On the nature of the Vietnamese Communist Party. George Johnson and Fred Feldman
Vietnam, Stalinism and the postwar socialist revolutions. Pierre Rousset
Vietnam, Stalinism and the postwar socialist revolutions. George Johnson and Fred Feldman
Vietnam, Stalinism, and the postwar socialist revolutions
George Johnson and Fred Feldman
I. Rousset’s theory
The framework of the debate
In his reply to our critical appraisal of his book Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien, Comrade Pierre Rousset presents a broad theoretical defense of his position that the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) is a non-Stalinist, “empirical revolutionary party”. In so doing he broadens the scope and subject of the debate considerably. He bases himself on a reading of the meaning of the revolutions that have toppled capitalism since the end of World War II and the character of the regimes that they have established (including Vietnam) that is quite different from ours; that is, the one hitherto held by the world Trotskyist movement
To place the debate in the correct context, it is necessary to begin by outlining these opposing concepts. Ever since Leon Trotsky developed the theory of the permanent revolution and this theory was verified in life by the course of the Russian Revolution, revolutionary Marxists have held to a basic perspective on the pattern of the revolution they have sought to lead and the means by which victory would be won. As shown by the Russian Revolution, the key elements include a disciplined but democratic mass party, openly committed to a program of revolutionary socialism, that leads the industrial working class against the institutions of bourgeois rule. The workers participate in the revolution through their own councils or soviets, which provide an instrument for the imposition of the will of the masses on the parties that claim to represent the workers’ movement. In Russia, an underdeveloped country with a preponderant peasant majority, the workers’ insurrection succeeded by forming an alliance with the land-hungry peasantry. The Bolsheviks and their heirs viewed the first workers’ state as a great conquest, but only a preliminary one, in a world socialist revolution, which they sought to advance by all the means at their disposal.
The postwar socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, North Vietnam, and later Cuba, departed from this pattern. Leaderships were thrown up that without exception denied that the struggles in which they were involved aimed at the direct establishment of a workers’ state. In none of these cases did the working class head the revolution. Instead, the capitalist governments were toppled either by the Soviet army, by peasant rebellions, or, in the case of Cuba, by layers of peasants and workers headed by a relatively small band of guerrillas drawn from middle-class circles. In no case were institutions of workers’ democracy comparable to the Russian soviets created either in the course of the revolution or afterwards. And finally, the government of each of these new workers’ states acted either in behalf of the Soviet bureaucracy (in Eastern Europe), or in behalf of its own narrow national power base. None of them acted as part of an internationalist revolutionary movement that sought to consciously advance the world revolution, particularly to the imperialist countries. (The Cuban leaders were a partial exception, seeing the need for revolutions in Latin America.)
These facts posed some hard questions for revolutionary Marxists. Was a revolutionary party still necessary? Would the subsequent socialist revolutions follow a similar pattern? Was the pattern of the Russian Revolution unique after all? Was it outmoded? Were the peasants of the underdeveloped world a more reliable fighting force for achieving socialism than the working class? Was the open advocacy of socialism an obstacle to achieving it? Had Lenin been proved incorrect in insisting on the need to instill a socialist consciousness in the masses?
And did the failure of all of these new regimes to establish workers’ democracy indicate that, in the interests of abolishing capitalism first, revolutionists should accept bureaucratic totalitarian regimes as inevitable and leave to future generations the construction of a socialist society surpassing capitalism in its expansion of democratic rights?
Obviously the answers revolutionists have offered to these questions affect the course of action they propose in their own countries, the relations they seek to establish between their party and the masses, and their attitude toward the ruling parties in the various workers’ states.
In our opinion, the overturns of the capitalist structures that occurred in the postwar period do not testify to the correctness of the strategies of the leading parties in those countries; and they do not show that the working class is incapable of playing the leading role in the revolutionary process forecast for it since the time of Marx and Engels. We view these revolutions as anomalies, as mileposts on a historically temporary detour away from the main pattern of the proletarian revolution. The detour is explainable as a correspondence of the specific historical conditions in the aftermath of the last world war.
We do not believe that the strategies followed in China, Vietnam, or Cuba aimed at socialist revolutions, although this proved to be their outcome. We do not believe that this pattern can be repeated in the colonial world, still less in the imperialist centers. This conclusion is not meant in any way to belittle the blows dealt to world capitalism by the postwar revolutions. They testify to the weakness of capitalism, showing that a partial success is possible under inadequate leaderships under special conditions.
Although circumstances differed among the postwar revolutions, particularly between those that occurred in countries occupied by Soviet troops and those that took place in national upheavals, they had certain common features. They flowed from a general spontaneous upsurge against imperialism in the colonial world and the breakdown of capitalist economic and governmental structures in the most terrible war in human history. In the absence of revolutionary workers’ parties, various non-revolutionary currents – particularly the Stalinists as a byproduct of the popularity of the Soviet victory in World War II – came to the head of these movements.
In most cases — France, Italy, Greece — the counterrevolutionary policies of the Stalinists led to defeat. In a few places where there were no mass revolutionary Marxist parties but where the mass upsurges were very powerful and imperialism either forced a direct confrontation with the mass movement or was too weak to intervene, the organizational framework provided by the Stalinists or other petty-bourgeois currents was sufficient to overturn the capitalist structures. Even here, however, the leadership was limited by class-collaborationist programs that aimed at driving out a foreign invader or toppling a particular undemocratic government while maintaining capitalism.
In China in 1949 and in North Vietnam in 1954 such bourgeois democratic struggles ended in victories that left the Stalinist parties as the sole effective force in the government. In both cases these leaderships, in keeping with the avowed non-socialist aims of their programs, sought to avoid or actively prevent the carrying out of socialist measures. Between the pressure of the masses to overturn economic and social relations, and the hostility of imperialism to a Stalinist party forming a government in charge of a capitalist state, these parties ultimately broke in practice with part of their program and overturned capitalist property relations. However, the Stalinist parties in power have continued to follow policies of limiting mass struggles in other countries to bourgeois democratic demands and seeking popular front alliances with “progressive” capitalists that serve as barriers to socialist revolution.
In those cases where the exceptional circumstances of the postwar period led Stalinist parties to power and workers’ states were created, these parties sought consciously and deliberately both before and after the revolution to prevent the emergence of independent organizations of mass workers’ democracy. As a result, in the conditions of underdevelopment and want that faced each of these revolutions in the colonial world, privileged bureaucratic castes were consolidated that excluded and continue to exclude the masses from political decision making power. They constitute a roadblock on the path to genuine socialism that can only be removed by mass political revolutions. The only exception was Cuba, where the leadership, originating outside of the Stalinist movement, did not seek deliberately to repress the masses after it had taken power but mobilized them in the struggle against imperialism and its native agents. In this the Castro leadership proved superior to the parties of the Stalinist movement. But even in Cuba the petty bourgeois character of the leadership and the absence of institutions of mass proletarian democracy have resulted in grave bureaucratic deformations.
Pierre Rousset begins with an opposite assumption. He argues that, by definition, every one of the parties associated with Stalinism that succeeded, under whatever circumstances, in coming to power on its own (ie, without the aid of the Soviet army) broke with Stalinism in the process. He means something more by this than that they simply acted against the wishes of the Kremlin. He means that their avowed programs served to camouflage their real objective, which was to make socialist revolution; that whatever they may have said in their programs or done to collaborate with capitalist forces along the way, their ultimate victory proved conclusively that they sought through their strategies to make a socialist revolution and that they proved adequate to the task. Thus these organizations fulfilled the essential function of Leninist parties under capitalism. As he puts it:
… if the Vietnamese and Chinese CPs really were Stalinist it would be necessary to acknowledge that since the Second World War the Stalinist movement has been the main revolutionary subjective factor.
There are two important concepts in this sentence: first, that neither the VCP nor the Chinese CP were or are Stalinist parties. This is a difference that could be terminological, depending on what is meant by the term Stalinist. Secondly, that these two parties, and presumably others like them, have served as “the main revolutionary subjective factor” in the last 30 years. This conclusion accepts these parties’ own estimate of themselves as Marxist-Leninist formations.
Rousset expresses criticisms of the VCP, but these all fall within the frame of supporting its general strategic and tactical orientation within Vietnam. He defines such organizations as “empirical revolutionary parties”, stating in a footnote that he means by this “a party susceptible of playing a determining subjective role in the victory of the national revolutionary process. I do not necessarily imply that it must be able to pose and answer the problems of the world revolution as a whole – that is, that it be a ‘revolutionary-Marxist’ or Trotskyist party.”
It is to be hoped that this novel concept will be elaborated further by Comrade Rousset. Of particular interest would be an explanation as to how a party whose perspectives are limited to a national revolution within the framework of capitalism can be “subjectively” socialist.
Since these parties have already in Rousset’s eyes established their place as the “main revolutionary subjective factor” for 30 years it would seem reasonable to conclude that their strategies, far from being wrong or non-socialist, should be emulated by revolutionists interested in making revolutions in similar countries. Inasmuch as these parties range from China to Yugoslavia, it would also seem difficult to restrict this emulation to any particular part of the world. Moreover, while Trotskyists are still left to settle the problems of the “world revolution”, actual socialist revolutions are always made within national boundaries. If Rousset believes that a number of parties indoctrinated in the school of Stalinism have developed a new and successful way of leading national revolutions to a socialist outcome, does he expect this pattern to spread and to obviate the need for parties of the Fourth International, at least in countries where an “empirical revolutionary party” already exists?
Rousset does not shrink from drawing conclusions of this nature in the case of Vietnam, although he avoids telling us how widespread this phenomenon is likely to be in the rest of the world and what he thinks the implications are for the Fourth International’s struggle to build a world revolutionary socialist party
Rousset sees it as divisive for revolutionary Marxists in Vietnam to seek to replace the VCP with a Trotskyist organization or to call on the workers of North Vietnam to fight for socialist democracy up to and including the removal of the VCP regime in a political revolution. Rousset suggests, without developing the point, that these new, allegedly non-Stalinist, empirical revolutionary parties include all those organizations that participated in armed anti-imperialist struggles that resulted in the overthrow of capitalism. For reasons that seem clear to him, although he fails to explain why, he considers that the overturn of capitalism in North Korea was an exception that did not change the Stalinist nature of the Korean CP. He also views as exceptions the case of the six nations of Eastern Europe where capitalism was also overthrown after an anti-imperialist struggle waged by the Soviet army.
If the Vietnamese CP and an unknown number of other similar parties can be counted on to make the socialist revolution in their countries, and beyond that to build a society afterwards in which bureaucratic abuse is of such a minimal nature as to be removable by reform of the ruling party, the political differences between revolutionary Marxists and such parties could only be regarded as tactical and capable of resolution in a common world organization. Rousset seems to acknowledge this in postulating that the task of Trotskyists in Vietnam is to “penetrate” the VCP and “win to revolutionary Marxist ideas some of those who led the Vietnamese revolution”. While he does not spell out the distance separating such leaders of the VCP from Trotskyist positions, he obviously views the separation as bridgeable through discussion and persuasion in contrast to the situation separating defenders of socialist democracy from the hardened bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union.
In view of the fact that the organizations covered by Rousset’s new designation of “empirical revolutionary” parties are in some instances far larger than the combined membership of the Fourth International, and that several of them hold state power, we must recognize what is implied by concluding that they are basically adequate to the historical task of making the socialist revolution. If this is the case it would be sectarian to permit the anti-Trotskyist prejudices of such parties to separate our movement from theirs. After all, practice is the ultimate test of Marxist theory. If the Stalinist theories and methods of these parties do not prevent them from doing everything that a revolutionary party is supposed to do – overturn capitalism and create a workers’ state that holds bureaucratic abuses and deformations to a minimum – the prospects for a massive regroupment of revolutionary forces should be very bright.
Even further: if, as Rousset suggests, it is possible for a careful, organizationally competent leadership to participate in bourgeois governments and turn this to its own advantage as he says the VCP did in the bourgeois government-in-exile during World War II, there would seem to be grounds for reconsideration of much of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s writings on the impermissibility of socialists supporting capitalist governments.
Adherence to the program of Trotskyism is sterile and clinging to the title Fourth International is fetishistic if these are divorced from the “main revolutionary subjective factor”. If the tactics and strategy of “empirical revolutionary” parties were from the beginning consciously dedicated to winning socialist victories, then we as revolutionists are duty bound not only to seek close organizational ties with such parties but also to re-evaluate our own tactics and strategy, up to and including. the theory of permanent revolution itself, in the light of their successful experiences.
Before making such a fundamental re-evaluation, however, we should examine the premises Rousset advances. These encompass a far wider field than Vietnam, but if we are to conduct an understandable dialogue there is no alternative but to take them up.
We do not, of course, theoretically exclude that a Stalinist party could in the course of a revolution go through the kind of transformation that Rousset attributes to the Vietnamese and Chinese CPs. However, it is not theory that is involved but the concrete course of events in Vietnam for the past four decades or so. Before taking up those events, let us examine Rousset’s argumentation.
What do we mean by petty bourgeois?
At the heart of Rousset’s argument stands the following proposition: only a proletarian revolutionary party can provide adequate leadership in a prolonged armed struggle against imperialism, or carry such a struggle through to an anti-capitalist conclusion; capitalism was abolished in several countries after prolonged armed struggles; hence the parties at the head of the states that resulted must be authentic revolutionary representatives of the working class. In this schematic reasoning the class character of a party is deduced after the fact (ie, the bullet hit somewhere on target, therefore it was fired by an expert marksman). The key question of whether some other means (a non-proletarian party) can under some set of circumstances lead to the same end (toppling a capitalist structure) is evaded.
Rousset defends his proposition by an appeal to authority. He offers three quotes from Trotsky stating that socialist revolutions can only be led by proletarian parties; that an alliance between the working class and the peasantry can only be effected by the proletariat; and that petty bourgeois parties in times of revolutionary crisis side with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. However, these are not “proofs” but formulations based on the theory of the permanent revolution and the experience of the Russian Revolution. They hold in general. To view them as absolutes goes against the materialist dialectical method, which always takes into account concrete developments.
This methodological question was raised with particular sharpness in the Fourth International on the eve of World War II when James Burnham and Max Shachtman, two leaders of the American Trotskyist movement, concluded that a workers’ state could not possibly have concluded a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany and hence the Soviet Union could no longer be regarded as a workers’ state. In response to them Trotsky wrote:
In the question of the social character of the USSR, mistakes commonly flow … from replacing the historical fact with the programmatic norm. Concrete fact departs from the norm. (Leon Trotsky, “The USSR in War“, In Defense of Marxism [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], p3.)
Rousset approaches the various petty-bourgeois parties in the colonial world, including the Stalinists, with a priori assumptions of what they are capable of doing. When they surprise him, he misses the material reasons for their course and the limitations of that course. Instead he attributes a proletarian content to their intentions. But the nature of their intentions is easily determined in reality. The program and class composition of the VCP, the Maoists, the Cuban July 26 Movement and other formations that headed the postwar social overturns are well known. We do not have to deduce them from a particular event in the party’s history. In the case of the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs, the party memberships were overwhelmingly peasant and their programs, laid down by the Kremlin, were for a revolution limited to reforming capitalism.
For Rousset our characterization of the VCP as both Stalinist and petty bourgeois amounts to a “series of epithets”. In defense of this rather unflattering conclusion he offers the following: “A party is defined above all by the class interests that it represents more or less effectively. A petty-bourgeois party in Vietnam is therefore above all, a party tied essentially to the peasantry … exactly what social interests does such a party defend … By giving the same class definition to the Stalinist bureaucracy and to the Vietnamese small peasantry both then become ‘petty bourgeois’. But how can you do that without stripping of its content the concept of class nature?”
Rousset forgets that while classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production, political parties are related to the means of production only through their programs. Moreover, he sees the “petty bourgeoisie” as a homogeneous formation whose bread-and-butter interests must be incorporated in a party’s program for that party to “effectively” represent them.
Yet it is a commonplace that the petty bourgeoisie both socially and politically, is far more heterogeneous than either the working class or the capitalist class. No sector of the petty bourgeoisie is capable of achieving consciousness as a class in contradiction to the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. It tilts toward one or the other of the two major classes. Thus in the realm of politic it is more useful to begin defining a petty bourgeois party negatively, by establishing its degree of opposition to the continuation of large-scale private property or to the establishment of a planned economy. That still leaves a lot of middle ground for all kinds of political tendencies. But at the least we have avoided the fundamental confusion of not being able to distinguish those parties that do clearly express the class interests of the working class or of the bourgeoisie from those that try to represent both of them or neither of them.
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx describes the petty bourgeoisie as “a transition class in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously blunted” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works [Moscow Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1951], Vol. II p. 252, emphasis in original.)
Marx further described the distinguishing characteristic of a petty-bourgeois political party that set it apart from a proletarian party:
The peculiar character of the Social-Democracy [a French petty-bourgeois "socialist" party formed in 1849] is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican insti tutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie. Only one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petty bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limit which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and the literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte pp. 249-50.)
Marx’s point in this is that it is near to impossible for any party to represent the interests of the petty bourgeoisie “more or less effectively”. It is the program of reconciling the interests of capital and labor that distinguishes all varieties of petty bourgeois parties, however revolutionary the methods by which they struggle to implement their proposals. The program of the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of being realized in life. The class struggle prevents the harmonious resolution of the conflicts between capital and labor. What comes to the fore in a petty bourgeois party insofar as it takes on social weight and becomes a real political force is a distorted effort to carry out in a partial way elements of the program of one or the other of the two basic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat And every petty boureois party of any size has done precisely that: vacillated between demands and struggles in the interests of the capitalists and struggles in the interests of the working class. This is because its own program for social reorganization cannot be carried out.
The program of the VCP and the Provisional Revolutionary Government that it leads have been and remain today petty bourgeois in precisely the sense that Marx used this term. On July 18, 1973, the PRG delegation to the two-party Paris conference for implementation of the January accords formally presented a resolution: “Basic regulations to ensure the South Vietnamese people’s democratic freedoms.” This resolution appeared in the July 30, 1973, issue of South Vietnam in Struggle, the “Central Organ of the South Viet Nam National Front for Liberation.” Article 20 reads:
Freedom of enterprise for private individuals shall be guaranteed.
The national bourgeoisie shall be encouraged to develop such undertaking[s] as [are] beneficial to the country’s economy and people’s welfare.
In an article entitled “On the coexistence of two South Vietnamese administrations”, published in the September 17, 1973, issue of South Vietnam in Struggle, Huynh Van Ly wrote that the PRG “stands for the protection of the legitimate right to landownership of plantation owners, rich peasants, the church, pagodas and temples.” He continued: “Conflicts between employers and workers will be settled through negotiations in the spirit of reconciliation so as to boost production and ensure decent living conditions for the working people.” The PRG, he wrote, “always respects the right to private ownership and free enterprise and encourages overseas Vietnamese nationals’ investments in home ventures as a contribution to national reconstruction, it encourages Vietnamese residents abroad and foreign capitalists to make investment in capital and technique.”
Is Stalinism petty bourgeois?
Rousset denies categorically that any party can be both Stalinist and petty bourgeois. “The Stalinist bureaucracy,” he writes, “defends collectivized production, and cannot be confused with the petty bourgeoisie defined by Marxists as a social class. It could be said of the Soviet bureaucracy that it is permeated with bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology. But it remains nevertheless a workers’ bureaucracy in the sense that its existence is tied to the workers’ state as well as to that state’s degeneration. This reasoning holds true also for a Stalinist party, with a largely petty bourgeois ideology, but tied both to the Soviet bureaucracy and to the organic development of the workers’ movement of its own country.
“No, the VCP cannot be at the same time Stalinist and petty bourgeois.”
We have shown that Rousset holds a view different from that of Marx as to how a political party “represents” a class (ie, through its “ideology” or program for the reorganization of society). In a parallel way, he takes a position different from that of Trotsky as to the nature of Stalinism. Rousset advances the thesis that if the Soviet Union is a workers’ state, it must be ruled by workers. The very term he uses to describe the Stalinist leadership – a “workers’ bureaucracy” – identifies it as part of the working class. It is tied, he says, “to the workers’ state, as well as to that state’s degeneration”. For Trotsky, however, the Stalinist bureaucracy was tied not only to the workers’ state but also to the continued existence of the world capitalist system.
The bureaucracy turns the hostility of the capitalist powers into an additional means of intimidating the working class. This balancing between classes is not a consequence of the bureaucracy’s ideology; but bureaucratic ideology derives from the social position of the ruling caste. In one of his basic articles on this question, The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism, written in February 1935, Trotsky said:
The Soviet bureaucracy – “Bolshevist” in its traditions but in reality having long since renounced its traditions, petty bourgeois in its composition and spirit – was summoned to regulate the antagonism between the proletariat and the peasantry, between the workers’ state and world imperialism. (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1934-35 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971, p180.)
Was Trotsky guilty of using epithets against his Stalinist opponents, or was his characterization scientifically accurate? Rousset perhaps imagines that in a workers' state only workers are to be found and hence Trotsky was light-minded in his choice of terms. However, let us recall that only the bourgeoisie and the big landholders were expropriated in the Russian Revolution. The peasantry and sectors of the city petty bourgeoisie remained as property holders.
Trotsky denied emphatically that the Soviet bureaucracy constituted a new ruling class, but he meant by that something very specific. His point was that whatever the social character and composition of the bureaucracy, it had not established a novel form of property relations in the Soviet Union. Nor had it established "state capitalism". Capitalist private property had not been restored, and hence the Soviet Union was not a capitalist country. Yet he denied that after Stalin's usurpation of power a sector of the proletariat administered the state. In The Revolution Betrayed he wrote:
The Soviet proletariat still exists as a class deeply distinct from the peasantry, the technical intelligentsia and the bureaucracy – and moreover as the sole class interested right up to the end in the victory of socialism. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970, p. 261.)
And in 1940, in response to Burnham and Shachtman's contention that a "bureaucratic collectivist" ruling class had arisen in the Soviet Union, Trotsky answered "We frequently call the Soviet bureaucracy a caste; underscoring thereby its shut-in character, its arbitrary rule, and the haughtiness of the ruling stratum ... the bureaucracy is not the bearer of a new system of economy peculiar to itself and impossible without itself, but is a parasitic growth on a workers' state.
"The Soviet oligarchy possesses all the vices of the old ruling classes but lacks their historical mission." (In Defense of Marxism, pp 6-7.)
The bureaucracy defends the nationalized property relations but in its own peculiar way – its privileged position comes first. It is a considerable error to assume that the privileges of the bureaucracy cannot come into conflict with the nationalized property relations. When Rousset tells us that "the Stalinist bureaucracy defends collectivized production", he should qualify this by adding that the bureaucracy is primarily interested in defending its special privileges and its monopoly on power. This leads it to oppose foreign imperialist invaders who would destroy the planned economy. But who defends the planned economy from the bureaucracy?
Just because a state remains a workers' state despite a dictatorial bureaucratic regime does not imply that it remains a workers' state because of the regime. In the Stalinized workers' states the massive repressive apparatus was created for the sole reason of suppressing proletarian democracy. This, in conjunction with its privileges, stamps the bureaucracy as a parasitic formation that blocks optimum development of the economy of the workers' state and in fact undermines it.
Trotsky had much to say on this. At the risk of being accused by Comrade Rousset of "orthodoxy", we call attention to the following typical statement:
Two opposite tendencies are growing up out of the depth of the Soviet regime. To the extent that, in contrast to a decaying capitalism, it develops the productive forces, it is preparing the economic basis for socialism. To the extent that, for the benefit of an upper stratum, it carries to more and more extreme expression bourgeois norms of distribution, it is preparing a capitalist restoration. This contrast between forms of property and norms of distribution cannot grow indefinitely. Either the bourgeois norm must in one form or another spread to the means of production, or the norms of distribution must be brought into correspondence with the socialist property system. (Revolution Betrayed, p 244.)
Trotsky did not believe that the bureaucracy had any intrinsic interest in preserving socialized property relations, as Rousset seems to think it does. As Trotsky put it: "Since of all strata of Soviet society the bureaucracy has best solved its own social problem, and is fully content with the existing situation, it has ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat." Revolution Betrayed, p 253.)
Far from seeing the bureaucracy as a proletarian tendency rooted in the nationalized property relations of the workers' state, Trotsky characterized it as a parasitic growth concerned only with its own privileges, adding his estimate that 'a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people [from the state apparatus] than a revolutionary party.” (Revolution Betrayed, p 253.) In the Transitional Program Trotsky made a more precise estimate of the internal makeup of the Soviet bureaucratic caste:
The public utterances of former foreign representatives of the Kremlin, who refused to return to Moscow, irrefutably confirm in their own way that all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko). The revolutionary elements within the bureaucracy, only a small minority, reflect, passively it is true, the socialist interests of the proletariat. The fascist, counter-revolutionary elements, growing uninterruptedly, express with ever greater consistency the interests of world imperialism. These candidates for the role of compradors consider, not without reason, that the new ruling layer can insure their positions of privilege only through rejection of nationalization, collectivization and monopoly of foreign trade in the name of the assimilation of “Western civilization”, ie, capitalism”. (The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], pp 102-03.)
It is tempting to consider the evidence that has accumulated in the decades since then, showing how accurate Trotsky’s analysis of the social and political nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy was. Let us proceed, however, to the question of what label to apply to parties like the VCP.
Trotsky regarded the parties that followed the Kremlin as petty bourgeois formations like their parent body in the Soviet Union. Such parties were even less subject to pressure from the working class, he said, when they followed the course chosen by the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs and abandoned work among the proletariat in order to lead peasant struggles. Trotsky developed this analysis in his article Peasant War in China and the Proletariat written in September 1932. There he wrote of the Chinese experience, which was paralleled by that of the VCP in its turn to the peasantry:
The fact that individual Communists are in the leadership of the present [rural-based, peasant] armies does not at all transform the social character of these armies, even if their Communist leaders bear a definite proletarian stamp. And how do matters stand in China?
Among the Communist leaders of Red detachments there indubitably are many declassed intellectuals and semi-intellectuals who have not gone through the school of proletarian struggle … They absorb the spirit of their environment. Meanwhile the majority of the rank-and-file Communists in the Red detachments unquestionably consists of peasants, who assume the name Communist in all honesty and sincerity but who in actuality remain revolutionary paupers or revolutionary petty proprietors. In politics he who judges by denominations and labels and not by social facts is lost. All the more so when the politics concerned is carried out arms in hand. (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1932 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], pp 194-95.)
Note that Trotsky did not express any surprise at the appearance in China of peasant armies led by “declassed intellectuals” that struggled against the Chiang Kai-shek government “arms in hand”. For him the determining factors were the program and class composition of the Chinese CP and its peasant detachments. And this could be measured concretely and with certainty, aside from what such a peasant army might be capable of doing under exceptional circumstances. The Maoist forces, Trotsky wrote, were “peasant in composition and petty bourgeois in leadership” (Peasant War in China and the Proletariat, p 196) and “the Chinese Stalinists … passed over from the proletariat to the peasantry, ie, they undertook that role which was fulfilled in our country by the SRs when they were still a revolutionary party … The [Chinese Communist] party actually tore itself away from its class.” ( Peasant War in China and the Proletariat, p 197)
Thus we see that Rousset’s irony is misdirected when he asks whether a party can be both Stalinist and petty bourgeois. For Trotsky, Stalinism was, like the Social Democracy and anarchism, a petty-bourgeois current. We added the adjective “petty-bourgeois” to the word quite deliberately. It was to emphasize a point placed in question by Rousset’s attribution of a proletarian character to the Stalinist bureaucracy that does not correspond to its real social nature.
Petty bourgeois political formations whose base lies in the trade unions or among workers in general can loosely be termed “workers” parties. But for Marxists the real class character of a party is determined by the class whose interests the party serves, as indicated by its program and its course of action. Lenin, after 1914, termed the Social Democrats “agents of the bourgeoisie” in the workers’ movement and the British Labour Party a “bourgeois” party. Nevertheless he advocated the tactic of voting for such parties under certain circumstances in order to hasten exposing the alien class nature of the leadership before their proletarian membership. In the process of the election campaign Lenin expected that members of such parties could be won to revolutionary positions, or their petty bourgeois leaders could be forced to break with the overtly capitalist parties, opening a dynamic of independent political action that would bring a revolutionary leadership to the fore.
There is one other sense in which the term “workers’ party” is used in referring to petty bourgeois tendencies operating among the workers. This is in mounting a common defense against capitalist repression. Frequently the capitalist state will direct repressive blows at an organization whose members are workers but whose leaders have a program of conciliation with capitalism. The aim of the capitalist rulers is generally not so much to eliminate the reformists as to strike at the proletariat through them. Thus revolutionary socialists call for defense of the “workers’ movement”, including the Stalinists, Social Democrats, and trade union bureaucrats, when any sector of the labor movement comes under capitalist attack, however procapitalist their leaders may be.
Can petty-bourgeois parties lead prolonged armed struggles?
Comrade Rousset ironically asks how “a socialist revolution” could possibly go through “30 years of almost ceaseless revolutionary armed struggle” if the party at its head were not a socialist party. Do we imagine, he asks rhetorically, that “there are only the ‘leadership’ (responsible for all the problems) and the ‘masses’ (responsible for all the victories)”? In this way he implies that it stands to reason that the VCP consciously moved toward creating a workers’ state in North Vietnam after 1954. We will return later to the question of how the economic transformation in North Vietnam occurred. First let us consider whether a non-socialist party can lead a prolonged revolutionary war.
Rousset’s formulation of the problem includes a flaw that enables him to equate two completely different things. He identifies the victory for socialism, which came only after 1954 in the North (and which the NLF still says it opposes in the South today), with the anti-imperialist struggle against the Japanese, the French, and the Americans, which was fought on an explicitly procapitalist program of the kind we quoted earlier from recent statements of the PRG. Rousset sees no contradiction because for him the VCP leaders do not believe their procapitalist program and the real proof that they have socialist objectives is their engagement in armed struggle.
Even if it were true that the VCP has a secret socialist program that it intends to carry out after it wins governmental power, it is obvious that the real anti-imperialist war has been fought for 30 years under a program limited to the expulsion of the foreign aggressor and the maintenance of capitalist property relations in both the cities and the countryside. It is thus possible to carry out an anti-imperialist struggle for a long time under a petty bourgeois program.
Rousset seems to think that a petty bourgeois party is inherently incapable of the sustained effort require to stay at the head of such a prolonged anti-imperialist list war. His section entitled “A petty-bourgeois party?” is limited to four paragraphs that advance a simple argument. He quotes Trotsky to the effect that petty bourgeois parties based on the peasantry can retain the appearance of independence only in humdrum periods, but “when the revolutionary crisis of society puts the fundamental questions of property on the order of the day” they automatically become tools in the hand of the bourgeoisie. Rousset then asks triumphantly, “Was the situation in Vietnam stable or humdrum for the last 50 years?” End of argument; end of section.
Rousset overlooks the fact that Trotsky, who was referring to the Russian October Revolution, was talking about a crisis over the “fundamental question of property,” ie, a socialist revolution. The VCP throughout most of its history has denied that socialism is the objective of its struggle, as witness the recent declaration of the PRG. Rousset confuses a patriotic war against a foreign aggressor, fought under a program of protecting the existing property relations, with a social revolution, which usually lasts only days or weeks, the outcome being determined by the enactment of measures overturning property relations. Trotsky could not have predicted the particular pattern in the aftermath of World War II that brought petty-bourgeois parties to overstep their previous historical limits, just as Lenin could not have predicted the rise of Stalinism in the aftermath of the setbacks to the world revolution is the early 1920s. Responsibility for the thesis that the longer the struggle, the more conscious, proletarian and socialist-minded must be its leadership, belongs to Rousset, not Trotsky.
Rousset argues that “the primary characteristic of the Vietnamese and Indochinese revolutions is the extent and duration of the imperialist intervention … This imperialist intervention, then, by its importance, eliminates the particular or momentary characteristics that could have provoked a ‘surprise’ victory for the revolution.
“For these reasons … we can say that all the considerations that justify, for Marxist theory, the necessity of a revolutionary party are especially present in th case of Vietnam … If despite all that the VCP cannot be characterized as a revolutionary party, then the whole Marxist theory of the party deserves to be re-examined from this point of view.”
Before concluding that years of participation in prolonged wars of liberation makes one a socialist we ought first to weigh a few items. What kind of forces have led such wars in the past? Vietnam itself comes immediately to mind. Rousset limits himself to the struggle of the last 50 years. But isn’t it a fact that Vietnam has been fighting for its independence for the greater part of the last 1000 years without benefit of Marxist parties or even a working class?
In the epoch of imperialism, such independence struggles are progressive and are supported by Marxists, but, as Rousset reminds us, the art of politics includes the capacity to make distinctions. Let us remind him of just a few of the prolonged anti-imperialist struggles consciously led by non-socialist tendencies in this century. We might begin with the Mexican revolution of 1910-17. While Pancho Villa and Emilia no Zapata were not socialists or working-class leaders it would hardly be useful or instructive to label them tools of the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, in the final analysis it was their inability to turn the Mexican revolution into socialist channels that led to its defeat.
Spanish Morocco provides another example, where the Rifs under the leadership of Abd-el-Krim successfully battled Spanish imperialism from 1921 to 1926, when they were finally overwhelmed. Significant anti-imperialist struggles were carried out under feudal leadership in Ethiopia against the Italians and under the bourgeoisie in Kuomintang China against the Japanese.
The postwar period saw the upsurge of a colonial revolution that brought to the fore a multiplicity of bourgeois nationalist and petty bourgeois parties that engaged in battles for national independence. Some of the most prolonged and deep-going of these wars were led by indisputably non-proletarian leaderships, and yet were victorious against the imperialists, as in the Indonesian war for independence of 1945-49, the Algerian independence war of 1954-62, and the Cuban guerrilla struggle of 1956-59.
In every one of these cases the parties involved would have satisfied Rousset’s criteria for a national revolutionary socialist (“empirical revolutionary”) party in that despite their pro-capitalist program they proved their capacity to provide conscious leadership for a long revolutionary war against imperialism. But in every case the liberation war was either defeated or ended in the creation of a bourgeois government – except Cuba. Thus when Rousset concludes that program and class composition can be discounted if a party’s “practice” includes prolonged armed struggle against imperialism we must strongly disagree. Such an approach can only lead to painting up all kinds of non-socialist currents and tagging after them on the sole criterion of their proven capacity to engage in armed struggle.
It should not be forgotten for a moment that we are dealing here with peasant wars. This is what brought both Mao and Ho Chi Minh to power. In neither China nor North Vietnam was the working class involved as the leading protagonist. We would agree with Rousset that the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs, with certain important hesitations and backslidings, provided organizational leadership to the peasant struggles. But Rousset should recall that peasant wars are not inherently socialist and that they have been fought for centuries under petty bourgeois leaderships.
One of the greatest of these struggles in all history took place in relatively modern times when the Taiping peasant rebellion succeeded in the course of a15-year war between 1850 and 1864 in capturing as much as a third of the territory of China. It never occurred to Marx to see an implicitly socialist or working-class content in this rebellion or to deny that a petty-bourgeois leadership could mount such an impressive struggle. He may in fact have underestimated the progressive content of the rebellion, but at least he was not disoriented as to what class forces were involved. In 1862 he wrote:
the Oriental empires present us with permanent changelessness in the social substructure and restless change among the persons and tribes that seize the political superstructure. Why should there not be a movement for the overthrow of this dynasty after 300 years? … Original in this Chinese revolution are only its protagonists. They are aware of no tasks, except the change of the dynasty. They have no slogans. Their goal seems to be only to assert, in contrast to the conservative marasmus, destruction in grotesque repulsive forms, destruction without any germ of a new formation … After 10 years of noisy pseudo-activity they have destroyed everything and produced nothing. (Things Chinese, Die Presse, Vienna, July 7, 1862, in Marx and Engels Werke, Vol. XV [Berlin: 1951], pp. 514 ff., cited by Karl Wittfogel, The Marxist View of China, China Quarterly, July-September 1962.)
Is it possible for a nonsocialist, petty-bourgeois organization to make a socialist revolution? If it is possible, how does it occur? And what attitude should Marxists take toward such currents?
Petty-bourgeois parties and socialist revolution
Rousset’s central argument, although he does not develop it consistently, is that a socialist revolution can only be made by a working-class party that knows what it is doing. He considers it to be a revision of Marxism to suggest that a non-socialist, petty bourgeois party can under certain circumstances overturn capitalism. A real problem underlies Rousset’s argumentation. What he is attempting to offer is an explanation of genuinely new phenomena in world politics: the postwar social overturns in Eastern Europe, China, North Vietnam and Cuba in the absence of revolutionary Marxist parties. His explanation, however, raises more questions than it answers.
The Trotskyist movement was founded in the battle against the Stalinist degeneration of the first workers’ state. It sought to regroup within the Fourth International all those who aspire to make socialist revolutions, and who are convinced of the correctness of Lenin’s view that victory demands the creation of a conscious proletarian leadership firmly organised in a combat party. With the overturn of capitalism in Yugoslavia and the creation of workers’ states in Eastern Europe after World War II our movement was confronted with the need to examine whether these premises still held true, whether independent Trotskyist parties were required in making future socialist revolutions, and whether Trotsky’s analysis of the nature of Stalinism was correct.
If it were true that Stalinism or its offshoots consciously aimed at advancing the world revolution, then it would be false to view the Fourth International as the only conscious revolutionary socialist organization.
There was no question about the counter-revolutionary character of Stalinism before the war and during it. The problem was the enigmatic overturns of capitalist structures in various parts of the world following the Soviet victory. How were these to be explained? Had Trotsky been wrong after all? Was Stalinism at least partly revolutionary?
The Fourth International sought to closely analyze the events in Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia to discover their real meaning, the likelihood of the pattern being repeated, and what the answers to these questions meant for our own relations with Stalinist parties or parties that might have “broken” with Stalinism.
A possible explanation of the abolition of capitalist property relations in Eastern Europe was that the bureaucratic caste in driving back the Nazi invaders was acting in self-defense. The bureaucracy merely extended to adjacent occupied regions the property relations of the Soviet state on which it existed as a parasite. This explanation was largely true, but it missed some important aspects of the process. It tended to assume that the Soviet bureaucracy was capable of such actions only in occupied countries that it intended to incorporate into the Soviet Union on the model of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Second, by seeing the military occupation by the Soviet army as the decisive factor the overturns were viewed as defensive measures associated solely with the military resistance to German imperialism. This would preclude a repetition of the process elsewhere.
The Yugoslav CP came to power by leading an anti-Nazi partisan struggle on its own. Consequently it was regarded separately, being viewed by the Fourth International as a “centrist” party that had broken with Stalinism. This definition seemed plausible because of its working-class base as well as its leadership in a struggle that ended in a socialist revolution. But, except for a brief period after the public break with Stalin in 1948, this party proved to be as repressive of workers’ democracy as most of the openly Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe. It adopted the most right-wing international positions of any of the workers’ states, even supporting the US imperialist aggression in Korea. The break with Stalin had evidently not signified a break with his methods, including those used to promote the growth of a privileged bureaucratic caste on the Soviet model.
A closer look at Eastern Europe suggested some important modifications in the preliminary analyses of the process there as well. More was involved than the victory over German imperialism and the occupation of the region by the Soviet army. Stalin, while exercising rigid control over the ruling parties just as he had over out-of-power Stalinist parties in other countries, did not bring these countries into the Soviet Union. Moreover, the change in property relations did not come immediately after the defeat of the German imperialist armies. For several years Stalin sought to hold the masses in check and retain capitalist governmental and property forms after the Soviet occupation. The actual abolition of capitalism came in response to the Col.d War launched by Churchill and Truman and the transformation was not carried out directly by the Soviet occupying forces but by local Stalinist parties, backed up by Soviet troops.
Some broader conclusions were called for. The Cold War was a decisive element in the final overturn of capitalism in the Eastern European countries. World War II had ended by shattering the power of the old colonial empires and most of European capitalism. Any mass revolutionary party, empirical or otherwise, had unprecedented opportunities. Stalin, however, sought to preserve the wartime detente with US imperialism. When Washington turned on him in 1946-47, the Kremlin made a left turn. In reply to Truman’s atom-bomb diplomacy, Stalin sought to put pressure on imperialism by giving an impulse to the class struggle. The turn coincided with revolutionary currents that were still running high in the aftermath of the war. In the Far East this facilitated victories for both the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs.
The limits to Stalin’s turn should not be forgotten. He did not call on his followers to fight for socialism but to drive out the imperialists and establish bourgeois coalition governments. This they sought to do. Moreover, even these limited “bourgeois revolutions” were encouraged solely as a bargaining point with imperialism, to be halted whenever imperialism gave the signal that it was willing to drop its atom-bomb diplomacy and reach a “peaceful coexistence” deal. In practice, of course, it is not so easy to turn off a mass struggle without risks greater than those involved in continuing to fight.
Seen from this perspective the course of the Stalinist parties becomes understandable. In the light of subsequent events, it is also understandable why the pattern is not likely to be repeated. This is not to absolutely exclude the possibility of a Stalinist or petty-bourgeois nationalist party ever again establishing a workers’ state. The decay of capitalism is too advanced to rule it out completely. But the constellation of forces that enabled such parties to substitute to a degree for the working class and for a conscious Leninist party is now a thing of the past.
Rousset does not bring into consideration the Kremlin’s response to the Cold War. He does not even mention it. Instead he offers an abstract thesis: Stalinism cannot make a revolution, hence the overturns in Eastern Europe and North Korea were not revolutions. Revolutions occurred in China and North Vietnam, hence the parties that made them could not have been Stalinist. This set of definitions leads to some serious theoretical difficulties. Rousset is compelled to maintain that the overturns of capitalism in six nations of Eastern Europe and in North Korea, where Soviet troops were involved, were not really revolutions at all – they were examples of Stalinism upholding the international status quo. On the other hand, he is forced to argue that the revolutions in China and Vietnam “began to bypass this status quo”. The difference, he insists, “is qualitative”. Not just quantitative? The qualitative distinction, if it exists, ought to be explained.
Next he wrestles with the problem of how and when the peasant-based Chinese and Vietnamese CPs became “workers’ parties”, a necessary character, according to his premises, if they abolished capitalism. But these parties were of Stalinist origin and are still part of the world Stalinist movement. This fact in turn compels Rousset to abandon Trotsky’s sociological characterization of the Soviet ruling caste as a parasitic formation and to identify the Stalinist bureaucracy with the workers’ state. Thus Stalinism is transformed from a petty-bourgeois social formation with a petty-bourgeois program into a proletarian current that transmits a proletarian essence to Stalinist parties around the world, even those whose members are “declassed intellectuals” and peasants.
But the problem then arises of explaining how it was that in both China and North Vietnam these allegedly revolutionary workers’ parties preserved capitalist property relations for several years after the seizure of power and set up coalition governments with the participation of splinter bourgeois parties. For Rousset, this presents no difficulty. He offers another theoretical novelty: a workers’ state based on capitalist property relations. After all, he says of China in 1949, “Everybody defined it as a workers’ state.” “Everybody” in this case did not include either the Chinese Communist Party, which called China capitalist until 1956, or the Fourth International, which held that the class character of states is determined by the ownership of the means of production and not by the self-proclaimed proletarian credentials of the ruling party. In May of 1952, almost three years after the Maoists took governmental power, a resolution passed by the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International described Mao’s China as ruled by a “workers’ and peasants’ government”, a designation used here in the sense it was employed by the Communist International – to indicate a regime that had taken anticapitalist measures but had not broken definitively either politically or economically from the capitalist system. We will return to this question.
The final blow to Rousset’s theoretical innovations comes with the Cuban revolution. Here a leadership came to power on the basis of a program limited to capitalist reform and in coalition with bourgeois political figures. Moreover, this leadership, looking back later at its origin, characterized itself as “petty bourgeois”. Yet this grouping succeeded in carrying out a social overturn. What remains of Comrade Rousset’s ambitious theoretical construction?
A different line of approach
The Socialist Workers Party began rather early to look in a different direction from the one taken by Rousset to explain the postwar revolutions that led to socialist outcomes. The SWP noted that in China the CP, which had supposedly broken from Stalinism, conducted itself in power strikingly like the Stalinist CPSU. It fostered a privileged social hierarchy, based on the already authoritarian command structure of its peasant armies. It sought peaceful coexistence with imperialism and with the neocolonialist bourgeoisies. Its only supposed distinction from Stalinism was that it had overthrown capitalism. But hadn’t Stalin and the East European CPs also overthrown capitalism on a large scale? Had the Chinese revolution really “qualitatively” transformed the Chinese CP? Why, then, did it continue to act like other Stalinist parties in power, and why did a bureaucratic caste like the one in the USSR appear in China?
The principal writings on these questions in the Socialist Workers Party have been those of Joseph Hansen. He was, with Michel Pablo and Bert Cochran, among the first in the world Trotskyist movement to recognize that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe had resulted in nationalizations that in principle made these countries workers’ states. Hansen did not make this assessment conditional on the assumption that these states were being assimilated into the Soviet Union and he did not categorically exclude the possibility that Stalinist parties could under exceptional circumstances make revolutions elsewhere. He did not assume in an a priori way that the Chinese revolution proved that the Chinese CP had ceased to be a Stalinist party. The appearance of a bureaucratic caste in China after the revolution confirmed the correctness of this approach. The Cuban revolution, the first since the Russian Revolution to be made by a non-Stalinist party – but also by a party that did not even claim to be socialist – finally dissipated any mystification on the character of these revolutionary upheavals. The key is contained not, as Rouset supposes, in the question of the party or in the extension of Soviet property forms, but in the deepening world crisis of capitalism and the contradictory character of petty bourgeois political groups.
Let us go back, then, to the characteristics enumerated by Marx as defining a petty-bourgeois party. He held this was a formation that attempted, sometimes by revolutionary means, to institute a system that would harmonize the interests of capital and labor. In general, as we know from experience, such groups, incapable of realizing their program in life, end on the side of the bourgeoisie in a revolution. But, inasmuch as they are pulled also in the other direction, the question arises: can they under certain circumstances go the other way? Trotsky held open this possibility, even if Rousset thinks otherwise.
In the Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, which was drawn up by Trotsky in the light of a century of revolutionary experience, the slogan of a “workers’ and farmers’ government” is advanced. Such a government must be distinguished from either a capitalist government or a workers’ state. It is “acceptable to us”, Trotsky wrote, “only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, ie, as an anti-bourgeois and anticapitalist slogan, but in no case in that ‘democratic’ sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path”. (The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], p 94.)
Trotsky defines such a government as “independent of the bourgeoisie”. Yet he does not insist that only a revolutionary workers’ party is capable of taking such a step. “Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows … that this is to say the least highly improbable. However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc) the petty bourgeois parties including the Stalinists may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted; even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the workers’ and farmers’ government in the abovementioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Transitional Program, p 95, emphasis added.)
Trotsky assumed that in the unlikely event that a petty bourgeois party went this far, ousting the bourgeoisie from power and replacing the bourgeois regime by a “workers’ and farmers’ government” made up of petty-bourgeois parties, a revolutionary Marxist party would in short order be able to displace the petty bourgeois regime and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. But what if repression had blocked the construction of a revolutionary Marxist party? Was it excluded that the petty bourgeois party holding government power could go further?
For such a petty-bourgeois government to have come to power at all would require conditions of mass upheaval so profound as to sweep away the bourgeois government and reduce its armed forces to a mere shell if not to complete impotence. While such a petty bourgeois government would try to restrict its program to reforms of the system, the fall of the old regime would release tremendous energies among the workers and peasants and throw them into direct conflict with their former oppressors, not only on the level of theory and program but concretely in the streets, on the land, and in the factories. Even a Stalinist party, with all its capacity to resist and stifle mass pressure, would have to choose within a short time of winning governmental power between a confrontation with the masses and accession to their anticapitalist demands. This does not imply that such a party tends in general to become a transmission belt for the desires of the masses, but that at a crucial point its leaders may choose the risks of conceding to mass pressures in preference to the threat of being swept aside. A workers’ and farmers’ government is a highly precarious regime that must move forward to the abolition of capitalism or make a full-scale capitulation to capitalism in a relatively short period of time.
The extreme dislocation of former colonial regimes at the end of World War II, the temporary political vacuum that permitteed the entrenchment of petty bourgeois nationalist or Stalinist leaderships, and finally, the short-lived Stalinist “left turn” after 1946-47 provided the conditions in which the otherwise highly improbable variant of workers’ states, formed under petty bourgeois leaderships that held government power, came to be realised in a number of countries.
The underlying dynamic of the postwar victories
Rousset abstracts the role of the VCP in the liberation struggles of the last 30 years from the world situation in which these struggles took place. By leaving out the collapse of the old colonial empires, the worldwide upsurge of the colonial revolution under the most diverse leaderships, and the breach in the wartime alliance between the Allied imperialist powers and the Soviet Union, with the resulting left turn of the Stalinist parties, Rousset is able to magnify the role of the VCP in keeping up the battle of the Vietnamese masses for independence. He accuses us of overestimating the initiative of the masses, but this is simply cover for his diametrically opposed error: for him the VCP is a virtually autonomous force without which the masses could not have carried out the postwar anti-imperialist resistance. This misses some fundamental characteristics of the colonial revolutions, which were summarized very well in the world political resolution, Dynamics of World Revolution Today, adopted unanimously by the reunification congress of the Fourth International in 1963.
From the close of World War II, and most noticeably after the victory of the Chinese Revolution, continual mass movements have drawn one backward country after another into the process of permanent revolution. The general causes of this wave are to be found in the weakening of the old colonial powers during and after World War II; the attraction exercised by the advances of the Soviet Union and especially the new China; the dawning mass awareness of the wretched material and moral conditions throughout these countries; the power displayed by the movement for national independence and its identification in the eyes of the masses with the possibility of overcoming misery, low living standards, low cultural levels, and exploitation and oppression of all kinds; the worsening of the international terms of trade for the countries exporting raw materials, especially since the end of the Korean war boom; the contrast between the enormous economic expansion of all the industrialized countries and the near stagnation (or lowering) of the standard of living of the masses in most of the colonial and semicolonial countries in the past decade …
Basically, the colonial revolution is the irrepressible tendency of these two billion human beings to become at last the masters and builders of their own destiny. The fact that this is socially possible only through a workers’ state provides the objective basis for the tendency of the colonial revolution to move into the tracks of permanent revolution.
The document pointed to the reasons for the apparent capacity of the colonial peoples, even with extremely inadequate leadership, to fight longer and recover faster from defeats than the proletariat in the advanced countries:
In the colonial and semicolonial countries … the very weakness of capitalism, the whole peculiar socioeconomic structure produced by imperialism, the permanent misery of the the big majority of the population in the absence of a radical agrarian revolution, the stagnation and even reduction of living standards while industrialization nevertheless proceeds relatively rapidly, create situations in which the failure of one revolutionary wave does not lead automatically to relative or even temporary social or economic stabilization. A seemingly inexhaustible succession of mass struggles continues, such as Bolivia has experienced for 10 years. The weakness of the enemy offers the revolution fuller means of recovery from temporary defeats than is the case in imperialist countries … The weakness of the enemy in the backward countries has opened the possibility of coming to power even with a blunted instrument. The strength of the enemy in the imperialist countries demands a tool of much greater perfection. (International,SocialistReview, Fall 1963, p 115.)
Rousset anticipates this argument by pointing to the extraordinary fierceness of the US imperialist aggression in Vietnam. Surely we are not going to say that the Vietnamese revolution has been characterized by any “weakness of the enemy”! This objection betrays lack of political insight. It is a grave error – Rousset is not alone in this – to estimate the relationship of forces between opposing camps in purely military terms.
In the eight-year struggle by the Algerian masses against French imperialism a militarily inferior force defeated a protracted and fierce imperialist intervention. In addition to the foreign troops, the Algerian resistance – led by the nonsocialist FLN – had to face a million French colonists constituting 10 per cent of the population. The struggle disclosed that even the most massive imperialist intervention can be undermined politically. The appearance of a foreign invader completely discredits local collaborators and rapidly dispels any illusions that imperialism will improve the conditions of life of the toilers. The most apolitical peasant or worker experiences at first hand the ferocity of the foreign army.
“Weakness” in a revolution is weighed more by political criteria than by military ones. If it were otherwise not only would socialist revolution be impossible but so would independence struggles of any kind against a potentially superior military force.
If the petty bourgeois July 26 Movement in Cuba could under the conditions indicated above make a socialist revolution, what grounds exist to exclude similar victories by other “blunted instruments” under the given historical circumstances?
In our opinion Rousset’s readiness to discount the program of certain Stalinist parties because victories were won after all is evidence of fallacious reasoning. In his view the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs won because their programs were only facades; and because they won it can be taken that they were not Stalinist parties. In reality, they won in spite of the fact that they believed in their programs. It is an orderly arrangement to place the victorious Stalinist parties in one filing cabinet and the failed and defeated ones in another, but in drawing a correct balance sheet of world Stalinism both must be taken together.
As petty bourgeois parties, the Stalinists seek to advance their political fortunes by winning the leadership of bourgeois democratic struggles, which they attempt to prevent from going over to transitional or socialist demands. In most cases they participate in these struggles with reformist methods. In periods of war, civil war, or foreign invasion, however, they are capable of using more resolute means to retain their leadership. Thus we see the CP participation in the French Resistance, the organization of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese CP’s participation in the patriotic war against Japan in political alliance with Chiang Kai-shek, and the VCP’s commitment to the anti-imperialist struggle in Vietnam.
In the colonial countries, the CP attempts to carry out the program of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. To do so it seeks an alliance with the bourgeoisie, to which it tries to cede the power and political leadership if this can be negotiated. In Indonesia this proved perfectly possible and the CP fought side-by-side with Sukarno’s nationalists. It interrupted this collaboration briefly in 1948 during the worldwide Kremlin-ordered left turn in resistance to Truman’s aggressive cold war. But with Sukarno firmly in the saddle, the Indonesian CP resumed the collaboration, which it continued uncritically until it was slaughtered by the Indonesian army in 1965. We must remember that this was a Maoist party that had “broken” with the Kremlin to follow the supposedly non-Stalinist Chinese CP.
The key element in the coming to power of one of these parties is not its conscious decision to fight its own bourgeoisie but either the refusal of the bourgeoisie to collaborate (China) or the weakness and totally proimperialist character of the “national” bourgeoisie (Vietnam). Thus the willingness of a Stalinist party to participate in or even lead a prolonged revolutionary struggle for bourgeois democratic demands does not at all automatically lead to a socialist victory. That step depends on wholly unpredictable actions by the bourgeoisie or on its near nonexistence – conditions that are quite exceptional
But If these parties are petty bourgeois, is it not inevitable that even in governmental power they will simply retain bourgeois property relations? It is likely but not inevitable. Here in a negative way some basic elements of the theory of permanent revolution are proved. Trotsky held that the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution such as land reform and industrialization in the colonial and semiedonial areas cannot be carried out on the basis of capitalist property relations in the age of imperialism. Hence he predicted that the national bourgeoisie would side with imperialism against any kind of revolution, bourgeois or socialist. A “two-stage” revolution based on a period of capitalist prosperity is excluded.
What happens, though, when a party that is neither bourgeois nor proletarian comes to power under a program that supports the preservation of capitalist property but also calls for sweeping bourgeois democratic reforms, such as land reform? Obviously such a party in power is going to have to discard one or the other part of its program, as it cannot carry out both at once. Historic experience has now demonstrated that such a government – a “workers’ and farmers’ government” – can turn the power it holds against bourgeois property relations and the state structure resting on them.
Cuba provided the clearest example of a workers and farmers’ government undertaking a course of action that ended in toppling capitalism. Almost a year and a half passed between the destruction of Batista’s army and the crucial nationalizations, carried out in response to pressure from the US, that established Cuba as a workers’ state. In China, the nationalizations undertaken in 1953 under pressure from the American aggression in Korea and bourgeois sabotage of the economy marked the crucial turning point establishing a workers state there.
In Algeria a similar process ended differently. The workers’ and farmers’ government headed by Ben Bella did not carry the nationalizations forward; the bourgeoisie was able to strengthen its positions, topple Ben Bella in 1965, and shore up the capitalist state. This establishment of a workers’ and farmers’ government obviously does not guarantee the establishment of the workers’ state. The process can be halted and reversed
It is one thing for the Fourth International to recognize the fact that petty bourgeois parties under certain circumstances have been capable of winning governmental power and of trying to retain it by establishing propery forms based on the Soviet model. It is quite another to attribute these events to a program being followed by the Stalinists or other petty bourgeois groups. These formations are deployed in accordance with Moscow’s diplomatic needs, are rankly opportunistic, or – as it the case of the Cubans – dangerously short-sighted. The innumerable cases in which they have betrayed must also be kept in mind.
This is not an academic question. For Rousset, the VCP and the Maoists, having transformed themselves in to “empirical revolutionary parties”, will act along lines as predictable as revolutionary Marxist parties strictly adhering to program. He seems to expect that they will act as an adequate substitute for revolutionary Marxist parties in an unknown number of countries. He set no limitations. Is it possible that they will make the world revolution and abolish capitalism everywhere?
In fact the pattern involving such parties, in which capitalism was toppled as an unexpected by-product of bourgeois democratic liberation struggles, and under leadership other than that of the proletariat and a revolutionary Marxist party, appears for the most part to have run its course. Of all the petty-bourgeois parties, the Stalinists were in the best position to head bourgeois democratic liberation movements because of the prestige of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
But the willingness of the Stalinist parties to serious engage in anti-imperialist struggles, much less to abolish capitalism if they win, was predicated on conditions that are no longer operative. Let us enumerate some of them:
1. While imperialism has not stabilized the colonial world, the extreme dislocation of the immediate postwar period is over. In every single case where a Stalinist party took power, it was in a country that had been completely or in part under Axis occupation and the occupation government had collapsed entirely with the defeat of Germany and Japan, leaving a power vacuum. This is no longer true. Where the Stalinists were often the best-organized force in the underground anti-Japanese resistance and emerged as the most powerful party, today bourgeois neocolonial regimes have been established everywhere except in the Portuguese colonies. This means that except in the case of a direct imperialist intervention as in Vietnam, the Stalinists and petty-bourgeois nationalists must take a stand from the very beginning toward local bourgeois parties and governments. A procapitalist program will lead to early and sure defeat at the hands of bourgeois “allies”.
2. We are not in a period of cold war, in which the Kremlin or Peking might encourage their supporters around the world to enter anti-imperialist struggles. Just the opposite. The signing of the Vietnam accords in January 1973 was the consummation of a new detente that will strongly influence the Stalinist parties everywhere to keep the peace with imperialism. Of course, agreements at the top cannot stifle the class struggle or, in the long run, mitigate the fundamental hostility of imperialism to the very existence of the workers’ states. But Stalinism fights only when its survival is palpably at stake. Stalin, even after the heroic resistance of the Soviet people to the Nazi invasion, sought – with the collaboration of both the Chinese and Vietnamese CPs, we might add – to prevent the emergence of new workers’ states at the end of World War II. The Cold War led him to go further than he originally intended in Eastern Europe and to countenance a Chinese CP struggle on a scale that led to victory.
The development of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union placed certain restraints on plans for another imperialist invasion. Moscow has turned this to account in pursuing its policy of “peaceful coexistence”. The fact is that not a single Stalinist party anywhere in the world has undertaken a major new armed struggle that did not already have its beginnings in the war or early postwar period. Indochina is the last of these hot spots.
3. With the strengthening of the neocolonialist bourgeoisie and a detente with US imperialism that now includes Peking, other petty-bourgeois leaderships have not shown any general capacity to carry their struggles through to the point of creating workers’ states. The Cuban revolution showed that this variant is possible, but the failure of any other similar group to repeat the experience in 15 years suggests that it is quite exceptional.
4. The increasing industrialization of the colonial world, a’though distorted and limited by imperialist dependency, has tended to increase the size and weight of the proletariat in most colonial countries. This, and the failure of attempts to artificially spark peasant wars in many countries, either on the Cuban guerrilla model or through efforts to duplicate the village organization of the VCP, has tended to shift the focus of colonial upsurges back towards the proletarian centers. This provides new opportunities for revolutionary Marxists to build mass proletarian parties capable of guiding the struggle to socialist victories.
Finally on this point. The bourgeois revolutions against feudalism were made piecemeal, country by country without a conscious leadership that understood what it was seeking to accomplish. Marxists have excluded the possibility of a similar “unconscious” process overthrowing capitalism. However, the example of the Soviet Union’s rapid growth and ability to resist imperial invasion had a qualitative effect in attracting the colonial masses. It brought even petty bourgeois leaderships, including the Stalinists themselves, to occasionally go further than they intended and, under mass pressure, follow the Soviet example of eliminating capitalism. But in the upheaval after World War II, the greatest revolutionary convulsion of this century, this pattern was to be seen in only a few countries. It may never occur again. In the age of nuclear weapons, where no workers’ state is secure as long as imperialism remains anywhere on the planet, a world socialist revolution is is essential to human survival. It cannot be made by a slow accretion of isolated, national revolutions lacking conscious socialist guidance. A world party is needed with a conscious strategy aimed at overthrowing capitalism where it is the most threatening to human life: in the United States and Western Europe.
We have considered Rousset’s theory at length because without an explanation of terms and assumptions it is difficult to discuss what we mean when we say the Vietnamese CP is Stalinist. As we said before, even within this general analysis of the character of Stalinism and Stalinist parties it is not theoretically excluded that some such organization could re-evaluate its program, break with Stalinism and draw revolutionary socialist conclusions. Unfortunately, Rousset’s case for this having actually happened in Vietnam its not more convincing than his theoretical position.
II. The practice of the Vietnamese Communist Party
The 1945 revolution and world Stalinism
Although Comrade Rousset admits in passing that “the VCP has greatly retarded the development the Vietnamese revolution, and indeed has held it back in several instances (see the history of the agrarian reform), blunting the true scope of the class struggle of the colonial revolution in many instances”, these generalizations find little echo elsewhere in his writings on Vietnam. He stresses a contrary thesis: “Even a cursory examination of the Vietnamese revolution shows that the role of the VCP was active and decisive in assuring its successes.”
Rousset restricts his criticisms of the VCP’s activity its support in the 1930s for the Popular Front in France, its self-decreed dissolution in 1945, the murder of Trotskyists, and its tardiness in adopting what Rousset terms the radical agrarian reform of 1953. He also discusses problem of bureaucratization in North Vietnam, generally absolving the ruling party of responsibility.
Even in these instances, Rousset tries to put the VCP policy in the most favorable light. In the case of murder of Trotskyists, for instance, he speculates – as the “most probable” hypothesis – that the top leaders of the party were not involved. For the rest, his criticisms deal with supposedly “ambiguous” or Stalinist-type formulations. In the VCP program, which Rousset insists need not be taken seriously because these only mask an essentially revolutionary strategy and outlook
On the decisive programmatic questions – permanent revolution, coalition government with bourgeois parties, the Maoist strategy of “people’s war”, and the nature of the revolutionary party – Rousset defends the VCP. This leads him to read an underlying revolutionary strategy into the most capitulationist actions in the VCP’s history while he turns a blind eye to the close relationship between its policies and the twists and turns of world Stalinism. In his latest article Rousset begins to rewrite the role of the VCP and of Moscow in the August 1945 revolution.
The events are well known. During World War II, Vietnam was occupied by Japan. In all the colonial countries under Japanese occupation, the Communist Party, in line with Stalin’s commitment to the Allied powers, engaged in underground armed resistance to the Japanese with the aim of establishing bourgeois democratic governments. In both Vietnam and Indonesia the anti-Japanese resistance movements, which included bourgeois nationalists, Stalinists, and Trotskyists, sought to take advantage of the Japanese defeat in the Pacific to fill the vacuum with an independent government before the former colonialists could return. The pattern in both Indonesia and Vietnam was quite similar, with the exception that the VCP proved, before November 1946, to be more conciliatory toward the French than the hourgeois nationalist Sukarno did towards the Dutch imperialists.
Rousset continually projects back on the whole early history of the VCP an imaginary revolutionary content based on the creation of the workers’ state in the North after 1954. He categorically denies, for example, that the Vietnamese CP’s participation in an anti-imperialist struggle can be compared to the resistance to Nazism by Stalin during World War II. “From 1940 to 1954, from 1960 to today in South Vietnam, it is a matter of something very different – making a revolution.” But from 1940 to 1945, a crucial part of the 1940-54 period, the VCP resistance to the Japanese occupation was precisely part of world Stallnism’s alliance with the “democratic” imperialisms against the Axis powers and not, as Rousset would have us believe, a stage consciously carried out to make a socialist revolution.
The August 1945 revolution was a genuine popular upsurge, but it did not face any immediate opposition. In this respect it was very similar to the situation in Indonesia, where the Japanese military at the order of the Allied high command after the surrender mounted token efforts to retain control until an Allied landing, but secretly encouraged the creation of the Sukarno government and even helped to draft the declaration of independence in the hope of preventing the re-establishment of the European colonial empires in East Asia. In Vietnam, after the fall of Vichy France, the Japanese occupiers sought to prevent a return of their imperialist rivals under the Free French regime. In fact, the Japanese imperialists declared Vietnam independent on March 9, 1945, five months before the August revolution. Thus in August when the Japanese occupation collapsed with the surrender of Tokyo to the Allies, the VCP could not avoid a declaration of independence. The country was already formally independent of France, and the Stalinists could not overturn what was already an accomplished fact in the minds of the masses in the midst of a mass upsurge.
In Vietnam, unlike Indonesia, there was no strong bourgeois party. The VCP itself emerged in August 1945 as the most powerful political organization. And what did it propose to do with its new-found power? Rousset tries to suggest that it openly broke with Moscow to make a socialist revolution. “Potsdam gave Vietnam to the West,” he writes, “with the effective consent of the USSR. The Vietminh constituted the DRV in August 1945. The USSR only recognized the latter under pressure and force, two months after China, in 1950.”
But did the VCP violate Stalin’s promise at Potsdam? Did it act differently than the Indonesian CP, which was and remained a Stalinist party in alliance with a bourgeois government? First of all, the government that was established in Vietnam was a coalition that included not only the VCP but also “emperor” Bao Dai and the existing bourgeois parties. It opposed land reform and opposed armed resistance to the British and French colonialists. It used its troops to disarm the Saigon Trotskyists who were prepared to struggle against the Allied landing. It welcomed the British troops at Saigon in September 1945, paving the way for the French coup in the South, and later organized joint police actions with the French army in the North against socialist and nationalist independence fighters. That is, the policy of the VCP was the same as, or even to the right of, that of the bourgeois Sukarno government in Indonesia and was aimed at implementing the Potsdam agreements, not violating them. In the March 6, 1946, accords the Ho Chi Minh government accepted the “temporary” French occupation of South Vietnam, and the DRV itself was incorporated into the French Union as a provincial administration.
The breakdown of these accords, which were in the spirit of Potsdam, came when the French, not the VCP, opened fire. It was only after thousands of Vietnamese were killed in the surprise bombing of Haiphong by the French in November 1946 that the VCP took to the hills and began to organize the guerrilla resistance. The same thing happened in Indonesia under Sukarno with the collapse of the Linggadjati Agreement in 1947 and the beginning of rural guerrilla warfare under bourgeois leadership against the Dutch.
By November 1946, when the VCP undertook its armed struggle, Chiang Kai-shek had already launched his military offensive against the Maoist areas of China, and the Cold War had begun internationally, precipitating the left turn by the Kremlin and the effective abrogation of major parts of the Potsdam agreements. The actions of the VCP and its Chinese counterpart were not unique, as Rousset seems to think. The Indonesian CP not only participated in the guerrilla war alongside Sukarno’s nationalists, but in 1948 sought to overthrow Sukarno in the Madiun uprising and take power in its own hands. After it was defeated, however, it resumed the servile class-collaborationist course that was to lead to its destruction in 1965. In India the completely pro-Moscow Communist Party of India launched the Telengana peasant revolts that were brutally suppressed by the Congress government. In Eastern Europe Stalin and the local CPs overthrew capitalist property relations in the occupied countries and blockaded Berlin, provoking a direct confrontation with American imperialism. In North Korea, one of those states that even Rousset thinks was established by order of the Soviet bureaucracy and not by a revolutionary party, a massive anti-imperialist war fought the US invasion to a standstill – without producing a revolutionary opposition to the bureaucratic Kim Il Sung leadership, it should be added.
In this international context, the conduct of the VCP from the August 1945 revolution to the French bombardment in November 1946 was not a “missed” opportunity, as Rousset would have it, but a betrayal in the service of the Kremlin. This cannot be washed away because of a later victory, any more than we can in hindsight vindicate the Stalinist policies that led to the smashing of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 on the grounds that 20 years later the Maoist leadership was maneuvered into civil war by Chiang and came out the victor.
Yet Rousset cannot resist applying a coat of whitewash to the VCP’s practice in 1945, specifically denying that it can be compared to China in 1926-27 (his discretion in never mentioning the Chinese CP as a Stalinist party after 1927 should not be overlooked). He writes:
In China in 1926-27 the CCP, on the express recommendation of the Communist International, recognised the Kuomintang – both the right and left wings – as leading party of the national front. In reality, they gave up their political and organizational independence. They opened up the zones under their control to the Kuomintang, and subordinated their armed forces to them, right up until the Canton massacres.
In Vietnam, as Rousset admits, there was no bourgeois party of comparable strength to the Chinese Kuomintang. All the bourgeois parties, owing to the recent history of Vietnam as a direct French colony, were weaker than the VCP. Nevertheless the VCP made a point of incorporating them into its government in 1945, and of limiting its social reforms to those acceptable to persons like Bao Dai. Even where there was no Kuomintang available the VCP tried to invent one, using the existing bourgeois groups as a surrogate for such a party, to demonstrate to the imperialist bourgeoisie the VCP’s willingness to cooperate short of independence, much less of socialism. And when imperialism offered its cooperation, the VCP acted toward the French army just as the Chinese CP had toward the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek. It opened the zones under its control – not only Saigon, but also Tonkin – to French forces, and carried out joint military and police operations with the French against national resistance fighters right up until the Haiphong massacre.
Rousset acts as an apologist for this betrayal. The revolutionary forces, he tells us, “had not had the time to consolidate their position in a country in turmoil” and in any case “imperialist intervention … was inevitabl..” And finally, “even if an opportunity had been missed, we also have to take into account the later course of the revolution”. We will come to the later course of the revolution, but Rousset’s lame excuses for the procapitalist policies of the VCP in 1945-46 can only deepen our concern at where his admiration for the Vietnamese Stalinists is taking him. In this case at least the question is not a dispute over what the VCP did in fact, but over the difference between a revolutionary and a class-collaborationist policy.
The murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists
There are many gaps in the materials available on the recent history of Vietnam. Less is known about the concrete course of the VCP than about the Chinese or Soviet parties. This should lead to caution in handling documentary material. We cannot help noting, however, Pierre Rousset’s tendency to fill in the gaps with completely unfounded assumptions favorable to his opinion of the revolutionary and socialist character of the VCP. It does not speak well for his objectivity to absolve from guilt leaders formed in the school of Stalinism who stand accused of murdering hundreds of revolutionists because they were “Trotskyists”.
This involves more than historical accuracy, or even fairness to the slain Vietnamese Trotskyists. The murders constitute a gauge of the character of the VCP. Why would a party that had broken with Stalinism and was seeking a socialist revolution have any reason to assassinate revolutionists in another organization? In this case the VCP’s ignorance of the real nature of Trotskyism cannot be invoked. The victims were well known to the VCP leaders, as they had participated together in the La Lutte united front in the 1930s. And if such a party did adopt a general policy of killing its political opponents within the liberation movement, wouldn’t this be a convincing indicator that if it came to power – even if it were to nationalize capitalist property – it could be expected to establish the most dictatorial kind of rule against any independent political representatives of the working class? What does Rousset say?
… is it really irrelevant whether the assassination of Trotskyist militants was the result of a central, regional, or local decision? Feldman and Johnson say that the evidence indicates (that familiar refrain) this was the action of “Stalinists”. But in this period the Nambo (South Vietnam) committee enjoyed a real autonomy. It is very possible that such a decision was made outside of the political bureau. That is at least the hypothesis that appears most probable, given the present state of our knowledge. The assassination in any case deserves to be roundly denounced. But the political conclusions to be drawn from it are not identical. Besides, Tran Van Giau, the commander in Nambo at that time, has not played a decisive political role for a long time.
In our last article we cited Ho Chi Minh’s comment on the murder of Ta Thu Thau, the main leader of the Vietnamese Trotskyists: “All those who do not follow the line which I have laid down will be broken.” (Jean Lacouture, Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography [New York: Random House, 1968], p. 148.) This alone comes closer to a confession than anything Stalin ever said after the assassination of Trotsky.
Rousset’s implication in calling attention to the supposed demotion of Tran Van Giau, the Saigon Vietminh commander who gave the immediate order for the killing, is that the VCP disapproved of the murder of the Trotskyists. In fact there is not the slightest indication that Tran was disciplined in any way for his crimes. In 1961, 15 years after the murders, he published in Hanoi what is apparently an official party history. This indicates that he was not exactly in disgrace. (The book is entitled Giai Cap Cong Nhan Viet Nam [The Working Class of Vietnam].)
We know of only one “self-criticism” made by a top VCP leader in reference to the party’s treatment of the Trotskyists. This is Truong Chinh’s article “The Vietnamese August Revolution” in an August 1946 issue of Su That, the official organ of the “Association for Marxist Studies,” as the VCP had renamed itself in deference to the French imperialists’ prejudice against Communism. His comments are doubly important inasmuch as he remains today one of the top four leaders of the DRV. He wrote:
Because we failed to carry out a thorough suppression of our own reactionaries, the French reactionaries and the international reactionaries have been able to create difficulties for the revolutionary authorities and to divide the ranks of our people. We must ask ourselves: “Why, when it was first established, did the Cochin-Chinese Executive Committee not imprison immediately the traitorous pro-French clique of Nguyen Van Thinh, the most dangerous and cunning of the pro-Japanese traitors, and those specialists in subversion, the Trotskyists, but allowed them to prepare the way for the return of the French by their provocations before and during Independence Day [September 2, 1945]? We must ask ourselves: “Why were so many Vietnamese traitors, the treacherous pro-Japanese and the lackeys of foreigners, permitted to remain at large once the People’s Government had been established in the capital? (Cited by Nhu Phong, North Vietnam: Intellectuals, Writers and Artists,” China Quarterly, January-March 1962, pp 48-49.)
Recent visitors to Hanoi report being shown a special section of the Museum of the Revolution dedicated to “the struggle against counter-revolutionary Trotskyism”.
Rousset at another point seems to be trying to reassure us by suggesting that even if the VCP did kill Trotskyists this did not indicate any lack of revolutionary fervor on its part since it also killed many other political opponents:
In Vietnam, as in Spain, CP militants assassinated Trotskyist militants. But in Vietnam, unlike Spain, the CP also eliminated at the rank-and-file level – by liquidation if necessary – nationalist militants of pro-Chinese or pro-Japanese persuasion. It favored the exclusive development of its own rank-and-file and mass organizations.
In the period he is talking about (1945-46) the rank-and-file nationalists the VCP was “liquidating” included those who tried to pursue the struggle against the French imperialists and rejected the VCP’s efforts to compromise away the independence movement. This is not an example of the Leninist approach to winning the masses to the program of revolutionary socialism but of the Stalinist practice of murdering political opponents in the liberation and workers’ movements in the service of a bourgeois program.
When and why did the DRV become a workers’ state?
After November 1946 the VCP responded to the French extermination campaign by organizing mass peasant guerrilla warfare. This was in part a simple act of self-defense after the French had rejected the Ho government’s offer of collaboration. But it was also part of the worldwide upsurge of the colonial revolution, an upsurge that manifested itself under very diverse leaderships and coincided with the Kremlin’s defensive left turn during the Cold War. Despite the heroism of the war of resistance, the VCP restricted its content to an anti-imperialist struggle, resisted even the bourgeois democratic demand for large-scale land reform, and insisted that it sought only a democratized capitalist Vietnam, although one at least nominally independent of France. The aims of the struggle undertaken in November 1946 were consonant with Stalinist policy and did not involve making a socialist revolution.
The peasant war ended in a VCP victory at Dienbienphu in May 1954, leaving the VCP with the majority of Vietnamese territory in its hands. The French army was clearly not prepared to continue the fight. This was still the situation at the Geneva conference that “temporarily” partitioned the country and deprived the VCP of many of its military gains. Why did the VCP, if it was devoted to winning independence, much less socialism, agree to this unfavorable settlement? We know, from the Pentagon Papers and other sources, that extreme pressure was put on the VCP by Molotov and Chou Enlai, the representatives at the Geneva conference of the Soviet Union and China, to cede territory to a French puppet regime in the South. The VCP agreed to this, knowing that in 1946 France had taken advantage of a similar concession to mount its attack on the DRV in the North. Why grant the French such a dangerous foothold when militarily the French could not at that time have held the ground they were given?
From the standpoint of Moscow and Peking, the generosity of the VCP could serve as a sign to the more powerful imperialist centers, in particular Washington, that the Stalinist workers’ states and their allied parties were prepared to negotiate the issues of the Cold War in the spirit of “peaceful coexistence”.
But there is also a suggestion that the Stalinist participants at Geneva were prepared to make an even more extensive gesture: giving the French time to groom a bourgeois participant for the promised 1956 elections with the aim of creating a reunified, neutralist, capitalist Vietnam. Rousset must grant one or the other: either Hanoi knew that it was giving away half of the country to imperialism in order to improve the international bargaining position of Moscow and Peking, or we must assume that they believed what they said so loudly at the time about expecting a peaceful reunification of the country through elections in 1956.
In the latter case, Hanoi would know very well that the chances of the elections coming off would be nil if it used the interim to abolish capitalist property relations and institute a workers’ state in the North. Thus any serious judgment of whether the VCP intended from the outset to create a workers’ state rather than participating with its former collaborator Bao Dai in a new nationwide coalition on the 1945 model will be affected by when North Vietnam actually did eliminate capitalist property. Here Rousset, as in so many other instances, attributes unwavering socialist actions and intentions to the VCP that are not upheld by the facts. Rousset insists on two points: that North Vietnam became a workers’ state immediately after the Geneva conference; and that unlike China it did not go through a period comparable to the Maoist “new democracy” prior to establishing a workers’ state. He writes:
“In 1954, however, a workers’ state was formed in North Vietnam, and without delay.” Elsewhere he writes that the concept of a “national democratic” regime “does not exist in the history of the creation of the DRV” (he advances this argument as a reason for disbelieving the promises of the PRG today to preserve capitalism in the South). And again, he refers to “the immediate emergence of a workers’ state after the seizure of power in 1954″.
Rousset is wrong on all counts. We have already seen in his description of China in 1949 as a “workers’ state” that he divorces the class character of the state from the property relations the state defends. In a strict sense, it is unscientific to do this even in the case of the Bolshevik victory of October 1917 when the party that headed the state stood in political opposition to all bourgeois parties and openly declared its intention of carrying through an overturn of social and property relations. But what faint meaning can the term have when it is applied to a state in which the ruling party not only has not nationalized industry but proclaims its refusal to do so as a matter of principle?
For Rousset the military victory of a “front” dominated by a “proletarian” party is the equivalent of a socialist revolution. But by this definition the 1945 regime that invited the French back to Vietnam was also a workers’ state despite its opposition even to a bourgeois democratic land reform. He also cannot exclude Spain in 1936-38, where the Communist Party had “hegemony” in the Loyalist government and armed forces, and where the decisive sectors of the capitalist class and of the bourgeois army were on Franco’s side. Rousset seems to think that Trotsky’s objection to the CP’s conduct in Spain was that it led to military defeat or failed to secure hegemony in the Popular Front. In fact, Trotsky did not rule out the possibility of a Loyalist victory and he insisted that the dominant force in the Loyalist government was the Communist Party, not the handful of bourgeois politicians who opposed Franco.
What Trotsky opposed was the program around which the armed struggle against Franco was fought. “We can and we must,” he wrote, “defend bourgeois democracy not by bourgeois democratic means but by the methods of class struggle, which in turn pave the way for the replacement of bourgeois democracy by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means in particular that in the process of defending bourgeois democracy, even with arms in hand, the party of the proletariat takes no responsibility for bourgeois democracy, does not enter its government, but maintains full freedom of criticism and of action in relation to all parties of the Popular Front, thus preparing the overthrow of bourgeois democracy at the next stage.
“Any other policy is a criminal and hopeless attempt to use the blood of the workers as cement to hold together a bourgeois democracy that is inevitably doomed to collapse regardless of the immediate outcome of the civil war.” (“Is Victory Possible in Spain?”, April 23, 1937, in The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), p. 257.] The hegemony of a “workers’ party” with a bourgeois program in a coalition government serves to “guarantee” the preservation of capitalism. This tendency was observable even in the case of China.
After the total rout of the bourgeois army and government in China in 1949, the Maoist CP sought for four more years to uphold its procapitalist program and restrain the revolution within capitalist channels. It was only the sabotage of the economy by the remaining bourgeoisie during the Korean War that compelled Peking to expropriate capitalism in 1953 and junk its “new democracy” program. Until the decisive nationalizations were carried out, the Maoist regime constituted a workers’ and farmers’ government at the head of a state that remained capitalist in its economic relations. It differed from the Bolshevik government immediately after October in that the Maoists, by including bourgeois splinter parties in their government, indicated their aspiration to become a popular front and retain capitalism indefinitely. The corresponding period in Vietnam after 1954 posed even sharper dangers for the revolution because the VCP held only half the territory of the country and insisted on its readiness to reunite with the South on the basis of a capitalist program.
Why does Rousset categorically deny that North Vietnam went through a period of “new democracy” in which the government did not carry out socialist measures and had not declared any intentions to do so? The evidence is not so exhaustive as for China, but what there is does not at all sustain Rousset’s belief that Ho and his colleagues immediately proclaimed the socialist character of their government. In fact, the first reference to the beginning of socialist tasks comes only in 1957, after the deadline for the nationwide elections had passed and Diem had made clear that they would not be held.
The evolution of Ho’s policy is readily discernible in one of the most widely disseminated collections of his writings, Ho Chi Minh on Revolution (New York: Signet Books, 1968). In his political teport to the Second National Congress of the Vietnam Workers Party (VCP) held in February 1951, he proclaimed the aim of the liberation struggle: to establish “an independent, unified, democratic, free, prosperous, and strong Viet-Nam, a new democratic Viet-Nam.” (p 205)
Ho’s speech on the Tenth Anniversary of National Day in September 1955, more than a year after the military victory, does not mention socialism for the DRV. He calls for expanding small industry, which he distinguishes from the state sector. The latter is defined in extraordinarily limited terms for a government that is, or plans soon to become, a workers’ state: “The state sector in the national economy – national bank, trading concerns – came into being and grew steadily.” (p 265)
In his “Report to the Meeting of Representatives of the Hanoi People on the Success of the Sixth Session of the National Assembly” on February 15, 1957, Ho refers to the DRV as a “people’s democracy” and still makes no mention of socialism or of socialist tasks (p 280), while in his letter to cadres on the land reform of August 18, 1956, he chides subordinates for “such shortcomings” as “not establishing a sincere alliance with the rich peasants” and failing to “pay attention to those landlords who have taken part in the Resistance and supported the revolution or those whose children are enrolled in the army or working as cadres”. (p 276)
It is only in 1957, after the deadline for the elections had gone by, that the word socialism as a goal for the DRV begins to appear in Ho’s speeches. In his May 16, 1957, “Instructions given at the Meeting for Ideological Remolding of General and Field Officers” he says: “This year, we have to carry out successfully the correction of mistakes, fundamentally achieve the economic rehabilitation of the North, and prepare ourselves to enter a new stage to consolidate the North, gradually advancing to socialism.” (p 283) From September 1957 North Vietnam is described as in “the transitional period to socialism”.
Other available sources indicate that the same nonsocialist conception and policy of the DRV lasted for several years after Geneva. Criticizing the radical “excesses” of the 1956 land reform, Tran Phuong stressed the need to “differentiate between the landowners, in order not to antagonize the bourgeois, the allies of the working class in the national democratic revolution.” (Vietnamese Studies No 7, p 185)
Without further information we cannot pinpoint more precisely when the government of the DRV made and carried out the decision to abolish capitalist property relations and establish a workers’ state. It was certainly, however, not immediately, as Rousset tells us. The hesitation to establish a workers’ state seems to have stemmed from the hope that elections in the South might really be carried out. Once this hope dimmed, it could be seen that the transformation of the South into a heavily armed imperialist puppet state presented a real military threat to the VCP regime in the North. Self-defense demanded the consolidation of power through the most effective means at its disposal – control over the state apparatus.
Further, the loss of South Vietnam, the North’s traditional supplier of rice, required the organization of the Red River Delta paddies into a system of dikes and canals, a job far beyond the capabilities of any force other than the state. This mammoth task was completed by 1958.
The fact, contrary to Rousset’s assertions, that a “new democracy” period did occur in which the regime rejected socialist measures and the fact that it was the government in the South that cancelled the elections, not the DRV, makes it necessary to reject Rousset’s categorical assurance that the VCP unhesitatingly sought to create a socialist state. It has yet to be established that the VCP did not mean what it said in 1954 when it proposed a coalition regime on terms it considered acceptable to the South. The question of the VCP’s willingness to participate in capitalist governments on a long-term basis was not settled by the creation of a workers’ state in North Vietnam. It will come up again and again because the VCP still proposes such procapitalist coalition governments throughout Indochina as its solution to the fighting.
Coalitions with bourgeois parties and the aims of the struggle
In his attitude towards coalition governments and programmatic alliances with the national bourgeoisie, Rousset takes a considerable step backwards. It appeared to us that in Le Parti communiste vietnamien Rousset held that the VCP’s practice of seeking coalition governments with the bourgeoisie was tactically inadvisable and perhaps unprincipled, but harmless in practice because of the hegemony of the VCP in its fronts. We warned against the dangers inherent in such an approach. It is clear now that we underestimated our differences with him on the dangers of such coalitions.
In Rousset’s reply, the VCP’s practice is described as a mere “tactical alliance” with the bourgeoisie. These alliances are viewed by Rousset as correct in principle and often useful from a practical point of view. Quoting Trotsky, he implies strongly that, in practice, the VCP has carried out the Trotskyist policy, which allows limited agreements with bourgeois parties in colonial countries for united action against imperialism. According to Rousset, the VCP has only one failing in this regard: “The VCP’s Stalinist theoretical references to the bloc of four classes advocate an alliance for a whole period of the revolution and promote the idea that the national bourgeoisie can really be anti-imperialist.” However, all is well: “By contrast, the practice of the VCP has not foundered upon this illusion.” Rousset appears to hold that even “coalition governments” with the bourgeoisie are an acceptable “tactic” provided that they are not projected for a whole period and the limitations of the bourgeoisie are understood.
Rousset’s descriptions of the VCP’s fronts reflect this view. He writes: “During World War II, the Vietminh agreed to participate in a ‘government in exile’ in China numerically dominated by bourgeois formations (often close to the Kuomintang). But it made use of its participation to divert most of the material aid for its own benefit and to eliminate more than ever the influence of competitive formations, even in Vietnam itself. They were so successful at the latter that the government in exile rapidly fell into oblivion.”
The fruit of this class-collaborationist betrayal came in the downfall of the VCP-dominated government that tried to rule Vietnam on a bourgeois program in the August 1945 revolution. The national bourgeoisie and the imperialists are not tricked by such maneuvers. It is only the masses who are fooled and misdirected by Stalinist claims that the path to socialism requires public professions of faith in capitalism.
The goal of a revolutionary workers’ party is not simply to strengthen itself organizationally by any opportunist scheme. “Proletarian” parties without program or principles can end up serving very different class interests from those their members have in mind. Does Rousset advocate that Trotskyist organizations utilize the tactics of the VCP to gain material aid from bourgeois governments and to eliminate the influence of competitive formations? Surely Marxists should not dogmatically reject “successful” tactics if they serve the cause of socialist revolution.
Rousset also takes up the latest incarnation of the VCP’s advocacy of coalition governments:
The NLF-PRG now proposes a tripartite coalition government in South Vietnam. They even had the principle written into the Paris accords – against the objections of Thieu. This government would certainly be different from that of 1954. Thieu and his administration have certain resources … A coalition government may soon be formed in South Vietnam. It can even be foreseen that before the reunification takes place under such a coalition n government, the state will be called a “national democracy” or something similar. This notion does not exist in the history of the creation of the DRV [sic]; yet the PRG seems ready to resurrect it.
And so, it will certainly be necessary to analyze the concrete relationship of forces that exists behind this coalition government.
Rousset, finding this task a simple one, proceeds to do so in advance
“But everything leads us to believe that such a case would be similar to the situation in which the People’s Republic of China emerged in 1949.” And, we should remember, Rousset believes that China was already a workers’ state in 1949.
Rousset expresses confidence that any coalition government in which the VCP participates will be a workers’ state. But a similar coalition government – with the full cooperation and support of the VCP – has just been established in Laos. Has the state in Laos ceased to be capitalist?
It is one thing to speculate that after a time a workers’ state will result despite a coalition with bourgeois parties formed after the smashing of the bourgeois army and government, as in China in 1949 and North Vietnam in 1954, although this is certainly not “inevitable”. It is altogether different to assume that a coalition government with the undefeated Thieu regime will result in a workers’ state. Isn’t this the argument put forward by all reformists to justify popular front alliances in which the state is gradually transformed from within from a capitalist to a workers’ state?
If the VCP aims at socialism in the South, why does it propose a coalition government with Thieu and his army? Rousset continually tells us that the VCP does not mean what it says when it makes such proposals. This strikes us as either naive or patronizing. These are not stupid people. The question involved is not one of abstract theory but a concrete immediate organizational proposal for the formation of a government. The VCP, we must assume, knows what it is saying and is prepared to accept the consequences.
Rousset tries to reconcile his belief that the VCP leaders aim at socialist revolution with their insistence that they are leading a national liberation struggle in alliance with the progressive bourgeoisie. This leads him to weigh only the strength of the bourgeoisie in a class-collaborationist popular front and to ignore the significance of the decision of the “proletarian” party to join hands with the bourgeoisie. The Kerensky government on the eve of October was composed primarily of “workers’ representatives” of the petty bourgeois socialist parties, yet the Bolsheviks overthrew it because of its program. Rousset’s approach transforms popular front governments with a “proletarian” majority from an obstacle on the road to socialist revolution into a transitional step on the road to a workers’ state. The only qualification he seems to place on this is that the “workers’ parties” in the front must have their own armed forces.
We recognize that the “bourgeois” parties fraudulently created by the DRV to sit in its rubber-stamp parliament or by the NLF to join it in the PRG are not the same as mass bourgeois parties. But neither are they an irrational fetish of the VCP; they signal to the real bourgeoisie that under the right circumstances the VCP is prepared to come to agreements on important questions.
What, then, is the attitude that Trotskyists should take toward the Provisional Revolutionary Government and similar formations? While unconditionally defending the resistance struggle and opposing both the Thieu government and the American intervention, we cannot give political support to the PRG. The PRG is not a tactical, limited united-action front with the bourgeoisie, but a programmatic front that proposes to govern South Vietnam on the basis of capitalism. Its avowed aim is to form a capitalist government and to guarantee the survival of capitalist property relations. Within the liberation movement Trotskyists should fight for the class-struggle slogan of a “workers’ and farmers’ government,” calling on the VCP to renounce any perspective of alliance with the bourgeois parties and to fight for power in the name of socialist as well as democratic demands.
Rousset’s comments on “prolonged revolutionary war” are based on misunderstandings of what we wrote, perhaps because of certain preconceptions about our position. He implies that we counterpose urban insurrection to peasant war. He notes correctly that peasant war has often preceded urban uprisings in Vietnam. In addition, he also attributes to us the view that the Vietnamese workers’ capacity to fight is superior to that of the Vietnamese peasants. In the face of such misreadings, we feel it necessary to quote the main points in our discussion of “people’s war”.
Three points are crucial to the concept of ‘people’s war,’ and to our understanding of what it means politically …
First, it is seen as a long-term peasant war. Truong Chinh adds to this that it is led by the working class, but by this he means the VCP, which he equates to the working class …
Second, the political framework of “people’s war” according to both Giap and Truong Chinh is the national democratic revolution; in other words, a political program that rejects demands that go beyond capitalist property relations and seeks an alliance with elements of the native ruling classes …
It is clear that Trotskyists do not accept the political framework of “people’s war”, which says in essence that the proletariat will be liberated from its oppression by another class fighting under a bourgeois program. Trotskyists counterpose the proletarian revolutionary program and method of struggle, which means the struggle of the proletariat itself, together with that of the poor peasantry.
It is necessary to differentiate between peasant war as such and the theory of “people’s war”. Vietnam demonstrates the strength of the first and the weakness of the latter. That the peasants of Vietnam have stood up to imperialism’s most ferocious attacks for almost 30 years certainly testifies to what revolutionary Marxists have understood since Lenin’s time: in the colonial and semicolonial countries, the peasantry is an absolutely necessary component of the struggle for national liberation. It is impossible, as Lenin taught us, for the proletariat to come to power in countries with large peasant populations without mobilizing the peasantry to do battle against its oppressors …
The tremendous power and tenacity of the Vietnamese peasant armies proves once again the revolutionary power contained in the struggle for land and national independence, and indicates how self-defeating it is for the VCP leaders to restrict the program under which the rebels fight.
The key weakness of the theory of “people’s war” is its underestimation of the decisive role and potential power of the urban workers and dispossessed in Vietnam. The strategy of surrounding the cities and liberating them without the leadership – perhaps even without the participation – of the urban workers carries with it the danger of limiting the mobilization of the Vietnamese masses and unnecessarily isolating the peasant militants. The danger is strengthened by the efforts to involve the urban bourgeoisie, the class enemy of the urban masses, in a “national front”; a maneuver that requires the VCP leaders to assure the bourgeoisie that their property and privileges will be preserved … Marxists reject all theories that view the peasants as inherently more capable of struggle than the urban workers and dispossessed masses.
The theory of “people’s war” is a schema that compels the rebels to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. The peasants must bear the burden of overturning an entrenched dictatorship in the cities that has a massive repressive apparatus at its disposal.
This is a far cry from “a peasant war under the leadership of a proletarian policy”. It is, in fact, a peasant war hampered by a petty-bourgeois Stalinist strategy that limits the ability of the fighters to link up with the decisive power of the urban workers.
There is, of course, no contradiction between this position and the quotations Rousset brings forth from the October-November 1945 issue of Quatrieme Internationale, and the 1963 resolution: For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement. Both quotations reflect the Trotskyist understanding of the key role that peasant war can play in the colonial revolution, while making no concessions to the Stalinist theory of limiting the peasant war to a bourgeois program and bypassing participation of the proletariat in order to cement an alliance with the national bourgeoisie. Here, too, it is a matter of knowing how to make distinctions.
Rousset urges us to read Giap’s 1970 book The War of National Liberation in Vietnam. Excellent advice! Giap’s exposition bears out completely what we wrote in our review about the theory of “people’s war”.
Giap devotes three paragraphs, in a work of 142 pages, to work in the cities. These are samples: “We must actively set up revolutionary bases in the towns … We must closely coordinate our urban with our rural revolutionary forces …” (p 66.) Giap remains abstract on this subject, never concrete. This book was written after the Tet offensive and while the US bombing was forcing an ever larger proportion of South Vietnam’s population into the cities. We were able to find only three mentions of Tet in this book, the most descriptive and analytical of which stated: “With the general offensive of 1968, the armed forces and people of the South attacked and rose up everywhere in both town and countryside and recorded ever greater successes.” (p 85.)
Rousset, in his brief for “people’s war”, argues that the experience of the colonial revolution “has … shown how difficult the victory of the revolution was without such a prolonged struggle in a country with a predominant peasantry, and where imperialism has been able to intervene with enormous forces”. Isn’t it true, he asks, that “all the victorious revolutions since the Second World War” were won through prolonged rural wars? Yes; but the list of revolutions that followed this pattern to defeat is long and depressing.
Rousset is wrong to claim that an urban proletarian revolution is more “difficult” than “people’s war”. What is difficult is the construction of a mass revolutionaryMarxist party capable of leading a proletarian revolution to victory. That is the element that has been missing in the postwar colonial upsurge. It was not for lack of combativity by the workers that no urban-centered revolutions in this period came to power. There was no absence of spontaneous workers’ insurrections in the cities of the colonial world, from Vietnam in 1945 to Bolivia in 1952, on up through the Dominican events of 1965 and the even more recent urban rebellions in Thailand, Ethiopia, and Argentina.
The Stalinist and petty bourgeois nationalist leaderships that were sometimes willing to take the lead in anti-imperialist struggles rejected the course of an immediate fight for socialism against the bourgeoisie and thus proved incapable of taking advantage of proletarian upsurges and revolts.
An urban insurrection is not lacking in power, but to be successful it must take an anticapitalist direction from the beginning. The political strategy of “people’s war”, however, is not anticapitalist. Its practitioners consciously attempt to undertake struggles only against “feudalism” and foreign imperialism that can win the support of progressive sections of the national bourgeoisie.
It is this political opposition to openly socialist struggles, not merely the threat of imperialist intervention, that has led to the stalemate and defeat of urban revolts. We should remember that there was large-scale imperialist intervention in predominantly peasant Russia against the October Revolution, but the Bolsheviks consciously made their urban insurrection not only against “feudalism” and foreign imperialism, but against capitalism as a whole. They had no illusions in a progressive bourgeoisie.
It is altogether different with the Maoist and VCP strategy of “people’s war”. The Stalinists with their program of national independence and land reform under capitalism have sometimes been willing to engage in peasant wars, which in the postwar period of weakening of the old empires took on great social weight. But without a programmatic commitment to socialism and the real, physical participation of the working class, even the limited aims of the fight were gravely endangered. For every successful revolution, a half-dozen possible victories were betrayed and lost by the program of “people’s war”.
Even where workers’ states were created, the absence of workers’ participation through their own independent soviet organizations had deep-going deleterious consequences. Rousset tells us that the embryo of a workers’ state was created in peasant liberated zones – where there were no workers. What was actually created in embryo in Vietnam, as in China, was the skeleton of the bureaucratic hierarchy that would establish a privileged bureaucratic caste on the Soviet Stalinist model once it had state power. The result has been that although capitalism was overthrown, a further roadblock to socialism was erected in the process – a roadblock that can only be removed by new, political revolutions against the bureaucratic castes in power in those countries.
The present situation
Mass struggles have a logic of their own which, as Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Program, often goes beyond the intentions of official leaderships. Despite the repeated assertions of the PRG that it is opposed to socialism in South Vietnam, it would not be surprising if a PRG victory over the Thieu regime were to result in the creation of a workers’ state, but this would not be because, as Rousset would have it, “the VCP has taken up in practice the major strategic options of the permanent revolution”. Rather, a combination of two circumstances would tend to push the VCP toward the elimination of capitalist property relations: (1) the physical defeat of the representatives of the domestic bourgeoisie at the same time that the imperialist intervention was defeated, which would spur spontaneous anticapitalist initiatives by the workers and peasants; and (2) the tendency of North Vietnam, in the absence of alliances with bourgeois powers, to seek reunification with the South through the extension of its planned economy.
But even the extremely favorable conditions that would arise from the total military defeat of the Thieu regime would not guarantee the overturn of capitalism. The stated intent of the VCP and its actual practice in the country as a whole in 1945-46 and in North Vietnam for several years after 1954 cannot be discounted. How much less than inevitable is it, then, today when the Thieu regime remains intact, protected by the threat of an immediate renewal of US bombing if the NLF launches a major military offensive?
Rousset himself admits that at similar periods in the past when international Stalinism concluded peaceful coexistence agreements with imperialism that called for halting the struggle in Vietnam, the VCP complied. He writes that “from 1954 to 1959-60 the VCP refused to resume armed struggle”, in deference to the provisions of the Geneva Agreements. But with his peculiar ability to pinpoint precisely when the VCP is telling the truth in its public professions and when it is lying for diplomatic reasons, Rousset concludes that it will not respect the January 1973 Accords. Thus the short-term outcome is, for him, virtually certain:
The Indochinese revolution is on the eve of the most profound turning point in its history – namely, the period after the seizure of power.
Naturally, we do not exclude a VCP victory as an outcome of the dynamics of the Vietnamese liberation struggle. But to place political confidence in the VCP is to ignore not only its past performance but the international diplomatic and political context in which the January 1973 Accords were signed. Rousset leaves out of consideration the US-Sino-Soviet detente, which was a major factor in shaping the present situation in South Vietnam.
The accords are part of a new world agreement between Washington and the principal Stalinist powers. Naturally agreements of this kind do not halt the class struggle, but Stalinist parties at least can be counted on to make an effort to comply with the negotiated terms. The fact cannot be ignored that it was only after both Moscow and Peking welcomed Nixon and refrained from the slightest political or military response to the mining of the Port of Haiphong that the PRG for the first time agreed to accept a military settlement that did not include the removal of the Thieu regime. In an interview published in the June 28, 1972, issue of the New York radical weekly Guardian before the accords were signed, a spokesman for the PRG declared: “A ceasefire without a political settlement is the equivalent of capitulation. It is just another of Nixon’s tricks.” Yet under pressure from Moscow and Peking, the PRG and the government of North Vietnam accepted and hailed terms that they had previously described as “capitulation”.
The cease-fire has halted NLF offensives, but it has certainly not stopped the killing. While the American bombing has ended, Thieu has been left with the third largest air force in the world, and the PRG has continually protested the violations of the accords, in which NLF liberated zones have been bombed by Thieu’s planes. The January 23, 1974, Guardian reported from NLF sources that more than 50,000 Vietnamese have been killed since the signing of the agreement.
Some 20,000 US advisers remain in Vietnam. This is only a small part of the force deployed in the area on ships at sea, and at air bases ringing Indochina. According to the January 6, 1974, New York Times, so much military equipment has been delivered to Thieu that some Pentagon officials think that “a new resupply of tanks, artillery pieces and planes would only sit around the docks in crates”.
Although the PRG continues to issue statements looking forward to the elections promised by the accords, the Thieu regime declared on December 28 that the elections would not be held. In provinces near Saigon, landlords have begun to reclaim land they had abandoned during the fighting, while further out in the countryside military probes have been launched with the aim of nibbling away at the edges of the liberated zones. Ominously, a year after the signing of the accords, Thieu has succeeded in preventing the great mass of refugees from returning to the NLF-held areas of the countryside and he has likewise refused to release the more than 200,000 political prisoners who fill Saigon’s jails and tiger cages.
In view of Thieu’s efforts to consolidate his dictatorship, the means chosen by the PRG to combat it arouse considerable doubts as to their efficacy. In the January 23, 1974, issue of the New York Guardian, Don Luce, after visiting both North and South Vietnam, summarized the view of the PRG and DRV cadres he interviewed: they “have both wanted to avoid the military struggle, preferring a peaceful political struggle”.
He added: “The PRG’s preference for political struggle is simple. They can win a political struggle without the tremendous human and resource losses of a general uprising and military confrontation.”
The VCP is systematically miseducating the masses about the real perspectives and tasks of the Vietnamese revolution. An Independence Day appeal by the PRG and NLF in the September 3, 1973, issue of South Vietnam in Struggle repeats the standard theme of long-term collaboration between the PRG, the Thieu government and army, and the procapitalist “neutralists” of the amorphous “Third Force”:
With the spirit of national reconciliation and concord every political problem of South Vietnam should be solved on the basis of the existence of two administrations, two armies and three political forces.
While the PRG in the South is lulling the masses into hopes of peaceful coexistence with Thieu’s government, it would appear that the DRV is withdrawing into “budding socialism” in its own half of the country as it did in the period following the Geneva Agreements. At least this conclusion could be drawn from the dramatic change in priorities revealed in a recent report by the North Vietnamese politburo to the DRV’s National Assembly, which was broadcast over Radio Hanoi and quoted in the February 18, 1974, Washington Post. Whereas for many years the struggle in the South has been given first mention, the current list followed a different order:
In 1974 and 1975, the north’s task consists of rapidly completing and healing the wounds of war, making strenuous efforts to restore and develop the economy and develop culture, continuing to build the material technical bases of socialism, consolidating socialist production relations, comprehensively consolidating the socialist system, stabilizing the economic situation and the people’s living conditions, consolidating national defense and making strenuous efforts to fulfill our duties to the heroic south.
Only the future will determine whether the January 1973 accords were merely a temporary setback to the liberation struggle or if they marked a major retreat in line with the detente between Moscow-Peking and Washington. The experience of the first year, however, sharply belies the claims of the DRV and of the NLF that the accords were a great advance for the anti-imperialist struggle.
The example of Laos
Comrade Rousset insists that it is our failure to understand “the links a party such as the VCP maintains with theory” that led us to say something as “irksome” as the following in our article:
Can we simply assume, in the face of this evidence to the contrary, that the VCP leaders would refuse to participate in administering a bourgeois state as members of a coalition government in South Vietnam, without dismantling the armed forces of either side? To assume this is to believe that the VCP leaders do not mean what they say.
We have already noted Rousset’s premise that the VCP leaders put up a mere pretense in the field of theory, saying one thing but consistently acting to the contrary. Unfortunately this notion of the sham the VCP maintains in the field of theory leaves out of account the concrete instances in which the openly class-collaborationist premises of their theory have been rigorously applied in practice. The coalition government recently agreed to in Laos and hailed by the VCP indicates that the VCP is not engaging in habitual lying when it insists it wants a similar arrangement in South Vietnam.
As Jon Rothschild wrote in the March 5, 1973, issue of the revolutionary-Marxist newsweekly Intercontinental Press: “The Laos agreement, in its substance, corresponds to the seven-point program that had been the basis of the PRG’s political position in South Vietnam. It has been won in a situation that is more favorable, both militarily and politically, to the liberation forces than is the situation in South Vietnam. It may therefore be assumed that events in Laos will directly reveal the intentions of the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao leaderships. The concrete social and political content of Hanoi’s notion of ‘coalition government’ will now become clear.”
The Pathet Lao and the VCP have jointly called attention to the close similarity of the agreement concluded in Laos and the one still under negotiation in South Vietnam. A joint Pathet Lao-VCP statement in the November 26, 1973, issue of South Vietnam in Struggle said that the two parties “expressed their gratification at the achievements of the ‘historic and epoch-making significance’ of their respective peoples, in the form of the Paris and Vientiane Agreements”. The same statement contained a protest that placed Laotian “neutralist” violations of the Vientiane accords on a par with Thieu’s without drawing any negative conclusions about having the Pathet Lao participate in a common government at Vientiane:
They [the Pathet Lao and the PRG] also strongly denounced the US-Saigon-Vientiane systematic violations of the latter’s [the agreements'] essential clauses, thus creating a serious impediment to peace, national reconciliation and concord in South Viet Nam and delaying the achievement of peace and national concord in Laos.
What is the content of this coalition government that the VCP presents as a model in the same breath with proposals for a similar venture in Saigon? Laos is to remain a kingdom under the terms of the accords. Its premier is to be the “neutralist” US puppet, Souvanna Phouma. The Pathet Lao is to share power with this puppet regime as follows:
To the “neutralists” and “rightists” go the portfolios of the army, police, finance, health and education. The Pathet Lao representatives will administer foreign affairs, economic planning, public works and transportation, information and tourism, and religion. A joint police force will guard this coalition in both Vientiane and the royal capital of Luang Prabang.
The agreement also guarantees capitalist property relations. Article 1, Paragraph D, includes among “the people’s democratic freedoms”, “Free enterprise and the right to private property ownership.”
Thus the party at the head of the liberation forces in Laos is assuming responsibility for administering and maintaining a capitalist state. Nor is this the first time. It did the same thing in Laos twice before, in 1957 and again in 1962, when the Pathet Lao participated in capitalist coalition governments. Both coalitions ended in right-wing military coups, the first of which ordered a bloody massacre of Pathet Lao supporters and the second of which “legally” invited US bombers to attack the areas under Pathet Lao influence.
What does the hegemony of the VCP guarantee?
In his defense of the VCP’s practice, Rousset argues strongly for the decisive importance of the party’s organizational hegemony within broad political fronts. ” … the Vietnamese conception of fronts,” he writes, “does not involve a dispersion of power or a sharing of it with bourgeois forces, but rather a maximum concentration of real power in the hands of the VCP.”
It is in defending the view that the VCP’s exclusive organizational control assures a proletarian leadership that Rousset considers the murdering of Trotskyists and rank-and-file nationalists in 1945. In the case he cites, the VCP collaborated in a procapitalist coalition government with the leaders of the bourgeois nationalist parties, while it suppressed nationalist militants who sought to resist the French imperialist return to South Vietnam. Thus Rousset ignores the program that the VCP upheld through its hegemony.
Elsewhere Rousset views the VCP’s hegemony in a class-collaborationist front as exemplifying an essential element of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. He explains the supposedly contradictory sides of the VCP’s programmatic documents as follows:
In the realm of theoretical expression one problem cannot be avoided: the existence of references and formulations belonging to two different worlds; that of the revolution in stages (numerous formulations of tactical alliances, international overtures to Chile) and that of the permanent revolution (the future of the revolutionary process, the hegemony of the party in the front).
The concept Rousset defends – which in the VCP’s history includes the “hegemony” of a supposedly proletarian party in a capitalist government and the hegemony of the party over the working class, maintained by terrorist means when necessary – is not at all part of the theory of permanent revolution; it is a product of the school of Stalinism.
As Rousset advances it, revolutionary hegemony within a front consists of organizational predominance. Such hegemony for him is expressed not by the predominance of a sector adhering to a socialist program. It is sufficient if organizations that he regards as proletarian and that carry out armed struggle maneuver their way into control, even if this “tactic” requires “pretending” to adopt a bourgeois program. The negative effect of such a strategy on the political consciousness of the working class and its allies is more than offset, for Rousset, by the profound “revolutionary” implications of organizational hegemony.
Rousset draws a distinction between the murders committed by the Stalinists in Spain, which were directed against the left, and the murders committed by the VCP, which struck at the right as well as the left within the national liberation movement. It is true that in civil war and revolution the most ruthless methods are often necessary for defeating the capitalist and imperialist counter-revolution. But revolutionary Marxists reject introducing such methods within the movement against imperialism.
Rousset is also factually wrong, however, when he suggests that the Spanish Stalinists differed from the VCP by not seeking hegemony in the Loyalist government. In Spain the main organized political forces on the Loyalist side were the Anarchists, the POUM, and the Socialist Party; the bourgeois parties were a mere shell, as the bourgeoisie had gone over to Franco almost in toto. Hence to win hegemony the Spanish CP faced primarily parties to its left. In Vietnam with the exception of the Trotskyists the competition of the VCP was primarily bourgeois-nationalist parties. The Spanish Stalinists, who entered the civil war as the smallest of the tendencies in the working class, made remarkable organizational headway in winning “hegemony” within the bourgeois Popular Front government, but they did so on a bourgeois program that required the suppression of independent organs of socialist power such as workers’ councils. Even the total “hegemony” of a “workers’ party” that fights to preserve capitalism cannot guarantee a socialist outcome to the struggle no matter how ruthless its partisans are.
Even should such a party break with its own procapitalist, petty-bourgeois program and use its “hegemony” in a coalition government to overturn capitalist property relations and create a workers’ state, this is still carried out by a party and not by the working class; such a substitution assures deep bureaucratic deformations. This is presented very well by Ernest Mandel in his pamphlet On Bureaucracy. There he wrote:
The thesis that the emancipation of the proletariat can only be accomplished by the proletariat itself must not be modified, either in theory or practice, to mean that it is the revolutionary party’s task to emancipate the proletariat and to establish the workers’ state on behalf of the proletariat — first in the latter’s name and then, in certain historical situations, against it.
Mandel contrasted this Leninist view to that of the Stalinists:
Bureaucrats in the workers’ states are always surprised when, if challenged, they cannot find a single line in Lenin’s writings which says that the dictatorship of the proletariat is to be exercised by the party, that the party should govern the workers’ state, etc, etc. This is because they have been brought up in a political spirit which transfers to the party the tasks of the proletariat. Lenin, on the contrary, always envisaged these tasks as being accomplished by the proletariat under the leadership of the party — which is a very different thing.
The class independence of the proletariat is breached by organizational maneuvers that commit the workers to supporting capitalism while fighting some of the capitalists. A peasant-based, petty-bourgeois Stalinist party such as the VCP cannot be relied on as a sufficient substitute for the proletariat, the revolutionary Marxist party, and a socialist program.
Let us examine Rousset’s most frequently repeated proof of the revolutionary proletarian character of the VCP: its decision in North Vietnam to proceed to the construction of a workers’ state after 1954. What about the character of this workers’ state? Do the workers exercise political control through organs of proletarian democracy? Or is rule monopolized by a relatively privileged caste in the model set by Moscow and Peking?
The question of political revolution in North Vietnam
Rousset holds that we have made a “remarkable innovation in the Trotskyist movement” by concluding that a political revolution is required to establish proletarian democracy in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He proposes that Trotskyists “penetrate” the VCP and “win to revolutionary Marxist ideas some of those who led the Vietnamese revolution”. This implies that a majority of these leaders can be persuaded to struggle for the establishment of proletarian democracy and that the party as a whole is an adequate instrument for instituting it. At the very least he assumes that the VCP tops are willing to seriously discuss the question of workers’ democracy and will not safeguard their “hegemony” as they have in the past by liquidating political opponents.
We have already described the role played by the VCP in the period before it came to power. The party’s suppression of internal dissent and crushing of rivals on the left by terrorist means are typical of the practice of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy. In the Soviet Union such methods testify to the existence of a bureaucratic caste. But they can also become instrumental in creating a caste if the party at the head of a workers’ state systematically excludes the proletariat from exercising political control. Has the VCP taken any steps towards the establishment of proletarian democracy or shown any interest in doing so?
It is true that information about the internal life of North Vietnam is scanty, but what there is points to the existence of a ruling caste, systematically depriving both the proletariat and the peasantry of political voice and control.
Rousset makes much of the “horizontal democracy” that the VCP supposedly fosters in the DRV, contrasting it to the “vertical centralism” (a delicate word for dictatorial command) that he also acknowledges to exist. The only organs through which such “horizontal democracy” could be exercised in the DRV are the “People’s Councils”. But these are, in fact, tightly controlled by higher authorities. According to the constitution adopted in 1960, the National Assembly is authorized to “revise or annul inappropriate decisions issued by the people’s councils of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central authority, and to dissolve the above-mentioned people’s councils if they do serious harm to the people’s interests”. The administrative committees are given similar authority over the People’s Councils. Further, Article 86 of the constitution states: “the people’s councils at all levels have power to dissolve people’s councils at the next lower level when the latter do serious harm to the people’s interests”. (George Ginsburgs, “Local Government and Administration in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Since 1954,” China Quarterly, April-June 1963.)
As might be expected in the light of such controls, the People’s Councils have not been particularly responsive to the popular will. An article in the November 24, 1962, issue of Nhan Dan aired some of the complaints about them. “People’s Council delegates have seldom acted as local representatives to go deeply into local economic, political, and cultural problems … to listen to the electors’ views, to know their desires, and to get a clear idea of the people’s conditions of life … delegates have not set times to hold conferences with the people … these shortcomings have somewhat loosened the ties between the government and the people and between the electorate and their representatives, thus indirectly limiting the people’s rights as masters of the government.” (Bernard Fall, The Two Vietnams [New York: Praeger, 1967], p 136.)
There is, in fact, no way for the People’s Councils to represent the people since, if they come into opposition to any higher level of government, they can be instantly dissolved! This kind of “socialist democracy” can, we suppose, be described as “horizontal”; that is, flat on its back.
How has the regime responded to the pressurefor proletarian democracy emanating from sectors of the population? In 1956, the rulers of North Vietnam were confronted by a revolt of the intellectuals similar to that spurred on by “de-Stalinization” in the Soviet Union and the “Let 100 flowers bloom” episode in China.
As we wrote in our article:
The intellectuals’ movement began in September 1956, when permission was granted for the publication of the journal Nhan Van. The movement included from the start two groupings: the revolutionary intellectuals who had long records in the Resistance; and such distinguished Communists as Tran Duc Thao, who had left a career at the Sorbonne in 1951 to return to fight for Vietnam’s independence.
Nhan Van and other journals criticized the regime. In December they were shut down, but the intellectuals and dissident Communists forced the VCP to permit them to publish a new journal, Van …
Nhan Van had written, the “ugly causes of the events in Poland and Hungary are the lack of democracy”. The literary movement also charged that Russian experts were overbearing. The dissidents also complained, as Bernard Fall wrote in The Two Vietnams (p 189), that the party had antagonized the peasantry and allowed corruption to flourish among its members.
As the Mao government had done in China, Ho Chi Minh cracked down. A January 6, 1958, resolution from the political bureau charged: “It is clear that the anti-Socialist and anti-Party elements have profited from out laxness to continue their attacks on us in the sphere of ideas and under the guise of arts and letters. The activities of these saboteurs among the artists and writers constitute a most dangerous threat and must be dealt with urgently.” (Cited by Nhu Phong, “North Vietnam: Intellectuals, Writers and Artists,” China Quarterly, January-March 1962.)
A witch-hunting campaign against the leaders of the movement was begun, with demands for their punishment as “saboteurs, agents of the enemy, now undermining us in the field of ideas and thoughts”.
In May 1958, six persons associated with this movement were arrested. They were later convicted of “acting as spies and psychological warfare cadres for the US/ Diem clique” and sentenced to prison terms of five to 15 years. According to the new, and more docile, literary magazine Van Hoc, “Other elements who were involved in the plots and activities of the Nguyen Huu Dang group, bore a lesser degree of guilt … They have been sent to study in re-education camps so that they may become good and worthwhile citizens. (Nhu Phong, op cit)
There is also evidence indicating the fostering of material privileges for party and government functionaries. Susan Sontag, an American novelist and critic highly sympathetic to the Vietnamese people, included the following striking observation in her book Trip to Hanoi (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968):
I can’t help contrasting the casual egalitarianism I observed among Cubans, whatever their rank or degree of responsibility, with the strongly hierarchical features of this society. No one is in the least servile here, but people know their place. While the deference I notice given to some by others is always graceful, there is clearly the feeling that certain people are more important or valuable than others and deserve a bigger share of the pitifully few comforts available. Hence, the store to which we were taken the third day to get tire sandals and have us each fitted for a pair of Vietnamese trousers. Hieu and Phan told us, with an almost proprietary pride, that this was a special store, reserved for foreigners (diplomatic personnel, guests) and important government people. I thought they should recognize that the existence of such facilities is “un-Communist”. But maybe I’m showing here how “American” I am. (p 32)
One of the few available reports on wage differentials gives figures for 1961 when unskilled workers received 40 dong per month (in 1959 1 dong equalled $US.26), while factory managers received 100 dong and governement ministers 200 dong a month. (US Army Area Handbook for Vietnam [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1962], p 161)
The extreme poverty of the country is indicated by the fact that these wages are on the average about half of what the comparable pay grades in China received at that time, but the degree of inequality between top and bottom of the pay scales are almost exactly the same as in China. In a very poor country, a wage five times as high as that of an unskilled worker is a genuine privilege even if the total amount of cash involved would not be very great in an advanced capitalist country. This does not take into account expense accounts, automobiles, housing and other amenities available to the top layers of the hierarchy.
Rousset takes heart from the fact that a “campaign” against bureaucratism is supposedly taking place in the DRV, although he notes that official speeches on the subject reduce this social phenomenon to questions of individual deportment and ideology. Trotsky noted similar campaigns in the Soviet Union:
In Soviet political literature, you often meet with accusations of “bureaucratism” as a bad custom of thought or method of work. (The accusation is always directed from above downward and is a method of self-defense on the part of the ruling circles.) But what you cannot meet anywhere is an investigation of the bureaucracy as a ruling stratum – its numbers and structure, its flesh and blood, its privileges and appetites, and the share of the national income which it swallows up. Nevertheless it exists And the fact that it so carefully conceals its social physiognomy proves that it possesses the specific consciousness of a ruling “class” which, however, is still far from confident of its right to rule. (The Revolution Betrayed p 135)
Rousset also poses some general theoretical considerations that, in his opinion, rule out the existence of a bureaucratic caste and, consequently, the perspective of political revolution in the DRV. A number of his statements represent real “innovations in the Trotskyist movement”.
He asserts that Trotsky’s analysis of the nature of the bureaucratic caste was based on the “given circumstances” of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s and cannot be applied to Vietnam or any other country where similar “given circumstances” do not exist. But Trotsky held that the rise of the bureaucracy was rooted, not in specific national characteristics, but in objective material conditions.
First among these was the grinding poverty of the Soviet Union, exacerbated by the ruin brought about by years of war. Second was the predominance of agriculture over industry in the economy and of the peasantry over the proletariat in the population. Third was the absence of successful socialist revolutions in the industrially advanced nations of the West. All of these conditions confront the DRV today. If even the Bolshevik party, with an explicit program for curtailing and fighting bureaucracy, succumbed in the Soviet Union, what reason is there to believe that the VCP with a program that embraces the “norms” it inherited from Moscow under Stalin has avoided creating a bureaucratic caste in the Stalinist model?
At another point, Rousset contradicts himself by admitting that these “given circumstances” do exist in the DRV. He writes: “the bureaucratic deformations of the DRV are primarily the result of objective conditions: underdevelopment, isolation, and a war of destruction and genocide. Not even a revolutionary Marxist leadership could have prevented their development, up to a certain point.” As an example of this, he writes: “The USSR from 1920 to 1923 … saw their soviets drained of their active component, democratic centralism in the party ‘suspended’ (Tenth Congress), the party completely merged with the state, bureaucratic privileges fostered, and the apparatus constructed as an instrument of war for the new bureaucratic caste that was forming.”
If this is meant to indicate that, as in the Soviet Union in 1920-23, a bureaucratic caste has not yet consolidated its grip on the party and the state in North Vietnam, it is a rather weak argument. How, for instance, can the temporary ban on factions imposed by the Tenth Congress of the Soviet CP (a perhaps erroneous step that Stalin utilized to impose a permanent ban on dissident opinion) be compared with the practice of the VCP, which never in its 40-year history practiced democratic centralism? In the period after the temporary ban and before Lenin’s death, Trotsky published The New Course and Lessons of October, which included harsh criticisms of the gestating bureaucratic mentality. The Left Opposition was created and functioned legally. As Isaac Deutscher wrote, “After the tenth congress had, in 1921, declared the ban on inner party factions, Bolshevik assemblies still resounded with controversy. Likeminded members still formed themselves into leagues, produced their ‘platforms’ and ‘theses’, and made scathing attacks on the leaders.” (The Prophet Unarmed [London: Oxford University Press, 1959], p 17) What would happen to members of the VCP (or other DRV citizens) who issued their own platforms or made such “scathing attacks”?
A more apt comparison would be with the regime that usurped power after Lenin’s death. This regime completed and codified the merger of party and state, as did the VCP regime. It not only strangled the soviets but, like the VCP, it imprisoned and executed the advocates of proletarian democracy. It became the policy of the regime to foster bureaucratic privilege, as is the case in the DRV. Stalin replaced the antibureaucratic program of Lenin with its opposite, which has been taken today by the VCP as a model. Stalin’s regime represented more than an accretion of bureaucratic characteristics; it instituted a qualitative change – the political expropriation of the proletariat by a petty bourgeois bureaucracy.
Of course, the VCP leaders had it easier than Stalin in that they did not have to destroy a tradition of proletarian democracy or overthrow a Bolshevik program that had determined defenders in the party leadership, in the ranks and in the masses. They did not have to liquidate a Left Opposition that fought for the program of revolutionary Marxism. Hence the absence of purges on the massive scale of those carried out by Stalin. Ho Chi Minh and his team were able to establish a bureaucratic regime in the very process of creating a workers’ state, as happened in Eastern Europe and in China.
Rousset errs in holding that bureaucratic deformations of the kind that exist in North Vietnam are inevitable in any isolated revolution in an underdeveloped country, regardless of the caliber of the leadership. While the objective conditions of backwardness and imperialist encirclement proved powerful enough to overwhelm even Lenin’s Bolshevik party, the norms of proletarian democracy established by the Bolsheviks were not eliminated without a long and bloody struggle. The program of the Left Opposition in 1923 proposed practical measures for reversing the bureaucratization that had taken place, although Trotsky understood that extension of the revolution to one or more of the advanced countries constituted the only guarantee against bureaucratic degeneration of the first workers’ state.
What is inevitable is that a leadership that tries to build a workers’ state in an underdeveloped country without a program for proletarian democracy will succumb to bureaucratic tendencies far more rapidly than a conscious revolutionary Marxist party. A leadership that begins with a Stalinist program of deliberately excluding the working class from the decision-making process will from its first moment in power foster a bureaucratic caste on the Soviet Stalinist model, magnifying the objective pressures toward bureaucratization.
It is important not to confuse bureaucratic deformations of a workers’ state with the unavoidable survival for a time of aspects of bourgeois society such as a government bureaucracy, certain wage differentials, etc. Such vestiges are inevitable during the transitional period in countries like the Soviet Union in 1917 and Vietnam today. They will disappear entirely only with the achievement of communism, at which time all forms of the state, a relic of the oppression of one class by another, will also wither away.
A healthy workers’ state does not do away with government employees, a “bureaucracy”, after the revolution. Only when this bureaucracy deprives the proletariat of political power does it become transformed from a necessary transitional organ, subordinate to the workers, into a reactionary caste. The workers’ state is then no longer under the command of the working class, the only class with an objective material interest in guiding the state towards the creation of socialism. Instead, power is held by a petty bourgeois layer that has a material interest in barring the road to this advance and in reinforcing bourgeois survivals. That is why Trotsky saw the rise of the bureaucracy before Lenin’s death as a threat to the revolution (not as an inevitable development), and its conquest of power afterward as a political counter-revolution.
It is true that, if the revolution does not triumph in the advanced capitalist countries, proletarian democracy in an isolated and backward workers’ state is doomed in the long run. Indeed, if capitalism is not overthrown in its main centers, the workers’ states themselves are doomed in the long run.
But as long as a workers’ state exists, however isolated and however poverty-stricken, proletarian democracy is both possible and necessary to assure that it advances toward socialism rather than slipping backwards under the direction of what Trotsky described as the “bourgeois organ of a workers’ state” – the bureaucracy.
Rousset is aware of the Bolshevik program for curbing bureaucratic abuse. He is familiar with the institutions of workers’ democracy that would characterize a healthy workers’ state, but his determination to rationalize the North Vietnamese regime’s divergence from these norms on the grounds of objective necessity leads him to move dangerously far from a materialist explanation of the causes of bureaucratism. He goes so far as to predict a universal spread of the bureaucratic blight, although in a less oppressive form than that of Stalinism in the USSR. He sees bureaucratism as an inevitable stage regardless of the program and capabilities of the parties that will lead the socialist revolutions to come, regardless even of the level of material culture and wealth of the societies where revolutions are made. Thus he writes:
It is true that the tendency toward bureaucratization is universal; it will even be evident in the US, the most economically developed country in the world.
It is difficult to imagine on what objective conditions Rousset bases such a dismal prediction. With the elimination of capitalism in the main stronghold of imperialism, the US, the material conditions that favored bureaucratic backsliding in underdeveloped workers’ states will be qualitatively changed. The capitalist isolation of the workers’ states will be eliminated once and for all. No remaining capitalist country could seriously threaten intervention against a victorious US revolution. Instead of being based in a country with a predominantly petty bourgeois population and a small, newly formed working class, the US revolution will be led by the largest and most powerful working class in the world. It will place at the service of international socialist planning a vast and modern industrial plant. The first minimum condition for the achievement of socialism, a higher productivity of labor than in the advanced capitalist countries, will be achieved in relatively short order. What factors, then, will cause the US working class to yield even part of its power to a bureaucracy?
It is true that even in the US socialism cannot be introduced all at once. Further advances in productivity on a world scale will be required for this. Hence, such bourgeois institutions as a government bureaucracy and a money economy will be needed for a time. But the objective conditions would be hostile to the demobilization of the working class and to bureaucratic degeneration. They would favor a rapid advance toward socialism, accompanied by the withering away of the state predicted by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. This is a far cry from the inevitable tendency toward bureaucracy imagined by Rousset.
Rousset’s forecast of a universal period of bureaucratism at the expense of the working class can only be justified on the basis of the theory that a bureaucracy of the Stalinist type is necessary in the transitional period before the achievement of socialism. In that case, it would be necessary to reevaluate the Trotskyist position that the bureaucratic caste is a parasitic formation that performs no positive functions as a ruling group that could not be accomplished much better by the working class through proletarian democracy.
Rousset expresses shock at our proposal that a political revolution is needed in the DRV: “But what does such a slogan imply? That the Trotskyist militants in the DRV – or in the liberated zones of the PRG – had to (since when? 1954?) and still have to work simultaneously for the anti-imperialist struggle and for the insurrectional overthrow of the government of the DRV and the PRG, and the crushing of the VCP?”
This is a polemical distortion of our position. We believe that Trotsky, writing about the tasks of Trotskyists in the Soviet-controlled zone of Poland in 1940, gave some good advice that is applicable to the work of revolutionary Marxists in Vietnam, despite the obvious differences in the situations.
In the event of war between the Soviet Union and Germany, he wrote, Trotskyists, “without changing in any way their attitude toward the Kremlin oligarchy, will advance to the forefront, as the most urgent task of the hour, the military resistance against Hitler. The workers will say: ‘We cannot cede to Hitler the overthrowing of Stalin: that is our own task.’ During the military struggle against Hitler, the revolutionary workers will strive to enter into the closest possible comradely relations with the rank-and-file fighters of the Red Army. While arms in hand they deal blows to Hitler, the Bolshevik-Leninists will at the same time conduct revolutionary propaganda against Stalin preparing his overthrow at the next and perhaps very near stage.” (“The USSR in War“, In Defense of Marxism [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], p. 20.)
In territory held by the Red Army, Trotsky wrote, “partisans of the Fourth International must play the most decisive part in expropriating the landlords and capitalists, in dividing the land among the peasants, in creating soviets and workers’ committees, etc. While so doing, they must preserve their political independence, they must fight during elections to the soviets and factory committees for the complete independence of the latter from the bureaucracy, and they must conduct revolutionary propaganda in the spirit of distrust toward the Kremlin and its local agencies.” (Ibid, p 20)
Of course, counterposing the program of revolutionary Marxism to that of the DRV leaders, while participating in the forefront of the anti-imperialist struggle, will bring Trotskyist cadres into sharp conflict with the VCP. The leaders of this party have more than once demonstrated their readiness to deal ruthlessly with such challenges. Trotskyists should have no illusions about the dangers and difficulties they will face in struggling for proletarian democracy in North Vietnam.
Our analysis of the VCP is not new. It is the traditional one held by the Trotskyist movement, an “orthodox” position that continues to be supported by the facts. Our movement from the beginning counterposed revolutionary Marxism to the VCP’s program and practice.
Rousset seems to now believe that the VCP was never a Stalinist party; if he disavows such a position, he at any rate believes it is not Stalinist today. Indeed, he holds that it is a revolutionary party. We feel that he is obligated to state whether he considers the Fourth International’s previous characterizations of the VCP to have been in error, and if so why. On the other hand, if he thinks they were correct, and that the VCP has changed since that time, he has the duty to explain how and when this change occurred. Were there no internal convulsions and no objections from Moscow or Peking when this happened?
It has not been possible for us to reply in detail to every objection Rousset made to our article, or to take up every point on which we would disagree with the positions he expresses in his reply. One important area that remains to be explored is his contention that the more underdeveloped a country is, the greater the separation in time there will be between the solution of bourgeois democratic tasks and the undertaking of socialist ones. This appears to us to be a shift away from the theory of permanent revolution, according to which serious industrialization and the ending of economic dependency on imperialism can be achieved only through a nationalized, planned economy, towards the Maoist theory of “uninterrupted revolution”. In China today the “uninterrupted revolution in stages” postulates a more or less prolonged bourgeois democratic “stage” after the military defeat of foreign imperialism and “feudalism”. In this period the Communist Party in alliance with bourgeois parties (regardless of who has hegemony in the government) will administer a capitalist economy. It is only later that the revolution is supposed to pass over “uninterruptedly” to the socialist tasks. In our opinion, even the bourgeois democratic tasks such as deep-going land reform and economic independence from imperialism cannot be accomplished under this two-stage schema. The Maoist theory is actually quite old, being traceable back to the Mensheviks.
We cannot agree with Comrade Rousset that empiricism, whether its source is French Social-Democratic humanism or Confucianism, results – when added to Stalinist theory – in revolutionary proletarian practice. All three of these sources are deeply conservative and have nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism.
We must also take exception to Rousset’s comments on the Vietnamese Trotskyists. It is true that a serious history of the Trotskyist movement in Vietnam has yet to be written and much is still unknown. When more facts are available we have a responsibility to weigh the course followed by the Vietnamese Trotskyists, resisting any temptation to explain away possible mistakes or weaknesses because they suffered repression at the hands of the Stalinists or of the imperialists.
Rousset, however, seems to see the rise of the VCP and the crushing of the Trotskyists as in itself a vindication of the program of the former and an indictment of errors of the latter. It is an example of his own deep-going empiricism. He makes special reference to the drawn-out nature of the anti-imperialist struggle, implying that any group with a revolutionary program should have been able to outflank the VCP had the VCP not in fact been a true leader of the revolution.
It strikes us that this is a dangerous line of reasoning. It ignores the weight of world Stalinism in the situation. It leaves out the immense social attraction of the victorious Soviet Union for the colonial masses at the end of World War II and the difficulties this created for building revolutionary parties in even the most promising situation. It ignores the fact that the VCP, along with the rest of the Stalinist parties in the colonial world, used its prestige among the masses to betray and derail the revolutionary upsurge that followed World War II, in the process physically exterminating the most conscious leaders of the revolutionary opposition. It leaves out the fact that the Stalinist parties of the colonial world briefly turned to the path of anti-imperialist struggle only as part of Moscow’s response to the Cold War – and that this turn was aimed initially at pressuring Washington into accepting a peaceful coexistence deal. In some situations, such as those in North Vietnam and China, the expanding scope of the struggle made it impossible to turn back to class collaboration without risking annihilation, but that is a far cry from Rousset’s contention that it was the foresight of the Stalinists that determined the outcome.
Comrade Rousset knows from his own experience how difficult it is to construct a revolutionary party and to win the leadership of the masses against the entrenched bureaucratic leaderships of the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties and trade unions. He should take particular care, then, to avoid unfairly criticizing comrades in Vietnam for not having had greater organizational success. We have shown how Rousset tries to avoid admitting the VCP’s responsibility for the murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyist leaders in 1945-46. He also tries, on the one hand, to present the Vietnamese Trotskyists as advocates of the same class-collaborationist policy as was practiced by the Stalinists. On the other hand, he charges the Trotskyists with underestimating the peasantry, a refrain that has been repeated so often by the Stalinists in all countries that every Trotskyist should automatically demand serious evidence before accepting it as a valid accusation. On what basis does Rousset find truthfulness in these charges?
Searching for examples of Trotskyist participation in “tactical” alliances with the bourgeoisie on the VCP model, Rousset comes up with the following from the history of Vietnamese Trotskyism:
1. A 1931 quotation from Ta Thu Thau in which Ta noted the existence of a left wing in the bourgeois Constitutionalist Party. Ta proposed that the Communist Party (which the Trotskyists were then still seeking to reform as this was before Trotsky’s definitive break with the Third International in 1933) “penetrate without fear and left sectarianism in this last to win them to our revolutionary conceptions and methods of work”.
This is a tactical suggestion about an area of possible recruitment and party-building work. No offer of political support to a bourgeois party is made. In fact, this statement has nothing to do with alliances with the national bourgeoisie, principled or otherwise.
2. At one time, Rousset writes, representatives elected to the municipal council by the La Lutte united front “maintained constant relations with the liberal wing of the bourgeois party”. Since Rousset fails to give any concrete description of what he means by “constant relations” this amounts to an innuendo.
3. Rousset suggests a further similarity between the attitude of the Vietnamese Trotskyists and of the VCP towards the bourgeoisie by pointing to Ta Thu Thau’s active participation in 1936 in a committee to call an Indochinese conference that had a bourgeois majority. Rousset also suggests that the split the next year in La Lutte between the Stalinists and the Trotskywas not connected with the attitude to be taken towards the Vietnamese bourgeoisie but was over the Popular Front in France. But here is what a representative the Trotskyists wrote about these events in the Octo24, 1937, issue of the magaizine, La Lutte.
The Trotskyists have never been partisans of a close alliance with the Constitutionalists. In 1936, the Stalinists wanted this alliance to realize an Indochinese popular front in the image of that in France. The Trotskyists did not want to oppose this in a crude way since they considered that the masses would not understand it.
So they “marched” with the Constitutionalists; but they also launched a call for Committees of Action; these would transform the popular front, once it had been decomposed, into a worker-peasant front. In actual fact, after one month of an alliance that was sterile at the top, but with large and profound work at the base, the Constitutionalists wanted to break the Indochinese Congress in two; splitting it for fallacious motives.
The masses had understood from their own experience the treacherous role of the indigenous bourgeoisie. The Action Committees became the organs at the base of a real worker-peasant front of struggle. We had utilized, you see, the policy of the Stalinists as the first element for the realization of our own.
Rousset’s case that Trotskyists and the Vietnamese Stalinists had a similar policy – in “practice” – towards the national bourgeoisie remains unproved. What do any of these examples have to do with calling for participation in coalition governments with the bourgeoisie, or issuing common programs that call for the protection of capitalist property relations?
Rousset also attributes to Ta Thu Thau the position of supporting Mao’s post-1936 popular front with Chiang Kai-shek during the anti-Japanese war. Unfortunately, he does not quote Ta Thu Thau. The world Trotskyist movement was clear on this question. It unconditionally supported the Chinese people against Japanese imperialism and advocated a military alliance with Chiang to advance the struggle while opposing a common program or government. Ta was certainly familiar with this position and if Rousset thinks he differed with it, he should present his evidence.
Rousset’s charge that the Vietnamese Trotskyists underestimated the peasantry is based on peculiar grounds to say the least. He traces this underestimation to their failure to recognize that before the intervention of imperialism, the Asiatic mode of production, not feudalism, prevailed in Vietnam. The socioeconomic character of Vietnam’s past is a question of interest and further scientific investigation investigation should be done on it. If the Asiatic mode prevailed, this would explain the cohesiveness of the peasant village clans. But this is all beside the point, because it neglects to tell us that the Stalinists also characvailed Vietnam as “feudal” and denied that it had ever known the Asiatic mode of production. Hence it was not from this theoretical insight that the VCP’s supposed superior understanding of the importance of the peasantry can be derived.
Rousset’s charge that the Socialist Workers Party and the ISR have been more critical of Stalinist parties such as the VCP than of nationalist formations such as the Palestinian resistance for failing to reject the “two-stage” theory of revolution is unfounded and misplaced. As in the case of Vietnam, we have considered it our first duty in the Arab East to oppose the criminal interventions of imperialism and have concentrated our public fire on the imperialists and Zionists. But we have raised public warnings against trying to separate the need for socialist revolution from the struggle against Zionism and the reactionary Arab regimes. Rousset should see in this regard Gus Horowitz’s critical introduction to the article “The Palestine of Tomorrow” by Nabil Sha’ath in the September 1971 ISR. This was reprinted during the October 1973 war in a special pamphlet and given even wider circulation than in its first edition.
More generally, however, the debate with Comrade Rousset has revealed differences extending into many areas. Of particular concern is his decision, in replying to our review, to defend the practices of the VCP. He discounts its theory, but thereby discounts the role of theory in general, particularly revolutionary Marxist theory. Since the theory and practice of the VCP are by no means unique, as Rousset would have us believe, he will find it difficult to explain his rejection in other Stalinist parties of similar theories and practices.
Nor can Rousset long maintain his posture of equating the policies of the VCP “in practice” with those of revolutionary Marxism. He will have to choose between the two. This is demonstrated by the fact that he has already been led to systematically reduce the role of the revolutionary Marxist party in the colonial revolution and to develop an entirely new category of “empirical revolutionary parties” in order to defend the VCP.
It is possible that some of Rousset’s formulations in reply to our review represent polemical exaggerations rather than firm theoretical convictions. In that case, he should pause to reconsider a position that requires defenses veering so far from the traditions of revolutionary Marxism.
This debate, initiated by the publication of Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien, does not change the priorities of the Trotskyist movement as we stated them in our article:
Our first task is the unconditional defense of the Vietnamese revolution, regardless of our evaluation of the leadership. This means that revolutionary Marxists must continue to direct their fire first and foremost against US imperialism, which is still … propping up the criminal regime of Thieu. Secondly, we must expose the role of Moscow and Peking, which have once again put maximum pressure on the Vietnamese leaders to give ground or face the danger of confronting US imperialism alone.
This has been and remains the position of the American Trotskyists. The US imperialists are the oppressor of the Vietnamese people and we focus our fire on them as the main enemy.
International Socialist Review, February 1974
Biographical notes (1974). GEORGE JOHNSON was in the Far East for seven years, first as a GI and then as a journalist, he spent 1966 in Vietnam. He was a leader of the antiwar movement in San Francisco and an editor of Task Force, an antiwar GI newspaper, before moving to New York. He was a member of the Socialist Workers Party.
FRED FELDMAN is a former associate editor of International Socialist Review. He played a leading role in the antiwar movement in Philadelphia and in San Francisco, and edited several collections of documents on the history of the Fourth International, the world Trotskyist organization, published by the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party.