Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Kampuchea issue to be addressed at lawyers meeting

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 7, February 19, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On February 15, the national annual convention of the National Lawyers Guild will convene in San Francisco. The theme of this meeting, which is expected to draw some 1,000 participants, will be “Attacks From the Right on Women and Gays.”

The convention will elect the new national officers of the NLG and will debate program resolutions and political issues, among the most controversial of which is the current war between the Kampuchean people and the Vietnamese invaders. An active member of the National Lawyers Guild has submitted this article on the events in the Guild regarding the Vietnam-Kampuchea war.

The National Lawyers Guild is coming to an important crossroads as it holds its 35th annual convention. Some forces working within the Guild are trying to push this organization of lawyers, law students and legal workers into supporting the Soviet-backed aggression against Democratic Kampuchea now being launched by Vietnam.

The 5,000 Guild members could well be placed in the situation of having to work in an organization that supports aggression by one country against another, and one that places its stamp of approval, either directly or tacitly, on a direct attack on a socialist country.

On the eve of the recent invasion, a Guild delegation visited Vietnam and met with leaders of that country, including Premier Pham Van Dong. Then, upon its return, without any internal discussion or democratic backing from the membership, some delegation members publicly endorsed Vietnam’s entire program, including its war against Kampuchea and its provocations against the People’s Republic of China.

NLG Vice-President John Quigley, for example, released a statement on the delegation’s behalf which echoes the Soviet-Vietnamese slanders against Kampuchea and China, claiming that Vietnam’s ability to “rapidly develop socialism” was being hindered by its need for “vigilance against external enemies.”

The statement, which went on to praise the great “revolutionary” qualities of present-day Vietnam, was quite naturally broadly distributed by Vietnam’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Any possible confusion about the intentions behind these actions was quickly cleared up when one of the delegation members, Phyllis Bennis, appeared on Los Angeles radio station KPFK on January 7. Introduced as Regional Vice-President of the Lawyers’ Guild, and as a member of the recently-returned delegation, Bennis proceeded to give all-out support to the Vietnamese invasion and to spread lies and distortions about Democratic Kampuchea and China.

Never in the course of the 45-minute interview did she point out that the Lawyers Guild itself had taken no position on the matter. Instead, the implication was that these views she expressed were those of the NLG. Among the highlights of Bennis’ slanders were the following:

– The Pol Pot government has perpetrated “incredible repression and brutality” on the people of Kampuchea, and she received “descriptions of barbarism reminiscent really only of Nazi Germany.”
– The National United Front for National Salvation (which is the Soviet-Vietnamese puppet front) is a “popularly supported, legitimate united front.”
– One of the main reasons for the existence of the “boat people” fleeing Vietnam is that many of them are Chinese, who, Bennis said, are either “medium and, large capitalists” or are fleeing because of “the propaganda campaign” from China.


In a signed article in the latest issue of the NLG’s Guild Notes, all Internal difficulties of the Vietnamese are attributed to “the problems with Kampuchea and China,” Stating that the Vietnamese “fear the possibility of an invasion by China,” the article waxes eloquent about Vietnam’s determination to “protect their independence and freedom, whatever the cost.” No other view on the relations between Vietnam, Kampuchea, and China was either solicited or published, despite the general NLG policy of presenting divergent points of view on controversial issues.

All, this shows that a well-orchestrated campaign is taking place within the Guild, based on deceit and misinformation usually found in the establishment press, to make it an apologist for war and aggression. In response to this campaign, many Guild members are asking questions:

If this is a “civil war” in which the actual fighting is done by the so-called National United Front, then-as the north Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun asked in condemning the Vietnamese invasion “How can it mobilize in such a short period (only 22 days after its formation) vast quantities of military equipment, including so many planes, tanks and artillery pieces and regular armed forces of more than 10 divisions?”

If the Pol Pot government is such a “barbaric” regime with no popular support among the people, then how is it that visitors of differing political persuasions and from many countries – including the U.S. (reporters from the Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Sweden, Belgium, Korea, Algeria, Yugoslavia, Romania and Japan – stated that they saw no evidence of “genocide” or other atrocities, and that the Pol Pot government appeared to have mobilized the Kampuchean people in massive and enthusiastic efforts? And why is it that the latest press reports indicate intensification of the fighting, and that the patriotic forces led by Pol Pot appear to control the bulk of the countryside?

Finally, is it really credible that tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam left their homes of decades or even generations, abandoned their possessions, and fled the country because of a few pages of alleged “propaganda” from China? Could such a thing occur in a genuine socialist country which truly had a policy of national unity and equality?

The Lawyers Guild, since its earliest years, has been active politically against fascism and imperialism. Particularly in the 1960s, the Guild increasingly gave its support to revolutionary struggles against U.S. imperialism around the world, especially those of Cuba and Vietnam. Many Guild members have deep feelings of comradely affection for the people of Vietnam and Cuba from those experiences.


But the defeat of the U .S, in Indochina and the rapid rise of the Soviet Union as an aggressive world power has made the international situation, more complex than in the 1960s.

Forces like the pro-Soviet Communist Party U.S.A. seek to take advantage of this situation. Finding it difficult to openly promote the USSR, they try to use the Guild’s stand against the U.S. and in support of the Cuban and Vietnamese people to sow confusion and build support for Soviet expansionism.

For example, they are trying to bring Cuban and Vietnamese spokesmen to Guild meetings, where they can take advantage of such an emotional situation to prevent people from voicing criticism of aggression. If the apologists for aggression are able to use the Guild in order to carry out public relations work for the invaders, this would fly in the face of the Guild’s progressive history of supporting third world movements for liberation and independence.

Recently many members with different viewpoints have spoken out against the use of the Guild’s name in support of the aggression against Kampuchea. Also recently a majority of the New York chapter’s executive committee declined to invite any Vietnamese spokesmen to be guests at their annual dinner because of the situation in Indochina. Many members have insisted that any discussion of the situation at the upcoming national convention must include a presentation by someone who opposes the invasion.

It is too soon to tell whether or not the Vietnamese will be given the opportunity to address the whole convention. There are plans to push the membership into endorsing a “U.S.-Vietnam People’s Friendship Association.” On the other side, forces are debating whether to propose a statement against the Soviet-backed Vietnamese invasion by name or by implication as was done by the UN Security Council.

In any case, debate and controversy on the international situation and the question of Soviet social- imperialism will continue to grow. Clearly many NLG members will not accept turning the organization into an open supporter of aggression, whether it is carried out under the Soviet, Vietnamese or U.S. flags.