Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Should we speak out on Hanoi’s atrocities?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 28, July 16, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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When Joan Baez spoke out on Vietnam last month, her protest against violations of human rights in that country was bound to provoke considerable controversy.

The press of the revisionist CPUSA has especially indulged itself in the fray, labeling Baez’s protest “vile betrayal,” “sinister,” “abominable slander” and even “the mark of Judas.”

They, along with the Trotskyists and a few others, have lined up to denounce the signers of the Baez letter by demagogically appealing to guilt feelings over U.S. imperialism’s role in Vietnam. They say that from now on, no matter what atrocities the Soviet-backed government in Hanoi commits against its own people or neighboring countries, we should support them.

For more than a year, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing Vietnam, with tens of thousands drowning at sea. Vietnam has cynically turned Laos into its colony and has carried out hundreds of raids against China. Over 100,000 Vietnamese troops are being used to occupy Kampuchea, overthrow its socialist government and carry out a war of extermination against Kampuchean patriots.

The Guardian newspaper also ignored these facts in its June 6 editorial joining the revisionist attack on Baez. The signers of the Baez letter, it said, were “doing imperialism’s work” and “helping to pave the way for the next Vietnam.”

This last accusation is especially ironic. The Guardian should be reminded that there is no need to “pave the way for the next Vietnam.” The “next Vietnam” is already underway. It is being fought in the countryside of Kampuchea, and genuine internationalism demands that we develop solidarity with the Kampuchean people.

This cannot be done without exposing the reactionary role today of the Vietnamese authorities. The refugee question, repression in Vietnam and Vietnam’s aggression against other countries—these are all linked together. They have a common root in Vietnam’s decision to solve its problems by taking on the role and the spoils of regional hegemonist. In turn, the price Vietnam pays is to become an “outpost” in the Soviet Union’s scheme for world hegemony.

The Baez letter took up this task, in its own limited way. It didn’t reflect a socialist or Marxist view, nor did it pretend to (as some of her critics have done).

Many of Baez’ critics have attacked her for relying on a disreputable source for her information. But, as she has pointed out, there is not one source, but a myriad of sources.

For our part, The Call has sent journalists to Kampuchea and China’s border areas with Vietnam. We have interviewed refugees ourselves, including workers, peasants, small shopkeepers and party cadres who had fought against the U.S. and stood for socialism in Vietnam. But they had committed the “crime” of having Chinese ancestors or marrying someone of Chinese descent. All their belongings, however paltry, were seized and they were told to get out or starve in prison camps.

We are convinced that these accounts are true and typical of many others. This is why we are unswayed by criticism of Baez’s sources.

There is additional evidence. Nearly 1 million people had fled Vietnam, including 200,000 from the North where capitalist property was confiscated long ago. These people, in large part minorities, endured years of war and U.S. bombing. It is ridiculous to believe the Vietnamese claim that the bulk of these people fled because of not wanting to work or that they were spooked like sheep by “Chinese agents” spreading “war rumors.” In fact the only reasonable explanation is the one most commonly given by the refugees themselves: they are the victims of a chauvinist pogrom designed to “purify” Vietnam of “enemy nationalities,” diverting attention away from the government’s own internal problems.

Once the emotionally-charged rhetoric of the revisionists is cast aside, the flimsiness of their case begins to come to light. This is evident in a criticism of Baez appearing in the July 11 Guardian by attorney William Kunstler.

“I do not believe that the existence or nonexistence of violations of human rights in Vietnam is relevant to this discussion,” he argues. “I could not, not for the life of me, understand why Vietnam had been singled out over, for instance, West Germany and the U.S., and finally, that I would never join in a public denunciation of a socialist country.”

Kunstler’s defense is basically an admission that Vietnam is guilty and he suggests, is perhaps even comparable in its anti-people policies to Iran under the Shah and the racist regime in South Africa. But as long as Vietnam is carrying out its persecution of minorities, its aggression against socialist Kampuchea and its trade in refugees under a “socialist” label, you have to keep your mouth shut.

The July 6 Daily World was uncomfortable with Kunstler’s “defense of socialism,” describing it as “complicated” and “far less than adequate.” The reason for the evasiveness? Revisionist leader Victor Perlo has already stooped to the same level of defense in the June 13 Daily World, saying that any criticism of Vietnam is “chauvinism” and “racism.”

Even the revisionists cannot come up with any real defense for the outright racist and chauvinist policies of the Hanoi leadership and so must resort to this phony demagogy.

The real chauvinism would be not speaking out, for the real victims of Vietnam’s policies are the Kampucheans, Laotians and Vietnamese themselves, including Vietnam’s minorities. Now they have not only the legacy of U.S. imperialist genocide to deal with, but also a new slaughter instigated by Soviet social-imperialism and its partners in Hanoi.