Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Xiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide under the shallow water;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this bondless land
Who rules over man's destiny?
-----Mao Zedong (1925)
The 1949 Chinese Revolution was a transformative, epochal event, not only for the Chinese but for the rest of humanity, as well. If the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (that resulted in the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union) inaugurated an international competition for the hearts and minds of people all over the globe, the Chinese revolution raised the stakes of that struggle. The popular media, academics, political leaders and others in the "West" produced an understanding of this struggle as between "capitalism" and "communism," although these terms were rarely defined in more than loose and unusually flexible terms, and in spite of the fact that the Chinese revolution was shaped by domestic struggles with a long history within China, much more so than by global struggles between two super-systems.
Nevertheless, the intensity of the perceived global struggle between super-systems was shaped, in part, by the fact that communist ideology, as represented by certain statements of Vladimir Lenin, the central intellectual and political figure of the Bolshevik Revolution, was understood as grounded upon an idea of worldwide revolution --- all nations would, according to the logic (teleology) of this (orthodox) version of Marxism, ultimately succumb to communism. (The Soviet leadership expressly supported the idea of "worldwide revolution" and took steps to help achieve this objective, including organization and leadership of the Communist International or Comintern, although C.L.R. James, among others, argued that Stalin's political machinations sabotaged international solidarity within the communist movement.) The threat to "spread the revolution" created, at the least, the illusion of a mortal conflict (mortal from the standpoint of the elites who stood to lose if the resolution went against them). In other words, this idea of worldwide revolution and the efforts by Soviet leaders and communists in other countries to make it a reality presented little room for compromise between the opposing camps (on the one side, the supporters of the existing social system in the Western nations and, on the other side, the communist movement). Thus, the communist victory in China (the most populous nation on Earth) created a stronger sense of threat in one camp and of impending victory in the other. It also contributed to the way this bipolar struggle came to overshadow all other international relationships and many domestic conflicts within nations, as well.
The conflict was...