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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 45

Politics of Paper Tiger

Monday 27 October 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty

When New Delhi‘s diplomatic enclave at Chanakyapuri was planned, the sprawling Chinese Embassy compound came next door to that of the US Embassy. But over the years, many wondered if they would ever talk across the walls. In fact, the Chinese preferred to put up their Chancery entrance furthest from the American.

Today, as one drives down the same Shanti Path, it is not difficult to visualise the neighbours shaking hands and playing many more games other than ping pong. Once again, the old saying of the cynic has proved true: there are no permanent enemies nor permanent friends, there are only permanent national interests.

Thirtytwo years ago when Stalin signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler on the eve of the outbreak of World War II, there was shock and bewilderment in the entire progressive world; and many in their pure revolutionary fervour remained unreconciled to its wisdom. But the short-lived entente of less than two years could be justified as providing a breathing space for the solitary socialist state, outwitting the Anglo-American camp egging on Hitler against Russia.

The world is a very different place today, and in place of a single socialist state, there has come up a number of socialist States, powerful enough—if they stand together—to overpower the old capitalist order. For, along with the socialist states has been born in the last twentyfive years, a whole host of their allies, the newly independent states throwing away the bonds of colonialism and largely distrustful of the imperialist powers.

It is against this background that Peking‘s emerging entente with Washington has come as an enigma, while it provides an eloquent confirmation of the reality, however distressing, that the establishment of a socialist order does not ipso facto eliminate many of the inter-state contradictions—some of them formidable—that are generally associated with capitalist nation-states.

In an age when man has mastered science to the extent that he can destroy this very civilisation with his own hands, any detente in the prevailing tension between nations is generally welcome. Particularly in the case of the Chinese People‘s Republic, the twentytwo year old excommunication by the US Government has throughout been condemned by all powers, big and small, which have not been under the thumb of Uncle Sam; inevitably, India has consistently been in the forefront among those who have demanded the breaking down of this totally unreasonable barrier put up by US imperialism. India was the first non-communist country to receive Chou En-lai as a state guest, and it was Nehru who at Bandung more than fifteen years ago, took the initiative in introducing Chou En-lai on the Afro-Asian stage, thereby trying to undo the mischief of the US embargo on China in the UN.

Today, it is the President of the USA, after a series of shattering defeats at arms on the Asian soil, who has had to seek an invitation to visit Peking. The ignominy of disgrace of US imperialism is complete. The millions of patriots who have given their lives on the red soil of Vietnam so that Nixon‘s hordes must not pass, have forced him to come to Peking. The impudence with which Dean Rusk, as the representative of the American Government, spoke against China twenty years ago (May 18, 1951) is worth recalling: “We do not recognise the authorities in Peiping for what they pretend to be. The Peiping regime may be a colonial Russian Government—a Slavic Manchukuo on a larger scale. It is not the Government of China. It does not pass the first test. It is not Chinese.” His colossal conceit was evenly matched by his equally colossal ignorance. The tide of fortune has changed to such an extent that a US President, desperately seeking to rehabilitate his position at home and abroad, has to undertake the journey to Peking, swallowing the two-decade old arrogance of power. It is indeed a journey to Canossa for the head of the mightiest imperial power in the twentieth century. It is, in a sense, the measure of the new epoch of mass awakening in which the most formidable imperial power has to bend.

And yet this humiliating capitulation by US imperialism has not evoked that unalloyed mass enthusiasm all over the world that it should have normally. The reason for this is to be found in the record of the Chinese Government in recent years. Despite its generous effusion of invectives against most of the other communist countries from Soviet Union downwards as having betrayed the revolutionary struggle and gone revisionist, the Chinese leadership by its own conduct had disillusioned in large body of friendly and progressive opinion all over the world in the last decade. When the angry confrontation with India came towards the end of the fifties culminating in the armed attack on our frontiers in 1962, Peking‘s charge was that India had become a stooge of US imperialism and therefore forfeited the respect and friendship of revolutionary China. In the same manner, many other countries had to face the brunt of Chinese broadsides, sometimes in the form of propaganda invectives and sometimes, as in the case of the Soviet Union, with armed clashes.

This strange metamorphosis in the Chinese attitude was in sharp contrast to their friendly approach to Afro-Asian countries in the early years of the establishment of the People‘s Republic, when, it is to be conceded, they promised to wield greater influence in this part of the world than any other communist country.

Side by side the cynic phase of realpolitik of the Chinese Government could be seen its uninhibitedly friendly gestures to many of the former colonial powers. China‘s trade with South Africa was never repudiated. While India and the Soviet frontiers were disputed as being the legacies of the imperialist past, Hong Kong and Macao have never been touched even though they continued as the functioning outposts of two of the oldest imperialist powers.

Throughout the Vietnam war, China has behaved as if it falls under the sphere of its own Monroe doctrine. But in reality, there seems to be an unwritten understanding that US bombing would not touch any part of China, in return for China not sending its armed volunteers to the battlefields in Vietnam. Such an understanding is not something which is unprecedented in history; but when it is accompanied by frenzied propaganda of revolutionary purity on the part of Peking, then it cannot but bring a streak of cynicism even among its most unwavering supporters.

It is interesting to note that inside China a whole Cultural Revolution was let loose in order to get rid of “revisionists like Liu Shao-chi and Peng Chen”, while after that very Cultural Revolution, Mao and his apostles have not hesitated to open the door for Nixon.

No doubt all this will have its repercussions among millions of faithful followers of Mao‘s line all over the world who would see through the Peking propaganda about the revisionism of other communist countries and its own claim to revolutionary superiority.

It has never been unusual in history that countries belonging to the same social system should behave differently or evoke different types of response. From a hindsight view one can only say that in the case of the socialist world it was expected for a long time that the contradictions manifest in the early types of society would be eliminated. It was on this principle that both the adherents of socialism and its enemies have long based their expectations and strategies. From this angle, the remarks of Dean Rusk, twenty years ago, quoted above, are not to be taken as extraordinary.

However, the more perceptible among world statesmen have long felt that it would be relevant and possible that even in the socialist world there would be different approaches and nuances in terms of national peculiarities, though the basic social structure might be the same. It was on this hypothesis that Nehru, for instance, from the beginning had an impression that the approach of the Soviet Union and that of China to many of the world problems might turn out to be different; and of the two, he expected Peking to demonstrate closer affinity to Asian issues. However, when it was China which started its offensive against Nehru, even then he fought against the idea that the distorted view from Peking should be regarded as a communist canker; rather he stressed throughout this period of greatest strain of the early sixties that India‘s quarrel was not against communism but against specific Chinese bellicosity against our country. There is therefore nothing incorrect or unwarranted to differentiate between China and the Soviet Union even on the part of the political leadership which might try to be friendly to both.

Political strategists in the imperialist world, having to encounter the growing anti-imperialist upsurge, have always followed the principle of divide-and-rule. This they have done in the case of political forces ranged against them in a particular country and also on an international scale. It is interesting to note that one of the astute specialists in colonial matters of the British Government, Sir Robert Scott, with nearly thirty years‘ service in China and South-East Asia, pleaded in an article in the American quarterly, Foreign Affairs (January 1970) for “greatest freedom of manoeuvre in foreign policy” on the part of the USA so that China could be won over against the Soviet Union. He is quite ingenious when he puts across the thesis that between America and China “there is no permanent conflict of national interests such as exists between China and Russia”. The veteran American journalist, Edgar Snow, has always tried to project the difference between Chinese communism and Soviet communism, with the plea that America can do business with Mao. Even in his celebrated work, Red Star over China, Snow tried to invest Mao‘s communism with respectability, calling it agrarian reformism, in contrast to the stern Bolshevism of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Snow has been tireless in his campaign for an understanding between China and the United States to the point that he has now come out in praise of Nixon with the definite confidence that Nixon will get the blessings of Mao.

Many other American publicists have written in recent times, particularly in the last two years, in favour of an immediate detente with China. Harisson Salisbury, the well-known journalist in his book The Coming War between Russia and China, candidly says “we occupy a position of leverage” in the dispute between China and Soviet Union. He goes on to add: “If the United States is to take a serious role in the Sino-Soviet dispute it must establish a viable relationship with China. Even if, in the end, national interest dictated that we were better served taking the Soviet rather than the Chinese side we would radically improve our bargaining position if a genuine possibility existed of a detente with China.”

Salisbury, with a meticulous care for details, builds up a whole case for Sino-US understanding and even puts across formulae how it could be done. He prescribes solution for the thorny question of Taiwan: ”A simple American declaration made in the light of certain understandings, that the fate of Formosa is a Chinese question, one which must be resolved by the Chinese themselves.” In this way he practically throws into limbo the most loyal of American stooges in history—Chiang Kai-shek.

It is therefore clear that from the American point of view the policy of smiling approach is expected to be a sound investment. By this, Washington hopes to extricate itself from the disgrace of the
Vietnam war much more tactfully than the French could do after their debacle at Dien Bien Phu. Secondly, it wants to keep up the split in the socialist world so that its adversaries may never unite. Thirdly, by establishing a great-power level entente with China, the US Government would like to maintain its political foothold in many of the countries in Asia along the entire arc from Japan to Saudi Arabia. It is significant that the emphasis in Hanoi‘s criticism of the Nixon doctrine is on a warning about a big power deal against the small nations.

History, however, does not always move according to the dictates of imperial powers. People have a knack of upsetting the calculations of such powers. If masses are to be regarded as the motive force in history, then there is very little to get panicky about this new development on the international scene. Mr Nixon‘s plans may not necessarily mature according to Dr Kissinger‘s egg-head calculations, Mao‘s expectations may not come off according to his Thoughts. The Truman Doctrine of a bipolar Cold War, taken to its logical extreme under Dulles, did not provide any respite for the colonial powers in the long run. Similarly, the emerging reality of a triangular world-power grouping does not necessarily mean a better prospect for the Western powers.

Rather, it may turn to be the opposite. A Stanford don specialising in communism, Richard Lownthal, has made a significant observation in a recent article: “In a triangular constellation, different combinations of cooperation and conflict are possible at different periods, with two of the major powers combining on different issues against the third. Yet it is in the nature of such a constellation that the combination that will become effective at any particular time, is not predetermined, and therefore not predictable.”

Viewed against this background, it does not follow that the new Peking-Washington detente will be, by its very nature, a permanent fixture. There would be hard bargainings, pulls and pressures. Those who are worried about the dangers of a powerful Sino-American axis threatening the Soviet Union and its friends and allies may be right insofar as the wishful thinking of the Pentagon hawks is concerned; but recent history has repeatedly falsified the Pentagon calculations. In bargaining with Peking, Nixon may have to give in at many points to Moscow, while Chou dealing with the White House, may perforce have to smile occasionally at the Kremlin. Nor is it to be expected that the Soviet Union will stand idly by. Moscow has dealt with many and varied species, from Hitler to Churchill; its record as a world power is not inconsequential.

Above all, the awakened millions in different parts of the world have come to assert their strength and claim a place in the sun. More often than not, they upset calculations based on power-politics. From Mekong to Mississippi, the struggle gains in strength every day.

Our country will have to examine its own foreign policy in this light. The demand in Parliament for a review of foreign policy in the background of the new world developments is justified. What is, however, pertinent to point out is that if non-alignment has saved us in a bipolar world, it is bound to pay rich dividends in a triangular world pattern.

This is the moment when in reviewing our foreign policy, we must unmask those who wanted us to jump on ot the US band-wagon, saying that would be the only way we could save ourselves from Mao‘s attacks. It was only the other day that Sri Masani thundered in the Lok Sabha that our freedom was being defended by the American GIs on the banks of Mekong. Overnight peddlars of defence strategy wanted us to join with Pakistan for getting under a common defence umbrella to be provided by the USA. Even today, the Jana Sangh leader, Sri Vajpayee, rising to new heights of subservience, makes the astounding plea for requesting Nixon to take up India‘s case at Peking.

This is the time when India has to carry forward its independent foreign policy. We should have no hesitation in opening dialogue with Peking—but not as a camp-follower of Nixon, nor on his recommendations. Before doing that, India should strengthen her position of independence in international affairs by raising our mission to the ambassadorial level in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and sending a competent hand for the post. New Delhi should have no hesitation in inviting the Vietnam leaders to India and not be browbeaten by those who raised a howl over Madame Binh‘s gracious visit to our country. We have to strengthen our bonds of friendship all the way from Moscow to Hanoi, if we do not want to be cowed down by the new paper tiger that Mao and Nixon may be selling jointly in the next few months.

At home, it is the duty of the Left parties to approach on the ideological plane the Naxalite youth, who genuinely put their faith in the revolutionary postures of Peking. We have to patiently work among them and win them over for purposeful mass activity and re-educate them as well as ourselves that in the changed power configuration, it is through such mass activity that one hews out the path for true revolutionary advance.

(Mainstream, July 24, 1971)

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