Joseph Hansen

Report on the International Situation

(January 1968)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.29 No.1, January-February 1968, pp.2-18.
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.

The political axis of our deliberations at the last convention was the war in Vietnam. We analyzed the meaning of Johnson’s escalation of the US military aggression in Southeast Asia and considered the challenge it represented to the camp of the workers states, to the colonial revolution and to humanity as a whole. We noted in particular the significance of the swift rise of opposition inside the United States to the war in Vietnam. And we projected the course of action our party might best pursue in helping to mobilize this antiwar sentiment, to direct it along the most effective channels, and to link it up with the worldwide surge of hostility to Johnson’s course.

Since our last convention, the situation in Vietnam has not improved. The United States has become more deeply enmeshed in the conflict and the dangers have grown. The war in Vietnam remains the principal issue, the key political question not only for us but for all parties and tendencies both domestically and internationally. It remains preeminent in determining our tasks.

The primary image which the party must continue to maintain is the one sustained so well since the very beginning of the escalation of the war in Vietnam – the party of intransigent opposition to the war.

The continual deterioration of the international situation; that is, the drift ever closer to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe is the problem that is of gravest concern to us as it is to every thinking person in the world today.

To have any genuine hope of solving this problem we must first seek to understand its roots. And to gain that understanding we must turn to the development of the war itself and examine it in the light of Marxist theory.

The results of such an analysis can be arranged under three broad headings which I will list at this point for the sake of convenience:

  1. The development of the war has brought into prominent relief certain broad conclusions about our epoch to which the Trotskyist movement has long called attention. These concern primarily the role of US imperialism in the world today.
  2. The development of the war has shed fresh light on various important international questions that had hitherto remained obscure to many people, including astute and Marxist-minded observers. The reference here is primarily to the nature of the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies.
  3. The development of the war has begun to induce shifts in the political sphere of considerable importance. We have been able to see the beginnings of this at first hand in the United States; but it is also occurring in other countries. The most important of these at the moment are openings in the Latin-American revolution of great significance for our movement on an international scale.

US Imperialism

The single most striking feature on the world scene today is the dynamic role being played by US imperialism. There is nothing new about this; for Trotsky stressed it repeatedly in the last two decades of his life. What has happened is that this role has become glaringly apparent.

The basic cause of the war in Vietnam and its mounting threat to humanity lies in the expansive drive of US imperialism.

The proofs are scarcely debatable. It is US armies that have invaded Southeast Asia; it is US bombs that are being dumped on the Vietnamese people; it is Washington that has steadily escalated its targets until US planes are now carrying out forays within a few seconds flying time of the Chinese border. It is top administration figures who try to justify this with appeals to the “vital national interests” of the United States; that is, the vital interests of the capitalist ruling class which they represent.

Much water has gone under the bridge since the days when the rulers of the dollar empire considered it advisable to utilize camouflage like Roosevelt’s so-called “good neighbor” policy. In Latin America today, the alleged right of the US government to intervene in the internal affairs of any country at any time American interests appear to be threatened is openly proclaimed. The House of Representatives even went so far as to try to enact legislation to that effect. And in substance, of course, the State Department proceeds exactly as if it were running an old-fashioned empire where diplomatic messages are delivered by gunboat, as was well illustrated in the case of the Dominican Republic. The Cubans are, if anything, engaging in understatement when they call the Organization of American States the US Department of Colonial Affairs.

The shift toward unilateral, open and brazen deployment of American military might, along with the as yet tentative attempt to justify this by asserting the “vital national interests” of the imperialist United States as the supreme law on this planet is an important new fact in international politics.

What it represents is a new eruption of the volcano of American imperialism.

To correctly grasp what has been happening, it is necessary to view this development in its broad historic context. A few indications of this will suffice as reminders.

US imperialism is a comparative latecomer on the world scene. Despite its previous record in Latin America, it was only at the turn of the century that the United States could properly be said to have reached the imperialist level – the Spanish-American war offers a convenient peg to mark the point of qualitative change.

At the opening of World War I, the United States was still a secondary power, emerging the winner in that interimperialist conflict by serving as quartermaster for the Allies and coming in when the rival camps had exhausted each other and it was possible to seize the spoils of victory at relatively low cost in American casualties. The preeminence of US imperialism was established before the outbreak of World War II, but the Axis powers gambled on overcoming the odds. They badly underestimated the power of the US, not to mention the defensive capacity of the Soviet Union. The European imperialist centers ruined themselves in World War II and assured the triumph of their western competitor.

Today not one of the other capitalist powers permits itself to indulge even in fantasies about challenging the US. Instead all of chem vie in kowtowing to the master of the capitalist world; and it is difficult to determine which is the most servile, although it is hard to outdo the British rulers and their Harold Wilson in this. Even de Gaulle is cautious in his sniping at Washington’s policies, emphasizing that in any showdown his loyalty can be counted on, as if any such proclamation were really necessary from the fifth- or sixth-rate power he represents.

Like France, the other capitalist powers are basically completely dependent on the US and all of them know this to perfection. It is the bedrock of their foreign policies. Germany and Japan are still in the position of occupied countries, while the others are in virtual receivership to the Manhattan bankers.

In face of the power of US imperialism, inter-imperialist rivalries no longer play the role they once did. Rivalries still exist, they still offer small points of leverage for the workers states, or for some of the colonial bourgeoisie, but the rivalries play only a marginal role; and no one visualizes that they could develop to such a degree as to end in an interimperialist war, especially a war with the US. American foreign policy, as it is practiced, stands in the most glaring contrast to the democratic slogans that were advanced in the past, particularly in the demagogy of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In the postwar years, the propagandists of American imperialism continued to inveigh against imperialism in general; and, when necessary or convenient, they pointed an accusing finger at the old imperialist powers – particularly France, Belgium, the Netherlands. And it is true that Washington did favor the national bourgeoisie in some countries in their struggle for political independence from the old imperialist centers. This was rather striking in such instances as Indonesia where the Dutch sought to stage a comeback, and in the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Washington even restrained the French, British and Israelis and compelled them to draw back from their aggression against Egypt.

But this anti-imperialist stance was only one of the aspects of the process of dislodging the old imperialist powers in the colonial world and substituting for their rule the rule of US imperialism.

The process of displacing the British, the French, the Dutch and the Belgians from their areas of domination and spheres of influence was not without its dangers in view of the upsurge of the colonial revolution, with its inherent tendency to pass over into a socialist revolution. And in meeting the revolutionary threat, US imperialism, of course, made common cause with the other capitalist powers.

Nevertheless the outline is becoming more and more unmistakable – as the old colonial empires disintegrate, primarily under the blows of the struggle for national freedom, Washington’s policy is to move in with its own proconsuls, its own agents, its own colonial military forces, its own troops from the United States.

The case of Vietnam is extraordinarily striking in this respect. In the first stages of the freedom struggle in that land, following World War II, the State Department and the Pentagon backed the French, facilitated the return of their colonial troops, and provided financial support for the French attempt at a comeback. When this joint effort was partially defeated in 1954 at Dienbienphu, the Pentagon urged immediate escalation of the involvement of the US.

This advice was rejected by the top policy makers – for one thing it was premature. The US did not enter the field in order to restore the French empire, but in order to advance the American empire. Time was required to permit the French involvement to fade in the public mind, particularly the minds of the American people, and to give a semblance of plausibility to propaganda about sending in American troops in response to an “invitation” from an “independent” country – South Vietnam.

Thus, in the flood of propaganda pouring out of Washington today, not a word appears about the role of French imperialism and the struggle of the Vietnamese to free themselves from their colonial status under the French flag. The puppet regime in Saigon is pictured as an “independent” government and the massive intrusion of US imperialism into Southeast Asia is painted up as “aid” for that government in face of an “assault” by an “aggressive” neighbor. The truth is that Washington is attempting to convert Vietnam into a replica of the Philippines or of Puerto Rico.

It is necessary to be very clear about what is happening. Much more is involved than a mere tactical adjustment of US imperialism to the pressure of the colonial revolution. The aggressive policy of the State Department in openly intervening in the internal affairs of other countries and the Pentagon’s efforts to improve its counter-guerrilla tactics represent something much deeper than a shift in tactics. These are but surface manifestations of forces at work in the main structure of world capitalism, the heart of which is located in the United States.

The capitalist system is expanding due to its own inherent drives, which were long ago explored and elucidated by the Marxist movement. This expansionist tendency, occurring today under the flag of US imperialism, with the other capitalist powers reduced to not much more than the status of junior partners or satellites, or “client” countries is of an especially malignant nature. The expansion is occurring in the stage of the death agony of this economic system; and it is occurring in face of a deep-running and irreversible tendency among the nations of the earth to move in the direction of socialism.

Thus American imperialism confronts the world with a contradiction hitherto unknown in history in scale and depth. On the one hand, US imperialism is undertaking the most aggressive actions, utilizing the most violent methods, including military invasions and wars in which firepower is brought to bear on a level as high as that of World War II, and maintaining dozens of the foulest dictatorships the world has ever seen – all this under a deliberate and calculated policy of repressing the aspirations of the majority of mankind for a decent standard of living. And on the other hand, US imperialism fosters those aspirations by displaying its own national wealth and well-being.

Furthermore, it exacerbates everything by assuring an ever-widening gap between the level of income in the underdeveloped countries and the imperialist centers. Then it chokes off democracy, sets up and maintains dictatorial regimes, and teaches the peoples through daily practice that they have no hope of emancipation except to rise up against the foreign imperialist oppression and its native agents. Finally, it transports great masses of modern weapons into those countries under the illusion that these instruments can keep the workers and peasants at bay.

In the final analysis, it is obvious, US imperialism will lose out. The fundamental relationship of forces between imperialism on the one hand and on the other hand the workers states, the colonial revolution and the proletariat and their allies in the advanced countries is such that the capitalist rulers, no matter how aggressive they are, no matter how persistently they seek to maintain the initiative, are bound to end up in a major catastrophe.

But it would be a great mistake for revolutionary socialists to think that this can have only a beneficent outcome. On the contrary, in view of the development of technology, particularly in the nuclear field, the catastrophe brought on by the capitalist rulers, instead of just signifying suicide for themselves, can mean doom for all of mankind.

It must be emphasized that the reduction of the importance of inter-imperialist rivalries, as compared with the period of World War I and World War II, has not lessened the tendency of imperialism to bring its internal contradictions to a head in war. On the contrary, it has, if anything, heightened that tendency while giving it some new twists.

First of all, it has given American imperialism a freer hand in its drive toward organizing the entire planet under its own rule. This was, of course, quite obvious when European capitalism lay prostrate and had to be rescued and put back on its feet by the American bosses. It holds even truer today, for while the European powers were being given blood transfusions, the US was advancing to new levels of strength. The arrogance of the Americans today is a measure of the economic and military heights from which they look down at their “clients.” The unfortunate “clients” or allies are dragged along toward war in accordance with the roles assigned them by the strategists in the State Department and the Pentagon.

Secondly, the altered world situation as compared with the decades preceding World War I and World War II has brought about a considerable shift in the character of the wars of today.

World War I, if we leave out the period of intervention against the Bolshevik Revolution, was an inter-imperialist conflict. World War II included an inter-imperialist conflict between the Allies and the Axis; a war between imperialism and a workers state, involving the Axis and the Soviet Union; and, on top of this, an admixture of national independence struggles such as the war between Japan and China. A final complication was revolutionary guerrilla movements as in Yugoslavia, in Greece and in China.

The war period we are now in, which has been characterized by some figures like U Thant as possibly representing the opening stages of World War III, has shifted still further so that the world capitalist system as a whole has been lined up under American leadership on one side while on the other side appear revolutionary forces ranging from those seeking national freedom to those consciously representing revolutionary socialism.

The success of US imperialism in reducing the relative weight of inter-imperialist rivalries in the world scene, of enlisting the other capitalist powers to go along with the strategy of the State Department and the Pentagon, constitutes a considerable source of strength for Washington. A still greater source of strength, however, is the disarray and weakness displayed by the forces against which US imperialism is aiming its blows.

Reaction of Moscow and Peking

Potentially, these forces are capable of bringing the capitalist epoch to a close in a matter of days. It should not be a great problem for them to at least contain US imperialism. It would seem all the easier for them to inflict a military defeat on US imperialism in the first phases of an Asian land war. Indeed, this was long taken for granted by the Pentagon itself and the American military strategists moved very cautiously into Vietnam. But what happened? No effective counter-measures were instituted by either the Soviet or Chinese bureaucracies. Johnson was able to escalate the American involvement in the civil war in Vietnam until the level of US troops engaged there is now maintained at a half million men. Johnson moved as if the split between Moscow and Peking constituted an invitation to proceed. Their subsequent failure to react was taken to confirm the accuracy of the Pentagon’s calculation that attractive military gains could be made and Vietnam could be converted into an American colony.

The Kosygin-Brezhnev team have played a most miserable and treacherous role in this dangerous situation. In the beginning they engaged in rather vigorous denunciations of Johnson’s course in Vietnam. This response was discounted by Washington as mere demagogy intended for the record and nothing more, demagogy that was completely predictable from this weak and incompetent leadership. Moscow has doled out aid to Hanoi; but never on such a scale up to now as to disconcert the Pentagon. The Kremlin’s aim is not victory but “peace”; that is, reestablishment of the status quo as it existed before Johnson’s escalation and before the intensification of the civil war in Vietnam.

Worse than this, the Kremlin has continually sought to weaken and undermine the Vietnamese cause by attempting through secret diplomacy to get Hanoi to come to the “negotiations table” in line with the pressure from Washington – as if Hanoi were at least partly at fault in the conflict or had advanced undue claims, whereas the simple fact is that the Vietnamese are defending their country against an invasion by an imperialist power.

Most reprehensible of all has been Moscow’s response to the blandishments of the Johnson administration. In face of the crucifixion of the Vietnamese people and the ever-mounting threat to China and ultimately the USSR, the Kremlin continues to babble about “peaceful coexistence.” Kosygin even granted Johnson the completely uncalled for coup of the Glassboro conference. This was a stiff blow against the antiwar movement everywhere, enabling Johnson to temporarily reverse the decline in his popularity as registered by the polls.

What does this course reveal about the Soviet bureaucracy? It shows how little effect the “de-Stalinization” process has had on the Kremlin’s foreign policy. The parallel that immediately comes to mind is the suicidal policy followed by Stalin in relation to the expansion of German imperialism, particularly during the days of the Stalin-Hitler pact.

In their opposition to a revolutionary foreign policy or even a vigorous defensive foreign policy, Kosygin-Brezhnev show how deeply Stalinism is still entrenched in the Soviet Union. Those who hoped, like Isaac Deutscher, that the Soviet bureaucracy might undertake to reform itself can draw little comfort from the course followed by Moscow since Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam. It is to be noted that Deutscher himself began to reconsider this question in light of the experience of the past two and a half years.

Similar conclusions must be drawn in the case of the Chinese bureaucracy. It is quite true that the principal responsibility for the failure to rally adequately in defense of the Vietnamese cause lies with the Kosygin-Brezhnev regime which, after all, is in charge of the world’s second power, a country quite capable of compelling the US to respect the territory of any workers state such as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. But Peking’s policy has served to facilitate the treachery of the Kosygin-Brezhnev team. Mao’s rejection of a united front in bringing material aid to the Vietnamese has provided the Kremlin with a most convenient pretext to limit the aid it sends and to blame any deficiencies on the Chinese.

Still worse, Peking has blocked the possibility of organizing an international aid movement on a huge scale, a development which in and of itself would have thrown a scare into Washington and perhaps induced the Pentagon to de-escalate its aggression.

This is not all. The Chinese leadership bears the main responsibility for the defeat in Indonesia. The rank opportunism of the Maoist regime in relation to the Indonesian national bourgeoisie and the Aidit leadership of the Indonesian Communist Party helped pave the way for a defeat of major historic proportions and the slaughter of as many as 500,000 Communists in a country where these same Communists had every chance, with a correct policy, of winning a victory that could have altered the entire picture in Southeast Asia and indeed the whole world.

The subsequent ultraleft course of the Maoist faction has not helped matters. It has served to further isolate China and destroy the prestige of its leadership among the revolutionary vanguard internationally. The accompanying “proletarian cultural revolution” and the deification of Mao have provided plenty of smoke but not enough to hide the disastrous consequences of Mao’s foreign policy. These consequences, plus the convulsive factional struggle now racking the regime, have made it possible to gain fresh insights into the bureaucratic sclerosis affecting the Chinese revolution and particularly a better appreciation of how little can be expected from the Mao regime in the way of leadership of a caliber to meet the challenge of American imperialism.

The incapacity of the Mao regime is measured by the Pentagon and the White House in their own way. Rusk, Humphrey and the other leading “hawks” are talking more and more about the alleged threat of a “billion Chinese” armed with nuclear weapons in the seventies. What they really mean is how inviting it appears to them to attack 700 million Chinese today in view of the current turmoil in China, in view of the openings provided by a leadership that is not qualitatively different from the one in the Kremlin, and in view of the deep division between Moscow and Peking – with Moscow anxious to placate Washington.

While we are noting what the test of the war in Vietnam has revealed about the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies, we should mention the Social Democratic and trade-union bureaucrats.

In Europe the tone has been set by Harold Wilson. At first he claimed to have special diplomatic pipelines, enabling him to induce Hanoi to negotiate, and “special relations” with Washington, enabling him to influence Johnson. This farce did not last long. Wilson is now starring in a different show where only a man with his long experience in playing dual roles could achieve such virtuosity – he is both the statesmanlike head of Her Majesty’s government, and the slapstick British butler in the White House.

In London, Wilson kisses the queen’s hand; in Washington, of course, he is provided with a more democratic and plebian object. To varying degrees, the Social Democrats and trade-union bureaucrats elsewhere in Europe have either followed the example of Harold Wilson or have joined the Stalinists in sabotaging any vigorous expression of opposition.

In the United States the top union bureaucrats are among the worst “hawks” and flag-wavers, acting as if the CIA demanded that they stand to the right of the Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion although the disclosures in the past year shows the CIA does not object to its “clients” taking a more “sophisticated” stance. It is true that some of them feel a little uneasy in view of the growth of the antiwar opposition, but taken as a whole, the American trade-union bureaucracy, under the test of war, has displayed precisely the characteristics indicated long in advance by Marxist analysis; namely, hardening of the arteries, enlargement of the skull, shriveling of the brain, and loosening of the kidneys.

To complete the picture of the present role of US imperialism in international affairs, it is necessary to note that there has been an uninterrupted series of setbacks to the revolutionary cause in the past few years. These began about 1962 with the so-called missile crisis in the Caribbean and include such important events as the-military coup d’etat in Brazil in 1964, plus a number of similar coups d’etat in other Latin-American countries, a series of defeats in Africa, the debacle in Indonesia, the defeat suffered by the Arab revolution at the hands of the Israeli imperialist spearhead, the military coup d’etat in Greece, and a series of reverses for the guerrilla movement all the way from Guatemala, to Bolivia, to the Congo.

It would be the height of folly for the revolutionary Marxist movement to disregard the effect of these defeats or to attempt to cover them up with hollow optimistic affirmations intended to be inspirational. The truth is that these defeats have acted as depressants on the masses while on the other hand bringing elation to the most rabid wing of the warmongers, who point to these accomplishments of Johnson’s “hard” policy as confirmation of its correctness and justification for continuing and extending it.

The correct approach for the revolutionary Marxist movement is to analyze the reasons for the defeats, to assess them objectively and take them into account in working out strategy and tactics for the next period. That is the only way in which something can be learned from the defeats in order to better assure victories when new opportunities arise, as they will inevitably and without long delay.

The world Trotskyist movement, in accordance with its tradition in this respect, has already done much along these lines and will continue to make contributions in the task of working out the specific problems that have arisen.

If we are to draw a general balance sheet of how things appear at the moment, after two and a half years of escalation of the war in Vietnam, it must be granted that US imperialism stands at a pinnacle of power that is absolutely unprecedented whether in its own history or in world history. It has the capacity to destroy mankind and all the higher forms of life. It brandishes this power in the face of all other nations as if it had gone berserk. It has built hundreds if not thousands of military bases up to the very borders of China and the Soviet Union. It keeps planes in the air and submarines at sea armed with sufficient nuclear weapons to reduce entire portions of the globe to radioactive ruins. Its agents, in the guise of “advisers,” constitute the final authority in dozens of countries. It dominates the entire capitalist world in almost absolute fashion. It has established a major military beachhead on the Asian mainland and is weighing whether to escalate this into an invasion of North Vietnam and even a preemptive nuclear strike against China. No opposition effective enough to compel a retreat has yet appeared. Instead, US imperialism has been able to mark a series of victories on a number of widely separated fronts. On the surface, this power would seem to be invincible and to represent the wave of the future.

The Counterforces

Yet there are very few serious political observers in the world today who are prepared to say that this picture comes anywhere near offering a faithful reflection of the reality. In fact certain developments have occurred that make the future look very dim for US imperialism.

First of all it should be noted that if the capacity of other capitalist powers to play the role of an opposition has been greatly reduced, if not completely suppressed, in return a considerable rift has occurred in the American ruling class over Johnson’s foreign policy. Remarkably enough, the sharpest criticisms of Johnson to be found among the bourgeoisie are not appearing abroad. Instead they are being voiced right inside the United States.

It is essential to understand the reasons for this and above all the limitations of this opposition. It is not an anti-imperialist opposition; it is not even an antiwar opposition; it does not even go so far as to advocate an American withdrawal from Vietnam. What it represents is an opposition to the brazen tactics being followed by Johnson, his disregard of diplomatic niceties, and – more importantly – his too exclusive reliance on military force. The bourgeois opposition inside the United States fears that Johnson is over-extending what they call the “commitments” of the US; that in staking everything on military force he will eventually stir up counterforces completely beyond the capacity of even American economic and military might to handle.

The Fulbrights and similar statesmen are reminding themselves that war often proves to be the mother of revolution and that whatever the initial successes, a war can end in a revolutionary disaster for the imperialist power that starts it. Their estimate is that Johnson’s course has become needlessly adventurous and therefore needlessly dangerous. They prefer greater flexibility in pursuing American imperialist aims. They see no gain in driving so hard against China as to compel Peking and Moscow to close ranks; they prefer to build some bridges for Ho Chi Minh that would make it easier for the Kremlin to sell him a bill of goods. Above all they dislike some of the domestic consequences of Johnson’s course which threaten to advance the class struggle inside the United States until it breaks through on the political level in a massive way.

It goes without saying that revolutionary Marxists place no political confidence whatsoever in the bourgeois opposition to Johnson even where it assumes an antiwar guise. The only alternative the bourgeois opposition offers is a more palatable figure in the White House; that is, a figure better able to divert the antiwar movement and block it from breaking out of the two-party system.

Nevertheless it must be recognized that this bourgeois opposition inside the United States has played a role up to this point in helping to shield the antiwar movement from a major witch-hunt and in providing it with a certain legitimacy. It has performed this function, of course, out of defense of its own interests and no political gratitude is owed it.

Incomparably more important than the appearance of a bourgeois opposition has been the rise, at an extraordinary tempo, of the anti-war movement in the United States. Since consideration of this development is one of the main items on the agenda of the convention, it is sufficient to indicate here that it has had worldwide impact and has become a significant source of inspiration to the vanguard on all continents. This is evidenced by something completely new internationally – the staging of militant antiwar demonstrations in many lands timed to coincide with those organized inside the United States.

The American antiwar movement has thus become a focal center of genuine opposition inside the United States to Johnson’s war in Southeast Asia and at the same time a key force in reviving the spirit of international solidarity among the oppressed of the world against the common foe.

The potentialities of this new development are enormous. If it succeeds in linking up with the black power movement and achieving together with this movement an organized and cohesive expression, it can alter the entire political scene in the United States in short order. If the American working class begins moving in a parallel way – and there are many signs of its uneasiness over the war in Vietnam – then it will become feasible to compel Washington to retreat. Even more, such a situation would open up great new opportunities for the swift growth of the revolutionary Marxist movement in this country. The effect on the masses of many other countries would undoubtedly be even more dramatic.

The uprisings in the ghettos of America are an indirect result of the war in Vietnam. An administration which is spending the equivalent of more than the entire national budget of France each year for a war on the other side of the Pacific has undermined its capacity to soften the class struggle in the United States by granting genuinely significant concessions to the sectors of the populace in the lowest income brackets, those who are unemployed, subjected to discrimination, segregation, miserable housing and the denial of minimal educational opportunities. In view of the expectations that had been aroused and whetted by civil-rights legislation and demagogy, including Kennedy’s “New Frontier” and Johnson’s “Great Society,” the pent-up grievances reached the point of explosion. That a series of explosions did occur, beyond anything yet seen in this country, shows that a foreign diversion like the escalation of the war in Vietnam is not capable of turning the black people away from struggling for redressment of their grievances.

This development shows how deep-going the social contradictions are in American society, how much they have ripened and how close they are to finding the most violent expression.

Another most ominous sign for the domestic stability which American imperialism requires in extending its empire and putting down the colonial revolution, is the growing solidarity which the black people feel for the oppressed masses in the lands under attack. It is the other side of the estrangement they feel in American society and their rejection of the white power structure.

This development is of the utmost international significance as has been universally recognized, not least of all by Hanoi and Havana much to the irritation of the American ruling class.

There are other developments, directly related to the war in Vietnam, of immense political import. The first of these is the stubborn refusal of the Vietnamese people to bow their necks to the imperialist aggressor. The example of their heroic endurance in face of the savagery of the Pentagon constitutes one of the brightest pages in the history of humanity. It has stirred the masses throughout the world and thus served to help counteract the depressing effect of the series of defeats and setbacks elsewhere. This has become quite disturbing to the White House and is one of the reasons for Johnson’s evident dismay. The easy victory he visualized has not materialized. Instead he has become involved in a costly conflict which may well end in finishing his political career and which in any case has converted him into the most hated and despised president in history.

The will to struggle displayed by the Vietnamese people is not something peculiar to them. The Korean people displayed similar qualities during the war inflicted on them during the Truman administration. The Algerians showed the same heroism against an army of one million French troops. The Cubans struggled the same way to overthrow Batista. Taken together, these examples offer fresh proof of the readiness of the masses to endure the worst hardships and make the greatest sacrifices in order to win their freedom if they think that a reasonable possibility exists to achieve victory. We can be absolutely sure that in the period now opening up, the world will see other examples equally heartening and inspiring.

Leadership and Openings

In the defeats and setbacks suffered in recent years, as in similar instances in previous decades, the decisive element was not the readiness of the masses to struggle but the absence of a competent leadership. This was glaringly obvious in the case of Indonesia where the largest Communist party in the capitalist world existed. It was not less true in the case of Brazil where the Communist party’s long years of following the line of “peaceful coexistence” with the national bourgeoisie and relying on their so-called “progressive” sector for leadership assured the crushing defeat of April 1964. It is certainly the bureaucratic leadership in the Soviet Union and China that bears full responsibility, however it is divided between them, for the prolonged agony being suffered by the Vietnamese people and the mounting threat represented by the expansion of the US beachhead in Southeast Asia.

One of the most encouraging developments in the recent period – a development greatly accelerated by the war in Vietnam – has been the growing realization among sectors of the vanguard that have hitherto been influenced if not swayed by the Soviet or Chinese leaders that these leaders are not to be relied on. The clearest manifestation of this centers around the Cubans but it is also apparent among the Vietnamese, the North Koreans, among circles in and around certain Communist parties and among sectors of the intellectuals in the Soviet Union and the East European countries.

The Cuban revolution is acting as a polarizing center for this critical sentiment. The Cuban revolution is serving in this way precisely because of the high level of consciousness of its leadership and the conclusions they have obviously drawn from the course of the war in Vietnam.

We very early came to the conclusion, it will be recalled, that the Cuban leadership represented something new. It was not shaped in the school of Stalinism. Its political consciousness had deepened in the very process of revolution and it had independently developed revolutionary Marxist conclusions out of the practical experience gained in making a revolution. We foresaw that there were excellent chances for this leadership to go much further in its development. In any case we were convinced that it marked the beginning of a new important phenomenon – the rise of a genuinely revolutionary-minded generation free from the blight of Stalinism.

We are now able to state that these estimates were not wrong. In fact, the way the Cuban leaders have acted in response to the war in Vietnam has served to confirm our prognosis in the strongest and most striking way.

At the recent OLAS conference in Havana, this leadership reaffirmed the need for the masses to take the road of armed struggle and it condemned the decision of the right-wing leadership of the Venezuelan Communist Party to turn away from that road and to revert back to mere electoral politicking as nothing less than a betrayal of the socialist revolution. A new influential voice was thus added to the long list of revolutionists who reached similar conclusions concerning the attitude and actions of the bureaucratic CP leaderships. But this condemnation represents a historic first. It is the first to come from the leadership of a workers state since Trotsky began the struggle against Stalinism and in defense of the program of socialist revolution.

The condemnation of the right-wing Venezuelan CP leadership at the OLAS conference was another step in the process that began inside Cuba with the struggle against bureaucratism, a high point of which was the condemnation of Anibal Escalante and his supporters. The showdown at OLAS, however, was a reflection of international and not domestic developments.

In relation to the Latin-American revolution as a whole, the differentiation between the Cuban leadership and the right-wing CP bureaucrats has proceeded around the issue of armed struggle as the only means to victory where all other possibilities have been barred by dictatorial regimes backed by US imperialism. Holding up the Cuban revolution as an example, the Castro leadership has exerted increasingly heavy pressure on this issue ever since the beginning of Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam. The right-wing CP leaderships did their best to evade the issue or to pay lip service to it while they actually sabotaged it.

We observed this struggle very attentively despite its muted nature until recently. Even Castro’s attack on “Trotskyism” at the Tricontinental conference in January 1967, which we of course answered immediately, did not cause us, out of anger or resentment to lose sight of the reality and turn away. We noted the very positive steps taken at the Tricontinental conference to reinforce the revolutionary struggle in Latin America. We realized that if the resolutions adopted at that conference were actually applied it could not but facilitate the exposure of the pseudo revolutionists and help speed up the process of building a revolutionary leadership on a continental scale. The Cubans demonstrated that they meant what they said and the differentiation with the treacherous right-wing CP leaderships speeded up accordingly. The showdown came at the OLAS conference in Havana in August.

The political meaning of the decisions taken at the OLAS conference are crystal clear. They represent a definitive break with the treacherous leaderships whose advocacy of “peaceful coexistence” really signifies a line of maintaining the status quo and doing everything possible to block the masses from taking the road of revolution. The OLAS conference thus represents an important ideological advance, offering the greatest encouragement to revolutionary Marxists throughout the world. One of its first consequences will be to facilitate a regroupment of revolutionary forces in Latin America and to speed up their development along programmatic lines. Even a setback as severe as the death of Che Guevara will not halt this process. The turn marked by the OLAS conference conforms with the political realities of Latin America and the imperative need to build a revolutionary leadership capable of correctly absorbing and applying the lessons of the Cuban revolution on a continental scale.

In some quarters it has been maintained that the Organization of Latin-American Solidarity, which was set up at the Havana conference in August, represents the appearance of another international. For instance, John Gerassi, writing on the OLAS conference in the October issue of the Monthly Review, asserts that Castro has launched a “new, Fifth International.”

A conclusion of that kind is hasty, to say the least. However well-intentioned and internationally minded such a conclusion may be it indicates a serious underestimation of what a task it is to create an international; that is, a genuine, revolutionary Marxist international. The underestimation derives most likely from lack of study of the history of what has been done in this field. Above all, it reveals an underestimation of the role of program in constructing an international.

In this respect, the Organization of Latin-American Solidarity has much to accomplish before the claim can seriously be advanced that it constitutes a new international. First of all, OLAS must consider the problem of the revolutionary struggle in the industrially developed countries, particularly the main power center of world imperialism, the United States. This is not an unimportant question since American imperialism is the principal prop of the oligarchies and dictatorial regimes that directly confront the revolutionary movement in the colonial and semi-colonial world. The industrially developed countries are also where the final and decisively important battles will be fought in the struggle for world socialism.

Secondly, OLAS must consider the problem of the revolutionary struggle in the workers states, the question of a “revolution in a revolution.” Again, this is not unimportant, as is proved in the clearest possible way by the course of the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies in the Vietnam war.

Thirdly, even in Latin America, the area of primary concern to OLAS, some very important problems remain to be worked out, particularly the problem of providing revolutionary leadership for the masses in the cities through the development of transitional slogans and partial struggles, breaking the way for broader and more decisive battles.

Fourthly, the immense problem of the internal life and functioning of an international must be considered. A rich experience testifies to the immense difficulty of constructing an international party – for that is what an international is – even with the most skilled and knowledgeable application of the principles of democratic centralism. But the statutes adopted by OLAS at the Havana conference show that these principles have yet to be grasped by the founders of the organization. This question, however, stands at the heart of constructing a viable international.

It is to be hoped that OLAS will take up these problems. I think that it is completely in the logic of the progress already made by the Tricontinental and OLAS conferences to turn toward serious consideration of these problems. I believe that significant contributions in these areas can be expected from the revolutionary figures who have assembled in the Organization of Latin-American Solidarity. But it is certainly quite premature to credit them with already having established a new international, a claim which they themselves have not as yet ventured to assert.

The role of the war in Vietnam in nurturing the differentiation between the revolutionary orientation of the Cuban leadership and the right-wing CP leaders in Latin America can easily be followed. From the very beginning of Johnson’s escalation of American involvement in the civil war in Vietnam, the Cuban leaders pointed out the need for vigorous counter-measures. As both Moscow and Peking permitted things to drift, the Cubans became more and more concerned. This was evident in the increasing stress they placed on the danger which the war in Vietnam signified for the Cuban revolution.

If the Vietnamese should be defeated, then it is certain that the Cubans will be next. Another significant indication of the trend in their thinking was the alteration of the slogan, “Cuba does not stand alone,” to a new slogan: “We Cubans must rely on ourselves.” Along with this, heavier and heavier stress has been placed in Cuba on the heroic example of the Vietnamese.

Preparations for the armed defense of the island against a new invasion have been stepped up considerably so as to make any attempted invasion as costly as possible to the imperialist forces. All these developments are indications of the lessons which the Cubans have drawn from the course of the war in Vietnam.

On the international front the Cubans have vigorously advanced two themes: First, the need of the revolutionists in each country to make the revolution. Second, the need to bring effective aid to the beleagured Vietnamese.

They state, quite correctly, that the best way to help the Vietnamese is to make the revolution in other countries. This is the meaning of the slogan advanced by Che Guevara: “Create two, three ... many Vietnams.” It was also the central meaning of Che Guevara’s action in attempting to organize a guerrilla focal center in Bolivia. He wished to set another example, to provide a living contrast between the lip service being paid to the Vietnamese cause by Moscow and Peking and the resolute action which the situation requires.

The effect upon the outlook of independent-minded revolutionists like the Cubans is, in my opinion, the single most important consequence of the escalating war in Vietnam. The Cubans display this effect to a striking degree but it is also observable elsewhere, as we have indicated.

In a less conscious way, a similar effect is observable among broad social layers. The rebellious mood among the American youth, particularly on the campuses, is a good indicator of the radicalization being induced by the war in Vietnam. We are being provided with fresh proof of the inherent tendency of a reactionary war to inspire a progressive countertendency. As revolutionary Marxism noted long ago, a reactionary war tends to become converted into a civil conflict, into a civil war. It tends to sponsor mass resistance and to prepare the way for a new generation of revolutionary leaders capable of organizing this resistance so as to provide society with a road out.

We stand at the beginning of this development on an international scale. It is this which disconcerts and worries those in the capitalist class still capable of observing what is happening. It is this which gives our movement reason for the greatest optimism and confidence. The stream of history is turning our direction.


Last updated on: 5 March 2011