Source: Militant, no. 388 (January 1978)
Written: 13 January 1978
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Manuel 2010
Fighting on a 600-mile front between Vietnam and Cambodia has broken out. The battles have taken place for more than a week. Atrocities, including the disembowelling of pregnant women and the butchery of men, women and children by both sides have been reported by the radio broadcasts from Hanoi and Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese used elements of six divisions (60,000 men) to penetrate deep into Cambodia.
The fighting has followed armed border clashes over the past two years. More than 10,000 have been killed. Destruction of villages, cattle and rice in these incidents are documented by the two sides. These have been clashes mainly between peasants and peasant troops of both sides. But the ruling cliques in control of both countries have encouraged these “border” disputes.
The imperialists and the capitalist press have received reports of the fighting with jubilant delight. Imperialism, especially American imperialism, had been discredited by the “dirty” wars of the last three decades. Now they are delighted at the opportunity to discredit socialism and “socialist aggressor powers”. Here are two “Communist” countries at “war” with each other and settling differences in the language of bullets, bombs, warplanes and machine guns.
In this situation, the position of the Communist Party is comical in the extreme. They are wringing their hands in embarrassment, and piously declaiming on the merits of negotiation and peace. But they give not a word of explanation of how such a conflict can arise between what they call “socialist” countries which are supposed to be democratically controlled by their peoples.
The Morning Star, at first presented the war dispassionately as a “news item”—much as the press would “impartially” report the spilling of marmalade in an accidental collision between lorries in a road accident!
Now they have been compelled, by the obvious desire of their readers and the members of the CP to find out what is happening and to know the attitude of the CP leadership, to write an editorial on January 6th which explains nothing, but piously calls for “negotiations”: “All those who participated in the world-wide movement of solidarity with the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in their heroic struggles against US imperialism will want to express the hope that the present conflict on the Vietnam-Cambodia border will be settled rapidly by negotiation. Naturally, having espoused Jingo nationalism for decades, and as sedulous apologists for the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, they cannot do anything but regard borders arbitrarily and brutally carved out by imperialism over the living bodies of the colonial peoples, as unchangeable and sacrosanct. The frontiers of Indo-China were artificially decided by French imperialism. Khmers live on both sides of the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Vietnamese also live on both sides. The poison of national chauvinism was injected by French imperialism with the classic and brutal policy of “divide and rule”.
This is now the second armed clash between countries which have eliminated landlordism and imperialism. In the Horn of Africa, the undeclared war between Somalia and Ethiopia and the brutal suppression of the Eritrean people by force of arms is still continuing.
How can countries which have eliminated the class contradiction of landlordism and capitalism and have established “socialist” regimes be at war with each other? The “Communist” parties are incapable of explaining this new contradiction.
How and why has this happened? In reality, the explanation has long ago been provided by the theory of Marxism, and the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. These are workers’ states but deformed workers’ states: bonapartist regimes—i.e. military-police style dictatorships—resting not on private ownership like the capitalist dictatorships but on state ownership of the means of production.
These states are not healthy workers’ states and this means that there are no trade unions, political parties (even those accepting state ownership) independent of the state; nor are there soviets or workers’ committees. There is no right to strike or organise, no press free from state control, nor any of the rights won by hard struggle by the working class in the capitalist democracies. There is only a one-party, bureaucratically controlled military-police dictatorship.
In spite of this, the overthrow of imperialism and the elimination of the fetters of landlordism and capitalism marked an immense step forward by these peoples. Domination by imperialism, capitalism and landlordism means only unending misery, hunger and squalor, with no way forward. The dictatorial capitalist, semi-feudal regimes offered not the smallest prospect of real democratic rights or the economic development and industrialisation of these areas.
That is why their collapse marked an immense step forward for their peoples. It is one of the reasons why Militant and its Marxist supporters gave wholehearted support to the wars of national and social liberation against imperialism in South East Asia and the Horn of Africa.
But we did so with our eyes open, honestly explaining, without the smallest measure of deceit, the real process taking place. We explained all the issues to the labour movement and the workers of Britain and the world, whom we could reach.
While supporting the war, we explained the Stalinist character of the leadership, the inevitable consequences this would have if they were victorious, and the character of the regimes they would institute. At the same time, we did not criticise in a negative manner, but put forward the alternative of workers’ and peasants’ democracy, which existed in the first days of the Russian revolution between 1917 and 1923, and was maintained even in the wars of intervention which followed.
We defended the democratic rights of the workers and peasants while supporting aid and action in favour of the overthrow of the dictatorial and corrupt Thieu and other regimes in Indo China.
With the policy of Lenin and Trotsky, of workers’ democracy and the right of national self-determination, it would have been possible for the peoples of Indo China voluntarily and freely to set up a Socialist Federation of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, linking such a federation to a genuine workers’ democracy in China and Russia. Such a free democratic federation would have had an irresistible appeal to all the workers of Asia and the colonial world and also to the workers of the industrialised capitalist world. This was Lenin’s policy in Russia, which led to the creation. of the USSR—the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. The word “Russia” does not appear in the name.
The problem of this epoch is not merely to destroy the fetters of private property but also the narrow confines of the nation state, with maximum rights of national self-determination and of workers’ democracy. Instead of encouraging federation, the Stalinist states of China and Russia are dabbling in national antagonisms and trying to play off these countries against each other, in the struggle between the bureaucratic rulers of these two mighty countries. This is neither in the interests of the peoples of these countries nor of the peoples of China and Russia. It is a blow against the struggle of the working class throughout the world to achieve its emancipation from the shackles of capitalism.
As an aside, history is always harsh to the political buffoons of the self-styled “Marxist” sects on the fringes of the labour moment. All of them slavishly kow-towed to the Stalinists in China and Indo China, as elsewhere, without criticism, explanation or perspectives. During the wars of national and social liberation in South, East Asia they pretended—or what is worse, thought—that what was undoubtedly a colossal step forward, the victory over imperialism and landlord capitalism in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, would mean “socialism” in these countries. In fact, the Militant explained well in advance—not belatedly, after the event,—that the peoples of these countries would have to pay with a new revolution, a political, not social, revolution, before there could be the installation of a workers’ democracy and a free socialist federation of these peoples.