Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bitter Fruit of Revisionism: Indochina Armed Clashes

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First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 15, December 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Over three years after the U.S. imperialists and their war machine were driven out of Indochina, the area is still plagued by bloodshed and open warfare.

For over thirty years the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia (now Democratic Kampuchea) and Laos fought side by side against the French and then the U.S. imperialists. Their victories were not only a tremendous material blow against the imperialists, they were an inspiration to people everywhere struggling for their liberation. They showed that national liberation struggles of oppressed people in colonial or semi-colonial countries, through the political mobilization of the masses, self-reliance and armed struggle could paralyze and defeat the military might of one of the two imperialist superpowers.

But today former allies who stood shoulder to shoulder against imperialism and colonialism are hurling charges against each other and are locked in bitter and bloody war. The hostilities between Vietnam and Kampuchea have disheartened millions of people throughout the world who stood with the people of Indochina in their heroic and successful struggle for liberation. And the armed clashes between Vietnam and China which have intensified in recent months are a cause of disappointment and disgust to many.

The U.S. imperialists, of course, have reported these developments with great glee, seizing the opportunity to spread disillusionment and cynicism, claiming that it is not capitalism but human nature that leads to continual conflict and warfare and that socialism promotes this even more than capitalism.

Bourgeois Nationalism

In 1963, then revolutionary China laid out the principle that is key for understanding today’s events in Indochina. “If communists slide down the path of opportunism, they will degenerate into bourgeois nationalists and become appendages of the imperialists and the reactionary bourgeoisie.” (from the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement.”)

What is going on in Indochina is not caused by socialism or human nature. The problem is still imperialism–and not just its distant legacy. The conflicts between Vietnam and China and between Cambodia and Vietnam are characterized by the bourgeois nationalism and ambitions of both China and Vietnam to be the “great power” in the region and occur in the context of superpower contention between the U.S. and the USSR. While both China and Vietnam strut around prattling Marxist words and preening their own revolutionary credentials, the fact is that both have slid down the well-worn path of opportunism and are operating not on the basis of proletarian internationalism, but reactionary nationalism and have; to one degree or another, become appendages of U.S. and Soviet imperialism respectively.

Vietnam has embarked on a course that has led it increasingly into the clutches of Soviet economic and political domination. In May Vietnam became a full member of COMECON (Council of Mutual Economic Aid), the Soviet tool for the economic domination of the so-called communist countries of Eastern Europe and Mongolia, to which Cuba was also recently added. Then on November 3, the Soviets and Vietnamese signed a 25 year treaty of “friendship and cooperation.”

In return for a Vietnamese committment to serve as the Soviet Union’s pointman in Southeast Asia, the Soviets have promised economic and technical aid. The heart of the treaty is a mutual self-defense clause which states that “in case one of the parties becomes the object of attack or threats of attack, to begin mutual consultation immediately for the purpose of removing that threat and taking appropriate effective measures to insure the peace and security of their countries.”

The current Chinese leadership, for its part, is consciously downplaying or dismissing the aggressive and reactionary nature of the U.S. imperialists, promoting and attempting to strengthen the alliances of the U.S. bloc and encouraging the masses of people to unite with their own exploiters–all in the name of aiming the “main blow” at the “main danger,” the Soviet Union. For Vietnam an independent Kampuchea opposed to Soviet revisionism is an obstacle to their hopes of dominating Indochina and securing it for the Soviet bloc. China is seeking to use the Cambodia-Vietnam conflict to increase its influence in the region and damage Vietnam.

History of the Vietnam-Cambodia Conflict

The U.S. imperialists had barely pulled out their last troops when fighting erupted between Vietnam and Kampuchea in 1975 over islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Kampuchea demanded that Vietnam recognize the land and sea boundaries that were drawn between the two countries during the period of French colonial rule, boundaries which actually resulted in the loss of considerable traditionally Kampuchean territory.

Vietnam recognized these borders in 1967, but now says that, at least in part, they must be open to “negotiations.” Relations continued to deteriorate until the summer of 1977 when open fighting again broke out along Kampuchea’s eastern border and Vietnam invaded Kampuchean territory. Fighting flared again at the end of 1977 and again in the spring of 1978.

The inability of the better armed and larger Vietnamese forces to defeat the Kampucheans caused considerable recriminations and shake up in the Vietnamese military command. In September Vietnam massed larger forces and, operating on an even wider front, managed to temporarily grab sections of Kampuchean territory. On November 7 the government of Democratic Kampuchea issued an official statement denouncing the use of poisonous gas on the battlefield by Vietnam.

But the substance of the conflict goes far beyond the question of borders. Vietnam aims to topple the leadership of the government and the Communist Party of Kampuchea and remove them as an obstacle to its plans to dominate Indochina. Kampuchea has accused Vietnam of trying to resurrect the old idea of an Indochina Federation, which it would control. Vietnam has hotly denied this, but its actions have shown that in essence, if not in words, this is precisely what it is aiming for. If the Vietnamese military thrusts into Kampuchea, and even its very raising of the issue of borders, were not planned to drive to Phnom Penh and overthrow the Kampuchean government by force, they are clearly intended to destabilize the country and weaken the leadership of the Kampuchean Communist Party.

In response to a question by the Guardian newspaper whether Vietnam thought that “the border conflicts with Kampuchea.. . can be resolved without a change in the leadership in Phnom Penh,” Xuan Thuy, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party piously responded: “in my opinion this question is related to Kampuchean internal affairs in which we do not intervene.” The falseness of this statement is itself revealing as to what the Vietnamese leadership is up to. In fact, Vietnam has massed, organized, trained and armed deserters from the Khmer Rouge and other dissidents and opponents of the Kampuchean government and party who have fled into Vietnam. These people have been sent back into Kampuchea in an effort to foment a civil war. Meanwhile, Vietnam radio broadcasts openly call on the Khmer people to overthrow their government.

Vietnam has protested loudly that it wants to negotiate a settlement with Kampuchea. But this has the ring of a ruse, to which the Kampucheans have rightly asked, “what is there to negotiate about?” as long as Vietnam is intent on violating its borders and bringing down the leadership of their party and government. These are not negotiable issues.

Hysterical Charges

The Vietnamese have also joined the U.S. and the Soviets in a frenzied verbal attack on Kampuchea. They have all mouthed common charges of a massive bloodbath and concentration camp conditions in the country. And what are the source of these tales of mass executions and forced labor? Former officers of the Lon Nol regime, landlords, petty capitalists, and to some extent peasants who hope to get a good deal from the Vietnamese or the U.S. imperialists and their agents for saying the right things.

These “bloodbath” charges are common fare from the U.S. imperialists, they always raise them against revolutionary struggles, and did so against Vietnam, in fact. If it seems surprising to hear the same charges now coming from Vietnam (and the Soviets) against Kampuchea, it only underscores the fact that, though for different reasons, they all have a common interests in bringing down the government and party leadership of that country.

The Soviets and Vietnam certainly do not want an independent, anti-Soviet revisionist Kampuchea in Indochina. The U.S. imperialists would much prefer a “more moderate and reasonable” government, i.e. one that saw the benefits of strengthened U.S. presence in the area.

This is a view certainly shared by the Chinese revisionists, and lends credibility to the widely circulated reports that they are bringing considerable pressure on the Kampucheans along the same lines. It is not surprising, of course, that Teng Hsiao-ping and company would be uptight at the suppression of counter-revolutionaries in Kampuchea, since they are busily at work rehabilitating counter-revolutionaries, capitalist roaders and reactionaries of all stripes in China itself.

The Revolutionary Communist Party believes that the line and policies of the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea must be studied further. Specifically, how are the stringent measures Kampuchea has adopted, such as the abolition of money, the rapid communalization of agriculture and various aspects of social life, etc., viewed by the Kampuchean leadership in relation to longer term reconstruction and the building of socialism? But these questions must be looked at not from the viewpoint of bourgeois hysteria, but from the basis of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought.

Further, communists have always upheld the right and necessity of suppressing and even executing counter-revolutionary elements who owe a blood debt to the masses. The same goes for stripping away the rights or jailing those reactionaries who have fought against the liberation of the masses or who try to sabotage the building of a socialist state–while trying to remould them through hard labor and reeducation.

Vietnam’s Repudiation of Marxism

Unfortunately, Vietnam cannot be expected to approach its relations with Kampuchea from the outlook of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and proletarian internationalism, since its embrace of Soviet revisionism is a reflection of its rejection of Marxism-Leninism. The Vietnamese have been especially clear in their denunciation of Mao Tsetung and his great contributions and enrichment of the science of Marxism-Leninism in regard to the class straggle in the transition period between capitalism and communism and the continuation of the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In a report in the Manchester Guardian Hoang Tung, Central Committee member and editor of the Vietnamese party newspaper Nhan Dan stated: “After 1967-68 and the Cultural Revolution we no longer looked on the Chinese leaders who succeeded one another... as socialists… The Chinese Communist Party was destroyed along with the dictatorship of the proletariat. And 1966 marked the beginning of the decay of socialism.. .Those who fought against Mao after 1966 were in general the best of the lot.” And in an interview with the Guardian newspaper referred to earlier, Xuan Thuy made the following statement: “Vietnam does not support China’s ’great cultural revolution.’ We don’t consider it a revolution in the cultural field, but rather a camouflage which China uses to cover up the purge and mutual massacres carried on by various sects within the Chinese leadership.”

The practical outgrowth of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s slide into the swamp of revisionism and opportunism has shown itself in numerous ways besides its attack on Kampuchea. In September, for example, Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong took a swing through the five countries composing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. His goal was to get a Vietnamese shoe (and a Soviet foot) into the door of this alliance of U.S. dominated reactionary governments.

Up until recently Vietnam has been unsparing in its denunciations of ASEAN, but the Soviets seem to have got them straight that an important characteristic of superpower contention is the effort of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to make advances into and weaken each others’ bloc. To prove that closer alliance with Vietnam/USSR would have benefits for these reactionary regimes, Pham Van Dong shamelessly emphasized that Vietnam would not support the communist-led liberation struggles in these countries, and in Malaysia he even went so far as to lay a wreath on the national monument honoring “heroes” killed while fighting liberation forces.

In his efforts to woo ASEAN, however, Pham Van Dong is in stiff competition with Teng Hsiao-ping, who himself began a tour of several of these countries in November in an effort to cement closer ties with China and to keep them firmly in the U.S. bloc.

Teng and his revisionist cohorts in China certainly can find a great deal of unity and agreement with the Vietnamese leadership around their evaluation of Mao Tsetung and the Cultural Revolution–and with the Soviets, too, for that matter. And their common revisionist and reactionary nationalist outlooks lead to other similarities as well. While the Vietnamese cuddle up to the Soviets, the Chinese capitalists argue that the people and nations of the world must subordinate themselves to one imperialist superpower, the U.S., in order to ward off the other.

The international line of the bourgeois nationalists, or more accurately the comprador bourgeoisie, in China is nothing but the logical extension of a general revisionist line and Teng Hsiao-ping’s determination to modernize China by attracting foreign monopoly capitalists to contribute money and equipment while China in exchange will supply them natural resources and labor power–thus throwing the doors wide open for the imperialists to plunder China’s natural resources and bleed its people. These capitulationist schemes are an open invitation to the imperialists to dump their surplus goods, export capital and carve up China.

For the U.S. imperialists the capitulationist international line of the Chinese revisionists is also a welcomed opportunity to re-establish a grip in Indochina and the rest of Southeast Asia that was weakened by its humiliating military defeat in the war.

But the bourgeois nationalist and capitulationist line of both China and Vietnam, and their different objective situations also give rise to rival and competing interests and some differences in policy. While Vietnam, for example, is quite willing to tell liberation forces in Southeast Asia to take a hike, China has been very careful not to publicly announce withdrawal of support for these liberation movements and has made a great deal of its support for Kampuchea. But China has demonstrated in Zaire, Iran and other places that to whom it gives or does not give its support has nothing to do with the class interests of the international proletariat. It has to do with protecting the interests of China’s new comprador bourgeoisie, including for now at least, blocking Soviet moves.

Although the U.S. imperialists are rubbing their hands at the advantages in superpower contention offered by their new alliance with China (some are even referring to China as one of the most reliable, if unofficial, members of NATO), the USSR has by no means abandoned the possibility of forcing the Chinese into its camp. The pressure of a million Soviet troops on China’s border and of Vietnam, now a base area and operative for the Soviets on China’s southeastern flank are certainly calculated to have this effect. And with the revisionists and capitulationists now riding high in China, this possibility cannot by any means be ruled out.

The war that Vietnam has instigated against Kampuchea and the armed hostilities between Vietnam and China are proof once again that capitalism, imperialism, breeds war. They represent setbacks the proletariat has suffered in China and in Vietnam. They expose the reality that such wars of aggression to further reactionary nationalist aims will not be eradicated until imperialism itself is eliminated once and for all.