The enhanced republication by the Foreign Language Press of the second volume of the Documents of the CPC – The Great Debate covers the period from the first exchange of letters between the CPC and the CPSU regarding the general line of the International Communist Movement (February-March 1963) to Khrushchev’s dismissal in October 1964
Included in the volume are the open letters that were distributed as anti-revisionist contributions to the theoretical debate, and intra-party letters that were not supposed to be publicly spread, containing criticisms regarding the way the debate was being conducted. The CPC made the letters public in May 1964, after the CPSU began quoting parts of them out of context in articles in Pravda to discredit the CPC. The intra-party letters, adding the date they were written, are included in this volume. The primary material is sourced from the political weekly Peking Review, allowing for the reader’s interpretation and analysis of the argument present.
There is much to consider in the arguments presented at the time, and re-reading them again after 40-odd years when they were first approached, the strength and clarity of the anti-revisionist position remains persuasive. This body of work remains foundational for any understanding of the struggle against modern revisionism. Among these comprehensive repudiation of revisionist positions, this appreciation seeks to signpost and focus on one of the text, the editorial of the People’s Daily and the Red Flag from February 4, 1964, The Leaders of the CPSU Are the Greatest Splitters of Our Times.
“the greatest splitters in the international communist movement”
A modern myth on the left has developed that the division in the international communist movement was the fault of Mao Zedong. This was reflected and dramatically expressed by a small oppositionist group to the Eurocommunist CPGB
“There can be no question that the Chinese Communist Party committed a terrible crime against humanity when it separated China from the Socialist Camp and the World Communist Movement, and immediately launched a campaign to split both.”
[The Appeal Group, Behind The Revolutionary Mask (1974) 23.]
There has emerged an attitude (and argument) that all that has past no longer matter, that such political divisions were no longer relevant for the Marxist left today, that the choices taken then should not have consequences now. In fact, unity is all. The demarcation drawn at the time involved, not just essential issues of principles and analysis; it had consequences for policies and actions. Nor was it initiated by criticism of the Soviet leadership but by the actions to supress the concerns raised by revolutionaries.
It is fundamentally flawed to frame the Great Debate in terms of a Chinese-led march away from a healthy communist movement. By the early sixties it was pregnant with antagonistic contradictions reflecting differing worldviews that could not coexist in a unitary structure. As noted in the publishers’ note to the first of the planned trilogy of volumes, they “show that the core of the Great Debate was not the struggle between the two Parties in two different countries; it was actually between the path to socialism upheld by Marxists-Leninists, and the path toward the restoration of capitalism upheld by modern revisionists.”
The Chinese editorial looked at the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and opportunism and between the forces defending unity and those creating splits runs through the history of the development of the communist movement.
A topic returned to in Lenin’s Fight Against Revisionism and Opportunism, compiled by Cheng Yen-shih, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1965)
What was drawn from that history was that like everything else, the international working-class movement tends to divide itself into two. The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is reflected in the communist ranks. It identified opportunism and revisionism as the political and ideological roots of splittism.
The position of the Communist Party of China was that;
“Between the 20th and 22nd Congresses of the CPSU, the leaders of the CPSU developed a rounded system of revisionism. They put forward a revisionist line which contravenes the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, a line which consists of “peaceful coexistence,” “peaceful competition,” “peaceful transition,” “a state of the whole people” and “a party of the entire people.” They have tried to impose this revisionist line on all fraternal parties as a substitute for the common line of the international communist movement which was laid down at the meetings of fraternal parties in 1957 and 1960.”
Whereas one can question whether the compromise resolution of either of those meetings could actual sustain unity within the international communist movement, they were platforms to build an understanding of the dangers of revisionism within the movement. However, the basis for correction and consolidation was undermined. The Soviet leadership were accused of having
“violated the principles guiding relations among fraternal countries as laid down in the Declaration and the Statement, pursued a policy of great-power chauvinism and national egoism towards fraternal socialist countries and thus disrupted the unity of the socialist camp.
It was easy to point to Albania (then the treatment of the People’s Republic of China) as an example of the political, economic and even military pressure to bear on fraternal countries, and evidence of the leaders of the CPSU having completely ignored the declared principle of achieving unanimity through consultation among fraternal parties and habitually make dictatorial decisions and order others about. They have recklessly torn up joint agreements with fraternal parties, taken arbitrary decisions, engaged in public attacks
Yet the public relations offensive from Moscow ascribe criticisms and opposition to their revisionist and divisive line to a desire to “seize the leadership.” Citing the dissolution of the Comintern, the Chinese communist party reiterated that it
“this resolution corresponded to reality and was correct. In the present international communist movement, the question of who has the right to lead whom simply does not arise.” And in its subsequent behaviour, there was no attempt to establish a Comintern structure based in Beijing. Whereas what was observed was that,
“Apparently, the leaders of the CPSU consider themselves the natural leaders who can lord it over all fraternal parties. According to their logic, their program, resolutions and statements are all infallible laws. Every remark and every word of Khrushchev’s are imperial edicts, however wrong or absurd they may be. All fraternal parties must submissively hear and obey and are absolutely forbidden to criticize or oppose them. This is outright tyranny. It is the ideology of feudal autocrats, pure and simple”
The charge rejected in the article is that of supporting the Anti-Party groups in fraternal parties describing “groups of defectors, which oppose the communist parties of the United States, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Australia and India.”; there is a counter-accusation that
“The leaders of the CPSU have stirred up trouble and created splits in many communist parties by encouraging the followers of their revisionist line in these parties to attack the leadership, or usurp leading positions, persecute Marxist-Leninists and even expel them from the Party”
Within the Communist Party of Great Britain, as elsewhere, those who raised question of line were silenced and expelled. Administrative measures were the response of the party leadership to the arguments raised by anti-revisionist members. The Central Organisation Department in March 1964 identified those “giving complete support to the general line of the Communist Party of China “and had resigned (or in some cases were expelled) from the Party. They presented the situation as one where they had “embarked on a course of deliberately building up all breakaway splinter groups.
Inner party disenchantment with aspects of the party’s line had been simmering for years; the avenues to challenge and engage in “any real discussion of core policies was blocked”. Similarly with the Great Debate the scope and extent of participation saw the leadership steadily refuse to become involved in the political questions which arise in the Chinese-Soviet documents. Party experts were giving the lead on the issues in which they echoed the Soviet leadership’s main positions. A limited right to reply was exercised but no extensive investigation undertaken by party members that would involve questioning organisational loyalty.
There was the recollection that : “although we managed to get some resolutions passed in our own branch for London District and National Congresses in 1957 and 1959, they were swallowed up in the Black Hole of merged resolutions and disappeared forever.” Administrative measures neutered the possibility of an internal criticism of what was seen as the opportunism of the leadership and the incorrect policies, the status quo was protected by the position whereby critical members distinguished the organisation itself, the instrument for the emancipation of the working class, from the individuals making it up. As inter-Branch communication was against the rules, any attempt to communicate with others to mount a challenge was seen as factionalism and grounds for expulsion. So inner-party critics had very little room to manoeuvre with the application of centralism rather than democratic centralist principles and practices.
An example of what was presented as the activities of anti-party splitters was recalled by Muriel Seltman, expelled from the CPGB with her husband Peter in 1963:
“…. we distributed a copy of an article produced by the Chinese Party to Party members at a London District Meeting of the Communist Party. In this way, we violated Branch boundaries—you were not allowed to take any action except through your Branch. We did this because the London District Secretary, John Mahon, had made a speech criticising the Chinese for “racism” on account of their special references to “Asia, Africa and Latin America.” We decided to “defend” the reputation of the CCP and distributed the alleged offending speech which had been given by the Chinese delegate at the World Congress of Women to show the Party members that the speech was not racist. We knew perfectly well what we were doing, although we asserted we had not really broken Party rules as we had not gone outside the Party, and in any case, the material we distributed was written by a “fraternal” Party. After various letters between the London District Committee and Peter and me, we were expelled.”
Everyone who tried to change the line of the CPGB at local or national level quickly discovered that the Party and its organs were completely and bureaucratically controlled by a clique of full-time revisionist officials. There could be no open discussion, criticism or revolutionary activity within the Party.
In the autumn of 1963 an “Appeal to All Communists” was made in the name of The Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity (CDRCU) led by Michael McCreery, and public meetings organised, calling for a complete ideological and organisational break with revisionism and for setting up an organisation to work for the building of a Marxist-Leninist Party to replace the revisionist dominated CPGB.
McCreery’s contribution in “The Way Forward” analysed the ideological and organisational revisionisms of the CPGB and urged the need to build a new party based on Marxist-Leninist ideology and politics. Circumstances had “compelled all those who remain loyal to the 1960 Statement of the international Communist movement to expose him [Khrushchev], and his followers throughout the world, and struggle actively to safeguard the Communist movement from their anti-Leninist ideas.”
To quote at length the example of the Belgian party, the editorial of the People’s Daily and the Red Flag argues:
Differences have existed inside the Belgian Communist Party for a long time. The struggle within the Party has become increasingly acute as the original leading group has sunk deeper and deeper into the quagmire of revisionism and abandoned Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism.
During the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Hungary, the revisionist group in the Belgian Communist Party went so far as to issue a statement condemning the Soviet Union for helping the Hungarian working people to put down the rebellion.
This revisionist group opposed the Congolese people’s armed resistance to the bloody repression of the Belgian colonialists and supported the US imperialists’ utilization of the United Nations to interfere in and suppress the movement for national independence in the Congo. It shamelessly prided itself on being the first to appeal to the United Nations, “desiring the rapid and integral application of the UN decisions.”349
It praised the Tito clique’s revisionist program, saying that it “contains ideas which enrich Marxism-Leninism.”350
It denigrated the 1960 Statement, saying that its contents were all mixed up and that “in every twenty lines there is a phrase contradicting the general line of the Statement.”351
During the great strike of the Belgian workers towards the end of 1960 and at the beginning of 1961, this revisionist group undermined the workers will to fight by denouncing their resistance to suppression by the police and gendarmes as “rash and irresponsible actions.”352
In the face of these betrayals of the interests of the Belgian working class and the international proletariat, it is only natural that Belgian Marxist-Leninists headed by Comrade Jacques Grippa earnestly struggled against this revisionist group. They have exposed and repudiated the errors of the revisionist group inside the Party and have firmly resisted and opposed its revisionist line.
Thus it is clear that the struggle inside the Belgian Communist Party is a struggle between the Marxist-Leninist and the revisionist line.
How has the revisionist group in the Belgian Communist Party handled this inner-party struggle? They have pursued a sectarian and divisive policy and used illegitimate means to attack and ostracize those Communists who have persevered in a principled Marxist-Leninist stand. At the 14th Congress of the Belgian Communist Party they refused to allow Jacques Grippa and other comrades to speak and, disregarding the widespread opposition of the membership, illegitimately declared them expelled from the Party.
It is in these circumstances that Belgian Marxist-Leninists headed by Comrade Jacques Grippa, upholding the revolutionary line, have firmly combated the revisionist and divisive line pursued by the original leading group and fought to rebuild the Belgian Communist Party. Are not their actions absolutely correct and above reproach?
In openly supporting the revisionist group in the Belgian Party and encouraging it to attack and ostracize Belgian Marxist-Leninists, the leaders of the CPSU have simply exposed themselves as creators of splits in fraternal parties
349 Ernest Burnelle, Interview with a Correspondent of l’Humanité on the Congolese Question, Le Drapeau Rouge (organ of the Belgian Communist Party), July 26, 1960.
350 “The Belgian Communist Party and the Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia,” Le Drapeau Rouge, April 22, 1958.
351 Jean Blume, Speech at the Federal Congress of Brussels, on December 3, 1961, cited by Jacques Grippa in “For the Marxist-Leninist Unity of the Party and for the Marxist-Leninist Unity of the International Communist Movement,” Le Drapeau Rouge, February 22, 1962.
352 Jean Blume, “For a Complete and Quick Victory: Two Communist Proposals,” Le Drapeau Rouge, December 29, 1960.Documents of the CPC – The Great Debate Volume 2 1963-64 .FLP 2022:265-267
Belgium was the first Western European country to develop a significant anti-revisionist communist party, and to closely align itself with China and its polemics against “modern revisionism”.
In 1963, Jacques Grippa, a prominent leader in the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Belgium, was expelled from the Party for his anti-revisionism. Grippa had been active in the Party since the 1930’s, was a hero of the World War II Belgian resistence movement, and had headed its Brussels Federal Committee. In 1964, Jacques Grippa and a significant number of his supporters founded an alternative Communist Party of Belgium (PCB) and published La Voix du Peuple (The Voice of the People). He addressed the Higher Party School for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on June 10, 1964. It was subsequently published as Theory and Practice of the Modern Revisionists, (Peking: FLP, 1965).
With Chinese support, both ideological and financial, Grippa helped organize pro-Chinese anti-revisionist groups in other European countries. This activity proved to be a source of contention and confusion domestically and internationally. With the outbreak of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, however, the PCB underwent a split as supporters of the Cultural Revolution clashed with Grippa and his supporters. Many left the PCB to form several new Maoist parties – the Walloon Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist of Belgium. In 1968, Grippa came out openly in support of Liu Shao-chi, the former Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, a main capitalist-roader target deposed during the Cultural Revolution.
Another early supporter who was to sever relations with the Chinese party was the Danish group, the Communist Working Circle (CWC) “Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds”, (KAK) formed in 1963, headed by Gotfred Appel, publicly proclaimed its profound disagreement with the Chinese evaluation of what they termed “an unpredecentedly gigantic revolutionary mass movement” amongst the workers of Western Europe and North America during 1968.
In 1968 China Pictorial at the height of the student agitation in France had reported it in terms of a “surging tide of revolution; the progressive student movement and the workers’ movement, which support and inspire each other, have combined to form a revolutionary torrent charging violently at the reactionary rule of the French monopoly capitalist class and shaking the whole capitalist world”.
Whereas, about the Moscow supporting PCF, it reported:
“The traitorous activities of the French revisionist leading clique have had the active support and close co-ordination of the Soviet revisionist leading clique. Gnashing their teeth, the Soviet revisionists viciously attacked the French student movement as the “mutinous activities” of “leftists” and “adventurists”
Of the political militancy, the revisionist PCF’s newspaper L’Humanite, published an extremely critical article that described the young militants as members of “certain groups (anarchists, Trotskyists, Maoists etc) composed in general of sons of the big bourgeoisie and directed by the German anarchist, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. One might expect a supposed revolutionary party to support a potentially revolutionary situation but the revisionist PCF was hostile to the students’ actions. In China they were lauded. That difference reflected the practical choices that were available in The Great Debate.