Paul Mattick 1971
Source: Root and Branch, 1971, No. 3, pp. 19-26.
Transcribed: by Thomas Schmidt;
The origins of the war in Indochina are to be found in the results of the second world war. Waged in Europe, Africa, and East Asia, World War II turned America into the strongest capitalist power in both the Atlantic and the Pacific areas of the world. The defeat of the imperialist ambitions of Germany and Japan promised the opening up of new imperialist opportunities for the United States, which emerged from the conflict not only unimpaired but enormously strengthened. America’s opportunities were not limitless, however; concessions had to be made to the Russian war-time ally, which formed the basis for new imperialistic rivalries and for the ensuing “cold war.” The post-war years were marked by the two great powers’ attempts to consolidate their gains. This excluded further unilateral expansion that would destroy the new power relationships. To that end, America assisted in the reconstruction of the West European economies and the revival of their military capacities, as well as in the rebuilding of Japan under her tutelage.
The second world war provided an opportunity for the colonial and semi-colonial nations of East Asia to gain their political independence. The British, French, Dutch, and Japanese colonizers lost their possessions. At first, the national liberation movement was welcomed by the Americans as an aid in the struggle against Japan, just as at first the Japanese had supported this movement as a means to destroy the European colonizers. Even after the Japanese defeat, the United States displayed no serious intentions to help the European nations to regain their colonies. The Americans were fully convinced that they would inherit what their European allies had lost, if not in the political then in an economic sense.
The Chinese revolution altered the whole situation, particularly because at that time it appeared as an extension of the power of the new Russian adversary and as the expansion of a socio-economic system no longer susceptible to foreign exploitation through the ruling world market relations. The needs of the American imperialists were clear: short of war, they would have to contain China in Asia, as they contained Russia in Europe. This necessitated a system of Asian alliances such as the Atlantic Pact provided for Europe.
Capital is international. The fact that its historical development paralleled that of the nation state did not prevent the establishment of the capitalist world market. However, due to political interventions in defense of one national bourgeoisie against competitor nations, the concentration of capital was, and is, more difficult to achieve on an international than on a national scale. Even capitalist crises, world-embracing accelerators of the concentration process, needed the additional measures of imperialistic wars to extend the national concentration process to the international scene. The capitalistic organization of the world economy is thus a contradictory process. What it brings about is not the final accomplishment of capitalist world unity but capital entities competing more and more destructively for the control of always larger parts of the world economy.
This process is inherent in capital accumulation, which reproduces the fundamental capitalist contradictions on an always larger scale. With capital accumulation still the determining factor of social development, we re-experience more extensively and more intensely the experiences of the past with respect to both competition and the internationalization of capital. To regard the world as destined for private exploitation is what capitalism is all about. If, at the beginning, it was predominantly a question of exporting commodities and importing cheap raw materials, it soon turned into the export of capital for the direct exploitation of the labor power of other nations and therewith to colonization in order to monopolize the new profit sources.
The end of the colonial system did not remove the twofold capitalist need to expand internationally and to concentrate the profits thereby gained into the hands of the dominant national capital entities. Because capitalism is both national and international it is by its very nature imperialistic. Imperialism serves as the instrumentality for bridging national limitations in the face of pressing international needs. It is therefore silly to assume the possibility of a capitalism which is not imperialistic.
Of course, there are small capitalist nations which flourish without directly engaging in imperialistic activities. But such nations, operating within the frame of the capitalistic world market, partake, albeit indirectly, in the imperialistic exploits of the larger capitalist nations, just as – on the domestic scale – many small sub-contractors profit from business given to them by the large prime contractors producing for the war economy. Not all capitalist countries can expand imperialistically. They find themselves more or less under the control of those nations which can, even if this control is restricted to the economic sphere. It is for this reason that some European observers see a form of neo-colonialism in the recent expansion of American capital in Europe, and others press for a more integrated Europe able to act as a “third force” in a world dominated by imperialist powers.
The contradiction between the national form of capital and its need for expansion, which recognizes no boundaries, is intertwined with the contradiction between its competitive nature and its urge for monopolization. In theory, a competitive economy flourishes best in a free world market. Actually, however, competition leads to monopoly and monopolistic competition, and the free world market leads to protected markets monopolized by political means. Monopolistic competition implies imperialistic struggles to break existing monopolies in favor of new ones. The economic form of competition takes on political expressions and therefore ideological forms, which come to overshadow the economic pressures which are their source.
This transformation of economic into political-ideological issues has become still more confounded through the modifications of capital production brought about by way of social revolution. The planned economies of Russia, China, and their satellites not only disturbed the monopolistically controlled world market but tended to prevent its further expansion under private-capitalist auspices. To be sure, there was not much capitalization in the underdeveloped parts of the world. International capital concentration resulted in the rapid development of existing capital at the expense of potential capital in subjugated countries. Lucrative markets, and cheap foodstuffs and raw materials increased the profit rates in the manufacturing nations and therewith hastened their capital accumulation. Beyond that, however, it was expected that a time would come when further expansion of capital would include its intensified extension in the underdeveloped parts of the world.
Capital is not interested in the continued existence of industrially-underdeveloped nations per se. It is interested only to the extent that this state of affairs proves to be the most profitable. If a further development of backward countries should be more, ‘or equally, profitable than investments in advanced nations, capitalists will not hesitate to foster their capitalist development just as they hastened it in their own countries. Whether or not this could ever become a reality under the conditions of private-capital production is a question the capitalists cannot raise for their own continued existence is clearly bound up with the capitalization of the underdeveloped nations. They thus cannot help seeing in the formation and expansion of state-controlled systems a limitation of their own possibilities of expansion and a threat to their control of the world market. For them “communism” means the formation of super-monopolies which cannot be dealt with by way of monopolistic competition and have to be combatted by political-ideological means and, where opportune, by military measures.
In their opposition to “communism” the capitalists do not merely object to a different economic system. They also condemn it for political and ideological reasons especially since, convinced that the economic principles of capitalism are universal principles of economic behavior, their violation seems a violation of human nature itself. They do not and cannot afford to understand the dynamics and limitations of their own social system. They see the reasons for its difficulties not in the system itself but in causes external to it. From this point of view, it is the erroneous and depraved creed of communism which subverts society and robs it of the possibility of working itself out of whatever difficulties arise. It is thus not necessary that the capitalists, their apologists, and all the people who accept the capitalist ideology be aware of the fact that it is the ordinary business of profit-making which determines the national and international capitalist policies.
Neither is it necessary for the capitalist-decision-makers to comprehend all the implications of their activities in the defense of and, therefore, the expansion of their economic and political powers. They know in a general way that whatever lies outside their control endangers their interests and perhaps their existence and they react almost “instinctively” to any danger to their privileged positions. Because they are the ruling class, they determine the ruling ideology, which suffices to explain their own behavior, as it covers their special class interests and nothing else. They will thus explain all their actions in strictly ideological terms, taking their economic content for granted and as something not debatable. Indeed, they may never make a conscious connection between their political convictions and their underlying economic considerations, and may inadvertently violate the latter in satisfying their ideological notions.
The capitalists are not Marxists, which is to say that they must defend, not criticise, existing social relationships. Defense does not require a proper understanding of the system; it merely demands actions which support the status quo. Marxist rationality, which includes criticism of existing conditions, often assumes that all capitalistic activities are directly determined by its capitalistic rationality, that is, by its immediate need to make profit and to accumulate capital. They will look for directly-observable economic motives behind the political activities of capitalist states, particularly in the international field. When such obvious reasons are not directly discernible, they are somewhat at a loss to account for imperialist aggression. In the case of Indochina, for example, the apparent absence of important economic incentives for American intervention has been a troublesome fact for Marxist war critics. This was seemingly mitigated only by the recent discovery of offshore oil potentials, which are supposed to explain, at least in part, the continued interest of big business in a victorious conclusion of the war. It is clear, however, that the Indochina war was there, and would be there, without this discovery and explanations must be found other than some definite but isolated capitalistic interests.
The apologists of capitalism utilize this situation to demonstrate that it is not the capitalist system as such which leads to imperialism, but some aberration thrust upon it by forces external to itself. They speak of a “military-industrial complex,” conspiring within the system, to serve its particularistic interests at the expense of society as a whole. In their views, it is one of the institutions of society, not capitalism itself, which is responsible for the war through it usurpation of the decision-making powers of government. Whereas the war – far from being waged for profits, current or expected – is an enormous expense to the American taxpayers and therefore senseless, it does directly benefit the particular group of war profiteers in control of government. Specific people, not the system, are to blame, for which reason all that is necessary to end the aberration is a change of government and the emasculation of the “industrial-military complex.”
There is, of course, truth in both these assertions, namely, that imperialism is economically motivated and that it is spearheaded by groups particularly favored by war. But by failing to relate these explanations to the fundamental contradictions of capital production, they fail to do justice to the complexity of the problem of war and imperialism. Neither the production nor the accumulation of capital is a consciously-controlled process on the social level. Each capitalist entity, be it an entrepreneur, corporation, conglomerate, or multinational enterprise, necessarily limits its activities to the enlargement of its capital, without regard to or even the possibility of having regard for. social needs and the course of social development. They are blind to the national and international social consequences of their relentless need to enlarge their capital. The profit motive is their only motive. It is what determines the direction of their expansion. Their enormous weight within society determines social policies and therewith the policies of the government. This implies, however, that government and society itself operate just as blindly with respect to its development as each separate capital entity with regard to its profit needs. They know what they are doing, but not where it will lead them; they cannot comprehend the consequences of their activities.
These consequences may include war and war may be initiated not because of some definite economic expectations, such as possession of specific raw materials, entry into new markets, or the export of capital, but because of past economic policies whose consequences were not foreseeable. This is quite clear, of course, in the case of imperialistic interventions in defense of capitalist property which stands in danger of being expropriated, or has been expropriated, in nations which try to gain, or regain, some measure of independence in economic as well as in political terms. This explains recent interventions such as those in Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Congo and so forth. It is not clear with respect to the intervention in Indochina, where the United State’s economic interests were minimal and their possible loss of no consequence to her economy. Yet this intervention, too, was the unforeseen outcome of past economic developments, even though it cannot be related to any immediate and specific economic needs or opportunity on the part of American capitalism.
There is only one way to secure the capitalist market economy and that is through the continuous expansion of capital. It is this expansion which is the secret of its prosperous stages of development, just as lack of expansion results in its periods of depression. Capital development has been an alternation between prosperity and depression, the so-called business-cycle. For American capital, however, the last big depression, that of 1929, did not lead to a new period of prosperity but to an era of relative stagnation and decline, which was overcome only through the transformation of the economy into a war economy, that is, the growth of production not by way of capital accumulation, but through the accumulation of the national debt and production for “public consumption” such as is required by war and preparation for war. But just like the Great Depression before, the war failed to restore a rate of capital expansion sufficient to assure the full utilization of productive resources and the available labor power. The government saw itself forced to continue its support of the economy by way of deficit-financed public expenditures which, given the nature of the capitalist system, are necessarily non-competitive with private capital and therefore largely arms expenditures. The “cold war” in the wake of the real war provided the rationale for this type of compensatory production.
To be sure, private capital continued its expansion at home and abroad, but not to the extent which would have allowed a significant curtailment of non-profitable government-induced production. Indeed, in spite of both types of production – that is, for the market and for extra-market “public consumption” – full employment and full use of productive resources could not be reached. Despite the great expenditures connected with the war in Indochina, at the end of 1970 America counted six million unemployed and an 80% utilization of her productive resources. War expenditures are, of course, a deduction from the national income and can neither be capitalized nor be consumed in the usual sense of the term. A steady growth of expenditures for war is possible only at the expense of capital accumulation and living standards. It is, therefore, no solution for the problems caused by an insufficient rate of capital expansion; instead it makes a solution harder to achieve. Capitalistically, war makes “sense” only if it serves as an instrument for bringing about conditions more favorable for a further expansion and extension of capital. Yet at the same time, under prevailing conditions, absence of the war in Indochina would merely increase the number of unemployed and increase the unused part of the productive resources.
War or no war, short of an accelerated rate of private capital expansion, there is only the choice between a deepening depression and the amelioration of conditions through the further extension of non-profitable “public” expenditures. But whereas the war may eventually yield the preconditions or an American penetration of East Asia, and its present expense be recompensed by future profits, public expenditures for other purposes do not have such effects. Experience shows that war does open up possibilities for further capital expansion. From a consistent capitalistic standpoint a successfully waged war is more “rational” than a steady drift into economic decline.
Even if the “mixed economy” has found acceptance as a probably unavoidable modification of the capitalist system, the “mix,” that is, governmental interventions in the economy, are supposed to be only such as benefit private capital. To keep it that way, interferences in market relations must be limited on the national as well as on the international level. A general expansion of government production internally would spell the certain end of corporate capitalist property relations, just as the extension of a state-determined social system of production within the world economy points toward the contraction of the free-enterprise economies. The necessity of containing the spread of “communism,” that is, of state-controlled systems, is thus related to the necessity of
restricting governmental interventions in the economy within each private-capitalist nation. With more nations adopting the state-controlled form of capital production and thereby limiting the expansion of private capital, insufficient expansion of the latter calls forth more intensive government interventions in the private-capitalist nations. To halt the trend toward state-capitalism in the market economies requires the containment and possibly the “roll-back” of the already-established state-capitalist systems. But while at home the capitalists control their governments and thus determine the kind and degree of the latter’s economic interventions, they can only halt the dreaded transformation abroad either by gaining control of the governments of other nations or by imperialistic military measures.
There is, then, no special reason for America’s intervention in Indochina, apart from her general policy of intervening anywhere in the world in order to prevent political and social changes that would be detrimental to the so-called ‘free world,” and particularly to the power which dominates it. Like an octopus, America extends her tentacles into all the underdeveloped countries still under the sway of private-capitalist property relations to assure their continued adherence to the free enterprise principle or, at least, to the old world market relations which make them into appendages of Western capitalism. She tries to rally all pro-capitalist forces into various regional alliances, arms and finances the most reactionary regimes, penetrates governments, and offers aid, all to halt any social movement which might strive for the illusory goal of political and economic self-determination. Because self-determination is not a real possibility, the United States recognizes that attempts to attain it could only result in nations’ leaving the orbit of Western capitalism to fall into that of the Eastern powers. By fighting self-determination and national liberation, America is simply continuing her war against the Russian and Chinese adversaries. Although no longer a “cold war,” it is as yet fought only on the periphery of the real power issues involved.
Separately, none of the small nations which experienced American intervention endangered the United States’s hegemony in world affairs to any noticeable extent. If they were hindered in their attempts to rid themselves of foreign domination and of their own collaborating ruling classes, this was because America recognizes that their revolutionary activities are not accidental phenomena, but so many expressions of an as yet weak but world-wide trend to challenge the capitalist monopolies of power and exploitation. They must, therefore, be suppressed wherever they arise and conditions that will prevent their return must be created, quite apart from all immediate profit considerations. In this respect, the present differs from the past in that while imperialist interventions used to serve to create empires within a world system, such interventions today serve the defense of capitalism itself.
At first glance, America’s gains in Asia are quite impressive. She has not only regained the Philippines and destroyed Japan’s “co-prosperity sphere,” but found entry into nations that only a few years ago had been monopolized by European powers. With the aid of a reconstructed Japan, now allied to the United States, it seemed relatively easy to keep China out of Southeast Asia and secure this part of the globe for the “free world” in general and the United States in particular. But the “communist” enemy was to be found not only in China but to a greater or lesser extent in all the countries of the region, achieving by subversion what could ostensibly no longer be achieved by more direct procedures. Securing America’s newly-won position in Southeast Asia thus required the destruction of native national forces which saw themselves also as communist movements and wished to emulate the Russian and Chinese examples rather than adapt themselves to the ways of Western capitalism.
Like all countries, the emerging states in Southeast Asia were divided by different class interests. Different social groups fought for special aims by way of and within the struggle for national liberation, which was thus at the same time a civil war. Its results would determine whether the liberated nations would have societies keeping them within the fold of Western capitalism. It became necessary to influence the outcome of the civil war by outside intervention. For the United States it was essential that whatever the results of the liberation movements they must not lead to new “communist” regimes willing to side with the Chinese adversary. America’s politicians rightly surmised that notwithstanding the most exaggerated nationalism, which would tend to oppose a new Chinese domination as it had opposed that of the old colonial powers, China by sheer weight alone would dominate the smaller nations at her boundaries, disguised though this domination would be by ideological camouflage. The surge of nationalism was to be channeled into anti-communism, which meant the upholding or creation of governments and institutions friendly to the United States and Western capitalism.
Political decisions are left to the decision-makers; so long as they are successful they find some kind of general support. Even if the decisions involve war, they will be accepted not only because of the generally-shared ideology, but also because of the practical inability on the part of the population to affect the decision-making process in any way. People will try to make the best of a bad situation – which also has its advantages. Certainly, the armaments producers will not object to the extra profits made through war. Neither will the arms production workers object to it, if it provides them with job security and steady incomes, which might be less certain under other circumstances. The military will see the war as a boon to their profession; war is their business and they will encourage business to make war. Because the mixed economy has become a war economy, many new professions have arisen which are tied to war conditions or to preparation for such conditions. A growing government bureaucracy relies for its existence on the perpetuation of the war machinery and of imperialistic activities. Wide-spread interests vested in war and imperialism ally themselves with those specific to the large corporations and their dependency on foreign exploitation.
While for some war and imperialism spell death, then, for many more they constitute a way of life, not as an exceptional situation but as a permanent condition. Their existence is based on a form of cannibalism, which costs the lives of friend and foe alike. Once this state of affairs exists, it tends to reproduce itself and it becomes increasingly difficult to return to the “normal” state of capitalist production. War itself increases the propensity for war. The American decision-makers, who decided to enter the Indochina conflicts (or for that matter any other) have thus been able to count on the consensus of a large part of the population, a consensus which was by no means purely ideological in nature.
Even so, the United States did not, and has not as yet, declared war against North Vietnam. Allegedly, she still is only defending the endangered self-determination of South Vietnam. The Korean War indicated that, short of risking a new world war, already established “communist” regimes could not be detached from their protector states, Russia and China. In other respects, however, the situation was still fluid. Apart from North Vietnam, other Southeast Asian nations were either anti-communist, or declared themselves “neutralist” or “non-aligned,” meaning that their civil wars, clandestine or open, were still undecided. In the case of Laos, this led to a tripartite arrangement, engineered by the great powers, with “neutralist"-, “communist"-, and “western"-oriented forces dividing the country between them. This too was thought of as a temporary solution which would perhaps be resolved at some future date. Cambodia maintained a precarious “independence” by catering to both sides of the overshadowing larger power conflict. Only in Thailand, where America had replaced Britain as the major foreign influence was the commitment to the West almost complete. Here the United States States sent more than 30,000 troops and much aid to build this kingdom into a bastion of the “free world.” (It has become the most important American airbase for the Vietnam war.)’
Because of the flexibility of the situation, it seemed essential to the United States to stop any further change in Southeast Asia by assisting all “anti-communist” forces in that region. This has been a consistent policy, from which none of[ the successive American administrations has deviated. Objecting to the Geneva Agreements of 1954, the American-installed regime of South Vietnam refused to consider the proposed elections, which were to decide the question of unification of South and North Vietnam. To assure the. continued existence of South Vietnam, the United States poured money and soon troops into the country. The resumed civil war in the South found support from North Vietnam, turning the American intervention into a war against both the national liberation forces in the South and the North Vietnamese government. This intervention has often been found unjustified, because it concerned itself with a civil war instead of, as claimed, with the national independence of South Vietnam. However (as was pointed out above) in the context of Indochina no distinction can be made between international war and civil war, because here all wars for national liberation are at the same time civil wars for social change. It was precisely because of the civil-war character of the national liberation movements that the United States entered the fray.
America’s determination to retain influence in Indochina at all costs did check a possible further extension of social transformations such as occurred in North Vietnam and in a part of Laos. As it became evident that neither Russia nor China would actively intervene in the Vietnamese war, the “anti-communist” forces in Southeast Asia were greatly strengthened and, aided by the United States, began to destroy their own “communist"-oriented movements, the most gruesome of these undertakings being that in Indonesia. But while neither Russia nor China was ready to risk war with the United States to drive the latter out of Southeast Asia, they tried to prevent the consolidation of American power in that region by enabling the Vietnamese to carry on the war. The military aid given to the Vietnamese by Russia and China could not lead to the defeat of the Americans, but promised a prolonged war which would deprive the United States of enjoying the spoils of an early victory. The immediate and growing expenses of the war would, instead, loom ever larger in comparison with its possible positive results, which would recede always further to the indeterminate future. By bleeding the people of Indochina America would in increasing measure bleed herself, and perhaps lose confidence in her ability to conclude the war on her own terms.
It seems quite clear that the Americans expected less resistance to their intervention than they actually came to face. They aspired to no more than a repetition of the outcome of the Korean conflict – a mutual retreat to previously demarcated frontiers, which meant halting the “communist” penetration at the Seventeenth Parallel in the case of Vietnam, and at the agreed-upon zones in Laos. As in Korea, in Vietnam too they had no desire to turn the war into a new world war by bringing Russia, China, or both into the conflict. A war of the great powers, possessing atomic weapons, could easily lead to mutual destruction. The fear of such a war has until now set limits to the war in Vietnam. It has prevented a concentrated, all-out American onslaught on North Vietnam to bring the war to a victorious conclusion, since neither Russia nor China, like the United States herself, can be expected to allow any territory already under their control or in their sphere of interests to be lost, without encouraging further encroachments on their power positions. It was for this reason that the Western powers did not intervene on the occasions of the Russian invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and that America now hesitates to attempt the complete destruction of North Vietnam.
Of course, a nation’s determination to hold on to what it has, or has gained, is not absolute. The overriding fear of a possible atomic war, for instance, kept the United States from re-conquering Cuba. Nations tend to avoid actions which have a very high probability of leading to undesired results. Uncertainty is the rule, however, and it is the presumed job of diplomacy to weigh the pros and cons of any particular policy with regard to long-run national and imperialistic interests. This may incorporate short-run decisions which need not have a direct logical connection with long-run goals. The latter are, of course, illusory, since the dynamics of capitalism imply an ever-changing general situation which escapes political comprehension. The imperialist strategy remains a policy with regard to long-run national and imperialist interests. Since the dynamics of capitalism imply an ever-changing general situation which escapes political comprehension, long-run imperialist strategy put into practice remains a matter of blindly executed activity, in which all diplomatic expectations may come to naught. Actually, the political decision-makers can affect only immediate, short-run goals (which need not have a direct logical connection with the long-run goals). They try to attain a definite and obvious objective. They may reach it or not; if they lose, it will be through the action of an adversary. Until stopped, they will see their course of action as the only “rational” one and
will try to follow it up to the end. In the case of Indochina, the simple goal was to secure this part of the world for Western capitalism without initiating a new world war. The unexpectedly effective resistance of the adversaries led to a continuous escalation of the war effort and a growing discrepancy between the limited objective and the costs involved in reaching it.
In one sense, to be sure, the American intervention proved successful, in that it not only prevented the unification of South and North Vietnam but also sustained Western influence in Southeast Asia in general. Confidence in the ability to maintain this situation is reflected in new extensive and predominantly private American and Japanese direct investments in oil, timber, and mineral resources in Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, and even South Vietnam. Still, the war goes on, because the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front in the South are not willing to acknowledge defeat and to accept peace on American terms. Short of a successful invasion of the North or an internal collapse of the “communists” there is no reason to expect a change in this situation, though an apparent loss of offensive power on the part of the North Vietnamese and NLF forces is allowing a reduction in the number of American troops in Vietnam.
There is no reason to doubt that at this juncture the United States would prefer a negotiated peace, which would honor her main objectives, to the continuation of the war, if only to stall the growing unrest at home. Opposition to the war has begun to affect the military situation through an increasing demoralization of the armed forces. The anti-war movement displays a variety of motivations, but has gained its present strength and dangerous possibilities because of deteriorating economic conditions. It is also the long duration of the war, and the lack of any recognizable advantages gained by it, which turn more and more people against it. There existed from the war’s beginning a moral opposition, based on pacifist and anti-imperialist ideologies, which has now found more general adherence – large enough to induce opportunistic politicians to enter the movement to further their personal aims and to keep it within the framework of existing political institutions. But even though war protests are as yet of a merely verbal nature, with ah occasional firebomb thrown in, they contain the potentiality of more decisive actions in the near future. In any case, the present administration finds itself obliged to placate the anti-war movement, even though it has no more to offer than the demagoguery of promises which it is in no position to keep.
However, one should neither under- nor over-estimate the anti-war movement. While it is true that its existence has forced the government to masquerade its continued and intensified war activities as so many attempts to reach an “honorable” peace, in its broad majority the opposition to the war directs itself not against the capitalist system, which is necessarily imperialistic, but merely against this particular and apparently unsuccessful war (now viewed as a “big mistake” that needs being undone). And while it is true that the hitherto-displayed apathy about the war on the part of the working population is apparently giving way to a critical attitude, this does not in itself imply independent working-class actions such as could bring the war to an end. Even among the bourgeoisie, not directly favored by the war, dissatisfaction with its course and its internal consequences is visibly rising. But this amorphous anti-war sentiment, affecting all layers of the population, does not as yet constitute a real threat to the Administration’s war policy; especially because the government still commands the unswerving loyalty of perhaps a majority of the population, which would no doubt come to its aid should this become necessary. The developing polarization of pro- and anti-war forces points in the direction of civil strife rather than to the government’s capitulation to the opposition.
Meanwhile, the government’s demagoguery is taken quite seriously – namely, that the war is being “wound down” by way of “Vietnamization” in accordance with the “Nixon doctrine,” which wants to leave the (capitalist) defense of Asia to the Asians. This demagoguery is seemingly substantiated by a partial withdrawal of American troops and the simultaneous increase of the Vietnamese army, as well as by the intensification of the American air war in Laos, Cambodia, North and South Vietnam. Withdrawal has in fact meant, first of all, the extension of the war into Cambodia and Laos to prepare the conditions under which the Asians themselves will be enabled to take care of all “communist aggression.” It would indeed be an “ideal” situation to have Asians fight Asians to secure Indochina for capitalist exploitation. But as matters stand, it is more likely that a real American withdrawal would also be the end of “Vietnamization” and the “Nixon doctrine.”
The “ideal” situation is admittedly unrealizable, however, even though an approximation is held to be possible, provided the enemy adapts itself to the American strategy. If it does not, then, of course, the Americans must return in greater numbers to defend their endangered occupation troops. The deterrent strategy of a large naval and air presence will be maintained in any case. Even this strategy assumes the continuation of the present military stalemate, which favors the Americans, since it can be utilized for the systematic destruction of enemy forces within the areas under American control. A resurgence of resistance to the Americans and their Indochinese allies becomes increasingly more problematical, as ever greater masses of the population are driven into controlled “refugee” centers and as the countryside is laid waste. If Russia and China continue to stay out of the conflict, the aid they provide by itself will not enable North Vietnam and the NLF to win a war of attrition with the United States.
Clearly, the war will go on as long as the North Vietnamese continue to defy the American will. They will be able to do so as long as they receive sufficient aid from either Russia, China, or both. In this sense, the war is still a war between these Eastern powers and the United States, even though only the latter has engaged her military forces due to the weakness of her Indochinese allies, who were no match for the national-revolutionary forces they set out to combat. The rift between Russia and China has not altered this situation, as each of these nations has its own reasons for opposing the American advance in Asia. Whatever national interests and rivalries divide Russia and China, these interests cannot be furthered for either side through an alliance with the United States, which cannot help treating both as implacable enemies because of their socio-economic structures and their own desires to make themselves secure by gaining greater power and more influence within the world economy.
In summing up, it must be said that the Indochina war has to be seen not as an isolated conflict between America and North Vietnam, but as an aspect of an unfolding wider struggle concerning the whole of Asia and the nature of its further development. Beyond that, it is a special case of a general struggle going on in many parts of the world against the imperialist forms of private capital production. Objectively and subjectively, this struggle can as yet take on no other form than that of national liberation, even though this is not a real solution to the social and economic problems that beset the countries subjugated to the double yoke of native and and foreign exploitation. However, this struggle is itself a sign of an ongoing dissolution of the capitalist mode of production and will, in time, find support in class struggles to be waged in the imperialist nations. For it is more than doubtful that capitalism will be able to overcome its deepening structural crisis by way of outward expansion, since it is certain that all attempts in that direction will meet ever more effective resistance. Whatever the outcome of the struggle in Indochina, it will not affect this general situation.