Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Soviet Union Stirs Trouble

Vietnam Out to Overthrow Cambodian Gov’t.

ACC Cover

First Published: The Worker, Vol. 1, No. 7, December 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Eight years ago, Vietnamese and Cambodian guerrillas battled side by side against Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Today the two nations are looking at each other through gunsights. Hanoi claims that rebel Cambodian troops are staging an uprising in areas near the Vietnamese border. Cambodia (Kampuchea) counters that the “rebels” are Vietnamese and that Vietnamese agents are trying to overthrow the government in its capitol, Phnom Penh.

Who’s telling the truth? Are the two former allies now battling each other to see which one will lord over South East Asia?

There is one other piece needed to solve this puzzle – the Soviet Union. Ever since the total defeat of the U.S. in 1975, the Soviets have been maneuvering to bring Indochina into their sphere of control. This once-socialist, now-capitalist country has gained significant influence in the government of Vietnam. They are using this influence to fan border differences between the Vietnamese and the Kampuchean people.

The Soviet Union, which never supported the Cambodian revolution, is especially eager to discredit and defeat its leaders now that they are building socialism. They want to break the independence of Democratic Kampuchea in order to strengthen a pro-Soviet southern flank in their strategy of encircling China. They want to become the dominant power in all of Asia.


Even when both countries were in combat with U.S. imperialism, serious differences existed. In 1967 peasants in Western Cambodia, almost unarmed, rebelled against their government. Cambodian communists faced a choice: join the rebellion of the people or unite with the government, which gave aid and sanctuaries to the Vietnamese National Liberation Front.

They joined the rebellion, over the objections of the Vietnamese who said once South Vietnam was liberated Cambodia would follow anyway. This was the start of the people’s war to liberate Cambodia. Because of this correct decision, when the U.S. sponsored Lon Nol’s coup in Cambodia in 1970, the Communist Party of Kampuchea and its armed forces were able to continue providing sanctuary and supplies to the Vietnamese fighters. And in 1975, the Cambodian people were liberated from the U.S. and its puppet Lon Nol through their own efforts.

After the war ended and the two countries no longer faced a common enemy, relations deteriorated rapidly. For example, the Cambodians requested the Vietnamese leave their former sanctuaries along the Ho Chi minh Trail down through Eastern Cambodia; the Vietnamese stalled and stalled.

In fact, Vietnam’s plan was to establish an indochinese federation in which a newly reunited Vietnam would play big brother to Laos and Cambodia. To this day there are as many Vietnamese troops based in Laos as there are in the Laotian Army (30,000). The government of Democratic Kampuchea wanted no part of such a federation.


Last year, things went from bad to worse. Twice in the last 12 months the Vietnamese Army, one of the five largest ground forces in the world, drove up to 40 miles into Kampuchea, before being stopped at considerable cost. Their goal was not the seizure of territory, but triggering the collapse of the Kampuchean government. Cambodian forces responded by striking into Vietnam as a warning.

The U.S. press reports this as a border war, but both sides agree the question at stake is the overthrow of the Kampuchean government. The main Vietnamese tactic now is sponsoring, arming, and leading “uprisings” by Cambodian renegades, some of whom are longtime residents of Vietnam. This “revolution” is supposed to succeed where outright invasion failed in bringing to power a Cambodian government subservient to Vietnam.


Soviet influence in Vietnam grew as the devastated country accepted postwar economic aid and advice from Russia, and with it the Russian model for economic development. It stresses building up heavy industry as more important than building a strong political and economic base in socialist agriculture. The path of relying on the alliance of the workers and peasants as the bulwark of a revolutionary system was pioneered and proven by the Chinese.

Vietnam’s reliance on Soviet aid began to cement the country into the Russian bloc. Recently they joined Comecon, the Soviet Union’s economic association based on the Eastern European satellite states. The Vietnamese plan for building the country requires $3 billion in foreign aid over the next six years.

At the same time the Vietnamese increasingly adopted the Soviet international line. They became very anti-China, provoking the recent border incidents, and expelling thousands of ethnic Chinese from the northern part of the country and calling China “the main threat to world peace.”

It’s hard to say what political struggle over these policies has gone on in the Vietnamese Workers Party. It is known that a substantial section of its leadership has been purged in the last two years.

During all this the Cambodian people have also faced a choice about how to re-build their war torn country. The majority of the population had been forced by U.S. bombers into the capitol city of Phnom Penh, where they survived on U.S. food aid to dictator Lon Nol. To avoid mass starvation and build up the countryside after Lon Nol was overthrown, the Cambodian government had to disperse 3 million people from the capitol back to the fields and villages. The people built agricultural cooperatives and made ambitious plans for restoring dikes, reservoirs and farmlands. They have succeeded in substantially raising the per capita rate of food consumption and even have enough to begin to export rice. In building socialism as in fighting for liberation, the Kampuchean people rely on their own efforts.


This period of decentralization and revolutionary change brought all sorts of baseless charges of atrocities and slanders against the Kampuchean struggle. The Soviet Union and Vietnam have joined the chorus of those in the U.S. who paint Cambodia as one vast blood bath, a revolution-crazed handful decreeing death and dictatorship everywhere.

Newsweek’s Asian edition, for example, printed atrocity photos that the Washington Post, a Newsweek subsidiary, had retracted as forged several months earlier.

It is possible there were excesses in Kampuchea – and Vietnam as well. When people overthrow a system that has oppressed them for centuries, things aren’t like a debutante ball. But overall, there can be no question that the stability, independence, and socialist democracy of Kampuchea are tremendous advances.

Kampuchea is a solid force for peace and independence in a part of the world that is greedily coveted by the Soviet superpower. It has received recognition and support from both nations and revolutionary movements in Asia for this reason. China for a long time took a neutral stand on the dispute, even after Vietnam’s first incursions into Kampuchea. As late as a year ago, Chinese aid to Vietnam was 50% higher than that to Democratic Kampuchea.

When its attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement broke up on the rocks of Vietnam’s continued aggression, China stepped up aid and support to Cambodia. In addition, China has taken a militant stand in its border flare-up with Vietnam, applying pressure to keep the Vietnamese from concentrating all their forces on Kampuchea.

The Vietnam-Kampuchea conflict shows clearly how the poisonous role of the superpowers, first the U.S., now the Soviet Union, in Southeast Asia has fueled wars and caused great suffering among the people.