Ernest Mandel

Defend Peace by
Defending Vietnam and China

Source: From World Outlook, 23 December, 1966, Volume 4, No. 41, Paris and New York City
Written: 23 September, 1966
Translated: by World Outlook
Transcrition & Marked-up: by David Walters for the Marxists’ Internet Archive 2009.
Public Domain: Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The courteous tone and good faith of the article by Jean-Narie Chauvier confirm the fact that debate is possible today between Communists and left socialists in Belgium This debate can bring about political clarification. We are far from the insults and sarcasm which l’Humanité has seen fit to pour on those seeking only to engage the French Communist party in a dialogue and who are its sole potential allies within the French left.

Before proceeding to the heart of the subject, permit us to add that no one, either at La Gauche or among the left socialists in this country, is waiting with folded arms for “the USSR to do something.”

Surely Chauvier is not addressing his reproaches about resignation and cowardice to those who, from the first day of the American aggression, called on the Belgian workers to proclaim their disgust and opposition to this dirty war; to the UGS [Union de la Gauche Socialiste], which initiated and, in fraternal unity with the Communist party, carried out the largest street demonstration in Belgium against the Vietnam war; to our comrade, Pierre Le Gréve, the only deputy to call publicly, in Parliament, for a victory of the ELF [National Liberation Front]; to our young comrades of the JGS [Jeunes Gardes Socialistes, who are organizing their national demonstration at Liège on October 15 under the main slogan of “Solidarity with the NLF of South Vietnam!

With this out of the way, we come to the arguments of J.N.Chauvier. And if in this connection we are led to raise our voice somewhat, it is not cut of some “antiSoviet” sentiment or ether; on the contrary, it springs from our growing anxiety ever the fate of humanity, over the fate of the workers of all countries and of our own in particular, over the fate of all that remains from former and present revolutions, over the fate not only of the Vietnamese revolution, but of China and of the USSR itself.

We are convinced that J.N.Chauvier is wrong in his general evaluation and that many Communist leaders are similarly in error. Here are the principal grounds for our disagreement with his arguments:

(1) Chauvier states that the working class and popular masses of the capitalist countries can be a determining factor in ending the impasse Agreed. But it is still necessary for this factor to make itself felt. It must be obvious, however, that apart from such platonic activities as collecting signatures and making routine speeches, most of the Communist parties in the capitalist world have done nothing to bring about an effective and productive mobilization of the working class and popular masses against the war in Vietnam.

Marshal Nalinovsky recently compared the war in Vietnam to the Spanish civil war. The comparison seems to us to be a pertinent one; we have even advanced it independently. Despite a completely different world context (at that time, reaction and fascism were on the asoendenoy on a world-wide scale; today, on the contrary, the relationship of forces in the world is favorable to the anti-capitalist side), the parallel is a striking one: on the result of this civil war may depend the world’s course of development for many years to come.

But what did the working-class movement do during the period of the Spanish war? Did it cry “Peace in Spain!” or was its cry “Death to fascism!”? Did it devote its efforts toward negotiations, or did it devote them toward the victory of the antifascist camp (it is something else again whether the policy of rebuilding the bourgeois army inside the antifascist camp, the policy of “win the war first, then make the revolution’ did not demobilize the masses in Spain itself)? How does it happen that the majority of’ Communist parties today continue to act as proponents of “peace” and “negotiations” for Vietnam, instead of mobilizing the masses in favor of victory for the National Liberation Front?

In Belgium, the Socialist Confederation of Workers as well as the Communist party are vanguard formations. The difference in slogans is consequently only a difference on the propaganda level. But in France, Italy, India, Japan, Chile, to cite only five such countries, the Communist parties have a great and even predominant influence over the mass of workers. Where are the protest strikes against the Vietnam war? Where are the refusals by longshoremen, railroad workers, truck drivers to transport arms or supplies for the U.S. troops engaged in the Vietnam war?

(2) In fact, the last paragraph of Chauvier’s article is in contradiction with the one preceding it. Moreover, he reveals the secret of the political strategy of the Soviet leaders, of the leaders of most of the Communist parties. “The moral and diplomatic isolation of the government of the United States” is their objective. They believe it possible to “end the impasse” by virtue of this isolation. Their policy is one of applying pressure on the bourgeoisie not that of mobilizing the masses.

In our opinion they are wrong. We hold that American imperialism is already largely “isolated” in Europe (even “Free Belgium” gives only the weakest kind of support to the Vietnam war). And we maintain that American imperialism is none the worse for it.

For in the last analysis, there is a glaring contradiction in a position in which it is claimed, on the one hand, that the American leaders have become insane enough to be capable of launching a nuclear world war, thereby rushing to certain suicide, and on the other hand, that these same madmen are at the very same time especially sensitive to “moral and diplomatic isolation,” to the homilies of General de Gaulle and the crocodile tears of the West European bourgeoisie.

(3) J.N.Chauvier appears to seriously underestimate, even to minimize, the immediate stakes in the Vietnam war. These stakes do not consist solely of the survival of the Vietnamese revolution, of the right of the Vietnamese people to self-determination, to set up an economic and social regime of their own choice (which the foul dictatorships of the Ngo Link Diems and the Kys prevented them from achieving through any other means than armed insurrection).

It is also the right of all peoples (above all those of the Third World, but not theirs alone!) to choose the regime they want. Jchnson(whcm the American CF indicated to the voters as the “lesser evil"—is a reminder necessary?) has proclaimed that American force will stop liberation movements, which he baptizes as “Communist,” everywhere in the world. And as a matter of fact, the united States government has, since 1964, stopped popular movements or revolutions in Brazil, the Congo, Santo Domingo, Ghana, Bolivia, Algeria, Indonesia, and so on and on, either by direct intervention or through plots in which it manipulated the strings.

Against this global counterevolutionary strategy, only a global revolutionary strategy can constitute an effective reply. Fidel Castro understood this and proclaimed it at the Tricontinental Conference. Obviously the United States would have to reexamine the situation if it were compelled to conduct three or four “Vietnam wars” at the same time and at three or four different points on the globe. Such objective possibilities are hardly lacking.

But the USSR and most of the Communist parties refuse to admit the soundness of this strategy. They prefer to grant credits of a hundred million dollars to the military dictatorship in Brazil, which is detested by the whole Brazilian population. They continue to play the game of an “alliance with the national bourgeoisie,” despite the terrible setbacks of recent years. And the masses are in danger of paying the price for this incorrect policy. (4) J.M.Chauvier also underestimates the mounting danger to the entire socialist camp,_beginning with China as a result of the Vietnam war. American imperialism, far from acting in a fit of madness, is advancing prudently and with caution, calculatingand observing the reactions of the enemy camp with each step it takes.

First there was the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin during August, 1964; no reaction from Moscow, save some verbal protests. Then came the first bombing of North Vietnam, under pretext of reprisals for an anti-American episode in South Vietnam: again Moscow did not budge. Subsequently, the bombings were repeated on a daily basis, and there was still no Soviet response. Finally, Hanoi and Haiphong are bombed and no counterblow has yet been dealt to the United States.

For our part we are convinced that far from being “irresponsible madmen,” the American leaders are accurately calculating the risks. They are increasing the scale of escalation because they are convinced that neither the USSR nor China will intervene directly in the war in Vietnam. Retreat is possible if they are confronted with the dilemma: retreat or perish; for the balance of terror is such that a nuclear war would destroy the United States just as surely as it would the rest of the world.

The danger lies in the fact that the United States, in the belief that the USSR will remain passive, will soon commit an aggression against China. As for us, we are convinced that the USSR cannot remain a passive spectator of such aggression, if for no other reason than that of military self-defense. But the silence of the Soviet government runs the risk of being badly interpreted in Washington and it could windup by dragging the whole world into war.

We therefore ask the Soviet government to declare immediately and publicly, that any attack against China would be considered an attack against the Soviet Union We call upon all Communist leaders and militants to support this request It is not a declaration of this kind which contains the risk of provoking nuclear war on the contrary it i the ABSENCE of such a declaration which can hurl humanity into the nuclear holocaust by_encouraging aggression upto the point where there would be no other way of opposing it save by the use of extreme means.

Like Chauvier, we deplore the refusal of the Chinese leaders to form a socialist united front against the American aggression in Vietnam. Contrary to Chauvier, however, we attribute the principal reason for this refusal to the incomprehensible silence of Moscow at a time when everyone is already openly posing the question: will the Pentagon attack China?

(5) By asserting that a strategy of this kind “would provoke” the imperialists and runs the risk of precipitating nuclear war, Chauvier really puts himself in an impossible position: the only way to beat aggression is to retreat before it! As a matter of fact, haven’t we already heard this same tune previously about resistance to aggression being the equivalent of “warmongering"? Where has it brought us?

But more to the point: if all those who are asking the Soviet government for an energetic response to imperialist aggression are “warmongers” then the Soviet leaders themselves have been guilty of similar “warmongering.” For didn’t they reply in the most energetic terms—going so far as to threaten to launch rockets against Paris and London, something we do not at all ask of them!—at the time of the aggression against Egypt and the American landing in Lebanon?

Why is it that what was valid in 1956 and in 1958 is no longer valid in 1966? Why is it that what was valid for nonsocialist countries is no longer valid for socialist countries? In what way has the situation “changed” since 1958?

That is why we are so anxious. That is why we are so fearful about peace. Failing an energetic response, nothing has a chance of stopping imperialism on the road of aggression, for it will believe itself invulnerable and all powerful.

Last updated on 7 February 2009