[This prescient and important unsigned article appeared in the magazine Revolution, vol. 4, #7-8, July/August 1979, published by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. It has not (so far as we know) been reprinted or made available elsewhere online. There were several photo-montages which accompanied this article which are not included here. (Their reproductive quality was quite poor.)]
For fifteen years Vietnam was a storm center of revolutionary struggle against U.S. imperialism. It brought the U.S. bourgeoisie to its knees and rallied the support and sympathy of many millions the world over. The defeat in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia dealt a powerful material blow to U.S. imperialism. And for this reason, no matter what happened in Vietnam after the triumph over U.S. imperialism, the war of liberation waged by Vietnam was an historic progressive struggle.
Yet something most definitely has happened in Vietnam, something very foul. The revolution of the Vietnamese people has been aborted by many of the very same people who led the struggle against French and U.S. imperialism. The goal of independence has been replaced by the reality of serving as a pawn of the Soviet Union; the hopes of advancing on the road of socialism and communism have been shattered by the realities of continuing class exploitation.
The war of liberation fought by the peoples of Indochina showed how revolutionary violence can overcome counter-revolutionary violence. It demonstrated the power and effectiveness of just wars of liberation against wars of aggression and subjugation waged by the imperialists. The decades-long struggle in Vietnam irrefutably proved the revolutionary potential and power of the masses in waging an anti-imperialist war of national liberation and showed that this potential is indeed a factor of great importance in weakening the entire imperialist system.
The war of liberation fought by the peoples of Indochina became a tremendous force inside the U.S. itself, throwing millions into struggle against their own ruling class. It drew hundreds of thousands into conscious opposition to U.S. imperialism. It helped give impetus to the formation of new revolutionary organizations in the U.S., including organizations out of which developed the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The struggle against the war in Indochina by the people of the U.S. shook the citadels of power of the bourgeoisie. They fumed with anger and frustration as they saw “enemy flags” carried in anti-war demonstrations and witnessed their own bloody imperialist flag joyously burned on countless occasions.
Today, however, Vietnamese troops, once an army of liberation, have become an army of aggression and occupation in Kampuchea. In the past four and a half years the Soviet social-imperialists have moved into Vietnam in a big way, tightening their claws around the necks of the Vietnamese people and dragging them into their superpower war bloc. In June of 1978 Vietnam was brought into the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the instrument of Soviet economic domination of its Eastern European satellites and Cuba. In November of 1978 Le Duan, Pham Van Dong and other Vietnamese leaders went to Moscow where they signed a treaty of “friendship and cooperation” with the Soviets—the centerpiece of which was military alliance and cooperation. Since the end of the war against the U.S., the Soviets have poured large quantities of arms into Vietnam, along with thousands of advisors and technicians. Vietnam has become a pointman for Soviet penetration of the region, a role that conveniently corresponds with the Vietnamese leaders’ ambitions to be a “great power” in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam is being drawn ever more tightly into a neo-colonial relationship with the Soviet imperialists. The Soviet-armed and financed troops that were sent marauding into neighboring Kampuchea to set up a pro-Hanoi and pro-Soviet puppet regime are the principal and most striking example of this neo-colonial relationship. But other facts, large and small, hammer home the same point.
After the fall of Saigon, Vietnam and the Soviet Union concluded an economic agreement which provided for Soviet participation in the future economic planning of Vietnam. And the Soviets were not long in exacting payment for their “generosity.” Over the past several months Soviet technicians have been placed in the U.S.-built base at Danang to maintain and refuel long-range Soviet reconnaissance aircraft. In March, several hundred Soviet maritime workers and experts arrived in Vietnam to work at Cam Ranh Bay, the former U.S. multi-billion dollar naval port, and they are in the first stages of transforming it into a Soviet naval installation. In addition, the Soviets have constructed two electronic eavesdropping complexes in Laos and have set up a radar tracking system in Kampuchea. No wonder Brezhnev & Co. have described Vietnam as a vital “outpost” in Southeast Asia.1 But the work for their new overlords does not stop there. In line with their efforts to draw other Southeast Asian countries into the Soviet net, particularly the U.S. imperialist-dominated countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Vietnamese leaders have taken to denouncing the liberation struggles in those countries, specifically those that have not sided with Vietnam in its contention with China, although not all of these groups have gone along completely with the Chinese revisionists either. In January of this year the Vietnamese-dominated Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, with obvious Vietnamese support if not instigation, is reported to have issued an ultimatum to the Communist Party of Thailand to abandon its long established sanctuaries in Laos. During his tour of the ASEAN nations last year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong laid a wreath at a shrine to reactionary government forces killed in fighting communist insurgents in Malaysia and publicly foreswore any further aid to the Malaysian Communist Party, which Vietnam subsequently denounced. And public radio broadcasts from Hanoi have attacked the New People’s Army in the Philippines, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, calling it an “outlawed extremist organization” and characterizing its revolutionary work as having “increased its subversive activates in the Philippines.”2 What went wrong in Vietnam? How did it move from waging revolutionary war against imperialism to waging reactionary war against Kampuchea? How could it be that this country that once inspired millions could now come to generate disgust and cynicism among so many?
The Nature of the Vietnamese Revolution
The revolution in Vietnam, as in China, of necessity had to be a two-stage revolution. The first stage, as Mao Tsetung described such revolutions in the oppressed and colonial countries, was a new-democratic revolution—one that is bourgeois democratic in that it is anti-feudal and that it aims at creating a unified and independent nation—necessary conditions for a rapid development of capitalism. But at this point in history the force which was both keeping feudal (or semi-feudal) production relations alive and preventing national independence in a country like Vietnam was imperialism. Thus, although this stage of the revolution was bourgeois in its social character, in order to achieve these aims, it had to be directed against the imperialists. Furthermore, Mao pointed out that the new democratic revolution clears the way for capitalism, but clears a still wider path for socialism. Thus as Mao, following Lenin and Stalin, pointed out regarding China, since the outbreak of the first imperialist war in 1914 and the founding of a socialist state on one sixth of the globe as a result of the Russian October Revolution of 1917, “the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution has changed, it has come within the new category of bourgeois-democratic revolutions, and as far as the alignment of revolutionary forces is concerned, forms part of the proletarian-socialist world revolution.”3 It was this “new category of bourgeois-democratic revolutions” which Mao called the new-democratic revolution.
But in the years immediately following the victory in 1954 of the Vietnamese anti-French war, there was a dramatic change in the concrete alignment of revolutionary forces in the world. The emergence of imperialism as well as the triumph of proletarian revolution in Russia had previously set the world stage and conditions for the revolutionary struggle in Vietnam and other colonial and semi-colonial countries. Now the revisionist coup in the Soviet Union led by Khrushchev & Co. and the defeat of proletarian revolution by the forces of counter-revolution set important new questions and conditions for the revolutionary struggle worldwide.
Just as earlier the dividing line for Marxist revolutionaries had been the recognition of the Leninist analysis of imperialism, repudiation of the opportunism of the Second International and support for the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR, so now the struggle waged by the revolutionary forces in the international communist movement, led by Mao Tsetung, to expose and attack the Soviet revisionists became the decisive question facing Marxist-Leninist parties around the world. This historic struggle between revolution and counter-revolution greatly affected the course of, and the context of, the anti- imperialist struggles throughout the world. Not only was the question of capitulation to imperialism very much a part of the fight against modern revisionism, but the struggle shed new light and understanding on the nature and difficulties of the transition to the second stage of the revolutionary struggle in these countries, the socialist stage, the period of socialist transformation and construction and moving towards communism.
In summing up the experience of the democratic stage of the revolution in China, Mao wrote in 1937:
“… it is history’s verdict that China’s bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism is a task that can be completed not under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, but only under that of the proletariat. What is more, it is possible to overcome the bourgeoisie’s inherent vacillation and lack of thoroughness and to prevent the miscarriage of the revolution only by bringing the perseverance and thoroughness of the proletariat in the democratic revolution into full play. Is the proletariat to follow the bourgeoisie, or is the bourgeoisie to follow the proletariat. This question of responsibility for leadership in the Chinese revolution is the linchpin upon which the success or failure of the revolution depends.”4
Vietnamese Party leader Le Duan embracing Brezhnev, cementing
Vietnam’s neo-colonial relationship with the USSR—complete with
membership in COMECON, a 20 year military alliance, and
Soviet-backed invasion of Kampuchea. The Vietnamese revolution
has been betrayed from within, and the people delivered into
the clutches of yet another imperialist power.
Experience in Vietnam and elsewhere has shown that the process of development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the socialist revolution involves extremely complex and difficult tasks, and there are many pitfalls and obstacles. Because the struggle must go through the first stage of fighting for national liberation and because the working class and the communist party must try to unite all the sections of the nation, including many capitalist elements, who will fight for this goal, there is a tremendous spontaneous pull toward the ideology of nationalism, to view things from the standpoint of the interests of the nation (actually the capitalists of the nation) rather than from the point of view of the working class and its ultimate goal of wiping out exploitation and oppression all over the globe and building a world without classes. Nationalism is a form of bourgeois ideology, the outlook of the capitalist class. And it was this bourgeois ideology, first in the form of nationalism and later as out-and-out revisionism, which infected and ultimately led the leadership of the Vietnamese revolution down a blind alley—with the consequence that even the first stage of the revolution was not accomplished, and Vietnam fell into the willing arms of yet another imperialist power.
In the 1970s, as the struggle with the revisionists was intensifying again in China, the revolutionaries under Mao’s leadership made a penetrating analysis of the material and social basis for bourgeois elements which had arisen within the Chinese Communist Party—an analysis which has implications and applicability far beyond the Chinese revolution.5 Many of these bourgeois forces do at one point, especially before the seizure of state power and the completion of the bourgeois-democratic stage of the struggle, play a positive role and make positive contributions. But once the revolution enters the socialist stage, and especially the more deeply it develops in this stage, they turn against it and oppose its further advance. These are bourgeois democrats who turn into capitalist roaders—veteran Communist Party members who hold high posts but who actually become a target of the socialist revolution as it develops and deepens. It was shown that these people had been, in essence, bourgeois revolutionaries who had joined the Communist Party organizationally but not ideologically. They had failed to make the leap beyond a bourgeois world outlook, and they viewed the Chinese revolution from this perspective. To them the ultimate goal of the struggle was not the liberation of the masses from all forms of oppression and exploitation, although they would occasionally mouth words to that effect, but the transformation of China from a backward country mired in feudal productive relations to a modern and powerful country rivaling the advanced capitalist countries and cast in their image. They groveled before the technology of the capitalists and envisioned a similar future for China, regardless of which class held power. (Of course, the fallacy of this bourgeois vision can be seen by its results in China today, only three years after the capitalist-roaders seized power.)
There was a difference between China and Vietnam, however. For in China these bourgeois elements were not able to seize power and control the Party until after Mao’s death, and a revolutionary line overall dominated the Party until that time. In Vietnam it was the bourgeois democrats and capitalist roaders who held sway from the beginning, and they never met with significant opposition at the top levels of the Party, at least not opposition that represented a serious challenge.
In Vietnam the revolutionary leadership came principally from the radicalized intelligentsia who hated the imperialist domination of their country and who, like Ho Chi Minh,6 embraced Marxism-Leninism precisely for these reasons. The modern Vietnamese revolutionary struggle against colonial domination began in the post-World War I conditions of a world divided into the camp of imperialism, and the camp of revolution headed by the Soviet Union. The peoples of Indochina suffered under the strangulating grip of French colonialism. And the revolutionaries who emerged in the struggle against it gravitated, pulled as by the force of a magnet, to Marxism and the illuminating beacon of the Russian Revolution as the only political movement that thoroughly supported the liberation struggle in the colonial countries. In 1960 Ho Chi Minh wrote an essay entitled “The Path that Led Me to Leninism,” in which he recalled:
“After World War 1 I made my living in Paris.... I used to distribute leaflets denouncing the crimes committed by the French colonialists in Vietnam. At that time I supported the October Revolution only instinctively, not yet grasping all its historic importance. I loved and admired Lenin because he was a great patriot who liberated his compatriots; until then I had read none of his books…”7 The extent of Ho’s bourgeois illusions and outlook was seen in his trip to the Versailles Peace Conference after World War 1, where he attempted to plead with Wilson to listen to the eight-point pro- gram for the emancipation of Vietnam he had drawn up and modeled on the U.S. president’s own Fourteen Points. Ho was unceremoniously showed to the door.8 Ho goes on to explain:
“The reason for my joining the French Socialist Party was that these “ladies and gentlemen”—as I called my comrades at that moment—had shown their sympathy toward me, toward the struggle of the oppressed peoples. But I understood neither what was a party, a trade union, nor what was socialism nor communism…”9 In going on to describe where he came down on the struggle inside the Socialist Party between the supporters of the revisionist and social-chauvinist Second International and the new Third International headed by Lenin, Ho went on to say:
"What I wanted most to know—and this precisely was not debated at the meetings—was which International sides with the peoples of the colonial countries? ...
“At first patriotism, not yet communism, led me to have confidence in Lenin, in the Third International. Step by step, along the struggle, by studying Marxism-Leninism parallel with participation in practical activities, I gradually came upon the fact that only socialism and communism can liberate the oppressed nations and the working people throughout the world from slavery.”10
But as was to be demonstrated in the course of the Vietnamese revolution, Ho and the other leaders never really made the leap—certainly not thoroughly nor completely—from bourgeois nationalism to Marxism-Leninism. Organizationally Ho became a communist, but ideologically he remained, to a great degree, at Versailles.
It is a well verified fact that calling yourself a Marxist-Leninist, even studying Marxism-Leninism and adopting the forms of “Leninist organization” does not make you a Marxist-Leninist, any more than calling yourself a physicist or biologist and setting up a laboratory makes you one. For Marxism-Leninism is a science, a living science which must be applied to the concrete conditions of any society and developed in the course of struggle, but which nonetheless operates according to certain universal principles. It is also true that people who are revolutionaries at a certain stage and under certain conditions can turn into counter-revolutionaries at another stage and under different conditions. Like anything else, proletarian ideology does not exist in some pure distilled form in individuals or political movements. It exists in contradiction to other outlooks or ideologies, such as bourgeois ideology. The question is which is principal, what overall, at any given time, characterizes the outlook of revolutionaries. In the case of the Vietnamese revolution and the leaders of that revolutionary struggle, an examination of their political line and practice over a long period of time—and particularly at decisive junctures when the question of which line, proletarian or bourgeois, was the sharpest and most critical—shows that bourgeois ideology won out, that it was principal. In essence, under the conditions of fighting imperialist domination, they remained revolutionary nationalists. But at a certain point (after the victory over the U.S.) they turned into their opposite—they became reactionary nationalist tools of imperialism, and straight-out counter-revolutionary elements.
As Comrade Bob Avakian pointed out in his recent book, Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions, generalizing from the study of the counter-revolution in China:
“Is it not a widespread phenomenon in many countries today which have not yet been liberated from imperialism, and have not completed the democratic revolution, that there are many people who claim to be socialists, even communists, who are in fact nothing of the kind and are (at most) bourgeois revolutionaries?”11 Continuing, Avakian explained that the goal of these bourgeois democrats is to overcome the backwardness and near total strangulation of their countries by the imperialist powers. Therefore, they turn to “socialism”—public ownership—as the most efficient and rapid means of turning their countries into industrialized, modern states.
And further, he noted that the experience of the liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America since World War 2
“…has clearly demonstrated that, while it is an arduous task to win victory in the struggle to end colonial (including neo-colonial) domination, it is far more difficult to carry forward the struggle to establish socialism and then continue to advance in the socialist stage—and this has proven true even where the struggle has been led by a communist party. The greatest number of these movements, even where led by organizations declaring themselves Marxist-Leninist, have not gone forward to socialism and therefore have, in fact, failed to even win complete liberation from imperialism, falling instead under the sway of one or another imperialist power—generally one or the other superpower in this period.”12 For the leaders of the Vietnamese revolution, their nationalism led them to Marxism, but their Marxism was only a veneer covering a reality of opportunism and eclecticism. For Ho Chi Minh and the other leaders of the Vietnamese party, Marxism-Leninism was not a living science that was a guide to the ultimate goal of the complete emancipation of mankind. It was a grab bag of nostrums and solutions, mostly organizational, that could be employed to further their own nationalist aims. In fact, Ho expressed it in this way in so many words:
“There is a legend in our country as well as in China, about the magic ‘Brocade Bag.’ When facing great difficulties, one opens it and finds a way out. For us Vietnamese revolutionaries and people Leninism is not only a miraculous ‘Brocade Bag,’ a compass, but also a radiant sun illuminating our path to final victory...”13 And although at times they expressed this final victory in terms of socialism and communism, their grab bag approach and their bourgeois ideology blinded them to what path they were following.
Lenin made the point that the substitution of eclectics for dialectics—the failure to penetrate to the essence of the contradictory nature of a thing and see the principal aspect at any given time, or the attempt to reconcile two mutually exclusive things, is the most usual form of falsifying Marxism in an opportunist fashion and the “easiest way of deceiving the masses.” “It seems to take account of all sides of a process, all tendencies of development, all the conflicting influences, and so forth, whereas in reality it presents no integral and revolutionary conception of the process of social development at all.”14 Eclecticism, hand in hand with pragmatism, has characterized the opportunism and revisionism of the Vietnamese party and its top leadership. This can be seen in an examination of their line on the relationship between the two stages of the revolution, in particular in their line on the role of the party in the united front; in their line and actions around unity and struggle in the socialist camp and in the party; in their military line and strategy; and in their line on socialist construction and the nature of the class struggle under socialism.
2. Role of the Party in the United Front The Vietnamese Party, formed 1930 as the Indochinese Communist Party (the name was changed in 1951 to the Vietnam Workers’ Party and again in 1976 to the Communist Party of Vietnam), went through its early birth pangs and stages of growth in the pre-World War 2 period, as once again the imperialist powers began to lunge at each other’s throats to force a redivision of the world. The war conditions, the defeat of the Japanese who occupied Southeast Asia, and the temporary collapse of the French colonial apparatus in Indochina, provided the Vietnamese in 1945 with what party histories describe as a “golden opportunity,” a once in 1000-year chance.15 Through the military and political struggle of the newly formed Vietnamese Liberation Army and popular uprisings in the North, the national liberation forces were able to move into the temporary power vacuum in the North and establish, on September 2, 1945, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. However, a weakened, but no less determinedly imperialist France, backed by Britain and the U.S., moved almost at once to re-establish its colonial rule throughout Indochina. From 1945 to 1954 the Vietnamese people fought an heroic and successful war of resistance against the French colonialists.
One of the first problems and tasks set for the Vietnamese struggle against French colonialism was how to unite the broadest number of people in the struggle against the common enemy.
At the time of its formation, the Indochinese Communist Party made a generally correct assessment of the situation in Vietnam:
“First of all, our Party took the view that Viet Nam was a colonial and semi-feudal country. Agriculture occupied the major part of the national economy. Foreign imperialists relied on the feudal landowner class to oppress and exploit our people. The peasantry accounted for about 90 percent of the population. For these reasons, in Viet Nam two fundamental contradictions had to be solved: first, that between the Vietnamese people and the imperialists who had robbed them of their country; and second, that between the broad masses of the people, the peasants especially, and the feudal landowner class. The essential contradiction, for the solution of which all forces should be concentrated, was that between the Vietnamese people on the one hand, and the imperialist aggressors and their lackeys on the other. Imperialism was relying on the feudal landowner class to rule over our country; on the other hand, the feudal landowner class was acting as an agent of the imperialists and relied on their protection to maintain its interests and privileges. That is why two tasks were set for the Vietnamese revolution:
“1. To drive out the imperialist aggressors and win national independence—its anti-imperialist task.
“2. To overthrow the feudal landowner class, carry out land reform, and put into effect the watchword ‘Land to the Tiller’—its anti-feudal task.
“These two tasks were closely linked together and could not be separated: to drive out the imperialists one had to overthrow the feudal landowners; conversely, to overthrow the feudal landowners, one had to drive out the imperialists…. Imperialism and the feudal landowner class were the two main targets of the people’s democratic national revolution, the two main enemies to overthrow, but the more essential enemy was imperialism…. For this reason, it [the Party] must rally all forces struggling against the imperialists and their lackeys, and carry out a policy of broad national union.”16
However, in 1936, influenced by the directives and United Front Against Fascism strategy of the Comintern (set at its Seventh Congress in 1935), the Indochinese Communist Party changed its immediate program, and broadened the scope of those included in the national united front.
Even though the focus of the struggle against German fascism was half way across the world and had virtually no direct significance in Vietnam, and the Japanese fascist move to occupy Indochina was still several years away, the ICP dropped the independence struggle and geared itself to the formation of a popular front-type collation against Japan in Vietnam. To this end Ho Chi Minh declared that:
“1. For the time being the Party cannot put forth too high a demand (national independence, parliament, etc.) To do so is to play into the Japanese fascists’ hands. It should only claim democratic rights, freedom of organization, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, general amnesty for all political detainees, and freedom for the Party to engage in legal activity.
“2. To reach this goal, the Party must strive to organize a broad Democratic National Front. This front should embrace not only Indochinese but also progressive French people residing in Indochina, not only the toiling people but also the national bourgeoisie…
“5. To increase and consolidate its forces, to widen its influence and work effectively, the Indochinese Democratic Front must maintain close contact with the French Popular Front which also struggles for freedom and democracy and can give us great help.
“6. The Party cannot demand that the Front recognize its leadership. It must instead show itself to be the Front’s most loyal, active and sincere element. It is only through daily struggle and work, when the masses of the people have acknowledged the correct policies and leading capacity of the Party, that it can win the leading position.
“7. In order to carry out this task the Party must uncompromisingly fight sectarianism and organize the systematic study of Marxism-Leninism in order to raise the cultural and political level of the Party members. It must help the non-Party cadres raise their standard. It must maintain close contact with the French Communist Party…”17 The First Congress of the ICP in the summer of 1936 “temporarily put aside” the slogan “Overthrow French imperialism,” and set out to organize an Indochinese Anti-imperialist Popular Front. But according to a Party history, “this form of organization could not split the ranks of the French in Indochina, isolate the aggressive French fascists and reactionary colonialists. For this reason, the Indochinese Anti-imperialist Popular Front was later changed into the Indochinese Democratic Front.”18 Leaving aside the question of the general applicability of the United Front Against Fascism as conceived by the Comintern, the decision of the Party to drop its demands for national independence is very questionable, to say the least.
Although the Party later criticized itself for being “too reserved to declare its own stand on the question of national independence,”19 the decision reflected serious weaknesses in the Party’s conception of its own role in the united front, and in its understanding of the nature of the imperialist enemy and its tasks in relationship to it. Some of Ho Chi Minh’s zeal for the Comintern’s policy was most likely influenced by his role for many years as a Comintern functionary in Indochina. And it should also be pointed out that it was precisely during this period of the popular front that many weaknesses and revisionist tendencies in communist parties throughout the world began to sharply surface.
The Party conference in June 1936 even distinguished between the “ultra-imperialists and the anti-fascist imperialists.”20 This reflected the same kind of effort that was made by many of the communist parties in the imperialist countries of the west to draw a line of distinction between the “democratic” and the “most reactionary” wing of their own bourgeoisie and to base their strategy on this.
As for the Vietnamese, the stand taken by Ho and the ICP at this point, specifically around the role of the party in the united front (failure to declare its own stand on the question of independence, that it must be the “most loyal ... and sincere element,” but loyal to what, sincere about what; and the failure to really make a sharp distinction between its own line and program and that of the national bourgeoisie with which it was correctly attempting to unite) reflected tendencies that were to come out more strongly later. Politically it represented a certain pragmatism, and the whole formulation quoted above, including the exhortation to the “systematic study of Marxism-Leninism,” while failing to actually make a rigorous and thorough Marxist-Leninist analysis of the situation, betrayed their eclecticism. And it must be asked whether the instruction to study Marxism did not have something to do with the fact that there was strong opposition, among Party cadre, the masses and some other nationalist forces, to a policy that called for unity with the colonialist masters, i.e. study “Marxism” to justify opportunism.
Also in this period, in an interesting twist of the colonial relationship, the Comintern transferred the supervision of the Indochinese Communist Party from the Comintern staff in Moscow to the French Communist Party, whose enthusiasm for the popular front cannot be questioned, even if its motives for promoting unity with French colonialism in Vietnam can be.
With the outbreak of the war in 1939 and the collapse of France before the invading German armies and the establishment of the collaborator Vichy government in 1940, the French colonial government in Indochina, headed by Admiral Decoux, the official Vichy representative, settled in to keep French control of the region, working out a convenient arrangement with Japan.
In 1941 a new broad national united front, the League for Vietnamese Independence (Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or Vietminh) was established for the purpose of “uniting all patriots, without distinction of wealth, age, sex, religion or political outlook so that they may work together for the liberation of our people and the salvation of our nation.”21 The Vietminh carried out armed propaganda and guerilla struggle against both the Japanese fascists and the French colonialists and succeeded in carving out liberated zones in the northern Pac Bo region along the Chinese border.
By 1944 the localized guerrilla units had been pulled together into the rudiments of the Liberation Army, under the command of Vo Nguyen Giap, one of Ho’s closest collaborators. When the Japanese turned on the French colonialists after the fall of France to the allies and imprisoned most of the military and administrative leaders of the colonial apparatus, the Vietnamese seized their chance. Ho issued an appeal for general insurrection in August 1945 and the Vietminh forces marched into Hanoi. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh, president of the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam, read a Declaration of Independence at a meeting of half a million people in Ba Dinh square.
The government formed in the north, and correctly so at that stage of the struggle, was a coalition government which included many openly non-communist nationalist forces. But it was often difficult to distinguish between the outlook of these forces and that of Ho Chi Minh himself.
In the proclamation of Vietnamese independence which Ho wrote, he mimicked the hollow words of the American Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of the French bourgeois revolution of 1791.
“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
“... All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.”
And Ho castigated the French bourgeoisie for trampling on their own principles:
“Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, have violated our Father land and oppressed our fellow citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.”22 These declarations of the rights of man, even when they were written, were nothing more than the efforts of the rising bourgeois classes to rally the masses of laboring people around them in their struggles against the British and French monarchies. As early as 1878 Engels wrote scornfully of such declarations of the rights of man as put forward by the bourgeois revolutionaries in France:
“… superstition, injustice, privilege and oppression were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal justice, equality based on nature, and the inalienable rights of man.
“We know today that this realm reason was nothing more than idealized realm of the bourgeoisie; that eternal justice found its realization in bourgeois justice; that equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the most essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, Rousseau’s Social Contract, came into being and could only come into being, as a bourgeois democratic republic.”23
What possible meaning could it have, even in the context of a united front with bourgeois forces, to put this bourgeois deception forward in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution? What was he trying to accomplish by his apparent attempt to “expose” the French bourgeoisie for failing to live up to “its own standards”?—other than to conciliate with the French bourgeoisie (and pander to the Vietnamese national bourgeoisie as well), implying that somehow if they had acted right, none of this would be necessary. Leaving aside the question of whether that declaration was the time or place to denounce the French for what they were, imperialists, and expose the nature of imperialism, the fact is that Ho did just the opposite. He covered over and obscured the nature of the imperialist enemy. And at this critical juncture in the Vietnamese revolution he revealed the extent of bourgeois nationalism in his own outlook and that of the Party, and demonstrated how far they were from giving revolutionary proletarian leadership to the democratic revolution in their country. This is not just a matter of quibbling over words, it was borne out in action as well.
The French imperialists, of course, were not at all impressed by these bourgeois pretensions on the part of Ho and the ICP, any more than they were halted in their determination to reassert their colonial rule over Vietnam by Ho’s subsequent expression of willingness to keep Vietnam in the French Union and the Indochina Federation.24 The French colonial army of occupation marched on Hanoi, and despite months of negotiations, it became clear soon enough that the only road to independence for Vietnam lay through armed struggle. By the end of 1946 hostilities had broken out. The new government and the Party leadership withdrew from Hanoi back into the countryside to begin another stage in the war of liberation to drive out the colonial overlords.
Once again the Vietnamese leaders acted to broaden the united front against the French. An official Party history states that “under the leadership of the Party and President Ho Chi Minh, the entire Vietnamese people rose up in a resolute fight to preserve national independence and unity, and to defend and develop the gains of the August Revolution.”25 But their first step in exerting Party leadership in this struggle was a curious one: they formally dissolved the Party. There would remain only a Marxist Study Association. Apparently there was at least some objection and controversy over this move, because in his political report to the Second Congress of the Vietnam Workers’ Party in February 1951 Ho argued:
“At that time the Party could not hesitate: hesitation meant failure. The Party had to make quick decisions and take measures—even painful ones—to save the situation. The greatest worry was about the Party’s proclamation of voluntary dissolution. But in reality it went underground.
“And though underground, the Party continued to lead the administration and the people.
“We recognize that the Party’s declaration of dissolution (actual withdrawal into the underground) was a good measure.”26 This excerpt from Ho’s speech was taken from a collection of his works published in 1970 by the revisionist CPUSA’s publishing house, and there is no reason to doubt its accuracy. But there must have been some later evaluation inside the Vietnamese Communist Party that this was in fact not such a “good measure,” or at least not one that they should make much of at a time when they were trying to proclaim their Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy. For in a 1977 Hanoi edition of Ho’s selected works,27 this entire section is left out of the speech. No ellipses, no footnotes of explanation. All reference to the dissolution of the Party is simply eliminated.
This is not just an exercise in “textual criticism,” nor are we implying that the Party actually was dissolved. It obviously was not, at least not completely. And Party documents state flatly that in reality the Party was not dissolved, but went underground. Party leaders did continue to give leadership to the liberation war; the Party apparatus, at least at some levels, continued to function; and certainly at the highest levels the Party bodies continued to meet regularly. In fact, large numbers of people were, apparently, recruited into the Party during the period between 1946 and 1951 when it was supposedly dissolved. But the question is why did they do it? What political understanding did it reflect on the nature of the struggle, the tasks of the party and its role in the united front, that they felt the necessity to announce that the Party had been dissolved, even if it was necessary to go underground? The Communist Party USA under the revisionist Earl Browder dissolved itself for a period of months in 1944 also, although the Party structure in some form continued to function. This action represented a revisionist outlook and political line.
The conditions that the Party faced at that point were difficult. French troops occupied the southern part of the country and had marched on Hanoi in the north. Several divisions of KMT troops, under the guise of an allied mandate to accept the Japanese surrender, had moved into the northern part of the country in 1945, and although they had agreed to turn control over to the returning French, they had been busy pillaging and looting. The KMT leadership would have liked nothing better than to crush the ICP and eliminate any possible alliance or mutual action between it and the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war that was raging in China. And the Party was small, only about 5,000 members in 1945.
But was this dissolution maneuver meant to fool the French or the KMT? Hardly. Was it meant to play to world opinion? To say “nobody here but us nationalists”? That in itself would be revealing. The question, of course, is not whether it’s incorrect in principle to go underground—many parties have faced the necessity of functioning secretly in the face of adverse conditions—but even then these parties have tried to find ways to conduct illegal secret communist agitation and propaganda. Within the context, however, of a struggle which had presumably established base areas in the countryside, areas where the revolutionary forces have relative freedom to operate, to hint at the presence of foreign troops as the reason for dissolving entirely the public face of the Party (even if most members kept their membership secret) is no argument, or rather a wrong argument.
Most likely this move was aimed at other nationalist forces and was an attempt to unite broader anti-French forces who they felt were queasy about linking up organizationally in a united front with communists. This is hinted at in Ho’s statement concerning the need for “time to gradually consolidate the forces of people’s power and to strengthen the National United Front.” But the only thing this pragmatic approach to achieving unity in the patriotic struggle could accomplish, besides the abandonment of Marxist principle, was to virtually guarantee that the politics of those forces that sought to limit the struggle to the confines of nationalism would go unchallenged. In some ways they were quite similar to the line of Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution: to fight the anti-imperialist war as nationalists, win popular support on this basis, and then after they are recognized as leaders and supported by the masses as such, announce that they are also “communists”—while in fact remaining bourgeois nationalists.
There is a parallel in this period to the approach the leadership of the Vietnam Workers’ Party (VWP) took during the war against the U.S. in south Vietnam. Everyone is familiar with the National Liberation Front, which correctly included Vietnamese from all classes who were opposed to U.S. imperialism. But although it was occasionally mentioned in VWP and NLF documents, little was ever heard of the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP) of south Vietnam. Formed in 1962, this was supposedly a separate party in the south, giving leadership to the NLF. Certainly the organizational leadership of the PRP did (under the direction of the VWP) in fact give leadership to the struggle in the south. But the point is, independent or branch, the PRP’s role was very downplayed and its leadership was on the basis of organization of the struggle, not political line—through its communist agitation and propaganda pointing the direction beyond the immediate struggle, and through the application of Marxist theory mapping the way forward to socialism and communism.
This in no way implies that the Party’s principal task during the war of national liberation should have been to “fight for socialism,” as Trotskyites asserted. Nor does it mean that the national struggle should have been subordinated to the class struggle. Even so, a genuine communist party has the responsibility to play an independent role, politically as well as organizationally, in the united front and not to capitulate to the bourgeoisie in either sphere.
The stand of the Vietnamese party leaders stood in stark contrast to the position of Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Communist Party during their united front in the War of Resistance against Japanese imperialism.
“In short, we must not split the united front, but neither should we allow ourselves to be bound hand and foot, and hence the slogan of ‘everything through the united front’ should not be put forward ... Our policy is one of independence and initiative within the united front, a policy both of unity and of independence.”28 Later, during the war against U.S. aggression, VWP literature does speak of the independent role of the Party in the united front and the necessity of solving
“all problems related to the Front policy from a class stand ... One-sided unity, unaccompanied by struggle, in practice leads to the disruption of unity and the liquidation of the Front. If one knows how to conduct a principled struggle, i.e. one that is based on the common political programme and aimed at implementing it, far from breaking up unity and weakening the Front, one will have done the only thing that could strengthen unity and consolidate the Front.”29 However, the practice of the VWP in the first part of the war against the French (1946-51) in officially dissolving the Party, and the limitation of the Party’s agitation and propaganda to the national goals of the struggle, fly in the face of these later formulations. And even then, during the war against the U.S., when the Party was larger and clearly the undisputed leadership of the struggle, their approach remained that of stage-managing the united front. To the extent that they did have “principled” political differences with the openly proclaimed national bourgeois elements in the revolution, it was not around the ultimate goals of the struggle, but around a revisionist view of how best to develop the country, through public or private ownership of the means of production. (See section 5 below.) And while there is plenty of discussion of the patriotic tasks of the united front and the Party, there is no sense of the whole, of the process of social development in the period and the real relationship of the class forces to one another or of the various tasks of the Party to one another.