Paul Mattick writes for Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp. 174-207.
The origins of the war in Indochina are to be found in the results of the Second World War. Waged in Europe, Africa, and East Asia, World War II turned America into the strongest capitalist power in both the Atlantic and the Pacific areas of the world. The defeat of the imperialist ambitions of Germany and Japan promised the opening up of new imperialist opportunities for the United States, which emerged from the conflict not only unimpaired but enormously strengthened. America's opportunities were not limitless, however; concessions had to be made to the Russian wartime ally, which formed the basis for new imperialistic rivalries and for the ensuing "cold war." The postwar years were marked by the two great powers' attempts to consolidate their gains. This excluded further unilateral expansion that would destroy the new power relationships. To that end, America assisted in the reconstruction of the West European economies and the revival of their military capacities, as well as in the rebuilding of Japan under her tutelage.
The Second World War provided an opportunity for the colonial and semi-colonial nations of East Asia to gain their political independence. The British, French, Dutch, and Japanese colonizers lost their possessions. At first, the national liberation movement was welcomed by the Americans as an aid in the struggle against Japan, just as at first the Japanese had supported this movement as a means to destroy the European colonizers. Even after the Japanese defeat, the United States displayed no serious intentions to help the European nations to regain their colonies. The Americans were fully convinced that they would inherit what their European allies had lost, if not in the political then in an economic sense.
The Chinese revolution altered the whole situation, particularly because at that time it appeared as an extension of the power of the new Russian adversary and as the expansion of a socio-economic system no longer susceptible to foreign exploitation through the ruling world market relations. The needs of the American imperialists were clear: short of war, they would have to contain China in Asia, as they contained Russia in Europe. This necessitated a system of Asian alliances such as the Atlantic Pact provided for Europe.
Capitalism and Imperialism
Capital is international. The fact that its historical development paralleled that of the nation state did not prevent the establishment of the capitalist world market. However, due to political interventions by which national bourgeoisies defend themselves against competitor nations, the concentration of capital was, and is, more difficult to achieve on an international than on a national scale. Even capitalist crises, world-embracing accelerators of the concentration process, needed the additional measures of imperialistic wars to extend the national concentration process to the international scene. The capitalistic organization of the world economy is thus a contradictory process. What it brings about is not the final accomplishment of capitalist world unity but capital entities competing more and more destructively for the control of always larger parts of the world economy.
This process is inherent in capital accumulation, which reproduces the fundamental capitalist contradictions on an always larger scale. With capital accumulation still the determining factor of social development, we re-experience more extensively and more intensely the experiences of the past with respect to both competition and the internationalization of capital. To regard the world as destined for private exploitation is what capitalism is all about. If, at the beginning, it was predominantly a question of exporting commodities and importing cheap raw materials, it soon turned into the export of capital for the direct exploitation of the labor power of other nations and therewith to colonization in order to monopolize the new profit sources.
The end of the colonial system did not remove the twofold capitalist need to expand internationally and to concentrate the profits thereby gained into the hands of the dominant national capital entities. Because capitalism is both national and international it is by its very nature imperialistic. Imperialism serves as the instrumentality for bridging national limitations in the face of pressing international needs. It is therefore silly to assume the possibility of a capitalism which is not imperialistic.
Of course, there are small capitalist nations which flourish without directly engaging in imperialistic activities. But such nations, operating within the frame of the capitalistic world market, partake, albeit indirectly, in the imperialistic exploits of the larger capitalist nations, just as — on the domestic scale — many small subcontractors profit from business given to them by the large prime contractors producing for the war economy. Not all capitalist countries can expand imperialistically. They find themselves more or less under the control of those nations which can, even if this control is restricted to the economic sphere. It is for this reason that some European observers see a form of neo-colonialism in the recent expansion of American capital in Europe, and others press for a more integrated Europe able to act as a "third force" in a world dominated by imperialist powers.
The contradiction between the national form of capital and its need for expansion, which recognizes no boundaries, is intertwined with the contradiction between its competitive nature and its urge for monopolization. In theory, a competitive economy flourishes best in a free world market. Actually, however, competition leads to monopoly and monopolistic competition, and the free world market leads to protected markets monopolized by political means. Monopolistic competition implies imperialistic struggles to break existing monopolies in favor of new ones. The economic form of competition takes on political expressions and therefore ideological forms, which come to overshadow the economic pressures which are their source.
This transformation of economic into political-ideological issues has become still more confounded through the modifications of capital production brought about by way of social revolutions. The planned economies of Russia, China, and their satellites not only disturbed the monopolistically controlled world market but tended to prevent its further expansion under private-capitalist auspices. To be sure, there was not much capitalization in the underdeveloped parts of the world. International capital concentration resulted in the rapid development of existing capital at the expense of potential capital in subjugated countries. Lucrative markets, and cheap foodstuffs and raw materials, increased the profit rates in the manufacturing nations and therewith hastened their capital accumulation. Beyond that, however, it was expected that a time would come when further expansion of capital would include its intensified extension in the underdeveloped parts of the world.
Capital is not interested in the continued existence of industrially-underdeveloped nations per se. It is so interested only to the extent that this state of affairs proves to be the most profitable. If a further development of backward countries should be more profitable than, or equally as profitable as, investments in advanced nations, capitalists will not hesitate to foster their capitalist development just as they hastened it in their own countries. Whether or not this could ever become a reality under the conditions of private-capital production is a question the capitalists cannot raise, for their own continued existence is clearly bound up with the capitalization of the underdeveloped nations. They thus cannot help seeing in the formation and expansion of state-controlled systems a limitation of their own possibilities of expansion and a threat to their control of the world market. For them "communism" means the formation of super-monopolies which cannot be dealt with by way of monopolistic competition and have to be combatted by political-ideological means and, where opportune, by military measures.
In their opposition to "communism," the capitalists do not merely object to a different economic system. They also condemn it for political and ideological reasons, especially since, convinced as they are that the economic principles of capitalism are universal principles of economic behavior, their violation seems a violation of human nature itself. They do not and can not afford to understand the dynamics and limitations of their own social system. They see the reasons for its difficulties not in the system itself, but in causes external to it. From this point of view, it is the erroneous and depraved creed of communism which subverts society and robs it of the possibility of working itself out of whatever difficulties arise. It is thus not necessary that the capitalists, their apologists, and all the people who accept the capitalist ideology be aware of the fact that it is the ordinary business of profit-making which determines the national and international capitalist policies.
Neither is it necessary for the capitalist decisionmakers to comprehend all the implications of their activities in the defense of and, therefore, the expansion of their economic and political powers. They know in a general way that whatever lies outside their control endangers their interests and perhaps their existence and they react almost "instinctively" to any danger to their privileged positions. Because they are the ruling class, they determine the ruling ideology. They will thus explain all their actions in strictly ideological terms, taking their economic content for granted and as something not debatable. Indeed, they may never make a conscious connection between their political convictions and their underlying economic considerations, and may inadvertently violate the latter in satisfying their ideological notions.
The capitalists are not Marxists, which is to say that they must defend, not criticize, existing social relationships. Defense does not require a proper understanding of the system; it merely demands actions which support the status quo. Marxists, whose viewpoint includes criticism of existing conditions, often assume that all capitalistic activities are directly determined by capitalistic rationality, that is, by the immediate need to make profit and to accumulate capital. They will look for directly-observable economic motives behind the political activities of capitalist states, particularly in the international field. When such obvious reasons are not directly discernable [sic], they are somewhat at a loss to account for imperialist aggression. In the case of Indochina, for example, the apparent absence of important economic incentives for American intervention has been a troublesome fact for Marxist war critics. This was seemingly mitigated only by the recent discovery of offshore oil potentials, which are supposed to explain, at least in part, the continued interest of big business in a victorious conclusion of the war. It is clear, however, that the Indochina war was there, and would be there, without this discovery and explanations must be found other than some definite but isolated capitalistic interests.
The apologists of capitalism utilize this situation to demonstrate that it is not the capitalist system as such which leads to imperialism, but some aberration thrust upon it by forces external to itself. They speak of a "military-industrial complex," conspiring within the system to serve its particularistic interests at the expense of society as a whole. In their view, it is one of the institutions of society, not capitalism itself, which is responsible for the war through its usurpation of the decision-making powers of government. Whereas the war — far from being waged for profits, current or expected — is an enormous expense to the American taxpayers and therefore senseless, it does directly benefit the particular group of war profiteers in control of government. Specific people, not the system, are to blame, for which reason all that is necessary to end the aberration is a change of government and the emasculation of the "industrial-military complex."
There is, of course, truth in both these assertions, namely, that imperialism is economically motivated and that it is spearheaded by groups particularly favored by war. But by failing to relate these explanations to the fundamental contradictions of capital production, they fail to do justice to the complexity of the problem of war and imperialism. Neither the production nor the accumulation of capital is a consciously-controlled process on the social level. Each capitalist entity, be it an entrepreneur, corporation, conglomerate, or multinational enterprise, necessarily limits its activities to the enlargement of its capital, without regard to or even the possibility of having regard for, social needs and the course of social development. They are blind to the national and international social consequences of their relentless need to enlarge their capital. The profit motive is their only motive. It is what determines the direction of their expansion. Their enormous weight within society determines social policies and therewith the policies of the government. This implies, however, that government and society itself operate just as blindly with respect to its development as each separate capital entity with regard to its profit needs. They know what they are doing, but not where it will actually lead them; they cannot comprehend all the consequences of their activities.
These consequences may include war and war may be initiated not because of some definite economic expectations, such as possession of specific raw materials, entry into new markets, or the export of capital, but because of past economic policies whose consequences were not foreseeable. This is quite clear, of course, in the case of imperialistic interventions in defense of capitalist property which stands in danger of being expropriated, or has been expropriated, in nations which try to gain, or regain, some measure of independence in economic as well as in political terms. This explains recent interventions such as those in Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Congo and so forth. It is not clear with respect to the intervention in Indochina, where the United States' economic interests were minimal and their possible loss of no consequence to her economy. Yet this intervention, too, was the unforeseen outcome of past economic developments, even though it cannot be related to any immediate and specific economic needs or opportunity on the part of American capitalism.
Imperialism and the "Mixed Economy"
Competition and the international capital concentration process leads to war between capitalist nations; and, indeed, is a form of international capital competition. But with this difference, that it involves not only economic interests of nationally-organized capital groups but also the defense, or destruction, of different social structures as, for instance, in the case of the transformation in Eastern Europe of hitherto private-property systems into systems characterized by state-ownership. A "civil-war" element thus enters the imperialist rivalries, even if this type of "civil-war" is carried on not within, but between, nations. "Communism" is to be fought internally as well as externally. The amalgam, "anti-communism," covers any and all movements and aspirations that threaten either the existence or the future of private capital.
This has been America's general policy since 1945, which no change in administration has altered. Although co-determined by specific capitalist interests able to influence government policies, the general policy springs directly from the expansion requirements of private capital accumulation and, short of the abolition of the market system itself, cannot be changed. A specific interest may be lost — like, for instance, the investments and the business of Cuba — while similar interests may be preserved by the occupation of the Dominican Republic, or the overthrow of the Guatamalan [sic] government. But the general policy must be directed toward the extension of America's role in the world economy and the simultaneous limitation of newly-arising state-capitalist systems of production.
The American economy is geared to the world market, of which it requires an increasingly larger share as U.S. capital expands. If this share contracts — and it is bound to contract, should more nations turn away from the American-dominated world market towards a kind of "second world market" which restricts, or excludes, the exploitation of less-developed nations by the developed ones — it will force the internal American development into isolation and in the direction of a state-controlled economy.
There is only one way to secure the capitalist market economy and that is through the continuous expansion of capital. It is this expansion which is the secret of its prosperous stages of development, just as lack of expansion results in its periods of depression. Capital development has been an alternation between prosperity and depression, the so-called business cycle. For American capital, however, the last big depression, that of 1929, did not lead to a new period of prosperity but to an era of relative stagnation and decline, which was overcome only through the transformation of the economy into a war economy, that is, the growth of production not by way of capital accumulation, but through the accumulation of the national debt and production for "public consumption" such as is required by war and preparation for war. But just like the Great Depression before, the war failed to restore a rate of capital expansion sufficient to assure the full utilization of productive resources and the available labor power. The government saw itself forced to continue its support of the economy by way of deficit-financed public expenditures which, given the nature of the capitalist system, are necessarily non-competitive with private capital and therefore largely arms expenditures. The "cold war" in the wake of the real war provided the rationale for this type of compensatory production.
Any significant decrease in government spending in the post-war world led to economic contraction which could be terminated only through the resumption and increase of government expenditures. The American economy, in other words, continued to stagnate, necessitating a relatively faster growth of the so-called "public sector" at the expense of the economy's "private sector." Unless a way should be found to reverse this development, it implies — in the long run — a slow transformation of private-enterprise capitalism into state-controlled capitalism, and a consequent shift of social power relations.
The dynamics and limitations of the "mixed economy" are too complex a problem to be discussed here1 . It must suffice to say that waste-production and the accumulation of the national debt is not an accumulation of additional, profit-yielding means of production. It does expand production but not the production of profits, even if the favored contractors of government orders increase their profitability at the expense of the total social profits. That this type of production must be resorted to indicates a malfunctioning of the capitalist economy. It is a sign not of health but of sickness, and must be kept within definite bounds if it is not to destroy private capital production altogether. But to keep it within these definite bounds means to try to accomplish on a world scale what can no longer be sufficiently accomplished at home, namely, to increase the mass of profit in relation to the existing mass of capital. Just because of its "mixed character," the American economy is being forced more than before to augment an internal insufficiency of profit-production by an increase of profits from abroad. The American economy thus becomes increasingly more aggressive in its attempt to keep the world open to exploitation.
It has been said that "the familiar national aggregates — Gross National Product, national income, employment, etc. — are almost entirely irrelevant to the explanation of imperialist behavior," and that it makes no difference "whether the 'costs' of imperialism (in terms of military outlays, losses in wars, aid to client states, and the like) are greater or less than the 'returns,' for the simple reason that the costs are borne by the public at large while the returns accrue to that small, but usually dominant, section of the capitalist class which has extensive international interests." 2 Although this train of thought insists on the reality of imperialism even though it "doesn't pay" the nation, but merely those capitalists engaged in foreign business, it turns imperialism into the private domain of a segment of the capitalist class powerful enough to determine foreign policies to the detriment of the capitalist society as a whole.
In this theory the tail of imperialism seems to wag the dog of capitalism. And this despite the authors' discovery — contrary to traditional views, they believe — that imperialism is not the result of a pressing need for capital exports but rather of the pleasures of capital imports, for the authors show convincingly that "for the United States as a whole the amount of income transferred to the United States on direct investment account far exceeded the direct capital outflow."3 This, of course, is the point of capital exports as it is of all capitalist activity and is no argument against the idea that capital export dominates imperialist policy. While the relatively small amount of past capital exports points to the fact that, with the exception of the extraction industries, capital investments proved generally more profitable in developed than in underdeveloped countries, it is nonetheless expected that the future will reverse, or equalize, the situation. But in order to meet such a future, the world must remain open to private enterprise. Imperialism is thus a precondition for capital exports which, in turn, are preconditions for the exploitation of an increasing quantity of labor-power, and this, again, is a precondition for an enlarged international trade. On the other hand, of course, the capitalist concentration and centralization process prevents the homogenization of world economy, i.e., the capitalist development of underdeveloped countries, and divides the world, as it does the population in each nation, into haves and have-nots. But this general tendency of the capital accumulation process does not free the capitalists from the compulsive need to strive for an accelerated capital expansion on an international scale.
It is not just to safeguard the "returns" of special interests that the American government accepts the much larger "costs" of imperialism. It suffers the latter in order to increase the former in the hope of changing an over-all loss into an over-all gain. This might be a hopeless task — and in my opinion it is a hopeless task — so that, practically, the whole imperialistic effort might accomplish nothing more than safeguarding the "returns" of special interests, or not even that. In the Baran-Sweezy theory, however, imperialism appears not as a necessary product of capitalism but as the work of a special capitalist group looking for profits abroad even though their private gain implies a social loss. It follows from this that capitalist society would be better off without imperialism, i.e., without this particular capitalistic group. Actually, however, even a non-imperialist America would be forced to subsidize the dominant capital groups by way of government purchases, if only to avoid the depression conditions of a declining rate of capital expansion. These subsidies have to come out of total production; the "returns" of the subsidized capital imply the social "costs" of waste-production. This is precisely the dilemma in which capitalism finds itself and which it tries to overcome by external expansion.
The "national aggregates" of which the Baran-Sweezy theory speaks, and which it absolves from all responsibility for American imperialism, are a composition of profitable and non-profitable production, i.e., of market-production and government-induced production for which there is no market. The profits of market production are realized on the market and the "profits" of government-induced production are "realized" through government purchases with money borrowed from private capital. In other words, private capital "pays" itself by way of "government payments." As there is, in fact, no payment at all, the whole process is one of expropriation, and because capital and its government are an entity, it is a partial self-destruction of capital.
This "self-destruction" is, of course, a destruction in value, though not in material terms, for the productive apparatus is not altered thereby. Only it yields less in profits than it would if fully employed for private account; or, it yields no more than it would if there were no government-induced production. In other words, the yield through government-induced waste-production is illusory, and the larger the capital grows through government-induced production, the less the real yields, and the greater the illusory ones.
The illusion can be sustained, however, because of the fact that money, even in its non-commodity form, is considered a commodity-equivalent. Because all economic functions are money functions, it does not make any difference to the individual, or the individual corporation, whether they produce for the government or for the market, for in either case they realize their profits in money terms. Considering the national economy, however, it is clear that the money-value of total production — both market- and government-induced production — is necessarily larger than it would be in the absence of government-induced production. The whole production, whether profitable or not, is expressed in money terms as if there were no difference between profitable market-production and nonprofitable waste-production, as if production destined for destruction could be counted as an addition to the national wealth. Yet the real capitalist wealth is no greater than the money-values comprising the marketable part of production. It simply appears greater than it is, because the expense of waste-production is being counted as income, merely because of the government's power to inject money into the economy. But the borrowing of money cannot change an expense into an income, and the larger wealth in money terms represents a smaller capital in real terms.
The "false" character of a prosperity induced by government purchases is being betrayed by the steady devaluation of money and a continuous increase in the national debt. Both occurrences constitute, so to speak, the "price" of such a "prosperity"; it must be paid at the penalty of crisis, and this "price" is constantly increased, however slow at times, because the same conditions which make the "false" prosperity possible also make it increasingly more difficult to regain a "true" prosperity, i.e., an accelerated private capital expansion.
If we lift the money veil that covers all capitalistic activity, it is apparent that the "familiar national aggregates" are indeed able to explain imperialistic behavior. The increasing amount of waste-production which is required for an approximately full use of productive resources reduces the real mass of profits while maintaining or increasing its money-expression, a condition which can be altered only by an expansion of private capital relatively faster than that of waste-production. But the expansion of capital implies its extension in space. If waste-production in the form of war-expenditures were able to create conditions for an accelerated international capital expansion, it would not be waste-production from a capitalist point of view but merely an expense of exploitation. But even such a cynical notion would rest on the illusion that capitalism in general and American capital in particular, has no inherent limitations and no historical boundaries.
Capitalists and their government act, however, upon the optimistic hypothesis. Even if they should recognize the general trend of social development toward the dissolution of the market system, they still have to act as if the trend were non-existent, or as if it could be reversed. Their actions are determined by the trend, that is, these actions are devoted to the containment and destruction of socioeconomic systems not their own. Their imperialism is not an aberration but a necessity for securing the specific class relations of private-property capitalism. They are not making so many "mistakes" by rushing all over the world to secure the direct, or indirect, control of weaker countries, but they are living up to their capitalistic responsibilities which include imperialism. In the case of the United States the optimism is particularly prevalent because of its rapid development, aided by two world-wide wars, and its present overwhelming superiority vis-Ã -vis other nations. Precisely for this reason it is the most imperialistic power in the world today. It can afford more waste-production than any other nation and can, for that reason, assume that it is possible to turn its losses into future gains by dominating an increasing share of the world economy.
Even if the "mixed economy" has found acceptance as a probably unavoidable modification of the capitalist system, the "mix," that is, governmental interventions in the economy, are supposed to be only such as benefit private capital. To keep it that way, interferences in market relations must be limited on the national as well as on the international level. A general expansion of government production internally would spell the certain end of corporate capitalist property relations, just as the extension of a state-determined social system of production within the world economy points toward the contraction of the free-enterprise economies. The necessity of containing the spread of "communism," that is, of state-controlled systems, is thus related to the necessity of restricting governmental interventions in the economy within each private-capitalist nation. With more nations adopting the state-controlled form of capital production and thereby limiting the expansion of private capital, insufficient expansion of the latter calls forth more intensive government interventions in the private-capitalist nations. To halt the trend toward state-capitalism in the market economies requires the containment and possibly the "roll-back" of the already-established state-capitalist systems. But while at home the capitalists control their governments and thus determine the kind and degree of the latter's economic interventions, they can only halt the dreaded transformation abroad either by gaining control of the governments of other nations or by imperialistic military measures.
Capitalistically, war makes "sense" if it serves as an instrument for bringing forth conditions more favorable for a further expansion and extension of capital. War or no war, short of an accelerated rate of private capital expansion, there is only the choice between a deepening depression and the amelioration of conditions through the further extension of nonprofitable "public" expenditures. But whereas war may eventually yield the preconditions for an American penetration into other parts of the world, including East Asia, and its present expense be recompensed by future profits, public expenditures for other purposes do not have such effects. Experience shows that war does open up possibilities for further capital expansion. From a consistent capitalist standpoint a successfully waged war is more "rational" than a steady drift into economic decline.
There is, then, no special reason for America's intervention in Indochina, apart from her general policy of intervening anywhere in the world in order to prevent political and social changes that would be detrimental to the so-called "free world," and particularly to the power which dominates it. Like an octopus, America extends her tentacles into all the underdeveloped countries still under the sway of private-capitalist property relations to assure their continued adherence to the free enterprise principle or, at least, to the old world-market relations which make them into appendages of Western capitalism. She tries to rally all pro-capitalist forces into various regional alliances, arms and finances the most reactionary regimes, penetrates governments, and offers aid, all to halt any social movement which might strive for the illusory goal of political and economic self-determination. Because self-determination is not a real possibility, the United States recognizes that attempts to attain it could only result in nations' leaving the orbit of Western capitalism to fall into that of the Eastern powers. By fighting self-determination and national liberation, America is simply continuing her War against the Russian and Chinese adversaries.
Nationalism and Self-Determination
Separately, none of the small nations which have experienced American intervention endangered the United States' hegemony in world affairs to any noticable [sic] extent. If they were hindered in their attempt to rid themselves of foreign domination and of their own collaborating ruling classes, this was because America recognizes that their revolutionary activities are not accidental phenomena, but so many expressions of an as yet weak but world-wide trend to challenge the capitalist monopolies of power and exploitation. They must, therefore, be suppressed wherever they arise and conditions that will prevent their return must be created, quite apart from all immediate profit considerations. In this respect, the present differs from the past in that while imperialist interventions used to serve to create empires within a world system, such interventions today serve the defense of capitalism itself.
At first glance, America's gains in Asia are quite impressive. She has not only regained the Philippines and destroyed Japan's "co-prosperity sphere," but found entry into nations that only a few years ago had been monopolized by European powers. With the aid of a reconstructed Japan, now allied to the United States, it seemed relatively easy to keep China out of Southeast Asia and secure this part of the globe for the "free world" in general and the United States in particular. But the "communist" enemy was to be found not only in China but to a greater or lesser extent in all the countries of the region, achieving by subversion what could ostensibly no longer be achieved by more direct procedures. Securing America's newly-won position in Southeast Asia thus required the destruction of native national forces which saw themselves also as communist movements and wished to emulate the Russian and Chinese examples rather than adapt themselves to the ways of Western capitalism.
Who are the people that the American government wants to keep "free" and "prosperous," and who so obstinately refuse — a large majority of them — to avail themselves of America's generosity? For a hundred years these people experienced enough of "the white man's burden" to know that "freedom" and "prosperity" can only be gained through their own efforts and the destruction of colonialism. World War II gave them the opportunity, and nationalism brought independence. But from the very beginning this nationalism was of a special kind; it involved not only opposition to foreign oppression but opposition to the native ruling classes as well. The national revolution was at once a social revolution. The nationalists, though united against foreign overlords and their native collaborators, were split on issues concerning the structure of the decolonized nation. There was a "right" and a "left" wing; the first, striving for no more than national liberation; the second, for combining it with social change. "Behind the seeming unity to nationalism there was a latent cleavage which was likely to come to the open after the attainment of the primary aim. Even during the nationalist struggle this conflict between the right and left was quite clearly distinguishable."4
Like the Far East as a whole, Southeast Asia is predominantly agricultural. Per capita income levels are abysmally low. "The combined gross national product of the Far East free world and Communist countries — containing more than one-half the world population — is only two-fifths that of the United States." 5 The level of consumption is lower than for any other region of the world. Plantation or estate agriculture is small when compared with that cultivated by peasants, but production in estate agriculture is market-oriented and nearly all of it destined for foreign trade. Peasant agriculture is subsistence-oriented — nearly all of production is consumed by the producers. Peasant holdings are generally limited to only a few acres whereas plantations frequently range up to several thousand acres in size. Family-farming characterizes the peasant holdings, while the plantations depend upon hired labor. To stay competitive, the plantations tend to displace labor through increased mechanization.
At the time of the European conquest, Southeast Asia represented a two-class system — a vast peasantry ruled over by an aristocracy. The Europeans availed themselves of the services of the latter to consolidate their own domination. The peasants' surplus-labor sustained the whole social edifice. The plantation system and the industries introduced by Europeans eroded the subsistence economy, and consumer goods manufactured in Europe displaced native handicrafts. Capitalist enterprises impoverished the peasantry by taking more out of the economy than it imported in return, and by the creation of an "agricultural proletariat" out of the local peasantry and through the importation of foreign laborers. Economic changes brought with them a new urban middle class which soon acquainted itself with European ideas of nationalism and with Marxism (in its ideologized Russian version). The new middle class began to envision independence and development not in the laissez-faire terms of the relatively unimportant native bourgeoisie, but in the direction of a state-capitalist, or state-socialist, system such as that which accounted for the rapid development of the Russian economy.
The new socialistically-inclined middle class of professionals, intellectuals and bureaucrats, allied to urban working-class elements, must find support in the peasant population in order to be able to realize its concept of social development. The revolutionary program is thus, first of all, a peasant program, promising the abolition of their misery. Concretely, this implies that less must be taken away from them than had been customary. And this means lower taxes, the reduction or elimination of rent for tenant farmers, confiscation of large landholdings and their distribution among land-poor peasants, the availability of credit at less than the usual usurious rates of interest, and the elimination of trading monopolies — which are mostly in the hands of the Chinese — in favor of cooperative trading centers. On the other hand, of course, the long-run needs of the nation as a whole depend on an increase in agricultural productivity, on a larger agricultural surplus, and the setting free of agricultural labor to ensure industrial development which, in turn, will raise the productivity of agriculture through cheap fertilizers, irrigational systems, machines, electric power, and so forth. Still, the basis for this process is a greater surplus out of agricultural production, which involves the revolutionaries in the contradictory task of bettering the lot of the peasants only to increase their exploitation. But as first things come first, the immediate needs of the peasants are emphasized. Everything else had to await the taking of power and its consolidation by a new regime, which will then try, by force and persuasion to integrate agricultural and industrial policies in the interest of national development.
During and shortly after the years of colonial revolt, the Vietnamese revolutionaries were quite moderate in their agricultural policies as well as in their attitude toward private trade and industry. Only enterprises belonging to the old colonial administration were nationalized; only landowners opposing the Viet Minh were expropriated and their land given to the peasants. It was not until it had been in existence for ten years that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam spoke of the total nationalization of industry and the collectivization of agriculture as an ultimate goal. Meanwhile, there has been some "socialist" and some nonsocialist cooperative farming and there are still many private peasant holdings. Collectivization is largely inhibited by the expectation of North and South Vietnam's eventual unification and the need to keep this project attractive to the South Vietnamese peasants. All newly-developed industries, however, are state-owned and foreign trade and banking are government monopolies. A complicated pricing system, partly manipulated and partly left to market forces, assures some degree of economic control. There is free buying and selling and there are obligatory deliveries, mainly with regard to rice and grain production, which amount to between 12 and 24 percent of produced quantities. Wages are partly fixed and partly left to bargaining. All in all, the economy as a whole is still closer to a Western market economy than it is to the more rigid and controlled systems such as prevail in Russia and China. The conditions for a complete state-socialist system simply do not exist as yet and this is more a political goal than a developing reality.
Since they are not as yet frozen into rigid social institutions such as prevail in the advanced state-capitalist systems, the political regimes of the Southeast Asian nations, including North Vietnam, appear to be still reversible; American agencies were operating to bring this about by internal subversion and external aggression. Given the weak social status of the rising native bourgeoisie, it is clear that the political structures of the emerging nominally-democratic nations will be as authoritarian as they are in the nominally-communist nations. Both "communism" and "democracy" are thus of a purely ideological character, indicating no more than two different development tendencies — the one toward state-capitalism and therewith away from Western domination, the other towards a market economy to be incorporated into the neo-colonial structure of Western capitalism.
Not only in Southeast Asia but quite generally, national liberation for most underdeveloped countries does not alter their economic dependency on other capitalist nations. Being already inextricably "integrated" into the capitalist world market, and being incapable of a self-sustaining existence, they remain as a so-called "third world" an object of imperialistic competition. Their national-revolutionary exertions are largely dissipated in internal political struggles instead of being utilized in an actual reorganization of their socioeconomic structures. Their future appears to be bound up with the changing fortunes of imperialist power relations, which will find them either on one side or the other of the warring social systems and imperialist powers.
The social revolutions against foreign and national exploitation are objectively limited by their national character and by a general backwardness, which caused the social upheavals in the first place. Whatever else such revolutions may accomplish, they cannot lead to socialism as an alternative to modern capitalism. They are only one of many expressions of the disintegration of the capitalist market economy as a world system, but they cannot bring forth a social system of the kind envisioned by Marxian socialism. It is only as an element of disintegration that they support the general need for a more rational social system of production than that provided for by capitalism. Their own problems cannot be solved apart from the problems that beset the advanced part of the capitalist world. The solution lies in a revolutionary change in the capitalist world, which would prepare the way for a socialist integration of the world economy. For just as the underdeveloped countries cannot develop socialistically in a world dominated by capital production, so they could not develop capitalistically in a world dominated by socialist systems of production. The key to the development of the underdeveloped nations is the socialist transformation of the advanced capitalist world.
But if this is the key, it does not seem to fit the real situation. While it is quite obvious that the industrially-advanced parts of the world have the means to industrialize the underdeveloped regions of the world in a rather short time and to eliminate hunger and poverty almost immediately merely by diverting the world's waste-production, or even just the expense of its arms production, into productive channels where they can serve human needs, there are as yet no social forces in sight willing to realize this opportunity and thus bring peace and tranquility to the world. Instead, the destructive aspects of capital production take on an increasingly more violent character; internally, by more and more waste production; externally, by destroying territories occupied by people unwilling to submit to the profit requirements of foreign powers, which can only spell their own doom.
The Limits of Development
However, the impoverished people in the underdeveloped countries cannot wait for a socialist transformation of the capitalist world. Their needs are too urgent even to await a possibly intensifying industrialization under the auspices of private-enterprise and foreign capital. Although thus far the Western world has done little to promote industrial development in the non-industrial world, it is not, in principle, opposed to such a development wherever it might prove profitable. It does not prefer the exploitation of its own laboring population to that of other nations; quite the contrary. But capital flows where it is most profitable and lies idle where it cannot yield a definite rate of profit to its possessors. American companies have found that manufacturing profits in underdeveloped countries are not higher than in the United States and, more often than not, are even lower. All the government exhortions [sic] and guarantees intended to induce private capital to invest in backward nations are of little avail, so long as the productivity-gap between industries in advanced and underdeveloped countries nullifies the cheap-labor advantages of the latter. Where profits are exceptionally high, as in the oil and mining industries, capitalists will even fight for investment opportunities; but the huge profits made in these fields benefit the rich, not the poor countries. Nonetheless, there is some development, and it is this "creeping capitalization" itself which spurs in the backward countries the desire for a more rapid development that would benefit the nation instead of foreign capital.
There exists an apparent contradiction between the need to keep the world open for free enterprise and the refusal of free enterprise to avail itself of its opportunities. But this contradiction merely reflects the contradiction of capital production itself. It is not different from the contradiction that bursts into the open with any capitalist crisis, namely, that production comes to a halt in spite of the fact that the needs of the vast mass of the population are far from being satiated, and that there is a pressing need for an increased amount of production. Production is slowed down not because it is too abundant but because it has become unprofitable. But it would not enter the minds of the capitalists that their inability to increase production is reason enough to abdicate in favor of a social system capable of coordinating social production to actual social needs. Neither would it enter their minds that because they have not industrialized the world and are, apparently, not capable of doing so, they should leave the world to others who presumably can do so by employing a principle of capital production different from that of private capital accumulation. Just as they defend their control in each particular country irrespective of their own performances, so will they defend it in the world at large.
What the "communists" in the underdeveloped nations aspire to do is what capitalism has failed to do — that is, to modernize their nations by way of industrialization and thus to overcome the increasing misery of a stagnating mode of production. But capitalism in its private-enterprise form was there before them and was able to determine that peculiar type of "development" which constantly widens the income-gap between the industrially-advanced countries and the colonized, or semi-colonized, regions. As elsewhere, so in Southeast Asia, capital investments were made exclusively for the production of raw materials and foodstuffs for the industries and consumption needs of the capitalist nations. The nations of Southeast Asia themselves were destined to remain markets for goods manufactured in the industrial countries. An unequal exchange played their surplus-labor, or profits, into the hands of Western capitalists. The inequality of exchange became even more pronounced because of a steady decline of the prices for primary products relative to those for manufactured commodities, and by capitalistic competition in the raw material sphere as, for instance, through the increasing use of synthetic rubber and America's rice exports. Ending this trend of increasing impoverishment means, first of all, to use the available surpluses for domestic development, to eliminate exploitation via a world-market dominated by Western capital, and thus to disturb the "international division of labor" as determined by private capital accumulation.
The War in Indochina
The land area in the so-called "free" Asian nations is nearly double that of the "communist" nations but — leaving out Japan as a special case — there is a higher index of multiple cropping and greater irrigated area in the "communist" than in the "free" countries. In 1959 the latter had an aggregate population of 832 millions while the "communist" countries counted 692 millions. India and China alone contain over one-third of all the people in the world. (Mainland China is the largest Asian nation, exceeding the United States in size.) There are various degrees of economic development in the different nations, Apart from industrial Japan, the islands and the nations of the island archipelagos such as Indonesia, Malaya, and the Philippines — due to their access to the trade routes of the Pacific — show a higher degree of development than landlocked nations. In all nations, however, and in the absence of significant degrees of industrialization, the immediate economic problem appears as one of too many people and too little land.
The lack of usable land relative to the population does not prevent but rather encourages its unequal distribution. Landlordism characterizes the whole of the "free" Asian countries. Peasants are turned into tenants and the frightful exploitation of the latter enriches the land-owning class without necessitating any improvement in agricultural production. In South Vietnam, for instance, "40 percent of the land planted to rice in 1954 was owned by 2,500 persons — by a quarter of one percent of the rural population. Rent alone commonly took 50 percent of the tenant's crops and sometimes more; he either produced his own fertilizers, seeds, man- and draft-power, and equipment, or rented them at extra cost; he could be ejected from his leasehold at the landlord's whim."6 There can be no doubt that the landowning class as well as the urban bourgeoisie, amassing fortunes in trade and industry, are anti-communist, that is, are vitally interested in the continued existence of their privileges and thus find themselves siding with the foreign powers in their defense of free enterprise.
The struggle for national liberation was thus at the same time a civil war. Its results would determine whether the liberated nations would have societies keeping them within the fold of Western capitalism. It became necessary to influence the outcome of the civil war by outside intervention. For the United States it was essential that whatever the results of the liberation movements they must not lead to new "communist" regimes willing to side with the Chinese adversary. America's politicians rightly surmised that notwithstanding the most exaggerated nationalism, which would tend to oppose a new Chinese domination as it had opposed that of the old colonial powers, China by sheer weight alone would dominate the smaller nations at her boundaries, disguised though this domination would be by ideological camouflage. The surge of nationalism was to be channeled into anti-communism, which meant the upholding or creation of governments and institutions friendly to the United States and Western capitalism.
It is on the traditional ruling classes that the American government must rely in its efforts to keep "free Asia" in the "free world." In the long run, this is quite a formidable undertaking, for the objective conditions in the nations of Asia produce a steady revolutionary ferment which is bound to explode sooner or later. To counteract these threatening social convulsions, the United States wants to combine political-military repression with social reforms designed to lead to general social acquiescence. But the decisive "reforms" necessary to alleviate the plight of the peasants and of the urban proletariat imply the destruction of existing class privileges, that is, the power of the only allies the United States can find, unless she wishes to ally herself to the "communists," the only group actually able to realize the "reforms." The programmatic "social reforms" largely serve, then, as an ideological cover for the repressive measures that have to be taken to avoid the spread of "communism" from China into the neighboring countries and from there to the whole of the Far East.
The Korean War indicated that, short of risking a new world war, already established "communist" regimes could not be detached from their protector states, Russia and China. In other respects, however, the situation was still fluid. Apart from North Vietnam, other Southeast Asian nations were either anti-communist, or declared themselves "neutralist" or "non-aligned," meaning that their civil wars, clandestine or open, were still undecided. In the case of Laos, this led to a tripartite arrangement, engineered by the great powers, with "neutralist"-, "communist"-, and "western"-oriented forces dividing the country between them. This too was thought of as a temporary solution which would perhaps be resolved at some future date. Cambodia maintained a precarious "independence" by catering to both sides of the overshadowing larger power conflict. Only in Thailand, where America had replaced Britain as the major foreign influence was the commitment to the West almost complete. Here the United States sent more than 30,000 troops and much aid to build this kingdom into a bastion of the "free world." (It became the most important American airbase for the Vietnam war.)
Because of the flexibility of the situation, it seemed essential to the United States to stop any further change in Southeast Asia by assisting all "anti-communist" forces in that region. This has been a consistent policy, from which none of the successive American administrations has deviated. Objecting to the Geneva Agreements of 1954, the American-installed regime of South Vietnam refused to consider the proposed elections, which were to decide the question of unification of South and North Vietnam. To assure the continued existence of South Vietnam, the United States poured money and soon troops into the country. The resumed civil war in the South received support from North Vietnam, turning the American intervention into a war against both the national liberation forces in the South and the North Vietnamese government. This intervention has often been found unjustified, because it concerned itself with a civil war instead of, as claimed, with the national independence of South Vietnam. However (as was pointed out above) in the context of Indochina no distinction can be made between international war and civil war, because here all wars for national liberation are at the same time civil wars for social change. It was precisely because of the civil-war character of the national liberation movements that the United States entered the fray.
America's determination to retain influence in Indochina at all costs did check a possible further extension of social transformations such as occurred in North Vietnam and in a part of Laos. As it became evident that neither Russia nor China would actively intervene in the Vietnamese war, the "anti-communist" forces in Southeast Asia were greatly strengthened and, aided by the United States, began to destroy their own "communist"-oriented movements, the most gruesome of these undertakings being that in Indonesia. But while neither Russia nor China was ready to risk war with the United States to drive the latter out of Southeast Asia, they tried to prevent the consolidation of American power in that region by enabling the Vietnamese to carry on the war. The military aid given to the Vietnamese by Russia and China could not lead to the defeat of the Americans, but promised a prolonged war which would deprive the United States of enjoying the spoils of an early victory. The immediate and growing expenses of the war would, instead, loom ever larger in comparison with its possible "positive" results, which would recede always further into the indeterminate future. By bleeding the people of Indochina America would, in increasing measure, bleed herself, and perhaps lose confidence in her ability to conclude the war on her own terms.
It seems quite clear that the Americans expected less resistance to their intervention than they actually came to face. They aspired to no more than a repetition of the outcome of the Korean conflict — a mutual retreat to previously demarcated frontiers, which meant halting the "communist" penetration at the Seventeenth Parallel in the case of Vietnam, and at the agreed-upon zones in Laos. As in Korea, in Vietnam too they had no desire to turn the war into a new world war by bringing Russia, China, or both into the conflict. A war of the great powers, possessing atomic weapons, could easily lead to mutual destruction. The fear of such a war has until now set limits to the war in Vietnam. It has prevented a concentrated, all-out American onslaught on North Vietnam to bring the war to a victorious conclusion, since neither Russia nor China, like the United States herself, can be expected to allow any territory already under their control or in their spheres of interest to be lost, without encouraging further encroachments on their power positions. It was for this reason that the Western powers did not intervene on the occasions of the Russian invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and that America has hesitated to attempt the complete destruction of North Vietnam.
Of course, a nation's determination to hold on to what it has, or has gained, is not absolute. The overriding fear of a possible atomic war, for instance, kept the United States from reconquering Cuba. Nations tend to avoid actions which have a very high probability of leading to undesired results. Uncertainty is the rule, however, and it is the presumed job of diplomacy to weigh the pros and cons of any particular policy with regard to long-run national and imperialistic interests. This may incorporate short-run decisions which need not have a direct logical connection with long-run goals. Since the dynamics of capitalism imply an ever-changing general situation which escapes political comprehension, long-run imperialist strategy put into practice remains a matter of blindly executed activity, in which all diplomatic expectations may come to naught. Actually, the political decision-makers can affect only immediate, short-run goals. They try to attain a definite and obvious objective. They may reach it or not; if they lose, it will be through the action of an adversary. Until stopped, they will see their course of action as the only "rational" one and will try to follow it up to the end. In the case of Indochina, the simple goal was to secure this part of the world for Western capitalism without initiating a new world war. The unexpectedly effective resistance of the adversaries led to a continuous escalation of the war effort and a growing discrepancy between the limited objectives and the costs involved in reaching it.
In one sense, to be sure, the American intervention proved successful, in that it not only prevented the unification of South and North Vietnam but also sustained Western influence in Southeast Asia in general. Confidence in the ability to maintain this situation was reflected in new extensive direct investments in oil, timber, and mineral resources in Taiwan, Indochina, Thailand, and even South Vietnam. Still, the war went on, because the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front in the South were not willing to acknowledge defeat and to accept peace on American terms. Short of a successful invasion of the North or an internal collapse of the "communist regime" there was no reason to expect a change in this situation, though an apparent loss of offensive power on the part of the North Vietnamese and NLF forces allowed a reduction in the number of American troops in Vietnam.
The Anti-War Movement
Political decisions are left to the decision-makers; so long as they are successful they find some kind of general support. Even if the decisions involve war, they will be accepted not only because of the generally-shared ideology, but also because of the practical inability on the part of the population to affect the decision-making process in any way. People will try to make the best of a bad situation — which also has its advantages. Certainly, the armaments producers will not object to the extra profits made through war. Neither will the arms production workers object to it, if it provides them with job security and steady incomes, which might be less certain under other circumstances. The military will see the war as a boon to their profession; war is their business and they will encourage business to make war. Because the mixed economy has become a war economy, many new professions have arisen which are tied to war conditions or to preparation for such conditions. A growing government bureaucracy relies for its existence on the perpetuation of the war machinery and of imperialistic activities. Widespread interests vested in war and imperialism ally themselves with those specific to the large corporations and their dependency on foreign exploitation.
While for some war and imperialism spell death, then for many more they constitute a way of life, not as an exceptional situation but as a permanent condition. Their existence is based on a form of cannibalism, which costs the lives of friend and foe alike. Once this state of affairs exists, it tends to reproduce itself and it becomes increasingly difficult to return to the "normal" state of capitalist production. War itself increases the propensity for war. The American decision-makers who decided to enter the Indochina conflict (or for that matter any other) were thus able to count on the consensus of a large part of the population, a consensus which was by no means purely ideological in nature.
Yet in time there developed an anti-war movement displaying a variety of motivations and gaining in strength with the deterioration of economic conditions. It was the long duration of the war, and the lack of recognizable advantages, which turned an increasing number of people against it. The moral opposition, based on pacifist and anti-imperialistic ideologies, found more general adherence — large enough to induce opportunistic politicians to enter the movement to further their personal aims and to keep it within the frame of existing political institutions. Although the anti-war protests were merely of a verbal nature, with an occasional firebomb thrown in, they contained the potential of more decisive future actions. Opposition to the war began to affect the military situation through an increasing demoralization of the armed forces. Even the noted apathy about the war on the part of the working population was apparently giving way to a more critical attitude. Among the bourgeoisie not directly favored by the war, dissatisfaction with its internal consequences was visibly rising. In any case, the Nixon Administration found itself obliged to placate the anti-war movement, even though it had no more to offer, at first, than demagogic promises, which masqueraded the continuing and intensifying war activities as so many attempts to reach an "honorable peace."
Still, the amorphous anti-war sentiment did not as yet constitute a real threat to the Administration's war policies. The developing polarization of pro- and anti-war forces pointed in the direction of civil strife rather than to the government's capitulation to the opposition. And in its broad majority this opposition directed itself not against the capitalist system, which is necessarily imperialistic, but only against this particular and apparently hopeless war, now viewed as a "mistake" which had to be undone. But there is no reason to doubt that at this juncture the United States preferred a negotiated peace, which would honor its main objective, to the prolongation of war, if only to stall the growing unrest at home. The war was to be "wound down" by way of "Vietnamization" in accordance with the so-called Nixon Doctrine. This was seemingly substantiated by a partial withdrawal of American troops and the simultaneous increase of the South Vietnamese Army, as well as through the intensification of the American air war in Laos, Cambodia, North and South Vietnam. Withdrawal meant, in fact, the extension of the war into Cambodia and Laos to prepare the conditions under which the Asians themselves would be enabled to take care of all "communist aggression."
It seems indeed an "ideal situation," with many precedents, to have Asians fight Asians to secure Indochina for capitalist exploitation. However, the "ideal situation" is unrealizable, even though an approximation to it is a possibility, provided the enemy adapts itself to the American strategy. If it does not, then, of course, the Americans will have to return to defend their interests. The deterrent strategy of a large naval and air presence will be maintained in any case. This strategy assumes the continuation of an existing military stalemate, which favors the Americans, since it can be utilized for the systematic destruction of enemy forces within the areas under American control. It is hoped that a resurgence of resistance to the Americans and their Indochina allies will become increasingly more problematic, as ever greater masses of the population are driven into controlled "refugee" centers and as the countryside is laid waste. With Russia and China staying out of the conflict, the aid provided by them will, by itself, not enable North Vietnam and the NLF to win a war of attrition with the United States.
The Cease-Fire Interval
The war could go on as long as the North Vietnamese continued to defy the American will, and as long as they received sufficient aid from either Russia, China, or both. In this sense, the war was also a war between the Eastern powers and the United States, even though the latter had to engage her own military forces due to the weakness of her Indochina allies, who were no match for the national-revolutionary forces they set out to combat.
The rift between Russia and China did not, at first, alter the situation of conflict between America and the state-controlled systems. Both Russia and China remain in opposition to the United States (and other capitalist countries) because of their different socio-economic structures and their own desires to make themselves secure by gaining greater power and more influence within the world economy. However, both the Stalin — Hitler pact and Russia's alliance with the anti-fascist powers during the Second World War show that different social systems can at times unite for a specific common goal without thereby losing their basic incompatibility.
The national form of the so-called socialist or state-controlled regimes sets them in conflict not only with the capitalist world, or with particular capitalist nations, but also with each other. In both the capitalist and "socialist" world, each nation tries first of all to safeguard its own special interests, or rather the interests of the privileged social strata whose existence and position is based on the control of the national state. There is then no real but only an opportunistic solidarity between the nations in the "socialist" as well as in the capitalist camp. Alliances are formed between nations of different social structures, and enmities arise between nations which had been expected to cooperate. This indicates, of course, that nationalism and imperialism are not opposites but imply each other, even though the national survival of some nations may depend on the imperialism of some other nations. Under these conditions, the so-called "third world" countries are not only objects of the rivalries between different capitalist nations, nor only of that between capitalism and "socialism" as such, but also of the rivalries between the "socialist" nations themselves. Not only has the end of colonialism led to neo-colonialism, through which the dominating powers exercise their control of dependent countries via their own governments, but this imperialism as neo-colonialism is no longer the exclusive privilege of the capitalist world but in a somewhat modified form appears also in the "socialist" part of the world, both as as [sic] an aspect of imperialist competition between different socio-economic systems and for its own sake. We are provided the spectacle of a "socialist" brand of imperialism and the threat of war between nominally socialist nations.
The imperialist imperative is more demanding than ever before, while, at the same time, anti-imperialist activities find their accentuation in a developing world-wide economic crisis. The recovery of European and Japanese capitalism implies the return of their imperialistic potentialities, and the diverging national interests between China and Russia are additional elements simmering in the caldron [sic] of contradictory capitalist, imperialist, and national aspirations. "Peace" is no longer secured by the "balance of terror," exercised by the two great atomic powers. National independence has proved to be no solution for the permanent crisis conditions of newly-formed national states. But national aspirations can assert themselves only through the rivalries of the great imperialist powers, just as these powers exercise their foreign policy options via the various national rivalries. Any small-scale war has thus the potentiality of issuing into a new world war. The explosive situations in India, the Middle East, Indochina, and elsewhere, involve issues at once nationalistic and imperialistic, affecting in one measure or another the economic interests of all nations. To avoid a new world conflagration, and yet to safeguard and expand the nationally-organized capitals and their profitability, brings about a feverish diplomatic activity in search for favorable political-military combinations as an additional aspect of capitalist competition.
Nixon's deliberations in Peking and Moscow revealed clearly that wars of national liberation can be waged only within the framework of overriding big-power interests, in which the latter are the decisive element. The situation in Indochina is what it is because neither Russia nor China have been willing to risk a world war in an attempt to drive the Americans out of Southeast Asia, just as they were equally unwilling to allow the United States to become the unchallenged power in the Pacific area. America's failure to subdue the Vietnamese, as well as the Vietnamese's failure to force the unification of their nation, left the situation at the time of the cease-fire arrangement as it was at the start of America's large-scale military intervention in 1964. As far as the American-Vietnamese military confrontation was concerned, there were neither victors nor vanquished, which allowed both sides to accept a temporary truce.
Of course, the stalemate remained unacknowledged. Both sides claimed some kind of limited victory; the one, by pointing to the fact of the continued independent existence of South-Vietnam, the other, by referring to the South-Vietnamese territory held by the Provisional Revolutionary Government and the expectation of a political victory should the Geneva Agreements of 1954 finally be honored. Actually, neither the South Vietnamese nor the North Vietnamese are satisified [sic] with the prevailing conditions and the civil-war aspects of the Vietnam war — which cannot find a compromise solution — goes on unabated, despite the cease-fire arrangement, which led to America's military departure from Vietnam. However, the truce remains precarious not only because of the unsettled civil war, but also because the current big-power understandings with respect to Indochina may dissolve on their own accord.
To some, of course, the fact that America, the militarily and economically strongest power in the world, was unable to defeat a small "third world" country, is reason enough to see in the truce a great triumph for the Vietnamese and the superiority of the revolutionary will over capitalistic technology. The stalemate is viewed as a great accomplishment and an encouragement for all national-revolutionary movements yet to come. Be this as it may, the fact remains that this struggle could be waged only so long as it found the support of imperialist powers in opposition to American imperialism. It found its temporary end through the involved powers' decisions to suspend for the time being the power struggle for the control of Southeast Asia and to regard the given as the best attainable conditions given the current balance of power.
To be sure, the Chinese-American rapprochement, as well as America's acceptance of Russia's long-standing offer of "peaceful coexistence," indicates, in a way, a change of policy on the part of the United States, forced upon her by changing conditions. Just as the capitalist world at large had finally to recognize the permanent existence of state-capitalist systems in Europe and their expansion by way of war, the United States also had finally to realize that the results of the Second World War in Asia as well as in Europe could not be undone and that the emerging state-capitalist systems were there to say. The desired "rollback" of "communism" was not attainable; but the freezing of the conditions resulting from the war — among other things, the elevation of the United States to the paramount power in Southeast Asia — was possible. This situation has not been altered but consolidated by the Indochina war. However, while Indochina seemingly lies secure in the American sphere of influence, it is only at the price of acceptance of the "communist" regimes as equal partners in the competitive world economy. The world economy will thus remain a "mixed economy," composed of "communist" and capitalist nations, just as in each capitalist nation the economy can only function as a "mixed economy," both situations indicating the ongoing decline of private property capitalism.
To become at least a temporary possibility, the "pacification" of world politics had to await an American readiness to come to terms with her "communist" adversaries and a willingness to do business with them. The "socialist" world had been ready for this for a long time, not only because it comprised the weaker imperialist powers, but also because it expected economic advantages through integration into the capitalist world market. Their national interests, overriding all ideological commitments, and their security needs, demanding an unprincipled opportunism, determine their foreign policies. They were quite ready to make concessions to the United States in exchange for their full recognition and for expanding business dealings. Moreover, the growing enmity between Russia and China, competing for spheres of influence in Asia; the rapid expansion of Japanese capitalism with its inevitable future imperialistic aspects; and the presence of American imperialism, turned the whole situation in Asia and Southeast Asia into a far more complex and more fluid problem than it appeared to be at the close of the Second World War.
A Chinese-American rapprochement, of course, has nothing to offer the Russians except the possibility of undoing such a "strange alliance" by way of accommodation with the Americans at the expense of Russian ambitions not only in the Pacific but on a global scale. With its overture to China, the American administration finds itself in a position to exploit the frictions between Russia and China for its own imperialist ends. It discourages a possible Russian attack on China by suggesting a possible Chinese-American alliance which could make such an attack a costly affair. It also prevents a weakening of America's position in Indochina, and therewith in the whole of Asia, by offsetting the Russian influence in these regions and by leaving the whole situation in Asia in an unresolved state. In brief, it allows for a postponement of the final struggle for the control of Asia, which, at this particular juncture, suited all the involved competing powers but still had to await the American initiative to become a reality.
That this initiative was taken indicates the present limits of American imperialism as determined by her deteriorating economic position within the world economy as well as at home. The Vietnamese war cost the United States approximately 150 billion dollars and was partly responsible for the inflationary trend, which, under the previously established international monetary arrangements, made it increasingly more difficult for the United States to retain its competitive position on the world market, threatened by the growing economic strength of Europe and Japan. It led first to an apparently permanent negative payments balance and finally to a negative trade balance reinforcing the unfavorable payments balance. To be sure, extensive capital exports share the responsibility for this situation, but this can be expected to be offset again by capital imports and the repatriation of profits which may reduce or eliminate the unfavorable payments balance, whereas the war expenditures are a sheer waste which cannot be recovered in the foreseeable future. The American ruling class, through its government, was induced to search for a way to liquidate the Indochina war in order to husband its resources not only in view of internal American conditions but also because of threatening conflicts in other parts of the world and its declining role in the world economy.
To say that the American ruling class was looking for a way to liquidate the Indochina war is not to disparage the anti-war movement, which had its own, independent, effect upon government policies regarding the execution of the war. Nonetheless, it was the government itself which tried to end the war on American terms with the aid of the "socialist" powers and by a shift of policy which turned the implacable enemies of yesterday into today's collaborators, and which were to restore the conditions in Indochina to what they had been at the time of the Geneva Agreements, which had been ratified by China and Russia but not by the United States. The precarious economic conditions in both Russia and China induced these powers to reach for the same breathing spell which the Americans tried to gain for themselves by way of a compromise solution which left the Indochina issue in abeyance.
Although such terms as "selling out" have no meaning with regard to policies determining national interests, that is, the interests of nationally-organized ruling classes, this inappropriate term describes nevertheless the procedures which led to the truce in Vietnam, however shortlived that truce may prove to be. It was made possible by ignoring the warring governments of both North and South Vietnam and their declared objectives, and was arranged by way of agreements between the great imperialist powers, which had also been responsible for the war and the course it took. The Vietnamese population, North and South, however heroic or unheroic, merely served as cannon fodder in a war of willing or unwilling proxies for great power interests, to which their own governments subordinated themselves only to be sacrificed when this proved to be opportune. Contrary to all appearances, the age of nationalism lies in the past, in the nineteenth century; it has become an anachronism under the conditions of the twentieth century imperialism, of which the Indochina war provides only the most recent example.
"Peace in Indochina," according to the American spokesman, Kissinger, "requires the self-restraint of all the major countries, and especially of those countries which on all sides have supplied the wherewithal for the conflict. We on our part are prepared to exercise such restraint. We believe that the other countries — the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China — can make a very major contribution to peace in Indochina by exercising similar restraints." China, being in the weakest competitive position and militarily most endangered pushed for an accord with the United States, if only to curb Moscow's influence by way of North Vietnam in Indochina, even though this implied the acceptance of America's continued presence and influence in that region. And for Russia, according to Brezhnev, "the struggle to end the war in Vietnam was one of the most important aspects of our foreign policy, of the peace program advanced by the 24th Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. And now an end is made to the war. One of the most dangerous, to be more precise, the most dangerous seat of war in the world is being liquidated." But to reach this state of bliss, millions of Indochinese had first to die and whole countries had to be devastated only to produce, for the time being, a truce between the three competing imperialist powers in Southeast Asia.
At this writing, the war in Indochina has by no means been liquidated and even the Vietnamese cease-fire is being observed mostly in the breach. The bombs are still falling in Laos and Cambodia — which, however, did not prevent the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the South Vietnam Liberation Front and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam from solemnly declaring that they will strictly observe all the provisions of the Paris truce. It was reported that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had entered into an explicit oral agreement that only when the principals in the civil wars in Laos and Cambodia agreed to a cease-fire in their respective countries would the United States and North Vietnam cease their own military activities in these nations. This common endorsement of diplomacy by way of murder, of the juggling of power positions of diverse ruling classes at the expense of uncounted human lives, shows clearly that in Vietnam, as in the world at large, it is not the will of the people but specific interests of their ruling classes which determine whether they shall live or die, and that the ruling classes themselves are subjected to the manipulations of the imperialist protectors who are also their masters. It also shows that the process of dividing up Indochina has not been completed and, perhaps, cannot be completed at all. In any case, this is not the end of the Asian upheavals but merely a pause to be utilized for a realignment of imperialist alliances in the hope of reaching a winning combination able to break the present stalemate and to determine the nature of Asia's further development by way of new power struggles.
Text taken from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/1975/us-indochina.htm
- 1See: Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes, The Limits of the Mixed Economy, Boston, 1969.
- 2P.A. Baran and P.M. Sweezy, "Notes on the Theory of Imperialism", Monthly Review, March, 1966, p. 16.
- 3Ibid., p. 24.
- 4W.F. Wertheim, East-West Parallels, Chicago, 1965, p. 98.
- 5An Economic Analysis of Far Eastern Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1961, p. 3.
- 6J.P. Gittinger, Studies on Land Tenure in Vietnam, U.S. Operation Mission in Vietnam, 1959, pp. 1, 50.