Solidarity (London) pamphlet about the origins and meaning of the Vietnam War.
Published in December 1973 (Solidarity pamphlet No. 43) it was the third and last Solidarity pamphlet by Potter about Vietnam.
Solidarity pamphlet no. 20, called Vietnam, was published in the autumn of 1965. It gave rise to a heated and prolonged controversy (see Solidarity vol. IV, nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) not least because of its statement that the Vietnamese were 'unconscious pawns in a worldwide struggle for domination' waged by the major economic powers. Some 3000 copies of this pamphlet were nevertheless sold, often under extremely difficult conditions, for instance in demonstrations dominated by the Stalinists or various Trotskyist groups, all proclaiming their support for the North Vietnamese regime.
In June 1967, in view of the escalation of the war and the continuing demand for basic background information. Bob Potter wrote several further sections and Solidarity produced 1500 copies of a new pamphlet (no. 25) entitled The Rape of Vietnam. The internationalist viewpoint advocated in this text, and in particular the exposure of the class nature of the regimes in both North and South Vietnam, led to Solidarity's continued 'isolation' on this issue. At this time practically every Marxist group — and not a few 'anarchist' ones — were calling for 'Victory to the Viet Cong'.
In October 1968 (in vol. V, no. 5 of Solidarity) we published some material (translated from Informations Correspondence Ouvrieres) dealing with the Saigon insurrection of 1945 and with how it had been put down by the Viet Minh. This was the first time this information had been brought to the radical movement in Britain and discussed there. Over the last two years we have received many requests for this article, the substance of which is now included in the present pamphlet.
In January 1971, the Philadelphia Solidarity Branch of the Socialist Reconstruction Movement (later to become the Philadelphia Solidarity Group) republished The Rape of Vietnam together with some of the articles and letters from back issues of our magazine (including the article on the Saigon insurrection) and some comments and material of their own. This pamphlet can still be obtained from Philadelphia Solidarity (GPO Box 13011, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, USA).
As the war dragged on new layers of young people became involved in radical politics. Our pamphlet was soon out of print again. With the formal cessation of hostilities in 1973 we felt that the time was ripe to reassess the whole subject of the Vietnam war, through which hundreds of thousands of young people had 'come to politics' in the West.
Vietnam: Whose Victory? contains a vast amount of factual material not present in the previous two pamphlets. The political orientation is also somewhat different. In agreement with the author a number of ambiguous formulations have been altered — and some which we now consider to have been wrong have been dropped altogether. Our original assessment of the war (as an inter-imperialist conflict) remains fully vindicated. Bob Potter's proposition that 'revolutionary socialists must support the struggle of the South Vietnamese against the old feudal regime — but they must also support the North Vietnamese against the Ho regime' remains as true today as ever it did during Ho Chi Minh's life and during the long years of the war itself.
On one or two points there is an honest divergence of opinion between the author and Solidarity (London). We have published Bob Potter's text in full, together with a brief appendix in which we explain where and why we disagree. We feel that this is a more fruitful way of encouraging a comradely discussion and of reaching clarification than the monolithic practice of only publishing texts with which every one of us agrees.
It is significant that in spite of the mass interest aroused by the Vietnam war, the 'traditional' revolutionary movement has produced such a paucity of useful information about it. The miserably few books and pamphlets that have appeared are either Stalinist or liberal, and full of national drivel or emotional appeals for medical aid on behalf of the 'heroic Vietnamese people'. There is never an attempt at factual social analysis, and certainly never a line that calls for the victory of the social revolution throughout Vietnam. Indeed, any writer who made such a call would immediately be denounced as a 'splitter' or 'traitor'. If he lived in a communist-controlled area of Vietnam he would certainly be shot.
Although the anti-Vietnam war campaign has at times involved many hundreds of thousands of people, they have largely been intellectuals and students expressing a liberal philosophy. At no time has the working class anywhere seen anything in this struggle with which to identify. Indeed, in the final stages of the war, when the air offensive against Hanoi reached its peak, the main protests that poured into the White House came not even from liberal students but from the bourgeois heads of state of practically every western capitalist country.
It was as if at least some students were learning what workers had instinctively known for years, namely that the jockeying for power between the various Vietnamese bureaucrats, North and South, and their search for 'recognition' by and even 'partnership' with imperialism (all in the name of 'national' revolution) had absolutely nothing to do with the problems of ordinary people.
Sensing a demand from the libertarian left for a detailed documentation of the political history of Vietnam over the past three decades, we were tempted to simply reproduce The Rape of Vietnam, adding perhaps a few paragraphs to cover the five years that have elapsed since the pamphlet was first produced. The temptation arose partly from the very human desire to play 'we told you so'. Our documentation of the history of US involvement has now been widely vindicated by the disclosures known as The Pentagon Papers. Our pamphlet's basic premises have been proven true : we said that the big imperialist powers (the USA, the USSR, and China) were looking for a Korea-type carve up; we said that the war was incongruous with 20th century imperialism, and that the more intelligent sections of the ruling class knew this. When we said it we stood largely alone. Now, five years later, few would dispute this analysis.
Above all, we said that the really important decisions would be taken outside Vietnam, and that the actions of the Vietnamese peasants and workers would be of little relevance in the deciding of the 'peace' and 'war' question. Can anybody question this now ? Can anybody claim that the peasants and workers were consulted about what was being decided in the Paris negotiations ? Does anybody really believe there are no secret protocols, agreed between the US and Hanoi, the details of which we may only learn fifty years hence ?
Since the Rape of Vietnam a tremendous amount of new information has become available, and it was felt essential to re-write the pamphlet completely. We feel that the material dealing with the 1945 British occupation of South Vietnam (which really provided the blueprint for future French and American actions) and the joint British-Viet Minh suppression of the Saigon Commune are particularly valuable additions. The Pentagon Papers have also been used extensively to add the dot and comma to much of what was already known. It is unique in history to have access to so many 'official' documents while the issues with which they deal are very much alive. We make no apology for labouring the information in these documents, for in spite of their publication the contents are little known, and official American and British pronouncements on Vietnam are made as though the papers did not exist. They are essential reading for anyone wanting an inside view of the workings of the top bureaucracy of one of the world's leading imperialisms.
Unfortunately, rather less material has come to light concerning the outrages perpetrated by the bureaucratic regime in the North or concerning its manipulation by the ruling classes of Russia and China. Where reliable new information of this type has become available we have done our best to present it. A paucity of data about political and economic facts is, of course, itself a fact of considerable social significance — a point that will not be missed by the discerning reader. We feel it necessary to utter this word of caution early on in the text lest our account appear one-sided, i.e. more critical of one imperialism than of another, or of one ruling class than of another. As revolutionary socialists our viewpoint is strictly internationalist. America, Russia and China are all class societies (as are the regimes in North and South Vietnam). In such societies there is no identity of interests between rulers and ruled — and our solidarity is always with the oppressed. For revolutionaries, there and elsewhere, the main enemy is always in one's own country.
It is only in the context of the world situation — a world where the giant economic powers, the USA, the USSR, and China are struggling for world supremacy that it is possible to understand what has been happening in Vietnam during the past two or three decades. These powers (and their allies) met face to face in Vietnam, and the hundreds of thousands of people killed and mutilated in that country were the pawns in this world-wide struggle.
That the American ruling class has been forced to opt out in direct military terms in no way invalidates this fact. It means simply that US foreign policy has changed. It has changed firstly because military victory proved impossible, secondly because Washington hopes that their puppet government in Saigon can manage to 'go it alone', and thirdly (and most importantly) because the more intelligent members of the American ruling class came to realise that the communists in Vietnam (or in China and Russia for that matter) do not represent any fundamental threat to American interests.
The Kissinger 'peace agreement' has silenced the big guns. But the real problems facing the peasants and workers in both North and South Vietnam remain to be solved. The nature of these problems will become evident as we trace the history of Vietnam and examine the roles played by the various imperialist powers and by various 'vanguard' leaderships, claiming to speak on behalf of the workers and peasants of Vietnam.
More than 85% of Vietnam's population are peasants. As far as they were concerned they were initially involved in a peasant war. The greatest differentiations in land ownership have always existed in the South and this explains why the struggle was sharpest there. The division of the large estates and the 'solution' of the agrarian problem are of course key questions for any bourgeois revolution. The attitude of the Northern regime to this question should be seen in this light. American intervention by supporting the landlord class tended to 'freeze' the pattern of land tenure in the South, thereby delaying the solution to the agrarian problem. This question was, however, from an early stage to be submerged in the wider question of inter-imperialist rivalries. It was these rivalries that gave impetus to the movement for 'national liberation', again a key question for bourgeois revolutions, but an absolutely utopian perspective in the era of international state capitalism.
For a long while it suited the foreign policies of Russia and China to support the movement for 'national liberation' as it suited American foreign policy to oppose it. These facts dominated the situation more than any actions of the Vietnamese themselves. Without Russian and Chinese aid, the North Vietnamese could not have survived the American intervention. In turn, the Viet Cong depended upon the North for its ultimate survival.
American involvement in Vietnam created world-wide opposition. We were involved in this movement in a very specific way, participating in many demonstrations and activities, but always with a view to denouncing the type of politics which dominated it. We had no illusions about the Viet Cong. We recognised that it had some support among the peasantry, but also recognised that it was a popular front controlled by communists whose objective was the establishment of a bureaucratic, exploitative, class society in South Vietnam, similar to that existing in the North. We knew the Viet Cong had some pretty murky political ancestors and that its hands were bespattered with working class blood.
It would not be the first time in recent history that oppressive bureaucracies have been founded on the sacrifices of the oppressed. The ruling circles in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi manipulated the genuine opposition of the peasants to foreign domination and their genuine hunger for land as cynically 1 as ever in the past.
Indochina (comprising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) first became a French colony around 1870. The area had traditionally been one of Chinese influence, and there were frequent clashes between the two spoilers, but finally in 1885 by the Treaty of Tientsin China recognised France's undisputed possession.
For the West, Vietnam has always been the most important of the three countries. It was itself divided into the administrative regions of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China. Vietnam is inhabited by Annamese, who constitute three-quarters of the population of Indochina.
By the beginning of the 20th century the French had succeeded in creating what was (in their terms) a reasonably satisfactory administrative unity. By the beginning of the Second World War the three territories enjoyed considerable internal autonomy, after the style of French colonies elsewhere. Obviously only French citizens participated in elections. Cochin China had its own governor, elected its own Colonial Council, and sent its representatives to the Chamber of Deputies in Paris. Annam remained under the rule of an emperor, but had its own elected Council of Ministers, presided over by a French 'resident superieur'; similarly with Tonkin. In these latter cases the Emperor selected a delegate to the Colonial Office in Paris. Hanoi, Haiphong, Da Nang and Saigon all had elected city councils.
The law, naturally, was French law. All the higher judiciary were French. Indochina was never a particularly efficient or profitable colony — indeed in the 1890s French legislators frequently complained that France spent 80 million francs in order to earn 95 million each year. 2
The colossal expenditure went to maintain an enormous civil service bureaucracy, numerically equal to the whole British administration in India (population of Indochina : 30 million; of India : 325 million).
|Year||Exports to France||Imports from France||Exports to USA||Imports from USA|
(See The Malayan Economic Review, April 1961, pp. 55-80.)
To increase a national revenue always in the red, the French encouraged opium sales and made alcohol consumption compulsory. Both distilleries and poppy fields were government monopolies. On September 8th 1934 the semiofficial paper Aurore d'Indochine wrote :
'The administration had decided from today that all inhabitants must consume 7 litres of alcohol annually (...) the sum due for all alcohol delivered (i.e. to villages) whether sold or not, will be paid in full. The consumption of alcohol is obligatory in Tonkin and Annam and will soon be enforced in Cochin China.'
Industrial production was negligible — 96.5% of all exports consisted of raw materials. Raw latex was hardly worked on but exported as such at very low cost by the Michelin Rubber Trust. Although Indochina's soil was rich in coal and various metals there was only one smelting furnace in the whole country. Two-thirds of the coal was exported. Even rice was exported. French imperialism saw in the non-industrialisation of its colonies a guarantee of stability. It sought by all possible means to prevent the development of a numerous, concentrated and educated working class.
The pattern of land ownership was also very backward. Some 700 European settlers owned 20% of the cultivable land. Only half of this land was worked upon. The vast mass of poor peasants owned less than 5 acres and in the north often less than 1 acre. Irrigation was very primitive. Indochinese rice fields produced less than half the yield per acre being obtained in Japan. Even phosphate fertiliser was being exported. 3
The average wage of workers in the Tonkin coal mines was less than half a piastre per day. Many of those working on rice plantations were paid in kind. Unemployment was rampant, and thousands of workers were employed only six months of the year. Tenant farmers paid at least 40% of the rice crop to the landlord as rent.
Virtually all authorities agree that the living standards of the Indochinese people declined during the period of French rule. According to the Syndicate of French Exporters, the population increased by 80% between 1900 and 1937 while the total domestic rice consumption increased by only 23%.
The best that almost a century of French rule could offer as evidence of the 'humanitarian mission' of colonialism was 1 doctor per 38,500 inhabitants (compared with 1 per 2,500 people in France). The Annuaire Statistique for Indochina (1941-42) showed that for a population the size of Spain there were but four secondary schools. For every 100,000 inhabitants there were 25 children at primary school and 5 at secondary school.
The early years of struggle
Vietnamese opposition to French rule is as old as French rule itself. The first important 'national' rising occurred in Tonkin, in 1908. Five years later there were more uprisings. In March 1913 six hundred peasants marched through the streets of Saigon demanding reforms. In April a mandarin noted for his French sympathies was assassinated in Tonkin province, and a bomb exploded in Hanoi, killing two French officers. A wave of arrests followed. Of 254 people thrown into prison, 64 were brought to trial and 7 executed. In 1916 some 300 activists made a determined but abortive attempt to liberate the inmates of Saigon Jail.
In the years that followed the resistance intensified, taking different forms in different areas. In the centre (Annam province) anger tended to be directed at the obvious targets — the Emperor, the aristocracy and the 'civil service' that surrounded him. Some of the earlier communist struggles took place in these areas, and were severely handicapped by ingrained 'peasant traditions'. Textbook Marxists were to find greater opportunities in Tonkin and Cochin China.
Of the total Vietnamese population of 17 million, 8 million lived in the north, the majority of them within a 60 mile radius of Hanoi. In this area an industrial complex developed, and with it a working class. Between 1922 and 1934, there were more than 100 strikes in Tonkin province.
A similar development had taken place in Saigon, where contact with the mercantile trading nations had destroyed the vestiges of feudalism even earlier. It would be a serious mistake however to forget that, as a whole, the country remained a peasant one. By 1929 there were still only 221,000 workers (39% employed in industry, 37% on the plantations and 24% in mining). They represented a mere 1% of the total population.
The land crisis had always been sharpest in the South. In 1930 some 70% of landowners in the two northern provinces held less than 1.5 acres each. In Cochin China this figure was only 34%. Of 6,530 landowners owning more than 125 acres, 6,300 lived in the south. 45% of the Mekong Delta was owned by 2% of all landowners. Of 244 landlords possessing more than 1,500 acres, all lived in the Mekong Delta. To this day (1973) some of the largest plantations in South Vietnam are still French owned.
Yet profound changes were taking place throughout the country. During the First World War the French had sent 43,000 Indochinese soldiers and 49,000 workers (out of a total labour force then numbering 62,000) to Europe. The men returned to Vietnam more westernised, and speeded up the demand among a growing 'elite' — educated in the French language and French culture — for a greater stake in 'their' country. The future revolutionary leaders were to come from this 'elite' and not from the rural areas, or for that matter from the ranks of the rapidly developing industrial labour force.
The vanguards arrive
The name of Ho Chi Minh is inseparable from Vietnamese communism. As a young man he had travelled the world, staying a while in London. Unimpressed with British 'socialism' he gravitated to Paris where he became a founder member of the French Communist Party. Returning to Asia in 1925 he based himself in Canton, where he created the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League. The League propogated 'peasant Marxism' mostly in neighbouring Tonkin province. It arranged for suitable 'cadres' to be sent abroad for 'political training'. By May 1929, at the founding conference of the Indochina Communist Party (ICP), some 250 members had been on these courses, to Paris and Moscow, and at least 200 were back in activity in Vietnam.
The early '30s were years of mutinies, peasant uprisings and strikes. In 1930 alone there were 83 strikes with more than 27,000 participants. During the years 1930-31 membership of illegal trade unions rose from 6,000 to 64,000. A right-wing nationalist revolt in Tonkin, in February 1930, was ruthlessly crushed and all 13 leaders executed. Ho himself had spent the years 1927-30 in Moscow, and returned to find a faction-ridden party. He came down very firmly with the line that the party programme was one of 'bourgeois-democratic revolution'. But he lacked the authority to straitjacket the party along Stalinist lines. The peasants of Nghe An and Ha Tinh were in open revolt, and in several villages local 'soviets' were set up. The party endorsed their action (Ho voted against the uprising, but was a minority of one 4
) hoping to use these soviets as bases for further control of the developing movement. The communists claimed 1,300 members and 10,000 affiliated followers in the two provinces. Communist party strength at the time lay predominantly in the peasant areas. The 42 party cells in 1928 were located as follows 5
|Central Vietnam:||Nghe An: 9|
|Ta Tinh: 8|
|Thanh Hoa: 7|
|Quang Ngai: 3|
The setting up of peasant soviets was viewed with disapproval in Moscow (and hence also by Ho). They could only be reminders of the disasters of a few years earlier in China 6 (themselves largely consequences of Stalin's suicidal policy). The party attempted to involve workers, and tried to organise a match factory and railway repair shop in the provincial centre of Vinh and the nearby port of Ban Thuy, with a measure of success. Essentially, however, the movement remained a peasant revolt.
In a march on the provincial capital, 6,000 peasants lined the main road for over 4 kilometres. Their demands included the destruction of the district taxation records, reduction of the high 'salt tax', and incorporated the workers' demand for increased wages. The column was attacked by French aircraft, which killed 216 and wounded 126.
Where the party established 'soviets', it was largely due to the 'inadequacy' of the existing institutions and the unresponsiveness of the French authorities. Propaganda meetings were held in village halls, and defence militias, armed with sticks, knives and other primitive weapons formed in most villages. Everywhere the communists worked through the existing 'head' families who provided the 'natural' structure of communication and control.
Significantly throughout this period communist attacks were directed solely at the Vietnamese 'aristocracy' and 'civil service'. 'Even at the height of the disturbances, Europeans could circulate freely and unarmed in these provinces.' 7 The shallowness and weakness of these 'soviets' was to be demonstrated when the French authorities, after ignoring them for 18 months, decided to destroy them. Efficient and fast police operations rounded up the 'leadership' and 'soviet power' collapsed. That was in October 1931.
It was the first and last time that Ho lost control of a movement he had dominated. The events of October 1931 had tended to prove his prognosis correct. From now on he was to be undisputed head of the party in the northern provinces. In the south, in Cochin China, the leadership was entrusted to Tran Van Giau, one of the original 'Moscow-trained' cadres.
In 1932 a young communist, Ta Thu Thau, returned to Vietnam after several years of exile in Paris. There he had actively participated in the French Trotskyist movement. He returned home with the aim of building a 'left opposition' to Tran Van Giau's Stalinist party.
These years were particularly fertile ones for Trotskyism.
A militant working class had grown up with Saigon's industrialisation. This working class was singularly unimpressed with the official communist party line which, despite its Marxist jargon, was basically dedicated to organising peasants. Just a few months after his arrival, Ta Thu Thau was able to approach Tran Van Giau from a position of considerable strength, and propose a united front.
This proposal was as unpopular among the orthodox Trotskyists, as it was to the communist party. Breakaway Trotskyists formed the International Communist League. These more orthodox Trotskyists were mostly from the northern provinces, where they had plenty of scope for activities directed against Ho's 'peasant communism'. The situation was quite different in Cochin China where Tran Van Giau realising the strength of Ta Thu Thau's 'opposition', agreed to go along with the united front.
In late 1932 a joint paper La Lutte was published. The following year a joint slate of Stalinist and Trotskyist candidates was presented for the Colonial Council elections. 8 Two Trostskyists and one Stalinist were elected.
In August 1935, the Seventh Congress of the Comintern took place and with it a switch in the Moscow line. Collaboration with the Western 'democracies' and the 'progressive capitalists' became the order of the day. Obediently the ICP Central Committee dropped the slogan 'Down with French Imperialism' from its programme. The campaign against Indochina's feudal rulers and even the demand for national independence were abandoned. In spite of this Stalinists and Trotskyists continued to work together in Saigon for a short period in joint 'action committees'. But the Stalinists soon broke up into a number of warring factions. For several years this was to leave the Trostskyists the dominant group.
PREPARING THE NOOSE
Ta Thu Thau, as is well known, was murdered by the Stalinists in 1945. His repeated earlier capitulations to them had not earned him their gratitude.
In the elections to the Saigon Municipal Council, in May 1935, one of the candidates was Duong Bach Mai, a leading Stalinist. Ta Thu Thau had considerable difficulty in convincing the activists around La Lutte that they should support Duong Bach Mai as a candidate, since they regarded him as too reformist. Ta Thu Thau felt that the united front had to be maintained at all costs and spoke on behalf of Duong Bach Mai, describing him as 'the most capable representative of the Vietnamese Stalinists'. Duong Bach Mai was duly elected. His later actions are described on p.13.
F.N. Trager, 'Marxism in South East Asia', Stanford University Press (1960) p. 139.
In June 1936, with the election of Leon Blum's popular front government in France, the situation altered. Under orders from Paris and Moscow, the ICP factions severed all relations with the Trotskyists. The 'progressive capitalists' installed in Paris lived up to their characterisation by the Stalinists. In 1937 they introduced 8-hour day legislation. 9 In appreciation of Stalin's friendliness they declared a general amnesty. In Vietnam this meant the release from prison of a number of leading Stalinists, including Pham Van Dong, then editor of Ho's party paper, and Tran Van Giau. De facto, the ICP became 'legal'.
An intensified struggle against 'Trotskyism' was launched. This was no accident. The opting out of the class struggle by the ICP had left the field wide open for Ta Thu Thau and his followers. In 1937 the Stalinists were ousted from La Lutte and a new line in the paper violently attacked the 'treason' of the popular front policy. Trotskyist membership grew to 5,000. Ta Thu Thau was arrested and spent two years in the concentration camp island of Pulo-Condor, during which time he was twice elected to the Saigon Town Council. In local Saigon elections the Trotskyists at times commanded up to 80% of the votes. But the ICP line was that of their 'comrades' elsewhere in the world, and Ho Chi Mirth proudly reported to the Comintern in July 1939 :
'As regards the Trotskyists — no alliances and no concessions. They must be unmasked as the stooges of the fascists, which they are.'
Almost as Ho was speaking the Trotskyists marked up their greatest triumph, sweeping the Saigon elections and driving the remaining two communists Tau and Mai out of office.
The popular front days came to an end. In September 1939 France banned the Communist Party at home and abroad. The Stalinist honeymoon with French imperialism thereby also came to an end. In a statement issued on November 13, 1939 the ICP tried to reconcile the irreconcilable.
It denounced France's 'imperialist' war against Nazi Germany, but at the same time asked its supporters to struggle against Japan (which at that time threatened Russian positions in the Far East) :
'Our party finds it to be a matter of life and death (...) to struggle against the imperialist war and policy of thievery and massacre of French imperialism (...) while at the same time struggling against the aggressive aims of Japanese fascism.'
IN STALIN'S DAY...
Many Maoists today believe that all was well as long as Stalin was at the helm. They should study what happened at the height of the Franco-Soviet pact.
In 1937, at the Arles Congress of the French Communist Party, Thorez summed up the colonial policy of the Party. He claimed that the interests of the colonial people lay in a union 'free, trusting and paternal' with democratic France. To forge this union was 'the mission of France all over the world'
G. Walter, 'Histoire du Parti Communiste Francais', p. 377.
The French exploitation of Indochina was only a small part of the whole sweep of colonialism in South East Asia. At that time India, China, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaya and Indonesia were all under direct Western domination.
Japan, being the first Asian power to industrialise, was to provide the first challenge to the old imperialisms. As late as 1870 all technical innovations (save those dealing with the theatre !) were banned in Japan. A mere 35 years later a modern Japanese army and navy were decisively to maul Czarist Russia in 1905. One of the victors in the First World War, the only Asian nation to be a party to the Washington Naval Conference, Japan had entered the big leagues as a major capitalist power. The origins of the Second World War (in the Pacific) lie in the dependence of Japan on uninterrupted imports of oil, iron ore and coal (Japan being poor in natural raw materials), in her need to seek colonial markets and in her need to expand and consolidate her spheres of interest.
Japan's expansionist drive coincided with the determined push of American imperialism into the Pacific area. Like Japan, America had arrived late on the scene. Her first conquest came in 1898 when under cover of the 'Maine' incident and the resultant Spanish-American war, US forces overran the Philippine Islands. At the Treaty of Paris the McKinley government took over the islands in return for a $20 million payment to Spain. For the next 4 years some 60,000 US troops were busy crushing a native movement for independence.
As US domination spread into Samoa and Hawaii, the Japanese were busy gobbling up Korea and Manchuria. The Washington Conference of 1921-22 was the last serious attempt to reach a modus vivendi. In effect America made a deal with Japan whereby Japanese hegemony over Manchuria would be recognised in return for an agreement not to invade China. (Along with Britain, France and other European powers, the US was happily sharing the loot derived from the intensive exploitation of China.)
In September 1931 the Japanese launched an attack on northern China, and later landed 70,000 troops at Shanghai, leaving the Kuomintang government no alternative but to surrender Manchuria. In 1934 the Japanese claimed all China to be part of their sphere of influence. In 1936 the Japanese demanded joint Japanese-Kuomintang military attacks on Maoist-controlled areas. They also demanded that the 5 Northern Chinese provinces be granted 'autonomy' as Japanese puppet regimes. The rejection of these demands by the Kuomintang made the Sino-Japanese war of 1937 inevitable.
A major clash between Japan and the US was equally inevitable. American economic expansion in the Pacific area had steadily increased after the mid 1920s. Between 1931 and 1937 Asia took the following shares of American exports :
|Iron and Steel||33%|
- 1Needless to say, at various times, both Moscow and Peking had their own particular lines. In the early stages of the war, for example, China's People's Daily accused Russia of dragging her feet on material aid to Hanoi. Pavlov, First Secretary of the Komsomol, replied that the USSR wished to send more but was hindered by China's refusal to allow transit. Russia and China both entered friendly negotiations with Nixon at times of intensified American attacks, yet a few years previously China's Chief of General Staff had bellicosely declared 'We welcome the presence of more US forces for it will enable us to wipe out the root cause of the war', (quoted in the Daily Worker, August 2, 1965). North Vietnam has remained strictly neutral in the dispute. In fact this dispute was positively to Hanoi's advantage in the latter stages of the war when both master-swimmer Mao and degenerated-worker Brezhnev, wanted to ditch their 'ally' and make friends with Tricky Dicky instead. But neither dared default for fear that they would throw Hanoi into the arms of the other, to say nothing of exposing themselves before the entire world communist movement.
- 2During the 1900s, Indochina bought, on average, 100 million francs of French products, out of a French trade total of 20 billion francs. Ironically, the economic ties between the two countries reached their height after the signing of the 1954 Geneva Agreement. In 1957, after North Vietnam had been eradicating French influence for several years, and at a time when South Vietnam was free from direct political control from Paris, Vietnam as a whole was more dependent than ever on France's willingness to buy her overpriced (15% above average world market prices) goods.
- 3See Mouvements Nationaux et lutte de Classe au Vietnam by Ahn Van and Jacqueline Roussel.
- 4From Colonialism to Communism, a Case History of Vietnam, by Hoang Van Hi, p.52.
- 5Vietnam: The Origins of Revolution, by John T. McAlister, Jr., p.86.
- 6A similar situation had existed in China's Hunan province in the mid 1920s. The peasants themselves were setting up local councils or 'soviets', a policy which Stalin roundly condemned because it was not a communist controlled movement, and because he was still participating in Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Government — two CP members were 'ministers' and Chiang was an 'honorary' member of the Communist International ! Moscow could not agree to any 'opposition' authority being set up. Stalin's policy was to lead to the massacre of Chinese peasants and workers on a grand scale. Readers wanting further information on this period are referred to The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, by Harold R. Isaacs, ch.14.
- 7Indo-China in 1931-32, by Roger Fry, p.7.
- 8The ICP stood for the 'dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry'. The 'official' Trotskyist Party, for the 'dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry'.
- 9At this time 'independent' Japan had no work limit for men, working women and youths were limited to 11 hours a day. Indian workers worked a 12-hour day. In China and Thailand there were no restrictions at all to the working day.
- 10Way of a Fighter, by General Claire L. Chennault, p.342. Chennault was later dismissed for minor interventions on behalf of the French. By way of corroboration, General Wedemeyer himself tells how he visited Roosevelt in March 1945 : '(...) He evinced considerable interest in French Indochina and stated he was going to do everything possible to give the people in that area their independence. (...) He admonished me not to give any supplies to the French forces operating in the area.' (Wedemeyer Reports, p.340).
- 1110 days after the Japanese capitulation; later that year, Bao Dai was to abdicate. No one held the puppet strings any longer. But as will be seen, both the Viet Minh and the French were to pick them up, in succession, a little later. Such was the dearth of supple-spined politicians at that time !
- 12Thirty Years of Struggle of the Party, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, p.70.
- 13Vietnam: The Origins of Revolution, by John T. McAlister Jnr., pp. 118-135.
- 14Democratic Republic of Vietnam: Documents.
- 15Our Party Has Struggled Very Heroically and Won Glorious Victories, by Ho Chi Minh, p. 12.
- 16The Emancipation of French Indo-China, by Donald Lancaster, Royal Institute of International Affairs.
- 17Communist Party policy has always opposed workers taking over their factories or peasants taking over the land. NLF policy in South Vietnam remains the same today. Never is the call made 'The land to the tillers'. Communist policy is 'collectivisation' organised from above, after the fashion of Russia, China or North Vietnam.
Throughout the eight years of war with France that were soon to follow, Viet Minh guerillas hardly ever touched French property. 'When local People's Committees made their own revolutionary policy, seizing land and property, the Viet Minh Central Committee intervened, doing its best to temper them.' (Struggle for Indo-China, by Ellen Hammer, Stanford University Press, p.141)
- 18Note that although more in touch with the impending reality, and although opposed to the out-and-out Stalinist policies, the Trotskyist demands were themselves bourgeois and non-socialist.
- 19The Japanese, attempting to crush the Viet Minh forces in the latter days of the war, had armed the anti-communist and religious (Buddhist) Cao Dai and Hoa Hao groups, even offering arms and assistance to Ta Thu Thau. Ta neither accepted nor acknowledged the offer.
- 20The Struggle for Indo-China, by Hammer.
- 21Royal Central Asian Journal, July-October 1953, p.213.
- 22When the British arrived in Saigon, virtually all the French were under lock and key and guarded for the most part by armed Vietnamese. They were demoralised, bitter, and spoiling for revenge. Their political allegiance was clearly understood by the British commanders. Mountbatten admitted that: 'The spectacle of France's betrayal had greatly undermined French prestige in her colony: particularly in view of the fact that the Vichy administration in French Indo-China had at all times collaborated openly with the enemy.' (The Times, March 4th, 1946.)
- 23Before abandoning the centre of Saigon, the Viet Minh Committee plastered the walls with posters, inviting the population to 'disperse into the countryside' to 'avoid confrontation', and to 'remain calm' because the Committee hoped to open 'negotiations'.
- 24The extent to which this 'comradeship' was developed was illustrated, for example, when the Frontier Force Regiment was shipped out of Vietnam :
'Many Japanese senior officers and men lined the route to say goodbye to the battalion, and it was a curious, if not pathetic, scene to find the very men who had fought against us so bitterly, now manifestly sorry to bid the battalion farewell '
History of the Frontier Force Regiment: Aldershot 1962.
These touching sentiments were not shared, however, by the American commanders, and General Douglas MacArthur, hardly noted for his left-wing sympathies, summed up the US official viewpoint :
'If there is anything which makes my blood boil it is to see our allies in Indo-China deploying Japanese troops to reconquer the little people we promised to liberate. It is the most ignoble kind of betrayal.' (The Other Side of the River, by Edgar Snow.)
- 25Visiting Haiphong some time later, Leclerc was met by Vo Nguyen Giap. 'I am happy to salute in you a resistance fighter like myself', declared the Viet Minh commander.
- 26Official History of the Indian Armed Forces, by Prasod.
- 27Official History of the Indian Armed Forces, op. cit. p.211.
- 28The popular basis of Dr. Thin's government was very thin indeed : of its 11 ministers, 7 were French colons. Dr. Thin committed suicide a few months later. His 'government' was followed by that of General Xuan (who happened to be an officer in the French Army !). In April 1949, Bao Dai (yes, that man again) was installed in power — by the French this time.
- 29No Peace in Asia, op. cit., p. 173
- 30It was Thorez, General Secretary of the French CP who remarked to Nguyen Van Xuan who was in Paris with Ho Chi Minh in 1946 that he 'ardently hoped to see the French flag flying over every territory in the French Union', and that he 'had not the slightest intention of being held responsible for a sell out of France's positions in Indo China' (Ho Chi Minh, by Jean Lacouture, p.121).
- 31Communist Party members today will often deny that the French Party ever voted the war credits for the Indochina war. Sometimes they will even imply that fighting in Indochina only started in 1947, after the Communist Party had been turfed out of the French government. Here is chapter and verse to nail this lie.
- In September 1945, the French government, in which the communists held several ministries, demanded 193 milliard francs of military credits, of which 100 milliard were specifically designated to set up the Expeditionary Corps. The Party voted for this measure.
- In January 1946, on the occasion of the annual budget vote, the Socialist deputies asked for a 20% reduction of military credits. Charles Tillon, communist minister for armaments, opposed the demand, and the communist deputies ensured that it was rejected.
- On July 26 1946 a budget of 189 milliard francs was approved by the communist deputies. On the same day the Assembly adopted, with their support, a constitutional definition of the 'French Union'.
- On October 3 1946 the communist deputies voted to approve the final 1946 budget which included the military budget.
- On December 20 1946,a whole month after the murderous bombardment of Haiphong, the 182 communist deputies voted unanimously, together with the rest of the Chamber, to send congratulations to General Leclerc and his Expeditionary Corps !
- On December 23 1946 the communist deputies voted the provisional 1947 budget which included 70 milliard francs in military credits, required 'because of the resumption of hostilities in Indochina'.
- 32Between 1945 and 1947 Russian recognition could have strengthened the new bureaucratic regime in North Vietnam. However Stalin was at the helm, rigorously applying the Yalta decisions.
- 33600,000 of these refugees were catholics. Cardinal Spellman had succeeded in getting the US government to sponsor Catholic Action against the Stalinists. Very successful psychological leaflets were dropped : 'Christ has gone to the South', and 'The Virgin Mary has departed from the North'. Bishops and priests left, in many cases taking their whole congregations with them. Over 99% of the non-catholics remained in North Vietnam. Most of those who moved South were richer peasants, and their departure had the positive effect of helping Ho's 'land reforms'. There was now plenty of surplus land to be parcelled out to the landless peasants who remained.
- 34Daily Telegraph, May 7, 1952.
- 35New York Times, June 3, 1964.
- 36The Pentagon Papers, p. 10.
- 37See The Two Vietnams, by Bernard B. Fall, p. 153.
- 38The Observer, October 29, 1972.
- 39This was stated by Henry Cabot Lodge, US Ambassador in Saigon, to a Senate Committee on August 9 1965. President Johnson said five days later that the remarks had not been intended for publication — but he did not deny that they had been made.
- 40Mandate for Change: The White House Years 1953-1956, p.372.
- 41The Pentagon Papers, pp.64 -65.
- 42The Pentagon Papers, p.82.
- 43The Pentagon Papers, p. 189.
- 44The Pentagon Papers, p.235.
- 45The Pentagon Papers, p.238.
- 46The Pentagon Papers, pp.261-263.
- 47The Pentagon Papers, p.307.
- 48The Pentagon Papers, p.311.
- 49The Pentagon Papers, p.242.
- 50The Pentagon Papers, p.69.
- 51The Pentagon Papers, p.382.
- 52The Pentagon Papers, p.409.
- 53In the B52 raids on Hanoi in December 1972, the US was to drop more tonnage per day than fell on the United Kingdom throughout World War II.
- 54One basic fact should be made clear. 90% of the people of South Vietnam live on one-fifth of the land. Thus the statement that the Viet Cong control three-quarters (or sometimes four-fifths) of the country is meaningless. About four-fifths of the countryside is almost uninhabitable with less than 20 persons per square kilometre.
- 55Calley was born in Miami in 1943, worked as a bell-hop in West Palm Beach Hotel, then got a job as a dishwasher. In July 1963, when the East Florida Railway was strike bound, he took a job as a strikebreaker at higher wages than the union was asking. Under the American system of selective call-up, which means basically that it is the 'drifters' who get called up first, it was apparent he was due to be summoned so in July 1966 he enlisted. He is at present enjoying the 'special protection of Richard Nixon'.
Mary McCarthy makes some interesting comments regarding captured US pilots :
The Vietnamese have been taken aback by the low mental attainments of the pilots, who have officer rank and usually college degrees, which must be leading their captors to wonder about American university education (...) I was taken aback myself by a stiffness of phraseology and naive rote-thinking, childish, like the handwriting on the envelopes the Vietnamese officer emptied from a sack for me to mail on my return, printed or in round laboriously joined cursive letters' (Hanoi, by Mary McCarthy, p. 136.)
- 56US big business certainly does not view an outbreak of peace in Vietnam as at all damaging to their interests. On the contrary, 'peace' is looked forward to 'as an essential step to winning' future projects. Says John C. Bierwirth, Vice-President of the Grumman Corporation : 'Once the present expenditures for daily combat support are behind us, the military will begin to improve current aircraft. In addition, the US would continue supply South Vietnam with nearly all its defence needs, including aircraft, tanks and guns (...)'.
(Analysis of US War Spending, Time, November 6, 1972.)
The same article points out (perhaps for the benefit of those who expect the American economy to collapse with the outbreak of peace) : 'Few big companies depend upon Vietnam for as much as 1% of their revenues.'
- 57At War With Asia, by Noam Chomsky, p.61.
- 58This is a fundamental yet elementary fact. Tory, Labour, Liberal or even communist governments can exist only as the 'personification' of the capitalist state, and can only continue to exist by remaining as such, with all that this implies in relation to other capitalist powers.
- 59This development was clearly foreseen by Marx himself in Capital. He anticipated the state taking over the role of 'capitalist', who is, anyway, only the 'personification of capital'.
- 60Let's not get lost among the various organisations that have sprung into being over the years. Technically the Indochina Communist Party was dissolved in 1945 (in favour of the 'broad alliance') and was replaced by the Association for Marxist Studies. In early 1951 the Vietnamese Workers' Party (Lao Dong) was formed. The same man, Truong Chinh, was successively Secretary General of the ICP, Chairman of the Marxist Study Group, and Secretary General of the Lao Dong Party. (Incidentally, he was one of the scapegoats in the 1956 purge following the Nghe An uprising who publicly confessed to errors of 'left deviationism' in the forced collectivisation campaign and was sacked. But in less than a year he was back in favour, holding another senior government post.)
- 61Even the Ceylonese uprising in April 1971 (which was not such a movement) provoked joint repression. Britain, the USA, the USSR, India and Pakistan, East and West Germany, Yugoslavia and Egypt all supplied weapons for the specific purpose of putting down the revolt. (See Ceylon: the JVP Uprising of April 1971, Solidarity Pamphlet no. 42.)
- 62This is not a utopian position. History shows a number of examples of the vindication of revolutionaries who refused to align themselves with one or other alien power or hostile class. In September 1915, at Zimmerwald in Switzerland, three dozen revolutionaries from 11 countries, belligerent and neutral, assembled and denounced the imperialist nature of the war, calling on working people 'to put an end to the slaughter'. This must have sounded 'utopian' and 'absurd' to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of 'aligned' socialists of that time.
Europe at that time was in the grip of mass chauvinism and war hysteria of a kind rarely seen before in history. Yet, a mere two years later, in October 1917, it was precisely the Zimmerwald position that was to triumph. The Russian workers and peasants aimed their guns at their own oppressors and began to lay what might have been the foundations of a new society.
Those who seek a new social order in Vietnam should look neither East nor West, neither to Saigon nor to Hanoi but, like our Zimmerwald comrades, to the autonomous action of the masses themselves.