Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

What went wrong with Viet Nam?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 2, No. 6, March 23-April 5, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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After the heroic victories of Viet Nam, Laos and Kampuchea (Cambodia) over U.S. imperialism in 1975, the newly liberated countries of Asia were about to embark on the path of national reconstruction and progress. But things turned out very differently. Viet Nam, backed by the Soviet Union, launched a campaign of aggression and expansion in Southeast Asia, and the warfare and unrest there has continued.

In the past months, the Vietnamese authorities overran and occupied Kampuchea. They cut off aid to Thai and Malaysian communists. They unleashed wholesale persecution of Chinese living in Viet Nam, forcing 200,000 Chinese to leave the country. They escalated border attacks against China, forcing China to counter-attack in self-defense. Viet Nam still has 50,000 troops occupying Laos. All this has been done with full backing and encouragement from the Soviet Union.

Throughout Southeast Asia, Viet Nam is now seen as a threat to national independence and freedom, and as an accomplice of Soviet social-imperialism. Viet Nam is no longer the shining example of national liberation that it once was.

Today’s events have made many people ask, how could Viet Nam, with such a revolutionary history, now invade other countries? What went wrong with Viet Nam?

Roots of regional hegemonism

Viet Nam’s actions today are largely motivated by a long-held expansionist dream of certain leading Vietnamese authorities. They want to establish an Indochina Federation, with Laos and Kampuchea under their own control. These elements were never Marxists, but national chauvinists.

The Vietnamese Communist Party was originally founded in 1930 as the Indochina Communist Party. The Vietnamese leadership prevented the formation of independent parties in Laos and Kampuchea. There was a long struggle over this policy of national chauvinism. Laotian and Kampuchean communists correctly pointed out that “Indochina” was a creation of French colonialism. Laos, Kampuchea and Viet Nam were distinct nations, requiring their own liberation movements.

In 1951, the Vietnamese authorities were forced to recognize this view. Communist parties were formed in Laos and Kampuchea, and the Vietnamese called themselves the Viet Nam Workers Party. But they never really repudiated their national chauvinist views. Leading Vietnamese elements continued to refer to the Viet Nam Workers Party and the previous Indochina Communist Party interchangeably.

Viet Nam party leaders continued to pursue their goal of ruling all of Indochina, even during the war of resistance to U.S. imperialism. A Vietnamese Army major named Tran Van Thuong was captured spying in Kampuchean waters in 1978. He later described a training course he had attended in 1972 at the Political and Military School of the Party in Hanoi. The Malaya News Service quoted him as saying:

“The instructor, Colonel Thoi, explained that the three countries – Laos, Kampuchea, and Viet Nam – are brothers within a sole ’Federation of Indochina.’ Viet Nam is powerful and is the communist country right after the Soviet Union. After the war in Indochina, we should be the eldest brother of Indochina. . . . Everywhere in these countries of the ’Federation,’ we must have Vietnamese cadres in military, political, and economic fields.” (emphasis added – ed.)

Following the defeat of the U.S., the Vietnamese authorities became more bold in pushing their Federation schemes. In a 1976 pamphlet, The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Hanoi states, “In this way, the three nations, which have been attached to one another in the struggle for national liberation, will be forever attached to one another in the building and defense of their respective countries, for the sake of their respective independence and prosperity. ...” (emphasis added)

Policy towards the Soviet Union

Leading authorities in Hanoi always viewed People’s China as a threat even though China politically and materially supported the Vietnamese war efforts. China even offered its vast country as a rear guard area for the Vietnamese people’s struggle. China gave Viet Nam billions of dollars in aid, with no strings attached.

During the liberation war, the Vietnamese leadership followed a policy of taking support from both the Soviet Union and China. This policy in itself was not wrong. However, whenever aid is accepted from an imperialist power like the Soviet Union, vigilance is necessary.

At the same time, the Viet Nam Workers Party did not participate in the great struggle in the international communist movement against modern revisionism during the 1960’s. This proved to be a serious mistake. It helped enable revisionist elements in the Vietnamese leadership to betray their country, and enabled the Soviet social-imperialists to penetrate Viet Nam to subvert its revolution.

Following the defeat of the U.S. imperialists, the Vietnamese party revised its policy towards the Soviet Union and China. This was explained in 1976 by Hoang Tung, a member of the Central Committee of the Viet Nam Communist Party and editor of the party’s daily newspaper:

“During the Vietnamese war it was vital for Viet Nam that both China and the U.S.S.R. helped north Viet Nam to the full. Today it is no longer so vital for the country to follow that policy. The rapprochement with the U.S.S.R. plays a very important role for Viet Nam today. There is a tangibly strong Soviet interest coinciding with Vietnamese interests – to reduce Chinese influence in this part of the world. We begin more and more to lean towards the Soviet Union.”

In order to implement this policy, shifts had to be made in party leadership. At the 4th Party Congress in 1976, 14 permanent and 24 alternate members of the party national leadership were removed. Leading communists during the war of resistance were purged, such as Truong Chinh, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. Many other leading revolutionaries were demoted. Little has been heard from many prominent leaders of the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) such as Madame Binh, the PRCs chief negotiator at the Paris peace talks.

Militarization makes shambles of economy

Following liberation, the Vietnamese authorities did not turn their attention to rebuilding the war-torn country and to the needs of the people. Instead, they poured everything into expanding Viet Nam’s military capabilities.

Viet Nam’s armed forces are already among the biggest in the entire world, for it has literally tons of sophisticated equipment left behind by the U.S. The Vietnamese Air Force, for example, is the fourth largest in the world. The Vietnamese army is 50% larger today than it was in 1975. This incredible expansion was possible only through massive Soviet support and at the expense of the Vietnamese people.

Agricultural output has dropped noticeably, with the 1978 level of production 15% below that of 1977. In the past, Vie Nam was the world’s number two exporter of rice; now it must import rice. Rice rations have steadily declined since 1975. Today it is only two pounds a month per person.

In the south, industry is running at 40% of capacity. Inflation is 80-100% annually, and unemployment in Ho Chi Mini City (formerly Saigon) is 20%.

In order to maintain a militarized country and to hold down the people’s resistance to the widespread poverty, the authorities have also unleashed severe repression. They have especially singled out national minorities in Viet Nam, including the Chinese and Khmer people and dozens of others.

Alignment with Soviets

Today, Viet Nam stands clearly with the Soviet imperialists. They are tied economically, politically, and militarily. In 1978, Viet Nam became the first non-European country to join COMECON – he Soviet-dominated economic bloc. Last November. Viet Nam signed a so-called “Treaty of Friendship and Peace” with the Soviets, which in essence is a military pact. The Vietnamese authorities are preparing to turn over the huge ex-U.S. naval base at Cam Ranh Bay to the Soviets. The Vietnamese government’s views on the international situation are identical to the Soviets’.

The Vietnamese and Soviets have forged a close alliance to mutually serve each other’s ambitions – Viet Nam’s ambition to rule Southeast Asia, and the Soviet Union’s ambition to rule the whole world.

Tragic lesson

What happened to Viet Nam is truly tragic and reveals the treachery of Soviet social-imperialism. Moscow used similar tactics in Viet Nam to those it used in subverting the Cuban revolution. It posed as “socialist” and claimed to be the “natural ally” of the national liberation struggles. It offered massive amounts of aid, but with a thousand and one strings attached. With the cooperation of the Vietnamese authorities, Moscow undermined the heroic anti-imperialist struggle of the Vietnamese people and turned Viet Nam into an instrument of Soviet imperialism.

It is important to learn from Viet Nam, to be vigilant against old and new forms of imperialism and to take a firm stand against revisionism.

The Vietnamese people have lived for too long under imperialist domination. They have no interest in serving the Soviet Union or taking over Laos, Kampuchea, Thailand or Malaysia. The Vietnamese authorities and their Soviet backers are already faced with growing discontent among the Vietnamese people, as well as increasing international isolation. The betrayal will one day be reversed.