Notes on the Sino-Soviet Split
Kosmos Rocket
Soviet Kosmos Rocket

Russian communists and Chinese communists not speaking to each other in 1963?  For many trained observers of the communist world and for most people in the non-communist world, the fact that Russians and Chinese actually detested each other and were not part of a monolithic communist world came as a complete surprise--despite ample previous indications.  So what has a picture of an early Soviet Kosmos rocket, used in the Russian space program, have to do with this "split?"  Well, first, I did not have a good picture of a Soviet inter-continental ballistic missile from circa 1960 so I used this Kosmos rocket photo to make this next point.  The fact that the Russians were unwilling to provide the Chinese with nuclear weaponry had long been a sore spot in relations between the two communist powers.  The Chinese had asked for such weaponry from Stalin, and he had refused.  Khrushchev continued to refuse, as he did not trust the Chinese with nuclear warheads.


So what were some of the issues that lead to the Sino-Soviet Split?  From the very beginnings, relations between the two communist parties had not always been smooth.

As early as the 1920s, Russian communist advisors had been sent to China to help the fledgling Chinese Communist Party get organized and carry out the communist revolution, but Russian "advice" almost lead to the complete annihilation of the Chinese communists at the hands of the Chinese Nationalist Party.

Another issue dividing the two parties was the fact that Mao based his communism on the idea of the mobilization of the Chinese peasantry, which was not what traditional Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideology advocated, i.e., the struggle of the working class.

In the 1930s, when Mao was leading Chinese communists in a civil war against the Chinese nationalists lead by Chiang Kai-Shek while at the same time trying to battle the Japanese army, Mao essentially ignored instructions from Stalin about the need to cooperate with the nationalists in building a "united front" against fascist aggression (Japanese).

During the Second World War, Stalin, as he had done in the 1930s, urged Mao to form a coalition with Chiang to fight the Japanese. Although that alliance was eventually achieved, it was always an uneasy one as Mao did not trust the nationalists.  Even after the war Stalin initially advised Mao not to attempt to seize power but to continue to remain in an alliance with Chiang.

With the end of the war, Stalin signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with Chiang, as the representative of China. Mao ignored Stalin's advice and renewed his civil war with the nationalists, until finally succeeding and proclaiming the People's Republic of China in October 1949.  That victory by the Chinese communists occurred largely without Soviet aid, despite public perceptions to the contrary.

After winning, Mao visited Stalin in Moscow--a two-month visit!  What Mao got was a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, a Soviet loan and a military alliance against the Japanese.  Mao might have expected a lot more, especially after spending so much time in Moscow, but Stalin really did not have a lot that he could offer at that time.

During the 1950s, China accepted Soviet economic advice and tried to develop heavy industry, as the Soviet Union had done in the 1930s, but with only minimal success.  So Mao came up with his own ideas of economic development based on using China's massive labor force.  The Great Leap Forward--instead of a Russian-advocated five-year-plan--turned out to be a colossal disaster for the Chinese.

With Stalin's death in 1953, Mao felt that he should be accorded treatment as the pre-eminent, senior communist leader in the world.  Mao had respected Stalin's ruthlessness and power, though it is unclear how much he loved Stalin.  Mao only grudgingly acknowledged Khrushchev as the leader of the world communist movement, but then Khrushchev embarked on a course of activities and ideological statements that infuriated Mao.

  • Khrushchev denounced Stalin in the Secret Speech in 1956, laying clear the dangers of dictatorship--although couched in the terminology of the "cult of personality.  Remember Mao was constructing his own little cult at the time.
  • Then Khrushchev restored relations with Tito in 1957--Stalin had cut Tito off in 1947--and proclaimed that there could be "different paths to socialism" other than the Soviet model.  Khrushchev also ended the Cominform which had been set up by Stalin in 1947 to ensure control of the world communist movement (and isolate Tito).
  • Even worse from Mao's point-of-view was Khrushchev's proclamation of the idea of "peaceful coexistence," that the tenet of inevitable armed conflict between the capitalist and communist "camps," a basic tenet of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism-Maoism, was not inevitable.  Khrushchev felt that nuclear weapons had changed the equation, and that because of those weapons, communism and capitalism would avoid armed conflict.  Mao felt that Khrushchev was retreating from an active, violent struggle for the triumph of communism.
  • By 1959, the stage was set for a rupture between the two communist powers, but it still took a while.

With the Great Leap Forward rapidly going backward, and with slightly improved relations with the United States, symbolized by Khrushchev's meeting with President Eisenhower in 1959, the Soviet Union again postponed the promise to help the Chinese develop nuclear weapons.  Khrushchev also did not offer enough support--from the Chinese point-of-view--to China in a border dispute with India.

In June 1960, at the congress of the Romanian Communist Party, Khrushchev and China's leaders exchanged unpleasantries. Then, at the meeting of the 81 communist parties in Moscow in 1961, Chinese and Soviet representatives clashed, but a compromise resolution was agreed to that temporarily patched over disagreements.  Further problems arose at the twenty-second CPSU party congress in October 1961 (when further measures of de-Stalinization, including the removal of Stalin from the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum, were enacted). In December of that year, the Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations with Albania, which had been one of the main supporters of the Chinese.

The final blow to Chinese-Russian relations occurred in 1962.  Mao openly criticized Khrushchev for backing down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Khrushchev responded that Mao's policies would lead to nuclear war. The Soviets also openly supported India in its conflict with China. Both sides followed with publications of their ideological positions, and by June 1963 communications had completely ceased between the two parties.

Some interesting points about the Sino-Soviet Split:

  • It played out for kremlinologists through the activities of the Albanian and Romanian communist parties--strange bedfellows, not exactly physically-close to China.
  • Border disputes remained a contentious issue, and border clashes did occur along the Soviet-Sino border several times during the 1960s.

With respect to the Moscow Conference
By the time of the conference, which is generally believed to have lasted from 10 November to 30 November, Russian and Chinese communists were barely speaking to each other, but at the conference there were lengthy exchanges in an attempt to reach some sort of compromise to show that a facade of unity still existed in the communist world.  The manifesto adopted at the conference did represent something of a truce between the Soviet idea of peaceful coexistence and Chinese demands for more aggressive, revolutionary policies.

In the final declaration of the 1960 Moscow conference, the only reference to “national liberation wars” suggested that it was a term reserved for armed struggles by colonial peoples fighting for independence. And although the statement allowed the “possibility” that a violent transition to socialism might be necessary, it reiterated that a peaceful transition was possible in many countries. Most important from the Soviet perspective, however, the text bound all the Communist parties to pay “due regard to the international situation” in deciding on their revolutionary strategies. This codicil was scarcely disguised code wording for the Soviet insistence that Communist parties—and especially parties in divided states—should not violate the Soviet international line of maintaining peace.

There were a lot of books and scholarly articles written about the Sino-Soviet split, but there is not much on the web:


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