The China-India Conflict (VI. Revolutionary Tactics in the China-India Conflict)




Which position should the workers and liberation movements take in the conflict between China and India? Which side should they support in the case of war?


One could say that given the fact that we characterize China as an imperialist power and India as a peculiar semi-colony, revolutionaries should side with the latter against the former. However, this would be a superficial, i.e., mechanistic, perspective for several reasons.


First, as we explained in this study, India is no ordinary semi-colony but a peculiar one, a semi-colony which is also a regional power. Hence, India is determined to defend its regional influence (in Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc.) against the expansion of China's sphere of influence. In contrast to other states in the region, Delhi is in a better position to oppose China's rise.


However, at the same time, India is not strong enough to effectively counter the expansion of imperialist China. Delhi is absolutely aware of this fact and this is the reason why it turns to the US and Japanese imperialism for assistance.


As we pointed out above, Delhi – particularly under the right-wing government of Modi – is orienting itself towards a strategic turn away from the BRICS alliance (which is under Chinese and Russian dominance) and towards an alliance under the leaderships of Washington and Tokyo. [1] Ashok K. Mehta, an Indian military expert, is quiet explicit about India's looming turn towards an anti-Chinese alliance with US and Japanese imperialism: "India’s rejection of Belt and Road initiative, especially the strong objection to China Pakistan Economic Corridor on grounds of sovereignty which was endorsed by the US has angered China." [2]


Naturally, we cannot foresee the concrete course of this conflict in the coming months. It is quite possible that both regimes will seek to find a short-term solution. However, given the fundamental antagonisms in the region and the whole world situation which is rife with accelerating rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers, Delhi will sooner or later face the following alternative:


One possibility is that Delhi ceases its obstructionism against the Belt and Road Initiative and turns back towards closer collaboration with imperialist China, meaning effectively that it subordinate itself to the leadership of Beijing. Some pro-Indian analysts consider this option as likely. [3]


The only other possibility is that Delhi continues its resistance against Beijing, which would inevitably push it into the arms of US and Japanese imperialism. In this case too, it would subordinate itself to the leadership of imperialist powers.


Hence, whichever road it takes, India is doomed to play a secondary role subordinate to some Great Powers.


From this it follows that the conflict between China and India is reactionary on both sides. Neither Delhi nor Beijing represent a progressive cause in this conflict. They both advance either direct imperialist interests (in the case of China) or the interests of defending hegemonic positions in the region and a the desire to obstruct China's foreign policy in the service of US and Japanese imperialism (in the case of India).


So what does this mean for the tactics revolutionaries should advocate in this conflict? In our opinion, the consequence of the Marxist analysis as we have outlined it in this study is clear: revolutionaries should take a position of revolutionary defeatism in any conflict between China and India. They can neither support the expansion of Chinese imperialism not can they lend support to India's reactionary policy. Such support for Beijing's or Delhi's foreign policy would be paramount to a social-patriotic, reactionary position.


The essence of revolutionary defeatism has been defined by the Marxist classics in the following way. Lenin wrote: During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government. This is axiomatic, and disputed only by conscious partisans or helpless satellites of the social-chauvinists.[4]


And Trotsky, who continued the Bolshevik tradition after Lenin's death in 1924, stated shortly before the beginning of World War II:


Defeatism is the class policy of the proletariat, which even during a war sees the main enemy at home, within its particular imperialist country. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a policy that locates the main enemy outside one’s own country. The idea of defeatism signifies in reality the following: conducting an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against one’s own bourgeoisie as the main enemy, without being deterred by the fact that this struggle may result in the defeat of one’s own government; given a revolutionary movement the defeat of one’s own government is a lesser evil.” [5]


This means that the RCIT believes that the fundamental task of the socialists and class-conscious workers in China and India consists in opposing the chauvinist wave in their countries. The Chinese workers and oppressed main task is to fight against their own ruling class and their reactionary goals. We say to them: Your main enemy is at home! The same is true for the Indian workers and oppressed although they need to combine the fight against the reactionary Modi regime with the struggle against the dominance of US and Japanese imperialism. In addition, India must free itself absolutely from every imperialist exploitation and dominance by various imperialist powers including the European ones.


The task is to denounce the chauvinist and militaristic agitation of both governments as being fundamentally in contradiction to the interests of the working class and the oppressed. The Chinese workers and poor peasants have no interests in a war at its border for the control of a Himalayan plateau. The same is true for their Indian brothers and sisters. However, the agenda of the Indian workers and oppressed includes the liberation of its country from various imperialist oppressors. The liberation struggle of the workers and oppressed must be combined with a clear and consistent rejection of the disgusting Hindu-chauvinism. The latter is both brutal against national, religious and ethnic minorities as well as an obstacle for creating a fraternal alliance with other semi-colonial countries in the region to jointly fight against imperialist exploitation.


Such a border conflict is exclusively in the interest of the Chinese billionaires and generals abd respectively their Indian counterparts (as well as the backers of the latter in Washington and Tokyo). Socialists should explain that the workers and poor of China and India are respectively exploited and oppressed by their domestic ruling class and not by the rivaling state. Revolutionaries should also denounce the current chauvinist agitation of both regimes as attempts to divert the masses attention from the explosive class contradictions in their own countries.


Clearly, the concrete possibilities for revolutionary propaganda in China are very different from those in India since, in the former case, one has to work in a strictly illegal fashion. But ways can always be found if they are desired. The precondition for revolutionary propaganda is a revolutionary analysis and programmatic conclusions.


Such an anti-militaristic position should also include the socialists' active opposition against any chauvinist campaigns of boycotting commodities from the opposing camp. Likewise, they should reject any economic sanctions against the “rival” country. Finally, they should oppose any chauvinist riots against other nationals or foreign companies as has happened in the past, e.g., during the conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea.


Such a program of revolutionary defeatism is naturally different from the position which Marxists took during the war between China and India in 1962. At that time, China was a Stalinist bureaucratically deformed workers state and India was a capitalist semi-colony. [6] In that conflict Marxists sided with China against India.


While this is not the place to deal in more detail with the Sino-Indian war of October-November 1962, we briefly remark that this was an Indian war of aggression – based on the so-called "Forward Policy" of India's then-Prime Minister Nehru. As India was badly prepared, it suffered a resounding defeat by the Chinese troops. Nehru asked the Kennedy Administration for military support against China, but as US imperialism was at that time involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis against the USSR, it demurred. [7]


However, while China is officially still ruled by the "Communist" Party, this party commands today very different relations of productions. While the economy in the 1960s had an anti-capitalist, bureaucratically-planned character, today it operates according to the capitalist law of value – even more so, it bears an imperialist character. Therefore, today, the tactics of revolutionaries cannot be the same. Instead, in today’s world Marxists should support neither China or India and stand on both sides for the defeat of their respective ruling class.


Concerning the advances of Chinese and Indian monopolies in semi-colonial countries (like in Africa), the program of revolutionaries is equally clear: The RCIT calls for the support of all necessary measures against imperialist states and their agents (e.g., nationalization of foreign enterprises, higher customs for imperialist import commodities, etc.).


In the same spirit, we oppose all attempts by China and India to subjugate their smaller neighboring countries.


Those, who refuse to defend the oppressed people against foreign domination and exploitation, betray the internationalist principles which are fundamental to any revolutionary Marxist current. Such betrayers of the oppressed are not socialists but rather social-imperialists as the Communist International stressed. We fully share Trotsky's characterization of the policy of such “socialist” groups: “At the same time, it is necessary to follow attentively the inner struggle in the reformist camp and attract in time the left socialist groupings developing towards revolution to a struggle against war. The best criterion of the tendencies of a given organization is its attitude in practice, in action, toward national defence and toward colonies, especially in those cases in which the bourgeoisie of a given country owns colonial slaves. Only a complete and real break with official public opinion on the most burning question of the ‘defence of the fatherland’ signifies a turn, or at least the beginning of a turn from bourgeois positions to proletarian positions. The approach to left organizations of this type should be accompanied by friendly criticism of all indecision in their policy and by a joint elaboration of all theoretical and practical questions of war.[8]


Finally, we emphasize the necessity to fight for an internationalist solution of the contradictions and antagonisms in the region. Socialists should organize to spread the struggle against exploitation, oppression and chauvinism and for freedom, democracy and social justice. This can only be achieved if the workers and the oppressed overthrow the ruling class and defeat all imperialist and reactionary forces. In other words, the task of socialists is to prepare for the revolution of the working class and the rural and urban poor so that the continent can finally be liberated by entering the road to a socialist future.


The Communist International and later the Fourth International emphasized the necessity for the working class and the oppressed of different countries to unite in a federation of workers and peasant’s republics. Leon Trotsky in the Manifesto adopted at the second congress of the Communist International in 1920argued:


"The example of Soviet Russia is enabling the peoples of Central Europe, of the southeastern Balkans, of the British dominions, all the oppressed nations and tribes, the Egyptians and the Turks, the Indians and the Persians, the Irish and the Bulgarians to convince themselves of this, that the fraternal collaboration of all the national units of mankind is realizable in life only through a Federation of Soviet Republics." [9]


In this spirit, the RCIT states: The only solution to overcome all chauvinist tensions and national oppression lies in the formation of a Socialist Federation of Asia.


[1] For a brief overview of Modi's foreign policy, see, e.g., Manoj Joshi: India And The World: Foreign Policy In The Age Of Modi, Pragati. March 9, 2017,; on the history of India' foreign policy, also see, e.g. Shashi Tharoor: Pax Indica. India and the World of the 21st Century, Penguin Global, 2012.

[2] Ashok K. Mehta: To Prevent a Bigger Conflict, India and China Must Both Withdraw From Doklam, 10/07/2017,

[3] See, e.g., "It is clear that any escalation must end in Chinese domination." (Dr. Sanu Kainikara: India-China Relations: Complex And Out-Of-Step – Analysis, August 8, 2017,

[4] V.I. Lenin: The Defeat of one’s own Government in the Imperialist War (1915); in: CW 21, p.275

[5] Leon Trotsky: A step towards social patriotism (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p. 209

[6] For our analysis of Stalinism and the deformed workers states see, e.g., Michael Pröbsting: Cuba‘s Revolution Sold Out? The Road from Revolution to the Restoration of Capitalism, RCIT, Vienna 2013. See also LRCI: The Degenerated Revolution (1982), republished in 2003.

[7] On the Sino-China War of 1962, see, e.g. Shiv Kunal Verma: 1962 The War, That Wasn’t. the Definite Account of the Clash between India and China, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi 2016; J. P. Dalvi: Himalayan Blunder: The Curtain-Raiser to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Thacker & Company Limited, Bombay 1969; John W. Garver: China's Decision for War with India in 1962, in: New Approaches to the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy, Robert S. Ross and Alastair Iain johnston, Stanford University Press, 2005,; Neville Maxwell: This is India’s China war, Round Two, 15 Jul 2017,; Debasish Roy Chowdhury: Neville Maxwell discloses document revealing that India provoked China into 1962 border war 31 March, 2014,

[8] Leon Trotsky: War and the Fourth International (1934), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34, Pathfinder Press, New York 1972, p. 328

[9] Leon Trotsky: Manifesto of the Second World Congress (1920), in: Leon Trotsky: The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. 1, New Park Publications, London 1973, pp. 149-150