The Vietnam war was a focal point of struggle at a time when the world was undergoing a profound and sharp change. The struggle of the Vietnamese people was thrust on the world stage at a strategic point in history. And this lent tremendous weight not only to the importance of their heroic battle for liberation but also to the revisionist line within the leadership of that revolution. The war in Vietnam had tremendous influence on people all over the world struggling against oppression and exploitation. It spurred people everywhere to take up revolutionary struggle against U.S. imperialism, but exactly because the war had such an impact on the peoples of the world, it also gave credence to the revisionism and centrism that dominated the Vietnamese Party.
Today, the rotten fruit of that revisionism is manifested at the very time the U.S. imperialists are intensifying their campaign to reverse the correct verdict on the Vietnam war. The invasion of Cambodia, the Vietnamese leaders’ great power ambitions in Southeast Asia, their role as pawn of the Soviets, are paraded before the American people. And former so-called anti-war activists are marshaled to denounce Vietnam—all for the purpose of supporting the U.S. imperialists’ argument that they were right all along in doing what they tried to do in Vietnam. At the same time there is a cacophony of strident voices, both pro-Soviet and pro-U.S. imperialist, competing to give bourgeois explanations of what is going on with Vietnam.
For these reasons it is vitally important to be clear on what was right and what went wrong with Vietnam.
Vietnam was a just war against imperialist aggression that deserved and received the support and the sympathy of many millions of people around the world. The question of just and unjust struggle is not an abstract moral question of good and bad or right and wrong. It is a question of what in the development of history is objectively progressive, pushes history forward, and what is reactionary, holds things back.
In the post-World War 2 period the U.S. rose to the top of the imperialist dung heap. It was the most powerful and dominant country in the world. The U.S. imperialists strutted across the globe, confident of the strength and invulnerability of their far-flung empire. But as early as 1949 the Chinese revolution demonstrated the rotten timbers upon which this empire was based as it swept Chiang Kai-shek and his U.S. patrons and financiers into the sea. The Vietnam war occurred at a turning point for U.S. imperialism, and while it was not the fundamental reason for its decline, it dealt it the sharpest blow. The U.S. poured billions of dollars and millions of men into Vietnam in a futile attempt to subjugate the Vietnamese people and hold onto a key link in its empire. But all these efforts accomplished was to inspire revolutionary struggle in other countries and exacerbate the fundamental weakness of U.S. monopoly capitalism.
At the same time the Vietnam war overlapped and, in a sense, contributed to the development of Soviet social-imperialism as a major challenge to U.S. world hegemony. In the early days of the Vietnam war the revisionist leaders of the Soviet Union did not feel themselves strong enough to challenge the U.S. and internationally their line was characterized by conciliation and collaboration with American imperialism. But by 1968 the worm had begun to turn. The Soviets were rapidly building up their military might and casting an envious eye on the U.S. empire. They marched boldly into Czechoslovakia to snuff out a challenge to their satellites in Eastern Europe. Their overall approach began to become one of more open contention with the U.S. And they started to look at the war in Vietnam not solely as a “danger that could spark a world conflagration,” and bring them into direct conflict with the U.S. before they felt themselves ready, but began also to focus on the great potential a U.S. defeat in Indochina held for their own aggressive designs. At the same time of course, they continued their attempts to manage and control the Vietnamese struggle. Thus the triumph of the Vietnamese people not only weakened U.S. imperialism on a world scale, but the betrayal of the revolution gave the Soviets an important outpost in a strategic area.
But the same was true of the Cuban revolution against U.S. colonialism and its subsequent betrayal into the clutches of the imperialists of the USSR. The difference, of course, was that Vietnam played a much more important role on a world scale than Cuba. Similarly, the line of the Vietnamese Communist Party, its bourgeois nationalism parading as Marxism-Leninism, was able to play a more significant and influential negative role worldwide.
Ho Chi Minh had long been an important personage in the international communist movement. The Vietnamese Communist Party, through its various name changes, was a long-established “Marxist party” with a fair amount of prestige. And it was operating at its highest level of prestige, and dipping into its “brocade bag” of eclecticism and pragmatism for all sorts of opportunist theories and formulas at a time when there was a great deal of confusion and lack of clarity among revolutionaries about just what Marxism-Leninism was. Mao Tsetung and the Chinese revolutionaries had delivered a stinging attack on Soviet revisionism and the Cultural Revolution was mounting a fierce assault on revisionism inside China itself, a revolution which, it becomes clearer almost by the day, was the most important advance in the world proletarian revolution in recent times. But the Soviet revisionists were not thoroughly exposed and isolated, and by no means completely defeated. In this context, the centrism and the ultimate open revisionism of the Vietnamese leaders, fresh from a struggle objectively and unquestionably revolutionary, could only strengthen revisionism internationally.
Yet genuine Marxist-Leninists throughout the world firmly supported the Vietnamese in their struggle against the U.S. imperialists. This was particularly true of revolutionary China, which not only politically upheld the justness of the Vietnamese people’s revolutionary war but also was in a very real and material sense the “great rear area” for the struggle in Vietnam. Was this just opportunism? Certainly the Chinese Marxist-Leninists knew what was going on inside the Vietnamese Party and were keenly aware of the entrenched revisionist tendencies, if not absolutely consolidated revisionist line, of the Vietnamese leadership. But while China expressed certain concern, and even at a few points open disagreements with the policies or strategy of the Vietnamese Party, they never made this principal to their wholehearted support for the war. The Chinese revolutionaries recognized the contradiction between the progressive, anti-imperialist character of the Vietnam war and the increasingly revisionist line of the leaders. And they understood quite clearly that the principal aspect of that contradiction, as long as that war was going on, was the former. China had its own experience with bourgeois democrats masquerading as communists, but Mao and those who stood with him recognized that under the conditions of a war of resistance against imperialist aggression such people can, up to a point, play a progressive role. And it is still true today that genuine national liberation struggles, even if led by openly petty bourgeois or bourgeois forces, can play the objectively progressive role of delivering blows against imperialism.
Even, as was the case with Vietnam, where the defeat of U.S. imperialism opens the door for Soviet penetration, these struggles, if they are genuinely revolutionary and not just proxy wars for one or the other superpower (as is the case in Ethiopia and the phony anti-imperialism of the Derg, or during the civil war in Angola) these wars strike blows at the whole imperialist system. And in the long run, once the masses of people have been aroused and mobilized in anti-imperialist revolutionary struggle, even if not fully, those who try to arrest and suppress this awakening of the masses of people can well find themselves in unexpected trouble.
It is no surprise that the revisionists who now rule China, along with their bootlickers around the world, find it so impossible to criticize and attack the Vietnamese today on the basis they deserved to be attacked on: their revisionism. Locked in a bitter struggle with Vietnam brought about by competing bourgeois national interests in the region and imperialist alliances, the Chinese revisionists are no more able to mount a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Vietnam today than they are of the Soviet Union. To do so would only be holding up a mirror to their own revisionism. They are reduced to hurling thinly veiled racial slurs against the Vietnamese and accusing them of trampling on China’s turf, while their sycophants like the CPML in the U.S. dredge up the likes of Joan Baez to repeat the U.S. imperialists’ slogans of “human rights” violations.
But there were some, specifically the Progressive Labor Party and other, undisguised, Trotskyites, who denounced revisionism in Vietnam years ago. Was PL right all along? Absolutely not. PL completely confuses and rejects the two stages of the revolutionary struggle in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Hence for them, anything that isn’t directly a “fight for socialism” is reactionary. During the Vietnam war they consistently saw the struggle in Vietnam from their own economist viewpoint and denied any validity in or role to the national and democratic goals of the struggle, just as today they denounce the Iranian revolution and deny the material blows it has objectively delivered against U.S. imperialism because Khomeini and other bourgeois elements hold a dominant position in the Iranian revolution up to now. Despite all its “revolutionary” posturing, PL ended up in unity with the U.S. imperialists. At a time when the bourgeoisie was sparing no effort to vilify and denounce the leaders of the DRV and the NLF in order to undercut the growing anti-war movement in the U.S., PL also took this on as their main task in relation to the anti-war movement.
PL claimed to support China as late as 1969 and they were obviously picking up on some of the internal criticism that the Chinese Party had of the leadership in Vietnam. But even if there were some aspects of their criticism that were correct when they were raised by the Chinese, by the time they came through PL’s garble they were completely distorted and turned into their opposite. So while the Chinese, for example, strongly upheld the fact that there was a legitimate nationalist aspect to the struggle in Vietnam, while pointing to the fact that bourgeois nationalism was incapable of carrying the struggle through to complete victory, PL got up on its soap box to denounce nationalism in all forms and under all conditions and denounced the Vietnamese struggle because of its nationalist forms. Similarly, instead of making a correct, dialectical analysis of the question of the negotiations, PL got on a high horse and denounced negotiations pure and simple, claiming that because the Vietnamese leadership was willing to consider negotiations as a tactic in the struggle, they were ipso facto planning to sell out the struggle. According to PL there could be no question of negotiations. The only strategy and tactic was to fight until the U.S. was driven out militarily, period. There were only superficial and shoddy attempts on their part to analyze the line of the Vietnamese leaders going into the negotiations, to explain what the revisionist outlook was that influenced them and the objective conditions that made it necessary to continue the struggle whether or not negotiations were correct as a tactic.
And even to the extent that PL did point to correct criticisms of the Vietnamese leaders and their line on the war, it was absolutely incorrect to launch the kind of attack they did when they did. In contrast to the towering international significance and objectively progressive role of the Vietnamese struggle, PL’s puny gesticulation would be laughable if it hadn’t been so counter-revolutionary.
What was really behind PL’s constant attack on the Vietnamese struggle and the anti-war movement in the U.S. was their own economism and rightism reacting against the revolutionary forces and sentiments aroused in the U.S. around the Vietnam War. Their criticisms allowed them the opportunity to retreat into economism and “workerism,” even to babble about how the situation in Vietnam could be described as a fight between “workers and bosses”—in the most narrow trade-unionist terms.
On the other hand, it was a mark of the immaturity and lack of development of the new Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S. that it did not analyze more sharply the negative, though at that point decidedly secondary, aspects of the struggle in Vietnam. Although there definitely was some awareness that there were some things that were not correct about the line and leadership of the DRV, a deeper and more correct understanding of the revisionism of the Vietnamese leaders would have had implications for the work of Marxist- Leninists in that period, especially in combating the influence of that line within the U.S. and in training the advanced of that movement to understand the question involved. This notwithstanding, full support for the enemy of U.S. imperialism, and the slogan of “Victory to the NLF” were, correctly, a touchstone and a dividing line in the anti-war movement.
It is no less odious to try to reverse the verdicts on the Vietnamese struggle against U.S. imperialism today than it was during the war. And every effort by the U.S. bourgeoisie to do so must be exposed to the people. But at the same time the masses of people can sense that there is something rotten in Vietnam now, and the only way to make this clear without falling into the ruling class’s traps is to explain the nature and the roots of revisionism in Vietnam and the causes for the miscarriage of that revolution.
The national liberation struggle in Vietnam, as in Laos and Cambodia, demonstrated the power of the masses rising up in armed revolution. But Vietnam shows clearly and tragically that this is not enough. Unless that struggle is led by a political party armed and guided by a proletarian line, the revolution has no chance of carrying through to complete victory. And the party itself, no matter how monolithic its unity, or to what extent it may have been able to play a progressive role at a certain point, will stand not as the leader but rather the executioner of the revolution. It is a matter of life and death. It is a question of whether the heroic sacrifice and bloodshed by the people in their millions will bring emancipation or whether it will have to serve as the seeds of yet another major revolutionary struggle certain to come.
— Footnotes —
1 Ivan Ivkov, “Vietnam, United and Socialist,” New Times, Feb. 7, 1976. Also, Leonid Brezhnev, quoted in Far Eastern Economic Review, Nov. 24, 1978, p. 11.
2 John McBeth, “A Battle for Loyalty in the Jungles,” Far Eastern Economic Review, June 8, 1977, p. 19ff.
3 Mao Tsetung, “On New Democracy
,” Selected Works of Mao Tsetung
, (Foreign Languages Press, Peking), Vol. 2, p. 343.
4 Mao Tsetung, “The Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party in the Period of Resistance to Japan,” Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 273.
5 Yao Wen-yuan, “On the Social Basis of the Lin Piao Anti-Party Clique,” reprinted in And Mao Makes 5, R. Lotta, ed., Banner Press, 1978, p. 196ff.
6 Ho’s father is reported to have been a well educated Mandarin in Ha Tinh province who was dismissed from office because of nationalist activities. Cf. Jean Lacouture, Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography, p. 12.
8 Lacouture, op. cit., p. 24.
9 Ho Chi Minh, loc. cit.
10 Ibid., pp. 251-2.
12 Ibid., p. 317.
13 Ho Chi Minh, loc. cit., p. 252.
14 V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, p. 24.
15 Truong Chinh, Forward Along the Path Charted by Karl Marx, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Hanoi, 1973, p. 93.
16 Ibid., pp. 40-44.
17 Ho Chi Minh, “The Party’s Line in the Period of the Democratic Front
,” report to the Communist International, July 1939, Selected Writings
, pp. 42-43.
18 An Outline History of the Viet Nam Workers’ Party, FLPH, Hanoi, 1971, p. 13.
19 Ibid., p. 15.
20 Lacouture, op. cit., pp. 67-68.
21 Ibid., p. 75.
22 Ho Chi Minh, “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” Selected Writings, p. 53.
23 Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring, FLP, Peking, 1976, p. 20.
24 Lacouture, op. cit., p. 134.
25 An Outline History of the Vietnam Workers’ Party, pp. 30-31.
26 Ho Chi Minh, Selected Articles and Speeches, Jock Woodis, ed., International Publishers, p. 50.
27 Ho Chi Minh, Selected Writings, p. 111.
28 Mao Tsetung, “The Question of Independence and Initiative Within the United Front,” Selected Works, (FLP, Peking), Vol. 2, p. 216.
29 Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution: Fundamental Problems, Essential Tasks, FLPH, Hanoi, 1973, pp. 34-35.
30 Truong Chinh, op. cit., p. 47.
31 David Floyd, Mao Against Khrushchev: A Short History of the Sino-Soviet Conflict, Praeger, 1963, p. 284.
32 The Origins and Development of the Differences Between the Leadership of the CPSU and Ourselves (September 6, 1963), reprinted in The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, (n.p., n.d.), pp. 105-6.
33 Long Live Leninism!, reprinted in Floyd, op. cit., p. 270.
34 Quoted in Lacouture
, op. cit.,
p. 245. Also Ho Chi Minh, “Testament,” Selected Writings
, p. 362.
35 Ibid., p. 256.
36 Le Duan, On the Socialist Revolution in Vietnam, Vol. 1, FLPH, Hanoi, 1965, quoted in Donald Zagoria, Vietnam Triangle, Pegasus, 1967, p. 105.
38 Ibid., our emphasis, p. 106.
39 Vietnam News Agency, Sept. 1, 1960, quoted in P. J. Honey, Communism in North Vietnam, MIT Press, 1963, p. 79.
40 Honey, “North Vietnam’s Party Congress,” China Quarterly, No. 4, Oct.-Dec. 1960, p. 72.
41 Honey, Communism in North Vietnam, p. 76.
42 The Third National Congress of the Vietnam Workers’ Party
, Vol. 1, p. 215, FLPH, Hanoi, quoted in Victor C. Funnell, “Vietnam and the Sino-Soviet Conflict (1965-1976),” Studies in Comparative Communism
, Vol. XI, No. 1 & 2, Spring-September 1978, p. 171.
43 Quoted in Honey, “North Vietnam’s Party Congress,” p. 69.
44 Zagoria, op. cit., p. 107.
45 Le Duan, “Hold High the Revolutionary Banner of Creative Marxism,” Selected Writings, FLPH, Hanoi, 1977, p. 97.
46 Ibid., pp. 105-160. [Sic.]
47 Nguyen Chi Thanh, “Who Will Win in Vietnam,” quoted in Zagoria, op. cit., p. 109.
49 Ibid., p. 111.
50 Refutation of the New Leaders of the CPSU on United Action, FLP, Peking, 1965, p. 19.
52 Ibid., p. 181.
53 Mao Tsetung, “Talks at Chengtu: The Pattern of Development,” quoted in Avakian, Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions, p. 172.
54 Mao Tsetung, “On Protracted War,” Selected Military Writings, FLP, Peking, p. 239.
55 Vo Nguyen Giap, Banner of People’s War. The Party’s Military Line, Praeger, 1970, pp. 97, 99.
56 See Cuba, The Evaporation of a Myth, by the Revolutionary Communist Party, RCP Publications, 1976.
58 Le Duan, op. cit., p. 49.
59 Outline History of the Vietnam Workers’ Party, p. 32.
60 Ibid., pp. 31-32.
61 Vo Nguyen Giap, The Military Art of People’s War, Russell Stetler, ed., Monthly Review, 1970, p. 123.
62 R. N. McNeal, ed., International Relations Among Communists
, Prentice Hall
, 1967, pp. 173-4. Also quoted in Victor Funnell, loc. cit.
, p. 1976.
64 Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Peace and Morality in Vietnam,” The New Leader, April 12, 1965. Also quoted in Funnell, ibid., p. 174.
65 The Pentagon Papers, Vol. 4, Sen. Mike Gravel edition, Beacon Press, 1971, p. 461.
66 Funnell, loc. cit., p. 178.
67 Vo Nguyen Giap, Big Victory, Great Task, Praeger, 1968, pp. 67-69.
68 Ibid., p. 68.
69 Vo Nguyen Giap, Banner of People’s War, p. 37.
70 Ibid., p. 36.
71 See P. J. McGarney, Visions of Victory, Selected Vietnamese Military Writings
, Hoover Institution Press, 1969.
72 The Pentagon Papers, Vol. 4, p. 603.
73 See, for example, Ho Chi Minh, “Reply to Professor Linus Pauling,” Against U.S. Aggression For National Salvation, FLPH, Hanoi, 1967, p. 100.
74 Hsinhua News Agency, weekly English edition, March 25, 1968, p. 19.
75 Ibid., March 19, 1968, p. 21.
76 For several months the Chinese did not even comment on these negotiations, and when they did, initially it was to warn of U.S.-Soviet ploys.
77 Peking Review, March 22, 1968, p. 11
78 Le Duan, “Speech at the Second National Congress of the Vietnam Federation of Trade Unions,” February
, 1961. Reprinted in This Nation and Socialism Are One
, pp. 37-38. Our emphasis.
79 “Political Report of the Central Committee,” delivered by Le Duan, in Communist Party of Vietnam, 4th National Congress Documents, FLPH, Hanoi, 1977, p. 54. Emphasis in original.
80 Ibid., p. 53. Emphasis in original.
81 Ibid., pp. 84, 86.
82 Ibid., p. 86. Our emphasis.
83 Quoted in Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, FLP, Peking, p. 1.
84 Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution, p. 139.
85 Ibid., p. 137.
86 Le Duan, “Political Report,” p. 58. Our emphasis.
87 Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution, p. 152. Emphasis in original.
88 The Vietnamese consistently speak of “the period of transition to socialism” instead of socialism as a period of transition from capitalism to communism.
89 Mao Tsetung, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 409.
90 Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution, pp. 89-91.
91 Ibid., p. 165, our emphasis.
92 Ibid., p. 166.
94 Ibid., p. 161.
95 Le Duan, “Political Report,” p. 59.
96 Ibid., p. 47.
97 Ibid., p. 92.
98 Quoted in The Manchester Guardian, October 29, 1978.
99 Le Duan, “Political Report,” p. 59.
100 Francois Nivolon, “Vietnam on the Aid Trail,” Far Eastern Economic Review, December 9, 1977.
101 Nayan Chanda, “Vietnam, A Question of Priorities,” Far Eastern Economic Review, Aug. 4, 1978, p. 13.
103 Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution, p. 123.