Joseph Hansen

Vietnam and World Politics

(Winter 1966)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.27 No.1, Winter 1966, pp.3-9, 27-29.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

This article is part of Joseph Hansen’s report to the recent Socialist Workers Party convention dealing with international developments over the past few years.

The most important single turn on the world scene in 1965 was without doubt Johnson’s decision, which he put into effect last February, to “escalate” American intervention in the civil conflict in Vietnam.

There has been widespread speculation as to the reasons for this ominous turn in which Johnson carried out the essential content of the foreign policy advocated by Goldwater, which the American people had emphatically repudiated by the greatest electoral landslide in the history of the country.

How was it possible to plunge the United States, which stands at the pinnacle of unparalleled power and prosperity, into a miserable and dangerous adventure in distant Asia that can end in a nuclear war and the conversion of the world into a radioactive desert? In such an outcome there would be no privileged sanctuary for the United States as in the first two world wars.

One explanation that is finding increasing echo abroad is that the current president of the United States is not altogether normal. It cannot be denied that there may be validity to this view. But such an explanation is not sufficient. We must look deeper, turning to the economic and social forces that find such a personality to be their most fitting political expression.

The truth is that the foreign policy now being administered by Johnson is simply the continuation of a policy going back to Roosevelt, which was advanced by Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy before it was inherited by the bizarre person who likes to hear it repeated that he may well prove to be one of the “great presidents, if not the greatest” in the history of the USA.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall indicated the international perspective in his Biennial Report to the Secretary of War. Here is how the meaning of this report was summed up in The Militant of October 20, 1945:

“The Third World War is already in the blueprint stage. Even before the official termination of the Second World War, Wall Street’s newly fledged military caste has projected the opening phase of another bloodbath so frightful and destructive it can mean the end of mankind.”

Gen. Marshall completely discounted the possibility of peace for the foreseeable future. He projected the construction of an enormous new military machine based on atomic weapons. He called for a huge standing army and the maintenance of military bases in a vast perimeter embracing the Atlantic and the Pacific and without forgetting specific mention of the Caribbean. Marshall predicted decades of tension and demanded that Congress “establish for the generations to come, a national military policy.”

This grim perspective, it should be noted, was advanced before the end of the alliance with the Soviet Union, before Truman initiated the so-called cold war and the era of McCarthyism, and before the upsurge in China that was to lead to the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek and the victory of the Chinese Revolution.

Marshall’s report, despite its lip service to “peace,” constituted documentary evidence of the very conscious policy provided for the guidance of the staffs in the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and CIA no matter which of the two big parties, the Democrats or Republicans, happens to be in power.

US Program for War

Occasionally we are provided with a glimpse of how Washington’s real foreign policy is kept up to date. A year ago, for instance, at the height of the election campaign when Johnson was presenting himself as the sane man of peace in contrast to the irrational Goldwater, the subject of the Korean War came up. It was in the wake of the death of Gen. MacArthur.

The New York Times, in its issue of October 14, 1964, mentioned a secret paper called “NSC-68” (NSC stands for National Security Council). This secret paper “prescribed a broad basic strategy for the United States in international relations particularly with respect to the Soviet Union. It indicated a policy of bold aggressiveness under certain circumstances and of caution and restraint under others.”

“NSC papers are among the most secret documents in the Government’s archives,” the New York Times observed. Nevertheless, the Times indicated the gist of the secret document. Like the Marshall report, referred to above, this document considers the conflict between the United States and the “Communist world” as of such basic character that it will continue into “an unforeseeable future.” It postulates the possibility of a war with the “Communist world” and it proposes that the United States adopt “an unflinching ‘will to fight’ posture toward its enemies.” That was the posture displayed by Kennedy in the Caribbean crisis; it is the posture now displayed by Johnson in Vietnam and in the Dominican Republic.

Dean Acheson described NSC-68 as “one of the greatest documents in our history.” The secret document was initialed by Truman in April, 1950, about sixty days before the outbreak of the Korean conflict. “The Administration’s reaction to that crisis,” the Times tells us, “was formed almost entirely within the context of the Security Council paper.”

We note with interest that despite the seemingly completely unthinking and adventurous way in which the Truman administration plunged the United States into the Korean War, one major consideration operated as a restraint.

“To President Truman and other leaders of his Administration in Washington,” reports the Times, “the fear that the Korean struggle might ignite a catastrophic third world war was equally as great as the fear that our forces might be pushed off the Korean peninsula.”

Does a similar fear affect the Johnson administration – or rather the policy makers behind Johnson in the State Department and the Pentagon and the counting houses of Wall Street? They deliberately seek to give the impression that while they may be insane they are at least not afraid, that they would even welcome a taste of nuclear war. And it must be said that Johnson’s unusual personality shows to advantage in putting on a convincing show. Nevertheless, the secret documents that specify their policy most likely still call for “caution and restraint” under certain circumstances.

Direct evidence of the thinking in the inner circles of the rulers of our country is not easy to come by. One of their major political problems is to hide their thinking and to conceal their true aims, and to present them as the very opposite of what they are.

But since their decisions now involve the fate of the entire world in the most immediate sense of the term, other countries are very much concerned about what can be expected next. This includes bourgeois circles that exist as half servants, half captives of American imperialism. They have available means to get a more accurate picture of the decision-making process in Washington and sometimes this leaks into their press.

A good example of this is an editorial which appeared in the Paris Le Monde of February 26, 1964. The editorial noted that “almost everyone” in the top circles of the Johnson administration was “advocating the extension of military operations, the opening of a second front” in North Vietnam. It is becoming more and more obvious, said Le Monde, that a shift is being prepared.

“It is clear that the agencies in Washington proposing this counteroffensive are coldly calculating all the diplomatic and military consequences. They believe that in view of America’s superiority, there is nothing to fear from a confrontation with the Communist forces in that area of the world. They consider North Vietnam to be extremely vulnerable. As for China, for two years in a row, hasn’t Mr. McNamara’s report to Congress presented China as a ‘paper tiger’ with a worn-out arsenal incapable of risking a conflict of any scope?”

These cold-blooded calculations, it should be noted, were being made nine months before the election and an entire year before Johnson finally ordered “escalation” of the war.

Now we come to the most interesting observation of all.

“The main unknown in this rose-colored equation,” Le Monde reported, “is the attitude of Russia. In all the projects being studied it seems to be tacitly taken for granted that while Russia will not remain neutral, at least she will not intervene.”

The well-informed French editor notes nonetheless that there cannot be absolute certainty that Russia will not intervene. And he asks whether or not it isn’t doubt “on this subject that still restrains Mr. Johnson from giving the green light to the suggestions of his advisers ...”

We can add that Johnson first had to win his election. Besides doubt over Russia’s possible reaction to escalating the war, he did not want to activate the antiwar sentiments of the American people on the eve of an election of crucial importance in his political career.

Two considerations thus caused Johnson to exercise “caution and restraint” at the end of 1963 and beginning of 1964. One was the possibility of a sharp response from the Soviet Union if he escalated American intervention in Vietnam. The other was the certainty of becoming the target of antiwar sentiment in the US during his election campaign.

Within a couple of months after his election victory as the man of peace, Johnson began escalating the war. This, of course, put the calculations of the Pentagon and State Department policy makers to the acid test.

It is worth noting how they proceeded. The first bombings of North Vietnam were presented as “reprisals.” The “reprisals” were then extended until they became “routine” bombing operations. At the same time a shift in the official status of US involvement in the war occurred. From “advisers” of the South Vietnam mercenaries and puppets, the US forces became direct participants. Along with this, the quantity of US troops was enormously increased in a series of moves. The objective was to take the United States step by step deeper into the war until the qualitative point of change was reached and the country found itself in a conflict of the scope of Korea.

Step-by-Step Escalation

Among the advantages of this step-by-step operation from the viewpoint of the rulers of America was that it put the country into a war in the face of widespread fear and opposition, without involving Congress, without a formal declaration of war.

Deepening involvement through a graduated series of steps also provided time for handling differences within the capitalist class over the wisdom of taking the plunge. And a crisis did occur. Sectors of the capitalist class voiced worries. Was this the right time? Was Vietnam the right place? Wasn’t it too dangerous to provoke China and the Soviet Union in this way?

To meet such fears and arguments, the engineeers of the imperialist aggression required empiric proof that they could get away with it.

All their calculations thus called for a step-by-step tactic in which they could feel their way, testing the ground as they proceeded, leaving open the possibility of backing down at any point if it turned out that the Soviet Union did react sharply to a military attack on another workers state; or if China proved to be neither a paper tiger nor a sleeping tiger; or if the plunge into Vietnam set off a chain reaction in a revolutionary direction.

Of course, one great danger was involved. Suppose they committed themselves so deeply, in the absence of a stiff response, that a point of no return was reached? That is, a point where it would seem like an overwhelming defeat to draw back? What then? Wouldn’t it be necessary to risk everything in a desperate gamble and begin using nuclear weapons?

That is one of the great unknowns in this situation and why effective political opposition to Johnson’s war course is so important.

It was clear from the beginning that Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam was a major world development. It constituted a military thrust squarely at the workers states, directly involving the defense not only of North Vietnam but of China and the Soviet Union. It constituted a direct threat against every colonial people seeking political and economic freedom, for the United States was clearly trying to terrify them with the thought of what might happen to them if they should rebel.

The correctness of this conclusion was shown in most dramatic fashion when in the very process of stepping up American involvement in the civil conflict in Vietnam, Johnson reacted automatically to the rebellion against Trujillo’s heirs in the Dominican Republic and sent in 30,000 troops – thus ending the pretenses of Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress” and Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” and showing to the world with supreme arrogance that from now on it’s the “Big Stick” of Theodore Roosevelt, a big stick tipped with an H-bomb.

Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam faced the American people, particularly the working class, with truly fateful issues, not the least being the moral question.

Let us recall the feelings of many Americans when they learned about Hitler’s gas ovens. How could it be, they asked, that the German people felt no moral agony, did not react as they should have, in accordance with those higher laws of humanity that demand rebellion at any cost against a government guilty of such crimes? Let Americans today search their own hearts as American planes, proceeding on orders issued by Johnson, fly over Vietnam day after day, dumping jellied gasoline and high explosives on a defenseless civilian population. And let Americans join the rest of the people on this earth in feeling the agonizing new urgency given to the threat of an atomic conflict by Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.

The advance of American imperialism in Vietnam hinged on Washington’s calculation that Moscow would offer no effective opposition. Up to this point, the calculation appears to have been well founded.

How should the Soviet government have reacted? One can visualize a regime, genuinely following Lenin’s tradition, taking a course about as follows:

First, a statement would be issued informing the entire world about the true situation. This statement would point out the aims of US imperialism:

  1. The US imperialist aim of taking over the colonial empires which the European powers are no longer capable of dominating.
  2. The US imperialist aim of beating back the colonial revolution that began in the Far East at the end of World War II and which has swept through Africa and all of Latin America.
  3. The US imperialist aim of crushing the workers states – both the first one that came into being after World War I and the newer ones that came into being after World War II.
  4. The US imperialist aim of converting the entire world into a vast slave-labor camp with the earth’s masses toiling for the profit, benefit and pleasure of the tiny circle of colossally wealthy families ruling North America.

In addition, the statement would offer a Marxist explanation of why the capitalist system breeds war and why a planned economy eliminates the economic motive for war and why it is that the long-standing alternative of socialism or barbarism has now reached the extreme stage of facing humanity with the alternative of socialism or atomic annihilation.

Secondly, a revolutionary Soviet government would issue an appeal to the American workers and their allies to resist the imperialist game of pitting the United States against peaceful peoples in other parts of the world and blocking their aspirations for a better life. The appeal would call on the American workers to organize a revolutionary-socialist party to struggle for power and by taking power, end once and for all the standing threat to world peace which American imperialism represents.

In reply to the imperialist argument that such an appeal constituted intervention in the internal affairs of the United States, the appeal might well list all the places on this planet where Washington is intervening in the internal affairs of other countries, and it might well call attention to the need for some responsible and weighty force to remind the American people of their obvious duties to humanity in the struggle for a world of enduring peace.

Thirdly, a revolutionary Soviet government would notify Washington that in view of the attack on North Vietnam and the clear threat this represented to the other workers states, the Soviet deterrent to nuclear war was being strengthened. The exact form of this strengthening would be specified: the equipping of the People’s Republic of China with a full panoply of nuclear weapons.

Fourthly, as an immediate measure, a revolutionary Soviet government would most likely announce that it was rushing full material assistance to the people of North Vietnam in order to enable them to offer an effective defense against the raids of American bombers. It would most likely announce that this material aid included not only a big stock of ground-to-air rockets but fleets of planes.

And, finally, a revolutionary Soviet government would almost certainly issue an appeal for international assistance from all peoples and governments who stand for the right of self-determination to come to the aid of the beleaguered freedom fighters in South Vietnam.

It goes without saying that a revolutionary Soviet government would set the example in sending such aid to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam.

It is not difficult to visualize what an impact such a course of action would have had. On the one hand it would have offered incomparable revolutionary inspiration to the masses on all continents. It could have been a decisive catalyst in a number of countries where the class struggle is not far from a revolutionary level right now. And, on the other hand, it would have paralyzed the strategists in Washington, who calculate their actions in accordance with what they think they can get away with, this being the only principle they either know or observe.

If these strategists weren’t sure about the meaning of the Soviet reply to their provocation, the readings on their electronic calculating machines would have been unmistakable: “Withdraw at once. Alternative is suicide; and suicide doesn’t pay.”

Reaction of the USSR

Instead of a reaction like that, or anywhere near it, what was the response of the Kosygin-Brezhnev regime?

They talked about the “need” for “peaceful coexistence” and how the possibility of peaceful coexistence with American imperialism was being “endangered” by escalation of the war in Vietnam.

They issued perfunctory denunciations of the US imperialist aggression.

They talked about backing North Vietnam and even dropped bold hints about the possibility of sending “volunteers” to help in the struggle ... if needed.

As Johnson continued methodically to bomb North Vietnam day after day, week after week, and month after month, the Kosygin-Brezhnev regime hinted that they would finally respond to the need to send material aid to North Vietnam.

At the same time, Soviet diplomats spread the word that the Chinese were holding up shipments of arms or making it difficult to get them through to Vietnam.

In brief, Moscow followed a course that fitted almost perfectly with the prognostications of the Pentagon brain trust, offering substance to the imperialist propaganda about Moscow’s “lack of interest” in Vietnam and about the “common interest” of Washington and Moscow in cutting down China’s influence there.

The policy of Kosygin-Brezhnev is so scandalously out of keeping with the needs of the situation that under their inspiration the big Communist parties of western Europe, particularly in France and Italy, have failed even to stage protest rallies at the American embassies, still less engage in any kind of effective or dramatic campaign in behalf of Vietnam and against the danger of a third world war.

Not the slightest step has been taken toward a countermove somewhere in the world. No embarrassment for Johnson in Berlin. No embarrassment for Johnson over Santo Domingo. In Greece today where it would not take much to bring down the hated monarchy, the Communist Party leaders are doing their utmost to restrain the people and to keep them behind Papandreou. The pro-Moscow Communist Party in Spain has even found “positive elements” in the Franco regime.

Economic, cultural and tourist exchanges continue to be fostered with the United States while American bombs crash on the towns and industries of North Vietnam and the Pentagon uses that unfortunate country as a proving ground for fiendish new instruments of death and destruction, for the “blooding” of raw American troops, and for “test runs” of B-52s capable of carrying H-bombs deep into China or the Soviet Union. The “test runs” of the B-52s have now become a daily routine.

So extraordinary is the Kremlin’s course in relation to the requirements of Soviet defense, that it has caused comment in the most diverse circles. Thus in an article speculating on a rise in “isolationist” sentiment in the USSR, Andre Fontaine observed in the August 26 Le Monde, “Never has Soviet policy been less offensive, less revolutionary.”

In truth the parallel that leaps to mind is 1939-40 when German imperialism was readying its invasion of the Soviet Union and Stalin in his wisdom followed a policy of sending supplies to Germany in accordance with the spirit of the peaceful coexistence pact which he had concluded with Hitler.

It is clear that the strategists in Washington measured off the Kosygin-Brezhnev regime as exceptionally weak and incompetent, a regime incapable of standing up to a strong bluff. By their failure to respond at once with a vigorous answer when the American bombers swept into North Vietnam on February 7 and 8, Kosygin and Brezhnev virtually told Johnson that it was safe for him to proceed with “escalation” of the war. Their failure to respond with a sharp counterblow or a meaningful warning showed that the Pentagon had guessed correctly in concluding they would turn up their bellies and play dead.

In judging Peking’s reaction to Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, we cannot apply the same standards as we do in the case of Moscow. The Soviet Union has highly advanced industries capable of matching the US in many fields and surpassing the US in at least a few. In addition, the Soviet Union has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. This stockpile is not nearly as big as the US stockpile but it is sufficient to wipe out the US a few times over and the Pentagon therefore has no choice but to rate it as meeting the level of a deterrent.

The People’s Republic of China, despite the giant strides it has made, still remains an industrially backward country, incapable as yet of mounting a real nuclear deterrent against an aggressive imperialist power like the United States.

Russia’s Responsibility

It is obvious, in view of these facts, that the major responsibility in meeting the aggression of imperialism rests with the Soviet Union. To meet Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, Peking therefore had every right to require at least a guarantee from Moscow of full backing, including backing with nuclear weapons, in meeting the American aggression. This was all the more imperative in face of the openly voiced threat from high American officials to attack China and the provocative demands from ultra rightists like Goldwater to drop atom bombs on China’s nuclear plants.

I repeat. Peking had every right to require full backing from Moscow in meeting the American aggression in Vietnam and particularly in meeting the threat of a nuclear attack. In the absence of a guarantee of such backing, Peking could not be blamed for calling attention to China’s vulnerability and therefore the difficulty of meeting the American aggression. Had Mao or Chou En-lai or some other government spokesman stated that this subject had been taken up with the Soviet government with unfavorable results, they could have truthfully said that Moscow’s policy was counterrevolutionary, was a deadly blow to the defense of the Soviet Union and that a political revolution should be undertaken to replace a regime so injurious to the interests of the world revolution.

But Mao did not follow a course like that. Instead American military power was attacked with the weapon of derision. The more American troops that were sent to Vietnam, the greater the disaster for the Pentagon. This was Mao’s theme. And the fearful cost in human lives and destruction of North Vietnam’s industrial installations while waiting for the Pentagon to get bogged down in the swamps and jungles of Vietnam was simply disregarded.

It is true that spokesmen of the Mao government have said many correct things about the counterrevolutionary character of American policy. They have accurately described the hatred it inspires among the peoples of the world. They are correct in pointing out that American imperialism will surely be eventually overcome by revolutionary struggle. They are right when they predict final victory for the National Liberation Front. They have undoubtedly spoken the truth every time they said that if and when the North Vietnam government felt it had to ask for help, the Chinese people would surely respond. Perhaps that help is now on the way or has already begun to be received.

But none of this talk made much impression on the Johnson administration. Propaganda of this kind seems to have been anticipated by the Pentagon strategists. And the American bombers continued their methodical forays over North Vietnam, day after day, week after week, and month after month, despite Mao’s derision.

The most unfortunate aspect of Mao’s course was its failure to fill the vacuum left by the bankruptcy of Kosygin and Brezhnev. Instead of issuing a revolutionary program of action aimed at closing ranks in face of the American attempt to exploit the Sino-Soviet conflict, Peking gave the impression of seeking to worsen matters, of seeking to turn the Vietnam situation to factional advantage, of rejecting any effort to form a united front on the government level with the Soviet Union. The disclosures by Soviet diplomats in various capitals that the Chinese government was blocking shipments of arms and rockets to North Vietnam was not effectively countered and a very bad impression was made which the Washington propagandists skillfully exploited.

Mao’s campaign in behalf of the cult of Stalin did not help to improve matters or to inspire revolutionary enthusiasm in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, in Cuba, or anywhere in the world where Stalin’s name is synonomous with the worst bureaucratic practices and with the strangulation of revolutions.

Mao’s factionalism has had pernicious consequences. Three examples may be cited.

In Belgium an effort was made by several groupings, including the Trotskyists, to organize a united demonstration to show solidarity with the Vietnamese people against American imperialist aggression. The proposed slogans were very good. They included the demand to withdraw American troops, and “Hands off Vietnam!”

A demonstration that included militant trade unionists, left centrist socialists, the pro-Moscow Communist Party, the pro-Peking Communist Party and Trotskyists was scheduled to take place in Brussels and preparations went ahead to mobilize the biggest possible turnout. It looked like it would be a very successful demonstration.

Then something unexpected occurred. The pro-Peking Communist Party went behind the back of the united committee, misinforming some of the committee members, in order to wangle registration of the police permit for the march. This would have given the march a unilateral character, enabling the pro-Peking Party plausibly to take credit for the demonstration and also to avoid giving the impression of agreeing to march in the same demonstration with members of the pro-Moscow Communist Party.

When this completely unprincipled factional move was discovered by the other participants they were naturally indignant. The effect was to blow up the demonstration and the members of the pro-Peking Communist Party found themselves marching alone in a tiny group.

The others postponed the united march, scheduling it to take place several weeks later. And, since the inspirers of the demonstrations were genuinely interested in building up the strongest possible show of force, they invited the leaders of the pro-Peking Communist Party to reconsider their attitude. Jacques Grippa, the head of this grouping, which happens to be the largest pro-Peking formation in Europe, had no choice but to go along; and so a united demonstration was held in Brussels.

This demonstration, in which all currents of the Belgian radical movement participated, was the broadest yet held in Europe in solidarity with the Vietnamese people and against the American imperialist aggression. So far as I know it was the broadest yet held anywhere in the world. But it was organized despite the sabotage of the pro-Mao grouping.

In the West European countries outside of Belgium, the pro-Peking currents are extremely weak and have been steadily declining in the recent period.

They were unable to prosper under the terrible burden of having to proclaim the personal and political virtues of Stalin as demanded by Mao. Even in Belgium this current is in decline and in Switzerland the representatives of Maoism drew the logical conclusion and recently announced that they were breaking away and going independent. Mao’s thought may be good, but they prefer to think for themselves.

The second example of the evil consequences of Mao’s factionalism is the chill that has developed in relations with Havana. If you follow the Chinese publications carefully you will no doubt have observed that for some time reports about Cuban developments have virtually vanished. An occasional sports item is printed, perhaps a declaration by Robert Williams in which praise for Mao is not omitted, and very little else.

The third example of Mao’s factionalism is the policy followed in relation to Colonel Boumedienne’s coup d’etat in Algeria.

Without the slightest hesitation, Peking, in the most indecent haste, recognized Boumedienne and even hailed his coup d’etat although this military seizure of power was a clear turn to the right, a blow against the Algerian Revolution.

The reason for Mao’s unseemly speed in this instance was painfully obvious. By his quickness in recognizing Colonel Boumedienne, he hoped to undercut Moscow and to strengthen his factional moves against the Khrushchevists at the Afro-Asian conference which was scheduled to be held in a few days.

When the first moves were made by the other powers to postpone the Afro-Asian conference in view of the embarrassing removal of Ben Bella, who, after all, was the host of the gathering, the Chinese spokesmen maintained that it would be a victory for imperialism not to go ahead. And when the postponement occurred anyway, despite all their pressure to go ahead, with Colonel Boumedienne playing the host, they tried to cover up by claiming that this outcome was a defeat for imperialism. A defeat for imperialism if the conference is held; a defeat for imperialism if it is postponed. By confronting imperialism with dilemmas like that, it is easy to prove that you are only dealing with a paper tiger.

Peking’s prestige suffered heavily as a result of this course which so obviously sacrificed revolutionary principles for the sake of the most passing diplomatic objectives, in this case factional advantage over Moscow in the expected jostling at the Afro-Asian conference.

Castro, on the other hand, spoke out plainly on the injury Boumedienne’s coup d’etat did to the Algerian Revolution and Castro did not hesitate to say a good word for Ben Bella and his courage in coming to Havana on the eve of the Caribbean crisis.

The Cuban Response

In contrast to both Moscow and Peking, the Cuban revolutionists have followed a very good policy against Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.

At the very beginning, when American bombers first invaded North Vietnam, Castro openly called for a vigorous reply to the imperialist aggression.

This took great courage because Cuba is not on the far side of the Pacific, or the other side of Europe and it does not have hundreds of millions of inhabitants. It is a tiny country, only ninety miles from the mainland of the US and it has only a small population and but limited resources.

Despite Cuba’s vulnerability, Castro stood on the socialist principle of solidarity under attack. He called for a closing of ranks against the enemy. And he explained why a vigorous reply to the imperialist aggression was required – that’s the only kind of language an imperialist bully understands.

To demonstrate their sincerity, the Cuban revolutionists offered material aid to the Vietnamese. As a token, they announced shipment of a big load of sugar, which happens to be the material they have most of, outside of revolutionary enthusiasm and courage.

These moves were followed up by fresh appeals to the peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial lands, particularly the peoples of Latin America, to study the Cuban example and to carry out their revolutions.

Revolutionary Marxists everywhere in the world can feel very proud of the way the Cuban revolutionists spoke up despite the dangers in their exposed position in the front-line trenches facing American imperialism.

And once again we were offered fresh evidence of the importance of Castroism as one of the manifestations of the rise of a new revolutionary generation, a new revolutionary leadership on a world-wide scale that points in the most unmistakable way to the resurgence of revolutionary socialism as embodied in the program of Lenin and Trotsky.

Inter-Imperialist Rivalries?

There are further repercussions of Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam. This major development on the international scene has not left the front pages of the press since February 8. It has confronted all the big powers with the need to take a stand.

In the process, the view that interimperialist rivalries would serve to slow down the American war drive has been given a thorough test. This view, if I am not mistaken, was elaborated most hopefully in recent years by theoreticians heavily influenced by Mao’s thought.

What does the record show? The British bourgeoisie lined up one hundred per cent behind Johnson. In return for backing the Pentagon in Vietnam, the British got the quid pro quo from Washington of helping them to maintain their colonial holdings in Southeast Asia, and especially to help support the artificially created federation of Malaysia.

This utterly reactionary deal has been upheld by Prime Minister Wilson with a dog-like loyalty that has left even the perfidious British capitalists a little aghast. They worry about Wilson’s carrying things so far that it could provide an opening for the rise of a militant left wing in the Labour Party.

The American-minded Wilson, however, has appeared confident that his game of pressing Hanoi and Peking to enter into “negotiations” with the Pentagon beasts is sufficient to lull the British workers into believing that all that can be done is being done to end the war in Vietnam.

The most ironic part of it is that Wilson is so afraid of the slightest frown from the Dr. Strange-loves in the State Department that he clears every single move with them, thus completely subordinating British diplomacy to the whims of the Washington strategists.

To the shame of Yugoslavia, it must be noted that Tito has played a prominent part in furthering this same treacherous policy. Tito nevertheless knows

very well that it is up to the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam to decide on the question of negotiations and no one has any business pressing either them or their supporters on this. Where the heat should be placed is on Washington and the heat should be on one point – get the American troops out of Vietnam. They are foreign invaders serving an imperialist power.

The German bourgeoisie vie with the British in demonstrating docility and licking the hands of their American masters. They have made it an axiom of their foreign policy never to get crossed up with the White House – never, under any circumstances.

The Japanese bourgeoisie are not far behind in kowtowing to Johnson, although they are now finding this increasingly embarrassing due to the swift rise of an antiwar movement in Japan as a direct result of Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam. Big demonstrations have already occurred in Japan; and Tokyo, the world’s largest city, significantly voted socialist in the July election.

The beginning of a recession in Japan has also served to remind the Japanese capitalists that their economic system is not immune after all to crises, and they have an evident feeling of uncertainty about the future. Yet the Japanese government continues to support Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.

The French government is the only one that has offered to indicate a disapproving or critical attitude toward the White House. It is understandable that the French colonialists should feel some heartburn over the loss of empire in Southeast Asia and a certain melancholy at finding themselves elbowed out by American imperialism.

In addition, Gen. de Gaulle sees possibilities for maneuver in the Sino-Soviet conflict and also some opportunity for blackmailing Washington. He wants the French chips cashed in gold, for instance.

But the French capitalists and their political representatives have repeatedly indicated that their attitude toward US imperialism is not at all one of deep opposition. They understand very well that they have no real choice but to go along with their Wall Street cousins if the conflict deepens in Vietnam and turns into an intercontinental war.

The hope that interimperialist rivalries might serve to slow down the Pentagon is thus based on little substance.

There is, of course, nothing wrong in any workers state attempting to take advantage of whatever rivalries can be found among the imperialist powers, and such rivalries do exist, but it would be completely delusory to expect an outcome such as occurred in World War II when the rivalry between the Allies and the Axis powers constituted a major component of the conflict.

The whole constellation of imperialist powers underwent an irreversible change with the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan and the victory of the US, a victory that was likewise at the expense of Britain and France, for this meant such a decline for the European capitalists and such a leap forward for the Americans that the US emerged as a superpower.

No combination of capitalist powers can now successfully challenge the US, even if they were capable of uniting and could be lured into resisting American inducements for a common front against the colonial revolution and against the workers states.

Effective opposition to the drive of American imperialism for world domination cannot be expected from any capitalist power. Effective opposition, that is, an opposition that has a genuine perspective of winning and also inherent means of bringing into being a new world order that can genuinely guarantee enduring peace, can come from only two sources, the colonial freedom movement, which follows the logic of the permanent revolution, and the proletarian revolution in the industrially advanced countries, which can establish a planned economy on a much higher basis than now exists anywhere.

One of the most encouraging developments in this respect has been the signs that an antiwar movement is now in gestation in the United States itself. In conjunction with the rise of black radicalism, this offers promise of a great new development in America; but since consideration of all this will constitute the major work of this convention, I will only refer to the heartening effect which the first signs of an antiwar movement in the United States has had in other countries.

For the first time in some two decades, that is, since the great movement among the American troops to get back home and since the postwar strike wave that demonstrated how solidly established the industrial unions had become, the United States begins to show aspects that offer encouragement and inspiration to radicals in other lands.

The “teach-in” is a good example. The sudden appearance of the “teach-in” served to show a rather disbelieving world that after all America does have other sides than just McCarthyism and the rattling of nuclear weapons at other countries. The clearest evidence of this impact has been the effort to introduce the “teach-in” as a technique in other countries.

A “teach-in” was tried out in Britain on an experimental basis, for instance. Perhaps it met with only moderate success, but at least it was a tribute to the inspirational effect of signs of political resistance in the US to Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.

A couple of weeks ago, a “teach-in” was tried out in Japan. It seems to have come somewhat closer to the original on which it was patterned. The “teach-in” in Japan was organized as a 24-hour televised confrontation in which representatives of virtually all the political parties participated, plus government spokesmen. It began at 10:30 in the evening, 1 believe. By four a.m. it had become so controversial that the television management panicked and cut the program off the air.

The inspiring effect abroad of political opposition inside the United States to imperialist aggression in places like Vietnam and the Dominican Republic should be kept constantly in mind by all Americans who are alive to the opinions of other peoples and who believe that this world could be made into a much better place to live in.

The world has become very small. The reciprocal influence of freedom movements, of demonstrations, of manifestations of resistance to imperialism, of strikes and new techniques of struggle is much more immediate than even a few years ago. And actions that appear small can become greatly magnified when they are disseminated by television or radio in regions where the level of tension in the class struggle is on the rise.

The international scene must appear strangely paradoxical as viewed from the vantage point of the rulers of American capitalism. On the one hand they wield power of a kind never before held by the most absolute of tyrants. They hold the means to completely destroy the major achievements of centuries of civilization. They can even destroy the human race itself. And yet they find it extremely difficult to impose their will on the smallest of countries if the people there have decided that the situation has become completely impossible and they do not intend to tolerate it any longer.

Thus the United States appears encircled by what geologists might call a ring of fire – smoldering volcanoes in every direction. And no one can really foretell where the next eruption will occur or how soon. Who would have dared to say even ten years ago that the socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere was about to commence and that the opening scene would be on a small island in the Caribbean? Or that there would be an armed uprising in the Dominican Republic immediately after Johnson committed American military power to expanding a war in Vietnam? Sharp social strife has become endemic and no area can really be called stable any more.

The attitude which this engenders in American ruling circles is indicated by the report that appeared in the August 31 Le Monde on the crisis in Greece. The Tsirimokos cabinet had just been toppled and the deputies who had done the job were celebrating.

“At the reception,” writes Le Monde’s correspondent, “a distinguished, silver-haired American approached one of the officials in a worried way and cautiously asked him in a low voice: ‘So did the Communists take power last night?’”

The basic motor power creating this world-wide instability is American imperialism itself. With one hand it seeks to maintain and bolster the most reactionary regimes. With the other hand it undermines them by depressing the relative level of national income, by lowering the standard of living of the people, by irritating them with boastful displays of the American Way of Life and by driving them into revolutionary channels because it closes all other ways of breaking out of the centuries-old pattern of stagnation and poverty and ignorance and hunger and shame.

As a result, the revolutionary process appears more and more irrepressible. Not only has there been a general rise since the great turn that began with the Chinese Revolution after the decades of defeats, but something completely new has appeared: This is the remarkable recuperative power now being displayed by many peoples in the face of setbacks that at one time would have signaled long decades of demoralization and quiescence.

This was one of the notable features of the Algerian freedom struggle. Time after time, French imperialism appeared to have achieved a crushing victory. It never lasted. The revolutionary-minded masses shortly resumed their struggle. Even the staggering cost of one million casualties did not suffice to halt their advance.

Similar recuperative power has been displayed by the Vietnamese. It is visible in Indonesia. It has been shown in the Congo and Angola. It is now an outstanding characteristic of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America. It is sufficient to point to such places as Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Guatemala. The same phenomenon is visible in Argentina and Chile.

Of course a defeat of such scope as the one suffered in Brazil last year inevitably had a depressing effect. This was where Johnson scored his first major counterrevolutionary triumph, thanks primarily to the policy of peaceful coexistence in the class struggle practiced by both the pro-Moscow and the pro-Peking Communist parties. But even in Brazil where a most reactionary regime is trying to stabilize itself through ruthless use of terror, it is quite doubtful that the lid can long be held down on such potentially explosive areas as the northeast, where Francisco Juliao began the work of organizing the peasantry.

Europe is not immune to the revolutionary ferment despite the stabilization of capitalism achieved through the transfusions of American dollars and the prosperity that has been the rule there for a number of years.

The current crisis in Greece has already placed a big question mark over the monarchy installed there through the use of British bayonets and American dollars after World War II.

The repeated rumblings in Spain, now among the miners and other sectors of the working class and now among the students, serve notice that the Spanish bourgeoisie may well break their necks as they try to shift from the worn-out regime of Franco to something more in keeping with present needs.

The victory of the British Labour Party showed that the working class there has not been won away from socialism. This faith of the British workers, which has endured the most bitter disappointments in leadership, will surely find its reflection eventually in the appearance of men and women capable of building the kind of party needed to break the grip of the capitalists and to establish the planned economy of socialism which Britain so desperately needs if the country is not to stifle and retrogress.

The pace of political events in Europe may well be speeded in the coming period by economic developments. Italy and France have been feeling the pinch of recession. The beginnings of a similar downturn have now appeared in England.

In today’s world, no working class anywhere will display much patience or Christian forbearance with widespread layoffs that are due purely to the anarchic workings of the capitalist system. The workers in England, in France and Italy will not be the last in line to prove this point.

Finally, in considering the international upheavals engendered by the advance of American imperialism, I should like to call attention to the ever-increasing speed of events.

On the eve of World War 11, I well recall Trotsky telling us in Coyoacan that when he was young it was necessary to wait many years to see theoretical positions tested by events. “Now,” he said, “you can count on them being tested in a very short period.”

He was referring to the various positions taken in the 1939-40 struggle with the faction headed by Burnham, Shachtman and Abern. Events did test the positions taken in that historic struggle quite rapidly. But what would Trotsky say if he could see the speed of events today!

Whether they are good events or bad events, one thing is certain, there is no long waiting nowadays for abrupt turns, sudden shifts, astonishing reversals, elemental outbursts, and great new actions. The analysis of new developments in the class struggle is soon tested. We are really living in a world in upheaval.

The pattern of world politics has become so complex that it is not possible for any single person, no matter how gifted, to follow them adequately in detail. Even a national party with, a broad, competent team of leaders would find it quite difficult, in my opinion. As never before in history, to stay abreast of events, an international movement with connections in all countries is required.

That’s just for the collection of accurate facts, which, as Trotsky taught us, is the first requirement of a revolutionary socialist party, like any fighting formation. To intervene in events as revolutionary socialists, out to overturn the entire capitalist system and replace it with something superior, an international movement is a basic necessity. For Trotskyists this has always been the ABC of party building. The correctness of this stand has never had such abundant confirmation as today. It can be put down as an axiom – Trotskyism cannot be built in one country. To believe that it can be done is nothing but a stupid aberration.

This has been well understood in the American Trotskyist movement since its foundation. The Socialist Workers Party has always taken the keenest interest in the world movement. It was one of the founding parties of the Fourth International and has displayed fraternal concern for its development that not even the worst witch-hunting has been able to stifle. [1] The maintenance of this international outlook is one of the strongest proofs of the health and vitality of the Socialist Workers Party.

As you are well aware, the Socialist Workers Party was strongly in favor of the moves to end the ten-year-old split in the world Trotskyist movement that culminated in the Reunification Congress of the Fourth International in 1963.

The reunification of the world Trotskyist movement was an essential step in the construction of the international party that is absolutely essential for eventual victory in the struggle for world socialism and the achievement of enduring peace.

It strengthened the capacity of all our international forces to face the challenge raised by Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam and the increasing danger of a nuclear conflict.

It turned out to be a correct move for the Socialist Workers Party to back that reunification and to take a firm stand against the cynics and the wiseacres and the windbags and the whiners and the complainers and rabid factionalists who were capable of nothing but sneering at this essential step.

And in doing our duty in helping out in the reunification of the world Trotskyist movement as best we could, I am sure that the Socialist Workers Party will be among the first to reap the benefit of a strengthened International.

The Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution, as Trotsky named it, is an absolute necessity for us as we roll up our sleeves and move ahead to the task immediately at hand – to make one little but good revolution in our own country.



1. Because of the Voorhis Act, the Socialist Workers Party cannot arid does not have formal affiliations with the Fourth International, although it is in solidarity with its programs and policies.


Last updated on: 7.3.2006