The Sino-Soviet Conflict, 1956–1961: Donald S. Zagoria Princeton University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 50s. 484 pp.
The Long March to Freedom: Stuart and Roma Gelder. Hutchinson, 30s. 256 pp.
That the governments and parties of the USSR and China are not composed of mentally identical automata is now an open secret. The discovery that it is possible for communists to disagree on the application of shared general principles to specific situations, to argue their disagreements in newspapers, journals and meetings, and even to lose their tempers with each other, has disturbed the set vision of the professional anticommunists and kremlinologues. References to the “Peiping puppet régime” are no longer possible for those of them who want to be taken seriously. Hence the present fashion for analyzing the “cracks in the monolith” concealed in the cryptic language of international communism.
Mr. Zagoria is an avowed Kremlinologist, who worked for the US government from 1951 to 1961 before transferring his services to the US Air Force sponsored RAND Corporation, where he studies Russia and China on behalf of the organization that exists primarily to blast them off the face of the earth. He is thus one of the few Americans who may read publications from “bloc” countries without inevitably incurring suspicion. It is revealing of his intellectual milieu that he finds it necessary to explain that a student of Sino-Soviet relations can actually learn something from reading Russian and Chinese journals and newspapers. In his preface he explains that while his “primary purpose . . . was to subject the Sino-Soviet conflict to close analysis”, he had “another almost equally important purpose . . . to try to demonstrate the value of the Communists’ own stream of communications as raw material for penetrating through the dialectical fog to the political calculations and conflicts which lay behind it.” In other words, newspaper articles in the Marxist-Leninist idiom actually means something, particularly if one reads between the lines. To present this as a new tool of scholarship is to invite ridicule.
The “close analysis” to which he refers in his preface is not much more illuminating than his “methological” innovation. He eschews the rabid style of the pathological right wing, and does not attempt to rival the flights of the recent contributor to Problems of Communism who found attacks on Kruschev in the strip-cartoons of the People’s Daily. His conclusions are either obvious to anyone who troubles to look at the occasional Soviet or Chinese publications in English, or else unsupported by the evidence he cites. On p. 103 he quotes a Chinese description of Mao as “one of the most outstanding Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries, statesmen, and theoreticians of our age” (note the typically tendentious placing of the italics) to illustrate “Chinese chauvinism”. Only three pages later he writes: “It was Mao’s theoretical stature, not his (Kruschev’s), that had been recognized by the entire Communist world even during Stalin’s lifetime. It was also Mao, who even in Soviet journals, was “an outstanding Marxist theoretician”, an honorific that no other bloc leader was accorded at the time of Stalin’s death.”
Again, he suggests that the concept of National Democracy which the 1960 Moscow Declaration expounded was a victory for “Russian gradualism”, without realizing that the idea comes straight out of Mao’s 1940 essay “On The New Democracy”. His approach to the whole Declaration is to try and divide it into Russian views, Chinese views and “meaningless compromises”. The results are as absurd as one might expect.
One could attack on many other points, but it is much quicker to state that the book has little to contribute to our understanding of the vital issues over which the communists of the world are arguing; one would do far better to read up some of the discussions at firsthand for oneself, thus keeping one’s mind clear from the fog of anger produced by such misleading and muddled analysis.