London, May.—The second anniversary of the Six-Day War supplies as good a peg as any on which to hang some remarks about the current Middle Eastern turmoil. Starting from the Israel-Arab confrontation one can move on to more general thoughts about the region. From there the road leads to the recent upheaval in Pakistan. Thereafter we shall follow the example of Comrade Mao and embark upon a Long March northward, until we reach the frontier separating the People's Republic of China from the USSR. And so, by a semicircular movement, back to where we started, for Soviet expansion in the Middle East has become a factor in the politics of the region. It has also had repercussions on the other side of the Mediterranean: in Greece, Spain, Italy, and France. Which brings one to NATO and the recent improvement in American-French relations: the latter phenomenon running parallel—to the surprise of some people—with Mr. Nixon's earnest efforts to promote what the Chinese and their friends have come to describe as “collusion” between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Now if this kind of collusion exists, it is likely to manifest itself in a joint attempt to impose some kind of peace or at least an armistice upon the belligerents in the Middle East. This may or may not occur. If it does, we shall have proof that some sort of global understanding between the U.S. and the USSR is actually in the making. I reveal no secret when I say that this prospect is viewed with alarm not only by the pro-Chinese section of the New Left, but by a number of people closer to the political and ideological center of affairs. If the adherents of Maoism, Castroism, or “libertarian socialism” think they have a monopoly of nervous apprehension concerning what they would doubtless term a “global sell-out,” they are mistaken: the Gaullists and Herr Franz Josef Strauss are equally suspicious, albeit for different reasons. Even the British are a triflle alarmed at the thought of the Big Two getting closer together. So far as the Middle East is concerned, London and Paris are indeed being consulted. They may even mobilize regional forces so as to give extra weight to their own utterances. But this looks like being an exception. The probable shape of things to come is more clearly reflected in the currently fashionable game of trying to determine the future relationship between the two nuclear superpowers and China.

All of this, needless to say, is cold comfort to the interested parties on the spot: in this case the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs. If they have something in common (and they may yet discover that they have quite a lot in common), it is a determination to settle their deadly quarrel locally and at gun-point. If it were only a matter of guns in the literal sense of the term, they would probably get away with it. Who cares about guns? Nowadays the combatants might as well be armed with bows and arrows, for all the difference it makes to the Big Two (or Three). But there are rumors floating about that Israel and Egypt may shortly be able to escalate beyond artillery duels, in which case the superpowers will have to step in. So far this is mere talk, some of it probably put about with the intent of scaring what is known as public opinion. It certainly has no relevance to terrorism and police operations, which is what the Israelis and the Palestine Arab nationalists are actually engaged in. Even so, this kind of talk may not be entirely hollow.

It is perhaps better just now to ignore these speculations and stick to the plain facts of the case. Logically and psychologically, what happens at ground level, so to speak, is all that really matters to the people who in the end will have to make a political settlement: the Israelis and the Arab nationalists. This is going to become easier in the measure in which the Palestine Arabs acquire a new kind of identity and stop relying on the empty boasts and promises of political clowns like Nasser. Unfortunately the instrument they have chosen to affirm their presence—terrorism—is counter-productive in that it sets up an unending cycle of vengeance and mutual hatred. None of these factors is calculable and measurable, which is why outsiders, however well-intentioned, commonly go wrong in predicting the next move. There is perhaps some substance in the quaint logic of the bitter-enders on both sides who believe that “in the end we shall get together—after we have fought each other to a standstill.” The trouble is that no one can work out in advance the psychological process through which the combatants will have to pass before they feel able to strike a bargain. That it will have to be struck locally, by those whose lives are immediately engaged, goes without saying. The powers can only hold the ring. But how long is the interval going to be? Bi-nationalism—the “obvious solution” to anyone who views the bloody struggle from the safety of his armchair—means different things to Israelis (even those among them who are tired of Zionism) and to Palestine Arabs who still think they can set up a state with a tolerated Jewish minority. Since this is the maximum their leaders are presently able to envisage, the daily battle goes on, and so does the accumulation of hostility. To get out of this vicious circle, the Palestine Arabs would have to concede the existence of Israel and this they have so far refused to do.

Nor have they been told the facts in plain language by those who claim to be their friends: the Russians and the French. Soviet diplomacy is hampered by fear of Maoist competition, by doctrinaire anti-Zionism, and by an ingrained habit of systematic lying that goes back to Tsarist days. Since Russian politicians seem unable to tell the truth even when it is in their interest (Khrushchev was an exception), it is no wonder that their Communist comrades in Eastern Europe no longer believe anything that comes out of Moscow (hence all those photographs of Chinese atrocities, solemnly communicated last March to Western governments by the Soviet Foreign Office, in the hope of finding a few takers). As for French policy, it is whatever Paris says it is at any given moment. In private de Gaulle is reputed to have told numerous Arab visitors that they must recognize Israel. In public the French government takes a line that can only encourage Arab revanchism, even though this is plainly not what Paris wants. The whole performance is dictated by misleading analogies with Algeria, and by a failure to understand that Israeli nationalism is something quite different from “colonialism.” For that matter, those Parisian leftists who have thrown in their lot with what they are pleased to call the “Arab liberation movement” are making exactly the same mistake.

This is the place to say a few words about one of the more learned and reputable among these theorists: M. Maxime Rodinson, whose book Israel and the Arabs1 is occasionally cited as a serious study on the subject. A former Communist of Jewish origin (his father was a pioneer of the Jewish labor movement in France before 1914), and an Orientalist who holds a chair at the Sorbonne, Rodinson is the ideal-typical spokesman for people who would like to believe that “Arab socialism” is what it purports to be: a “progressive,” democratic, nonsectarian movement embodying the virtues of patriotism, anti-imperialism, and everything else that is honorable and forward looking. An indoor Marxman with a line of salestalk suitably attuned to the present intellectual atmosphere in Paris, Rodinson manages to sound reasonable even when he is talking arrant nonsense. Having abandoned Stalinism in favor of Mao-and-water, he has naturally been taken up by that section of the New Left which looks to the Third World for the solution of its own problems. And since he is by profession an Islamist—indeed professor of Ancient South Arabian Languages, no less—he is regarded as an authority even by people who do not share his political credo.


The trouble with Rodinson, to put it in plain language, is a notable lack of ordinary good sense. Perhaps one ought not to make too much of the fact that at the time of Stalin's celebrated “Doctor's Plot” in 1953 he was foremost among those French intellectuals who howled for the blood of the accused (all of them Jews, as it happened). Writing in the Stalinist Nouvelle Critique in February of that year, Rodinson—no schoolboy, but even then nearing his fortieth birthday—swallowed whole the entire monstrous pack of demented lies coming out of Moscow, and for good measure affirmed that Zionism was a school of treason (“par le sionisme la trahison pénétrait dans le monde socialiste”) and Israel a racist state kept in being by the Washington Export-Import bank to serve as an agency of American imperialism. Since those crazy days Rodinson of course has learned a thing or two. Having finally crawled out of the Stalinist madhouse, he has performed a kind of painless lobotomy upon himself and in the process transmuted himself from a raving fanatic into a learned imbecile. Well-meaning, equipped with a fund of specialized knowledge, and wholly lacking in political sense, he is a sucker for anyone who comes along and fills his head with tall tales about “Arab socialism.”

The book is what one might expect from a writer with this sort of background and mental training: neither genuine analysis nor straightforward propaganda, but a mixture of both, at an intellectual level just elevated enough to make readers wholly ignorant of the subject feel they are being offered a serious study, when in fact what they are getting is a piece of inferior political journalism. As a historian Rodinson does not exist. He cannot even get the simplest facts straight. Thus in his opening chapter on “Jewish Nationalism and Arab Nationalism,” by way of explaining the Russian pogroms of the early 1880's, he tells his readers that “Tsar Alexander III decided to avenge the death of his father on the Jews (Alexander II was killed by revolutionaries in 1881; the assassins happened to be Jewish).” In actual fact the assassins happened not to be Jewish. What is more, their organization, the Narodnaya Volya, was just as anti-Semitic as the Tsarist authorities, if not more so. The immediate reaction of its Executive Committee to the police persecution which descended upon it after the assassination of Alexander II was to issue a manifesto to the Ukrainian peasants calling upon them to rise up against “the Jewish Tsar,” the Jews, and the nobility, and massacre the lot of them. Since the early Russian Marxists later dissociated themselves from this form of populism, Rodinson need not have had any trouble with the topic—but then he knows nothing whatsoever about East European history. Besides, had he got this bit of information straight, he would have had to acknowledge the existence of racial hatred among the Russian peasantry and intelligentsia, and that would never do: it might give aid and comfort to the Zionists. Instead he chooses to remain in blissful ignorance of what really went on during those years. Almost the entire book is at the same level of intellectual cretinism and factual ignorance. And this fellow holds a chair at the Sorbonne and is hailed as an authority by the simpletons of the New Left!2


Every now and then his unflinching allegiance to the Arab cause gets Rodinson into trouble with his conscience as a humanist and a man of the Left. Thus in his chapter on “The Rise of Arab Socialism” he is made distinctly uncomfortable by the bestiality of the Ba'athist gang in charge of Iraq: a country riven by constant tribal warfare between the so-called government and the Kurdish minority. He gets out of his dilemma by making a hero of Nasser whose “socialist, Arabist, and anti-imperialist stand gave a new dynamism to these three guiding principles throughout the Arab world.” Anyone acquainted with Marxism could have seen at a glance that Nasser's “socialism” was nothing but the ideology of the nascent Egyptian bourgeoisie. The Communists knew this, and said so, which is why Nasser kept them in jail. But at least he did not murder them, whereas the “Arab socialists” in Iraq. . . But let us hear Rodinson on this to him very embarrassing subject:

The Army was united on a program of pan-Arab nationalism. . . . A military coup on 8 February 1963 . . . dethroned Kassem, who was killed. Power was taken over by a coalition of Nasserites and Ba'athists, with the latter at first in the dominant position. Conservative forces rejoiced at the abrupt disappearance of the danger of a gradual slide into Communism. A neo-Ba'athist militia was formed to hunt down suspected Communists and fellow-travelers; some 5,000 were slaughtered. This bloody settlement of accounts lanced the boil of five years' accumulated hatred and resentment. From their position of dominance, the Ba'athists then turned to the elimination of their Nasserite allies. Their pan-Arab nationalism caused them to step up the war against the Kurds, which became bitter and frequently horrific. . . .

Some socialism! What Rodinson does not tell his readers is (a) that the Ba'athist ideology (even in its less murderous Syrian form) is an exact copy of European fascism, down to the lunatic doctrine that “the Jews” invented capitalism, own all the banks in the world, and control the American government; (b) that the Ba'athist murder gangs who slaughtered the Communists in 1963 also terrorized and blackmailed the “conservative forces” whom he tries to saddle with the responsibility for these Hitlerite goings-on; (c) that they are still in power, contrary to his assertion that “the Ba'ath's reign in Iraq was brief,” its military organization, the National Guard, having come into conflict with the Army. These distinctions may seem important to someone sitting in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. They are of no interest to the luckless inhabitants of Baghdad, as Rodinson would discover if he ever talked to them, or to some of the Arab student refugees from Iraq who cannot go back for fear of being murdered: like those former Ministers—Nasserites in Rodinson's terminology—whose headless bodies are occasionally fished out of the river, or discovered in some back alley. Hitler can be proud of his Arab pupils. What he could not have foreseen was that their principal French apologist would be a former Communist of Jewish parentage, safely ensconced in a professorial chair at the Sorbonne, and spinning yarns about “Arab socialism.”

But enough of Maxime Rodinson and his asinine writings. The man is noteworthy only as a specimen of the genus crétin distingué: a splendid French phrase originally coined to interpret the magic letters “CD.” (Corps Diplomatique) which traditionally adorn the vehicles transporting ambassadors and other exalted personages from their offices to their private residences. No one—whatever his or her opinion about the rights and wrongs of the Palestine-Israel drama—need waste any time on Rodinson. The most that can be said in the book's favor is that the author's innocence is genuine and unfeigned. There is not an ounce of Machiavellianism in him. Considering his background, this circumstance at least must be notched up to his credit 3



What of the argument that Arab and Jewish left-wingers are already getting together on a supra-national basis and under the banner of Marxism-Leninism? In the first place, this is nothing new: various Communist parties in the Middle East have been preaching it for decades, and so far have got nowhere. Secondly, the only sizable Arab organization more or less committed to this kind of line—the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”—is likewise committed to terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and the destruction of Israel as a state (although not of the Jewish community as such). It has not so far proposed genuine bi-nationalism, but still looks forward to the day when the Arab flag will fly over Jerusalem, whereas an authentically internationalist movement would presumably envisage the Israeli and Palestinian flags flying side by side. Finally, the PFLP is both faction-ridden and without real influence by comparison with the more traditional Al Fatah: lavishly subsidized by the oil-rich Arab states and backed by thousands of armed irregulars. “Al Fatah” literally signifies “triumph,” and a military triumph over Israel is what its leaders are preaching. They have the money, the guns, and the men, whereas all the PFLP has is a handful of teachers and students, themselves torn between Maoists and radical nationalists. The recent “commando” raids on Israeli airliners were the work of the PFLP, which employs gunmen as well as ideologists and is thoroughly confused about its aims. The most one can say in its favor is that it is disliked by the Ba'ath and that some of its leaders regard themselves as Leninists, which suggests that they have gone beyond the mental level of the main body of Arab nationalism. But this kind of stuff goes down better with intellectuals than with the masses, who still cling to the Islamic tradition and look to Al Fatah to make an end of Israel.

For propaganda purposes all these outfits now draw a distinction between Zionism and Judaism. Their propagandists affirm that if only Israel stops being Zionist, all may yet be well. What they cannot or will not see is that Israel is a nation, and that the Israelis are not going to commit suicide for their benefit, though many are willing to cede most of the territory occupied in the 1967 war. Comparisons with Algeria or Vietnam are positively insane, yet this stuff is still being peddled by the PFLP and its Western sympathizers. Until someone knocks a little sense into their heads, it will be easier for the Israelis to come to terms with Al Fatah, which at least has some claim to represent the Palestine Arabs, doesn't care about Frantz Fanon, and will probably in the end accept some form of bi-nationalism: always provided the Arab governments do not start another round of fighting. Hitherto—and this bears repetition in view of the mendacious propaganda put out by its friends—Al Fatah has not got beyond promising to respect the existence of “an ethnic and religious Jewish community” in a Palestine Arab state. What such promises are worth (even if their authors mean what they say) can be inferred from the fate of other national or religious minorities in the Arab world: the Kurds for example.4

Does all this matter? Yes, for in the long run the only lasting settlement is going to be hammered out in secret meetings between the Israelis and the representatives of the Palestine Arabs. Both sides know it. Neither can proclaim it publicly: the Israelis because they have to pretend that Palestine-Arab nationalism does not really exist; their Palestinian opponents because they depend on subsidies which would dry up the moment there was talk of peace. Besides, a settlement that more or less satisfied the Palestine Arabs could only be reached at the expense of Syria and Egypt—especially Egypt. Now that Nasser has failed everywhere else, a war of revenge against Israel has become his sole raison d'être, and he is not going to be deflected from it, whatever advice he may be getting from the Russians (it is plain that just now they are not keen on another round). From a purely Egyptian viewpoint the return of Sinai and the reopening of the Suez Canal are clearly preferable to the pursuit of a lunatic vendetta against Israel. But Nasser is sitting on a powder-keg of his own creation: if he makes peace, the Cairo mob—spurred on by junior army officers and assorted fanatics—may unseat him, and he knows it. The same goes for his colleagues in Syria and Iraq. As for the wretched Hussein—a creation of the British Foreign Office, and like all such puppets doomed to early extinction—he is on the way out, whatever happens on the West Bank of the Jordan. The stone age is coming to an end even in his part of the world. Soon there will be no one left for Professor Toynbee to talk to outside Saudi Arabia, and one of these days even that ancient fortress of Islamic tradition—complete with black slaves, veiled women, and tribal warriors—may crumble into the desert sand.

In considering these matters it is useful to bear in mind that a good deal of what passes for straight reporting of Middle Eastern affairs is in fact disguised propaganda: mostly funneled through Lebanon by way of exchange professors and resident spies dressed up as newspaper correspondents. The case of Philby—Beirut correspondent for the London Observer, confidant of the British Foreign Office, and Soviet spy to boot—has become celebrated, but the only noteworthy feature of his performance was his ability to pose as an ordinary agent, when in fact he was a double agent, if not a triple one—there are people who believe he was “really” betraying everyone else to the Arabs. The Levant being the kind of flea circus it is, almost anything in that line of business is possible. None of it has the smallest significance. As Winston Churchill used to say (and he should have known) : “There are no secrets—everything of importance is in the newspapers” (I am quoting from memory). This is certainly true of the Middle East. Even the story about the Israelis manufacturing nuclear arms at Dimona, in the Negev, has now reached the public. The comic part of it is that—in the words of a well-informed specialist on the topic, Mr. Leonard Beaton—“for reasons best known to themselves, the French government built this plant secretly, arousing great suspicion both in the Arab countries and in the United States and Britain.” By the time de Gaulle had changed course and imposed the arms embargo, matters had reached the point where Israel was credited with the ability to produce a few bombs per annum. Here in London it is generally believed that the Russians have hitherto kept quiet about it (a) so as not to embarrass the French and (b) to avoid being pestered with Arab requests for nuclear weaponry. Moscow apparently hopes that Washington will keep Israel under control, in exchange for a Russian promise to withhold nuclear arms from Nasser. It may work—and then again it may not.


The maneuvering in and around the United Nations must be seen against this backdrop. From Israel's viewpoint it is of course irritating that France should vote with Russia and the Arabs. Viewed from Moscow, Cairo, or Algiers, the picture looks different. If the Russians are to keep France on their side, they have to tone down their anti-Israel propaganda. They may even have to urge their Arab protégés to recognize Israel, in exchange for a settlement restoring some of the lost territory to its former owners. None of this makes the task of the luckless Gunnar Jarring any easier; nor does it suggest any reason why genuine peace should come to the region in the foreseeable future. Sinai, or part of it, may be returned to Egypt; the West Bank may be converted into a self-governing buffer state (few of the Arabs living there want to go back to Jordanian rule, as personified by the grotesque Hussein and his British cronies of Arab Legion days). But terrorism may go on for years, and probably will. This, however, is something the powers can live with, just as they can live with its Cypriot counterpart, as long as Greece and Turkey—both members of NATO—don't come to blows over it. What they cannot safely tolerate is the spread of nuclear weaponry among the highly unstable Arab countries in the region. Some of these countries—Syria and Iraq, for example—are virtually ungovernable, and their rulers totally irresponsible. There is no ground for thinking that this state of affairs is going to alter over the next decade.

In the context of “competitive coexistence” between the U.S. and the USSR, this local instability may at any moment assume a guise highly unwelcome to the Russians, even though the Arab-Israeli conflict is worth keeping alive from Moscow's standpoint, since it facilitates Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. Having more than replaced the equipment lost by the Arab states in 1967, the Russians must reckon with the likelihood that Nasser & Co. may go to war without asking for permission. This in fact is what the Israelis expect will happen some time within the next two or three years. It is not a prospect the Kremlin can view with enthusiasm, but having put their money on this particular horse, the Russians are to some extent the prisoners of their own folly.

The incalculable factor in this equation is the influence of Mao's China, and of Maoism among the crazier Arab terrorists. Not that China is likely to equip them with nuclear arms, but simply by keeping the pot on the boil Peking can embarrass Moscow to the point of provoking a new conflagration. Any settlement underwritten by the Big Four is certain to be denounced by the Maoists as a sell-out of the Palestine Arabs. Until the latter make their own arrangement with Israel—the best solution in the long run—competition among Moscow-trained Communists, ordinary Pan-Arabists of the Nasserite kind, Hitler-style “Arab socialists” of the Ba'ath variety, and Maoist gunmen committed to endless guerrilla warfare, can be relied upon to produce a fine witches' brew.

Apart from Turkey and Israel, there are no stable regimes in the area—although Iran is making economic progress and may yet produce a fairly effective military dictatorship, once the Shah has vacated the throne. But then one has recently seen in Pakistan that military rule tends to be short-lived. It is true that Iran is economically better off than Pakistan and does not have a population problem. Yet only liberals believe that economic growth automatically leads to political stability (is there any nonsense that liberals do not believe?). Communists know better: after all, Tsarist Russia around 1900 was making faster industrial progress than almost any other country in Europe, and this was just what kept the revolutionary ferment boiling. Anyway, no Leninist ever thought that economics determines politics. They know it is the other way around, at any rate in backward pre-industrial countries. As for Mao—but surely by now we have all studied the Little Red Book. And what is the message it conveys? Why, just what one might expect from a Rousseauist who fancies himself a Marxist: the Popular Will comes first, and once set in motion it is irresistible, moves mountains, makes water flow uphill, and in general conforms to ancient Chinese wisdom.

This of course is dangerous ground. Anyone who makes the obvious point that Mao has abandoned Marxism is in danger of being enlisted on the Russian side of this particular quarrel. In actual fact the Russians are being hoist with their own petard. What Mao has done is to take Leninism, strip it of its residual Marxist element, retain the populist content, and inflate it into a global creed suitable to the Third World of pre-industrial countries. This indeed is heresy, but it is the sort that happens to suit China, just as “revisionism” is the kind that suits a Central European country like Czechoslovakia.

As for Soviet “orthodoxy,” it is becoming indistinguishable from plain ordinary patriotism (not to mention the dread word imperialism). Academician Andrei Sakharov, the rising hope of the liberal science Establishment in the USSR, compares Mao with Hitler (see his recently published essay Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom). Evgenyi Evtushenko says Mao reminds him of Genghis Khan (see his recent poem on the subject). Sakharov is a prominent physicist and an ardent Westernizer. Evtushenko is a sturdy patriot (and a bit of an opportunist). When two such different men are in agreement about the menace of Maoism, one may be reasonably certain that they reflect a fairly widespread sentiment. One may also suppose that the Kremlin, for all its idiotic brutality in dealing with the Czechoslovak reformers, does not seriously expect Russia to be invaded by the handful of NATO divisions stationed in Western Germany. Its real nightmare is an understanding between Washington and Peking. This may sound crazy, but Brezhnev & Co. are not noted for their sophisticated understanding of the outside world. Men capable of threatening an ally with bloody violence as a suitable reaction to a bit of popular rioting following an ice-hockey match, are clearly not fit to hold their posts. One recalls that after the June war in 1967 their representative at the United Nations compared Israel with the Third Reich. That is just about the intellectual and moral level to be expected from Stalin's heirs, not to mention their habit of reckless lying whenever driven into a corner. It accounts for their persistent failure to make sense of relatively simple matters, and for the growing skepticism their antics evoke even from their Warsaw Pact partners.

It also accounts for their inability to isolate China within the international Communist movement. On paper this ought to be easy, for Maoism really is a heresy when viewed from the Leninist angle. But by now—and especially since the invasion of Czechoslovakia last year—Moscow has lost its last shred of ideological credibility. When Russian spokesmen appeal to “proletarian internationalism” they sound about as convincing as a professional burglar preaching the sanctity of property. If their satellites go along with them, it is partly from habit, partly because they can see no advantage in switching to the Chinese side. Maoism holds no attraction for the industrial working class, on which in the last resort every genuine Communist party must rely. Its appeal is to those whom Fanon called the “wretched of the earth.” In practice this means the starving peasantry of some backward countries, plus gunmen in search of an ideology that does not impose too much intellectual strain. It also appeals to racist sentiments in areas formerly colonized by Europeans, or presently garrisoned by bewildered American forces. Above all, needless to say, it appeals to Chinese national pride.



But does Mao have to be so furiously, almost pathologically, hostile to his erstwhile Russian mentors? Personal factors apart—after all, Maoism is as much the creation of one man as Leninism was—there is a certain unconscious logic about this kind of commitment. China really has nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain, by casting itself in the role of leader of the Third World. The choice, however, entails a degree of intransigence which the Kremlin can no longer afford. It also responds to deep-seated national attitudes, and the Chinese revolution was a national one, whose leadership was captured by the Communists only after everyone else had failed. Movements of this kind derive their strength from a kind of patriotic frenzy that has to be generated to make Spartan austerity tolerable. In this sense the Russians are right when they assert that Mao has destroyed the Communist party and replaced it by a new organization based on the army, the students, and the peasantry: everyone except the industrial working class and the technical intelligentsia—the two strata that normally make up a Socialist, or Communist, party. Mao, for his part, seems to be guided by a sound instinct in pursuing a line that enables him to appeal to the Chinese people: an entity sufficiently vague to sanction whatever is declared to be necessary and beneficial for the greatness of China. This kind of stuff may sound archaic—it has in fact nothing whatever to do with Marxism, or even Leninism—but it is effective in mobilizing popular energies for the task of nation-building. It also appeals to the submerged masses in the Third World, and to those who consider themselves destined to lead them. There is nothing the Kremlin can do about it. Every orthodoxy gets the heresy it deserves, and this one looks like snowballing all over the place.

One thus comes back, in a roundabout fashion, to the triangular shape of great-power politics during the coming decade. For irrespective of Mao's intentions, or those of his colleagues and eventual successors, the long-run effect of Maoism can only be to turn China into a rival of both Russia and America: principally in Southeast Asia, but also further along the geographical and political axis running from East Pakistan (already in turmoil) via India toward the Middle East.

The term “Middle East,” by the way, was invented in 1902 by Admiral Mahan to describe the area between Arabia and India. It was then taken up by the British and eventually came to replace the traditional expression “Near East” which really signified the crumbling Ottoman Empire and its more or less rebellious dependencies. By now everyone uses it—even the Middle Easterners themselves, though Professor Bernard Lewis has come across evidence that patriotic Indians tend to describe the region as “Western Asia”; but this cannot be to the taste of the Egyptians, so perhaps it is not really an improvement. Defining it as part of the Third World does not take one very far either, since that “world” includes Latin America if one applies sociological criteria. It seems more sensible to think of the area as the heartland of the Islamic culture, itself the inheritor of the ancient Oriental despotisms and their Hellenistic successors. Pan-Arabism has added to the confusion by substituting itself for Pan-Islamism, for while both Turks and Persians are Moslems, they have no use for the Arabs. It is thus quite wrong to imagine that one can substitute national for religious criteria in delimiting the region. For that matter, even where religion and nationality run in harness, as in West Pakistan, it does not follow that one will get either political stability or clear-cut party alignments corresponding to class interests.

The Russians have already discovered all this, much to their dismay. The Chinese, being even more ignorant and ethnocentric than the Russians, can be relied upon to make even worse mistakes. Their recent record in Indonesia—a culture area they might have been expected to understand—is enlightening in this respect. Indonesia provided a suitable environment for the application of Maoist tactics. The outcome is well known by now: armed violence, total failure, a gigantic massacre of something up to half-a-million Communist sympathizers down to the village level, and the complete wreckage of the Communist party itself. In view of this sobering experience, it is not surprising to learn that there are now three Communist parties in India, and probably as many in East Pakistan.

“Visions of a Red Bengalistan comprising India's West Bengal and Pakistan's eastern Bengali wing have begun to haunt some people in Delhi,” one reads in the New Statesman (April 4). “Some Peking broadcasts” (the same correspondent goes on), “have also spoken of a Greater Bengal.” No doubt. Meanwhile the orthodox, or Moscow-trained, Indian Communist leaders are busy working their way into the provincial governments, thereby challenging Delhi to intervene and establish military rule. If and when the Congress party finally disintegrates, this may actually happen. And the alternative? A united Communist Bengal, comprising both Hindus and Moslems, seems a lot less likely than an independent Moslem Bengal (the present “East Pakistan”) on bad terms with both its Indian and Chinese neighbors. For to the masses religion still means more than nationality. Or rather, religion is their nationality, their way of defining themselves vis-à-vis the outside world. Territorial patriotism as the criterion of nationhood is a Western invention, no older than the American and French Revolutions. It has now gripped the intellectuals in a few Middle Eastern countries (chiefly in Turkey), and Maoism may acclimatize it in China. Elsewhere it is still regarded as a foreign importation.


These considerations, oddly enough, supply the key—or at any rate one key—to the recent clashes along the Sino-Soviet frontier and the dark threats uttered by both sides. Having committed themselves to territorial patriotism, the Chinese cannot evade the logic of their choice. In 1964 Mao told a Japanese delegation (which promptly spread the news, thereby giving Moscow the jitters) : “About a hundred years ago the area to the east of Lake Baikal became Russian territory. . . . Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Kamchatka, and other areas, have become Soviet territory. We have not yet presented our account for this list” (the Guardian, London, March 4, 1969). In 1966 President Podgorny of the USSR, speaking appropriately in Khabarovsk, struck the patriotic note: “The soldiers of the Far Eastern military district . . . are faithfully guarding this dynamic region, created by the hands of our forefathers and covered by the sweat and blood of our people.” Since then the verbal conflict has escalated to the level of veiled Soviet threats to drop nuclear bombs on China. On March 20 of this year the British and U.S. press reported Chinese-language broadcasts from Moscow in which any listening Chinese was informed that “the main weapons of the Soviet armed forces are their missiles with nuclear warheads of unlimited destructive power.” For good measure an official Soviet note a few days earlier notified Peking that Russia was ready to administer a “crushing rebuff” to further Chinese incursions into Soviet territory. In the light of these utterances, the subsequent Soviet hysteria about “counterrevolutionary” assaults on the plate-glass window of the Aeroflot office in Prague by a few drunken Czechs celebrating the victory of their ice-hockey team, ceased to be comical and began to look alarming. Paranoia about encirclement is an ancient Muscovite trait. If the Russians are really losing their heads, we may be in for what the Chinese in olden days called “interesting times.”

In this sort of conflict, traditional and modern instruments are employed simultaneously. Thus on April 4 Peking's diplomatic mission in London handed out a map which substituted Chinese names for Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, referred to the Amur river by its traditional Chinese appellation, and described large tracts of Soviet territory as “annexed.” On the same day the newspapers reported a friendly message of greeting from the Rumanian party to the Communist party congress in Peking, earlier described by Pravda and Kommunist (the organ of the Soviet party's Central Committee) as a “Maoist farce.” The Rumanians, needless to say, could not care less about the ownership of Khabarovsk. In their own fashion they were serving notice that the conference of Communist parties due to assemble in Moscow on June 5 was not going to pass off without trouble. What is more, they made their move three days after Kommunist, in a lengthy programmatic article, had solemnly denounced the “Mao Tse-tung group” for splitting the world Communist movement, opening a “second front” against the “socialist camp,” planning to found a “Maoist international,” preparing to install Chinese rockets in Albania, and seeking to prolong the Vietnamese war, while at the same time hindering the passage of Soviet equipment to Hanoi through Chinese territory. For good measure readers of Kommunist were warned that “Mao's group” would, “after the settlement of the Vietnamese affair,” seek to extend its influence over other Southeast Asian territories and try to start up military conflicts in those regions “under diverse forms.” From all of which it could be inferred that Moscow and Peking had declared total war on each other, in apparent disregard of the Leninist doctrine that Communism by its nature transcends nationalism. On the principles to which both sides are committed, this kind of conflict simply ought not to have occurred at all. But it has, and thus the entire Leninist heritage is now in danger of losing whatever credibility it ever possessed.

The American intervention in Vietnam inserted itself into this mounting tension between Russia and China, and for a while helped to dampen it down. After all, Peking could not relish the thought of 500,000 American soldiers almost on China's doorstep, not to mention the bombing of the North. The immediate reaction of both Moscow and Peking might have been foreseen: they began to compete for the allegiance of the North Vietnamese, thereby making a settlement more difficult. At the same time the implied threat to China started off a conflict between the Maoist faction, which was determined to break with Russia at all costs, and those military and civilian leaders who favored patching up relations with Moscow, in the hope of getting a supply of modern arms. In the end it was the Maoist line that triumphed, complete with rhetoric about a “people's war” should the Americans intervene in China. This was essentially a cautious position, albeit overlaid by revolutionary clamor. What it signified was that China would not adopt the kind of “forward policy” which might have become technically feasible in the context of an alliance with the USSR, as advocated by the defeated “orthodox,” i.e., Stalinist, faction. It was the latter, not the Maoists, who envisaged an armed showdown with America over Vietnam—a showdown possible only with Russian help. Conversely, Mao's “people's war” strategy implied a strictly defensive attitude vis-à-vis the U.S. By now, with the departure of Mr. Rusk and his advisers, the State Department seems to have grasped this obvious conclusion. In retrospect one can also see that Mao launched the “cultural revolution”—that is, the destruction of the Communist party and the state bureaucracy—in 1966 only after he had begun to feel reasonably certain that the Americans would not in fact invade China. He may have received some confidential assurances to that effect. If so, this would represent one of the few occasions in recent years when American diplomacy has brought off a genuine coup.


With the risk of a major war removed (presumably in exchange for a tacit Chinese promise not to intervene massively in Vietnam so long as the United States did not escalate its bombing beyond a certain level), Mao could turn his attention to the “cultural revolution.” He could also press his claims against the USSR. Both decisions followed from the same underlying assumption: that neither a global revolution nor an armed conflict with America was in prospect for the near future. In principle, China's national interest is still identified with “world revolution” in the Maoist sense: a confrontation between the “imperialist West” and the “Third World.” But at some stage after 1966 a decision seems to have been taken in Peking to the effect that all this could wait for a while. What mattered more urgently was to refashion the party and the country in the spirit of Maoism. The underlying assumptions have not changed, only the priorities have. That at least is how it looks to those British Sinologists who read the signs to mean that Maoism is now fully integrated with traditional Chinese nationalism. From this standpoint, China's claim to Formosa must seem far more important to Mao and his heirs than a successful revolution in Cuba, not to mention an unsuccessful one in Bolivia. It is all very natural and traditional. It is also very inconvenient for the Russians, since it opens up the perspective of “peaceful coexistence” between America and China. The now thoroughly defeated Stalinist faction in Peking, which placed the Sino-Soviet alliance above all other considerations, represented a guarantee that China would not succumb to “chauvinism”: or rather, that it would reserve whatever chauvinistic instincts it possessed for the struggle against the West.

This guarantee has now vanished, and Maoism has become the vehicle of nationalist sentiments directed impartially against China's neighbors—the USSR above all. When Mao is gone and the new China comes out of its self-imposed isolation, it will doubtless do its best to look and sound like a fire-breathing dragon, but no one is going to be able to predict with any certainty in which direction the dragon will breathe fire. One understands the rage that fills the minds of Stalin's heirs in Moscow: after all those years spent extolling the solidarity of the Communist world against the imperialist West, are they to be thanked by having a hostile China on their doorstep? The answer, it appears, is “yes.” Some of them may be wondering whether there was ever any sense in helping the Chinese Communists to win power (though in point of fact Stalin never trusted them and even tried to sabotage their victory in 1949). But what was the alternative? A China run by the semi-fascist Kuomintang, firmly allied to the United States, would have been even worse from the Soviet standpoint. In this wretched world even the most farseeing statesmen rarely get what they want, as the editors of Kommunist would know if they had taken the trouble to read Marx, not to mention Hegel. The actual outcome usually tends to be quite different from what anyone had planned, and may even be the exact reverse thereof. Stalin's favorite author toward the end of his career (one is told) was Machiavelli. He could not have made a more unfortunate choice, or one less likely to benefit his successors.

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