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
In 1973-74 some members of the Fourth International discussed the nature of the Vietnamese revolution and Communist Party. It was a discussion between people who had been deeply involved in the movement against the imperialist assault on Vietnam and who were knowledgable of Vietnam and its history.
The arguments on both sides were serious and well-informed.
An interesting point about the discussion is that in subsequent years some of the participants ended up moving to positions other than those they defended in the original exchange.
Nevertheless, the 1973-74 discussion stands the test of time as a serious canvassing of many of the issues concerning the Vietnamese revolution. It’s not a bad starting point for current discussions of the same issues.
On the nature of the Vietnamese Communist Party
George Johnson and Fred Feldman
The resistance of the Vietnamese people to the brutal war waged against them by US imperialism has been the center of world politics for the past decade. The perseverance and courage of these rebels in the face of the overwhelming material advantages held by the invader have provided the world with inspiring proof that the imperialist monster can be fought and set back.
The stunning blows dealt the US rulers by the Vietnamese fighters, combined with the worldwide antiwar movement that their struggle inspired, have forced the imperialists into numerous tactical shifts and retreats in their effort to maintain a foothold for capitalism in Indochina. Although the imperialists were confident at the beginning that their vast military power would bring the Vietnamese to heel, they have been forced to accept for the time being, after eight years of fullscale war, a highly unstable compromise.
The Vietnamese revolution undermined the facade of social stability that the imperialist centers had attempted to maintain at home. It played a part in setting off the giant worker-student upsurge in France in May 1968 that threatened to topple capitalism in France.
In the United States, the exposure of the lies and maneuvers of the government profoundly undermined the illusions of masses of people, especially the youth, about their capitalist leaders. Massive demonstrations – involving millions of people – brought down one president and sharply limited the maneuvering room of a second. The huge expenditures that the ruling class devoted to battering this small country and its people became a factor in weakening the economic position of US imperialism internationally.
The conservative and anti-internationalist bureaucrats in Moscow and Peking were put on the spot by the determined resistance of the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian peoples to US aggression. Although they were forced to give a measure of material aid to North Vietnam, both bureaucracies showed their eagerness to subordinate the Vietnamese struggle to deals with imperialism by playing the lavish host to Richard Nixon and tolerating the blockade of North Vietnam’s ports.
The central task that this revolutionary struggle imposed on radicals and revolutionists was to expose the lies of the imperialists and to build a mass movement against all forms of intervention. Since the signing of the Paris agreements, they have continued to oppose the imperialist effort to maintain a grip on Indochina, whether through propping up the brutal Saigon regime, saturation bombing of Cambodia, threats of renewed bombing of North Vietnam, or other methods. Revolutionists are duty bound to unconditionally oppose all imperialist claims to a say in the future of Vietnam, including those concessions wrested from the Vietnamese in the peace negotiations under the threat of continued war.
The support of revolutionary Marxists for the Vietnamese people, including their current leaders, against imperialism is unconditional. It does not depend on reaching agreement with their leaders on a common political program. Nonetheless, it is natural that Trotskyists should study and seek to evaluate the party that has led the Vietnamese masses throughout most of this decades-long struggle, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP).*
Revolutionary Marxists consider the construction of an international party on a clear revolutionary program to be an absolute necessity for the triumph of socialism on a world scale. They seek to discover whether the Vietnamese Communist Party represents a model of such an organization in its program and methods or whether it has committed errors in theory and practice that differentiate it from revolutionary Marxism.
Pierre Rousset, a leader of the Ligue Communiste, the French section of the Fourth International (the world Trotskyist organization), is the author of a study of the history of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien. This book was copyrighted in 1973 by the Ligue Communiste and printed by Maspero in the Collection Livres Rouges” which is sponsored by the Trotskyist organizations in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Britain. The impression can thus be gained that Rousset’s main political conclusions represent the views of an important sector of the world Trotskyist movement. Rousset brings to the book, in addition, his well-earned prestige as an activist and leader in the European antiwar movement.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien contains much valuable material towards a history of the Vietnamese Communist Party. We would not disagree with many of his factual conclusions. Rousset, however, goes beyond the established revolutionary Marxist position of granting unconditional support to the Vietnamese struggle regardless of political differences with the Vietnamese leaders. He holds that revolutionists should give political confidence to these leaders, and he tries to draw on the lessons of the history of the Vietnamese struggle to demonstrate the correctness of such an approach.
Unfortunately, the venture is a dubious one. Rousset misinterprets the party’s history, frequently accepting uncritically the claims made by the VCP about itself. He ignores the contrary attitude taken by the Trotskyist movement toward Vietnamese Stalinism, including the positions taken by the Vietnamese Trotskyists, the French Trotskyists, the world congresses of the Fourth International and Trotsky himself.
We will first summarize Rousset’s conclusions. He holds that the leaders of the VCP have largely overcome the influence of Stalinism (although he says that they still do not understand the nature and origins of Stalinism). They have been able to accomplish this because of the duration and intensity of the struggle forced on them by imperialism, which has educated the Vietnamese masses in revolution.
The Vietnamese Communist Party, he writes, “belongs to that generation of Communist parties that, during and after the Second World War, broke in practice with the international politics of the Soviet bureaucracy”. Other Communist parties which did this were those of Greece, Yugoslavia, and China. “Of all of these parties,” Rousset goes on, “the VCP is the one that was the furthest along in rediscovering the principles of Marxism”, although he adds that this was not accompanied by reconsideration of the “debate” between the Trotskyist Left Opposition and the rising Stalinist bureaucracy (p 125).
According to Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien, the VCP has on several occasions openly opposed the international politics of the Soviet bureaucrats, and opposes the Stalinist parties on key theoretical questions, although without ever openly polemicizing with them.
Just how far the leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party may go in their rediscovery of Marxist principles is left open by Rousset. Already, he writes, they have, “as a whole, assimilated the decisive implications of the permanent revolution for the colonies and semicolonies”. (p 98) If true, this would mean that the VCP has, in essence, a Trotskyist program for the colonies and semicolonies. We conclude from this statement that Rousset thinks that the program and practice of the Vietnamese CP are adequate to the needs of the Vietnamese revolution and that there is no need for Vietnamese Trotskyists to propose the revolutionary Marxist program as an alternative to that of the VCP.
In this review we will try to demonstrate that the Vietnamese Communist Party has the fundamental weaknesses associated with Stalinism that were acquired as a result of its Stalinist origins and that were reinforced by its Stalinist practices. Among the most notable are:
- At several points in its history it has dropped the demand for national independence in deference to the diplomatic needs of international Stalinism. Contrary to the contention of Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien, it did this not only at the time of the Popular Front in 1936-39, but in 1943-47 as well.
- It has followed the same zigzagging course in regard to land reform. Rousset errs by stating that the VCP carried out a thoroughgoing radical land reform in 1953.
- Despite the VCP’s claim to be a Marxist-Leninist working-class-based party, its main orientation since 1940 has been towards the peasantry.
- To this day, the VCP renounces the goal of creating a workers’ state in South Vietnam.
- The Vietnamese Communist Party has tailored its program to the goal of alliances with “patriotic” bourgeois and landlord elements, refusing to put forward demands for thoroughgoing land reform and workers’ control of industry.
- The Vietnamese Communist Party holds to the non-Leninist, class-collaborationist practice of forming governmental blocs with bourgeois elements, either in what it calls the “national united front” or in coalition governments. It has gone so far as to create bourgeois parties where none existed so as to “broaden” its front formations. Such parties still remain in the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and in the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. They represent nothing, being creatures of the VCP, as symbols of the class-collaborationist program of the VCP.
- The VCP leaders have continually put their faith in agreements with one or another of the imperialist powers and have urged the Vietnamese masses to do the same. By doing this, they have miseducated and disarmed the masses politically. This policy has created less favorable conditions for struggle when the inevitable betrayals by imperialists occurred.
- They continue to spread such illusions about agreements with the imperialists today. Compromises are hailed as “great victories”. This spreads confusion not only among the Vietnamese masses, but also among the international allies of the Vietnamese people, the worldwide antiwar movement.
These practical weaknesses are accompanied by theoretical errors that are also products of their adherence to Stalinism. The VCP leaders believe in the theory of socialism in one country. They counterposed “building socialism” in the North to full support for the revolutionary struggle in the South when Ngo Dinh Diem launched counterrevolutionary repression after the Geneva Accords were signed. Because they believe in this fundamental tenet of Stalinism, they reveal no sign of interest in building a world revolutionary party, the sine qua non for a revolutionary in our epoch. Their occasional differences with other Stalinist powers are invariably muted and diplomatic. These differences reflect conflicts of national interests, and not opposing world programs. The VCP leaders have been much less forthright, in fact, in giving vent to these differences than such thoroughly Stalinized parties as those of Rumania and Korea.
The leaders of the VCP adhere to the Stalinist theory of a two-stage revolution. In their view, the first stage is the “national democratic” stage, and they refuse to make demands during this extended “stage” that surpass what they hope sections of the bourgeoisie and the landowners will be willing to accept. They have killed revolutionists, especially Trotskyists, who have called on the Vietnamese masses to go beyond those limits. The VCP leaders hold that a “bloc of four classes” (a governmental coalition including the national bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, workers, and peasants) is necessary for this bourgeois stage. They learned this in the school of Stalinism, along with the two-stage theory.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien does not deny that many of these weaknesses are to be found in the writings of the VCP leaders; in fact, many such instances are pointed out in the book. It admits that the use of “Stalino-Maoist terminology” by the VCP leaves it open to Stalinist-type errors, especially in its relations with the bourgeoisie and landlords (pp 107ff). But it claims that the specific practices of the VCP contradict these theoretical failings. Closer study will reveal, however, that the practices of the VCP leaders are all too often consistent with these false concepts. It is the revolutionary actions of the Vietnamese people that have contradicted them again and again.
The Vietnamese Communist Party developed in the context of the Stalinization of the Communist International. Rousset discusses several of the twists and turns made by Stalinism, particularly the Third Period, the Popular Front, and the Stalin-Hitler pact. He underestimates the deleterious and long-lasting effect these Stalinist policies had on the development of the VCP and its leading cadres.
The Third Period
The Stalinization of the Comintern developed along with the consolidation of a privileged bureaucratic layer in the Soviet Union at the time of Lenin’s final illness and death. This bureaucracy, led by Stalin, claimed that it was possible to complete the building of socialism in a single country. They counterposed this perspective to the traditional Bolshevik view that the achievement of socialism required the further spread of the world revolution, especially to the advanced countries of Europe and North America. The Left Opposition was formed by Trotsky to oppose this rejection of revolutionary internationalism.
As part of an effort to win friends for the Soviet Union, the Stalinists ordered the Chinese Communist Party to bloc with the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang during the 1925-27 revolution. Trotsky predicted that this policy would result in a massive defeat for the Chinese revolution if it was not changed, thus further isolating the Soviet Union. As Trotsky had foreseen, Chiang Kai-shek turned on the workers and peasants and crushed them in a series of bloody massacres, in which thousands of Communist Party members also lost their lives.
In an effort to cover up this disastrous failure, Stalin ordered the Chinese CP into an ill-prepared and untimely insurrection in Canton that was quickly crushed by Chiang, who had already smashed the revolutionary upsurge in the rest of the country. Such doomed adventures became part of Stalin’s Third Period policy, an ultraleft line that was imposed without regard to political reality on every party in the Comintern.**
The VCP was formed during the Third Period. Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien says that this ultraleft turn by the Comintern coincided fortunately with a “revolutionary thrust” in Vietnam. Therefore, it is contended, this policy did not have the disastrous results it had elsewhere (p 10). Rather, it asserts that the VCP had the “double dimension” of internationalism and involvement in the national struggle (pp 9-10). It quotes the programs of the Vietnamese Communist Party during this period, noting that they called for both national independence, land reform, a workers’ and peasants’ government, and even soviets (p 17).
The program of the VCP during this period followed the policy adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern for colonial and semicolonial countries. (See, for instance, the theses “On Communist Strategy and Tactics in China, India, and Similar Colonial Countries,” in the Sixth Congress documenst, International Press Correspondence, December 12, 1928, pp. 1665-76.)
The program adopted by the VCP in 1930 was:
- To overthrow French imperialism, feudalism, and the reactionary Vietnamese capitalist class.
- To make Indochina completely independent.
- To establish a worker-peasant and soldier government.
- To confiscate the banks and other enterprises belonging to the imperialists and put them under the control of the worker-peasant and soldier government.
- To confiscate the whole of the plantations and property belonging to the imperialists and the Vietnamese reactionary capitalist class and distribute them to poor peasant.
- To implement the eight-hour working day.
- To abolish public loans and poll taxes. To waive unjust taxes hitting the poor people.
- To bring back all freedoms to the masses.
- To carry out universal education.
- To implement equality between man and woman.
This program was very similar to that of the Chinese CP, which was listed in the 1928 theses adopted by the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International:
- Overthrow of imperialist domination.
- Confiscation of foreign enterprises and banks.
- Unity of the country, with recognition of the right of each nationality to self-determination.
- Overthrow of the power of the militarists and the Kuomintang.
- Establishment of the power of soviets of workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ representatives.
- Institution of the eight-hour working day, increase of wages, assistance to the unemployed, and social insurance.
- Confiscation of all lands of big landlords, land for the peasants and soldiers.
- Abolition of all governmental, militarist and local taxes and levies; a single progressively graduated income tax.
- Alliance with the USSR and the world proletarian movement.
It is clear from this that the 1930 program of the VCP was within the framework of Third Period Stalinism. The VCP also supported, as part of the Third Period strategy, the “bloc of four classes” and the theory of “revolution in stages”.
After Chiang Kai-shek (who represented the bourgeois element in the “bloc of four classes” as applied to China) massacred the Chinese workers, the Comintern leaders looked for a scapegoat to take the blame for its failures. They accused the Chinese Communist Party of “underestimating the peasantry,” a sin they falsely attributed to Trotskyism. One outcome of this factional maneuver was the effort to redress the error by organizing peasant armies and peasant soviets in China – not in association with a powerful upsurge of the urban workers’ movement but as a substitute during a period of deep demoralization and quiescence in the cities and most of the countryside. Thus, the class-collaborationist policy of 1925-27 was followed by rural adventures. The same ultraleft policy was carried out in Vietnam. Trotsky and the Left Opposition did not regard this shift as in any sense a rectification of the previous policy but merely as a new and costly bureaucratic gyration.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien includes an account, based on official VCP sources, of the Nghe-Tinh “Xo-viets”, a peasant rising organized in 1930-31 by the VCP. The key point about this movement, ignored by both Rousset and official historians, is that it can only be called a foredoomed ultraleft action. It occurred in the wake of the defeat of a much larger uprising led by a nationalist party at Yen Bay and the white terror that followed the Yen Bay setback.
The Trotskyist critique
Although Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien repeats the criticisms of the VCP’s ultraleftism made by the VCP itself, it notes that these errors were also criticized by the Vietnamese Trotskyists. It is unfortunate that Rousset did not go more deeply into Trotskyist criticisms and analyses made at this time. They can be found in a series of articles in La Lutte de Classes, the theoretical journal of the French Left Oppositionists (as the Trotskyists were then called) during 1931 and 1932. This remarkable series, written by Vietnamese and French Trotskyists, makes extensive and perceptive criticisms of the VCP’s program and practice.
At that time, it should be noted, the Trotskyists were still attempting to reform the parties of the Comintern. When, following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Communist parties failed to seriously question the ultraleft and opportunist policies that had made this possible, the Trotskyists decided that the Stalinist parties were irredeemable and began to build the Fourth International. The analysis made by the Trotskyists can be summarized as follows:
- The Nghe-Tinh “soviets” were evidence of adventurism in the VCP.
- The Trotskyists pointed to the creation of “peasant soviets” and guerrilla detachments during the Nghe-Tinh movement as further signs that the VCP was falling into the same sort of peasant orientation, as a substitute for proletarian program and practice, that had been adopted by the Chinese CP. They described the Nghe-Tinh uprising as a miniature version of the short-lived, ultraleft Canton rebellion and cited the criticisms made by Trotsky of this adventurism.
- They noted the declaration by the Tonkin section of the VCP that “the Communist Party should not be the party of the proletariat, but that of all the poverty-stricken and exploited masses” as a further indication of a shift away from the working class, and evidence of petty bourgeois revolutionism, reflected in the adoption of terrorist tactics.
- They described the VCP’s social composition as heavily weighted in favor of intellectuals, peasants, and artisans, whom it had won from the nationalist parties. This imbalance must be corrected by systematic work among the proletariat.
The Vietnamese Trotskyists proposed for the VCP the following perspective:
- For a program of democratic and transitional demands aimed at bringing the peasant struggles under the leadership of the urban proletariat: universal suffrage, a Constituent Assembly, national independence.
- For integrating the Communist Party into the ranks of the city proletariat through a series of demands aimed at uniting the workers in struggle: for the eight-hour day, workers’ control, salary increases, trade-union freedom, and the right to strike. “These slogans should be tied to the democratic and independence slogans. It is in the development of these struggles themselves under the leadership of the party that the power of the movement will grow and the revolutionary course will crystallize these slogans and reduce them to a single common denominator: the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (La Lutte de Classes, February-May, 1931, p 101.)
- Against the slogan of “peasant soviets” put forward by the VCP in the absence of workers’ soviets in the cities. “… soviets can develop their systematic activity only if the proletariat plays a decisive role. The Stalinist conception of peasant soviets is a deadly falsification. The adoption of the slogan of soviets is linked to the development of the movement in the cities.” ( Ibid, p 102.)
- For an agrarian program that attacks bourgeois private property and the rich peasantry as well as the large landholders. The party should base its agrarian program on rallying the poor peasants and the agricultural workers. In the case of the latter, demands should be put forward similar to those advanced for the city proletariat.
- For the coordination of the revolutionary proletarian movements throughout Asia. The perspective of such links should be regional economic integration of all the major countries of Asia after the seizure of power – a socialist “United States of Asia”.
- For coordination of the proletarian movements in the colonial countries and those of the proletariat in the advanced countries.
A general criticism that is expressed in numerous places in the series in La Lutte de Classes charges that the VCP viewed itself as a two-class “workers and peasants” party in contradiction to the Leninist theory of a clearly proletarian party that wins the leadership of the peasant masses in struggle around a proletarian program.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien concludes that the years 1925 to 1935 taught the VCP several lessons: first, “the leading role of the working class” in the Vietnamese revolution; second, the “importance of the worker-peasant alliance”; third, the “necessity of revolutionary violence”; and fourth, “the nature of the revolution to come”. The author concludes, “National and international conditions combined to give the ICP [Indochinese Communist Party] a programmatic orientation that was radical and revolutionary.” (p 16)
These “lessons” should be looked at more closely in light of the Trotskyist criticisms. First, the “leading role of the working class” means little if the party that is leading the struggle is other than a workers’ party – for instance a peasantbased party with a petty-bourgeois Stalinist program. The same problem arises in the “worker-peasant alliance” if the working class is playing no role, but its authority is claimed by a petty bourgeois party.
Further, the “leading role of the working class” cannot be guaranteed by the leading role of any party, but only by the mobilization of the broad mass of the working class as a whole at the head of the revolution. Any other concept slips toward substitutionism
“The necessity of revolutionary violence” was not news to world Stalinism in 1930. Further, both “revolutionary violence” and the “nature of the revolution to come” are not independent of the question of the leadership and program that give direction to “revolutionary violence” and the “revolution to come”. Is revolutionary violence to be carried out by an aroused working class together with the poor peasants, or by a peasant army in isolation from the working-class masses? Is the “revolution to come” to be a socialist revolution or a bourgeois “national-democratic” revolution?
It would have provided a more balanced view of this period if Rousset had noted some of these weaknesses of the VCP that flowed from the Third Period line. Otherwise, one can be led to conclude from his book that Third Period Stalinism was beneficial for Vietnam.***
“Revolution by stages”
The VCP was founded in 1930, in the midst of the Third Period. Ho Chi Minh and other founders of the VCP were supporters of Stalin’s faction in the Comintern. They received much of their political education in Canton, where they helped carry out the ruinous policy of the Comintern during the 1925-27 revolution, which the Left Opposition pointed to at that time as the culmination of Stalin’s disastrous policies. They never repudiated the Comintern’s policies in China, but instead supported the Stalin faction in making scapegoats of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. They accepted the switch to ultraleftism when it replaced the discredited policy that preceded it.
It was not only the immediate tactics of the Comintern that the VCP endorsed. It also embraced the Stalinist “theory” of the revolution by stages, which was later given a radical face by Truong Chinh and Mao Tse-tung under the name “uninterrupted revolution”. Unlike Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, however, in which it would be the proletariat and its party that combined bourgeois-democratic and socialist tasks, the Stalinist thesis, even in its most “left” version, called for a distinct “bourgeois stage”, marked by an alliance with the “anti-imperialist” national bourgeoisie, that would at some later date “go over” to a socialist stage.
According to a party history published in 1970, the “political theses” adopted by the VCP Central Committee in October 1930 included the following analysis:
The Vietnamese revolution must pass through two stages. In the first stage, the bourgeois democratic revolution is carried out under the leadership of the working class, to overthrow the imperialist and feudal rulers, achieve national independence, and give lands to the tillers. The anti-imperialist struggle and the anti-feudal struggle are closely linked. The main forces of the revolution are the peasants and the workers. The Party must build up the worker-peasant alliance and use revolutionary violence of the masses to stage an uprising and seize power.After the above-mentioned tasks have been basically fulfilled, the revolution will move to the second stage when Viet Nam is led straight to socialism, without passing through the stage of capitalist development.
This is a clear statement of a two-stage theory of revolution. First, the ‘bourgeois democratic” revolution is “basically fulfilled” and then the tasks of the proletarian revolution are undertaken. Despite the supposed “leadership of the working class”, the two stages are carefully compartmentalized and separated. Further, there is no reason to exclude alliances with sections of the national bourgeoisie or with petty-bourgeois parties that support capitalism, since the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution can be “basically fulfilled” without challenging capitalist property relations.
This is the opposite of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. Trotsky held that the national bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying out the bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution, such as winning complete national independence and giving land to the peasants. Indeed, he predicted that this class and its political allies would combat these measures. Further, he held that the peasantry could not play an independent social role, and would have no choice but to support either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat in a showdown struggle between the two classes.
Therefore, Trotsky argued that the bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution could not be separated from the proletarian socialist tasks. In order to carry out the democratic revolution, it would be necessary to overturn capitalist property relations and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the working class failed to take power and overturn capitalism, the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution could not be “basically fulfilled”.
The experiences of the Russian, Cuban, Chinese, and other successful revolutions have demonstrated this positively. Negative confirmation has been provided again and again in cruel defeats from China in 1927 to Algeria in 1965. Yet the Vietnamese Communist Party leaders still hold firmly to this false two-stage theory. No amount of rhetoric about “the leading role of the proletariat” and no amount of revolutionary violence can conceal the fact that this is the opposite of the theory of the permanent revolution.
One of the gravest dangers in the “theory of stages” is that it sanctions the refusal to make demands that go beyond what “patriotic” sections of the capitalists and landlords are thought willing to accept and thus limits the mobilization of the oppressed masses. As we shall show, the VCP leaders have accepted this logical conclusion, although the Vietnamese masses have not.
Rousset attempts to prove his contention that the Vietnamese leaders have assimilated the essence of the theory of permanent revolution by citing, among other things, their conception that the stage of capitalist development can be skipped over following the national-democratic or bourgeois-democratic revolution. In fact, Trotsky was often accused by the Stalinists (before the Third Period) of holding such a theory. He firmly repudiated it, however, insisting that the tasks of capitalist development in a colonial or semicolonial country must be carried out, not skipped over, by the proletariat at the head of a workers’ state. The VCP’s theory of “skipping over” capitalist development bears no relationship at all to the theory of permanent revolution. They generally mean by this that the first, or “national-democratic”, stage of the revolution should include the Communist Party as well as bourgeois parties in the government, that it should be an antiimperialist regime (ie, not aligned with Western capitalism), and that the second stage in the underdeveloped countries will arrive at some time in the future before full industrialization has been achieved, thus “skipping over” capitalist development in the long run while fighting for a bourgeois-democratic regime in the short run.
What later became known as the theory of “uninterrupted revolution” originated as the Stalinist answer to the theory of permanent revolution. By insisting on the necessity of a period (of undefined duration) of bourgeois-democratic rule in the colonial countries, the Stalinists revived the theory of stages that had been held by the Mensheviks. “The leading role of the working class” and rhetoric about “skipping over” the stage of capitalist development were tacked on to this two-stage theory in an attempt to fend off the criticisms made by the Trotskyist Left Opposition of the disastrous Comintern policy of subordinating the Chinese Communist Party to the Kuomintang.
The term “uninterrupted revolution” came into vogue, particularly among Asian Stalinists, as a more palatable and left-sounding title for the “two-stage revolution.” It arose as a left cover for this theory, and as a trap for left-wingers who were attracted to militant rhetoric and who were unclear about the central importance of Trotsky’s theory of the class dynamics of the colonial revolution. The two-stage theory, under whatever name, continues to be a trap for revolutionists today and should be fought by revolutionary Marxists.
The Popular Front
The next turn carried out by the Comintern became known as the “People’s” or “Popular” front period. The Communist parties in the imperialist “democracies” were ordered to support bourgeois parties as part of Stalin’s attempt to form an alliance with the Western imperialist powers against the threat from Hitler’s Germany. A common feature of this turn was coalition governments and electoral blocs between the Stalinists and the bourgeois parties. These blocs were based on the Stalinists’ agreement to accept and defend the capitalist system. Since they could not abolish the clash between the workers and capitalists, the bloc obliged the Communist parties to take the side of the capitalists in any decisive confrontation. Thus parties that had been formed to combat the capitalist order became props of the status quo.
The Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, held in 1935, officially adopted the new policy. The parties in the colonial countries were especially hard hit by this turn since they were obliged to drop demands for national independence and land reform and had to seek alliances with “progressive” colonialists. The VCP had to turn its ultraleft program inside out. The about-face required by the new policy met some resistance for a time from Communist parties in both the colonial and imperialist nations. It is somewhat misleading therefore for Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien to stress that the turn was imposed only “with difficulty” on the VCP (p 19), without noting that this was not unusual at the time.
In May 1936 the Central Committee of the VCP approved the new line. If there was any resistance after that to the popular-front policy, there is no record of it that we are aware of.
Rousset errs in saying that the participation of the VCP in a united workers’ front with Trotskyists during the 1930s “shows the exceptionalism” of the VCP (p 25). Nowhere have the Stalinists undertaken a united front with the Trotskyists unless they were forced to do so by the strength of the Trotskyists. This united front was forced on the Stalinists by the work carried out by the Trotskyists in Vietnam. Similar current examples can be seen in the occasional participation of the Communist Party in antiwar coalitions with the Trotskyists in the US. This should not be viewed as evidence of programmatic “exceptionalism” on the part of the slavishly pro-Moscow CPUSA.
The relative strength of the Vietnamese Trotskyists was indicated by their winning 80 per cent of the vote in elections to the Colonial Council of Cochin China (southern Vietnam) in 1939. The pro-French party’s candidates got 15 per cent; the Stalinists received 1 per cent.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien would have been more instructive had it included material from such publications as La Lutte, the Saigon paper published at first by the united workers’ front and later by the Trotskyists after the Stalinists split the united front. (Much of this material is available only in Paris.) In addition a valuable article appeared in the November-December 1938 issue of Quatrieme Internationale, which was probably written by Ta Thu Thau, a Vietnamese Trotskyist leader, called “Constructing the Revolutionary Party in Indochina”.
World War II
The Comintern’s next reversal – in the form of a new “left” turn – coincided with the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939. Rousset, who is opposed to the line followed by the VCP during the Popular Front period, tends to take the “left” turn at this time for good coin. He believes that it quickly developed into an independent orientation. He writes that in the program adopted by the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee in 1939, “the slogan of national liberation was again placed on the order of the day … The necessity of revolutionary violence and its preparation was underlined.” (p 30) On the other hand, however, Rousset notes that: “The plenum refused to put forward again the slogan of radical agrarian reform” (p 30) and the slogan for the creation of workers’ and peasants’ soviets advanced since 1930 was also displaced by that of founding a federal government of Indochinese Democratic Republics.
Rousset believes that the VCP corrected its line on independence at that time. However, this switch was not permanent. The VCP was in the process of dropping the demand for independence once again as early as 1943, when it began to make overtures to the Gaullists. By 1945, the new line, ordered by Moscow and transmitted in part through the French Communist Party, had been totally accepted by the VCP.
At first, the Stalin-Hitler pact disoriented the VCP, just as it disoriented Communist parties around the world. This 180-degree turn, from supporting Western imperialism against its rivals to denouncing it and muffling criticism of Nazi Germany, caused the VCP to issue a communique on “the present political line”. This was because, they explained, “a number of Party members and non-Party members became confused and wavering”. The party organization in Bac Ky (Hanoi) published a book, The Soviet Union is Always Faithful to Peace, in order “to explain the Soviet Union’s policy of peace, to unify the ways of thinking and looking at the situation and immediate tasks of the Party”.
During World War 11, the attitude of the VCP towards the various colonial regimes in Indochina reflected the needs of Moscow’s foreign policy. The capitulation of the French bourgeoisie to Hitler and the occupation of Indochina by the Japanese brought to power wartime opponents of the Soviet Union. Hence, the VCP opposed them. Even prior to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Stalinists in Moscow and elsewhere opposed the expansion of Japan, which was using Indochina as a military base. Rousset errs in believing that the VCP “cannot be accused” of following the Comintern’s directives as closely as did the French CP. The VCP also remained in step with Stalin’s foreign policy.
Later, VCP leaders abided by the decisions of the Allied governments at the Yalta, Teheran, and Potsdam conferences, as they affected Vietnam. Under these agreements, the British army was to accept the Japanese surrender in the south, while Chinese Nationalist troops were to do the same in the north. The VCP leaders went along with this, because they believed the Kremlin’s assurances that the wartime “alliance” would continue after the war, and that within that framework French imperialism could be pressured into granting at least a measure of independence. They felt that they could continue the struggle later, if necessary, when French imperialism would be more isolated. Belief in the stages theory and in the Stalinist policy of peaceful coexistence between the capitalist countries and the workers’ state underlay these erroneous calculations by the VCP.
The VCP developed a plan for an anti-Japanese uprising in the last months of the war. They hoped that this would strengthen their bargaining position relative to the French imperialists. Their perspective was to organize guerrilla units to fight with the “Allies” against the Japanese.
Although the Viet Minh made some criticisms of the Gaullists, the Communist Party-led front sent the Gaullists a memorandum in July 1945 that showed conclusively how closely the VCP line on independence hewed to that of Moscow:
“We, the Viet Minh League, ask that the following points be announced by the French and observed in their future policy in French Indochina:
- A parliament shall be elected by universal suffrage. A French governor will exercise the functions of president until our independence is assured. This president shall choose a cabinet or a group of advisers accepted by the parliament. The precise powers of all these organs will be delineated in the future.
- Independence shall be given to this country in a minimum of five years and a maximum of ten.
- The natural resources of this country shall be returned to the inhabitants after a just compensation of the present holders. France will benefit from economic privileges.
- All the liberties proclaimed by the United Nations shall be guaranteed to the Indochinese.
- The sale of opium shall be prohibited.
We hope that these conditions will be judged acceptable by the French government.
Breaking Our Chains, a book published in 1960 in Hanoi, contains documents of the VCP and Viet Minh issued in 1945. One, written in April, asked how the Vietnamese people “should receive the Allied forces and cooperate with them?” It answered:
At points where the landing takes place, we should mobilize the people to welcome them and appoint delegates to come into contact with them. On the other hand, local troops should be mobilized for the destruction of the communication and supply lines of the Japanese and, together with the Allied forces, fight the common enemy. During this time we should strive to occupy the key positions and keep the initiative. But this does not mean that immediately after the Allied landing we should launch the general insurrection. On the contrary, we should wait until the Japanese have thrown in all their forces to ward off the Allied attack, until their rear lines are in disorder, before we launch the general insurrection.
The military tasks set forth were: “To develop guerrilla units immediately and on a large scale and keep them ready to cooperate with the Allie[s].” (Breaking Our Chains, p 32.)
The VCP understood that there were contradictions among the Allies, but they believed they could depend on the USSR and the United States to prevent the restoration of direct French rule. The first national congress of the VCP was helc as the Japanese military positior neared collapse and the Augus 1945 revolution, one of the mos massive uprisings ever seen, began The congress resolved:
b) The contradictions betweer Britain, the United States and France on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other, might lead the British and Americans to make concessions to the French and allow them to come back to Indochina.3. Our policy consists in avoiding this conjuncture: to be alone in our resistance to the Allied forces (China, France, Britain, and the United States) which would invade our country and force on us a French or a puppet government going counter to the aspirations of our people.That is why we must win the Soviet Union and the United States over to our cause so that we can oppose French attempts to resume their former position in Indochina and the manoeuvres of some Chinese militarists to occupy our country. (Ibid, pp 66-67.)
The leaders of the VCP even went so far as to replace the slogan “drive out the Japanese and French” with “drive out the Japanese fascists”, reasoning that the French anti-Japanese resistance in Vietnam, which barely existed in fact, had “a relatively progressive character” (ibid, p 11), while the “Japanese fascists have become the main, immediate and sole enemy of the Indochinese peoples”. (Ibid, p 10)
The 1945 revolution
Events at the end of the war moved quickly. The Japanese collapsed and surrendered before the Allies landed in Indochina. The Vietnamese masses took matters into their own hands. A Vietnamese Trotskyist eyewitness described the August events:
Several hours after this news [the Japanese surrender] was given to the people of Viet-Nam, from north to south, from city to country, from factory to street, from one family to another, there rose a social tempest of such proportions that it could have overturned everything …”The workers of the Banco quarter of the city of Saigon, the first to start moving, set up the first People’s Committee of the southern region on August 19. Groups came out into the streets with guns stolen from the Japanese and hidden for many months. Others had pistols of obscure origin. Those without firearms had poignards or bamboo pikes … [T]hey formed into armed detachments of fifty, a hundred or two hundred and marched together from one street to another, in formation, shouting the revolutionary hymn in chorus, then crying in a mighty voice: “Death rather than slavery! Defend the power of the people!” …
The peasants of the province of Sadec pillaged a dozen of the magnificent villas of their masters on August 19. They also set fire to a large number of granaries overflowing with rice. Many notables and functionaries were arrested by the peasants and a number of them were immediately shot. The community police had been hurled into the water without trial by the revolutionary masses; the former servants of the French and Japanese governments, labeled en bloc as enemies of the people, saw all their property go up in flames.
In Long Xuyen, a peasant province, some two hundred notables and community police were stabbed to death.
This is only part of a description of the August 1945 revolution printed in the February 16, 1948, issue of The Militant (US) as translated from the September-October 1947 issue of Quatrieme Internationale.
At the Viet Minh congress that met on August 16, after Japan surrendered, Truong Chinh gave a report announcing the following perspective:
We must wrest power from the hands of the Japanese and their stooges before the arrival of the Allies in Indochina, and, as masters of the country, we shall receive the Allies who come to disarm the Japanese.
Despite this step, the VCP still trusted the Allies. This orientation, based on the Kremlin’s foreign policy, was upheld throughout the 1945 revolution, although it was to cost the Vietnamese people dearly.
In Hanoi, a demonstration under Viet Minh auspices on August 19 drew more than 100,000 persons. It is described in an official history as “an insurrection for the peaceful conquest of power in the capital city.” The Democratic Republic of Vietnam [DRV] was proclaimed, and Ho Chi Minh became president.
In Saigon, however, the VCP (and consequently the Viet Minh) was relatively weak. A formation called the United National Front played the leading role for a time. It is very unclear just what this formation represented, and what the relation of the Vietnamese Trotskyists was to it. Such writers as Ellen Hammer and Milton Sacks claim that the front was a government for a week or less, and that Trotskyists from the La Lutte group took part in it, while another grouping that adhered to Trotskyism, the International Communist League, did not. Two other writers, the Social Democratic historian Joseph Buttinger and the US government official Douglas Pike, agree with this. None of them, unfortunately, cite a source. Pike, in addition, writes that two of the leaders of the La Lutte group, Ta Thu Thau and Pham Van Hum, were in separate organizations at the time of the murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. (Ta is listed with the La Lutte group and Pham Van Hum with the Vietnam Socialist Workers Party.) Pike gives no source for this, either, or for his listing of Phan Van Hum as an alternate member of the Viet Minh-controlled Southern National Bloc Committee set up after it took power in Saigon.
This confusion could undoubtedly be cleared up by Trotskyists living in Europe who were either in Vietnam in 1945 or knew many of the principals involved. Besides the Chinese Trotskyist leaders Peng Shu-tse and Chen Pi-lan, there are several Vietnamese Trotskyists in Europe who could provide extremely valuable information about this period. The author of Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien would do the revolutionary Marxist movement (and scholarship in general) a real service by interviewing these people in the course of his further investigations; in no other way, perhaps, is the full truth about this period likely to be known.
We do know, however, that the United National Front did hold a demonstration of 300,000 in Saigon on August 21, made up of several contingents, including Trotskyists. A column of 100,000 peasants followed a contingent of religious sects behind a monarchist flag.
The Trotskyists, on the other hand, unfurled a huge banner of the Fourth International. According to an observer sympathetic to the International Communist League, they carried banners and placards reading:
“Down with imperialism! Long live the world revolution! Long live the workers and peasants front! People’s committees everywhere! For the people’s assembly! Arm the people! Land to the peasants! Nationalize the factories under workers’ control! For a workers and peasants government!
This Trotskyist eyewitness continues: “Workers came in waves, greeting each other with clenched fist, all declaring themselves ready to fight with their vanguard party.
In a few hours more than 30,000 workers had regrouped themselves under the leadership of the handful of Trotskyists …
Even the peasants grouped separately under the supervision of reactionary leaders lent an attentive ear to our speeches on the national and peasant questions. No longer respecting the political discipline of their parties, they vehemently applauded every time the banner of the Fourth International passed by. (The Militant, February 23, 1948.)
The VCP, armed with the authority of the Allies and the Soviet Union, was able to establish the hegemony of the Viet Minh. On August 22, Tran Van Giau, a VCP leader, took the first step by demanding that the United National Front dissolve in favor of the Viet Minh. The leaders of the Front acquiesced and declared their allegiance to the Viet Minh.
The Trotskyists in the meantime had been organizing “People’s Committees”, especially among the Saigon-Cholon workers.
A leaflet issued at this time by the VCP emphasized its desire to restrict the revolutionary upsurge and its dependence on the shifts of Stalin’s foreign policy:
[The Communist party and the Viet Minh disapprove of] all actions of provocation and violence among inhabitants of Indochina of every origin and every race; they will enforce by all means at their disposal the repression of disorder from any source …The authorities and the French population of Indochina must remember that the powerful ally of their country, the USSR, is also the guide and hope of the Indochina Communist Party and the Viet Minh; that this community of attitude must be the guarantee of an exact understanding of the situation.
Another leading Stalinist, Nguyen Van Tao, spelled out the “provocations”:
All those who have instigated the peasants to seize the landowners’ property will be severely and pitilessly punished … We have not yet made the Communist revolution which will solve the agrarian problem. This government is only a democratic government. That is why such a task does not devolve upon it. Our government, I repeat, is a bourgeois-democratic government, even though the Communists are now in power.
Philippe Devillers recounts that Duong Bach Mai, a Viet Minh leader, told him that “he [Duong] was employed in calming the tempestuous ardor of the militants at the base, in showing them that the task of the moment was not to make a proletarian revolution but to smash ‘colonialism’ by calling on all the people to struggle against it”.
That the two-stage theory was here backed up by a class-collaborationist practice is undeniable. Nguyen Van Tao’s statement demonstrates in addition the reformist character of the theory when he relegates solving the agrarian problem to the “Communist revolution” when this is in fact one of the central bourgeois-democratic tasks of the colonial revolution. These statements reveal the failure of the Vietnamese Stalinists to provide adequate leadership for a massive revolutionary upsurge.
The August revolution bore some remarkable resemblances to the Russian revolution of 1917, both in the massive involvement of the Vietnamese people and in the sudden collapse of the governing machinery. As in the Russian revolution, the parties of the left separated into parties of compromise and of revolution, with the Stalinists in the role of compromisers and the Trotskyists attempting to prepare a socialist revolution.
On September 1 the Viet Minh had called on the population of Saigon to welcome the Allied Commission the next day. A large demonstration was fired on (by whom has never been determined), and Saigon was rife with rumors that the French would be restored to power with the help of the Allies.
The International Communist League responded to the imminent landing of British troops by holding meetings that demanded arms for the people. Under Trotskyist influence, the People’s Committees issued a manifesto denouncing the treason of the Stalinists in allowing the British to land. The Stalinists responded with a massive campaign against the Trotskyists in their press, and on September 14 sent troops to disarm the Trotskyists.
The Trotskyists are murdered
The Vietnamese Trotskyists reported that Tran Van Giau, the top VCP leader in the Saigon area and former chairman of the Viet Minh regime’s Southern National Bloc Committee, issued orders for the murder of all Trotskyists in the country. The list of slain Trotskyists included Tran Van Trach, Phan Van Hum, Nguyen Van So, and dozens of others. The leaders of both the International Communist League and the La Lutte grouping were wiped out. Ta Thu Thau was murdered on the orders of Tran Van Giau, with Hanoi’s knowledge and consent. He had been tried and acquitted three times by a people’s tribunal in Quang Ngai province, but was shot anyway. Vo Nguyen Giap was minister of the interior (police) of the DRV at the time of these assassinations. There is no question of the responsibility of the Vietnamese Stalinists for the murders.
Unfortunately, Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien fails to clearly ascribe responsibility for the murder of Ta Thu Thau and other Trotskyists to the top leaders of the VCP. The author says that Ho Chi Minh “did not cover for this act, but he did not denounce it either”. (p 44) The left-wing French historian Daniel Guerin, however, wrote of a meeting in Paris with Ho Chi Minh in July 1946:
The pleasure I took in paying my respects to him … was darkened not only by our ideological disagreements but by the memory of Ta Thu Thau. Some overzealous Stalinists, close to the leader, had recently slain [Ta] on account of his “Trotskyite” views.”He was a great patriot and we mourn him,” Ho Chi Minh told me with unfeigned emotion. But a moment later he added in a steady voice,”All those who do not follow the line which I have laid down will be broken.”
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien quotes Ho’s remark. Is it not clear that the Stalinist leader recognized and accepted his political responsibility for Ta’s murder and promised similar treatment (with appropriate ceremonies of “mourning”) for similar “great patriots”?
The VCP attempted to destroy the program of revolutionary Marxism by killing the Trotskyists. They did this because they wanted to assure the “democratic” imperialists that they could prevent the “democratic stage” from “prematurely” going over to a socialist revolution. The pattern here is consistent with that of other Stalinists in power, such as Stalin and Mao, who have killed and jailed Trotskyists.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien does not appear to fully share this estimate of the murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. It claims that the assassinations illustrated the gulf separating the two tendencies and confirmed the existence, “certainly reinforced at the time, of authentic Stalinist currents in the Indochinese CP, at least in their methods, if not in their political thought”. (pp 44-45) This expresses a judgment of the VCP that we feel is much too mild, particularly the estimate of its political thought.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien‘s “even-handed” description of the differences between the Trotskyists and Stalinists is another matter. Rousset writes in his discussion of the murders that the Vietnamese Trotskyists had “probably underestimated the importance of the national question in the revolutionary mobilization of the masses” while the VCP had “profoundly underestimated” the social question in the colonial revolution (p 44).
It is certainly true that the Vietnamese Stalinists had profoundly underestimated the social questions facing Vietnam. But it is absolutely not true that the Trotskyists underestimated the importance of the national question. They were the most irreconcilable fighters for national independence.
They held huge rallies demanding arms for the masses against the imminent landing of British troops, and for this they were killed. The statement that they “underestimated the importance of the national question” misrepresents the views of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. We would like to know in what sense the views of the Vietnamese Stalinists on the national question were superior to those of the Trotskyists.
There were two basic lines confronting each other in August 1945. One was that of the Trotskyists, who formed people’s committees and fought and died for an independent and socialist Vietnam. The other was that of the Stalinists, including Ho Chi Minh, who resorted to murder to carry out the line of keeping Vietnam in the French Union.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien is not alone in trying to soften the responsibility of the Stalinists in the murder of the Trotskyists. A 1970 pamphlet called Vietnam, Laos, Cambodge: Meme Combat! (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia: the same fight!), published by the LigueCommuniste, contains a picture of Ta Thu Thau as its frontispiece, with the following statement attributed to Ho Chi Minh: “Ta Thu Thau was always a revolutionary militant. He died under questionable circumstances …” The frontispiece inscription adds, in describing Ta Thu Thau, that he “disappeared” after his release from prison.
There is no mystery, although Ho Chi Minh had good reason to seek to create one. Ta was killed by the VCP. The only questionable matter is which individual gave the order and who pulled the trigger. It is impermissible for the name and revolutionary honor of Ta Thu Thau to be used to shield the leader of the party that murdered him.
It is, of course, not obligatory for Trotskyists to highlight these crimes of the VCP in a pamphlet aimed at winning mass support for the Indochinese peoples, and describing the dynamics of the revolution. It is absolutely wrong, however, to implicitly deny that these crimes have been committed.
There are indications that the VCP leaders were not entirely happy with the capitulatory policy they were carrying out. Harold Isaacs writes in No Peace for Asia that the Vietnamese Stalinists were “unusually frank and cynical about the Russians. Even the most orthodox among them, like shaggyhaired Dran [Tran] Van Giau, the partisan organizer, granted that the Russians went in for ‘an excess of ideological compromise’, and said he expected no help from that quarter, no matter how distant or verbal it might be. There is no evidence that any of these “cynical” attitudes were ever communicated to the VCP rank-and-file members or to the Vietnamese people.
Nonetheless, the VCP leaders faithfully carried out the policy dictated by Stalin. The comments of Tran Van Giau show that they knew in so doing that they were weakening the August revolution and postponing, perhaps indefinitely, the achievement of full independence. Ho, Tran, Giap, and the other leaders killed those who told the truth about this capitulation.
The VCP leaders followed the policies and practices of Stalinism to the point where, on November 11, 1945, they dissolved their party to assure imperialism of their “democratic” intentions. By doing this, they were only following the example of their Stalinist teachers, who dissolved the Comintern in 1943 for the same reasons.
The continuing loyalty to Stalinism of the VCP leaders under these circumstances, despite their unquestionable desire to rule an independent Vietnam, flowed from their inability to see beyond the bounds set by the Stalinist theory of socialism in one country, the two-stage theory, and the practice of class-collaborationism. Their narrow national outlook reinforced a sense of isolation, and they never dreamed of a revolutionary internationalist perspective as an alternative to their ties with the Soviet bureaucracy and world Stalinism. These fatal inadequacies characterize the Vietnamese Stalinist leaders to this day.
The French return
All the VCP managed to accomplish with its class-collaborationist politics and the assassination of revolutionists was to smooth the return of the French to Vietnam. When the struggle reopened, as was inevitable, it was under much less favorable conditions and at a much higher cost to the Indochinese peoples than it would have been if the program of the revolutionary Marxists had won out over that of the Stalinists.
In September 1945, British troops entered Saigon and were greeted by the Viet Minh. The British helped the French stage a coup, returning French rule to southern Vietnam. For more than a year Ho and the VCP tried to conciliate the French imperialists, going so far as to organize joint police actions with the French against “extremists”.
On March 6, 1946, the DRV and France signed an agreement recognizing the DRV in the North as “a free state with its own government, parliament, army and finances, forming part of the Indochinese federation and the French Union”. The paper guarantees in this pact meant nothing to the French except for the legal cover they provided to the reassertion of French control. A military annex to the accord provided that 25,000 troops under French control (15,000 French and 10,000 Vietnamese) would occupy Vietnam until the Japanese had left the country. After that, smaller numbers of troops would remain to protect French installations.
Similarly, the agreement recognized the “temporary” division of Vietnam. Cochin China (which the French were trying to keep out of nationalist hands) was to hold a “referendum” to determine if it was to be unified with the DRV.
Not unexpectedly, there was great opposition to this treaty, including by the surviving Trotskyists. It was not easy for the Vietnamese Stalinists to convince the Vietnamese people to accept it, and it took appeals by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap personally to win them over.
At a huge rally in Hanoi, Ho said:
It testifies to our intelligence that we should negotiate rather than fight. Why sacrifice fifty or a hundred thousand men when we can achieve independence through negotiation, perhaps within five years?
After thousands were murdered in the brutal French bombing of Haiphong in November 1946 the Vietnamese Stalinists finally began large-scale resistance to the French. This coincided with the “left turn” dictated by the Soviet bureaucracy’s foreign policy needs as a result of the cold-war offensive of US imperialism.
How does the VCP leadership explain this turn? Vo Nguyen Giap writes:
French colonial troops rekindled the aggressive war. The basic contradiction between our people and imperialism reappeared [!] in the most acute form. Who was the aggressive enemy? Obviously French imperialism. In the beginning, owing to the fact that there were progressive elements in the French government and due to tactical necessity, we denounced as our enemy the French reactionary colonialists. But later, especially since 1947, the French government definitely became reactionary, the aggressors were unmistakably the French imperialists who were the enemy of our whole nation and were invading our country.
Giap’s statement confirms the delay in initiating large-scale resistance to the French until the beginning of the left turn carried out by the Communist parties under Moscow’s direction – aimed essentially at putting pressure on imperialism to soften the cold war. As part of this left turn, armed insurrections were also launched by Communist parties in India, Indonesia, Malaya, Burma and the Philippines. The Chinese CP moved decisively to overturn Chiang during this period.
Giap’s reference to the presence of “progressive elements” in the French regime must have been a rather cynical one. He knew full well that the “progressive elements” (the Stalinist ministers) had opposed Vietnamese independence as long as France maintained friendly terms with Stalin.
The VCP now fell back on guerrilla warfare in the rural areas.
The author of Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien has some harsh criticisms of the policies followed by the VCP leaders in the 1945-47 period. “At first sight,” he writes, “its policy of 1945 and 1946 appears even more opportunist than that of the 1936-39 period.” (p 42) He derides the VCP leadership for dissolving the party in 1945, and for making too many concessions in negotiations with the French. Nonetheless, he states: “[The] relative weakness of the VCP and the Viet Minh put the Vietnamese Communists in a very difficult situation. In power ‘by surprise”, without political and military resources to guarantee its survival, they were led to seek compromises to gain time.” (p 42)
The time gained through maneuvers, particularly through the March 1946 accord with France, “permitted the Vietnamese Communists to put right the economy to the maximum … to organize the new power, to prepare the fall back areas, and to structure and to arm (a little) the ALN [Army of National Liberation].” (p 50) When the French launched their offensive, “the Viet Minh was ready”.
Despite Rousset’s criticisms of VCP policy, these statements reveal an excessive readiness to accept the lame excuses given by the VCP leaders for their role in transforming the great revolution of August 1945 into a debacle. It cannot be overemphasized: the VCP held state power, at the head of a massive mobilization, in 1945-46. The urban workers and middle classes were ready to fight. The peasants firmly backed the nationalist regime. The traditional native ruling classes were confused and immobilized.
Further, the French were in no position at that point to fight their way back into power if heavy resistance was offered, as their military commander later admited. The British were losing their grip on their own empire and could not have tolerated a war to preserve the empire of France. American troops were clamoring to return home. The Chiang Kai-shek regime was tottering.
Yet, when the masses demanded arms to defend their independence, the VCP leaders replied with repression. The VCP in 1945-47 let slip the most favorable relationship of forces the Vietnamese revolution has ever known. The movement for Vietnamese independence remains handicapped to this day by the political decisions that allowed the French to reoccupy the cities of Vietnam and much of its countryside. In the light of this record, Rousset’s statement that “‘to know how to seize the favorable moment is, for the Vietnamese, one of the more valuable arts of revolutionary war” (p 40) can only be interpreted as ironic.
He states: “But above all, rather than being the result of a revolutionary war of long duration – which permits the progressive organization of the population and of popular power, the August revolution was its prelude.” (p 42) In fact, the Vietnamese masses have been forced to fight two revolutionary wars of long duration to regain ground lost because of the VCP’s loyalty to Stalinism in 1945.
Compare the performance of the Vietnamese leaders in 1945 with that of the leaders of the Cuban revolution. The relationship of forces was far less favorable to the Cubans, who were ninety miles from the most ruthless imperialist power on earth. Unlike the VCP, however, Castro and Guevara, after they had succeeded in toppling Batista, did not fear to rely on the fundamental source of power of every successful revolution – the armed masses in action.
There is no shortage of Trotskyist material about this period. There are important articles on Indochina in the following issues of Quatrieme Internationale: September-November 1945; January-February 1947; September-October 1947; November-December 1947; July 1948; February-April 1950; and others. Much of this same material also appears in Fourth International, as the International Socialist Review was then called, and The Militant.
Further information can be found in the theses that form part of the resolutions on the colonial revolution passed at the 1948 and 1951 world congresses of the Fourth International. Another important Trotskyist document is the pamphlet published in 1947 by the Fourth International, Mouvements Nationaux etLlutte de Classes au Viet Nam, by Ahn-Van and Jacqueline Roussel. In addition, back issues of La Verite contain much material on the Trotskyist movement in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, Rousset does not take note of these sources. If he had done so, he might have reevaluated some of his positions. The Trotskyist literature flatly contradicts the conclusions of Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien that the VCP was assimilating the lessons of the permanent revolution and muddling its way out of the orbit of Stalinism. To the contrary, the Trotskyist view of the VCP was that it was a Stalinist party and that the tasks of the Vietnamese Trotskyists were to win the Vietnamese masses to a program of irreconcilable struggle for national independence and socialism, in opposition to all class-collaborationist concepts, including those of the VCP.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien makes an error in its description of the First Indochina Resistance, claiming that the VCP in 1953 changed its line on land reform from “flexible” to “radical”. The extent of the 1953 land reform was limited. According to DRV figures, 15 per cent of the cultivated land in North Vietnam was redistributed in 1953, giving land to 20 per cent of the toiling peasants. In addition, the reduction of land rents and rates of interest, promulgated in 1949-50, which had not been “strictly put in force”, according to a VCP history, because of resistance by “refractory” landlords, was enforced in 1953. Thus, the use of the terms “flexibleto-radical” to indicate the shift in land reform policy in 1953 seems to us to be an overstatement. “Flexible” land reform policy meant that the VCP opposed any redistribution of lands, except those belonging to “traitors”. “Radical” seems too strong a term for the moderate 1953 land reform, especially when compared to the authentically radical land reform later carried out in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which gave land to 72 per cent of the rural population.
What happened in 1953, as Rousset points out, was that the requirements of the war made necessary a greater mobilization of the peasantry, as soldiers and porters, than the VCP could achieve without allowing a limited land reform. At the time, the Viet Minh leaders had moved to the “general offensive” stage of “people’s war”, with subsequent heavy losses to modern weaponry, such as planes and artillery.
Probably even more important was the threat of US imperialism to enter the war, which brought pressures to settle on the Vietnamese from the Soviet and Chinese Stalinists. The victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu was one result of this limited land reform. After this measure was carried out, reported Le Duan, “the fighting ability of the people’s army rose at an unprecedented rate”.
Not only did the VCP keep strict rein on the 1953 land reform, it drew no lessons from it for future struggles. It is true that Vo Nguyen Giap has written that the 1953 land reform should have been implemented earlier. But if the VCP changed its line on land reform permanently in 1953, why have they not applied this lesson in the current resistance? The programs of the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government have not called for anything beyond the reduction of rents and confiscation of the lands of traitors, just as the Viet Minh program did before the 1953 land reform. If the VCP adopted a radical land reform policy in 1953, what has happened to it since then?
Rousset notes that in “numerous liberated zones the land reform now goes further than the program of the National Liberation Front indicates.” (p 73) This is hardly to be credited to the VCP leaders, however. It is another example, common to almost all revolutions saddled with class-collaborationist leadership, of the action of the masses sweeping past the limits set by a bourgeois democratic program. Such mass actions demonstrate the existence of a real and powerful revolution, but not the existence of a revolutionary Marxist leadership.
Rousset cites the “readoption of radical agrarian reform” in 1952-53 by the VCP, and the “redressing of its line on national independence” in 1939-41, and concludes, “Progressively, empirically, the Vietnamese Communists broke out of the framework of ideas of the Stalinist Comintern.” (p 54) The facts do not uphold this conclusion.
Geneva and after: socialism in one country
Rousset describes the pressure put on the VCP by Moscow and Peking to settle with the French at the time of the 1954 Geneva Accords. He reports accurately that the Viet Minh settled for less territory than it controlled at the time, and that this was done as a result of the search for a “detente” with imperialism by the Moscow and Peking Stalinists.
Thus the Geneva Accords gave the Viet Minh power in only half of Vietnam. This limited gain was reinforced when that half became a workers’ state. Thus, the first Indochina war ended in a partial victory for the Vietnamese workers and peasants.
Rousset characterizes the Geneva agreement as a compromise (p 56). The VCP leaders, however, hailed the treaty as a great victory. Regardless of how the leadership of the VCP may privately view the realities of Geneva, the fact remains that they still describe it to the party members and the Vietnamese people as a victory. An Outline History of the Vietnam Workers’ Party, published in Hanoi in 1970, says:
The great success of the Geneva Conference was the fruit of the struggle against imperialism for national liberation waged by the peoples of Indochina for nearly a century … A peaceful settlement of the Indochina problem in the spirit of the 1954 Geneva Conference was not only a great victory of the peoples of Indochina, but also a great victory of the world’s peoples struggling for peace, national independence, democracy and socialism. (p 76)
The VCP leaders are using much the same glowing terms today to describe the most recent compromise settlement forced on them by American imperialism, with the help of the traitors in Moscow and Peking. That is a very dangerous practice. Spreading such illusions among the Vietnamese workers and peasants disarms them for future struggles. The fact that the VCP continues to do this is further evidence of its inability to break with Stalinism. Who benefits from describing these compromises as victories? It is no one but the imperialists and the conservative bureaucracies in Moscow and Peking, which want the revolution brought to an end.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien describes some of the disastrous effects of the VCP’s illusion that the terms of the Geneva Accords would be respected by imperialism. Not the least of these disasters was the loss of many cadres of the VCP who were left to confront Diem’s savage repression without aid from the North. The VCP even discouraged them from organizing armed resistance. The VCP’s reluctance to meet Diem’s attacks, and its subsequent loss of cadres in the South, are documented in such works as Between Two Truces by Jean Lacouture, War Comes to Long An by Jeffrey Race, Vietnam Will Win! by Wilfred Burchett, and the Pentagon Papers.
The party leadership, as is clearly shown in the documents of the Third National Congress of the VCP in 1960, were more concerned with building socialism in the North than leading the struggle in the South. This boils down to trying to build socialism in one small country as against trying to extend the revolution; thus Stalin’s original revision of Leninism in 1924 still shaped the policies of the VCP leadership in the Second Indochina War.
In April 1960, while armed resistance to Diem was raging in the South, Le Duan sai:
The northern people will never neglect their task with regard to one half of their country which is not yet liberated.But in the present conjuncture, when the possibility exists to maintain a lasting peace in the world and create favourable conditions for the world movement of socialist revolution and national independence to go forward, we can and must guide and restrict within the South the solving of the contradiction between imperialism and the colonies in our country.
At the opening of the third congress of the VCP in 1960, Ho Chi Minh states: “The Second Party Congress was the Congress of Resistance. This present Party Congress is the Congress of Socialist Construction in the North and of the struggle for Peaceful National Reunification.
Vo Nguyen Giap reported to the congress: “Today, the economic construction in the North has become the central task of the Party. Therefore it is necessary to cut down the defence budget, adequately reduce our army contingent so as to concentrate manpower and material in economic construction.” 
Under heavy pressure from the southern fighters, the Third Congress took the first halting steps towards involving the VCP in aiding the southern struggle. Not until 1965, after the US began bombing the North and had massively intervened in the South, did the DRV send combat units to aid their southern compatriots. In taking up this fight the VCP intended to achieve only the “national democratic revolution” in the South. This is another name for the bourgeois revolution. The VCP continues to adhere to the perspective that socialism can be constructed in North Vietnam alone. In short, it is Stalinist.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien describes this long delay in coming to the aid of the South as “a moment of distortion” (p 69) in an otherwise militant policy.
The regime in the North
The period after the Geneva Accords were signed also saw opposition to the Hanoi regime, sometimes in a violent form. In 1956, there was a peasant uprising in Nghe An province. This has been described by the VCP as an expression of peasant resistance to “excesses” committed in the course of the 1955-56 land reform. Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien accepts the word of the Vietnamese Stalinists on this (the only evidence for this view comes from Nhan Dan, the VCP newspaper, and Radio Hanoi). We believe that the VCP may not have told the whole truth about this matter.
It seems quite possible to us that the VCP was acting at this time to try to halt a land reform that the peasants were carrying further than it desired. There is as yet no conclusive proof of this, and further study is required before a definitive assessment can be made. Nevertheless, what little evidence there is should make Trotskyists wary of taking the VCP leaders at their word on this point. The party’s major publication on land reform that is avilable is Tran Phuong’s “The Land Reform” in Vietnamese Studies No 7 (published in 1965). Just before he describes the so-called leftist excesses, he writes:
The first stage of land reform ended just at the time when peace was restored in Indochina. North Vietnam began its socialist revolution while the South was still under the yoke of the imperialists and their agents. The new task that confronted the Vietnamese people was to accomplish the national democratic revolution in the entire country. Therefore, the Party stressed the necessity to complete land reform in the North, regarding it as the sine qua non prerequisite for the rehabilitation and development of the economy; at the same time, to adapt the land reform policy to the new situation, it decided to set forth some alterations and amendments to the policy, of which the main points were: to limit the extent of the struggle, to alter methods of struggle, to extend the application of requisitions with compensations to certain categories of landowners, to grant more widely the right to donation, and to treat with more consideration the capitalist industrialists and traders, who had rented lands. (pp 189-190)
That is one indication that the VCP leaders were attempting to slow down land reform in 1956. Another is contained in the series of interviews conducted with North Vietnamese peasants by Gerard Chaliand in 1967. Of more than twenty peasants interviewed in four provinces, only three claimed that “excesses” had been committed, and these were mild. The others either did not know personally of any “excesses” or considered what punishments landowners had received as justified. Thus, it seems that the 1956 Nghe An uprising may have been directed against government attempts to slow down the land reform. We cannot be at all categorical in suggesting this. But neither should we accept the flat assertions of the VCP. More investigation of this point is required.
But there was wider opposition to the VCP’s practices in 1956 than this. No sooner had the peasant rising been crushed than a revolt of the intellectuals broke loose around the literary journal Nhan Van. Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien mentions this development all too briefly. It is worthy of more extended attention.
The context in which it occurred was that of the period after the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party with its revelation of some of Stalin’s crimes. The Polish and Hungarian workers had risen up demanding socialist democracy. The Chinese regime was in the early stage of the brief “let a hundred flowers bloom” period of concessions.
In Vietnam, a similar movement broke out of the party’s control. It coincided with the time when elections were to have been held to unify Vietnam, as provided for in the Geneva Accords. 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 Due 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. They also won other concessions from the government in a VCP-called artists and writers congress in February 1957. Van cited the “right to have different tendencies”, as promised by the deputy minister of culture at the February congress.
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, and drove around in big cars. The dissidents also complained, as Bernard Fall reports in The Two Viet-nams (p 189), that the party had antagonized the peasantry and allowed corruption to flourish among its members.
By January 1958, the party had cracked down. Hundreds of artists and writers were “re-educated”. During the “r-eeducation” campaign, Tran Due Thao and Truong Tuu were charged with spreading “Trotskyist” ideas. Twenty-one months later, six persons including a poet, two journalists, a theatrical producer, and a publisher were convicted of being spies for Diem and the US.
Despite the limited amount of material available about this movement, other than what has been published by the VCP’s own organs, we know enough to make the following summation. It included trends that favored more socialist democracy, and that were critical of Stalinist practices, including the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Its criticisms of the privileges of Soviet “experts”, and of corruption in the VCP, implicitly challenged bureaucratism.
- This movement occurred at the same time as anti-Stalinist revolts in other workers’ states. Antidemocratic practices were the root cause of these revolts.
- The movement was made up of revolutionary intellectuals, with records in the Resistance, and of opposition-minded Communists.
- The VCP attacked the movement as “Trotskyist”, and brutally suppressed it.
It may be true that other currents besides those working for socialist democracy were involved, although no mention has been made of them in the writings of such proimperialists as Bernard Fall, or in works produced in Saigon. The VCP does at one point accuse the Nhan Van movement of opposing the “new stage” of construction of socialism. It is unclear, however, whether this alleged opposition was from the left or the right, or if the Hanoi authorities were making a deliberate amalgam of very different kinds of criticism.
Regardless of the limitations that such a movement may have had, the criticisms it raised were correct and it was seen by the VCP as a danger. The VCP suppressed the movement for the same reasons that such movements were crushed by the Stalinists in China, Poland, Hungary, and East Germany.
The extent of working-class involvement in this movement is unknown. Nevertheless, there are two indications that the Nhan Van movement may have reflected stirrings among the workers as well. Workers in the Hong Quang coalmining area, and the urban area around Haiphong were reported to be aroused at the time of the Nghe An uprising. Workers at Hong Quang protested low living standards. Radio Hanoi listed a promise to raise wages for workers as among the concessions granted by the regime to quiet the disturbances.
The similarity of this movement to those in other workers’ states at this time, which the Trotskyist movement supported, is extremely striking, and is worth close study by revolutionary Marxists.
The struggle for workers’ democracy
Rousset points out that bureaucratic deformations exist in North Vietnam. He notes the absence of workers’ control in industry, the interpenetration of party and state, and the lack of democratic councils (which he aptly calls the “backbone” of the workers’ state) as failings that require correction. But he seems to believe that the VCP leadership is capable of overcoming these shortcomings. He quotes Vo Nguyen Giap at some length to try to show that the VCP leaders are aware of bureaucratic dangers (pp 128-30). It is not difficult to find criticisms of bureaucratism and declarations of support for democracy in many Stalinist sources, including Stalin himself. In the absence of concrete examples of struggle for workers’ democracy (something not to be found in the writings of V o Nguyen Giap or other VCP leaders), these quotations are not worth much.
As Rousset says of another VCP leader, “The alarming thing in the analyses of Truong Chinh, which content themselves with reviewing the ‘three forms’ of state in the dictatorship of the proletariat, is that nowhere does it appear to provide an orientation toward the establishment of a soviet system of power, as contrasted to the Bolshevik Party before [its] Stalinization.” (p 130) Rousset devotes several paragraphs to the advantages of workers’ democracy. But his tone further reveals his attitude toward the VCP leaders:
Soviet democracy is, finally, the best means for … reinforcing the dictatorship of the proletariat through the continual elevation of the ideological level of the masses … Whatever may be the rhythms, the delays, the difficulties of application, it [workers' democracy] remains one of the key problems, the resolution of which, during the epoch of transition, guarantees the march toward socialism. Like the usage of Stalino-Maoist terminology, the evident “underestimation” of the role of soviet democracy implies a lack of understanding of the nature and roots of Stalinism, and thus of the means of struggling against the inevitable tendencies toward bureaucratization. (p 131)
Let us note first that workers’ democracy is not merely “the best” means of securing the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the long run, it is the only one. Rousset’s approach appears to be one of offering good advice to the Vietnamese leaders on the benefits of workers’ democracy. It is not clear whether he calls for mobilizations of the Vietnamese masses to reverse the “bureaucratic deformations” that he recognizes. His advice is offered on the assumption that the VCP leaders are capable of adopting it. What is known of the practices of the North Vietnamese regime does not back up this assumption.
In North Vietnam, to call for soviet democracy means to call either for the formation of workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils, with decision-making power, or the transformation of the present administrative committees into popular organs of political power through a radical democratization. Soviet democracy means internal democracy in the VCP, with the right to form tendencies. It means the legalization of other workers’ parties and the independence of the trade unions. It means elaboration of the economic plan by the masses.
Above all, it means the replacement of the present policy of “national socialism” or of “socialism in one country”, with proletarian internationalism. Soviet democracy would require the leadership to tell the truth to the Indochinese peoples and the world antiwar movement about the terms of the agreement imposed on them. It would require them to be open and frank about the difficulties presented by the policies of other workers’ states.
The response of the VCP to advocacy of such a program cannot of course be guaranteed in advance, but the party’s past history permits us to make a fairly confident prediction. In 1945, the VCP leaders killed the proletarian revolutionists such as Ta Thu Thau and others. Later, in the 1940s and 1950s, it continued to persecute Trotskyists. In 1956-57, the VCP crushed the Nhan Van movement for increased socialist democracy. These facts give us reason to believe that revolutionists advocating soviet democracy would find the full weight of the VCP and the state apparatus it controls thrown against them. The expectation that the program of revolutionary Marxism would be bitterly resisted by the leadership of the VCP leads us to conclude that, in the DRV, the establishment of workers’ democracy would require a political revolution, as in the other workers’ states led by Stalinist parties, such as China and the Soviet Union. The exact forms this process will take, which have been different in every country where it has begun, cannot be predicted, of course.
Rousset has a high opinion of the strategy utilized by the VCP in leading the two wars of resistance to imperialism. He writes, “A peasant war, under the leadership of a proletarian policy, that is what people’s war is above all.” (p 115) We believe a closer look at the concept of “people’s war” is needed to determine if such an accollade is justified.
Vo Nguyen Giap’s work, People’s War, People’s Army, is basically a Stalinist version of Vietnamese military history from 1930 to 1961. It describes the stages in organizing a war against a more powerful adversary: defensive, equilibrium, and offensive. The major means of fighting is guerrilla warfare at first, while regular units are progressively organized and trained.
Three points are crucial to the concept of “people’s war,” and to our understanding of what it means politically. For this it is necessary to read not only Giap, but Truong Chinh. He wrote about it in 1947 in a booklet called The Resistance Will Win, which was the first exposition of this theory in Vietnam. Extracts from this essay appear in Vietnamese Studies No 7.
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.
Giap writes: “A broad national united front was indispensable on the basis of a firm worker-peasant alliance under the leadership of the Party,” for carrying out people’s war. (People’s War, People’s Army, p 69.) The “National United Front” is the class-collaborationist coalition with “patriotic” bourgeois and landlords.
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 to go beyond capitalist property relations and seeks an alliance with elements of the native ruling classes.
Third, Truong Chinh states that the final stage of “people’s war” is when the resistance forces “launch a series of lightning attacks against the towns and positions occupied by the enemy to encircle and annihilate him.” (Extracts from The Resistance Will Win, in Vietnamese Studies No 7, Hanoi, 1965, p. 234, emphasis in original.) There is no discussion in either the extracts from Truong Chinh’s essay or in Giap’s book of the role of the urban proletariat. The cities are to be “liberated” by the peasant armies.
The similarities of this concept to the writings of Lin Piao are more than coincidental. Both stem from the Third Period, when peasant armies and soviets were prescribed for the Asian Stalinists by the Comintern. It cannot be stressed too much that the initial concepts of what later became “people’s war” were developed by the Stalinist leadership of the Comintern in response to Trotskyist criticisms of its failures in China. It originated as, and remains, a substitute for a program of proletarian revolution based on the theory of permanent revolution.
That is the entirety of “people’s war,” excluding such homilies by Giap as: “To organize an army, the question of equipment must be solved because arms and equipment are the material basis of its combativeness.” (People’s War, People’s Army, p 209) It is a peasant war, under a bourgeois-reformist program, that bypasses the working class.
What is the attitude of revolutionary Marxists to this concept? We give unconditional support to the struggle against imperialism, regardless of its leadership and regardless of errors in strategy, and we hail its victories. In Vietnam, Trotskyists fought in the Viet Minh units, despite ferocious repression by the Stalinists. The attitude taken by the Vietnamese Trotskyists is illustrated in the documents of the Fourth International. For instance, in a resolution passed by the Third World Congress in 1951, we read:
In Vietnam, our reorganized forces will also attempt to work in the organizations influenced by the Stalinists, naturally including its armed formations. They will grant critical support to the Ho Chi Minh regime in its struggle against imperialism, while distinguishing themselves from it on the goal of this struggle and the best means to lead it to victory.
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 wars as such and the theory of “people’s war.” Vietnam demonstrates the strength of the first and the weaknesses of the latter. That the peasants of Vietnam have stood up to imperialism’s most ferocious attacks for almost thirty 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 and Trotsky taught us, for the proletariat to come to power in countries with large peasant populations without mobilizing the peasantry to do battle against their oppressors.
How can the peasantry be mobilized? First, in the fight for national independence, to throw out the foreign oppressors. This has happened in Vietnam, against French, Japanese and American imperialism. Second, the peasantry fights for its right to own the land it works. This has happened many times in Vietnam. There was a massive peasant upsurge during the August 1945 revolution in which land was a central issue. The Second Indochina Resistance began when Ngo Dinh Diem tried to roll back the land reform carried out by the Viet Minh in 1953.
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. This 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.
The staying power of the Vietnamese peasants during thirty years of civil war should give an inkling of the revolutionary potential that has accumulated in the cities during that time. Certainly, 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.
A program for the cities
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien makes very favorable estimates of the work of the VCP in the urban areas of South Vietnam, particularly since the Tet offensive of 1968. It quotes extensively from Hanoi’s Vietnamese Studies and from Wilfred Burchett. This is only natural since little else is available about this.
Of course, the VCP and Burchett try to make the best possible case that the VCP is a proletarian revolutionary organization with a revolutionary approach to the urban workers. But we should be cautious in taking such claims at face value.
What has been the role of the VCP in the cities? It does not appear to have played a major role in the great movement of students and workers that toppled Diem, for instance. The high point of the upsurge in the cities in the second resistance was undoubtedly the Tet offensive of 1968. There is no question that the liberation forces could not have functioned as well as they did in Saigon, Hue, and elsewhere, without massive and active support from the city masses.
Nonetheless, very significant considerations should make us hesitate to assume the most favorable variant about the role of the NLF-PRG in the urban areas. First, the program of the PRG and NLF guarantees workers no more than the right to participate in management, and attempts to give the bourgeoisie assurances that their property rights will be upheld. That is not likely to attract the enthusiastic support of class-conscious workers.
The urban workers, students, and poor played a key role in toppling Diem. They carried out powerful strikes later, such as those directed against the Americans by the Saigon dockworkers. Where is the program that can bring to bear their vast potential?
There is no doubt that the NLF’s opposition to US imperialism and its support of the demand for independence have struck deep chords of sympathy in the urban masses. Many thousands have sacrificed their lives is support of this goal. But can we assume, in the course of a long and arduous struggle against the greatest military and economic power on earth, that these demands alone can generate the urban mobilizations that are needed to topple the entrenched South Vietnamese puppet regime?
There is no lack of issues capable of generating powerful struggles in Vietnam. Unemployment is rising and inflation is out of control. High-rent housing is built for the generals and their entourages and for US businessmen and government personnel while refugees live in shacks on the outskirts of the cities or in outright concentration camps.
The VCP’s program for the cities is of crucial importance at the present time. The urban centers of South Vietnam are filled with refugees from the brutal bombings of liberated areas. Many of these people undoubtedly bring with them a profound sympathy for the liberation forces. However, they are not superhuman beings, immunized against the daily misery of their present lives by the national struggle. If no program is presented to these uprooted and impoverished masses of people, if no road of struggle to better their lives is shown to them, they can become deeply demoralized. Only a program of transitional and democratic demands put forward by a revolutionary organization with deep roots in urban as well as rural areas can assure a more favorable variant.
If in the critical period that opened with the signing of the Paris agreements, the urban masses are reduced to passive spectators – and this is the role to which the Stalinist theory of people’s war would tend to consign them – the results can only be very harmful to the Vietnamese revolution.
The “theory of stages” today
Rousset believes that under the pressure of the long-lasting nationalist upsurge of the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese leaders have given up in practice the theory of stages. Does engagement in armed struggle at the head of the masses represent a break from the stages theory? Such a view ignores the grave political errors that the VCP has made, precisely because of their determination to put the stages theory into practice despite the logic of an insurrectionary movement.
The VCP has opposed, and still opposes, demands for radical land reform, for workers’ control, for nationalization of bourgeois holdings, for the exclusion of bourgeois figures and bourgeois parties from the government, and other demands that form a key part of the practical orientation that flows from the theory of permanent revolution in the colonies and semicolonies.
The strongest evidence for Rousset’s view that the VCP has abandoned the theory of stages comes from the recent writings of Le Duan, secretary of the North Vietnamese Workers Party (CP), particularly Forward Under the Glorious Banner of the October Revolution, written in 1967 and reprinted by Hanoi’s Foreign Languages Publishing House in 1969. Let us examine Le Duan’s thesis. He writes:
Since the victory of the October Revolution, and especially after the Second World War, the national liberation movement owes its outstanding characteristic to the awakening of the workers and peasants who have been playing a more and more decisive part among the forces of national liberation, while the national bourgeoisie, though to a certain extent anti-imperialist in tendency, is essentially hesitant and reformist. Moreover, today these forces find the steadiest support in the socialist camp. All these new factors have enabled the national liberation movement to develop not only on a large scale but also in depth, thus acquiring a new quality. Though national and democratic in content, national liberation revolution no longer remains in the framework of bourgeois revolution; instead, it has become an integral part of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat on a worldwide scale … That is why the national liberation movement possesses a tremendous offensive capacity and an extremely great effect, seriously threatening the rear of imperialism and creating conditions for socialist revolution to spread all over the world. (pp 22-23)
To the unwary reader, this sounds rather like Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and Lenin’s writings on the colonial question after the Russian Revolution. Le Duan’s words are carefully chosen, however, and contain a different content. Note that while the national bourgeoisie is criticized as “hesitant” and “reformist” it is not excluded from the alliance that will make the “national-liberation revolution”. Moreover, the “content” of this revolution is explicitly given as “national and democratic” – the socialist tasks that revolutionary Marxists would pose as an equal part of that content are substituted for by a highly ambiguous formula: “no longer in the framework of bourgeois revolution … on a worldwide scale”.
What precisely does Le Duan mean by this? Does he mean, as Trotskyists would pose the question, that national democratic and socialist tasks are combined in a single “stage” of the revolution? Or does he mean that bourgeois democratic regimes, with working-class participation, in the colonial world can escape neocolonialism by allying themselves at the governmental level with “socialist” governments in other countries, thus “creating conditions” for an advance to socialism at some future date? He explains further:
A whole series of former colonies have attained varying degrees of independence. They stand at a crossroad: either to follow the path of capitalist development or, bypassing it, to proceed directly towards socialism. The general trend of our epoch in the world as well as in their countries do not allow them to choose the historically beaten track of independent capitalist development, eventually treading the imperialist path as the Western countries did. To do so would in the long run only cause them to fall under the imperialists’ neocolonial domination … To escape this dangerous situation and safeguard their national independence, the latter should side with the socialist camp and rely on its assistance with a view to advancing along the path of non-capitalist development. In other words, if formerly nationalism was linked with capitalism, today it must be linked with socialism … [R]evolution must evolve in accordance with the great Marxist-Leninist doctrine, the working class must lead the revolution, and once seized, state power must be truly national democratic. Failing this, “socialism” of any other kind will only boil down to disguised capitalistic reformism …” (pp 24-25)
Boiled down to plain language, this paragraph asserts four things: (1) newly independent countries can escape neocolonialist oppression by governmental alliances with “the socialist camp”; (2) to cement such an alliance the working class, (ie parties that follow Le Duan’s line) must be in the government; (3) the state should remain bourgeois for a period (“once seized, state power must be truly national democratic”); and (4) this constitutes a “path of non-capitalist development”. The crux lies in point 4. Is a “path of non-capitalist development” the same as the adoption of socialist measures, or is the alliance with the “socialist camp” and the participation of the “working class” in the capitalist government enough to win this designation? Evidently the latter is the case. Le Duan continues:
Under the slogan: peace, national independence, democracy and economic interests [?], the working class can rally the toiling masses, various intermediary strata and all other democratic and patriotic forces in a broad national united front spearheading its attack on the chieftains of monopoly capitalism to achieve democracy, social progress, and safeguard world peace, thereby preparing conditions for the overthrow of capitalism, for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the building of socialism. (p 26)
Thus a first stage is called for, in which the working class is supposed to unite with all forces, presumably including the “patriotic national bourgeoisie and landlords”, against “the chieftains of monopoly capitalism” (ie, imperialism) and achieve demands amounting in their totality to a program for a democratic republic. This prepares the conditions for the overthrow of capitalism at some unspecified later date. If there is any doubt as to what he means, Le Duan spells out very clearly that he intends the term “non-capitalist” to refer to such bourgeois democratic regimes in alliance with the “socialist camp” – to be clearly distinguished from the “socialist camp” itself. He divides the world into three kinds of countries: capitalist, socialist, and “non-capitalist”. Each, he says, requires a different kind of revolutionary movement:
In short, these three major revolutionary movements: the building of socialism and communism in our camp, non-capitalist development of the national liberation revolution and in the newly independent countries and socialist revolution in the imperialist-capitalist countries, through generating different effects and playing different roles, form three great currents giving rise to the tidal waves of socialist revolution in our epoch which attract mankind out of the capitalist orbit into the socialistic orbit. (p 27)
Despite the frequent references to socialism in the passages we have quoted, not a single concession is made in reality to the theory of permanent revolution. His use of the term “non-capitalist” to designate regimes that in his view are neither capitalist nor “socialist” (workers’ states) can be a deadly trap for revolutionists in the colonial world. It flies in the face of the whole Marxist position that the state constitutes the instrument of rule of a single class.
In Indonesia the Maoists put forward the idea that the limited anti-imperialist actions of the Sukarno regime and its diplomatic ties with Peking had turned it into a “people’s state that was neither capitalist nor socialist. The massive Indonesian Communist Party continued to propagate the notion that it had entered the “first stage” of the national democratic and socialist revolutions, until Sukarno’s bourgeois army turned on it and massacred hundreds of thousands of its members and followers in 1965. Schemas that project “intermediate” forms of the state are as dangerous as any other variant of the two-stage theory of revolution.
Rousset shows that he has accepted the premises of the Vietnamese CP position when he writes that “skipping over the stage of capitalist development”, “the alliance of workers and peasants as the base of the national front”, “leading role of the proletariat”, [and] “leadership role of the party in the revolution, the foremost factor in victory” are common to all the writings of the principal leaders of the VCP. The Vietnamese leadership has, as a whole, assimilated the decisive implications of the permanent revolution for the colonies and semicolonies.” (p 98)
As we have shown above, these are not the “decisive implications” of the permanent revolution, but are part of the two-stage theory of revolution as formulated by the leaders of the Vietnamese and Chinese Communist parties.
Rather than attempt to credit Le Duan with adhering to the views of Trotsky, which Le Duan openly opposes, we would benefit more by investigating what questions the VCP leader was trying to answer in making these statements, which defend the two-stage theory while placing heavy emphasis on the ultimate goal of socialism. It is our belief that Le Duan was trying to explain the importance of the two-stage theory to cadres of his own party who could not understand why South Vietnam should not follow the same path as North Vietnam, where capitalist property relations were overturned within, at most, a few years after the expulsion of the French. Some of these cadres may have noted that the perspective of forming a national united front of all patriotic forces prevents the party from calling for radical land reform throughout Vietnam, and from openly advovating socialist demands in the cities. They may have come to recognize the power such demands could have in mobilizing the impoverished and suppressed urban masses.
Of course, we cannot be certain of this, for the Vietnamese Communist Party bars the formation of political tendencies and the views of critics are not published. Nevertheless, it seems likely to us that Le Duan was defending the two-stage theory of revolution against those rank-and-file members who have experienced in life the contradiction between this theory and reality.
Thus, there is no contradiction between Le Duan’s “leftist” presentation of the two-stage theory of revolution and the persistent efforts of top leaders of the VCP to convince skeptics of their sincerity in opposing a socialist revolution in South Vietnam. North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong told an American Stalinist journalist recently:
I re-emphasize the objective in South Vietnam is to fulfill the national democratic revolution, not the socialist revolution.When people said we want to press a communist administration on South Vietnam they spoke stupidly.
It is clear that our perspective is this: the construction of socialism in North Vietnam and the successful realization of the national democratic revolution in South Vietnam, will, step by step, lead toward the peaceful reunification of our country.” (March 7, 1973, Daily World).
This is a crystal-clear example of the practice of the Vietnamese Stalinists to this very day, flowing from the theory of two-stage revolution.
In our opinion, the most dangerous aspect of Rousset’s history is his effort to prove that the Vietnamese Stalinists have adopted, in essence, the theory of the permanent revolution. Attempts to reduce the irreconcilable contradictions between the two-stage theory of revolution held by the Vietnamese Stalinists and the theory of permanent revolution held by the Trotskyists can lead to a serious dilution of Marxist theory.
On coalition government
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien belittles the dangers in the class collaborationist “national front”, although it is critical of such maneuvers with the local ruling classes. Rousset claims that the front, extolled by the VCP, is in fact dominated by the “worker-peasant alliance”, an argument that is also put forward by the leadership of the VCP. It is not the same as the French Communist Party’s participation in the 1936 electoral popular front, Rousset states, since it is composed of mass organizations under the political leadership of the VCP. In addition, he emphasizes, the other political parties in Vietnam that associate themselves with the front are mere creatures of the VCP, and have no apparatus of their own independent of the NLF.
Of course, no two class-collaborationist fronts are the same. An endless series of more or less important distinctions can be made between any two of them, depending on the concrete circumstances in which each makes its appearance. For instance, the relationship of forces between bourgeois parties, petty-bourgeois parties, and class collaborationist workers’ parties in the bloc will vary from case to case.
Much more important than the differences between these class collaborationist formations are their similarities. There are three points that are decisive: first, the classcollaborationist front’s program accepts the continued dominance of bourgeois property relations and promises to protect these against attacks from any quarter, at least for an extended “stage” of the struggle. Thus, the program that the VCP imposes on its front formations is kept within capitalist limits, just as the Communist Party of France seeks to limit the program of the “popular fronts” it participates in.
Second, all class collaborationist fronts undermine the class independence of the workers and other oppressed layers. They teach the masses to rely on and to place political confidence in a section of their oppressors.
Third, such a front in power consists of a governmental bloc of workers’ parties with bourgeois parties. Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien holds that the VCP’s efforts to form such a government do not carry the dangers warned against by Lenin, Trotsky, and others. It is necessary to examine this contention further.
The first factor cited by Rousset, the mass character of the NLF’s various component organizations, does not in the slightest lessen the dangers inherent in its class collaborationist program. It is the ability of a class collaborationist front to mislead and disorient masses of people that makes it so dangerous.
The other factors cited by Rousset concern the weakness of real bourgeois forces in the national united front. Trotsky, writing about the Spanish civil war, noted a somewhat similar phenomenon. He spoke of the shadow bourgeoisie in the Spanish Popular Front and said: “Through the medium of the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists, the Spanish bourgeoisie subordinated the proletariat to itself without even bothering to participate in the Popular Front.” The “insignificant debris” from the old bourgeois parties remaining in the Republican camp were “political attorneys of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself”.
If the shell of the Vietnamese bourgeoisie in the PRG, the tiny Democratic Party, represents the bourgeoisie even less than did the “insignificant debris” in the Spanish Republic, does this mean that the PRG’s class-collaborationist program is not a threat to the revolution in South Vietnam?
On the contrary, the inclusion of bourgeois parties in the PRG represents an implicit offer by the VCP leaders to share governmental power with politicians who really represent the bourgeoisie and the landlords. Such a coalition would contradict the needs and aspirations of the Vietnamese masses, who seek to overthrow the reactionary classes.
In view of this, note should be taken of the emphasis the Vietnamese leaders place on the National Council of Reconciliation and National Concord. This council, according to Burchett, is held by the DRV leaders to be “of supreme importance”. He quoted leaders “at the highest levels” who told him:
We demand that the three essential tendencies in South Vietnam [the Saigon government, the liberation forces and the "neutralists"] be represented and that the third force should play a capital role … Founding a three-segment council is a complicated matter but we are confident that it can be done and we will do everything possible to support this … (Guardian, February 28, 1973)
What would this council do? It is at the very least to be the body to organise national elections, according to spokespersons for the PRG.
The January 28 statement from the DRV and the VCP to the Vietnamese people (printed in the April 16, 1973, issue of Intercontinental Press) gives further cause for concern. It describes the Paris settlement as “a victory of epochal significance”, and outlines the tasks before the Vietnamese people as “the achievement of independence and democracy in the South” while turning the North into “a solid, strong and prosperous socialist country and further enhancing the international role of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the impregnable outpost of the socialist camp in Southeast Asia”. It further states:
The government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam solemnly declares that it will seriously and scrupulously implement all the provisions of the Paris Agreements, and demands that all parties signatory respect this agreement and fully implement it. This is a very important, and at the same time very difficult and complicated struggle to which our people of all strata, and all patriots in South Viet Nam, must make an active contribution.The war of aggression which the various imperialist countries have, one after another, conducted on our land for more than thirty long years has left very serious aftermaths. It is a certainty that our compatriots in the South will unite and love one another as children of the same family, dispel all animosity and suspicion, and will, without distinction of the poor and the rich, political affiliation, religious belief and nationality, pool efforts in the struggle to preserve peace, achieve genuine independence, excercise democratic liberties, materialize national concord, heal the wounds of war, rebuild the country, and bring a life of plenty to the entire people.
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.
This appears to be the view expressed, somewhat unclearly, in Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien. “What the history of the Vietnamese revolution and the analysis made by the NLF corroborates is the hegemonic political leadership exercised by the Communist party.” (p 106) Because of this hegemony and what he sees as the fundamentally revolutionary outlook of the VCP leaders, Rousset tends to view the reformist program of the VCP as, in effect, amounting to little more than soft soap aimed at fooling the local bourgeoisie.
We will quote him at length since his remarks have important implications:
This policy, which attempts to combine the realization of the worker-peasant alliance with the maximum tactical “flexibility” to isolate the enemy on the national and international plane, allows us to understand:
- The notable gap between the objectives contained in the programs of the various “fronts” and the actual depth of revolutionary application (agrarian reform);
- The evident contradiction between these programs and the theses of the VCP fundamentally in common with those of the permanent revolution, the evident contradiction between the program of the NLF which declares that “the state will encourage the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie to contribute to the development of industry, small industry and handicrafts; guarantees freedom of enterprise profitable to the country and the people …”, and which only demands workers participation in management, while promising the progressive reunification with the socialist North;
- The prudence affected by the PRP [the southern VCP], the main party of South Vietnam, which leaves the job of bringing out the essential communist literary production to the VCP as far as we know;
- The utilization, in the proposals of the PRG and the October 1972 Kissinger-Le Duc Tho accords, of the term structure of “national concord” to describe a body bringing together the PRG, defined as “The people’s power in South Vietnam”, and what is invariably called the “completely puppet” Saigon administration.” (pp 106-07)
The implication that these promises to the bourgeoisie, which form a fundamental part of the VCP’s political program, are not really very important, underestimates the importance of a clear revolutionary working class program for the Vietnamese revolution, as well as for the revolution in other colonial and semicolonial countries. It underestimates the sharp restriction such a program places on the mobilization and political clarity of the masses. For this reason, among others, proposals for governments of bourgeois and workers’ parties and talk of supraclass “national concord” have always been viewed by revolutionary Marxists as dangerous and unprincipled maneuvers, and never as merely tactical questions. To assume in advance that the VCP leaders will go beyond their program is to ignore their performance in 1945, when they stuck to it quite rigidly.
The programmatic statements of the VCP do not delude the bourgeoisie, in South Vietnam or elsewhere. They will ally with the VCP, if they ever do, only in order to use its class collaborationist program to demobilize and demoralize the masses. (For them, of course, such an alliance is merely a tactical question.) Statements such as those made by the VCP delude and mislead only the masses who follow it.
It was the opposition of Vietnamese Trotskyists to these class collaborationist concepts that brought them into conflict with the VCP leaders. This programmatic gulf exists today as well. For Vietnamese Trotskyists to call for a workers’ and peasants’ government as proposed in the Transitional Program would immediately put them outside the framework of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, which claims to be a government representing all classes.
The VCP on Stalin
In a debate over whether the VCP should be regarded as Stalinist, the party’s attitude toward Stalin has a certain importance. The December 29, 1969, issue of Vietnam Courier printed excerpts from a Nhan Dan editorial, “Stalin’s Work”, on Stalin’s ninetieth birthday:
After Lenin’s death, Stalin was his great successor, always upholding his glorious banner in the building of socialism amidst capitalist encirclement …In the ideological field, Stalin waged an unremitting combat for the purity of Marxism-Leninism and developed its creative potentiality, against opportunism under all forms …
Sixteen years ago, after Stalin’s death President Ho Chi Minh, our leader of genius and great teacher, said to his comrades and friends in the five continents:
“It is the Soviet Red Army under Stalin’s command which defeated Hitlerite fascism and Japanese militarism in World War Two and it is its victory which helped the August Revolution in Viet Nam triumph.” …
Since the coming into being of our Party, in the light of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, we have realized all the more clearly Stalin’s concern as leader of the Soviet Communist Party and State for the revolutionary cause of our people. We will forever remember this famous appeal of Stalin which had wide repercussions in the West right after the October Revolution: “Don’t forget the East!” As President Ho Chi Minh pointed out, this appeal reminded the Russian people who had just won a victory and the international proletariat that they must closely link their struggle to that of the oppressed peoples in Asia against the common enemy – imperialism.
It must be remembered that the VCP leaders knew that in 1945 Stalin ordered them to retreat in the face of a priceless opportunity to win independence. Tran Van Giau, as noted above, admitted the Russians tended toward an “excess of ideological compromise” and said he expected “no help from that quarter, no matter how distant or verbal.” They are under no illusions, as are some poorly educated Maoists, that Stalin was a revolutionist. They knew him for what he was, and yet they defend his role.
The VCP leaders are neither naive nor stupid. By this lauding of Stalin, the VCP leaders indicate their loyalty to the program and parties of world Stalinism.
The Moscow-Peking dispute
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien claims that in the Sino-Soviet debate the VCP jealously asserted and defended the independence of its practice and its orientation” (p 87).
Rousset greatly exaggerates the extent to which the VCP has differed with either the Soviet Union or China. The differences he claims the VCP has had with the Chinese leaders are limited to the indirect criticism expressed by Nhan Dan on the occasion of Nixon’s visit to Peking, and veiled polemics with the Maoist assertion that the USSR is a greater enemy than US imperialism (pp 90-92).
It is difficult to fathom what significance Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien attaches to Hanoi’s criticism of Mao’s declaration that the USSR is the more dangerous foe. Disagreement with this Maoist view is rather widespread in the world Stalinist movement and to agree with it would have required a clear break with Moscow. Nor do their very cautious criticisms of Nixon’s trip to China (focusing on Nixon’s exploitation of the Sino-Soviet split to isolate Vietnam) indicate more than justified anger at the subordination of their national interests (the independence of all of Vietnam) to those of the Peking bureaucrats. Similar editorials in Nhan Dan criticized Nixon’s trip to Moscow without, however, directly mentioning either Nixon’s trip or Soviet policies.
These were not Hanoi’s only differences with Peking, of course. The North Vietnamese leaders supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which the Maoists criticized.
According to Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien, the VCP differed in practice with the Soviet Union in 1945 when Stalin was willing to accept the integration of Vietnam into the Western camp (p 87). But the VCP was willing to keep Vietnam within the French Union and its practice followed accordingly, as we have shown. If this is a difference, it is one that escapes us.
In 1959-60, Rousset goes on, the VCP policy toward the revival of the struggle in the South was in complete contradiction to the Soviet Union’s policy of peaceful coexistence (p 87). However, during the same period, the Soviet Union became rather deeply committed to providing economic and military aid to the Cuban revolution. Both cases reveal the dual character of the Stalinists’ role in the workers’ states. On the one hand they are opponents of workers’ democracy and international revolution and these views permeate all their actions. But they are also compelled by virtue of their position to defend, however poorly, the social foundations of the workers’ states. This brings them again and again into conflict with imperialism despite their fondest hopes. Such occurrences should not be taken as proof that either Khrushchev or the VCP had broken in essence with the theory of socialism in one country or other Stalinist concepts.
Rousset fails to take into account the real nature of the Sino-Soviet dispute. The differences between the Soviet and Chinese Stalinists broke out, among other reasons, because of the unequal pressures exerted on them by US imperialism’s cold war strategy. The Chinese got far more of this pressure than the Soviets in the period after the Korean War. Moscow’s willingness to come to terms of a sort with imperialism at the expense of China drove the Chinese bureaucrats into giving support (primarily verbal, however) to national liberation movements in several countries whose regimes were anti-Peking, and in this process Peking appeared as a “left” critic of the Kremlin.
This coincided with the sharp posing in 1960 of the question of what attitude the VCP should take toward the southern struggle. It was thus no indication of differences with Stalinism when the VCP adopted Peking’s rhetoric at times, asking for and receiving arms from China. This forced the Soviet bureaucrats to give arms also. They could not allow the Chinese Stalinists to pose as the sole defenders of the Vietnamese.
Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien‘s contention that the adoption in 1959-60 of the armed-struggle line for the South, and the affirmation of the need for revolutionary violence by Truong Chinh, brought the VCP into disagreement with the Soviet Union means little unless one believes that Peking, which supported these positions, represented an anti-Stalinist pole. What is most significant about these stands is that they occurred within the framework of Stalinism, which had been divided by tactical differences between its two big powers over how to pressure imperialism into recognizing the status quo.
The role played by North Vietnam in the Sino-Soviet dispute reflected the specific national interests and outlook of the VCP. They maneuvered between the two sides, refusing to support or break politically with either. Above all, they never counterposed a third program to the Stalinist programs proposed by Moscow and Peking.
The nature of the VCP
We have demonstrated that, contrary to the claims made by Rousset, the VCP faithfully followed the major turns carried out by the Kremlin until the Sino-Soviet dispute, although there was often powerful mass pressure on the VCP to violate the Kremlin’s ukases. Like other Stalinist parties, it used the Sino-Soviet dispute to maneuver between the two dominant Stalinist powers and to gain a narrow degree of independence within the Stalinist camp.
In view of his failure to demonstrate that the VCP is non-Stalinist either in its program or methods, we have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the heart of the position taken by the author of Le Parti Communists Vietnamien is the belief that a party that heads a revolutionary armed struggle against imperialism cannot be Stalinist.
History has disproved such a view. The Soviet Union won historic victories in World War II, victories that opened up a whole new period in the world revolution, while still saddled with the leadership of Stalin. In Yugoslavia, Stalinist leaders led the masses, arms in hand, in a revolution that ended by overturning capitalism. Under the conditions created by the defeat of Japan and the collapse of Chiang’s regime, a peasant army led by Mao Tse-tung, a disciple of the Stalin school if ever there was one, took power.
Stalinist parties have been forced to take up arms many times in the past, and will almost certainly find themselves compelled to do so again. Even the French CP, corrupt as it is, may undertake a “left turn” under certain conditions. This Communist Party, after all, did fight with arms in hand in the Resistance to Hitler during World War II without deviating an inch from Stalinism. After the Vichy regime fell, of course, it worked equally hard to save French capitalism.
The test of whether a party is Stalinist is not whether it is capable of armed struggle. Stalinists are capable of struggle. Indeed, they could not carry out their treacherous role in the world labor movement if they were totally incapable of leading class battles. It is the program that they fight for that distinguishes the Stalinists. In every country where they have taken up arms, they have done so under a program that severely handicapped and, all too often, led to terrible setbacks for the revolution.
It is, of course, possible to be influenced by understandable admiration for the considerable tenacity and personal courage that the VCP leaders have shown in the fight for Vietnamese independence. Stalinism and reformism are not, however, reducible to physical cowardice and paralysis in the face of every danger. Nor are tenacity and courage substitutes for a revolutionary program.
The fact that the struggle has been carried on for three decades without being decisively defeated should not be permitted to influence our evaluation of the program of the leadership. It is hardly to the credit of the VCP leaders that the masses have been compelled by the party’s class-collaborationist program to make detour after detour on the road to full independence and proletarian power. The fact that the struggle has sustained itself for thirty years is a tribute to the persistence and iron will of the Vietnamese people. That they have been compelled to carry out such a protracted struggle is due, first, to the power of imperialism; second, to the treason committed by the Moscow and Peking bureaucrats; and third, to the false program of the VCP leadership. We should not fall into the trap of looking upon protracted struggle as a virtue in itself, especially if the struggle is unnecessarily protracted by Stalinism.
The nature of the VCP can best be summarized as follows: it is a party with origins in the Stalinized Comintern that borrowed its program virtually whole from the petty bourgeois bureaucracy of the Soviet Union. (That is, the VCP advocates the theory of socialism in one country, projects a two-stage revolution, and opposes workers’ democracy.) It is a nationalist party. Its leaders (and above all its ranks) favor national independence and unification and seek to achieve them within the limits imposed by its Stalinist program. As a result of Stalinist errors, the party has chosen a peasant rather than a proletarian base. This peasant base has been greatly reinforced as a result of decades of peasant rebellion. The VCP has vacillated in its program and policies between accommodation with imperialism and the irreconcilable dynamic unleashed by the national struggle. Lastly, it seeks a middle way, at least for an extended “stage” of the revolution in South Vietnam, in which peace between the hostile classes in the nation will be maintained by a government of all the classes. These characteristics justify defining the VCP as a petty bourgeois party, linked by its program and its international allegiances to world Stalinism.
This party finds itself caught between two bitterly contending forces: the Vietnamese workers and peasants, who refuse to surrender to imperialism, and US imperialism, which refuses to write off Vietnam as lost to its domination.
A Stalinist party remains at the head of a heroic revolution. We unconditionally support that revolution, in word and deed, while making no programmatic concessions to the illusions and errors of the leadership.
We do not believe that the weaknesses of the leadership doom the Vietnamese revolution to defeat, although they are a serious liability. The Vietnamese revolution is continuing, and the one in neighboring Cambodia has undergone intensification. American imperialism has been relatively weakened, despite the powerful assistance provided it by Moscow and Peking. Events like the Watergate scandal, the meat boycott, and the weakening of the dollar demonstrate that continued war is not without its risks for the US ruling class. The antiwar movement in the US and around the world will have a vital role to play should the imperialists decide to step up their aggression.
Any new victories won by the Indochinese liberation fighters will be hailed by revolutionary Marxists, as we have hailed earlier victories. Nonetheless, such victories will not change our analysis, as Marxists and revolutionary realists, of the leadership of the VCP and its program. Because of their program, these leaders have failed to take advantage of conjunctures far more favorable than that now confronting the Indochinese peoples.
The first task: defense of Indochina
It is important to reiterate that our first task is unconditional defense of the Vietnamese revolution, regardless of our evaluation of its leadership. This means that revolutionary Marxists must continue to direct their fire first and foremost against US imperialism, which is still bombing the people of Cambodia and 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. On this basis, we Trotskyists never strayed from the position that the antiwar movement must include everyone who is against the war. We opposed sectarian proposals that the antiwar movement be limited to those who agree on such things as the nature of the VCP.
Therefore, we have always sought to actively involve pro-Moscow and pro-Peking Stalinists, most of whom support the VCP leaders.
This does not mean, however, that revolutionists should give uncritical support to the political positions of the current leadership of the Vietnamese revolution. Trotskyists have criticized this leadership for allowing itself to be drawn into secret diplomacy and for hailing the compromise with Nixon as a great victory. However, in both our propaganda and other activities, our priorities have remained the same. The number-one target is US imperialism.
Maintaining programmatic independence from the VCP leaders is not without its costs, of course. Many young radicals, profoundly moved by the heroism and persistence of the Vietnamese rebels and their successes in battling the imperialist forces, naturally tend to conclude that the VCP program and its leadership represent a model for the worldwide struggle. The refusal of the Trotskyists to adhere to this position may be taken amiss by them and regarded as sectarian. The pro-Moscow and pro-Peking Stalinists feed this misconception with slanders and distortions of our positions which they spread assiduously – in large part to cover up their own sorry records in the defense of the Vietnamese revolution and to apologize for the betrayals of Moscow and Peking. They resort to slander, charging that by refusing to give up their political program, Trotskyists “objectively” aid the imperialists.
American Trotskyists are not alone in facing such attacks. Other revolutionary Marxists in the world have been exposed to similar slanders. All come under considerable pressure to adapt their programs to that of the Vietnamese Communist Party, thus avoiding the suspicion of having fundamental differences with these leaders whose struggle is so popular among rebel youth.
However, such an approach carries extremely heavy costs, which may not be apparent at first glance. In order to adopt this course, some of the central positions of revolutionary Marxism – the theory of permanent revolution, opposition to class-collaborationism, the central role of the working class in the socialist revolution, the vital importance of programmatic clarity – would have to be softened or identified with their opposites in order to avoid confronting the fundamental character of the differences we have with the Vietnamese leaders. Such errors could not be quarantined to one area of the class struggle. If not overcome in time, they could begin to undermine theoretical clarity on a wide range of issues. In our opinion, Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien is not free from such failings.
We share with Pierre Rousset a common position of unconditional support to the Vietnamese struggle. Like him, we will continue to denounce the maneuvers of imperialism and the betrayals of Mao and Brezhnev. Within that framework of agreement, we hope that this article will contribute to an understanding of the political character of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
28. Nhu Phong, “Intellectuals, Writers, and Artists,” in the China Quarterly, No 9, January-March 1962; Bernard Fall, “The Two Vietnams”, p. 189; Fall, Vietnam Witness (New York: Praeger, 1966)7 p 103.
30. For this period in Chinese history, see particularly Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (New York: Atheneum, 1968); Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970) and Problems of the Chinese Revolution (New York: Paragon, 1962).
* The Vietnamese Communist Party has had several names. Founded as the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930, it later changed its name to the Indochinese Communist Party. In 1945 the party formally disbanded. In 1951, when the party was reconstituted, it was called the Vietnam Workers Party. This remains its name in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In South Vietnam, it is called the People’s Revolutionary Party. For the sake of convenience, and to minimize confusion, we refer to it throughout this review as the Vietnamese Communist Party or VCP.
** The Third Period, promulgated by the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International (held in Moscow in 1928), was expected to see the overthrow of capitalism everywhere within a few years. The first period had been that of the Russian revolution and crises throughout Europe; the second was a period of relative stabilization of world capitalism after 1921. Unfortunately for the Stalinist “theoreticians”, however, all that was overthrown within a few years was the idea of the Third Period itself, which gave way to the Popular Front in 1935-36. The Communist parties under Comintern instructions now supported parties representing the capitalists whowere to have been overthrown in the Third Period.
*** Others have explicitly criticized the positions taken by the Vietnamese Trotskyists in this period. For instance, C. Malagnou, writing in the November 3, 1972, issue of La Gauche, the official publication of the Ligue Revolutionnaire des Travailleurs, the Belgian section of the Fourth International, stated: “Showing on the basis of the Chinese example the pernicious character of the ‘Menshevik’ theory of the revolution by stages, the proletariat’s integration in a ‘bloc of four classes’, and the integration of the Chinese CP in the Kuomintang, the Trotskyist oppositionists did not seem to see what distinguished the ICP [VCP] from these theories.”
Originally published in International Socialist Review, July-August 1973