On the nature of the
George Johnson and Fred
Vietnamese Communist Party
By Bob Gould
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- At several points in its history it has dropped the demand
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
Popular Front in 1936-39, but in 1943-47 as well.
- It has followed the same zigzagging course in regard
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
towards the peasantry.
- To this day, the VCP renounces the goal of creating
in South Vietnam.
- The Vietnamese Communist Party has tailored its program to
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
- 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
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
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
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
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,
Correspondence, December 12, 1928, pp. 1665-76.)
The program adopted by the VCP in 1930 was:
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:
- 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
imperialists and put them under the control of the worker-peasant and
- To confiscate the whole of the plantations and property
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.
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".
- Overthrow of imperialist domination.
- Confiscation of foreign enterprises and banks.
- Unity of the country, with recognition of the right of
nationality to self-determination.
- Overthrow of the power of the militarists and the
- Establishment of the power of soviets of workers',
- Institution of the eight-hour working day, increase of
assistance to the unemployed, and social insurance.
- Confiscation of all lands of big landlords, land for the
- 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.
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
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
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 Vietnamese Trotskyists proposed for the VCP the following
- The Nghe-Tinh "soviets" were evidence of adventurism in the
- The Trotskyists pointed to the creation of "peasant
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
- They noted the declaration by the Tonkin section of the VCP
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.
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
- For a program of democratic and transitional demands aimed
bringing the peasant struggles under the leadership of the urban
proletariat: universal suffrage, a Constituent Assembly,
- For integrating the Communist Party into the ranks of the
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
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
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
countries and those of the proletariat in the advanced countries.
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
"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"
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 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
- A parliament shall be elected by universal suffrage. A
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
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
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
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
"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
At the Viet Minh congress that met on August 16, after Japan
surrendered, Truong Chinh gave a report announcing the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nationaux etLlutte de Classes au Viet
Nam, by Ahn-Van and Jacqueline Roussel. In addition, back issues
Verite contain much material on the Trotskyist movement in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
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
Stalinists on this (the only evidence for this view comes from
Nhan Dan, the VCP newspaper, and Radio Hanoi). We believe that
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
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
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
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:
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
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,
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
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.
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.
- This movement occurred at the same time as anti-Stalinist
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
entourages and for US businessmen and government personnel while
refugees live in shacks on the outskirts of the cities or in outright
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Chi Minh on Revolution: Selected Writings, 1920-66, Bernard
Fall, ed (New York: Praeger, 1967), p 131.
Press Correspondence, December 12, 1928, pp 1672-73.
Outline History of the Vietnam Workers Party (Hanoi: Foreign
Languages Publishing House [FLPH], 1960, p 16.
Years of Struggle of the Party (Hanoi: FLPH, 1960), Volume I, p
5. Philippe Devillers, Histoire du Vietnam de 1940 a 1952
(Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1952), p 134.
Years of Struggle, p 94.
7. Ibid, p 95.
8. Joseph Buttinger, Vietnam: A Political History
(New York: Praeger, 1968), p. 217; Douglas Pike, Viet Cong (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1966), pp 27, 44.
9. Milton Sacks, "Marxism in Vietnam," in
Marxism in Southeast Asia,
Frank Trager, ed (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959), p
Internationale, September-October 1947, p 45.
11. Devillers, op cit, p 181,
emphasis in original.
12. Jean Lacouture, Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography
(New York: Random House, 1968), p 148.
13. Harold Isaacs, No Peace for Asia (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1969), p 172.
14. Ellen Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1954), p 176.
15. Ibid, p 154.
16. Lacouture, op cit, p 136.
17. Vo Nguyen Giap, People's War, People's Army (Hanoi:
FLPH, 1963), pp 143-144.
18. Hammer, op cit, p 152.
19. Gerard Chaliand, The Peasants of North Vietnam
(Baltimore: Penguin, 1969), p 40.
20. Tran Phuong, "The Land Reform," in Vietnamese Studies No 7 (Hanoi:
FLPH,1965 ), p 187.
21. Bernard Fall, The Two Vietnams (New York:
Praeger, 1963), pp. 116-117;
Street Without Joy (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 1963),
22. Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution
(Hanoi: FLPH, 1970), p 24.
23. Giap, op. cit, pp. 116, 146-47.
24. Le Duan, On the Socialist Revolution in Vietnam
(Hanoi: FLPH, 1967), Volume 1, p 48.
25. Ho Chi Minh, op cit, p 316.
26. Documents of the Third National
Congress of the Vietnam Workers Party (Hanoi: FLPH), Volume III, p 62.
27. Chaliand, op cit. This book
consists, for the most part, of these interviews with
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.
29. See Intercontinental Press,
November 23, 1970, p 1016.
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).
Press, loc. Cit. 50-51.
International, November-December 1951, p 198.
33. Leon Trotsky, "The Lessons of Spain:
the Last Warning," in The Spanish
Revolution 1931-39 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), pp.
* 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
** 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,