Four dynamic conditions provide the framework for the analysis of Sino-Soviet relations during the first decade of the newly constituted Chinese People’s Republic (CPR). First were the strategic situations facing both nations at the outset; second was the evolving domestic political situation in the CPR; third was the death of Stalin and the ensuing succession struggle in the Soviet Union; and fourth was the growing Sino-Soviet estrangement over the issue of China’s strategy of development.
Strategy of Conflict
The end of World War II saw the resolution of a major strategical issue which had plagued the Soviet Onion for the previous decade and more. That issue was the two-front war danger posed by Germany and Japan. Between 1945 and 1949, however, that danger had been resurrected in the general context of a Soviet-American “cold war,” in which both West Germany and Japan were allied with the United States. The primary Soviet objective on both European and Asian fronts was to establish clearly defined “camps”—a definite alignment of nations behind the cold war protagonists. The means chosen to achieve the desired ends were conflict situations which would fix international relationships in both parts of the world. In Europe, the Berlin blockade functioned as the catalyst solidifying the newly created Soviet political structure. In Asia, the Korean war served the identical function.1
The major strategical problem confronting Soviet leaders in Asia was how to exclude the United States from the mainland. The lines between the Soviet and American “spheres” had by no means been drawn, in particular with regard to the newly established Chinese People’s Republic. The threat to the Soviet Union lay precisely in the possibility that the United States might establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese regime, thereby gaining access to the Asian mainland. Given the then-existing state of military technology, an American position in China would imperil the Soviet heartland. In the late 1940s, there were disquieting aspects to American behavior which impelled the Soviet Union to act to preclude any possibility of a Sino-American rapprochement.
From the spring of 1949 the United States gave the unmistakable impression that it was disentangling itself from the relationship with Chiang Kai-shek’s vanquished regime and preparing a position from which recognition of the Chinese People’s Republic could follow. The U.S. “White Paper,” released on August 5, 1949, provided the political rationale for the eventual shift, blaming the defeat of the Nationalists on Chiang Kai-shek, who, it was claimed, had lost the mandate of the people. The embassy remained open, although the ambassador had returned to the United States. Finally, in a formal statement of policy. President Truman, on January 5, 1950, clearly indicated that the United States would not interfere in a Communist attempt to take Taiwan.2
It was the United States’ own reduced military power and withdrawal from South Korea in late 1949 which provided the opportunity for the Soviet Union to attempt a low-risk high-return catalytic venture. Due to the rapid demobilization of United States armed forces after the war, by 1950, excluding naval and air forces, there were only five divisions in the United States, four on occupation duty in Japan, and slightly more than one in Europe. All were under strength and unfit for combat. The divisions in Japan were at 60 percent of strength; of those in the United States, only the 82nd Airborne Division and part of a Marine division were combat ready.3 Such reduced ground-force capability, combined with the emergence of a defense concept which placed heavy reliance upon the deterrent effect of a nuclear armed bomber strike force, led to a reevaluation of the American strategic position. The result of the reevaluation for the Far East was the decision, expressed by Secretary of State Acheson on January 12, 1950, that the defense perimeter in the Pacific would henceforth exclude both Korea and Taiwan.4
Indeed, by the fall of 1949 American forces had already begun a withdrawal from South Korea, a step paralleled by the Soviet Union in North Korea. As American troops were withdrawn, they attempted a modest buildup of Republic of Korea (ROK) forces. The ROK army was expanded from 65,000 to 98,000 and total forces from 114,000 to 154,000. No tanks, artillery, or support-combat aircraft were included in the U.S. military aid package.5 The ROK army was supphed with light arms sufficient for constabulary duty, which left them at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis the army of North Korea, supplied by the Soviet Union with heavy equipment. In fact, when the attack came, it was made by 110,000 men armed with 1,400 artillery pieces and 126 tanks.6
In retrospect, the Soviet plan was probably worked out during the eight weeks Mao Tse-tung and entourage spent in Moscow, December 16, 1949 to February 18, 1950.7 It was to have consisted of a Soviet-backed North Korean attack on South Korea, followed closely by a Chinese Communist attack on Taiwan. The plan appeared to be risk-free for all parties. The Soviet Union would not become openly involved; nor would North Korean and Chinese Communist forces expect to encounter anything but light resistance from the inadequately armed and trained South Korean and Nationalist forces. Moreover, all would benefit. Korea would be unified under the Communists, the civil war would be concluded in China, and the United States would be excluded from the Asian mainland.
The actual course of events seriously compromised the Soviet scheme, but critical decisions taken by the United States at the turning point of the Korean War provided the Soviet Union with a second opportunity to recoup its miscalculation. On June 27, two days after North Korean forces initiated their offensive, the United States decided to interpose the Seventh Fleet between Taiwan and the mainland, thus preventing the Chinese Communist attack on Taiwan. During the two-week period between June 10 and 24, the Chinese Communists had increased the buildup of forces in Fukien province adjacent to Taiwan from slightly more than 40,000 men to about 156,000.8 These troops had undergone amphibious training exercises.9 From mid-May other forces—the 20th, 26th, 27th, 38th, 50th, and 56th armies—had deployed in the Shanghai area, presumably as a strategic reserve. The 39th and 40th armies were positioned in south China for the same purpose.10 However, when the Seventh Fleet moved into the Taiwan Straits, the 38th and 40th armies redeployed to Manchuria, while the 27th and 39th armies moved to the Shantung peninsula.11 The attack on Taiwan no longer feasible, the Chinese Communists moved their forces northward for whatever contingency might develop in Korea.
In Korea, after a month and a half of bloody planned withdrawals to the southern tip of the peninsula. United Nations Forces established and maintained a defensive perimeter at Pusan. In the first week of August, these predominantly American forces, now supplied with heavy equipment, won their first major engagement. At this point in the conflict the United States made two decisions which permitted the Soviet Union to recover from the unanticipated turn of events. The first was to alter the objective. From restoration of the status quo, the unification of all Korea by U.N. forces12 became the objective, as stated by the United States representative to the United Nations, Warren Austin, on August 17, 1950. The second decision followed the brilliant Inchon landing and envelopment on September 15, which decisively turned the tide of battle. With North Korean forces in full flight and disintegrating, the United States decided to pursue the enemy with American forces in a drive north of the 38th parallel to achieve the newly stated goal of Korean unification.
These two decisions forced a Chinese Communist response. After the appearance of the Seventh Fleet, the Chinese had carefully avoided involvement with American forces. Their inaction placed the entire burden of the conflict on Soviet shoulders; Soviet policy now took on the appearance of a crude power play to achieve a Communist takeover of South Korea. Most important, it did not alter the strategic relationship between the United States and Communist China. Indeed, early in the conflict (July 13), Indian Prime Minister Nehru proposed the admission of Communist China to the United Nations and the return of the Soviet representative to the U.N. as a means of achieving a solution of the Korean problem. The United States rejected this proposal on the ground that Communist China’s admission to the United Nations and the aggression in Korea were separate issues.
When the tide of battle in the Korean War turned and the United States called for the unification of Korea under United Nations auspices and proceeded to employ primarily U.S. forces in the drive to the Yalu River, the Chinese Communists became alarmed. Had solely ROK troops been employed in the drive to reunify the country (there is considerable question, however, as to the feasibility of their use at this time) it would have placed a self-limiting constraint on the action. However, the use of American forces, combined with the openly hostile statements made by the theatre commander. General Douglas MacArthur, implied the possibility, if not probability, of an extension of the conflict into Chinese territory.
When the Chinese Communists intervened the Soviet Union achieved its principal strategic objective—that of excluding the United States from the mainland. Although the status quo ante was restored in Korea, Chinese Communist intervention in the conflict established the adversary relationship between the United States and the Chinese People’s Republic, which existed until 1972. For the United States it meant the beginning of a two decade-long isolation from the mainland and only a marginal and passive role in influencing the course of events.
The Establishment of the Chinese People’s Republic
The Korean War not only affected the course of early Sino-Soviet relations, but helped to shape Chinese domestic politics as well. On the eve of victory, the Chinese Communists were an entity comprising essentially five large relatively independent armies and a highly developed central party apparatus. Of course, in each of the army systems there existed a parallel party command structure. In fact, the commanders of each army were both the military and the party leaders.13
The initial civil-administrative structure of the Chinese People’s Republic derived directly from the military situation as it evolved during the civil war. At that time there were seven “liberated” areas, each of which was ruled by a military control committee: Northeast, Inner Mongolia, East China, Northwest, North China, Chungyuan, and Chiungya, a small area in Kwangtung province. As all China was occupied after the defeat of the Nationalists this schema was extended to cover the entire country. Inner Mongolia became an autonomous area; North China was placed directly under the Peking government; the Northeast (Manchuria) and East China (Shantung and the east coast) became “Great Areas.” Chungyuan was made a province and renamed P’ingyuan, and Chiungya was amalgamated into Kwangtung province. As troops moved outward from the central areas, the Northwest, Southwest, and Central South “Great Areas” were established. The status of the Great Areas, of which there were five, was formalized in three laws promulgated by the central government: the Organic Law of the People’s Central Government (September 27, 1949), the Cabinet Ordinance on appointments and dismissals (November 28, 1949), and the Organic Law of the Great Administrative Areas’ Governments (December 16, 1949).14
The field armies occupied regions which corresponded to the Great Areas, but each army’s power position was balanced by a “trade-off” of military units with other field armies. The Korean War temporarily upset this arrangement as two-thirds of the People’s Liberation Army units eventually saw action in the conflict, but the balance was restored afterward. The system of counterbalancing field armies bore the following general outlines. Lin Piao’s Fourth Field Army units were assigned to the Northeast and to Central South. All units of the North China Field Army, except three corps, were returned after the war to the North China command (Peking). Those three were assigned to the Southwest, East, and Northeast regional commands. Ho Lung’s First Field Army returned to Sinkiang, but one unit was assigned to Central South. Liu Po-ch’eng’s Second Field Army returned to the Southwest, but one unit remained in the Northeast and two others were reassigned to Central South. Of Ch’en Yi’s Third Field Army, six corps returned to East China, but one corps remained in the Northeast, while two others were assigned to North China. These units remained in these locations until the outbreak of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.15
The Peking governmental structure was initially established in September 1949 with the promulgation of the Organic Law and Common Program of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and the Organic Law of the Central People’s Government of the Chinese People’s Republic. The Government Council, headed by Chairman Mao Tse-tung and six vice-chairmen, Chu Teh, Liu Shao-ch’i, Kao Kang, Soong Ching-ling, Li Chi-shen, and Chang Lan, held supreme state power. Below the Government Council stood five additional organs, all presumably equal in rank—the Cabinet, Military Council, State Planning Committee, Supreme Court, and Procurator-General’s office. These five organs functioned directly under the Government Council and wielded not only executive but legislative power.
Theoretically the Government Council held the power of appointment in the Great Areas, but in practice the regional military commanders and party leaders were vested with central government authority. The Great Areas’ governments, for the most part, functioned independently of the central governmental apparatus. The only direct link between the two was in the Northeast, where Kao Kang concurrently held party, state, and military posts in both regional and central governmental structures. Of course, the party’s own organizations served to ensure a continuity of policy, but the party’s presence varied according to region. For example, in 1950, before the Chinese Communists entered the Korean War, the distribution of party members was roughly as follows: of a total of 5.8 million, 1 million were in the People’s Liberation Army; 3.4 million nonmilitary were in Northeast, East, and North China; and only 1.4 million (including military) were in the vast areas of Central South, Southwest, and Northwest.16
The Politics of Centralization
The primary domestic task of the Chinese Communist leaders after victory was the creation of a centralized institutional structure. China’s leaders knew and acted on the premise that the decentralized arrangement of Great Areas was temporary until a central apparatus could be constructed for the entire country. The problem was: how to combine the several separate but obviously interrelated political-military systems of the Great Areas into one national structure. An already existing but rudimentary central apparatus complicated the problem. The interplay between the Great Areas and Peking was the essential reality governing the development of domestic politics during the first decade. The leaders sought to establish positions for themselves which would guarantee their inclusion in the central structure as it took shape. The underlying dynamic of Chinese Communist leadership politics was, therefore, the contest for control of the emerging central institutional structure.
Tension between the center and the regions was evident from the start. For example, as early as March 1950, Peking transferred the taxing power of the Great Areas’ governments to itself but, because of resistance by regional leaders, as well as an inadequately functioning central collection system, part of this authority was returned to the Great Areas the following year in May.17 The first step taken by the central government to abolish the Great Areas altogether occurred during the Korean War. In November 1952 Peking decreed that civil rather than military rule should prevail over the Great Areas.18 At this time the titles were changed from Great Areas People’s Governments to Great Areas Administrative Councils and the councils were made subordinate to Peking. The ministries of the Great Areas’ Governments were also reduced in status to departments or offices and some were placed directly under jurisdiction of the ministries in Peking.19
With the end of the conflict in Korea, Communist China’s leaders were free to concentrate on the establishment of a national, central apparatus. Beginning in 1954, restructuring of party, state, military, and economic organizations was carried out at all levels.
The structural changes directly affected the political fortunes of the highest-ranking leaders of the Chinese People’s Republic. In January 1953 it had been announced that a People’s Congress would be convened at an early, but unspecified, date to approve the first constitution of the Chinese People’s Republic.20 The congress actually convened over a year and a half later (September 1954), suggesting disagreements among the top leaders over the form and substance of the proposed reorganization of the state structure.
As early as 1953, several high-ranking leaders had become disaffected with Mao’s plans and formed a coalition against him and others in top positions. This was the so-called anti-party alliance of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih. The coalition consisted of more than Kao and Jao. Numbered among their supporters, with varying degrees of commitment, were Chu Teh, P’eng Teh-huai, T’an Chen-lin, Chen Pei-hsien, possibly T’ao Chu, several other important figures in the Northeast and East China party and state organizations, and members of the Russian leadership.
The Kao-Jao episode is an example of coalition politics in action. Several groups, initially based in the political systems of the Great Areas, vied for positions in the soon-to-be-reorganized state structure. Mao Tse-tung’s group was only one, but clearly the dominant one, in this political constellation. As chairman of the constitution-drafting committee and leader of the existing central apparatus, Mao had a strong voice in shaping the future structure of the state. The main outlines of the struggle within the leadership now seem clear. A new state structure was to be built at the expense of the Great Areas and the military establishment. The entire existing apparatus was to be scrapped and a new central structure erected. The result would be fewer command positions at the regional level. Competition for positions in the central structure was therefore keen. For those who controlled the centralization process, the opportunities to exclude real or potential political opponents were great.
Mao Tse-tung sought to undercut Kao Kang’s growing power in Manchuria by attempting to remove him from his geographical base and absorb him into the central leadership. The November 1952 meeting of the Central Government Council, which reduced the power of the Great Areas, also established the State Planning Committee. Kao Kang was named chairman of the committee, whose location was in Peking.21
The November decisions constituted the opening shots in the struggle between the Kao-Jao and Mao groups. Kao responded by seeking to persuade or pressure Mao to relinquish one of his leadership positions, either the top party or state post. He was unsuccessful. A later party resolution condemned Kao’s “anti-party alliance” and claimed that Kao and Jao by conspiratorial means sought “to split our Party and to overthrow the leading core—the long tested Central Committee of the Party headed by Comrade Mao Tse-tung—with the aim of seizing the suspreme power of the Party and the State.”22
Although the party resolution condemning Kao and Jao was published in 1955, action was taken against them much earlier, probably soon after January 1954. From that date on, Kao Kang’s whereabouts is unknown.23 In February 1954, at the Central Committee’s Fourth Plenum, Liu Shao-ch’i gave the first official hint that a crisis existed when he said that there were those who “looked on their own region or department as ‘personal property or an independent kingdom’” and charged that “those who cause dissension and stir up factionalism will be ‘fought mercilessly’; they will be subjected to severe punitive action and will eventually be expelled from the Party.”24 By this time Kao and Jao had probably already been defeated.
To the extent that the events can now be reconstructed, Kao called for the replacement of several top leaders. His choice for the chairmanship of the state post, the post Mao would most likely have given up if it had become necessary to surrender one position, was Chu Teh, the revolutionary war hero and founder of the Red Army, who was known to be dissatisfied with his subordinate status under Mao. In 1959 Lin Piao accused Chu Teh, among other things, of wanting to become chairman in place of Mao. Kao himself planned to fill two other positions: “General Secretary or Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Party and the Premier of the State Council.”25
Kao Kang supported his claims with the “theory of two parties,” one the party of the revolutionary bases and army and the other the party of the white areas—those areas controlled by the Nationalists during the war.26 Kao argued that the party was the creation of the army and, therefore, those who represented the party of the revolutionary bases should receive preferential consideration over those who represented the party of the white areas. This interpretation of party history struck directly at Liu Shao-ch’i and Chou En-lai, who had spent much of the war years in the white areas and who occupied the very posts to which Kao aspired.
Kao also managed to obtain at least tacit support from P’eng Teh-huai, the Korean War hero. (Some charges appeared during the Cultural Revolution which actually attributed to P’eng the leadership of the Kao-Jao coalition.) Kao failed to obtain the support of one other key military man, Lin Piao. Lin declined to support Kao and Jao, instead siding with Mao, Liu, and Chou, for which he was well rewarded. At the meeting which passed the resolution condemning the opposition coalition, Lin (and Teng Hsiao-p’ing, about whom more will be said below) was elected to the Politburo in the twelfth position of thirteen.27 Later that year he was promoted to marshal, along with nine others including P’eng Teh-huai, who evidently managed to shift away from Kao’s group in time.
The reasons for Lin’s decision to support the Mao group against Kao are undoubtedly numerous, but the history of Lin’s and Kao’s relations provides part of the answer. Kao became second secretary of the Central Committee’s Northeastern Party Bureau in 1940, but until 1948 played a subordinate role in that area’s affairs. The land reform carried out after 1945 in Manchuria was actually the work of Lin Piao, not Kao Kang. It was only after the collapse of Nationalist forces in 1948, when Lin moved his troops south toward T’ientsin and Peking late in that year, that Kao assumed control of Manchurian affairs. Even though part of Lin’s forces returned to Manchuria after 1949 (and part was assigned to Kwangtung), Kao remained in command.28 The elimination of Kao Kang was therefore in Lin Piao’s direct interest.
Teng Hsiao-p’ing also played a role in the defeat of the challenge from the Kao-Jao coalition. Teng led the attack against Kao and Jao at the March 1955 meeting, for which he was promoted to the Politburo, but he also evidently opposed this group earlier. Teng’s role centered on his opposition in the State Planning Committee to Kao’s demands for preferential treatment of the Northeast in the allocation of economic resources. Kao argued that the Northeast had a “special character,” being more economically advanced and therefore deserving high priority.29 This was in opposition to the view of the Mao group that while the Manchurian industrial base was to be maintained, as was the East China base, higher priority should be given to North and West Central China for the industrial development of those parts of the country. This is a probable reason for Jao Shu-shih’s decision to support Kao Kang, for Jao was chairman of East China as well as a member of the State Planning Committee. East China, too, was to receive fewer resources relative to other areas.30
The contest over resource allocation in the State Planning Committee suggests that that body was one of the principal organizational vehicles for the Kao-Jao coalition. The subsequent history of the committee and its members strongly supports this hypothesis. Membership in the committee included Kao Kang, chairman; Teng Tzu-hui, vice-chairman; Lin Piao, Jao Shu-shih, Ch’en Yün, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, Li Fu-ch’un, Po I-po, P’eng Chen, Huang K’o-ch’eng, Liu Lan-tao, Hsi Chung-hsun, Chang Hsi, An Chih-wen, Ma Hung, Hsüeh Mu-ch’iao, and P’eng Teh-huai.31 P’eng Teh-huai’s appointment to the committee seems to have been largely honorific, since he was in Korea at this time.
Mao Tse-tung was not a member of the committee, but managed to obtain sufficient support from the majority of its members to defeat the Kao-Jao group there. If promotions of committee members can be interpreted as political reward for supporting Mao, then it is clear who Mao’s supporters were. The promotions of Lin Piao, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, and P’eng Teh-huai have already been noted. Huang K’o-ch’eng was named a general of the People’s Liberation Army. P’eng Chen became mayor of Peking. That same month, January 1953, Teng Tzu-hui, Ch’en Yün, Po I-po, Hsi Chung-hsün, and Liu Lan-tao were all named to the constitution-drafting committee with Mao Tse-tung. In addition, Ch’en Yün was given the chairmanship of the Economic and Finance Committee of the Cabinet when that committee replaced, in function, the State Planning Committee. The State Planning Committee itself was disestablished and reorganized as the State Planning Commission under the Cabinet, losing its formerly independent and equal status. Li Fu-ch’un was named chairman of the commission.32 By this reckoning, at least eleven of the seventeen members of the committee supported Mao.
Stalin’s Death and the Succession Struggle
The issue of the allocation of resources leads directly to the question of the Soviet role in Chinese affairs. Before he died, Stalin followed the policy of concentrating Soviet aid in the Northeast in order to influence decisions in the area close to Soviet borders, particularly Korea. Consequently, Stalin dealt directly with Kao Kang as well as with Mao Tse-tung. During the initial negotiations for the Sino-Soviet treaty, Kao preceded Mao to Moscow, signing a separate agreement between the USSR and the Manchurian People’s Government. Whatever else he did, Kao permitted the Soviets to exercise a strong influence in Manchuria. Russians administered the Manchurian railway and river systems, controlled ports and airfields, and directed the reconstruction of the area’s industrial base. Hence, the later charge that Kao had maintained “illicit relations with foreign countries” had considerable substance from Mao Tse-tung’s point of view.
Stalin’s death affected Soviet policy toward Manchuria drastically and Kao Kang’s position fatally. The succession struggle and its outcome provide the perspective for analysis of subsequent Sino-Soviet relations. Immediately after the dictator’s death, both Malenkov and Khrushchev strove to obtain the support of the Chinese Communists for their respective candidacies. Malenkov was prepared to perpetuate the Stalinist policy of favoring Manchuria. Khrushchev, in his drive for the support of Mao Tse-tung, recognized that Stalin’s Manchurian policy was a liability and turned that knowledge to political advantage.
In the early months after Stalin’s death the Chinese supported Malenkov. In March 1953, in an article eulogizing Stalin, Mao expressed this support, saying “we profoundly believe that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Government, headed by Comrade Malenkov, will certainly be able to continue the work of Comrade Stalin.”33 That issue of Pravda contained a picture of Stalin, Mao, and Malenkov ostensibly taken after the conclusion of the Sino-Soviet treaty negotiations in February 1950.34 In fact, the picture had been altered from the original photograph published in February 1950, in which Malenkov was only one of nineteen members of the Chinese and Russian delegations witnessing the signing of the treaty.35 In the 1953 version all but Stalin, Mao, and Malenkov were excised!
Over the course of the following year, however, Mao’s support shifted from Malenkov to Khrushchev. The key event was Khrushchev’s and Bulganin’s trip to Peking in September 1954 to sign another aid agreement with the Chinese. Khrushchev offered grants and long-term credits amounting to 520 million rubles, agreed to expand the volume of equipment deliveries for industrial projects covered in previous agreements, yielded Soviet holdings in the four Sino-Soviet joint stock companies established by the 1950 treaty, announced plans for the construction of two railroads linking China to the Soviet Union (one through Outer Mongolia and the other through Sinkiang), and agreed to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Port Arthur by May 1955.36 The battle lines of the Soviet struggle for power were indicated by the fact that Khrushchev was accompanied to Peking by Bulganin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers, while the Premier (Malenkov) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Molotov) remained in Moscow.
Economic assistance undoubtedly helped Khrushchev gain the support of the Chinese, in particular the Mao group, but it was his position on strategic defense policy, coupled with his willingness to withdraw the Soviets from their position in Manchuria (and therefore from support of Kao Kang!), which decisively turned them away from Malenkov. Malenkov, at the Nineteenth Party Congress in 1952, following Stalin’s initiation of the “soft line” toward the West, asserted that “in peaceful competition with capitalism the socialist economic system will prove its superiority over the capitalistic system more and more vividly year by year.”37 After Stalin’s death, Malenkov stated that a third nuclear world war would result in the destruction of world civilization and therefore there were “no objective impediments” to the improvement of Soviet-American relations. He shortly moved toward a settlement of the Korean conflict, saying that a “new epoch” had begun. He saw China as a “mighty stabilizing factor” in Asia. Malenkov’s “new course” also affected domestic policy; no longer would heavy industry receive top priority. Now light industries and food industries would develop “at the same rate as heavy industry.”
Khrushchev, although later championing “peaceful coexistence,” in early 1954 took a position almost diametrically opposite Malenkov’s. The Soviet Union, he said, should not merely avoid war but should actively deter it through a strong military posture. A nuclear world war would only result in the destruction of capitalism, not of world civilization. The Sino-Soviet relationship he saw as a “powerful factor in the struggle for peace in the Far East.”38 Domestically, Khrushchev called for continued stress on heavy over light industry at the expense of the consumer sector.
It was obvious which of these two positions Mao and his followers preferred. The Malenkov position implied acceptance of the status quo, while Khrushchev’s hard hne indicated a far greater willingness to honor a strategic commitment to China. Early in 1955 Mao pubhcly endorsed Khrushchev’s position that nuclear war would mean not the destruction of the world, but only of capitalism, and on the eve of the Twentieth Party Congress the following year, Mao said in a telegram that “the great successes of the USSR in foreign and domestic policy in recent years are inseparable from the correct leadership of the well-tried Central Committee of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] headed by Comrade Khrushchev.”39 But this gets us somewhat ahead of the story.
The Khrushchev-Bulganin trip to Peking in September 1954 came at a time when Mao’s power was greatly circumscribed. The National People’s Congress had just ended (September 15–28), resulting in the reorganization of not only the state but the military, economic, and party structures, and the radical redistribution of political power among the Chinese leaders.
At the congress, Mao gave no major report, opening and closing the ceremonies with a few words. Until 1954, as official head of the Central People’s Government, Mao had had the power of “1) enacting and interpreting the laws, promulgating decrees and supervising their execution. . . . 2) annulling or revising any decisions or orders of the Government Administrative Council not in conformity with the laws. . . . 3) ratifying . . . treaties and agreements . . . with foreign countries. . . . 4) dealing with questions of war and peace, appointing the Premier, members of the Cabinet, and all other important officials.”40 Under the new structure, as Chairman of the Chinese People’s Republic, Mao’s powers were severely limited by the Standing Committee, whose chairman was Liu Shao-ch’i.41 The Chairman could promulgate laws and decrees only “in accordance with the decisions of the Congress, or, when not in session, of its Standing Committee” (article 40). He could not annul or revise any decision or order of any government organ. He could ratify treaties with foreign states only “in accordance with the decisions of the Standing Committee” (article 41).
Nor had Mao independent power to make appointments to any post. The Chairman of the Republic “appoints or removes the Premier, Vice-Premiers, Ministers . . . in accordance with the decision of the Congress or its Standing Committee.” The only power which Mao exercised independently of the Standing Committee was command of the armed forces (article 42), and this, too, was qualified. Finally, the Chairman of the Republic had no veto power over the decisions of the Congress and its Standing Committee. The Standing Committee enacted decrees, interpreted laws made by the Congress, supervised the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the Presecutor-General’s office. It had the power to annul laws, and appoint vice-premiers and ministers. When the Congress was not in session, the Standing Committee assumed its prerogatives relating to the negotiation of treaties with foreign countries, proclamation of war and so forth (articles 31–33).
Essentially what had taken place in the state reorganization was that the Standing Committee was interposed between Mao and the major administrative organs of the new state structure. The Standing Committee became responsible for supervision of the day-to-day workings of the Cabinet, the Defense Council (even though Mao retained command of the armed forces), the Supreme Court, the office of the Prosecutor-General, and the general office. In sum, the reorganization of the state saw Mao Tse-tung’s power severely limited.
The military apparatus was also radically restructured. The six military regions were replaced by thirteen smaller military regions. The large field armies were broken up and their thirty-five or so component units were each designated as field armies and placed directly under control of the newly established (state) Ministry of Defense and (party) Military Affairs Committee. The redesignated military units remained in place, but the many regional commanders and the marshals (after 1955) were brought to Peking. The military reorganization stripped military, and therefore political, power from regional commands and centralized it in Peking. The restructuring of the state organization also had its effect on the shape of the party. When the Great Areas were abolished the party’s regional bureaus were also reorganized, the line of command now running from Peking directly to the provincial level party organizations.
The results of the major restructuring of Chinese state, military, and party organizations saw significant redistribution of political power among the top leaders. Among these, two were completely removed from authority (Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih), several others advanced in the new power structure (Lin Piao, Liu Shao-ch’i, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, P’eng Teh-huai), some made no apparent gains (Chou En-lai, Chu Teh), and one suff’ered a partial eclipse of power, but retained a dominant position (Mao Tse-tung). In the next phase, some of those who had colluded with Mao against the challenge of Kao Kang and had been promoted for their service used their positions to obtain even greater power at Mao’s expense. The thrust came at the Chinese Communist Party’s Eighth National Congress, the first to be held since the establishment of the Communist regime. It saw a further realignment of political forces and the erosion of the position of Mao Tse-tung. It followed the politically explosive Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Union, to which we must first turn.
Twentieth Party Congress of the CPSU and Its Aftermath
Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin, delivered at the Twentieth Party Congress, was a bombshell for the leadership of all the world’s Communist parties, especially the Chinese. The events surrounding the decision to give the speech, and its significance, are complex matters open to varying interpretations. It appears that Khrushchev planned to end collective leadership and to assume Stalin’s mantle himself, but he met with strong eleventh-hour opposition. The previous September, Khrushchev had approved a reissue of Stalin’s Short Course, and on the anniversary of Stahn’s birthday, December 21, the Soviet press published photographs and editorials lauding the departed leader. These events suggested a continuation of the “cult of the individual.”42
The decision to turn against the Stalin image, or personality cult, was apparently made sometime in January 1956. In retrospect, a key indicator that an anti-Stalin move was under way came at the conference of historians that took place in Moscow in late January. There an open clash occurred between the academic and the apparatchik historians when the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the historical journal Problems of History, E. M. Burdzhalov, launched a broadside attack against the falsification of Soviet history. He singled out for special criticism the party histories of the Ukraine and Transcaucasia, and Stalin’s Short Course.43 The Ukraine and Transcaucasia had been Khrushchev’s responsibility ever since 1937. Criticism of these histories was implied criticism of the responsible party leader; moreover, indirect reference was made to the purge of the former party chief, Kossior, whom Khrushchev had replaced. Mention of the Short Course also implied criticism of Khrushchev, who had released it for republication only a few months before.44 Both criticisms were repeated by Mikoyan in his public report to the Twentieth Party Congress.45
At the congress the 1,436 delegates received a set of documents which contained, among other things, Lenin’s “testament,” in which he warned against the “immense power” that the “rude” Stalin had arrogated to himself, and also advised enlarging the Central Committee as a means of ensuring collective leadership.46 If there was anyone for whom these documents constituted a threat, it was Khruschev. It was he who sought to fill the position left by Stalin’s death, and his own “rudeness” was well known. Moreover, it was Khrushchev who sought to bring collective leadership to an end.
Khrushchev delivered the main report to the congress and spoke of Stalin’s passing in warm, emotional language (“death tore Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin from our ranks”).47 Ten days later, Khrushchev made a complete turnabout. He declared in the famous secret speech that “Stalin . . . used extreme methods and mass repressions. . . . Stalin showed in a whole series of cases his intolerance, his brutality, and his abuse of power.”48 At the same time he attempted to exculpate himself from guilt in the Kossior affair by denying any knowledge of Kossior’s arrest and purge until after the fact. He also called for the compilation of a new party history to replace the Short Course.49
Apparently Khrushchev had attempted to suppress the speech, which, judging from its detailed content, had been in preparation for some time. When he found that he could not suppress it, he decided to read it himself rather than permit someone else to do so. This was necessary to save his own position. Khrushchev faced a dilemma. If he did not read the speech, he would very likely lose his own position, since the attack on Stalin would also be taken as an implied attack on Khrushchev. If Khrushchev did read the speech, he would probably save his own position, but at the cost of incalculable consequences to the total system. Khrushchev chose to read the speech, and thereby saved himself—at least in the short run. But the larger consequence of his attack on Stalin was to set in motion the fragmentation of Stalin’s empire, of which the subsequent revolutions in Poland and Hungary were but a part. Whatever the motive, Khrushchev’s indictment of Stalin—the cult of the individual, mass repression, terror, suppression of minority peoples, and so forth—was an implied indictment of every Communist party leader, of the system that Stalin had built, and of the men who operated it.
To Mao Tse-tung, the anti-Stalin speech must have come as a terrific surprise. Since he was the ranking member of the Communist world outside Russia, the speech could be interpreted as being aimed at him. Moreover, he must have suspected that Khrushchev had turned away from his earlier understanding with Mao and his followers. His suspicions were strengthened in the months that followed the congress as Stalin’s appointees in the eastern European satellites were replaced one by one. Moreover, Khrushchev began to sound more and more like Malenkov, placing emphasis on the necessity of avoiding a general war, reducing investment in heavy industry, increasing production of consumer goods, and renewing emphasis on disarmament and peaceful coexistance. Finally, at the Eighth Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party there were indications that Mao himself had become a target.
Eighth Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party
The first and second sessions of the Eighth Party Congress, which convened eighteen months apart (September 1956 and May 1958), reveal several marked power shifts among the top leaders of the party. At the first session, Mao’s position as head of the party was seriously undercut, both ideologically and organizationally. Again, as in 1954, aside from making brief opening remarks, Mao made no major address to the congress. Liu Shao-ch’i delivered the important political report and Teng Hsiao-p’ing the report on the revision of the party constitution. At the congress, both men made significant advances in the political hierarchy.
Ideologically, collective leadership was emphasized over the role of the leader. This was undoubtedly in part a reaction to the de-Stalinization campaign begun by Khrushchev earlier in the year. At this first session the Marxist-Leninist basis of the Chinese Communist Party was emphasized; the reference incorporated into the 1945 party constitution to the “thought of Mao Tse-tung” was omitted. Organizationally, several key changes took place. The Central Committee was enlarged from 64 to 97 members and the Politburo from 13 to 17 with 6 candidate members. There had been no candidate member category previously. Two new organizations were established for the Central Committee and Politburo, which clearly reflected the rise in status of Liu and Teng and the further weakening of Mao.
Liu Shao-ch’i had assumed the chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the reorganized state structure in 1954, his payoff for support of Mao against the challenge of Kao Kang. He now became senior vice-chairman of another newly established organ, the Standing Committee of the party Politburo. Since 1949 Standing Committees had existed only at the provincial level. The first six men in the Politburo composed the Politburo Standing Committee. They were: Mao, chairman; Liu Shao-ch’i, senior vice-chairman; Chou En-lai, Chu Teh, Ch’en Yün, and Teng Hsiao-p’ing. The seventh man was Lin Piao, who did not become a member of the Standing Committee until May 1958, when altered political circumstances enabled Mao to enlarge the Standing Committee and bring him in. Clearly, if Chu Teh or Ch’en Yün, for instance, sided with Liu and Teng on any issue, it would have been impossible for Mao to obtain a majority vote.
Teng Hsiao-p’ing also advanced in rank at the first session. Placed at the head of the Secretariat of the Central Committee, Teng was charged with “attending to the daily work of the Central Committee,”50 a newly assigned function for that body. At every level of organization—from the national down through the provincial, local, branch, and including the factory level—there now existed twin party control mechanisms, standing committees and secretariats, commanded by Liu Shao-ch’i and Teng Hsiao-p’ing.51
It was at this time that the party’s leaders made the decision to establish the “first and second lines,” which apparently relate to the distinction between policy and command. (In a speech given in October 1966 Mao asserted that it had been his idea to establish the “two lines” so that Liu and Teng could preside over important conferences and take charge of the party’s daily operations.)52 Viewed in terms of the conflict hypothesis, Mao’s “idea” connotes an attempt to preserve a policy making prerogative for himself while relinquishing the power of command to Liu and Teng, rather than an attempt to develop some sort of succession mechanism. If so, then Mao was correct in charging in this 1966 speech that Liu and Teng were establishing “independent kingdoms” in an organizational sense, like Kao and Jao before them, and that it was for this reason that it had been necessary to initiate the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao was acknowledging that he had lost the power to ensure that his policies would be carried out. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was necessary for him to regain control of the state and party leadership.
After the 1956 session of the congress had ended, Mao moved to bolster his sagging political position. Four major developments mark his efforts. First, Mao managed to purge the party and state apparatuses, particularly at the provincial level. His speech “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” delivered in February 1957, initiated and provided the justification for his step. In it Mao spoke of the need to “supervise the party,” implying that the party could err, and of “contradictions arising from the bureaucratic practices of certain state functionaries in their relations with the masses.”53 Second, the speech itself represented Mao’s first move in a longer-run drive to reestablish his image as supreme leader, one who stands above the party. In actuality, the contest for control over the mass media was joined at this time. Third, following and perhaps accompanying the personnel shifts during 1957, the party as a whole assumed direction of the offices of the “state functionaries.” The “rectification campaign,” or purge, which permitted Mao to identify if not eliminate opposition, took place at a time when domestic policy took a sharp swing to the left. This leftward shift got under way in mid-1957, despite the moderate economic program proposed at the Eighth Party Congress’s first session the previous September.54 The shift was reflected in public statements. For example, Po I-po, chairman of the State Economic Commission, told the National People’s Conference in June that China must reduce her “reliance on foreign countries.” Others saw a break-neck pace of economic development as the “only way out” for China.55
Fourth, at this time it is possible to detect a shift away from support of Khrushchev. There is considerable uncertainty about the extent of the change, but the Chinese appear to have moved to the support of Khrushchev’s opposition, the Malenkov-Molotov-Kaganovich group, which unsuccessfully attempted to unseat Khrushchev in mid-1957.56 In this context, the Sino-Soviet defense conference held in Moscow in October of that year, and the Moscow meeting of twelve Communist parties which followed in November and which Mao himself attended, bore all the earmarks of an attempt to reconcile diverging positions. Despite the conclusion of an “agreement on new technology for national defense,” which the Chinese now claim included the supply of a sample atomic bomb,57 the conferences only papered over the differences between the two countries.
After the Twentieth Party Congress of the CPSU, Mao Tse-tung had faced a dilemma. He had supported Khrushchev because the latter had indicated a willingness to assist in China’s development. But as Khrushchev consolidated his position in the Soviet Union, he seemed less inclined to support Mao. Although the agreement on “new technology” was signed in November 1957, no new credits were forthcoming from the Soviet Union after that date (with one exception to be discussed below). It is now apparent that Mao and Khrushchev had become estranged. After 1957, Soviet exports to China were on a cash basis, a step which placed the Chinese in an increasingly awkward economic position.
The Chinese recognized that if this situation were permitted to drift, the entire program of rapid industrialization, geared to and dependent upon Soviet aid, would inevitably grind to a slow walk. China would find it harder and harder to maintain current rates of development, let alone increase them. The Chinese were beholden to the Russians for plans, technical assistance, spare parts, and, most of all, for oil. By restricting credits, the Russians were in a position to make China an economic and even a political satellite, effectively controlling its rate of economic growth and freedom of political action.
The debate among the Chinese leadership over the issue of military power most clearly illustrates the alternatives as they developed for the Chinese. In the early 1950s, Soviet aid was essential to China and the Chinese had no choice but to accept Soviet terms. The kinds of materials and know-how required to build a modern industrial and military establishment were unavailable elsewhere. But while helping establish the basis for a modern economic system, Stalin attached certain strings to Soviet aid. He supplied weapons, but not all the means to make them. Of course, the Russians could not prevent the Chinese from ultimately building an independent economic system, but to the extent that the Chinese were dependent upon the Soviet Union, the Russians could affect China’s rate of growth.58
The Soviet succession struggle after Stalin’s death gave the Chinese an opportunity to raise the question of redefining the Sino-Soviet relationship. This was undoubtedly part of the reason for Khrushchev’s and Bulganin’s trip to China in September 1954. The next few years saw the gradual phasing out of Soviet military aid and training programs. By late 1956 the Chinese were flying their first Chinese-manufactured MIG jets, and the army had become a reasonably well-equipped light infantry force.59 By then, Chinese military men were already deep in debate over the need for China to acquire her own nuclear weapons. Actually, the debate was never over whether to acquire nuclear weapons, but only how and when. Some advocated increased resource allocation to heavy industry as a means of establishing an autarkic military establishment and providing the basis for China’s own nuclear program. Others argued for continued reliance on the “expedient measure of placing orders with foreign countries” to obtain needed materials.60 The implied question in both of these positions was: what role would the Soviet Union play? At this stage of the relationship, advocates of both positions would continue to depend heavily on the Soviet Union for support, but, depending on the course chosen, for different kinds of support. It was not yet a question of “with or without” the Soviet Union.
The de-Stalinization campaign, the failure of the so-called anti-party group to oust Khrushchev, and the growing Sino-Soviet estrangement led to a restructuring of the alternatives open to the Chinese leadership. The choices now facing the Chinese leaders were either to go along with the Russians in the hope of restoring the former relationship at some future date, or to strike out independently—to break the bonds of Soviet economic and political domination. Both choices contained difficulties. To stay with the existing relationship left the Chinese open to the danger of falling further under Soviet domination, even though they gained some Soviet aid in the process. The other choice, to break away from Soviet controls, meant an inevitable period of dislocation and perhaps even chaos until the Chinese could switch to alternative sources of supply and restructure the economy. In these choices were planted not only the seeds of the Sino-Soviet split, but also the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The issue, then, was: how should the Chinese respond to the dilemma posed by the Russians? One wing in the party, headed (as we now know) by Liu Shao-ch’i, favored continued cooperation with the Soviet Union—staying with the alliance and hoping that China would be able to avoid becoming an economic and political satellite. The other wing, led by Mao Tse-tung, made the decision to strike out on an independent course. The decision was made at the second session of the Eighth Party Congress, held from May 5 through 23, 1958.
Great Leap Forward: The Choice for Independent Action
The tone of the second session differed sharply from that of the first. The congress communique carried in the People’s Daily of May 25 called it a “cheng-feng reform session.” Indeed, the expulsion of eight members of provincial party standing committees, two members of provincial party committees, and one member of a provincial party secretariat were announced. The communique also noted the existence of “anti-party groups” among the highest ranks of party members in several provinces and said that several party provincial leaders were under investigation for “regionalistic” and “nationalistic” activities.61
At the first session in September 1956, the creation of the Politburo Standing Committee saw the transfer of power from the Politburo to the Standing Committee, in which Mao had been unable to outvote his opponents. At the second session Mao, presumably as a result of the purge of the lower level party organizations, was able to enlarge the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. Added to the Politburo at this time were K’o Ch’ing-shih, party First Secretary of Shanghai city; T’an Chen-lin, member of the Central Committee Secretariat; and Li Ching-ch’uan, party First Secretary of Szech’uan province. Added to the Politburo Standing Committee was Lin Piao.
Whether or not the addition of three men affected the power relationship in the Politburo, the addition of Lin Piao to the Politburo Standing Committee gave Mao at least a four-to-three voting edge in that body, assuming that Mao, Lin, Chou En-lai, and either Ch’en Yün or Chu Teh voted together. This voting edge was sufficient for Mao to obtain a favorable decision at the second session on his program of the three red banners—the General Line, the Communes, and the Great Leap Forward.62
The Great Leap Forward symbolized China’s, in particular Mao’s group’s, determination to break free of Soviet controls, to disengage the Chinese economy from the Soviet, and to reject what the Chinese have since asserted were “unreasonable demands designed to bring China under Soviet military control.”63 Ostensibly, the purposes of the Great Leap were to catch up with Great Britain economically and to move into the stage of full communism ahead of the Soviet Union. More realistically, it was to prepare the ground for China’s development independent of the Soviet Union. By all conventional economic standards, the Great Leap was an immense failure. Backyard furnaces, the mobilization of millions of people as a substitute for capital, the agricultural communes, the decentralization of industry—all became an enormous fiasco.
Politically, for Mao Tse-tung, the results were mixed. By the decision of the congress, Mao set China on a new policy course which would be extremely difficult to alter and which in fact continues to this day. For Mao, personally, the results were less satisfactory. The almost immediate and obvious failure of the Great Leap gave Mao’s opponents the necessary political leverage to deprive him of his position as chairman of the Republic (one of the objectives which Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih had sought to achieve a few years earlier).
It seems clear that Mao did not step down voluntarily and that he apparently exerted all his efforts in an attempt to garner sufficient support to beat off the challenge at the Sixth Plenary session of the Eighth Central Committee, which was held in Wuchang from November 28 to December 10, 1958. The plenum communique, issued one week after the close of the session on December 17, pointedly noted that Mao had personally “prepared for the Plenary session,” calling two meetings—one from November 2 through 10 and a second from November 21 through 27.64 Evidently, he failed to convince a majority that he should not step down. According to the communique, the “plenary session approved the proposal of Comrade Mao Tse-tung not to stand as candidate for Chairman of the People’s Republic of China for the next term of office.”65
Mao’s principal opponent, Liu-Shao-ch’i, assumed the chairmanship of the Republic. Indicative of the Soviet Union’s attitude toward Mao and his policies was the fact that, as soon as Mao had been excluded, the Russians (in an agreement negotiated by Chou En-lai, who had flown to Moscow in January 1959) quickly extended additional economic aid to China, agreeing to build thirty-one more industrial plants.66 The agreement was signed on February 7, 1959. Liu subsequently, very quietly and without fanfare, attempted to undo Mao’s policy of the Great Leap. He began to dismantle the backyard furnaces, recentralize industry, and deemphasize the mass mobilization of labor and the agricultural commune program. He was only partly successful in this effort, but from this point onward, as Mao said in a later talk, Liu and Teng Hsiao-p’ing began to treat him as if he were already dead.
The policy decision to embark upon the Great Leap is a watershed in the political history of the Chinese People’s Republic. During the first decade, Chinese Communist politics was not characterized by struggle between two “factions.” Various groups contended. By splitting them, pitting one against another, and allying himself with one against another, Mao managed to remain leader of the single most powerful group and in overall control, even though he came precipitously close at times to losing supremacy. He was never above the political struggle; he has always been deeply involved in it. His political preeminence has been directly related to his ability to build his own political machine and to prevent the coalescence of opposing coalitions. The Great Leap policy decision marked a fundamental change in the nature of Chinese Communist leadership politics, which began to polarize. The polarization process became increasingly apparent during the succeeding seven years and culminated in what has become known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.