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The question of equality
Ideological differences
Stalin, mao and khrushchev

To What Extent Did Ideological Differences Instigate The Deterioration Of Sino-Soviet Relations Thereby Leading To The Sino-Soviet Split Of 1963

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The aim of this essay is to examine to what extent ideological differences instigated the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations leading to a split in 1963. Different aspects of Sino-soviet relations will be looked at thematically in this essay. The first part looks at how issues of equality affected the relationship. It begins by detailing the terms of the Sino-Soviet treaty of friendship, alliance and mutual assistance, Sino-Soviet military alliance in the Korean War, and its repercussions. The second part of the essay assesses ideological differences between China and the Soviet Union centered on de-Stalinization, economic development and peaceful coexistence. After detailing the ideological differences between the two countries the consequences for Sino-Soviet relations are established. The third part takes a look at the personal relationships between Stalin, Mao and Khrushchev and how it contributed to the Sino-Soviet Split. It begins by detailing Stalin’s support for the CCP during the Chinese civil war, the treatment Mao received during his visit to Moscow in December 1949 and then the personal relationship between Khrushchev and Mao after Stalin’s death.


The conclusion reached in this essay is that ideological differences played a significant role and carried with it serious consequences for the relation between China and the Soviet Union. Chinese sentiments of equality acted as a catalyst in the deteriorations of relations. The poor personal relationship between Stalin, Mao and Khrushchev was partially responsible by not facilitating a scenario in which differences could be resolved and repaired through direct personal contact between the leaders of the two countries.


The gradual deterioration in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West, after the Second World War, is easier to understand given the struggle for supremacy and the fear and misunderstanding of each other. The Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong came to power four years after the end of the Second World War. Unlike with the West, the USSR and China could be said to have had a better ground for mutual cooperation and understanding since both states had declared themselves communists and were members of the Socialist bloc. Instead they ended up as adversaries going as far as engaging in a border clash in 1969. So what were the reasons for this development?


With this essay I will investigate to what extent ideological differences instigated the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations thereby leading to the Sino-Soviet split of 1963. To do so different events will be thematically looked at and examined to determine their contribution to the split.

The question of equality

Having successfully defeated the GMD in the Chinese Civil War a few months earlier, on 30 June 1949 Mao Zedong announced in a long article titled ‘‘on People’s Democratic Dictatorship’’ his policy of leaning to one side by stating that ‘‘China must unite in a common struggle with those nations of the world that treat us as equal […] that is ally ourselves with the Soviet Union, with the people’s democratic countries and with the proletariat ’’. In line with this new policy he traveled to Moscow on 19 December 1949 with the intention of negotiating a new alliance appropriate to the relationship between fraternal communist powers.


The new Sino-Soviet treaty of friendship, alliance and mutual assistance was signed on 14 February 1950. Chinese desire of being treated as equals were nevertheless left unmet. In fact the new treaty contained secret agreements that did the opposite of what the Chinese expected. One such example was a secret protocol in in the new treaty that barred China from allowing the citizens of third countries to settle or to carry out any industrial, financial, trade or other related activities in Manchuria and Xinjiang. This created a buffer zone for Soviet security and ensured that the Soviet presence there wound not face any competition. Additionally in exploring for and exploiting strategic minerals in Xinjiang, China was obligated to sell a specific quota of these minerals to the Soviet Union and their sale to third countries without Moscow’s permission was forbidden.


Three decades of brutal civil war had taken its toll on the Chinese economy and it was in need of dire assistance. So in the new treaty Moscow agreed to assist in China’s civil aviation, oil, ship and nefarious metal manufacturing industry. But it insisted on establishing joint ventures. This meant that the Soviet Union wanted at least 50 percent of the ownership, share at least 50 percent of the profits and take charge of the general management. Moscow also agreed to send its advisers and experts to China under certain prerequisites. One such prerequisite was that apart from providing the best salaries and housing for the Soviet advisers, China was also required to pay their spouses even if they stayed behind in the Soviet Union. If and when they did decide to visit China, China was responsible for their travel and stay costs. The most condescending of these prerequisites was the one that stipulated that if a Soviet expert or adviser committed any crimes in China they could not be tried before a Chinese court but would be dealt with by the Soviets under their own laws. Such conditions could not have but reminded the Chinese of previous unequal treaties with the west where Western laws were applied and Chinese laws rejected in the concession areas. If these prerequisites were not met, the Soviets refused to send any advisers at all to China. The Chinese delegation led by Mao had no choice but to swallow their resentment and accept them.


When it came to trade between the two countries the new treaty stipulated that low priced Chinese commodities would be bartered for high priced Soviet machinery. This was disadvantageous to the Chinese as large amount of Chinese agricultural products and raw materials could be bartered for only a small number of Soviet machines and other industrial goods. Moreover all the prices were fixed at the time when the contracts were signed and thus would not fluctuate according to the world markets.


Another area that showed the prevailing inequality between China and the Soviet Union was their military alliance in the Korean War. During his visit to Moscow Mao got a personal request from Stalin to transfer 14,000 Korean Chinese soldiers to communist forces in the North led by Kim Il-Sung.  Once the communist North failed in their invasion of South Korea and faced defeat at the hands of United Nations and American forces, it was again Mao’s China that was asked to come to the rescue. The agreement was that China would send troops to Korea in return for substantial military aid and a promise of Soviet air support for the Chinese army. But as the Chinese forces started to cross into North Korea on 25 October 1950 Stalin reneged on his promise to supply air cover for the Chinese troops. Without Soviet air cover the Chinese forces suffered heavy losses from American air strikes. Eventually Soviet fighter jets were allowed by Stalin to enter the battle but they were ordered not to do offensive missions and stay far from the front lines. By the end of the war China bear the brunt of the effort with 900,000 dead or wounded.  It is also worth noting that the military equipment that china received from the Soviet Union was not free. It was purchased on credit and had to be repaid.


After Stalin’s death in 1953 the Soviet Union under Khrushchev sought to improve relations with China and rectify some of the mistakes in dealing with them. It agreed to give up Soviet shares in the joint ventures. The number of factories and development projects that were created with Soviet aid rose from 141 in 1953 to 211 in 1956, and finally about 250 in 1959. According to one estimate the Soviet assistance to China between 1954 and 1959 equaled 7 percent of the Soviet Union’s national income for that period. To rectify for Sino-Soviet trade imbalances Moscow also agreed to return the money it had presumably overcharged China and accepted a more equitable pricing and payment system.


Despite attempts to make up for previous mistakes Chinese resentment was only hidden and not forgotten. In 1956 Mao told Soviet premier Mikoyan that the secret deals on Manchuria and Xinjiang were ‘‘two bitter pills’’ that Stalin forced him to swallow. He complained further that only imperialist would think of imposing such deals and referred to Xinjiang and Manchuria as two colonies. 


A consequence of the lingering Chinese resentment was an attempt to assert some form of equality vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. On 21 July 1958, Pavel Iudin, the Soviet ambassador to China, proposed to establish a joint flotilla of nuclear powered submarines with China and also set up a long range radio towers on Chinese coasts. Mao refused and opened old wounds by noting that the relationship between China and the Soviet Union was as between father and son or between cat and mouse.  He stressed that he would never accept any Soviet proposition for a joint ownership. Even a hastily arranged visit by Khrushchev to Beijing on 31 July 1958 to resolve this issue was not able to bear fruit. During the discussion between the two leaders Mao stated that ‘‘the British, Japanese and other foreigners had been driven away and that we do not want anyone to use our land to achieve their own purposes anymore.’’ The Soviet side could not understand Chinese perspective given the USSR’s aid to china at the time and were left questioning the alliance.

Ideological differences

One area of ideological contention that emerged between China and the Soviet Union came about following the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist Party held between 14 and 25 February 1956. At a secret session of the 20th congress Khrushchev denounced Stain by criticizing his mistakes, the personality cult surrounding him and his abuse of power.  At a meeting with the Soviet ambassador to China in March 1956, Mao spoke a great deal about Stalin’s errors towards China, but very little about the cult of the personality which was the nub of Khrushchev’s attack. The complete denouncement of Stalin, which Khrushchev had done, did not sit well with the Chinese. Mao insisted that Stalin was three parts bad, and seven parts good and that first he must be protected, and second, at the same time, his mistakes criticized. Mao asserted further that ‘‘Stalinism is Marxism with shortcomings and the so called de-Stalinization thus is simply de-Marxification, it is revisionism.’’ When it came to Stalin’s abuse of power it was justified through Mao’s stress on ‘‘contradictions’’ in which abuse of power illustrated that contradictions arose even under socialism.


In the summer of 1937 in a lecture titled on contradictions Mao stated the unsuitability of Soviet variation of Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions, asserting that they were Russified Marxism and thus Marxism had to be signified to be significant to China. He was able to give practical form to this belief by using peasant instead of urban workers to achieve revolution in China which was in contrast to the Soviet Model. Then once the revolution was achieved and the construction towards Socialism began, Mao’s Great Leap forward aimed to make such progress uniquely Chinese. Between April and August of 1958 China under the new policy began to group Soviet style agricultural cooperatives into communes. It also abandoned the policy of relying on industrial complexes built with Soviet aid for the construction of hundreds of thousands of small and medium plants all over China.


The Soviet government made its opposition know by declaring the Great Leap forward of not following the historical stages of development towards socialism.  The concepts and applications used were labeled as unorthodox. Khrushchev himself noted that China’s methods of building socialism did not resemble their own and criticized the commune system as reactionary and inappropriate. These negative assessments were irritating to the Chinese. Mao in particular pointed out that ‘‘some people in Moscow remain suspicious of whether socialism can be successfully constructed in China […] to them it would be a bewildering thing if China could build a socialist country’’. Soviet opposition was rejected and China continued to implement the Great Leap Forward. Nevertheless the disagreements between the two allies about the correct path to socialism and de-Stalinization were not made public nor did it cause the Soviet Union to discontinue its aid to China.


Another point of ideological difference to emerge from the 20th congress of the Soviet communist party was more consequential. It was the doctrine of peaceful co-existence. This doctrine rejected Lenin’s theory that war was inevitable so long as capitalism existed. It also stated that in certain countries the transition to socialism might take place peacefully by parliamentary means. The Chinese response to peaceful co-existence was presented in a people’s daily editorial titled More on the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It declared that the road of the October revolution, and specifically the violent seizure of power by the proletariat from the bourgeoisie were universally applicable truth. Any attempt to evade this road was revisionist. In another article, titled Long Live Leninism, the Chinese side rejected peaceful coexistence by stating that the danger of war existed as long as capitalism existed.


Chinese opposition to peaceful co-existence did not manifest itself in newspaper editorials only. It was further expressed in the form of military engagements. On 23 August 1958, barley three weeks after Khrushchev’s visit to Beijing, China began shelling the islands of Jinmen instigating the Second Taiwan Strait crisis. Moscow was not informed about this decision in advance and it now risked being dragged into a conflict with the United States potentially damaging its doctrine of peaceful coexistence. Before the decision was taken to shell the islands Mao confided to an associate: ‘‘Khrushchev wants to improve relations with the United States? Good, we’ll congratulate him with our guns’’ showing that he was actively trying to derail such scenario. Chinese bellicose tendencies coupled with the desire to further peaceful coexistence through rapprochement with the United States and a nuclear free zone in the far-east caused a reversal of Soviet promise to aid Chinese nuclear ambitions. Hence in 1959 the Soviet Union informed Beijing that it would not provide China with an atomic bomb prototype after all. This was highly resented by the Chinese. It was ideologically seen as a revisionist attempt and happening not only at the expense of China but the socialist cause as a whole.


The ideological differences between China and the Soviet Union came to a boil at the third congress of the Romanian communist party held from 20 June to 25 June 1960. There Khrushchev defended his pursuit of peaceful coexistence and performed an anti-Chinese blitzkrieg. He even attacked Mao by name as detached from the realities of the world, oblivious of any interest but his own and as ultra-dogmatist.  A bitter reply from the Chinese delegate Peng mocked Khrushchev for having no foreign policy except to blow hot and cold towards the west. Overnight Khrushchev ordered the pullout of all Soviet advisors in China.  Moscow withdrew 1390 advisers, tore up 343 contracts, and scrapped 257 cooperative projects in science and technology.


Once the Soviet advisers left China any remaining band that held the two countries together was broken. The only thing left was polemics centered on ideological differences regarding other member states of the communist bloc. When in 1961 the USSR withdrew aid from Albania due to its Stalinist doctrines and the cult of personality in the leadership China offered to replace Soviet money and technical assistance to Albania.  It also praised Albanian leader Hoxha’s correct leadership. When the Soviet Union sought to rekindle relations with Yugoslavia, which Stalin had expelled from the communist bloc, it caused heavy criticism from the Chinese side. The visit by Soviet head of state Leonid Brezhnev to Yugoslavia in September 1962 was labeled as revisionist and ‘‘the Tito clique’’ in Yugoslavia were accused of betraying the cause of communism and meeting the need of imperialism.  To end ideological polemics and find a common ground secret bilateral peace talks were held in Moscow beginning on 5 July 1963. However any sort of agreement could not be reached. Each side issued negative statements before waiting politely for the other side to do the same and then engaged in a ‘‘verbal slugfest’’. The talks broke down on 20 July 1963 ending any hope of repairing relations.

Stalin, mao and khrushchev

Stalin and Mao had a strained relationship even before they met for the first time in Moscow. Stalin advocated for socialism in one country . As a result the CCP suffered from the direction and advice he offered. The first united alliance between the CCP and the GMD, formed at Stalin’s insistence, ended in 1927 with the GMDs’ attempt to exterminate the communists. Despite Mao’s objections a second alliance was again formed on December 1936 to counter Japanese aggression which was a threat to the USSR’s interests. When that alliance failed after 1941 and the civil war continued Stalin’s reservation about Mao and the CCP was on full display. On November 1945 Stalin suggested the CCP withdrew from all major cities and communications routes as a response to an offensive by the GMD.  Even when victory seemed inevitable in the spring of 1949 Stalin urged Mao not to send his forces across the Yangtze but to content himself with controlling the northern half of China. Mao once remarked that if he had always followed Stalin’s advice he would have been dead.


The pair’s strained relationship did not show signs of improvement during Mao’s visit to Moscow. Stalin was unwilling to repeal the old Sino-Soviet treaty of 1945 since it was advantageous to the Soviet-Union and was signed during China’s extreme weakness. It took Stalin two months to reverse his position. In the meantime Mao was half a prisoner, half a guest in Stalin’s personal dacha a few miles west of Moscow. Mao’s request to meet with other Soviet party officials and tour the country was denied. Frustrated and angry at the treatment he got, he complained that he had three task, the first was to eat, the second was to sleep and the third was to go to the bathroom. Even when a new treaty was being formulated, Stalin sought to extract as many concessions as possible. Yet Stalin for all his faults, he was still to Mao the communist pontiff. So Mao kept his bitterness to himself and held Stalin in reverence.


Once Khrushchev became the Soviet leader, a new opportunity arose to foster warmer personal relation between the two countries’ leaders. During Mao’s second and last visit to the Soviet Union in 1957, in sharp contrast to Stalin, Khrushchev showered Mao with attention and hospitality. He put him in an opulent palace that once belonged to Catherine the Great, provided him with endless supply of cigarettes, drinks, fruits and dropped in on him every morning to make sure he was well. But Mao showed dissatisfaction and disrespect in return. He slept on the floor instead of using Catherine’s huge soft bed, refused the dishes brought to him by the two Russian chefs assigned to him, and rejected Khrushchev’s special box in a theater during the showing of Swan Lake.  Mao attributed the improved reception he got not to Khrushchev but to his own and China’s rising stature in power. Moreover Khrushchev’s personality irritated Mao and he considered him to be immature and lacking in profound thinking. During the visit Mao personally told Khrushchev to work on the bad dispositions of his character.


When Khrushchev traveled to Beijing in July 1958 to discuss a proposed joint submarine fleet and radio station, he found himself the target of a new round of Maoist condescension and humiliation. His room was without air conditioning in the warm summer and during their meetings Mao smoked continuously knowing Khrushchev disliked smoking.  Furthermore Mao purposefully organized a round of talks in a swimming pool knowing Khrushchev could not swim or without giving any advance notice. Khrushchev had to be aided by a life ring on his arms while Mao on the other hand showed off his superior swimming skills by diving in and out of the pool and using different swimming strokes. Mao confided to his physician Dr. Li that it was a way for him to ‘‘stick a needle to his backside’’.


Any hope of improving the personal relationship between the two leaders disappeared altogether during Khrushchev’s final visit to China in September 1959. The visit was worse than that of 1958. His arrival was colder with no honor guard, no Chinese speeches and no microphone for the speech he wanted to give. The formal talks between the two sides were no better as the meeting turned into an angry shouting exchange.  The visit that was supposed to last seven days collapsed after three days.  Any opportunity of smoothing over policy differences, finding compromises with close personal engagement ceased to exist if it was ever present from the beginning at all. Going forward the personal dislike escalated into open name calling with Khrushchev referring to Mao as the ‘‘Asian Hitler’’ and a ‘‘living corpse’’ while Mao called Khrushchev ‘‘a redundant old boot’’.


There are different points of view regarding the cause of the Sino-Soviet split. In order to determine to what extent ideological differences instigated the Sino-Soviet spilt, it is important to analyze each factor and its contribution. When it came to the question of equality, the Chinese hoped to be treated as equals and preserve some form of Sovereignty which other European satellite states may not have had. Hence when Mao announced his alliance with the Soviet Union in 1949 he spoke of leaning, not becoming part of a monolithic block. Contrary to Chinese expectations the alliance with the Soviet Union involved giving up concessions that infringed upon their Sovereignty and doing the heavy lifting in the Korean War. Historian Zhang argues that the antagonism between the two countries derived largely from how the Chinese perceived and felt about the Soviet Union.  Zhang further states that with old grievances against Stalin, trade on an allegedly unequal basis, Soviet advisors' special privileges in China, dubious joint ventures among other things led the Chinese leaders to suspect that the Soviet leaders continued to look down on the Chinese. It laid the ground for Sino-Soviet rivalry.


When Khrushchev came to power he made attempts to rectify previous mistakes to no avail. Instead China sought to reassert itself from a junior partner to an equal which opened a rift. One such example was Chinese refusal to grant permit for a Soviet radio station on Chinese coast and the establishment of a joint submarine fleet. This was despite the fact that the Soviet Union was providing large amounts of aid for China’s economic development and the United States was supporting the GMD in Taiwan. Regaining some form of sovereignty and the ability to say no as an equal partner was more important.


Historian Luthi argues that ideological disagreements that revolved around economic development, de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence were the most important factor for the split. Ideologically both China and the Soviet Union followed Marxism-Leninism, but there were differences that arose from the interpretation of it. Luthi points out that de-Stalinization opened the door for ideological pluralism and that ideological unity disappeared with it. It is also important to stress Mao’s personal belief on the need for the Sinification of Marxism-Leninism as a driving force. Consequently China was able to challenge de-Stalinization itself, the correct path of development to socialism and peaceful coexistence. The Soviet Union tolerated China’s opposition to de-Stalinization and the Great Leap Forward. However Chinese opposition to peaceful coexistence, first expressed in newspaper articles and then in the second Taiwan crisis, were not welcomed. First the Soviet Union cancelled its promise to deliver a model Atomic bomb to China. Second and most importantly when Khrushchev was ideologically challenged by the Chinese side on his peaceful coexistence policy at the Romanian party congress he immediately order the pullout of all Soviet experts and Advisers from China. This made the spilt public and severed the band that held the two countries together. Once the advisers left and there was no economic or military connection between the two countries, a spilt was inevitable and attempts to bridge the ideological gap were not successful afterwards.


The lack of personal chemistry between the leaders of the two countries was apparent. Stalin and Mao had a contentious relationship from the beginning. With his own interests at heart Stalin’s support for the CCP against the GMD was lukewarm. In addition Mao felt mistreated during his visit to Moscow. Yet Mao held Stalin in reverence and kept his grudges to himself. The poor personal relationship between Mao and Khrushchev was more of Mao’s doing than anything else. Especially when one considers how Khrushchev treated Mao compared to Stalin. Khrushchev talked openly about how Mao had tried to humiliate him in a swimming pool years after the incident took place. Clearly it must have had an effect on him for the memory to linger for so long. Commenting on the pullout of Soviet advisers the Soviet ambassador to China Chervonenko noted that Khrushchev refused even to allow the Soviet advisers to complete their contracts by which time relations may have improved and tempers cooled down. 81 The emotions involved hindered sound and rational judgement. As Stalin was responsible for treating Mao badly so was Mao responsible for his treatment of Khrushchev. In the end the chance of preventing a split with direct personal engagement was not existent for China and the Soviet Union.


From the outset China and the Soviet Union seemed to have a lot in common. They had a common enemy in the United States and were communist states. Yet after a little over a decade they ended up as adversaries. There were various reasons that caused a deterioration in the relationship leading to a split. Ideological differences stemming from de-Stalinization, Great Leap Forward and peaceful coexistence played a significant role and carried with them serious consequences. Chinese assertions of equality, expressed in lingering resentment and refusal of joint military ventures acted as a catalyst. The poor personal relations between Mao and Stalin and then Khrushchev was partially responsible as it exacerbated differences and killed any hopes of improving relations and finding compromises through direct personal dialogue.


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