The Significance of the Sino-Soviet Summit

By Sam Marcy (May 25, 1989)

May 17--The summit conference in Beijing between the leaders of the USSR and China is a most welcome development and should get the support of the working class, the progressive movement and all the oppressed countries everywhere.

In his televised speech today at the Great Hall of the People, Soviet President and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev regretted the mistakes of the past, including "raising ideological disputes and divergences to a level of state confrontation," that had led to a rupture in relations between these two great socialist countries. The resumption of normal diplomatic relations, trade, commerce, and scientific and cultural exchanges between the two will not only benefit the peoples of both countries but promises to have far-reaching consequences in international relations.

No matter how much the imperialists are trying to conceal their disappointment, rapprochement among the socialist countries is a direct rebuff to the main element in imperialist foreign policy, which has been to exacerbate and envenom the differences in the socialist camp to the point of open conflict, if possible.

A new friendly relationship between the two socialist states will certainly have a profound effect in all of Asia. Hopefully, notwithstanding the bourgeois character of the economic reforms, it will stimulate a new chapter in the anti-imperialist struggle against the U.S., Japan, and the other imperialist countries.

The bourgeois press continually harps on the 30-year enmity between the two countries and the damage this has caused in both. It led the two powers into almost a full-scale border war in 1969 and another in 1979, during the Vietnam-Kampuchea crisis. The world historic significance of the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations is an area that will bear further searching analysis in years to come in both the USSR and China.

What was the substance of the dispute?

However, at this particular moment, when world attention is so focused on the dispute and the resumption of relations, it would be wholly wrong and injurious to the interests of the worldwide working class and oppressed people to mention only the subjective factors, i.e., the political views of the respective leaders, and overlook the objective causes of the dispute. What was the underlying and fundamental basis for the various disputes? The issue was, what attitude should the socialist countries take toward aggressive, bellicose and expansionist imperialism, which is still on the doorstep of China in south Korea and actually on Chinese territory in Taiwan?

Certainly, the U.S. occupation of south Korea made relations between China and the USSR difficult. The constant threats by the U.S. over Quemoy and Matsu islands, the containment policy toward China, the blocking of its UN membership for over two decades--these are but a few of the grave problems that agitated the debate over what to do about imperialist aggression and capitalist penetration worldwide.

The origin of the struggle in a formal sense began in the middle 1950s, when the Khrushchev regime attempted to impose the policy of so-called peaceful coexistence with imperialism as a dogmatic precept in the conduct of its international relations. There was the question of whether capitalism could reform itself and become democratized when it was exporting counterrevolution all over the Third World, especially in Asia, as it still does.

Certainly, the subjective factor in the worsening of the dispute should not in any way be underestimated. But one must recognize where the problem came from, on what basis it developed. To keep silent about this is to let the imperialists off the hook and give them a free ride to promote their own interpretation of their 40 years of counterrevolutionary activity against the Chinese revolution and their long support of the Chiang Kissed regime.

On the other hand, even as they played the "China card" against the USSR, the U.S. was constantly raising the nuclear threat with more powerful weapons systems. Overflights by U.S. spy planes like the U-2 were a constant reminder of the Pentagon's hostile intent. Every effort was made to encircle the USSR with U.S. bases and reactionary regimes. The CIA promoted counterrevolution in Iran, Afghanistan, as well as in Eastern Europe. It was behind bloody military takeovers in Chile and Indonesia, an invasion of Cuba, and numerous interventions in Latin America. It moved into Europe's former colonies in the Middle East and Africa, and replaced Japan in the Pacific.

Relation between summit meeting and economic reforms

There is a dialectical relationship between the need of both the Soviet and Chinese parties to restore fraternal relations and the bourgeois reform movements in both countries.

Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. This is true in war and peace. The so-called reform movements in the USSR and China, which have taken on a more volatile character at the moment, are bourgeois in their social and political content.

Of course, as in every movement, there are elements who misunderstand their own interests and the interests of the workers' state. However, the tone, the main drive of both movements, is not merely conservative but is bourgeois in character. This is notwithstanding that socialist democracy in and of itself is a wholly progressive idea, and never should have been abandoned in the USSR or in China.

The important thing to note about the summit conference, from the point of view of the motivation of the respective leaderships, is that each needed a summit conference to consummate the restoration of normal relations. This is because of their mutual need to reinforce each other's prestige in order to gain support for their pursuit of the capitalist market and bourgeois reforms in general. Gorbachev needs the support of Deng Xiaoping and the rest of the Chinese leadership, and Deng needs Gorbachev, in order to reinforce a strategic retreat from Leninist politics into the morass of bourgeois reformism, under the mask of socialist restructuring or modernization.

If we are to believe the series of reports in the capitalist press coming out of China, Gorbachev has become a popular image there of democracy, while China's economic schemes have become popular in the USSR.

The irony of such a situation seems best described by Karl Marx in his foreword to The Poverty of Philosophy. Written in 1847, it was an attack on the German petty-bourgeois anarchist philosopher Proudhon. "M. Proudhon has the misfortune of being peculiarly misunderstood in Europe. In France he has the right to be a bad economist because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany he has the right to be a bad philosopher because he is reputed to be one of the ablest of French economists. Being both Germans and economists at the same time, we desire to protest against this double error."

Who's for the bourgeois reforms?

To listen to the capitalist press sing out its paeans of praise for the economic reforms in China, and the political reforms in the USSR, one would think they were welcomed with open arms everywhere. But this is a distortion. It is mainly the bourgeois elements, the new petty-bourgeois entrepreneurs, the profiteers in the private cooperatives and those engaged in trade and commerce who are supportive of the bourgeois reforms. Where is the working class? Marx showed that the proletariat is the only truly revolutionary class in modern times. Today it is the most numerous class in the USSR and the most dynamic in China, growing by the tens of millions. But it has not yet spoken. Isn't it strange that the bourgeois press has failed to take notice of this remarkable phenomenon?

Some workers, of course, may be ensnared into supporting the student movement in China. But this is a very temporary phenomenon based mostly on lack of understanding what this variegated movement is about. There are progressive elements in it, some genuinely revolutionary, but its program is set by the sons and daughters of the nouveau riche and the capitalist roaders in the Chinese CP leadership.

At this stage, the imperialist bourgeoisie appear to be happy with the Beijing summit conference. In reality, they are deeply hostile to it, but are forced to put up a show of approval. One has to remember by contrast what their attitude was during the really difficult days of the 1969 fighting on the Siberian border, for instance. The New York Times dispatched one of its editors, Harrison Salisbury, to cover the war front, as they already called it, and they did everything to envenom the relationship and cheer on both sides in the struggle.

The bourgeoisie promoted the concept that the split was irreparable, given the nature of the communist systems in both China and the USSR. One should read Harrison Salisbury's book War Between Russia and China in which he promoted the thesis that war was virtually inevitable and the split in the socialist camp was irreparable.

This was also the U.S. view during the struggle involving Vietnam and Kampuchea. Deng Xiaoping went to extremes when he came to Washington to elicit military support against the USSR from the Carter administration. But the answer of Carter was that China should first get deeply involved itself before he would make any commitment.

This was a Carterite version of what Truman said before the U.S. went into Second World War. "Let them both bleed to death," he said, referring to Germany and the USSR.

While there is of course much more to the summit conference, at this stage there have been no written communiques or printed speeches. It will require more time and experience to analyze it carefully.

As for the bourgeois economic reforms in both countries, they are bound to be short-lived, no matter how much the leaders try to prolong them, or as Gorbachev said, make them irreversible. The basic reason is really elementary. It is capitalism with which they are experimenting. The growth of inflation and corruption evident in both countries is bound to find a response in the broad masses of the workers. At this point, the bourgeois elements are trying to capitalize on the discontent of the masses and capture some of the workers' support, as in the recent Soviet elections and the student movement in China.

But all this is part of a process of development. We must await the next phase when the workers themselves will become the principal actors--as has already been seen in some areas of China, where Mao buttons are reappearing and profiteers are experiencing workers' justice.

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