China’s revolutionary flames in Africa 1

Reading Western critics of Mao’s China engagement with Africa, very often they conceptually address the issue as if it was China’s revolution in Africa being played out rather than Chinese support for African’s struggles. In an interview given by Mao Zedong to Brazilian the attitude was expressed that China respected the newly independent and emerging states

… their neutral position, because their neutrality was obtained by shaking off imperialist domination. The neutrality of the nationalist countries is a position of independence, sovereignty and freedom from control. We in the socialist camp welcome the neutral position of these countries, because it is favorable to the cause of peace and unfavorable to the imperialist plans of aggression and war. We regard as our friends the independent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and also those countries which have not yet achieved or are fighting for independence. We support them.  [i]  

Admittedly from the 1950s onwards Chinese communists could be quoted arguing that the road taken by China should be followed by all peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial countries so that they may achieve their independence and a people’s democracy.

However there was always stipulations to that assertion that guided foreign relations with the Third World nations. In a talk with some African visitors in 1963, Mao remarked, “In the fight for complete liberation the oppressed people rely first of all on their own struggle and then, and only then, on international assistance.”  This was balanced with “our internationalist duty….The people who have triumphed in their own revolution should help those still struggling for liberation.”  [ii] 

In a 1956 conversation with representatives of some Latin American communist parties, Mao Zedong had warned them about mechanically copying the experiences of the Chinese revolution:

 “The experience of the Chinese revolution, that is, building rural base areas, encircling the cities from the countryside and finally seizing the cities, may not be wholly applicable to many of your countries, though it can serve for your reference. I beg to advise you not to transplant Chinese experience mechanically. The experience of any foreign country can serve only for reference and must not be regarded as dogma. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries–the two must be integrated.”  [iii]

China’s policy was to support the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggle of those under colonial rule, whilst towards the newly-independent nations of Africa, it argued the winning, and maintaining and consolidating of political independence was always the primary task for all Asian and African countries.

The line of “New Democracy” that had served the Chinese Communist Party so well was regard as applicable by others in the Global South who engaged in the struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Mao Zedong’s talk to representatives of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon and of the youths of Guinea, Kenya and Madagascar stated, “You may think of China as your friend…. I shall just air my own views for your reference. The present revolution in Africa is a struggle against imperialism and a national liberation movement. It is a question of national liberation rather than communism; on that we all agree. There are two other points: one is the question of a quick or slow victory. There are only these two possibilities, quick or slow victory. If you are prepared for both, you will not feel disappointed. The other is the question of what force to rely on. Is Africa to be liberated by relying on foreign countries or by relying on the African people themselves? To liberate Africa, it is essential to rely on the African people. African affairs should be run by the Africans themselves by relying on the forces of African people; in the meantime they should make friends throughout the world, including China. China certainly supports you. Whether these two points are right or not is for you to ponder over.  [iv]

There was a receptive audience to this thinking. As early as the 1960s, many African leaders considered China not only a political ally but also an economic partner with a development model sensitive to local cultures and conducive to the needs of societies that had limited foundation for industrialization. The interrelation of political and economic independence was easily explained,

The development of an independent national economy and winning of full economic independence concerns the vital national interests of the newly independent Asian and African countries. It is at the same time opposed to the basic interests of the imperialists, colonialists and neo-colonialists who want to retain their colonial rule. Hence, the struggle for the development of an independent national economy necessarily reflects itself in political struggle, in serious political struggle against the imperialists, first of all against U.S. imperialism. .. [v]

There was a continuity of messages derived from China’s top leaders that under Mao, China had consistently supported issues of common interest has been directed at establishing a united front with the Third World and the demand for a restructuring of the international order, one not dominated by the superpowers.

Mao had commented to a group of overseas visitors in 1960 that :

The imperialists have committed all manner of evils and all the oppressed peoples of the whole world will never forgive them. To defeat the reactionary rule of imperialism, Comrades Mao Zedong said, it is necessary to form a broad front and unite with all forces, except the enemy, and continue to wage arduous struggles…

Chairman Mao Zedong’s Important Talks with Guests from Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1960

The extent of China’s influence on the African continent was exaggerated at the time by those who monitor and raised the alarm in western propaganda. Whilst it was a presence which ultimately was revolutionary because support and aid was providing tangible assistance, China was not guilty when charged with aiming to impose its leadership upon Africa, in reality there was little organisational consolidation in terms of parties or movements that ideologically aligned towards Beijing.

Clearly the Chinese notion that ‘revolution could not be exported’ did not preclude support for fellow revolutionaries throughout the world. Behind the rhetoric there was material support with training visits by would be third world revolutionaries explored in various studies  [vi]

Mao’s remarks to a visiting delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in March 1965, would seem to underplay the training on offer:

There are some foreigners studying military science in China. I advise them to go back, and not to study too long. A few months will do. There is only lecturing in the classroom, which is of no use. After going back, it would be most useful to take part in fighting. Some logic requires little if any explanation. One should spend most of one’s time in his own country. Perhaps, there is no need to go abroad, and one will learn it all right. [vii]

 In reality while China supplied revolutionary groups with rhetorical and, in some cases, material support, the ideological advice that came from China stressed the importance of revolutionaries in each country working to their own conditions. Militant diplomacy in the Cultural Revolution period would expressed full sympathy and support for heroic struggles,  express thanks for profound friendship and advertise the just struggles of the peoples of various countries in the world support each other, the fundamental expectation, and advice given was that: It is imperative to adhere to the policy of self-reliance, rely on the strength of the masses in one’s own country, and prepare to carry on the fight independently and solve the problems of the revolution in one’s own country.

Sidney Rittenberg (a.k.a Li Dunbai), a CCP member and propaganda official at the time, recalled a meeting between Mao and about 20 African revolutionaries in Beijing in June 1963:

The African guests were assembled in the hall … none from an independent state. They were all from various nationalist organizations or guerrilla movements. I knew a few of them were receiving military training in China. I recognized a cherubic young student who had once told me he was learning from the People’s Liberation Army how to use small arms, hand grenades, land mines, and booby traps.

Mao Zedong told the African visitors:

On behalf of the CCP, I’d like to welcome all our friends and comrades-in-arms from Africa … I know you are having a very difficult struggle in Africa, and you’ve already made big successes. Many battles remain to be fought, but Africa is coming alive. Here in China, we knew little about Africa. Then as you fought for independence and were successful, your countries came and made their presence known to us.  [viii]

Its aims clearly stated, and to an extent depicted on the pages of Peking Review, centred on three Chinese objectives in Africa were anti-imperialism, (later) anti-revisionism, and Asian-African unity. Mao’s opening speech back in September 1956 at the 8th Party Congress had framed China’s foreign policy approach:

“We must give active support to the national independence and liberation movements in countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well as to the peace movement and righteous struggles in all countries throughout the world.”  [ix]

The wider context of the anti-revisionist struggle reinforced this approach as expressed in the Chinese reply to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union In “Apologists of Neo-Colonialism”, on October 25, 1963. In the editorial, they stated their support of the newly independent nations of Asian, Africa, and Latin America, emphasizing that ―The primary and most urgent task facing these countries is still the further development of the struggle against imperialism, old and new colonialism, and their lackeys. [x]

Premier Zhou En-Lai in Africa [xi]

New York Times headline

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, June 5 — Chou En-lai declared today that not only Africa but also Asia and Latin America were ripe for revolution. 

On December 14, 1963, Zhou En-lai stated in Cairo that “This is my first visit to the African continent and I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to pay my tribute to all the new emerging independent African states and their peoples, and to all the struggling peoples in Africa. The Asian and African peoples have always supported each other in their struggles, and I am convinced that the Asian and African peoples united together will certainly continue to win new victories in their common cause of striving for and safeguarding national independence and defending world peace.”[xii]

These objectives were repeated through Premier Zhou Enlai’s unpresented tour of Africa When along with the foreign minister Chen Yi and forty other officials, Zhou En-Lai made the largely symbolic, three-month long trip from December of 1963 to February of 1964, visiting nine countries, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The trip had doctrinal importance with speeches given at every capital visited, often under the title ―Afro-Asian Solidarity Against Imperialism. China viewed Afro-Asian solidarity as consisting of popular forces (i. e. national independence, liberation and revolutionary movements as well as peoples’ organisations) on the one hand, and on the other, of governments of independent countries. In other words, united front from both above and below. Diplomatically it failed in attempts arguing for the convening of a second Bandung-type conference, building upon Afro-Asian people’s solidarity in contrast to Non-Aligned Movement orientation. Still,  two core themes were repeated, with varying degrees of emphasis throughout: China’s fraternity with African anti-colonial and developmental struggles, and China’s support for Africa in overcoming these challenges, both morally and practically.

Zhou’s responses to a public press conference stressed China and Africa’s general “shared experience of suffering from imperialist and colonial aggression” with the core message of “consolidating national independence, safeguarding state sovereignty, developing national economy, promoting Asian–African solidarity, and defending world peace,” as well as emphasizing bright prospects ahead, and reiterating China’s eight principles for granting economic and technical assistance. [xiii]

China’s support was not only in rhetoric, however, but also in more tangible assistance. These goods, which included steel as well as monetary support, were the first instances of economic aid that would become the trademark of Chinese foreign policy in Africa in the coming years.

China’s action in Africa, a clear delineation of China from the West in its dealings with Africa, absolute respect for state sovereignty, a friendliness grounded in notions of equality rather than superiority, support for anti-colonial struggles, no-strings developmental assistance, and notions of supporting self-reliance.

During Zhou En-lai’s visit to the West African state of Guinea, he stressed the need for self-reliance in the independence movement. The Chinese leader stated during a speech in Guinea that “The people of the Asian and African countries deeply realize that in order to achieve independence, the people should mainly rely on their own struggle and that in order to develop the national economy and build up their own countries after independence, the people should also primarily rely on their own efforts. Self-reliance and energetic endeavors to bring about prosperity this is a line which consists in placing confidence in and depending on the masses of the people to develop the national economy and realize complete independence.”  [xiv]

The founding of the Afro-Asian People‘s Solidarity Organization (A.A.P.S.O.)in Cairo on December 26, 1957 provided an important channel through which moral and material support for armed struggles for liberation could be extended. This gathering of 500 delegates from 43 different entities from various Asian and African nations was the largest gathering of its kind. Delegates to the conference in Cairo were not representatives of their country, but rather of specific organizations, main goals of these participants were to promote anticolonial issues.

 Although the Chinese delegation was concentrating its activities on consolidating Afro-Asian solidarity and unity, parallel to this activity within the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) the military camp in Ghana saw Chinese military instructors trained cadre for revolutionary movements in French neo-colonies such as Dahomey (Benin), Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Mali. In 1963, the Chinese sent military supplies from Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville to guerrillas in the eastern Congo led by a former education minister in Lumumba’s cabinet. China gave military aid and training to revolutionary movements throughout the continent. In camps in Tanzania and Algeria, the Chinese armed and trained guerrillas from FRELIMO in Mozambique, the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau, ZANU in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania and the ANC in South Africa.

laying explosives

The complex story of the first half of the Sixties, the policies adopted and adapted by Communist China during this period, argues Debeche, invariably neglected its interest in State-to-State relations preferring to give support to anti-government revolutionary forces, however it  gave way to an renewed emphasis on economic and political independence. [xv]

Whereas the alternative narrative of a “Meddling Dragon” in Chau’s historical examination of China’s activities in Africa, portrays China engagements as specifically to demonstrate influence in the world. Misplaced reliance on defector sources shored up this position as in 1964 testimony of Tung Chi-ping, a Chinese cultural attaché for the embassy in Burundi, with misplaced credence given when he stated that China was determined to take over the Congo as the first step in a conquest of Africa! [xvi]

The Chinese News Agency Hsinhua , in a year-end review of developments in Africa, optimistically claimed that 1966 had seen Mao Tse-Tung’s Thought increasingly accepted a “the beacon light for the African revolution”, and that 1967 would see African revolutionary movements gaining greater momentum and seizing “more impressive victories”.  [xvii] This was the year Nkrumah had been disposed and diplomatic relations with Central African Republic and Dahomey broken.

Those closely allied to western interest publically spoke of Chinese subversion echoing metropolitan fears of influence and interference other than their own. Nkrumah had signed a treaty between the PRC and Ghana which allowed for a number of Chinese experts to be sent to Ghana to train members of liberation organisations at a military training camp at Obenamasi (Hutchison 1975). A number of Ghanaians were also dispatched to China to undergo guerrilla training. The military training camp headed by Chinese instructors was also closed and the instructors expelled. On October 20, after Sino-Ghanaian relations had deteriorated further, diplomatic relations were suspended.

Many African governments became distrustful of the CCP, and several even broke diplomatic relations and expelled Chinese diplomats for subversion. This reflects the [continuing contemporary] view that China’s engagement with Africa in the perspective and reporting of the West, China’s behaviour in Africa is that of an aspiring great power in the world.  The capitalist media outlets continue to frame news coverage of the Chinese in Africa in a colonial context.” Typically  a headline from the New York Times (May 2017 ) asked  Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?” and CNBC.com’s questions “Recolonizing Africa: A Modern Chinese Story?”. Yet China under Mao had none of the characteristics of the colonial experience when the European powers used horrendous violence to impose their language, culture, religion, administrative systems and then stole the resources in their conquered lands.

Far from the repression and control of Colonial times, as Lovell shows in Maoism: A Global History [xviii] especially in her presentation on the failed attempts to foment Maoist movements in Africa, the Chinese state made considerable efforts to support favourable regimes with financial support, and train fighters, not all who pledged allegiance to Maoism, supplying cash, guns, and propaganda.

China’s first foray into supporting revolution in Africa involved Algerian independence from France. Throughout the late 1950’s Algerian military delegations visited Chinese bases for training, and Chinese armaments and equipment soon popped up on battlefields around Algeria. The CIA estimated that starting in 1959 China spent around $15 million in military aid for Algerian rebels.

China attempted to increase their influence in Africa through the use of radio broadcasts. Radio Peking’s English language transmissions provided ideological news and commentary alongside music. However, given that radios were still a luxury item for many at the time, many of the masses China desired to reach were likely out of earshot during their 21 hours of weekly broadcasts.  By 1959/60 Radio Peking launched a new daily 2-hour program in English that expanded to 35 hours by 1964. The short-wave service of Radio Albania was also used by the Chinese to broadcast to Africa. The languages were Arabic, Cantonese (aimed at Zanzibar) French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Swahili.

The initial attention on Algeria in north Africa gave way to west Africa at the start of the sixties and incorporated a pivot to groups in countries under Portuguese control (i.e. Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sâo Tomé) and onto East Africa particularly Tanzania. It some places there was fertile ground for the Chinese:  [xix]



Premier Chou En-Lai Plays table tennis With President Kwame Nkrumah. Chou En-Lai Visited Ghana and other African nations in 1964.

Forming friendships in West Africa, and in the early 1960’s China signed numerous friendship treaties with the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence in the post-war era. The new nation of Ghana, under the radical leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, often considered the father of African liberation, invited Chinese military advisors to train freedom fighters from all corners of the continent between 1957 and his overthrow in 1966.

During the Congo Crisis that saw progressive leaders like Patrice Lumumba and Pierre Mulelle challenge western imperialist dominance, the direct western intervention and subversion was blatant and public. And presented as a response to alleged Chinese communist conspiracy. In western propaganda the Congo was presented as one of the most important examples of an African country in which revolutionary opposition forces were actively supported by China. Unlike in Ghana where it was a supposed subversive government that was being supported. However, as Mao’s statement in support of the Congolese people against American aggression pointed out:

“The U.S. imperialist armed aggression against the Congo (Leopoldville) is a very grave matter. The United States has all along attempted to control the Congo. It used the United Nations s forces to carry out every sort of evil deed there.  It murdered the Congolese national hero Lumumba, it subverted the lawful Congolese government It imposed the puppet Tshombe on the Congolese people, and dispatched mercenary troops to sup press the Congolese national liberation movement And now, it is carrying out direct armed intervention in the Congo in collusion with Belgium and Britain. In so doing, the purpose of U.S. imperialism is not only to control the Congo, but also to enmesh the whole of Africa, particularly the newly independent African countries, in the toils of U.S. neocolonialism once again. U.S. aggression has encountered heroic resistance from the Congolese people and aroused the indignation of the people of Africa and of the whole world. [xx]

His words were matched by training, credit and deliveries of equipment to support the struggle.

On Africa’s Eastern coast, China began supporting the communist movement on Zanzibar in 1960. The East African nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which would merge in April 1964 to become Tanzania.

China maintained good graces with the newly formed Tanzania, and eventually offered aid in the form of overt military training and assistance in building infrastructure projects, Zhou Enlai eventually made it to Dar es Salaam in 1965 and Nyerere’s came to China in 1965 and 1968, in which he “stressed that he had “come to learn.’

During another visit to Beijing in 1974 Nyerere stated that, “Two things convince me that socialism can be built in Africa and that it is not a Utopian vision. For capitalism is ultimately incompatible with the real independence of African states. The second thing which encourages me is China…China is providing an encouragement and an inspiration for younger and smaller nations which seek to build socialist societies.”  [xxi]

More than one western report would comment that publications from China, China Pictorial, Peking Review, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Mao’s selected works, Swahili translations of Chinese poems for children, etc. have all been readily obtainable. In Kampala, a street stand opposite the main Post Office sells a wide range of Chinese literature, as well as portraits of Mao and Stalin; in Dar es Salaam the Friendship Book Shop carries a full stock of Chinese publications and a complete line of Mao buttons.

By 1975, China under Mao was spending 5 percent of its budget on foreign aid. [Forty-six years later, today’s UK government target was only one percent, and that has been reduced.] Lovell reports that China’s international aid totalled more than $24 billion between 1950 and 1978, a period during which China had a per capita gross domestic product well under $200—less than 2 percent of that of the United States at the time. China, itself an underdeveloped country, spent an estimated $24 billion on international aid, 13–15 percent of which went to Africa.

Problems of Fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the National Liberation Movement in Africa

While Third World countries were “the driving force of the world revolution”, the tasks of revolutionary processes in those countries could well be at the stage of an anti-colonial revolutions. As the character of who led these movements came from the national bourgeoisie or the small bourgeoisie, there were references to “patriotic armed forces”.

Western reports had China bankrolling many revolutionary movements throughout Africa, in reality the relations between China and the third world were becoming increasingly focused on economics. The complexities of the neo-colonial aftermath of national liberation were recognised; the dependence of these governments on imperialisms – which most of the time depended economically on the old imperialist metropolises or superpowers, even switching sides from one to the other, and those distinctly authoritarian regimes (often of a pro-American character) that were also “third world” countries .  A country could have diplomatic relations with China based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, without a military or shared comradely relationship based on support for and promotion of armed struggle against colonialism and imperialism; for example, Morocco, Kenya and Burundi could be hardly characterize as militant. China built diplomatic relations with several conservative African governments. In October 1971 and January 1973, for instance, Mao hosted Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie [xxii] and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, respectively. While it stopped supporting revolutionary groups seeking to overthrow independent (formerly regarded as neo-colonialists) African governments, it turned south to increased support for those under oppressive white minority governments (i.e. Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa).

L’Imperatore dell’Etiopia S.M. Haflé Sélassié e Mao Tse Tung – 1971 © Archivio Publifoto / Olycom

Elsewhere firmly entrenched racist regime in which white minority government was determined to maintain its power faced national liberation movements adopting armed struggle against the forces of imperialism and its local allies (rather than negotiation with the colonial power) as their general strategy. These development met with the support of China.

“Revolutionary Flames in Africa”

The whole direction of propaganda during the period of the Cultural Revolution was encouraging the spirit of revolution internationally, preferably under the guidance of Mao Tsetung Thought. Maoism was embraced around the world – Mao’s message resonated intellectually and emotionally it offered empowerment to people fighting against empire, capitalist exploitation, or state-backed injustice.  China’s continued focus on third-world relations was actually an essential aspect of what is presented as an isolationist and inward looking period of the Cultural Revolution.

In October 1966, the CCP Central Committee ordered that the dissemination of The Quotations of Chairman Mao become the foremost task of all embassies.

This Chinese poster carries the slogan “Chairman Mao is the great saviour of the revolutionary peoples of the world” and an illustration of African freedom fighters reading a pamphlet by Mao.

Western reports overstated Maoist influence among African revolutionary groups and the Chinese media revolutionary rhetoric cost nothing proclaiming such militancy as evidence that More and more of the oppressed African nations are recognising that Mao Zedong Thought is their strongest weapon for gaining true independence, and armed struggle is their road to gaining liberation in Congo, Mozambique, Angola and “Portuguese” Guinea.  [xxiii]

The dominant theme at the height of the Cultural Revolution was this image the “Red Sun” of Mao rises over a diverse array of foreign peoples, armed and determined to combat imperialism. The text encourages the Chinese people to “Vigorously support the anti-imperialist struggle for the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

Chinese articles highlighting “revolutionary flames in Africa” would focused on “the revolutionary people of the Congo (K), Mozambique, Angola, Guinea (Bissau), Zimbabwe and other places are carrying on life-and-death armed struggles against imperialism and its lackeys.”  [xxiv]

However the number of self-declared Marxist African movements were few, and priority for Chinese support and aid was to those movements engaged in struggle against the remaining white supremacist colonialist regimes in southern Africa rather than insurgency groups.

Military training in the anti-imperialist struggle went to the national liberation movements which were ready to use armed struggle. This was particularly so as most communist parties which China earlier identified with, showed their loyalty to Soviet international line of accommodation with, not resistance to, the imperialist forces.  There were maoist-inclined influential and prominent revolutionary intellectuals and individual militants within the patriotic armed forces and national liberation organisations but seldom at their core were led by the presence of systematic organised maoist communist party aligned to Beijing.

African liberation movements utilized Chinese aid, and elements of Maoist ideology were utilized in efforts to promote the goals of liberation evident in the Zimbabwean experience whereby the tactics and ideology of Maoism were adopted not out of coercive force on the part of the Chinese, but because they fit the needs of the ZANU guerrilla forces. The goals of the guerrilla fighters were more attuned to their own liberation, or at the most the concepts of Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism, and African Socialism.  Obviously these concepts have much in common with International Maoism, and the peoples of these two very disparate cultures found so much to learn from one another.

Awaken peoples, you will certainly attain the ultimate victory!

From an African perspective, the liberation organisations were extremely wary of becoming dependent on one source of supplies. Such an action would have threatened the independence and credibility of their own organisations, as well as giving the supplying state an undue amount of influence in decision-making. Thus a variety of nations were sought as suppliers of military armaments, and whilst the Soviet Union and China aided the liberation organisations to some degree, other sources were of equal importance. Essentially, the African organisations took aid from wherever they could obtain it, and whilst influences did creep in to some extent the source of material aid tended not to overtly determine the political orientation of the various organisations.

 In other places, such as Madagascar, Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, and Zimbabwe, leaders of independent regimes merely claimed to be Marxist-Leninist, without usually developing policies consistent with a firm commitment to a particular ideological or institutional persuasion.  Zairean revolutionaries argued thus today the unending nationalistic petit-bourgeois question, ‘what is the relevance of Marxism in Africa?’ should be silenced as African bourgeois nationalism has proving itself incapable of providing for the basic elementary needs of the masses of African people. [See UMPZaire Africa and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. International Newsletter – Defend Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought No.8 June 30th 1995]

Unofficial Red Guard sources, disclosed in July 1967, alleged remarks by Mao on China’s role in the world in the form of big character posters pasted on the walls of Beijing streets.

“A lot of places are anti-China at the moment, which makes it look as though we are isolated. In fact, they are anti-China because they are afraid of the influence of China, of the thought of Mao Tse-tung, and of the great Cultural Revolution. They oppose China to keep the people in their own countries down and to divert popular dissatisfaction with their rule. This opposition to China is jointly planned by U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism. This shows not that we are isolated, but that our influence throughout the world has greatly increased. The more they oppose China, the more they spur on popular revolution; the people of these countries realize that the Chinese road is the road to liberation. China should not only be the political center of the world revolution. It must also become the military and technical center of the world revolution”  [xxv]

The words attributed to Mao were an exception to the standard emphasis in policy announcements that stressed, even at the zenith of the Cultural Revolution, less rhetorical references to “exporting revolution” and more oratory about the need for revolutionaries to take the responsibility for the necessary struggle in each nation.

In contrast to earlier instructions that the dissemination of Mao Tsetung was the foremost task of China’s embassies, a 1970 instruction from Mao rowed back on this emphasis in China’s national interests and conduct of its foreign policy. His comments on a document submitted by the Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Community Party of China were that,

We don’t demand that all foreigners recognize the ideology of the Chinese people, asking them only to acknowledge the integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the revolution of each country. This is a basic principle that I have told you many times. As for other harmful thinking besides Marxism-Leninism, they would come to understand themselves, so there would be no necessity for us to regard conversation with foreigners as a serious problem. You will understand just by reviewing the history of our Party—how it gradually embarked on the correct path after undergoing the lesson of so many erroneous lines; moreover, there is still a problem today, that is, we still have great-nation chauvinism both inwardly and outwardly, which ought to be overcome.  [xxvi]

Guerrilla fighters from nations across the continent were sent to China for ideological and military training, and returned prepared. Chinese military instructors made Ghana a base for training guerrillas as early as Though brought to China, the guerrillas were not apparently indoctrinated with Maoist political propaganda, the training concentrating on tactical and military matters such as leadership, communications, medical services and engineering were also taught. In analysing such aid it is necessary to point out that China very rarely revealed the concrete quantity of military aid it gave, and the West often deliberately over-estimated it. [xxvii]

 Chinese experts in guerrilla warfare trained rebels from Guinea-Bissau fighting the Portuguese, and instructed and equipped nationalists from Portuguese colonies in Tanzania, Ghana, and Congo-Brazzaville. Trainers arrived in Ghana in 1964 and remained until a coup in early 1966 ended the programme. Throughout the GPCR period, China continued its material support for, and training of, PAIGC liberation fighters through both Guinea and OAU’s African Liberation Committee.

The men who were trained in China returned to act as instructors themselves. Thus Chinese influence was broadened by their involvement in training camps for the liberation movements. The year saw not only an escalation in open guerrilla warfare in Southern Africa, but also China sending eight Chinese military experts to Tanzania to teach military skills and Maoist guerrilla tactics.

In Tanzania, the CCP supplied arms and trained Eduardo Mondlane’s Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) and later hosted FRELIMO fighters in China. FRELIMO continued to receive the largest portion of China’s aid to national liberation movements in all Portuguese colonies The CPC also trained Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) forces in Tanzania and assisted the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) in Zambia.

 A common misjudgement at the time was anyone who received training in China were, forever after, regarded as a disciple of Maoism. Western media reports would exaggerate the ‘Command and Control’ aspect of Chinese aid drawing upon  Chinese propaganda that would serve to reinforce this viewpoint with its numerous reports on the military success in the national-liberation wars to overthrow Portuguese colonial rule, often emphasising an adopted people’s war approach pioneered during China’s revolutionary struggle i.e.

This ideological conversion was emphasised during the height of the Cultural Revolution with evangelical coverage in the Chinese media for both domestic and oversea readers: e.g. In “New Developments in the African National-Liberation Movement”  [xxxii]

“With the successful unfolding of China’s great proletarian cultural revolution, the radiant thought of Mao Tse-tung has been spreading more extensively and rapidly in Africa. More and more revolutionary-minded Africans are avidly studying Chairman Mao’s works, and are exerting themselves to apply the invincible thought of Mao Tse-tung in actual revolutionary struggles.

The Angolan guerrillas look upon Chairman Mao’s military writings as “sunlight in the jungle.” The guerrilla leaders in the Kwilu and Fizi-Baraka regions of the Congo (Kinshasa) always carry Chairman Mao’s military writings with them.

In Mozambique, when some fighters set out for the battle front, Chairman Mao’s works are a must in their haversacks and Chairman Mao badges on their tunics. Their watchword is: “Be resolute, fear no sacrifice and surmount every difficulty to win victory.” What is particularly inspiring is the fact that not only the anti-imperialist armed struggle, guided by Mao Tse-tung’s thought, continues unabated in Africa, but with the extensive dissemination of Mao Tse-tung’s thought on the continent African revolutionaries are making greater efforts to study and grasp Mao Tsetung’s thought, learning warfare through warfare and steadily improving the art of struggle.

Congolese (K) patriotic fighters have repudiated the purely military viewpoint and impetuous sentiments for immediately attacking big cities. The idea of building up base areas in the countryside and conducting a protracted war has begun to take root in their minds. They pay attention to strengthening the work among the masses and to political and ideological education of the fighters, thus establishing closer links between the army and the masses, heightening the fighters’ political consciousness and raising their fighting capacity. The leaders of the Congolese (K) Patriotic Armed Forces have emphasized more than once: “Only by arousing and organizing the people can we bring about a change in the balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves, we must regard the arousing of the people and the organizing of their strength as a fundamental guarantee for our victory

A Mozambique freedom fighter said: “It is Chairman Mao who has changed our mental outlook, strengthened our fighting will and taught us how to fight.”

CPC’s deteriorating relationship with the CPSU

The Sino-Soviet dispute had become a  factor in China’s policy and had its effect on third party relations . An under-explored aspect was that China in essence adopted an anti-hegemonic policy towards the Southern African liberation organisations began to be more circumscribed in aiding movements that sided with Moscow that effectively reacted to the actions of Moscow and not the local situation.

An extended examination of China’s role in the organization and activity of the AAPSO. Mr. describes the way in which the AAPSO became, for both the Chinese and the Russians, an arena in which to work out their own disputes, As the 1960s progressed, Soviet and Chinese delegations began to clash openly with each other at AAPSO meetings as dimension of international conflict was added to the debate about struggles in Africa. Neuhauser (1968) considered that Peking at times misread the reality of Middle Eastern and African politics out of an over-enthusiastic generalization from China’s own revolutionary experience as provocative. [xxxiii]

Mao’s Cultural Revolution was not a turn away from international affairs, but rather an attempt to set an example for revolution.  A task the Soviet Union’s revisionists had betrayed. In the heightened atmosphere the Chinese media would proclaim: Under the guidance of invincible Mao Zedong thought, African revolutionary people have furthered the development of anti-imperialism armed struggle [xxxiv]

The Chinese contended with the Soviet Union for ideological influence leadership of revolutionary movements in the Third World gifting material aid and training. As the Soviet Union exclusively backed South Africa’s long-established African Nationalist Congress ANC, for instance, the Chinese which had begun exchanges with the ANC in 1953, also supported the rival Pan-Africanist Congress. In this competition for influence China aiding organisations because of their supposed hostility to Moscow — the PAC in South Africa and SWANU in Namibia were classic examples used by opponents of China’s actions. The counter-argument was that these decisions were not solely seen as a result of trying to counter revisionist influences but also motivated by the belief that people in struggle generate their own organisations and leaderships. As it turned out the dominant national liberation group prevailed.

The story was similar in Angola, where China provided arms and training to the MPLA in the early 1960s. This ideological and political struggle between the USSR and the PRC after the 20th Congress worked against the people of Angola during the 1970s, The MPLA had sent a delegation to China in 1962, and Paulo Jorge, MPLA Secretary of the Political Bureau for International Affairs first visited in 1965. The CCP had continued to provide training and arms to the MPLA throughout the 1960s but as the MPLA grew closer to Moscow Beijing extended support to both the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). China did not publicly and actively identify itself with one Angolan national liberation movement to the exclusion of the others, even though UNITA seems to have received more of China’s attention. In 1975, the Chinese government were largely perceived as supporting the U.S. and South African-backed UNITA in the Angolan civil war—in the name of defeating the Soviet Union’s attempts to gain a strategic foothold in Africa through its support for the MPLA. The PRC suspended all aid to the UNITA organization at the conclusion of 1975.

In 1964, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi  (1934-2002) had met Mao and Zhou Enlai and received military training in China; then returned the following year and again in 1967.

During his exchange with a member of the aforementioned delegation of African revolutionaries, Mao linked his own domestic political struggles directly to the struggle against Soviet revisionism on the continent:

African visitor: The Soviets used to help us, and then the red star went out and they don’t help us anymore. On the contrary, they sell arms to our oppressors. What I worry about is: Will the red star over Tiananmen Square in China go out? Will you abandon us and sell arms to our oppressors as well?

Mao Zedong: I understand your question. It is that the USSR has turned revisionist and has betrayed the revolution. Can I guarantee to you that China won’t betray the revolution? Right now I can’t give you that guarantee. We are searching very hard to find the way to keep China from becoming corrupt, bureaucratic, and revisionist. We are afraid that we will stop being a revolutionary country and will become a revisionist one. When that happens in a socialist country, they become worse than a capitalist country. A communist party can turn into a fascist party. We’ve seen that happen in the Soviet Union. We understand the seriousness of this problem, but we don’t know how to handle it yet. [xxxv]

A return will look in more detail at China support in individual arenas of struggle

  • North Africa
  • West Africa
  • East Africa
  • South Africa

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Fight for national independence and do away with blind worship of the west (September 2nd 1958) Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:261

[ii]  Mao, Zedong, Talk with African friends (August 8, 1963) https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch18.htm

[iii] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_54.htm

[iv] Africa’s task is to struggle against imperialism (February 21,1959) Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:286

[v] Hsu Nai-chiung The Interrelation of Political and Economic Independence.Peking Review #5, Jan. 28, 1966, pp. 12-14. Mao made the distinction between the rulers and the ruled: “When I say the United States is bad, I mean its ruling clique, while the American people are very good. Many people among them have not yet awakened”. Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:263

[vi] e.g.. Van Ness, Peter (1970) Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking’s support for wars of National Liberation. Berkerley: University of California Press, Hutchinson (1975) China’s African Revolution. London: Hutchinson.

Woodsmokeblog related Posts

Compass Points North https://wordpress.com/post/woodsmokeblog.wordpress.com/2648

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Guilty to the charge of promoting revolution https://wordpress.com/post/woodsmokeblog.wordpress.com/1698

Reaching Out: Global Maoism https://wordpress.com/post/woodsmokeblog.wordpress.com/2317

[vii] ‘You Fight Your Way and I’ll fight My Way’ Selected Works of Mao Tsetung Volume IX. Paris: Foreign Language Press 2021: 215

[viii] Rittenberg and Bennett (2001) The Man Who Stayed Behind. Duke University Press 270–1.

[ix] Mao Zedong, “Opening Speech to the Eighth Party Congress, 15 September 1956  https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/documents/cpc/8th_cong_opening.htm

[x] https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/documents/polemic/neocolon.htm

[xi] Zhou En-lai’s high profile tour of north and west African countries included a nine-day trip to close ally Albania, whose contribution was not overtly acknowledged, serving as the transit country for arms had been supplied to the Algerian FLN. See previous post on Albania’s African contribution. Zhou En-lai’s African odyssey was followed by an Asian tour. After leaving Somalia, he visited Burma (14 February 1964), Pakistan (18 February) and Sri Lanka (28 February).

[xii] Zhou Enlai’s 1964 African speeches were not included in the official released Selected Works of Zhou Enlai , Volume II,  published in English in 1989 by Foreign Language Press, Beijing . They were made available in reports in Peking Review and in the 1964 publication, Afro-Asian Solidarity Against Imperialism: A Collection of Documents, Speeches and Press Interviews from the Visits of Chinese Leaders to Thirteen African and Asian Countries. Peking  Foreign Language Press

[xiii] “Premier Chou En-lai answers newsmen’s questions in Accra,” Peking Review, No. 4, 24 January 1964, pp. 15–16.

[xiv]  Afro-Asian Solidarity, p. 196. The Revolutionary Prospects in Africa Excellent speech, given by Zhou at a rally in Mogadishu Somalia, on February 3, 1964, was reprinted in the Peking Review February 14 1964.

[xv] Detailed in Debeche, Ismail (1987) The role of China in international relations: the impact of ideology on foreign policy with special reference to Sino-African Relations (1949-1986) Volume Two. Thesis University of York 

[xvi] Donovan C. Chau (2014) Exploiting Africa: the influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press

[xvii] Hsinhua News Bulletin December 27th 1966

[xviii] Lovel, Julial (2019) Maoism, a global history. The Bodley House Chapter 6 – into Africa pp185-222

[xix] see Newsreel of Fighting Africa Sings Praises to Mao Zedong and His Great Cause — Djoliba National Ballet (Guinea) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1ipILaiaCA

[xx] Peking Review #49 December 4 1964 p5 https://www.massline.org/PekingReview/PR1964/PR1964-49.pdf

[xxi] Martin Bailey, “Tanzania and China,” African Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 294, (Oxford University Press, Jan1975), 42.

[xxii] Seifudein Adem (2013) Imperial Ethiopia’s relations with Maoist ChinaAfrican East-Asian Affairs the China Monitor 

https://web.archive.org/web/20180719071401/http://aeaa.journals.ac.za/pub/article/download/56/7

[xxiii] The People’s Daily 9 December 1967

[xxiv] China Pictorial #8 August 1968

[xxv] Jean Daubier, A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1971, p. 313

[xxvi] ‘We Don’t demand Foreigners Recognise the Ideology of the Chinese People (December 6, 1970). Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:448

[xxvii] CIA, ‘What the Chinese Communists Are Up to in Black Africa’ (23 March 1971), Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E-5, Documents on Africa, 1969–1972; and See:  Donovan Chau (2014) Exploiting Africa: The Influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana and Tanzania, Naval Institute Press

[xxviii] Peking Review #43, Oct. 25, 1968, pp. 26-27

[xxix] Peking Review #7, Feb. 13, 1970, 2 pages

[xxx] Interviews with the Delegation of the Liberation Front of Mozambique, Peking Review #41, Oct. 8, 1971

[xxxi] Peking Review #22, May 28, 1976.

[xxxii] Peking Review January 19,1968 pp25-27

[xxxiii] Neuhauser, Charles (1968) Third World Politics: China and the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization, 1967-1967. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 27. Cambridge, Mass.: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University

[xxxiv] People’s Daily, December 9th1967

[xxxv] Rittenberg and Bennett (2001) The Man Who Stayed Behind. Duke University Press 271–2.

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