First Published: Progressive Worker Vol. 5, No. 2, December 1968
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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For almost two years the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) in New York, which lays claim to a Marxist-Leninist heritage, has been concentrating an attack on alleged traitors in Hanoi and South Vietnam. This slanderous assault on heroic Vietnam reached a new low in the November, 1968, issue of Challenge one of the several journals published by PLP. Challenge in that issue carried a malicious article from two big business newspapers, the Los Angles Times and the Washington Post, which essayed a criticism of an alleged betrayal by Hanoi of the anti-imperialist war in Vietnam. Evidently Rosen and his colleagues in PLP consider the capitalist press in the United States to be an authoritative and dependable critic of what constitutes correct tactics and policy in the struggle for national liberation and socialism. Judging by other material published by PLP the leaders of that party must consider the New York Times to be a rich source of correct and authentic information and advice on how to conduct the anti-imperialist struggle.
In the early spring of 1967, when Rosen first began to speculate on betrayal in Vietnam, we here in Canada attempted to initiate a discussion on the question on the correct attitude to adopt in relation to the war in Vietnam. However, the national committee of PLP did not even acknowledge receiving our communications on the subject. It seems that Rosen and company are not going to permit their decisions to be questioned or criticized by anyone. By turning the sharp edge of the struggle away from imperialism ’ and in the direction of an “betrayal” in Vietnam PLP is rendering a service to the U.S. aggressor. In furtherance of this objective the PLP leaders do not hesitate to resort to falsehood. For example, it is a deliberate lie to state that Hanoi has abandoned the correct demand that the U. S. aggressor must get out of Vietnam when all the most recent statements (published last month in PW) have sharply reiterated that demand. It is also a deliberate lie to claim that Hanoi was prepared to enter “negotiations” without the NLF. Such lies can only be of service to the imperialist aggressor.
The Tet offensive in Vietnam was acclaimed around the world as a brilliant and heroic effort on the part of the Vietnamese people. But it was accorded a much different reception in the New York offices of PLP. Editorializing in PL Milt Rosen described the magnificent offensive against imperialist aggression as just another move in the conspiratorial game of power politics. Here is how the PL editorial phrased it:
...Battlefield action by the NLF, while still successful and daring, seems designed more to influence the negotiations than to pursue a protracted People’s War. Only People’s War is capable of driving the U.S. out of Vietnam, Looking back, the Tet offensive itself, as spectacular as it was, may been aimed more at forcing negotiations than pursuing the strategy of Peoples’ War. (PL Oct, 1968, page 5}
We must draw our readers attention to the fact that the Tet offensive was a joint effort of the NLF and the Alliance of National, Democratic and Peace Forces. Thus PLP views the Tet offensive and similar heroic battles as just a gigantic conspiracy of Hanoi, the NLF, the Alliance, Moscow and the U. S. aggressors, designed to betray the people of Vietnam and prepare war on China. That kind of so-called “analytical conclusion” is more likely to be arrived at as the result of smoking opium than from a political analysis of the situation.
What is the reality of the world situation today?
The reality of todays world is the all-embracing presence of U.S. imperialists aggression menacing the life and liberty of people everywhere. That aggression is most evident in Vietnam now, as it has been for some 14 years, and especially for the past 4 years during which the U. S. imperialists have daily intensified their genocidal war against the people of Vietnam. Napalm, poisonous gases, chemicals, and every other weapon of modern warfare short of nuclear weapons, have been used against a peaceful and hard working people whose only crime has been a love of liberty and a burning desire for national independence. The armies of U. S. imperialism and its puppets stand poised and ready around the world to drown in blood any attempt by people any where to liberate themselves from bondage.
That is the reality of todays world!
Confronted with that reality what is the main task of revolutionaries everywhere?
The primary task of revolutionaries, and especially of revolutionaries in the United States and North America generally, is to strive for the broadest possible unity of all anti-war and anti-imperialist forces for the purpose of harassing the imperialist aggressors and impeding their war. Anyone claiming to be a revolutionary must be judged first of all on the contribution they make to this primary task. How do the activities of PLP measure up, in the light of this understanding?
Over the period of the two years, PLP has been pursuing their present divisive policy they have approached every major demonstration and anti-war struggle with a message of alleged “betrayal” in Vietnam. Standing on the periphery of the struggle rather than in the midst of it, they hurl jibes and insults at the Vietnamese leaders and at the participants, making “betrayal” and revisionism in Moscow the issue rather than aiming their blows at the enemy within reach – the U.S. aggressors. As an example of their position we have the following from a recent issue of Challenge:
By abandoning their correct position of U.S. Get Out of Vietnam Now, the North Vietnamese are simply reduced to haggling over the terms of their surrender. All their efforts are tailored to ’what kind of a deal can we get at Paris?’
... What is being negotiated is not the liberation of the Vietnamese people, but the terms whereby they are to remain enslaved to the U. S. exploiters. (Nov 1968, page 24)
This is no mere expression of a difference of opinion over a tactic expressed in a comradely way. It is a direct accusation of treachery aimed at those who have led the bitter struggle in Vietnam for many years. Further more, on the basis of the known record it is a deliberate lie. Can this making of an alleged and unproven “betrayal” rather than imperialism the main issue be considered in the nature of a sincere effort to unite the people against imperialist aggression? Does it rather not confuse and demoralize the movement, turn attention away from the fundamental fact of U, S. aggression, thus rendering a signal service to imperialism?
The task of the Vietnamese is to unite the nation for struggle against imperialism and to expel the U. S. aggressor from the territory of Vietnam. In this regard the Vietnamese people, for many years now, have been honourably and heroically discharging their responsibility. They are still discharging that responsibility by all means which appear to them to be correct and acceptable.
It is also the particular and immediate task of PLP to struggle for the unity of the people of the United States in anti-imperialist struggle. This is not just a question of solidarity and support for Vietnam, but is linked directly to the struggle for the liberation of the people of the United States from the yoke of capitalist exploitation. It can scarcely be claimed that the PLP critics of Vietnam are discharging their responsibilities as honourably and heroically as the Vietnamese.
At the great Chicago demonstration organized in protest against the convention of the Democratic Party war-makers, the sole contribution of PLP was the distribution of 30,000 circulars quoting the New York Times and I.F. Stone as reliable witnesses to the preparation of “betrayal” in Vietnam and also putting a damper on all such demonstrations. One passage barely stopped short of labelling antiwar demonstrations as an exercise in futility.
... despite the enormous parades and protests that have so far characterized the movement, the government is unmoved and the war is growing. (Chicago circular)
The circular did speak of the need for clarity and a program in general terms but offered no concrete leadership or guidance in this respect unless a final passage can be considered to be for this purpose. The circular says:
Unless there is a revolutionary movement whose goal is clearly state power for the working class (dictatorship of the proletariat); unless that goal is consciously understood and always kept in the forefront in all planning, we cannot win. (Chicago circular)
As an objective for Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries this clearly and correctly states the case. But presented as a program to the diverse anti-war elements mobilized at Chicago it is diversive and destructive to the building of a broad people’s anti-imperialist front.
Talk, as they say, is cheap. Action comes a little dearer. When faced with the opportunity for practical action PLP is not quite so fast on the draw.
During a warehouse strike in the San Francisco Bay area last year a caucus led by PLP members made a loud noise about a “bureaucratic sell-out” for a contract five cents per hour below the minimum demanded by the members. (The “sell-out” did not, in fact, take place). Completely ignored by the caucus and the PLP was a guarantee issued by these same union bureaucrats that shipments to Vietnam would not be held up due to the strike. A possible “nickel sell-out”, it seems, is more important than a demonstration of support for Vietnam – also much safer to fight about.
By pushing to the forefront of the struggle the question of revisionist treachery in Moscow, (and there is lots of treachery in Moscow) and also by giving priority to accusations of betrayal in Vietnam PLP is able to SOUND very revolutionary while actually engaging in activities that are essentially counter-revolutionary in that they take the heat and pressure off the U. S. imperialist aggressors.
Of course, when one is living in New York it is much safer and more comfortable to attack Moscow and Hanoi than to attack the closer, more immediate and primary enemy, U.S. imperialism. The plain fact is, no matter what happens in Moscow or Hanoi our number one task is to step up the struggle against U.S. imperialist aggression and not against some enemy remote from us and our immediate reach. Moscow’s influence in North America is neglible and rapidly approaching the minus zero. But U.S. imperialist aggression is very real and close at hand. Revisionist ideology in its North American form will be taken care of in the struggle against imperialism, not by endless, even though correct, condemnation of Moscow’s perfidious role in international affairs. When PLP aims its blows at Moscow and Hanoi they are only seeking to avoid coming to grips with real problem – U.S. imperialist aggression. Certainly it is necessary to expose Moscow’s treachery but it is incorrect to substitute the struggle against Soviet revisionism for the fight against U.S. imperialism as PLP does.
In line with their self-appointed role of mentors of the world revolutionary movement the national leaders of PLP have been guilty of gross interference in Canadian affairs. Some months ago we publicly protested PLP’s support for the policy of the U.S. union bureaucracy negotiating wages and working conditions for Canadian workers, the negotiations being conducted with U. S, companies on U.S. territory. To date the PLP national committee has failed to answer our protest and given every indication of proceeding with this wrong policy.
Still another flagrant interference in our affairs is the way in which PLP directs and subsidizes the activities of certain of their members temporarily residing in Canada for the purpose of importing into Canada their counter-revolutionary line on Vietnam and the anti-imperialist struggle. We strongly protest this type of “left-wing imperialism” and demand the PLP cease and desist forthwith. We have no intention of serving as a colonial appendage to the PLP national committee in New York.