MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 4

NLF Program: Fetter on Victory

—from Spartacist supplement, May 1968

Written: 1968
Source: Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam, A Spartacist Pamphlet  (Chapter I)
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2007. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.

The National Liberation Front’s extremely successful military offensive during Tet, together with the siege at the American outpost at Khesanh, brought them very near to total military victory over the U.S. imperialists and their Saigon puppets. This makes Hanoi’s decision to agree to negotiations at this particular time especially disheartening, for the lifting of the siege shows a willingness to throw away the long-thwarted victory in the Vietnamese people’s fight for independence and social reconstruction.

Hanoi’s willingness now to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is nothing short of a betrayal of the people of Viet Nam and of all socialist principles. It calculatedly ignores the lessons of the Geneva sellout of 1954, where China and the USSR pressured the victorious Viet Minh to accept partition in exchange for promises of free elections and a peaceful national reconstruction. As a result of the “compromise,” South Viet Nam became an imperialist outpost again. By sabotaging the NLF offensive, Hanoi’s Stalinists are merely accommodating the U.S. need for a power base from which to negotiate.

For just as it was possible for world capitalism to make a deal before in Indochina, it is reasonable for them to assume it will be possible again. An examination of the nature of the anti-imperialist struggle in South Vietnam, its program and its leaders, is vitally necessary for the left at this time, especially because it has been virtually ignored.

The NLF and its Program

There has been an understandable but nevertheless unfortunate tendency on the part of the American left to idealize Ho Chi Minh and the leadership of the NLF, and for radicals to turn their correct demands for military victory against imperialism and its puppets into uncritical political support for these leaders and their politics. This is a grave error, for not only do these would-be revolutionaries not understand the deformities of those they support—and are extremely likely to feel personally betrayed when the inevitable occurs—but are likely to carry over the Stalinist hallmarks of class-collaboration and murderous opportunism into the American revolutionary movement. It is vitally necessary to keep in mind that Ho Chi Minh and his co-thinkers have already sold out the Vietnamese revolution twice before. They stand ready, able and about to do the same thing again in 1968. And if they do, another, perhaps even more brutal and protracted, war in Vietnam will automatically be put on the docket.

Although the present anti-imperialist struggle in Vietnam had its origin in spontaneous uprisings under nationalists against Ngo Diem, then American puppet-in-residence, it soon came under the control and direction of the remnants of the Stalinist cadre left from the Viet Minh. Even so, their influence was not sufficient to squelch the embryonic civil war. The leaders had little control over the matter; had they pulled out they would have lost influence altogether. Today there is no question that the “communist” People’s Revolutionary Party, allied politically with Ho’s Lao Dong in the North, holds political leadership in the NLF.

Yet despite the fact that the NLF leadership is officially communist, the program under whose banner it fights is nothing of the sort. The new, revised and heavily publicized program (Guardian, 21 July 1967), agreed upon early last September at a convention of the top NLF leadership, is totally inadequate to implement or even project the changes needed internally in South Vietnam in order to wrest it from imperialist control. Among other things, the program affords protection for private trade and industry, the private ownership of land, the seizure and distribution of the land of absentee landlords (other land is to be bought up gradually, presumably when the money is available—hardly the massive “land reform” program everyone knows is vitally and integrally necessary), protection of the interests of foreign plantation owners and others, respect for land tenure of Buddhists and other religions, a liberal economy with state support in its vital sectors and the acceptance of economic aid from any countries, East or West, provided there are no strings attached. These are the more “radical” sections of the document!

It is quite evident that this program cannot be considered a “transitional” one (a bridge between capitalism and capitalism?) insofar as, far from laying the groundwork for the liquidation of a capitalist class structure even eventually, it only calls for the establishment of a “neutral” capitalism, independent of any sector of world finance capitalism. Why it should require a communist-directed government in order to lead a capitalist state is not explained, nor is there any explanation of how a weak, neutralist capitalist state can remain independent, let alone compete with the giant imperialist complexes. Presumably this is not seen as a real problem, although the failure to cite models or economic and historical precedents should raise some obvious questions. But fantastic as this may seem, it is only the start.

Perhaps the problem ought to be viewed from a different angle. The U.S. government has given indications recently it wants to begin some sort of peace talks, which would presumably lead to the subject of negotiations. Now since it is unreasonable to assume that the U.S. plans simply to negotiate its own withdrawal—which it could carry out unilaterally, in any case—obviously the subjects for negotiation can only be the structure and nature of a coalition government. But a coalition between “socialist” and capitalist forces is by its very nature contradictory and highly unstable and therefore by definition only an interim government. One side would have to win out and smash its opposite number.

Such a coalition is analogous to the Kerensky interim Russian government of 1917, which contained both capitalist and nominally “socialist” members. But the real role of the socialist ministers there, as in this case, was to function as a “left cover” for the capitalist elements, to lull the workers while the rightists prepared a counterrevolution. In this instance for the NLF, no matter what the nominal political affiliation of its leadership, to participate in such a coalition would be an outright betrayal of the struggle. With a program which does not lead to socialism but to a rarefied capitalism, with no projection of a government in the interests of the workers and peasants, without even the forms of Soviets to carry on the fight for socialism—and without a revolutionary vanguard to intervene and take power before the government slips back into the hands of the counterrevolution—entering such a coalition would simply be to take willing steps to one’s own liquidation.

The Vietnamese people need a massive land reform and the liquidation of all extensive holdings—impossible demands within the limits of the new NLF program. The reunification of the country is a vital necessity, along with the integration of the Southern economy with the North. Soviet democracy is vitally needed in order to lay the groundwork for becoming a workers state. Instead, they are offered a program to maintain private property and capitalist relations indefinitely.

Limitations on Stalinist Maneuvers

The Vietnamese people have now been fighting for 27 years, and a by-product of this destruction has been the uprooting of a large part of the infrastructure of native capitalist relations. Nor is there adequate capital available for rebuilding. Much indigenous cash will be moving to the Riviera with its owners and will be unavailable to any reconstruction government. And the situation is too unstable and fluid to attract much aid from the affluent imperialist powers.

Even more: the struggle has apparently found roots among the city workers as well as the peasantry. There have been a number of large strikes within the city of Saigon itself, and recent arrests of supposedly “safe” labor leaders by the Ky government have caused some embarrassment in AFL-CIO circles here. Given the government and social conditions in Saigon today, such strikes cannot but take a distinctly political turn. If as a result the workers were to become fully politically conscious it is inconceivable they would be willing to accept the dominance of any capitalist government, no matter how benign or “neutral.”

On Balance

So as a result what we have is this: given its political ancestry and recent history, both the Ho Chi Minh and NLF leaderships are quite capable of doing their best to derail the Vietnamese revolution again, as they did in 1946 and again in 1954. This almost certainly will be the end result if the NLF decides actually to enter a coalition government, or makes similar deals for the semblance of power. This would mean accepting shadows in the place of substance, and those for only a very short while. Ultimately, it would mean putting off—again—until later the basic struggle for socialism.

At the very best, what can be achieved under the present leadership in South Vietnam is a deeply flawed and partial social transformation in the direction of a workers state. But even this would mean the tacit discarding of the formal NLF program, for no social progress in this direction is possible with it as the operative guideline. The PRP in the South, like the Lao Dong in the North, unquestionably holds absolute control over the NLF at present, and there is no other agency for social revolution in Vietnam.

On balance, and assuming the critical point that the Yankees and their agents leave, it is likely that the NLF will simply bypass its program and will then set out to make a limited, distorted and bureaucratic revolution from the top. The capitalists should be able to put up very little resistance; the bourgeois state is visibly crumbling. Still, for all its advances, there should be no illusions about this: the workers and the peasants will have not a smell of political power in the South any more than they now have in the North. In short, the best that can come out of such a unified Vietnam is but another deformed workers state.

But if anything can betray the Vietnamese revolution—limited and deformed as it will be—the NLF leadership and its program are just the tools to do it.