Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Ericson and Charles Loren

The Anti-Marxist-Leninist Line of Progressive Labor

The Evolution of a Pro-Imperialist Position on Vietnam

Since World War Two, the imperialist system, headed by U.S. imperialism, has been battered by a magnificent succession of national liberation struggles. Imperialism has been weakened as a result of these struggles:

1. Formerly, the colonies supplied regiments to the imperialists; now, the imperialists’ military reserves are spread thin in the colonies. They have suffered shattering defeats there.

2. The costs of wars of aggression have been placed on the working classes of the imperialist countries, and this has sharpened their struggles in turn. These costs are part of the general decay of capitalism in its imperialist (monopoly capitalist) stage. As a result, people in the imperialist countries have been aroused to the possibility of revolution. They seek to understand what imperialism is, creating a favorable situation for propagating Marxism-Leninism.

3. Two former semi-colonies–China and Albania – have completely liberated themselves from the imperialist system and have set up the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Communists judge that all these developments are splendid. Some persons, however, became inordinately concerned with the fate of the revolution in individual nations to the exclusion of the effects of the national liberation struggles on the imperialist system as a whole and on the class struggle in the U.S. in particular. These persons (the petty bourgeois revolutionists) overlooked the effects of national liberation struggles in weakening imperialism. Then, once they forgot these effects, they could not understand the policy of China and Albania, so they came to doubt whether these countries were socialist and their leadership Marxist-Leninist, The petty bourgeois revolutionists became anti-communist.

These persons confuse two questions: l) the contribution of the national liberation struggles to the fight against imperialism, and 2) the success of these struggles in finally detaching individual countries from the imperialist system. The petty bourgeois revolutionists dwell on the second problem to the exclusion of the first. With regard to the contribution of the national liberation struggles to the fight against imperialism, it is a fact that the fierce struggles in Algeria, Vietnam and elsewhere have weakened imperialism. Look at France and the U.S. before and after these wars; the effects mentioned above are clearly in operation. As a result of these wars, the contradictions in both societies have sharpened, and the bourgeoisie is weaker.

With regard to the success of these struggles for the workers and peasants who fought them, it is well known that when these countries have not joined the socialist camp, this is because Marxist-Leninist parties of the working class have been lacking or too weak to lead the struggle. Instead, an incipient national bourgeoisie has led the struggle and then resold the country into bondage. But this problem does not unmake the contribution of the workers’ and peasants’ struggles toward weakening imperialism. The petty bourgeois revolutionists have “conceded” too many losses–because they never had a firm theoretical grasp of the whole situation in the first place.

The national liberation movement in the colonies and neo-colonies poses many tasks to a communist party in an imperialist country. The distinction between the aggressor and the victim of aggression, which the imperialists try to obscure, must be drawn again and again. The duty of the working class to support the struggle of the colonial people must be taught (as Marx taught the English workers to support the Irish), and the interest of the working class in getting the imperialists kicked out of the colonies explained. The erroneous, anti-working class concept of imperialism drawn from the colonial struggles by some petty bourgeois (e.g., the Black Panther Party, urban guerrilla freaks, or “pro-Third World” intellectuals) must be exposed. Also, the usual work of propagating Marxism-Leninism, strengthening party organization, and leading struggle toward revolution is heightened as contradictions sharpen.

Finally, it should be observed that as imperialism declines, wracked by one crisis after another, the mutual support of the national liberation movement and the revolutionary struggles of the working class within imperialist countries is likely to be very complex. A communist party in an imperialist country cannot hope to lead the working class in socialist revolution unless it has a correct and profound knowledge of this situation and a correct line based on this knowledge.

What, however, are the petty bourgeois revolutionists doing? Their line of agitation in Challenge newspaper is directed against “the entire herd of slimy opportunists from Moscow to Hanoi to Washington”! (March 20, 1971, p. 2) In order to understand how such revolting trash could be written, it is necessary to study the evolution of the infantile leftist petty bourgeois analysis of Vietnam from the time that negotiations first began to threaten. The series of editorials in PL magazine records this development.


The Khrushchevite revisionists at the time (1965-67) were pushing a “peace talks” scheme. It had a specific and definite aim: the national liberation struggle in south Vietnam, then racing in full strength, was to be stopped abruptly, because a single spark might explode the collusion of U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. To counter this scheme, it was necessary 1) to expose the real sabotage of the Vietnamese people’s struggle by the Soviet revisionists, for which there was ample and obvious evidence,[1] and 2) to point out that negotiations at this time would be an unnecessary and monumental concession to U.SC imperialism.

This specific argument was not entirely absent from the minds of the petty bourgeois revolutionists. In January 1960 they wrote:

The fact is that the forces of the NLF are militarily and politically in their best situation since they launched the revolution in the south. In 1965 they had all but defeated the Saigon puppet forces. They had demolished key sections of the puppet army and its strategic reserve...

...when the people’s forces are in the ascendancy, wiping out the best the imperialist enemy can throw at them, the military advantage must be pressed to its ultimate, and logical conclusion: the military–and therefore political–defeat of the aggressor. (PL, March-April 1968, pp. 5, 6)

However, the petty bourgeois revolutionists gradually but finally overwhelmingly came to regard the question as one of “People’s War or Negotiations?” They gave this title to their basic position paper on Vietnam. But this is a phony dichotomy. It expresses no class content. On the one hand, negotiations are simply a tactic. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Brest-Litovsk 1917 and the Soviet-German nonaggression agreement of 1939 are examples of correct negotiations. On the other hand, the petty bourgeois revolutionists do not understand the goals of people’s war. They say:

The crucial question is Have the Vietnamese abandoned the strategy of People’s War for the strategy of negotiations or betrayal?

Of course negotiations distort, even change, the war’s issue, which is to defeat U.S0 imperialism and win socialism. (PL, May 1969, p. 5)

The goal of a worker-led peasant war is not socialism. For a discussion of this question, see “The Peasant Question and ’New Democracy’” elsewhere in this pamphlet. The goal of a peasant war is to defeat the imperialists and feudal landowners.

By posing the question in this way, the petty bourgeois revolutionists confused two problems. By raising the banner of one problem–leadership of the war and whether the country will escape from the imperialist to the socialist camp–they overlooked the contribution of the struggle to weakening imperialism. Because they could not have the whole loaf, they refused to take half a loaf (something any striking worker has learned how to do more or less skillfully). If a mass struggle defeats the imperialists in people’s war, imperialism is weakened. Winning socialism is a struggle persisting much longer.

In contrast to this confusion, communists realize that it is especially incumbent upon themselves to take a truly anti-imperialist and internationalist line on the Vietnam war. They will explain how the victory of the Vietnamese people advances the struggle to defeat imperialism and win socialism in the U.S.

In order to persist with their confusion, the petty bourgeois revolutionists had to assert also that negotiations would mislead most the revolutionary classes, in this case the workers and peasants of Vietnam.

“The logic of negotiations must adversely affect the morale of all revolutionaries north and south.“ (PL, March-April 1968, p. 10) But negotiations per se cannot confuse and demoralize revolutionary people. Did not Lenin reply to an earlier generation of infantile leftists:

And if the objection is raised that these tactics [a complicated set of negotiations and electoral agreements between the British communists and social-democrats] are too ’subtle,’ or too complicated, that the masses will not understand them, that these tactics will split and scatter our forces, will prevent us concentrating them on the Soviet revolution, etc., I will reply to the ’Lefts’ who raise this objection: don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses!...on the eve of the Soviet revolution, in September 1917, the Bolsheviks put up their candidates for a bourgeois parliament (the Constituent Assembly) and on the morrow of the Soviet revolution, in November 1917, took part in the elections to this Constituent Assembly, which they dispersed on January 5, 1918 – this did not hamper the Bolsheviks, but on the contrary, helped them.[2]

But no, “You cannot negotiate and at the same time make the sacrifices required by protracted war.” (PL, May 1969, p. 10) Evidently, the petty bourgeois revolutionists do not know the history of the fight against U.S. aggression in Korea, when fierce fighting and negotiations occurred simultaneously for years.

If one is going to assess the effect of a policy on people’s ideas and activities, it is necessary to make a class analysis here, too. The various classes will ultimately respond according to their objective position. Any illusions are propagated by the exploiting classes and will be destroyed in the course of conscious class struggles. Consider, for example, the nonaggression agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany in 1939. Britain and France had encouraged Germany to invade the Soviet Union by the Munich sellout and had refused a treaty with the Soviet Union to the last possible moment. By signing the agreement, the Soviet Union redirected Hitler against France, prevented a reactionary front of all the capitalist states against the Soviet Union, sowed antagonism between the fascist powers (Japan was furious), and won almost two more years to prepare for the inevitable attack.

What was the reaction by the various classes? The British and French imperialists saw their defeat and tried to stir up an anti-Soviet campaign among their populations. The class conscious workers stood strong. Those persons afflicted with the petty bourgeois mentality were the ones who could not comprehend the treaty. Why? Because the petty bourgeoisie is the least class conscious of all classes and so is less well-equipped to understand real world history and class struggle. These persons, of course, are a vacillating lot, reliable for no camp, and they were confused and inactive precisely because of their illusions. Insofar as they genuinely opposed fascism, they were won to this task during the Second World War.

It would have been a betrayal of communism to pander to the ignorance of the petty bourgeois and to sacrifice state power in the Soviet Union by following an incorrect policy to suit the temporary opinions of that class. Within the communist movement, it is precisely those who have least escaped the petty bourgeois mentality who support this idealist and anti-communist course of action. Communists should, of course, patiently and repeatedly explain things (agitation and propaganda)–but it is impossible to betray Marxism-Leninism “in order to explain it.” There comes a time, like World War Two, when the proletariat defends its gains by violence against reactionary violence. Preparations for these struggles are communism in deed, while infantile leftist, petty bourgeois complaints are pseudo-revolutionary slogans.

But who joined the imperialists in whipping up the prejudices of the petty bourgeois? The anti-Soviet “lefts” and Trotskyites. These anti-communists were the ones who detached the nonaggression agreement from the class character of the Soviet Union and told the masses to judge it on abstract principles.

Unlike Marxist-Leninists, the petty bourgeois revolutionists think that pure exercise of will can lead to even and complete world socialist revolution. That is why they say in one breath that “the war’s issue is to defeat U.S. imperialism and win socialism.”

And that is why they say that the great crime of the Vietminh in 1954 was not, perhaps, rather an error in assessing what could be done, but simply that:

By continuing the fight, they would have held down the U.S.–preventing troops from being used elsewhere. Their revolutionary war would have defeated the myth of U.S. invincibility, and aided revolutionary struggle all over. (Vietnam: People’s War or Negotiations?, PL pamphlet, spring 1970, p. 6)

The Viet Minh should have gritted their teeth and never changed their form of struggle–no matter what. Instead of studying what can be done and then doing it, the petty bourgeois revolutionists decide what they would like (1954 would be a nice year to destroy the myth of U.S. invincibility...in fact, U.S. imperialism itself) and then demand that it be done.

Finally, persistence in idealism leads to ignoring the real source of oppression of the U.S. working class, imperialism (monopoly capitalism) and to substituting instead the policy of the Vietnamese:

Any policy [of Hanoi] that leads to perpetuating the U.S. plan for Asia will lead to a bigger squeeze on workers at home.” (PL, June 1968, p. 12) From this it is only a step to slanders like: “The past few weeks of the negotiations have seen the central question of ’U.S. Get Out of Vietnam, Now’ obscured by ’Which City Shall We Give the Revolution Away In!’” (Ibid., p. 18) And then on to “the entire herd of slimy opportunists from Moscow to Hanoi to Washington.”

Idealism leads the petty bourgeois revolutionists to measure the developments in Vietnam not on their material reality, not on the actual relations between classes, but on the debating points that would be “given to” or “won by” imperialism. Idealism leads them to demand that the Vietnamese hand them a revolution in the U.S. Idealism permits them to attack the Vietnamese leadership for not doing this; they have so greatly lost any conception of fitting their own agitation to the concrete situation that they spread this poison among the U.S. working class.


How do the petty bourgeois revolutionists study tactics? They engage in tortuous analysis of debates among the leadership of the Vietnam Workers’ Party on the basis of bourgeois intelligence gossip. The May 1969 article “Anti-Revolutionary Axis” pretends to study the shift to the decision to negotiate. The documentation is drawn from fragments translated in a Hong Kong “China-watchers’” newsletter, whose articles on Vietnam are written by the CIA-connected analyst P. J. Honey. But that is not all. The admiration of the petty bourgeois revolutionists for Mr. Honey is so great that they took whole sections of his articles for their “communist” editorial in PL. Compare:

China News Analysis: “Truong Chinh elaborated on what should be done by the communist forces during each of the above three stages. At the beginning of the first stage communist forces must remain on the defensive, retreating when attacked by the enemy and attacking only when they enjoy local superiority.” (China News Analysis, P. J. Honey, Hong Kong, March 22, 1960, p. 2)

PL: “Truong Chinh, one of the leading theoreticians and the former First Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (sic) elaborated on what is to be done by the people’s forces in each of the three stages: At the beginning of the first stage the people’s forces are on the defensive, retreating when attacked and attacking only when they have local superiority.” (PL, May 1969, p. 5)

CNA: “All three of these highly placed leaders stated unequivocally that the balance of forces was unfavourable to the Viet Cong. All three stressed the need for further fighting before equilibrium could be achieved.” (p. 2)

PL: “In all of these three political documents there are unequivocal statements that the balance of forces is still unfavorable to the NLF. All stressed the need for further fighting before equilibrium (stage two) could be achieved.” (P. 6)

CNA: “A year later, in the summer of 1967, N. Vietnam’s army newspaper published a lengthy and detailed review of the war situation in S. Vietnam.” (p. 2)

PL: “A year later, in the summer of 1967, the north Vietnamese Army newspaper published a detailed review of the war situation in the south ...” (p. 6)

CNA: “The claim is a modest one since it does not allege that mastery over the battlefield has been attained, but simply that it has advanced one step....This is a far cry from the articles published by this same newspaper during the last three years of the French Indochina war. Then it was claimed that the third stage, that of the general counter-offensive, had been reached and communist forces were masters of the battlefield.” (p. 2)

PL: “There was no claim that mastery over the battlefield had been won, but simply that it had advanced one step. Note that in the last three years of the fight against the French this same newspaper explicitly claimed that the third stage had been reached and the people’s forces were masters of the battlefield.” (p. 6)

CNA: “Such was the state of things in the autumn of 1967 when, with neither warning nor explanation, the conduct of the communist forces changed. ...Massive ’human wave’ attacks were carried out....Main force units of the Viet Cong began to concentrate in the region of the border between North and South Vietnam and these were massively reinforced with five divisions of the N. Vietnamese army. A United States base at Khe Sanh was besieged by a vastly superior communist force in a fashion reminiscent of the siege of the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu. None of these developments was consistent with the waging of Vietnamese-style protracted revolutionary war at the stage of transition from stage 1 to stage 2, or even when stage 2 had already begun.” (p. 3)

PL: “In the autumn of 1967, Liberation soldiers adopted a new course of fighting. Extremely costly battles were fought against heavily reinforced enemy positions. Main force units of the NLF concentrated in the region of the border between north and south Vietnam, and they were massively reinforced with five divisions of the north Vietnamese army. The famous Dien Bien Phu-style seige (sic) at Khe Sanh was mounted. None of these developments was consistent with the traditional Vietnamese style of fighting a protracted war at the stage of transition from stage one to stage two, or even when stage two had already begun.” (p. 6)

CNA: “Local Viet Cong troops made up the bulk of the attackers during the [Tet] offensive against the towns and cities, with a ’cutting edge’ of N. Vietnamese regulars and special engineer and commando units. These men had been ordered to capture carefully selected public buildings within the cities and hold them. They were promised relief within 48 hours of their assault, but were confidently assured that many government soldiers and policemen would join them immediately following mutinies in both forces, and that there would be virtually no serious opposition. Popular uprisings would take place...” (P. 3)

PL: “Local NLF troops made up the bulk of the attackers, with a cutting edge of north Vietnamese regulars and special engineer and commando units. These men were ordered to capture carefully selected public buildings within the cities and hold them. They were promised relief within 58 hours of their assault, and were further assured that many puppet soldiers and policemen would join them immediately, following mutinies. Popular uprisings would take place.” (P. 7)

Etc., etc. See also CNA, December 13, 1968.

The petty bourgeois revolutionists bought and resold under the name of PL the analysis of the CIA. Of course, much of the analysis is full of misinformation and lies. It also betrays a lot of wishful thinking. The imperialists want to “psyche out” the Vietnamese leadership. They think that history is made by personalities instead of by the various classes. Furthermore, in the real world they are losing, so it is tempting to search for a combination of bargaining and bludgeoning that would make the Vietnamese leadership do what the imperialists want. So the CIA intelligence “theorists” study scraps of rumors about what Truong Chinh or Le Duan thinks, to the exclusion of study of the objective circumstances and the laws of history.

By copying this analysis the petty bourgeois revolutionists objectively serve imperialism, propagate poison among the working class, and neglect communist duties (getting out the truth about the fight of the Vietnamese people and its successes, directing their fire at imperialism and social-imperialism, and explaining the duties of the working class). They substitute idealism for materialism and abandon Marxism-Leninism.

Because of all this, the petty bourgeois revolutionists also lose the opportunity to influence struggles against bourgeois ideology among the Vietnamese liberation forces. Yet we observe. . .


There is an apparent paradox: the petty bourgeois revolutionists, of whom a deep hostility to Marxism-Leninism is characteristic, try to whip up the question of the Marxist-Leninist character of the Vietnam Workers’ Party into a big thing.

What are the errors of the Vietnamese communist leaders?

1. The Failure to Fight Revisionism–They ....hailed Soviet aggression in Czechoslovakia. They maintain fraternal relations with all the revisionist parties.

The truth is they haven’t repudiated Soviet revisionism because they don’t regard them as revisionists. They call the Soviet rulers Marxist-Leninists and the Soviet Union socialist.” (PL, November 1969, p. 13)

Here the petty bourgeois revolutionists reveal more about themselves than anything else. Once again, they are using one problem–class leadership of national liberation struggles, working class or bourgeois–in order to put forward their own wrong and pro-imperialist position on another issue: their refusal to support a struggle for its contribution to weakening U.S. imperialism.

The timing gives away the game. The Vietnamese struggle against U.S. aggression has been particularly strong since 1965. Yet the essential class character of the Vietnam Workers’ Party was revealed when the international communist movement was sorted out into Marxists and revisionists. This occurred (in public) during the years 1963-64. From 1965 until negotiations loomed, the Progressive Labor Party correctly performed its communist duties and worked toward unity of the U.S. working class and the Vietnamese peasantry. But when the newly-entered petty bourgeois revolutionists could not work in the face of negotiations as a fact of life, they suddenly raised as a question of great import and mass propaganda the Marxist-Leninist character of the Vietnam Workers’ Party.

Furthermore, they did so without more than an allusion to the great debate between Marxist-Leninists and modern revisionists in 1963-64.

Overall the question of the Marxist-Leninist character of the VWP is mixed in with the very issues about negotiations garbled by the petty bourgeois revolutionists. The first of the errors of the VWP was quoted above. Here is the complete list:

“1. The Failure to Fight Revisionism...” “2. The Failure to Play an Independent Vanguard Role in the Liberation Struggle...” “3. Abandonment of People’s War–They have chosen to negotiate with imperialism instead. ..

Not once have the petty bourgeois revolutionists seen fit to re-examine and summarize the position taken by the VWP in the debate between Marxism-Leninism and modern revisionism. For, what would be the point of such a task? Would it be to condemn the VWP for “centrism” as a cover for revisionism? This would be an absurd act. It would completely misunderstand the position of the Vietnamese in the revolutionary movement. The history of the international communist movement gives us two important examples of centrism. One–Trotsky, from the decline of the 1905 Revolution to his notorious August Bloc of 1912 and on; two–Kautsky during World War One. Both were efforts to assume a commanding position by pretending to mediate between two extremes. Trotsky was a careerist; Kautsky led the Second International to its collapse. Now, do the Vietnamese try to assume the leadership of the communist movement? Do they put forward any theoretical position with serious claims to be a “third,” independent line? Are their works taken any more seriously than, say, those of the Romanians as fundamental theoretical contributions? Of course, the answer is no.

If a similar situation from history is needed, then it should reflect the essential fact about the Vietnamese struggle: a colonial country, largely peasant, is fighting against imperialism. For a parallel, let the petty bourgeois revolutionists remember that the Bolsheviks allied in the October Revolution with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (the peasant party of Russia) at the same time they were fighting Menshevik counterrevolution.


The petty bourgeois revolutionists lack a long-term view of the development of the world revolution. In this context they responded to the beginning of talks in Paris with great pessimism. Unable to see farther ahead, they saw everything, especially “their own” revolution in the U.S., being lost in the talks. From great optimism based on sharpening contradictions in the U.S., they swung over to despair and a feeling of having been betrayed!

There are many dangers stemming from lack of the long-term view. Besides inability to formulate correct policy, inability to preserve and expand revolutionary forces through the turns of events, and even inability to remain in the communist movement for any length of time, another danger that should be mentioned is this: lack of a long-term view of revolution leads to reformism. It can appear as a policy of staking everything on making a success of a mass reform struggle and sacrificing organization to spontaneity.

Confidence in the victory of the proletarian revolution and the abolition of classes must, of course, be based in materialism. There is no shortcut to it; according to the materialist theory of knowledge, it must be based on a deep theoretical comprehension of the laws of motion of society.

Hostility to learning Marxism-Leninism also leads the petty bourgeois revolutionists to oscillating correction of errors. Their souring on the issue of Vietnam was bound up with the reversal of their line on nationalism. At one time holding a nationalist point of view on the struggle of black workers in the U.S. and misconceiving a distinction between revolutionary and reactionary nationalism, the petty bourgeois revolutionists swung to an anti-national line. In the context of Vietnam, this became an anti-peasant line, although the original question concerned black workers–wage and salary earners–in the U.S. In the “correction” of an error, the petty bourgeois revolutionists did not deepen their theoretical understanding; hence, they only oscillated to a new form of error. Hostile to Marxism, they do not sum up experience and make studies to learn about the objective world. Rather, they think they can proceed from former practice directly to new practice; they do not go the full course of the cycle from former practice to deeper theory, which reflects not merely their practice but also the greater range of objective conditions, and then return to new practice.


[1] China reported that the Soviet Union sent a mere fraction of the supplies for which it reserved space on Chinese trains, and the arms were often outmoded and even unusable. And anyone could see that the Soviet Union let the U.S. invade DRV air space.

[2] V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1965), p. 91.