Ernest Mandel

In Rebuttal

Source: From World Outlook, 23 December, 1966, Volume 4, No. 41, Paris and New York City
Written: 15 October, 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 discussion between La Gauche and the editors of Le Drapeau Rouge on the subject of the most effective way to defend Vietnam is continued by Resins Lewin in the October 1 issue of the weekly Le Drapeau Rouge in the form of an answer to the article which appeared in La Gauche on September 24, 1966. The editor of Le Drapeau Rouge presents three arguments against us.

“Ernest Mandel,” she says, “blames the Communists for attaching too much impor-tance to action by the popular and democratic masses in the capitalist countries as a method of ending the Vietnamese impasse.”

Posed in this way, the question obviously does not coincide with what we wrote. Action by the laboring masses of the imperialist countries would be genuinely useful in forcing American imperialism to withdraw from Vietnam …. provided it was genuinely effective action.

If longshoremen and railroad workers in all the capitalist countries refused to transport American arms, munitions and soldiers to Vietnam; if there were strikes and continuous demonstrations in all the big capitalist countries in support of the Vietnamese revolutionists; if there were tens of thousands of volunteers coming to Vietnam from Japan, Great Britain, France and Italy, to support the struggle of the ELF; if this swelling movement threatened to overthrow the capitalist regime in let us say two or three key countries in the world… then, obviously, the Pentagon, which coldly evaluates the developing situation in terms of power and of social forces in motion, would say to itself that taking everything into consideration, a retreat from the Vietnam wasps’ nest would be less costly than continuation of its war of aggression.

But to pose the question in these terms is equivalent to answering it. For it is impossible realistically to foresee any struggles of such scope taking place in the coming months. However, it is precisely in the coming months that imperialism will cress new thresholds in escalating its aggression. It is against this extension of its aggression—which includes the danger of direct aggression against China—that the most effective response must be found.

Certainly the struggle to mobilize the laboring masses of Western Europe in behalf of the Vietnamese revolution must be pursued and amplified. We will do it in Belgium, too. But we most seriously doubt that the “pressure” of a de Gaulle, or a petition campaign “for peace,” or one kind of diplomatic initiative or another, can possibly be adequate to halt imperialism en its road of aggression.

“How can it [the USSR] fulfill its promise, practically, if Americans and Chinese become militarily engaged tomorrow… ? How will the USSR be able to bring aid to China? Not by sending it conventional arms, planes, tanks, soldiers, since Peking refuses all collaboration with the USSR.” This is Rosine Lewin’s argument against our invitation to the CF to add its voice to ours in appealing to the USSR to solemnly warn the United States that any attack against China would be considered an attack against the Soviet Union itself.

The arguments seem very weak to us. In the first place, it would be ridiculous on our part to try to advise the General Staff of the Soviet army. But no one can convince us that the latter sees no way of responding, in Asia and in the Pacific, to an aggression against China, other than on Chinese territory alone. After all, there are submarines and long-range bombers. There are American troops in a great number of places in Asia. Is a diagram necessary?

Furthermore, why isn’t it obvious to Reside Lewin that such a declaration by the Soviet government would remove the main argument of the Chinese leaders, who are talking about a secret Suviet-American allianoc against China? When this commitment will have been honored the Chinese leaders will not keep on talking this way, for obvious reasons of self-defense. Faced with a materializing American attack, the Chinese leaders would very quickly propose a way of bringing in Soviet aid to China…

But the real question lies elsewhere. The point which we stressed was that the escalation of aggression by imperialism is planned with the utmost care, step by step, and with careful testing at each stage of its adversary’s response.

Aggression against China is no more inevitable than is the landing of American troops on the shores of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It will take place only if Washington believes it can make these moves with impunity.

It is highly probable that a solemn warning by Moscow, backed up by a demonstration in force to show that the Soviet government is serious in its commitment, would prevent an aggression against China and would prevent a new phase in the escalation of American aggression.

The great danger now confronting humanity is that Washington might believe that the USSR would not intervene in a war between the U.S. and China; that it might learn too late that such a hypothesis is without foundation; that this will occur at a time when it will be too deeply committed to be able to withdraw. Under these conditions we would be rushing directly into a world war. To speak up loudly and clearly now means, ina large measure, to avoid this danger.

Rosine Lewin’s final argument: our proposal would place the Soviet Union at the mercy of a provocation—since it would be compelled to make its response by means of nuclear weapons.

Obviously we have never advanced such a monstrous proposal as to call on the USSR to take the initiative in a nuclear war. We have proposed—together with Fidel Castro, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and many more—that the USSR should reply to the imperialist escalation with a counterescalation. That is all. The counterescalation must be cut to the measure of the escalation; there can be no question of taking the initiative in using nuclear weapons.

Quite the contrary. Our proposal is, in the last analysis, the sole way of avoiding _nuclear war—by launching a response at a time when aggression can be contained by conventional arms and methods. It is only if the response to aggression is delayed until the moment when imperialism resorts to its final weapons—until the final phases of escalation—that we keep on increasing the risks of nuclear war.

Our proposal was not made as a means of “ending the impasse in Vietnam.” It was concerned with the defense, in the immediate period, of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China, threatened by a new American aggression. To guarantee the victory of the revolution in South Vietnam, it would be necessary to amplify the revolutionary struggle in other areas of the globe, so as to compel imperialism to spread its forces thinner and, in the end, to strip its Vietnam front. But this is another controversial subject to which we shall return shortly.

Last updated on 7 February 2009