soviet split” was a disaster for the entire global alignment against Western imperialism, and it divided the “socialist camp.”25 In actuality, it was the Soviet Union and its vassal states in Eastern Europe that launched a process in the 1950s and 1960s of full-scale capitalist restoration and abandonment of revolutionary internationalism. It was the Soviet Union's betrayal of revolution that broke apart the socialist camp, not China's criticism of that betrayal.