Why was there a Sino-Soviet split by the late 1960s?

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Aamena Lala

Why was there a Sino-Soviet split by the late 1960’s?

Whilst it is easy to conclude that the Sino-Soviet split was simply a culmination of events after 1953, it seems more plausible to assert that tensions between Russia and China had been simmering beneath the surface for decades. In many ways, friction was inevitable due to various disputes over the 7000 km border they shared, but these altercations were hurriedly swept under the carpet, due, in large part, to the emergence of a mutual communist ideology. This period of convalescent relations was short-lived, and it seemed that deep-rooted discrepancies could not be dismissed as easily as previously thought. As a consequence of ideological differences, incompatible national interests, conflicting personalities, and evolving nuclear issues, a Sino-Soviet split was the climatic end to a period of high tensions.

The logic behind burying any previous unrest in the move towards an era of close Sino-Soviet links, was that two countries both pursuing similar aims for a communist revolution, would do better to collaborate their effort. The logic, it seems, was flawed and their aims not similar enough. The methods and actions believed to reach this aim were discordant, and it emerged that ‘communism’ meant different things to both countries. Khrushchev criticised Stalin on the world stage, zealously ostracising his methods in 1956, greatly offending Mao, who’s own policies were based on Stalin’s. The Soviets pursuit of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the US was seen as a betrayal of sorts against the ‘true’ communist cause, and Mao’s distaste intensified when Khrushchev visited the USA in 1959. China and the USSR it seemed, had interpreted Marxist ideology in different ways to their own benefit, and were neither willing to compromise, nor discuss their options. Such behaviour was common throughout their alliance, and these personal traits played a contributory factor in the deterioration of relations.  Mao called Soviet Communism ‘social fascism’, and was deeply suspicious of Khrushchev’s ‘revisionist’ attitude towards the West, and his detachment from Stalin. The allegations were by no means one-sided; Khrushchev declared the Chinese ‘Trotskyists’, citing Mao’s’ Cultural Revolution, and other attempts to advocate a proletarian world revolution, as ‘raging fanaticism’ that threatened to destroy the world.  A relationship between two powers that both thought they were right, yet had differing aims and methods, and continued to aggressively denounce each other’s actions, was never going to be healthy, nor stable. This initial factor of a common ideology, which caused China and the USSR to unite, was ultimately not strong enough to keep them united, and despite the universal label of ‘communism’, in practice, the differences were too great and drove the two countries apart. Conflicting ideology was often the excuse used to justify divisions between the countries; however, in some cases it was a facade hiding other factors that were instrumental to the split.  

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Ideology is arguably, only as important as a leader interpret. Both Khrushchev and Stalin acted under the name of communism; however, it was only between Khrushchev and Mao that sparks flew. Mao had considered himself junior to Stalin, but with Stalin dead in 1953, Mao expected a sense of deference from Khrushchev that he never received. When Khrushchev unveiled his plans for ‘peaceful coexistence’ Mao’s ambitions and indignant traits came to the surface. Khrushchev himself said that he ‘sensed that Mao had aspirations to be the leader of the world Communist movement’. His ‘tit-for-tat’ attitude was illustrated in his ...

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