Humor in Government: A View of the Sino-Soviet Split, 1964

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Textual Reference at the National Archives in College Park, MD. 

One of the major developments of the Cold War was the evolution of a split between the two major communist powers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The Communist Bloc was never the monolithic entity feared by the Western Powers and by the late 1950s, the policies and programs of the USSR and the PRC were diverging more and more.  This Sino-Soviet split stemmed from doctrinal differences over how to proceed and what issues were most important.  Among other things, the Chinese Communists supported the concept of “wars of national liberation” while the Soviets opposed such activities in favor of peaceful coexistence.  The Chinese were more interested, too, in ideological mobilization while the Soviets focused more on economic improvements.  The split in the seemingly-unified Communist Bloc proved to be a conundrum for Western policy makers.  Some saw the rift as part of a plot to lull the West into complacency; others saw it as genuine and wanted to devise policies to further and exploit the split.  By the early 1960s, it became clear that the rupture was real and potentially dangerous to world peace.

Using colorful language to characterize the other side, the rival communist camps spewed invective at each other as part of their efforts to discredit their opponent and win the support of other communist parties.  In May 1964, Rollie H. White, who worked in the office of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, compiled the following list of the competing terms of endearment the two sides aimed at each other as they tried to win friends and influence enemies among the various Communist parties around the world.  Whether or not intentional, the result is somewhat humorous.

list of abusive terms used in verbal exchanges btwn Moscow and Peiping including: (Chinese) - dictators, lackies of the capitolists, slaves of the imperialists; (Soviet) - maniacal greatpower chauvinists, petty bourgrois ultra-revolutionaries, upstarts
Short Lexicon of the Sino-Soviet War of Words, 18 May, 1964

Source: Rollie H. White, “Short Lexicon of the Sino-Soviet War of Words,” May, 18, 1964, file Sino-Soviet Dispute-No. 2 (NAID 2548648), Records of Ambassador-at-Large Llewellyn E. Thompson, 1961-1970, Entry A1-5008, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.