Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-1967

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Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-1967, by Sergey Radchenko. Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009. xx + 315 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover).

In 1962-63 when the beginnings of the Sino-Soviet rift documented here by Sergey Radchenko were becoming evident, I was a post-graduate student at Moscow State University on the official Soviet- American exchange program, and witnessed growing tension between my Soviet dormitory mates and Chinese students. By 1963, African student friends began handing me some of the Chinese brochures setting forth Mao Zedong's arguments against alleged Soviet "revisionism".

These were just some of the outward signs of the events which Radchenko recounts so well in this book. It is a study of the progression of the increasingly acrimonious debates between Mao and, first, Nikita Khrushchev, and then, Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksei Kosygin, over leadership of the "Marxist-Leninist camp" and the world "anti-imperialist struggle". He traces the influence of MarxistLeninist ideology on the conduct of the opposing leadership groups and rightly concludes that it had real, if not decisive, impact as long as there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that the difficulties could be overcome. Indeed, ideological considerations and the fear of upsetting the expectations of other Soviet Bloc and non-ruling Communist party leaders for solidarity prompted Khrushchev to pull back from the brink of an actual split until well into 1963, when it became clear to him that Mao was determined to denigrate him personally and to seek to take over the ideological and political leadership of the world anti-imperialist movement. For Khrushchev, having just avoided a possible nuclear war with the USA in the Cuban Missile Crisis and begun some serious negotiations with American and European leaders to reduce international confrontations, Mao's accusations seemed doubly incendiary.

Radchenko ties a number of these contemporaneous events - namely, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the rise of Nasser in Egypt, the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the Vietnam War - to the developing Sino-Soviet conflict, culminating in direct military clashes along the USSR-PRC border on the Amur River islands in 1969. The unleashing of Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in 1966 gave special intensity to the conflict, and convinces Radchenko that Mao's main real preoccupation was his struggle for total dominance of internal Chinese politics, rather than international relations or the fate of the world revolution. Mao's handling of Soviet military shipments to Ho Chi Minh's war against the USA and its allies was a case in point. He refused to allow direct air supply flights or the establishment of a Soviet airbase in southern China for close air support for Ho's forces. He also tried to convince Ho to keep fighting in the guerrilla mode so as to exhaust the US and its allies, rather than to try for a quick victory, advice which Radchenko argues was determined by Mao's wish to keep the US bogged down for as long as possible while he concentrated on his own GPCR housecleaning. Indeed, Radchenko cites documents to show that Mao, through Zhou Enlai, even threatened a possible cut-off of Chinese support if Ho became too dependent on Soviet weapons. No wonder that SinoVietnamese relations would turn sour a decade or so later. …