3. Unity in “Socialist Camp” After nine years of protracted and heroic struggle the Vietnamese defeated France and put an end to French colonialism in Indochina. But the Vietnamese now faced a new imperialist vulture trying to tighten its claws around their necks. The U.S. had financed 80% of the French war and were determined to step in where the French left off.
The Geneva Accords signed between the Vietnamese and France provided for the temporary division of the country in half and for elections to unify the country in 1956. (An analysis of these arguments is beyond the scope of this article.) But the U.S. had already begun to consolidate its foothold in the south, installing its own trusty, bloody puppet regime of Ngo Dinh Diem—previously best known for his collaboration with the French colonialists.
The immediate task taken up by the Party and the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north was to secure enough food for the people and basic reconstruction of their war-ravaged land: restoration of communications and transportation, re-establishment of basic industries, etc. By 1957 this task had been completed, including land reform, rebuilding the dikes so crucial to agriculture, etc. They now faced the decision of what course to follow. As Truong Chinh, a leading Party member put it: “… should we wait for the reunification of the country to be achieved before engaging in socialist revolution? ... our Party’s answer was No.”30 On the other hand, it was clear that driving the U.S. imperialists out of Vietnam and completing the democratic revolution was still a major task confronting the Party and the people.
The question was: what is the relationship between the task of socialist construction and transformation in the north and the liberation of the south. And further, what is the correct path of building socialism in the north. These questions were to be debated and decided against the backdrop of a great storm that was approaching in the international communist movement and blew wide open in the next few years. It was to have a tremendous impact on the course of the Vietnamese revolution.
In 1956 Khrushchev had grabbed power and begun the process of dragging the first socialist state back to capitalism. The key to advancing to communism, he declared, was the development of the productive forces of society in order to create the wealth and abundance that would provide the material basis for communism. He trumpeted the theory of the dying out of the class struggle under socialism, while at the very same time he and the new bourgeoisie in the party and the state apparatus were destroying the forms of working class rule and turning the masses of people into slaves of profit, and offering them a bowl of goulash in recompense.
Internationally Khrushchev and the Soviet revisionists put forward the line of the “three peaceful”: peaceful transition, peaceful competition and peaceful co-existence. According to these “modernizers” of Marx and Lenin, violent revolution against the capitalists was no longer necessary. Neither was imperialist war any longer inevitable, as Lenin had said. Khrushchev held that a new world war was out of the question, imperialism having become so reasonable, and that in fact all wars, including those waged for national liberation from imperialism, could and should be prevented. Further, the meaning of “peaceful coexistence” for these new revisionists was that the socialist countries should offer “all-round cooperation” with the imperialists, making this the general line of their foreign policy, coupled with the assertion that imperialism was now willing to cooperate with socialism. And the socialist system, by the very nature of its growing strength, would defeat imperialism through peaceful competition. In fact, not only was violent revolution unnecessary, it was positively dangerous. Because, according to Khrushchev & Co., the advent of nuclear weapons had changed everything. National liberation struggles, as in Vietnam for example, could touch off a “world conflagration” that might end in a nuclear holocaust.
The bourgeois logic and the link behind the Soviets’ international line and their brand of “socialism” was stated quite starkly in an August 1960 editorial in Pravda:
“Why construct, build, create, if one knows in advance that all the fruits of one’s labor will be destroyed by the tornado of war?”31 Khrushchev set out to whip the international communist movement into line behind his rotten revisionism. He was met by an iron wall of proletarian resistance from revolutionaries in the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tsetung. (For a more detailed analysis of the historic struggle see the June, 1979 issue of Revolution: “CPC’s Struggle Against Khrushchev: 1956-1963”).
“. . . The bourgeoisie will not step down from the stage of history voluntarily. This is a universal law of class struggle. In no country should the proletariat and the Communist Party slacken their preparation for the revolution in any way...
“To the best of our knowledge, there is still not a single country where this possibility [peaceful transition] is of any practical significance.”32
And they exposed the end result of Khrushchev’s line: collaboration and conciliation with U.S. imperialism.
“… the ‘peace’ they talk about is in practice limited to the ‘peace’ which may be acceptable to the imperialists under certain historical conditions. It attempts to lower the revolutionary standards of the peoples of various countries and destroy their revolutionary will.”33 Throughout the international communist movement this struggle drew a sharp dividing line between revolution and counter-revolution, between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism. The Vietnamese tried to straddle this line. But they could not. Their centrism and “brocade bag” eclecticism cannot mask the fact that, when the chips were down, revisionism triumphed over Marxism inside the Vietnam Workers’ Party.
The first indications of this came in 1957 when they decided to place top priority on reconstruction of the north, in opposition to continuing to carry out the struggle to liberate the south, and within this to give main emphasis to the development of heavy industry as the key link in building socialism. The political and ideological battle between China and the Soviet Union threw what was from their point of view an untimely and very unfortunate wrench into their plans.
In embarking on their ambitious plans for industrialization and modernization, it was obvious that they were going to need a great amount of financial and technological aid. But not only were the Chinese averse to the plans they were laying, they were not in a position to provide the kind of aid the Vietnamese leadership demanded. On the other hand, there was certainly some strong opposition in the VWP to openly siding with the Soviets against the Chinese, and even the dominant pro-Soviet revisionist forces saw nothing to be gained in openly opposing China’s line. And there must have been some hesitancy and lack of confidence about the reliability of Soviet support.
This sentiment could only have been heightened by Khrushchev’s proposal in early 1957 that both north and south Vietnam be admitted to the United Nations. This attempted betrayal and sellout of the Vietnamese people in south Vietnam brought a strong and outraged response from Ho Chi Minh and the Party leadership. Khrushchev was forced to quickly withdraw his suggestion. But it did not divert the Vietnamese leaders from the course they were charting.
Publicly Ho, in particular, and the rest of the leadership began to play the role of the great conciliators, arguing for “unity in the socialist camp” and studiously refusing to take an open position on this monumental two line struggle. As late as 1964, after the split between the revolutionaries and the revisionists had become absolutely clear and irrevocable, Ho Chi Minh stated in an interview in the French daily Le Monde: “Disputes of this kind among the revolutionary parties have always been settled satisfactorily.” And in his last will and testament in 1969 he said: “I am firmly confident that the fraternal parties and countries will have to unite again.”34 Typical of the Vietnamese approach was their role at the Romanian Party Congress in 1960, which was attended by representatives from many parties around the world, including Khrushchev, who used the meeting to launch a vicious attack on the Chinese Communist Party. While China blasted the Soviets for their revisionist “peaceful co-existence” line, Le Duan, a leading VWP politburo member, carefully avoided this cardinal question, delivering instead a marshmallow speech which failed to venture beyond some mundane details of relations between Vietnam and Romania. At the congress of the eighty-one communist parties in Moscow in December of 1960 Ho once again made a strong pitch for unity in the “socialist camp” and offered to play the role of arbiter of the struggle. But the dispute was over fundamental political principle and was not “arbitrable.” At one point the Chinese delegation walked out of the meeting—in protest of Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin—and laid a wreath at Stalin’s grave. Ho also left the meeting, not in protest, but to go sight-seeing in the Soviet Union. Jean Lacoutoure, a French bourgeois biographer of Ho, describes another characteristic scene at the Third Congress of the VWP in September of 1960, also confirmed by others present: Ho laughingly took the Soviet and Chinese delegates by the hand and “before the incredulous diplomatic corps, bade the assembled delegations join in an ‘All Put Together’ type of refrain.”35 To their credit, though consistent with their public centrism, the VWP did refuse to go along with a Soviet-orchestrated denunciation of the Albanian Party of Labor at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU a year later in Moscow. But at the same time, Ho made yet another bid for unity and offered his services as mediator.
Many people describe Ho Chi Minh as a great diplomat, brilliant mediator, “middle of the roader” and astute politician, trying to keep Vietnam free from entanglement with either of the “two communist giants.” Nothing could be further from the truth, or more of a bourgeois analysis. Others argue that the Vietnamese position was dictated by objective conditions. Faced with the necessity to build their country and the threat of the U.S. and its puppet regime in the south, the Vietnamese had to avoid alienating or jeopardizing the support of either China or Russia. But this doesn’t hold water either.
Obviously the Vietnamese leadership must have seen it this way, to some extent at least. And it is not a question of dictating to them how they should have handled this contradiction on the basis of a correct line, if they had had one. It was not the case that the VWP discussed and debated this decisive question, adopted an internal position in support of Marxism-Leninism, and for practical and diplomatic reasons decided not to publicly side with the Chinese and attack the Soviet revisionists at that point. Just the opposite. Although there most certainly was some sharp struggle and differing lines, none of which has ever been officially reported out, their centrism boiled down to opportunism, and in the final analysis an embrace of Soviet-style revisionism. When they did take a clear-cut position, which they did during 1960 and 1961 on numerous occasions, they sided with the Soviets, and the Soviet line which argued for cooling out the liberation struggle in the south.
In a speech given in early April of 1960 Le Duan, a few months later appointed General Secretary of the Vietnam Workers’ Party, argued for restricting the struggle in the south.
“The Northern people will never neglect their task with regard to one half of their country which is not yet liberated. But in the present conjuncture, when the possibility exists to maintain a lasting peace in the world and create favorable conditions for the world movement of socialist revolution and national independence to go forward, we can and must guide and restrict within the south the solving of the contradiction between imperialism and the colonies of our country.”36 He was forced to admit that this would cause “complications” for the struggle in the south. But basing himself on Khrushchev’s peaceful competition line, he argued that the overall strength of the “socialist camp” would prevail:
“In the world, the socialist forces are becoming stronger than the imperialist forces. In our country, the socialist forces in the North are also being developed strongly. Though this situation has created a number of complications for the revolution in the South, the advantages are fundamental. We must know how to make use of this supremacy of the socialist forces adequately and in good time to help the revolution in the South develop favorably.”37 Khrushchev could have used Le Duan as a back-up in his “Kitchen Debate” with Nixon a year earlier.
Behind all this lay the argument that, through maintaining “peaceful co-existence” the Diem regime would collapse in the south and the U.S. would be forced to withdraw—and meanwhile the north could proceed apace with its construction plans:
“If peace can be maintained, the aggressive schemes of the United States-Diem clique will rapidly fail, and their totalitarian fascist regime will rapidly decay. If peace is maintained, the revolutionary forces will enjoy necessary conditions to develop strongly. Hence to maintain peace is a revolutionary slogan.”38 Since when is “maintaining peace” a “revolutionary slogan”? Lenin spoke of imperialist war as inevitable as long as imperialism exists. Of course, Lenin, Stalin and the Chinese revolutionaries spoke of the possibility of preventing the outbreak of such a particular war for a period of time. But what about wars of national liberation, armed insurrections and revolutionary wars in general? Are these also to be avoided in order to “maintain peace”?
Certainly that is what Khrushchev meant. And at a speech on September 1, 1960, just before the opening of the Third Party Congress in Hanoi, and only a few months before the escalation of the struggle by the liberation forces in the south brought about the formation of the National Liberation Front, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong openly proclaimed the VWP’s alliance with the Soviets on the question of peaceful co-existence and peaceful transition:
“Nowadays the Soviet Union and other socialist countries are successfully building socialism and communism and have become an invincible force. Along with peace loving people all over the world they are able to prevent war, to check the bloodstained hands of the imperialists, preserve peace and save mankind from a new world war, a nuclear war.”39 Again, Pham Van Dong speaks of “preventing war.” This is an exact echo of the Soviet line, which said that all wars must be prevented—in order to “save mankind from a nuclear war.” Pham, like the Soviet revisionists, makes no distinction between the imperialist war, which must be opposed, and revolutionary wars, which must be supported and which, given the nature of imperialism, are inevitable if the people in the oppressed countries are to win their liberation.
The Third Congress offered numerous examples of how far the Vietnamese Workers’ Party had gone in embracing the Soviet line, and opposing the revolutionary line of which Mao Tsetung was the most outstanding exponent. In his report on the new Party constitution, Le Duc Tho took a heavy swipe at “dogmatism.” While this was ostensibly aimed at forces within the Party who are accused of “mechanical study and application of foreign experience,” the Chinese are clearly the target of the attack as well. “Dogmatism” and “sectarianism” had become buzz words directed at China by Khrushchev and friends. The Chinese delegate to the Congress did not miss the point. In responding to a speech by the Soviet representative Mukhitdinov, he charged that “It is absolutely impermissible to relinquish fundamental theoretical positions of Marxism-Leninism on the pretext of opposing dogmatism.”40 Since these more or less open attacks on the Chinese line and siding with the Soviets did mark a break with the VWP’s previous (and subsequent) centrism, it is interesting to note that just before the opening of the Congress, Ho Chi Minh flew to Moscow where he spent over a week in discussions with Soviet leaders. While there are no official reports of these discussions available, it does not seem unduly speculative to suggest that this attack on the Chinese line may have been the trade-off demanded by Khrushchev for Soviet commitment to back the ambitious Five Year Plan unveiled at the Congress.41 But on another score the Congress position marked somewhat of a modification of Le Duan’s earlier call to restrict the struggle in the south, and his claim that the Diem regime would fall of its own rot. Instead, the Congress adopted a more eclectic two-point position on the relationship between reconstruction in the north and liberating the south:
“In the present stage, the Vietnamese revolution has two strategic tasks:
“Firstly to carry out the socialist revolution in the North.
“Secondly, to liberate the South from the rule of the American imperialists and their henchmen, achieve national reunification and complete independence and freedom throughout the country.”42 But in his speech at the Congress Vo Nguyen Giap, Commander in Chief of the Vietnam People’s Army (PAVN) and Minister of Defense of the DRV, made clear the emphasis:
“At present, economic construction in the North has become the central task of the Party. That is why our defense budget must be reduced and military effectives cut.”43 But not surprisingly, there are also other formulations from the Congress that seem to “balance out” or give the other side of the picture regarding north/south question. In the same speech Giap says:
“... while speaking about our Party’s policy of peaceful reunification, a number of our comrades are not fully aware of the plots of the United States imperialists and their lackeys; they do not understand that while our policy is to preserve peace and to achieve peaceful reunification, we should always be prepared to cope with any maneuver of the enemy. That is due to the fact that a number of our comrades have no all-sided understanding of the present world situation; they see only the possibility of winning a lasting peace and not the danger of war which still exists. …they are not fully aware of the plots of imperialism…”44 While an argument can be made that the different formulations at the Congress reflect a line struggle inside the VWP, it is also quite understandable that “a number of our comrades” did not seem to understand or follow the Party’s policy of peaceful reunification. The formulations were so “all-sided” in their eclecticism, and the earlier Party pronouncements on “peaceful co-existence,” including some at the Congress were so clearly arguing against a war of liberation in the south that it would be hard to imagine how many couldn’t help but be confused.
Whatever the hopes and plans of the Party leaders, the next two years brought a rapid escalation in the struggle in the south, that made it virtually impossible not to see that the U.S. was not about to pull out, nor agree to some sort of “neutralization” plan for the south that would leave the liberation forces in place, as it seemed (erroneously) that they later did with the Laos agreement in 1962. In response to the rising resistance movement the NLF was formed in December of 1960 and Kennedy began to escalate U.S. military intervention in the south. Open war was not only inevitable, it had already begun.
The reality, and necessities, of the intensifying war in the south ran flat in the face of Khrushchev’s insistence that the Vietnamese try to keep everything cool. No matter what the VWP leadership may have wished, this was not possible. As it became evident that aid would not be forthcoming from the Soviets for the war, a noticeable shift took place in 1963 and 1964 towards the Marxist-Leninist line being fought for most strongly by the Communist Party of China. In a speech in March of 1963 Le Duan conceded that:
“... the Marxist-Leninist parties—seek to achieve the revolution by peaceful means, but in any event, the two alternatives, peaceful and non-peaceful, should be considered, if the exploiting classes resort to violence against the people, the possibility of non-peaceful transition to socialism should be borne in mind.”45 In December he signaled an even sharper break, arguing for the necessity of the violent revolutionary struggle.46 His speech was printed in full in the Chinese People’s Daily.
In July of 1963 the Army newspaper Hoc Tap published an article by the military commander Nguyen Chi Thanh which openly repudiated earlier positions:
“We do not have any illusions about the United States. We do not underestimate our opponent—the strong and cunning U.S. imperialism. But we are not afraid of the United States ... If, on the contrary, one is afraid of the United States, and thinks that to offend it would court failure, and that firm opposition to United States imperialism would touch off a nuclear war, then the only course left would be to compromise with and surrender to United States imperialism.”47 And on the question of the role and the relation of building the north to the struggle in the south, there was a definite change:
“A powerful North Vietnam will be a decisive factor in the social development of our entire country. But this does not mean that simply because the North is strong, the revolutionary movement in the South will automatically succeed ... the building of the North itself cannot replace the resolution of the inherent social contradictions of South Vietnam.”48 Finally, Le Duan, of all people, began warning of the danger of international revisionism, and its influence on the VWP:
“Some comrades in our Party have come under the influence of modern revisionism. Although their number is small, it is not a good thing and we must pay attention to it.”49 Unfortunately this new clarity on the dangers of revisionism and the denunciations of it by the Vietnam Workers’ Party did not last long.
Khrushchev was ousted by Brezhnev in October, 1964 and although there was no fundamental change in the Soviet revisionist line, it did mark the beginning of some new developments, i.e. initial moves away from a policy of open and shameless conciliation and collaboration with U.S. imperialism to one of more contention. As far as Vietnam was concerned, the new Soviet bosses were most concerned that the necessities of the war and Russia’s own lack of support would push them even closer to the Chinese, who remained staunch supporters of the armed struggle against U.S. aggression.
In February of 1965 the U.S. began bombing the north and the next month the “Americanization” of the war in the south began with the first major troop escalation. Soviet Premier Kosygin visited Hanoi at the same time with new promises of aid to defend against the U.S. air war and ground troop escalation. Underscoring that there had been no basic change in Moscow’s position, however, Khrushchev was allowed to speak publicly from banishment in August of 1965 to again warn that “trouble starts with small things like Viet Nam and ends with disaster.”50 The Vietnamese leaders seemed satisfied that with Khrushchev gone everything was fine in the USSR once again and quickly eliminated their attacks on “modern revisionism.” By 1966 they were back to their talk of unity of the socialist camp and praise of developments in the Soviet Union. The immediate motivation for their decision that revisionism was no longer a problem in the Soviet Union was the new offers of aid, and Vietnam’s recognition that the Soviets would supply them some of the heavy weapons, planes and rockets for the kind of war they wanted to fight against the U.S. at that point. But if pragmatism and opportunism was the immediate motivation, the underlying cause was their fundamental unity with the Soviet line.
To the extent that they were concerned about the struggle that had split the international communist movement and made talk of a “unity of the socialist camp” an absurdity, it was only from the point of view of how it was going to affect their own national struggle. This is one of the clearest examples of how the Vietnamese leaders not only subordinated the class struggle to the national struggle in the context of a war of liberation, but saw these two struggles as virtually identical. They were determined to maintain unity in the socialist camp so that their national struggle would not be adversely affected.
But it also went deeper than that. For them “socialism” was merely the best form for obtaining their goal of national liberation and building Vietnam into a modern, powerful, industrialized country. And this was made synonymous with the long-term interests of the working class. They were not able to see anything wrong with Soviet revisionism because they were not Marxists. The battle that the Chinese revolutionaries were leading to expose the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the abandonment of the revolutionary goal of the working class and the class struggle by most of the communist parties of the world was seen as a dogmatic and sectarian disruption of the unity which they saw as so central to obtaining their objectives.
This same bourgeois outlook existed in their line on unity in the Party itself. Le Duan stated in 1973 that “we are resolved to ‘preserve the unity of the Party as we would the apple of our eye.’ The Party will never tolerate any manifestation of factionalism, the gravest crime against the revolution.”51 So it is not the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism or a counter-revolutionary line that is the greatest crime against the revolution, but factionalism that disrupts the monolithic unity of the party! But if a revisionist line dominates in a communist party, the task of revolutionaries is precisely to wage sharp struggle and if necessary to try to split it. The absence of sharp, vigorous political struggle within a party is the surest sign that a revisionist line has in fact triumphed.
The Vietnamese Communist Party is notorious for its lack of internal political struggle. What there is instead is what they call “criticism-self criticism,” which in practice amounts to aiming the spearhead of criticism down at the cadre. You could quote pages and pages of the constant refrain of the Vietnamese leaders down through the years about the weaknesses and shortcomings of the cadre. Ideological unity, says Le Duan, “is firmly ensured through democratic centralism…” but “… ‘Ideology by itself can realize nothing.’ Turning ideology into action must of necessity be done through organization.”52 True. But the fact is that in the Party, as in the international communist movement, they put the question of unity above the necessity to struggle for the correct political line. Their ultimate criterion for the party is not its political line but its organizational unity. The demand for organizational unity becomes a method of preventing struggle for the correct line. There is no reference in the writings of the Vietnamese leaders to the fact that class struggle in society between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is reflected, much less concentrated, in the party. Hence for the leaders of the Vietnamese Party, like the current rulers in China, “unity” around a bourgeois line, not the practice of Marxism-Leninism and the struggle against revisionism and bourgeois ideology, becomes the operating principle.
Mao Tsetung point out in 1958 that:
“To talk all the time about monolithic unity, and not to talk about struggle, is not Marxist-Leninist. Unity passes through struggle, only thus can unity be achieved. It is the same within the party, as regards classes, and among the people. Unity is transformed into struggle, and then there is unity again. We cannot talk of monolithic unity alone, and not talk about struggle, about contradictions. The Soviet Union does not talk about the contradiction between the leaders and the led. If there were no contradictions and no struggle, there would be no world, no progress, no life, there would be nothing at all. To talk all the time about unity is ‘a pool of stagnant water’...”53 The line of the Vietnamese leaders on unity in the socialist camp and unity in their own Party is the measure of the extent to which they had sunk into this stagnant pool of revisionism. Their eclectic formulations and positions around the cardinal issues facing the communist parties of the world at this point were a facile way of attempting to mask their own opportunism—and also probably a sop thrown to try to pacify revolutionaries within the Party and around the world, whose support they still needed. But the issues and principles at stake were impossible to negate by a stance of neutrality. And, as came out in the early ’60s, they were not neutral at all. Fundamentally they sided with modern revisionism led by the CPSU, even though the intensity of the national struggle in Vietnam dictated following a “centrist” policy. Because bourgeois nationalism and not Marxism-Leninism triumphed inside the Vietnam Workers’ Party at this critical juncture, it is not surprising that in the future they would find increasing unity with the bourgeois line of the Soviet Union.