There is a long ancestry to the view that the policies of the CPSU(b) and the USSR were hostile to the development of the revolutionary process outside the Soviet Union. In his time Trotsky argued that the CPSU(b) under Stalin was undermining the revolution in China, Germany, Spain, indeed the world over. After the Second World War similar arguments were revived by he Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Tito and Kardelj said that great-power chauvinism prevailed in the Soviet Union which, it was alleged, wanted to conquer Yugoslavia economically. Stalin and Molotov in their correspondence with the Yugoslav party recalled that Trotsky had also begun his war with the CPSU(b) by accusing it of decadence, of a limited national spirit and great-power chauvinism.1
A similar logic was projected by the Communist Party of China after the 20th Congress of the CPSU. In a speech dated April 25th, 1956 entitled On the Ten Major Relationships Mao Zedong said that Stalin did a number of 'wrong things' in connection with China, having enjoined the Chinese not to press on with the revolution at the time of the war of liberation.2 During the course of the great debate Mao reiterated this theme in his Talk on Questions of Philosophy on August 18th, 1965, stating that Stalin had 'opposed our revolution, and our seizure of power.'3
Mao extended this charge of the great-power chauvinism of the Soviet Union to the entire period of Lenin and Stalin. In his Interview with the Japanese Socialists, dated 11th August 1964 which was also held during the period of the great debate, Mao in effect charged Lenin with social-chauvinism as China had yet to present its accounts to the USSR on the Soviet territories east of Lake Baikal, including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Kamchatka. Similarly the USSR was attacked for, under the Yalta agreement, 'dominating' Mongolia, and 'annexing' parts of Rumania, Germany, Poland and Finland. Mao further charged the Soviet Union with 'annexing' the Kurile Islands from Japan.4
This catalogue of charges constituted a formidable attack on the foreign policy of the CPSU(b) under Lenin and Stalin.
But to return to the central theme of this introduction: did Stalin indeed oppose the seizure of power in China by the Communist Party in 1949?
By the latter half of 1948 as a result of the heavy blows delivered by the People's Liberation Army to the troops of Chiang Kai-shek the whole of northern China had been liberated north of the Yangtse River. The dire straits of the Kuomintang forced Chiang Kai-shek to call for a truce in his New Year's Speech in 1949. This was designed to give the reactionary armed forces a breathing space which would permit them an opportunity to recuperate their strength to prepare for a new anti-PLA offensive.
Both Stalin and Mao understood that this manoeuvre constituted an international peace offensive by imperialism and its Chinese allies. Stalin was concerned to tackle this offensive in such a manner as to stall it, enable the CPC and the PLA to uphold the banner of peace, rally public opinion in China behind the CPC and so assist in the forward victorious march of the Chinese revolution. Mao initially was hesitant in taking up the suggestion of Stalin, considering that the tactical acceptance of peace negotiations with the Kuomintang even with stringent conditions which were unlikely to be accepted would weaken the position of the CPC and strengthen that of U.S. imperialism and the Kuomintang. Stalin was able to convince Mao of the tactical efficacy of his proposals. He argued that it was desirable to accept the Kuomintang peace proposal while continuing the war of liberation. Only the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang would participate in these discussions. The Nanjing government should be excluded because it was responsible for the civil war. Stalin did not anticipate that the Kuomintang would accept these proposals but in the unlikely eventuality that it did the CPC should attempt to dominate any United Front government by securing the majority of seats in the Consultative Council, the majority of the portfolios in the government and the posts of the Premier, the Commander-in-Chief, and if possible, the Presidentship. It was also necessary that the newly-formed coalition government declare any other claimant to be the government should be declared as rebels and that all forces, including the Kuomintang, take an oath of loyalty to the united government. Military action would be taken against those troops which refused to take such an oath.
The close of the correspondence witnessed the establishment of a unanimity of views between Stalin and Mao on the basic direction to be followed in the forthcoming period. This included the understanding, as is apparent from Mao's telegram to Stalin of the 14th January, 1949, that the two leaders were 'perfectly united' on the necessity of the 'continuation of the revolutionary war up to the end.' (Document No. 5).
A reading of the correspondence between Stalin and Mao Zedong of January, 1949 leads, then, to the conclusion that Mao's allegation that Stalin had opposed the seizure of power by the Communist Party of China in 1949 is wholly without foundation. It is as baseless as the charges made earlier against the foreign policy of the CPSU(b) by Trotsky and Tito.
The documents which are published below from the Archives of the President of the Russian Federation give the intensive telegraphic correspondence between J.V. Stalin and Mao Zedong in January 1949.
These documents were published by Academician S.L. Tikhvinsky in the journal Novaya i Noveishaya Istoriya, No. 4-5, 1994. We reproduce part of his introduction to these documents which gives an account of the background to the Chinese revolution between 1945 and 1949.
After the capitulation of Japan in 1945 a possibility opened up for achieving the unification of China by peaceful means. On the 10th October 1945 at the time of the talks in Chongqing, a series of agreements were signed between the delegates of the Kuomintang and the CPC. This included agreements on the cessation of military hostilities between the armed forces of the Kuomintang and the CPC, legalization of the activities of the CPC, recognition of its armed forces as a constituent part of the Chinese Army. A Political Consultative Council comprising all the political parties of China was convened. But the decisions of the Political Consultative Council at the opening of which Chiang Kai shek had promised to end the one-party rule of the Kuomintang, put an end to the persecution of democratic elements, summon a democratically elected National Assembly, were not fulfilled.
In the summer of 1946 the Kuomintang, supported by the USA which landed its troops in China and supplied huge quantities of weapons, air power, naval vessels and a huge amount of food-stock as well as through financial means, renewed the civil war against the CPC. The troops of the CPC had to abandon the North-Western and Northern territories which were under its control. However, the mounting discontent against the Kuomintang's policy of oppression of the Chinese people, the presence of American troops in the country, the sharp deterioration of the economic situation in the country, the tyranny of the Kuomintang military clique, and along with it the conduct of successful defensive tactics and guerrilla warfare by the People's Liberation Army of China led to a state of affairs that towards the end of 1947 the Kuomintang, having thrown a three-million strong army against the PLA, had lost more than one-third of its troops.
Between the summer and autumn of 1948 the troops of the PLA dealt a series of heavy defeats to the troops of the Nanjing Government. From September to November 1948 one of the three biggest operations of the PLA went into effect against Chiang Kai shek's troops - the Laoshen battle, in the course of which the entire territory of North-East China was liberated. During this period a considerably large number of soldiers, officers and generals of the Government's army voluntarily went over to the side of the PLA. The Huai He Operation began in November during which the Kuomintang lost more than 555 thousand men, and in December the last operation - the Bingqing Operation - resulted in the liberation of the whole of North China.
In the face of heavy military setbacks and a direct military threat to Nanjing and Shanghai after the arrival of the PLA at the north bank of the Changjiang (Yangtse), Chiang Kai shek in his New Year's speech published on the 1st January 1949 proposed to the command headquarters of the PLA to conclude a truce, intending, thereby, to gain a respite and strengthen his defences.
At the time the Kuomintang tried to 'internationalise' its 'peace offensive.' The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nanjing Government appealed to the Governments of the USA, England, France and the USSR putting forward a proposal that they mediate in a peace settlement between the Kuomintang and the CPC.
The international situation in 1948 was very tense. On the question of Berlin the relations between the USSR and USA deteriorated, the latter being supported by England and France ('The Berlin Crisis').
From the end of 1945, in the USA a series of plans were under consideration for attacking the Soviet Union with the use of atom bombs, the sole possessor of which was the United States. According to one of these plans which acquired the situational code name 'Drop Shot' the USA was counting on using the forces of the Kuomintang and other reactionary regimes in the Far East by providing them the support of its air force and navy from its bases in Japan and other military bases 'outside of continental China.'
In this complex international situation, fraught with the danger of military interference by the USA in the civil war in China, the Soviet Government decided to discuss with Mao Zedong the position which, according to the leadership of the CPSU, it was necessary to take regarding the proposal of the Nanjing Government on the mediation of the four States towards ending the military hostilities between the Kuomintang troops and the People's Liberation Army of China. The published documents from the Archives of the President of the Russian Federation very clearly refute the fantasies about the 'indifference and scepticism of the Soviet leadership towards the CPC', as well as the version that the Soviet Union was against the crossing of the Chiangjiang by the PLA and the liberation of the whole of China from the Kuomintang dictatorship.
Academician C.L. Tikhvinsky
Telegram of J.V. Stalin to Mao Zedong dated 10th January 1949
Comrade Mao Zedong,
On January 9th we received a note from the Nanjing Government with a proposal to the Soviet Government to take upon itself the mediation between the Nanjing Government and the Chinese Communist Party on the question of the cessation of hostilities and for the conclusion of peace. At the same time, a similar proposal has also been sent to the Governments of the USA, Britain and France. The Nanjing Government has not yet received any reply from these governments. The Soviet government has also not yet given a reply. By all means it is obvious that the proposals of the Government have been dictated by the Americans. The aim of these proposals is to make the Nanjing Government look like a proponent of ending the war and establishing peace and to brand the Communist Party of China as proponents of war if it (the CPC) straight away declines to have peace talks with the Nanjingists. We are considering replying in the following manner: The Soviet Government stood and continues to stand for the cessation of war and the establishment of peace in China. But before it gives its consent for mediation it would like to know whether the other side - the Communist Party of China has agreed to accept the mediation of the USSR. In view of this the USSR would want that the other side - the Chinese Communist Party - be informed of the peace action of the Chinese government and asked about its consent regarding the mediation of the USSR. We are thinking of responding in this way and request you to inform us whether you agree to this. If you disagree then prompt a more appropriate reply.
Similarly, we think that your reply, if you are asked, should be tentatively like this:
The Communist Party was always in favour of peace in China because the civil war in China was started not by the Communist Party, but by the Nanjing Government, which should be held responsible for the consequences of the war. The Chinese Communist Party is prepared for talks with the Kuomintang however, without the participation of those war criminals who unleashed the civil war in China. The Chinese Communist Party stands for direct talks with the Kuomintang without any foreign mediators. The Chinese Communist Party specifically considers the mediation of such foreign powers that are themselves participating in the civil war by using their air force and navy against the Chinese People's Liberation Army, as such a power cannot be acknowledged to be neutral and objective in the task of stopping the war in China. We think this is what, tentatively, your reply should be.
If you do not agree, let us know your opinion.
Concerning your visit to Moscow, we think, in view of the circumstances mentioned above you should, unfortunately, once again put off departure for some time as your visit to Moscow in such circumstances will be used by the enemies to discredit the Chinese Communist Party as a force reliant and dependent on Moscow. That of course is disadvantageous for the Chinese Communist Party and also for the USSR.
Awaiting your reply,
Continuation and the end of the preceding telegram of J.V. Stalin to Mao Zedong dated 11 January 1949
As is obvious from has been said above, our draft of your reply to the Kuomintang's proposal is aimed at the failure of the peace talks. It is clear that the Kuomintang will not opt for peace talks without the mediation of foreign powers, specifically without the mediation of the U.S.A. Similarly, it is also clear that the Kuomintang will not want to conduct peace talks without the participation of Chiang Kai shek and other war criminals.
We reckon, therefore, that the Kuomintang will reject the peace talks under the conditions that the CPC is putting forward. Consequently, it will turn out that the CPC is ready for peace talks, in view of which it cannot be blamed as being party to the continuation of the civil war. In this instance, the Kuomintang will be seen as the culprit for ruining the peace talks. In this way the peace manoeuvre of the Kuomintangists and the USA will fail and you may continue your glorious war of liberation.
Awaiting your reply,
Telegram of Mao Zedong to J.V. Stalin dated 13 January 1949
I received your telegram dated 10th January.
1. We consider that in relation to the note of the Nanjing Government with a proposal to the USSR to accept mediation on ending the civil war in China, the Government of USSR should proceed to reply in the following way:
The Government of the USSR always wished and continues to do so now to see a peaceful, democratic and peaceful China. However, in what way peace, democracy and the unity of China is to achieved is exclusively the concern of the people of China. The Government of USSR, being founded on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, considers the participation in the mediation between the two sides in the civil war in China as unacceptable.
2. We assume that the USA, England and France, specifically the USA, although they are extremely desirous of participating in the mediation on ending the civil war in China and by doing so to achieve the goal - restoration of the Kuomintang's power, but the governments of these states, particularly the Government of the USA have lost authority among the people of China, and along with it the victories of the PLA all over the country and the loss of the Kuomintang's power has already become a fact that is for all to see - whether they want to continue to support the Nanjing Government and thereby continue to offend the PLA also remains unclear.
Only the USSR commands very high authority among the people of China, and therefore, if regarding the note of the Nanjing Government the USSR will take up the position outlined in your telegram of the 10th January 1949, then it will result in the USA, England and France concluding that their participation is a must that would lead to a situation wherein the Kuomintang would get an occasion to discredit us as warmongers.
And the large masses of people who are dissatisfied with the Kuomintang and are nursing hopes of an early victory of the PLA will be disheartened.
Therefore, if the USSR, keeping the interests of international relations as a whole in mind, in its reply to the note would want to occupy the position that is being suggested by us, then we would greatly desire that you endorse our proposals. If you can take such a step you will render us a great help.
3. Whether it is possible to allow individuals from the Nanjing Government including the war criminals to enter into talks with us on peace - we need to think over it yet. At present we are inclined to take the following position: the unconditional surrender of the Nanjing Government is required in order that the people of China achieve real peace quickly.
It was the Nanjing Government that started the war and it committed a big crime. Already the people of the country do not trust it. For the earliest possible end of the war and the establishment of peace, the Nanjing Government must transfer the power to the people. It does not have any grounds to continue to linger in power.
We consider that if at present we hold talks with Jian Jijun, Shao Litsi and other such persons and form a coalition government on behalf on them together with ourselves then it would be just what the Government of the USA wishes to see.
But this would lead the people of China, the democratic parties and people's organisations, sections of the PLA and even the rank and file of the CPC to great commotion and would seriously harm our position by virtue of which the righteousness of the cause is with us.
Beginning from July 1947 we are cautiously and continuously paying attention to the delusiveness of talks which the Government of the USA and the Kuomintang will have to unavoidably hold in the event of the latter's military defeat and also to the degree of influence which this deception is having on the people of China.
We were profoundly concerned that this deception would create a big impact on the people and would lead to our being forced to make a political somersault, i.e. not to decline holding talks with the Kuomintang. We shall be delaying the formation of the Coalition Government. The main reason behind this is to let the Americans and the Kuomintangists reveal their trump cards, while we will reveal ours at the last moment.
Recently we have published a list of war criminals - 45 persons. This was done unofficially (statement of a competent authority). The PLA has not as yet issued any order about the arrest of these war criminals.
On the 1st of January Chiang Kai shek put forward the peace proposal. We have replied unofficially (article by a journalist).
In short we have left a number of points for later changes in order to see how the Chinese people and the international community react to the Kuomintang's deceit of peace talks.
Presently we are inclined towards righteously refuting the Kuomintang's peaceful deceit, because at present, the balance of forces in China has undergone a radical change and the international community too is not in favour of the Nanjing Government, the PLA can this year itself cross the Changjiang and attack Nanjing.
Apparently we shall not be required to again carry out a circumventing political manoeuvre. In the present situation there is more harm than good in following such a circumventing manoeuvre.
4. I thank you for the fact that you ask our opinion on such an important issue. If you do not agree with my above stated opinion, or if you make some changes, I request you to let me know.
12th January 1949
J.V. Stalin's telegram to Mao Zedong dated 14 January 1949
Comrade Mao Zedong
Received your long telegram regarding the Nanjing peace proposal.
1. Of course, it would have been better if the peace proposal of the Nanjing Government did not exist, if the whole of this peace manoeuvre of the USA did not exist. It is clear that this manoeuvre is not desirable as it may cause a nuisance for our common cause. However, unfortunately, the manoeuvre is a fact and we cannot close our eyes, we are obliged to take it into consideration.
2. Undoubtedly, the peace proposal of the Nanjingists and the USA is a manifestation of the politics of illusion. First of all, because in reality the Nanjingists do not want any peace with the Communist Party, for peace with the Communist Party would mean the Kuomintang's rejection of its own policy of annihilation of the Communist Party and its army and this rejection would lead to the political death of the Kuomintangist leaders and to complete disorder among the Kuomintang's troops. Secondly, because they know that the Communist Party will not accept peace with the Kuomintang as it cannot abandon its fundamental policy of annihilation of the Kuomintang and its army.
What do the Nanjingists want after all? They want not peace with the Communist Party but an armistice with it, a temporary cessation of hostilities in order to make use of the truce to gain a respite and then bring into order the Kuomintang army, bring arms from the USA, accumulate forces and then wreck the armistice and attack the People's Liberation Army after blaming the Communist Party for the breakdown of the peace talks. The minimum that they want is to check the Communist Party from finishing off the Kuomintang army.
This is the essence of the current policy of deceit being conducted by the Nanjingists and the USA.
3. How should such manoeuvres of the Nanjingists and the USA be countered? Two options are possible. The first is to decline the peace proposals of the Nanjingists and thereby declare openly the necessity of continuation of the civil war. But what shall it mean? This means, first of all, that you have put your main trump card on the table and will pass into the hands of the Kuomintang such an important weapon as the banner of peace. This means in the second place that you are helping your enemies in China, and outside China you are slighting the Communist Party as the perpetrator of the civil war and praising the Kuomintang as the supporter of peace. This means, thirdly, that you are giving an opportunity to the USA to muster public opinion in Europe and America in such direction that peace is impossible with the Communist Party as it does not want peace, that the sole means to achieve peace in China is to organize an armed intervention in China of the powers similar to the intervention which was conducted in Russia during the course of the four years from 1918 to 1921.
We think that a straight and clear reply is good when you are dealing with honest people. But if you are dealing with political rogues like the Nanjingists, a straight and open answer can become dangerous.
But a second answer is possible. That is: (a) recognize the establishment of peace in China as a desirable objective; (b) talks to be between the two sides without any foreign intermediary as China is an independent country and does not need any foreign intermediaries; (c) talks to be held between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang as a party and not as the Government which is guilty of conducting a civil war and which, in view of this, has lost the trust of the people; (d) as soon as the sides reach an agreement on the issue of peace and leadership in China the military actions are to come to an end.
Can the Kuomintang accept these conditions? We think that it will not. But if the Kuomintang does not accept these conditions, people will understand that the Kuomintang is the culprit for the continuation of the civil war and not the Communist Party. The banner of peace in this case will continue to remain in the hands of the Communist Party. This circumstance is particularly important at present when in China there has emerged a majority that is tired of the civil war and is ready to support those defending peace.
But let us assume the incredible and assume that the Kuomintang accepts these conditions. What must be the plan of action of the Communist Party?
It will be necessary in the first place not to discontinue military actions, create Central Coalition Government Bodies with the objective that in the Consultative Council three-fifths of the seats and two-thirds of the portfolios in the Government go to the Communist Party whereas the rest of the seats and portfolios be distributed amongst other democratic parties and the Kuomintang.
It is necessary, in the second place, that the posts of the Premier, Commander-in-Chief and, if possible, of the President should go to the communists.
It is necessary, thirdly, that the Consultative Council declare the Coalition government so created as the sole government of China and that any government pretending to the role of the government of China to be declared as rebel, as an impostor group which is liable to be abolished.
Finally, it is necessary that the Coalition Government issue orders both to your forces and to the forces of the Kuomintang to take an oath of loyalty to the Coalition Government and also that military actions against such troops as have taken the oath of allegiance end immediately and that military actions be continued against those troops as have refused to take the oath.
It is doubtful whether the Kuomintang will accept these measures. But if they will not, it will be still worse for them as ultimately they will be isolated and these measures shall be carried out even without the Kuomintangists.
4. This is our understanding of this issue and such are our suggestions to you. It is possible that in the preceding telegram we did not state our advice clearly and in full detail.
We request you to examine our suggestions just as suggestions which do not compel you to do anything and also which you may accept or decline. You may rest assured that a refusal to accept our suggestions will in no way affect our relations and we will continue to be the same friends that we always have been.
5. Concerning our reply to the Nanjingists' proposal on mediation our response will be composed in accordance with your wishes.
6. But we do insist that you postpone your visit to Moscow for the time being as your presence in China is very necessary at present. If you want we can send immediately a responsible member of the Politbureau to you at Harbin or some other place for talks on issues of interest to you.
14th January 1949.
Telegram of Mao Zedong to J.V. Stalin dated 14th January 1949
1. I was happy to receive your supplementary telegram dated 11th January. Regarding the basic direction (failure of the broad talks with the Kuomintang, continuation of the revolutionary war up to the end) we are perfectly united.
Today we have published the 8 conditions on the basis of which we agree to conduct the peace talks with the Kuomintang. These conditions are put forward to counter the five reactionary conditions which had been put by Chiang Kai shek on 1st January in his peace proposal.
Some days back prior to that the Americans sought to know our opinion - whether we wish to conduct peace talks with the Kuomintang without the participation of the 43 war criminals. Therefore only one minimum condition namely participation in the peace talks without the war criminals is already not sufficient for wrecking the Kuomintang's plot of peace talks.
3. After the publication of the peace proposals by the Kuomintang in the areas under the Kuomintang there is big turmoil, the population is demanding peace in massive numbers and is complaining that the Kuomintang's conditions are extremely rigid.
The propaganda organs of the Kuomintang are giving explanations as to why it is necessary for the Kuomintang to defend its legal status and maintain the army. We think that the disarray in the Kuomintang is going to spread even further.
14th January 1949
J.V. Stalin's telegram to Mao Zedong 15 January 1949
Comrade Mao Zedong
We have just received your latest and short telegram, from which it is
evident that unity of opinion on the issue of the peace proposals of the
Nanjingists has been established between us and that the Communist Party of
China has already started the 'peace' campaign. Thereby, the issue can be
considered exhausted. 15th January 1949
Publication of the Soviet Government's Reply to the Memorandum (Note) of the Nanjing Government in Izvestia of 18th January 1949
On 8th January the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China sent to the Embassy of the USSR in China a memorandum containing the request to the Soviet Government to act as an intermediary in the peace talks between the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party. The Soviet Ambassador was informed that the Chinese Government has made a similar appeal to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain and France.
On 17th January the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR Com. A.Y. Vishinsky received the Ambassador of China to the USSR Mr. Fu Bin Chang and conveyed to him the reply of the Soviet Government in which it was noted that the Soviet Government invariably adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, does not consider it expedient to take upon itself the mediation which is mentioned in the memorandum.
In the reply of the Soviet Government it is noted that the restoration of the integrity of China as a democratic and peace loving state is the concern of the Chinese people themselves and that this integrity can most likely be achieved through direct talks between the two sides of the internal forces without any external interference.
'Sino-Soviet Relations. 1911-1957,'
Collection of Documents, Moscow, 1959, pp. 200.
1. For this correspondence out of concern for secrecy, Stalin used the pseudonym of Fillipov.
2. In the memoirs of the Chinese diplomat and author Shi Zhe it is mistakenly asserted: 'In December 1948 the Soviet side sent us a letter, received by the Soviet Government from the Kuomintang Government. This requested the Soviet Government to settle the dispute between the KMT and the CPC, to bring an end to the civil war... The Soviet Government handed over to us the original (Russian text) of the letter without any comments. (Recollections of Shi Zhe; Zheniu, 1988, No. 5. The Russian translation is published in: Problems of the Far East, 1989, No. 1, pp. 139-148. For the quotation see p. 141.)
3. Jian Jijun and Shao Litsi were already authorised in 1946 by the Nanjing Government to hold talks with the representatives of the CPC. But these talks, held through the mediation of Gen. Marshall were disrupted by Chiang Kai shek.
4. In this paragraph the further operations between the radio station of the CPC and Moscow were discussed, hence the paragraph is left out.
Translated from the Russian by Satyabhan Singh and Tahir Asghar
Courtesy: Novaya i Noveishaya Istoriya, No. 4-5, 1994, pp. 132-140.
Click here to return to the September 1997 index.