MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 4
Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam
by John Sharpe
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.
[Editors’ Note: This article is little more than a sketch of the history of Vietnamese Trotskyism. Only a brief account of the movement and sporadic issues of its newspapers are available to us at this time. Nevertheless, the facts that are known serve to underline doubly the historic importance of the struggle for the Marxist program of permanent revolution, the struggle to resolve what Leon Trotsky referred to as the “crisis of revolutionary leadership.” The price of Stalinist betrayals is measured not only by their deliberate murder of hundreds of Trotskyist militants in the aftermath of the September 1945 insurrection (which the latter helped lead and the former helped defeat), but also by the subsequent deaths of more than two million Vietnamese workers and peasants in their heroic battle against French and U.S. imperialism. Most of these could have been avoided if the Stalinists, and in the first instance Ho Chi Minh, had not been able to sell out the struggle at crucial periods with their policies of appeasement of the bourgeoisie.]
As was the case throughout the world, the Trotskyist movement in Vietnam was forged in the struggle against the errors and betrayals of the Stalinists. However, unlike most other areas, the Vietnamese supporters of the Fourth International succeeded in achieving a mass base during the late 1930’s. In fact, both of the competing groups claiming to be Trotskyist were publishing daily newspapers before or just after World War II.
Nevertheless, both groups, the centrist La Lutte group led by Ta Thu Thau, and the more leftist International Communist League (the October group) led by Ho Huu Thuong, were paralyzed by French repression and ultimately decapitated by the Stalinists. These defeats were in part the result of certain erroneous policies, notably a tendency toward perpetual united fronts with the Stalinists and a failure to draw a sharp line against popular fronts. We honor the memory of these martyrs and their determined battle against French colonialism and against reformism in the workers movement, but we must also learn from their mistakes.
Formation of the Indochinese Communist Party
The history of the Vietnamese Stalinist movement is inseparably bound up with the life of Nguyen Ai Quoc (later known as Ho Chi Minh), its founder and principal leader.
He emerged as one of the leaders of the Communist International in the Far East after his journey to Moscow in 1923 as the delegate of the French CP to the “Peasant International” and his participation in the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, where he delivered a report on the colonial question. An important factor in his development was the fact that he became involved in the Comintern only after it had already begun to degenerate seriously under the Stalin-Zinoviev leadership. The “Peasant International,” for example, was one of Zinoviev’s more dubious maneuvers, designed to seduce populist peasant leaders such as the Croatian Radič into support for Russia. Not only was it a phantom organization from the beginning, but it was necessarily based on Stalin’s policies of the “democratic dictatorship of the peasantry and proletariat.” For Marxists, who seek to organize the workers’ international, there could be no question of building a peasants’ international, that is, of organizing another class.
Nguyen Ai Quoc also participated in the “Intercolonial Union,” which included several left bourgeois nationalists from the Middle East, hardly a model of communist organization. Thus it is not surprising that when he reached Canton in 1925 as an associate of Borodin (chief Comintern representative in China at the time) he set up not a communist party, but instead a socialist-oriented nationalist grouping, the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association (Viet Nam Cach Menh Thanh Nien Hoi, or Thanh Nien for short).
This was the kind of “Marxism” which Nguyen Ai Quoc learned from Stalin, who at the time was instructing the Chinese Communist Party to liquidate itself into Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, turning over membership lists and even arms to these “anti-imperialists.” Shortly after Stalin made him an honorary member of the Communist International, Chiang turned on his Communist allies and butchered thousands of militant workers in Shanghai in April 1927.
Despite this graphic object lesson in the consequences of opportunist policies (as a result of which he had to leave first Canton and then later Hankow also), Nguyen Ai Quoc refused to learn. Thus for the first several years the Thanh Nien concentrated on consummating a fusion (which never came off) with the strictly bourgeois Revolutionary Party of New Vietnam (the Tan Viet). At the first congress of the Thanh Nien in May 1929, his supporters on the presiding committee obstinately opposed the formation of an explicitly communist party. A minority, small (3 out of 17 delegates) but influential (it was the entire delegation from the interior), walked out of the congress and set up the Indochinese Communist Party (Don Duong Cong San Dang), sharply condemning the Thanh Nien leadership as petty-bourgeois nationalists.
The new party experienced immediate success, appearing to the masses as the more revolutionary of the two, so in August the Thanh Nien switched gears and set up the Vietnamese Communist Party (Annam Cong San Dang). This was in part the result of Stalin’s “left turn” internationally (the so-called “Third Period”), as the Comintern had refused membership to the Thanh Nien, called for the formation of a unified CP and criticized the program of the Nguyen Ai Quoc faction. The unified party, also called the Indochinese Communist Party, was formed in October 1930 and affiliated to the Third International the following April.
The first Communist efforts were directed at spearheading a desperate peasants’ revolt centering on central Vietnam during 1930-31. In the Annamese provinces of Ha Tinh and Nghe-An the ICP broke up the large estates and set up peasant “Soviets” on the order of the border-region Soviets set up by Mao in southeastern China during the period 1927-29. Like the latter, however, they were brutally liquidated by the government forces.
In contrast to its adventuristic policies in the countryside, the CP tactics in the cities were restricted to “democratic” demands and “peaceful” demonstrations, thus leaving the masses unprepared for the bloody repression by the French colonial regime. Mercenary soldiers machine-gunned the defenseless masses, as the Foreign Legion terrorized the Annam peasant districts which had risen in revolt. The repression cost the lives of some 10,000 workers and peasants, with another 50,000 deported to the prisons at Poulo Condor. In June 1931 the Central Committee of the ICP was arrested in Saigon.
Formation of the Trotskyist Groups
It was in these circumstance that the two principal groups claiming to support Trotskyism were formed, the Nhom Thang Muoi (October) group and the La Lutte (Struggle) group. The International Communist League, usually called the October group after the name of its newspaper, Thang Muoi, was led by Ho Huu Thuong and founded in 1931. Due to the fact that it was illegal to publish left newspapers in Vietnamese, this group led a clandestine existence from 1931 to 1936 when the popular front led to a slight liberalization. It went over to a weekly legal French paper, Le Militant, in 1937, which, however, was prosecuted and then banned. They reverted to a semi-legal paper before beginning publication of what was probably the first daily Trotskyist paper in the world (Gerry Healy, please note), the Tia Sang (Spark), in 1939. Due to its clandestine existence, its more leftist positions and the fact that its material was published mainly in Vietnamese, little is known about Ho Huu Thuong’s group. What is known is that it opposed the united front between the Stalinists and the Thau group which lasted from 1933 to 1937.
The other group was centered around the person of Ta Thu Thau, a student returned from Paris who had been active in the Left Opposition in France. Its leadership had been arrested in August 1932 during the White Terror and tried in May 1933. However, some of the comrades were liberated in early 1933 and formed a united front with the Stalinists in Saigon led by Tran Van Giau in order to present working-class candidates in the May 1933 elections to the Saigon city council. Their official joint newspaper was called La Lutte (Struggle).
The coalition had an enormous electoral success. On the first ballot (of two rounds, as in France), the candidate of La Lutte with the least votes still received more votes than the leading bourgeois candidate. On the second ballot, two working-class candidates were elected, the Stalinist Nguyen Van Tao and the Trotskyist Tran Van Trach. The coalition continued its existence and joint newspaper until 1937. The united front was limited to the legal activities, while the illegal organizations of both groups operated separately.
It is unclear whether this united front was simply a no-contest pact, or involved joint propaganda around a lowest common denominator program [see Letter]. If it were the latter, this would certainly represent an opportunist retreat from one of the basic principles of Leninism, the need for the independent organization of the vanguard. A common program obliterates the line between Bolshevism and centrism. In any case, by its very nature, a joint newspaper and an ongoing united front could only lead to political confusion in the minds of the masses and the cadre themselves. Why was there a division between Trotskyists and Stalinists if the two could work together for years, the workers would ask? Moreover, for a period at the beginning of the French popular front, the Stalinists monopolized the newspaper and thereby effectively suppressed the objections to this class-collaboration by the Ta Thu Thau group.
The Thang Muoi group of Ho Huu Thuong, however, was opposed to any collaboration with the Stalinists and restricted itself to underground work in this period. To oppose limited joint actions directed against the bourgeoisie and the colonial regime, for instance common demonstrations or in certain circumstances a no-contest agreement in elections, is to attempt to raise a Chinese wall between the revolutionaries and the workers in reformist or centrist organizations and to weaken the proletariat in its battle against the common class enemy. The united front tactic is a permissible “compromise” where it is possible to draw a class line. But things were quite different during the popular front.
The Popular Front
With the formation of the Radical-Socialist-Communist popular front in 1935, the Stalinists made a sharp turn to the right, forming their own Indochinese popular front. They allied themselves not only with the Vietnamese section of the SFIO (Socialists), but with bourgeois nationalists such as Nguyen Pham Long and Bui Quang Chien, whom the joint Stalinist-Trotskyist La Lutte had bitterly denounced a few years earlier. Not content to form an alliance with the “progressive” comprador bourgeoisie, the ICP went even further and, according to the Stalinist historian Le Thanh Khoi, “broadened” the popular front to include monarchist parties!
Under Stalinist editorship, La Lutte greeted the appointment of the socialist Maurius Moutet as Colonial Minister of the popular front Blum government. A few short weeks after this welcome, Moutet telegraphed officials in Saigon (September 1936): “You will maintain public order by all legitimate and legal means, even by the prosecution of those who attempt to make trouble if this should prove necessary.... French order must reign in Indochina as elsewhere.” The Stalinist members of the Saigon city council went so far as to actually vote for military special taxes for “French national defense”! Clearly, such taxes could only be used directly against the Vietnamese peasants and workers, as indeed they were soon afterwards.
As the French historian Devillers put it, “in these conditions the break with the Trotskyists became inevitable.” By allowing Tran Van Giau and the Stalinists control of the paper, the Ta Thu Thau group was able to continue the united front through the April 1937 elections, in which one Trotskyist (Thau) and two Stalinists (Nguyen Van Tao and Duong Bach Mai) were elected to Saigon city council on the joint ticket.
But in June 1937, the Trotskyists around Thau took editorial control of La Lutte, which assumed a distinctly different posture, fomenting strikes and mass protests, along with Le Militant, the legal paper of the Ho Huu Thuong group.
Thau launched the new line with an editorial entitled “The Popular Front of Treason,” which got him two years in jail as a reward from the authorities.
—from “Action Program,” LA LUTTE, No. 213, 14 April 1939
1. Fight against war preparations, break the blockade which is strangling the Chinese revolution and favoring Japanese imperialism through mass action, through boycotting Japanese merchandise.
2. For direct action to force promulgation of social legislation in Indochina: a 40-hour law, collective bargaining, control over hiring and firing, sliding scale of wages.
3. Against the fascists, form action committees in factories, the civil service and the army to throw out fascist personnel and have them fired.
4. Against the Stalinists who preach “voluntary” submission! Popularize the slogan: “Unconditional National Independence.”
5. Build real alliances of workers, peasants and the middle classes in action committees, in factories, in neighborhoods, among peasants and soldiers to prepare for the workers and peasants government, to expropriate the capitalists and feudalists and to assure the well-being, peace and freedom for all workers—in factories, offices, fields, commerce and the army.
Down with the Fascists, Capitalists and Feudalists!
Down with the Stalinist Leaders, Lackeys of Imperialism!
Long Live a May 1st Dedicated to Class Struggle!
Long Live the Fourth International!
During this time the Stalinists were concentrating their efforts on building an alliance with bourgeois constitutionalists, the “lndochinese Congress.” Breaking out of the limited electoral campaigns (the eligible voters included only about 40,000 or roughly 1% of the adult population), the Trotskyists. in contrast, utilized the limited freedoms introduced by the Blum government to push mass agitation in strike movements, campaigns against the repression and in favor of the right to unionization, the bête noir of the colonialists. The Trotskyists also set up “action committees” of labor and peasant organizations, as did the Stalinists. Due to their success, especially in the Saigon area, these committees were rapidly banned and brutally repressed by the French governor. In the rural areas, La Lutte initiated agitation around the demand of “Land to the Poor Peasants,” a clear class program as opposed to the “broad national union” being pushed by the Stalinists.
In the 1939 elections to the Colonial Council of Cochin China, the La Lutte group capitalized on this agitational work and managed to win a resounding victory, with more than 80% of the votes going to their candidates. The masses, faced with the choice between support for French colonialism by the Stalinists and a credible Trotskyist opposition fighting on a working-class program, overwhelmingly chose the latter. In consequence, shortly thereafter, the Indochinese Communist Party in Cochin China (southern Vietnam) split, the official party being headed by Duong Bach Mai and the dissidents regrouping around Nguyen Van Tao.
from Ho Chi Minh, “The Party’s Line in the Period of the Democratic Front,” July 1939
1. For the time being, the Party cannot put forth too high a demand (national independence, parliament, etc.). To do so is to enter the Japanese fascists’ scheme. It should only claim for democratic rights....
2. To reach this goal, the Party must strive to organize a broad Democratic National Front. This Front does not embrace only Indochinese people but also progressive French residing in Indochina, not only toiling people but also the national bourgeoisie.
3. The Party must assume a wise, flexible attitude with the bourgeoisie, strive to draw it into the Front, win over the elements that can be won over and neutralize those which can be neutralized. We must by all means avoid leaving them outside the Front, lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy of the revolution and increase the strength of the reactionaries.
4. There cannot be any alliance with or any concession to the Trotskyite group. We must do everything possible to lay bare their faces as henchmen of the fascists and annihilate them politically....
The polemics between the two competing groups supporting the Fourth International became increasingly sharp during this period. The Ta Thu Thau group, the official section of the FI, accused the Ho Huu Thuong group of “inventing” its opposition to the united front with the Stalinists years after it was first formed, which is almost certainly not true [see Corrections]. However, Thau also condemned them for advocating a joint La Lutte and Stalinist ticket in the 1939 elections. At a time when the ICP was openly backing French imperialism and participating in a popular front (the Indochinese Congress), support for their ticket, however critical, was certainly a serious error. These were the same “communists” who were voting for “defense taxes” in the Saigon municipal council while the government was using the money to ship in tanks for use against Vietnamese workers and peasants.
On the other hand, while the Thang Muoi group did not score the electoral successes of La Lutte, it did manage to bring out its newspaper for some years in Vietnamese before the latter attempted this step and managed to put out a daily newspaper (Tia Sang, or Spark) during 1939.
While both groups made important errors during this period, and La Lutte appears to have had an overall moderate approach of a centrist character, both vigorously opposed French colonialism and stood sharply contrasted to the Stalinists during the crucial period. Their attraction of a mass base is a tribute to the Trotskyist politics of permanent revolution, even in a muted form.
However, the bourgeoisie regained the upper hand and from October 1939 to January 1940 managed to wipe out the entire legal organizations of both the Communist Party and the Trotskyists. The ICP survived this repression better than did the Trotskyist groups, partly because the latter were more of an immediate threat to the French in the south, partly because the CP cadre were able to retreat to China where (after a period in Kuomintang jails) they eventually received Chinese and U.S. aid and partly because the Stalinists had begun retreating to clandestinity as early as 1938.
—from Workers Vanguard No. 20, 11 May 1973
Immediately following World War II, the Stalinist and Trotskyist groups in Vietnam faced the crucial test of a revolutionary situation. The working masses rose up against the occupying imperialist powers (France, Japan and Britain), and at the same time against the landlords and the native bourgeoisie. While the Stalinists, led by Ho Chi Minh, succeeded in betraying and crushing the revolutionary upsurge, they were not able to prevent the Trotskyists of the International Communist League (ICL) from playing a heroic role during the few short weeks between their liberation from French prisons and the brutal repression of the Saigon insurrection of September 1945.
Against these Bolshevik-Leninists Ho Chi Minh resorted to the ultimate tactic of Stalinists everywhere: assassination. From Leon Trotsky, to the entire remaining Bolshevik Central Committee of 1917, to the thousands of Russian Left Oppositionists in the Siberian labor camps, to the heroic Spanish, French, German and Czech Trotskyists, to the Vietnamese supporters of the Fourth International (the ICL and the Struggle group), Stalinism carried out its murderous work. The Stalinist parasites came close to destroying the living continuity of the Marxist movement internationally, but they could not tarnish the revolutionary program of the Fourth International.
The Viet Minh in World War II
The dismissal of the French popular front government in 1938 rapidly led to the banning of the CP in France. As a consequence, beginning in September 1939 the French colonial government outlawed all socialist groups in Vietnam, throwing hundreds of supporters of the Fourth International into prison. Both the Struggle (La Lutte) group and the International Communist League were broken up by the ferocious repression.
While many members of the Stalinist Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) were also imprisoned, Ho Chi Minh and his central committee were able to obtain refuge in Kuomintang China. This was no accident, as the Stalinists supported the Allies in World War II (as did Chiang Kai-shek) and were willing to make an alliance with the Kuomintang against the Japanese. The Trotskyists, in contrast, took the Bolshevik position of revolutionary defeatism during the war, refusing to support any of the rival imperialist camps and their puppets. [see Corrections]
Beginning in September 1940, Japanese troops occupied Indochina, while the pro-Petain colonial government remained in place. The occupation was met in the south by a large-scale peasant uprising in the Mytho region, an uprising led by Stalinist and Trotskyist forces, in November 1940. This and other abortive revolts were brutally put down by the French Foreign Legion, with more than a thousand arrests. (The Indochinese CP subsequently condemned the uprising as premature and in typical Stalinist fashion executed two of the leaders and expelled others.)
In May 1941, the ICP called a congress in southern China to found the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam, or Viet Minh for short). The program of the Viet Minh was that of a typical popular front, saying nothing of socialism, limiting itself to “democratic” demands, such as national independence and allying itself with the Allies against Japan and the pro-Petain French colonial government. Its main demands for the exploited peasants, for instance, were reduction of rents and prohibition of forced labor and usury, with no more than a vague mention of agrarian reform.
Disintegration of the Franco-Japanese Regime
On 9 March 1945 the Japanese, under tremendous military pressure in the Pacific, moved to tighten their control over Vietnam by ousting the fictitious French colonial government and disarming and interning the French troops. As a consequence of this move, however, bourgeois order began to deteriorate, allowing left wing groups to expand their activities clandestinely. The Viet Minh, which under Ho’s instructions had avoided military operations up to now, established a guerrilla base along the Chinese border in the north.
Meanwhile, the Trotskyists had begun to regroup. The International Communist League was reconstituted in Saigon in August 1944 with only several dozen members. However, among these were five founders of the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement, each having at least 12 years’ experience of revolutionary struggle, and several experienced cadre formerly from the Hanoi section. After the March 1945 Japanese takeover, the ICL issued a manifesto calling for preparation for the imminent revolution:
“The capitalists and feudalists who today serve the Japanese general staff will also serve the Allied imperialist states. The petty bourgeois nationalists with their adventurist policies will also be unable to lead the people to a revolutionary victory. Only the working class fighting independently under the banner of the Fourth International, can accomplish the tasks of the vanguard of the revolution.
“The Stalinists of the Third International have already abandoned the working class in order to capitulate miserably before the ‘democratic’ imperialists. They have betrayed the peasants by no longer talking about the agrarian question. If they are marching today with the foreign capitalists, they will also aid the domestic exploiting classes to crush the revolutionary people in the coming hours.
“Workers and peasants! Assemble under the banner of the party of the Fourth International!”
—Manifesto of the ICL, 24 March 1945
In the meantime, the petty-bourgeois independence parties and the quasi-political religious sects were floundering without direction. The Cao Dai sect (a peasant grouping with a mystical Christian-Buddhist-Confucian ideology) had supported the French during the 1930’s and then the Japanese during the war. Now, however, the leadership continued to support Japan while the ranks were openly revolting. The Hoa Hao, whose poor peasant and proletarian members were aroused by the prospect of independence, were forced to oppose the French. The Vietnamese Kuomintang, the VNQDD, while barely existing as an organized movement, had retained some support among the petty bourgeoisie because of its unsuccessful uprising in 1930 and also opposed the re-establishment of French rule.
While such bourgeois nationalist groups may oppose one or another foreign imperialist, they are not opposed to imperialism as a system, and therefore they must oppose the struggle of the working masses for their liberation from capitalist exploitation. It will sometimes be necessary for workers’ organizations to enter into limited, essentially technical or military agreements with a section of the bourgeoisie for joint action in a particular struggle, but it is a betrayal of Marxism to form a strategic alliance or long-term bloc with any bourgeois formation.
However, in spite of their claim to support the program of the Fourth International, the centrist Struggle (La Lutte) group formed just such a bloc, founding the “National United Front” together with the VNQDD, the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao! This “Trotskyist”-bourgeois-feudal popular front effectively erased the class line separating exploiter and exploited. With its “democratic” program limited to national independence it was impossible to distinguish from the Viet Minh!
The August Days
On 16 August 1945 the news of the defeat of Japan reached Indochina. The following day the Japanese general staff declared the countries of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) independent. The rapidity of the surrender surprised everyone. The Viet Minh, however, had already convened a congress which the same day formed a People’s National Liberation Committee as a provisional government. Everywhere they moved rapidly to fill the governmental void, simply taking over the apparatus of the former Franco-Japanese colonial regime. Viet Minh troops rapidly occupied Hanoi without opposition from the Japanese. Seeking to avoid any appearance of revolution, the Viet Minh asked for and received the abdication of Bao Dai, the traditional emperor, who was henceforth “Supreme Political Advisor” of the new government. [See Letter]
In a significant gesture, Ho drafted (together with U.S. advisors) a Declaration of Independence, which begins by quoting the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, two of the key documents of the bourgeois revolution. According to the Stalinist theory of revolution in stages, to call for socialism at this point would have been “premature,” as the defeat of the feudalists and imperialists was the immediate task. The reality of this “theory” was revealed by Ho’s appeal to the French a month earlier for independence within the French Union in “not less than 5 and not more than 10 years,” and by the agreement signed in Hanoi in early 1946 which permitted the reintroduction of French troops!
In the South, events moved at a somewhat different pace due to the relative weakness of the Stalinists. On 19 August the workers of the Ban Co district of Saigon formed the first People’s Committee of the South. The following day a similar committee in the Phu Nhuan district, the largest workers’ district of Saigon, took over governmental power. In the countryside the peasants rose up at the same time, burning villas of the large landowners, as well as several rice mills, in Sadec province on 19 August. In the province of Long Xuyen alone more than 200 government officials and police were killed by peasants in the first days after the Japanese surrender.
On 21 August the National United Front called an independence demonstration which attracted more than 300,000 participants. The Hoa Hao and Cao Dai marched behind the monarchist flag with a delegation of 100,000. The Trotskyists of the International Communist League represented the other main pole of attraction in the march. Behind a huge banner of the Fourth International came a series of placards and banners with the ICL’s main slogans: “Down with Imperialism! Long Live World Revolution! Long Live the Workers and Peasants Front! People’s Committees Everywhere! Toward the Popular Assembly! Long Live the Arming of the People! Land to the Peasants! Nationalization of the Factories under Workers Control! Toward the Workers and Peasants Government!” As the banner of the Fourth International appeared, hundreds and thousands of workers who had never forgotten the revolutionary movement of the 1930’s flocked behind it, embracing old friends, fighting over who would have the honor of carrying this or that placard, saluting each other with clenched fists. In a matter of a few hours the contingent of the ICL grew to 30,000. The Cao Dai and Hoa Hao peasants, against the discipline of their leaders, applauded the banner of the Fourth International each time it passed and listened attentively to the Trotskyist orators’ agitational speeches on the national and peasant questions.
The Viet Minh Coup d’Etat
Faced with the growing mass upsurge, the Stalinist leadership of the Viet Minh began to move quickly to take power. Their primary tactic was to present themselves as the legitimate representatives of the victorious allies. Thus, in a Viet Minh proclamation on 23 August, Tran Van Giau, the top southern Stalinist, proclaimed: “We have fought for five years alongside the democratic allies....” The previous evening, Giau had issued an ultimatum to a meeting of the National United Front calling on it to dissolve itself and turn over its administrative posts to the Viet Minh. The next day the NUF disbanded and joined the Viet Minh. (As a crowning touch to the betrayals of the Struggle group, which had set up the NUF as a “Trotskyist” popular front, they were accorded a seat on the “Southern Committee” of the Viet Minh on 10 September 1945!)
The ICL was hardly inactive during this period, setting up a printing shop, issuing bulletins to the population every three hours and forming military units as a step toward arming the workers.
But the Stalinists moved faster. At 5 a.m. on 25 August the Viet Minh carried out a bloodless coup, occupying the city hall and police stations. Behind the backs of the masses, and with the participation of the bourgeois nationalists (Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, VNQDD), the Stalinists simply took over the existing state machinery and installed a new bonapartist bourgeois regime. Later that day the Viet Minh called a mammoth demonstration with more than one million participants. More than 30 political associations were present, but the outstanding forces were grouped behind the Stalinists and the ICL. With the break-up of the Japanese administration, the police itself divided into two sections, the majority supporting the Viet Minh, but a minority marching behind the banner of the Fourth International! The ICL delegation was noticeably smaller (only 2,000 marchers) than in the previous demonstration but this time many ICL supporters were marching with their trade union contingents.
By this time the difference between the Trotskyists and Stalinists was posed with razor sharpness. Two days after the coup, Nguyen Van Tao, now Minister for the Interior of the Viet Minh regime, issued a menacing challenge to the ICL: “Whoever encourages the peasants to take over the landed properties will be severely and pitilessly punished.... We have not yet carried out a communist revolution, which would bring a solution to the agrarian problem. This government is only a democratic [!] government, and therefore it cannot undertake this task. I repeat, our government is a democratic and bourgeois government, even though the Communists are in power.” One could hardly ask for more clarity!
Military Support to the Viet Minh
Faced with this bonapartist bourgeois government, the Trotskyists of the International Communist League correctly adopted the position of an anti-imperialist united front. While Stalinists and ex-Trotskyist revisionists (such as the Bolivian POR) have used this slogan as an excuse for forming a political bloc with bourgeois nationalists, the ICL had the Leninist policy of political independence of the workers movement from the bourgeois regime, but military support against the imperialist (British-Japanese-French) forces. While the Stalinists called for “All Power to the Viet Minh,” the Trotskyists called for “All Power to the People’s Committees.”
Following Tao’s press conference, the Viet Minh cranked up an incessant anti-Trotskyist campaign in its press, accusing the supporters of the Fourth International of sowing disorder. On 1 September Tran Van Giau declared: “Those who incite the people to arm themselves will be considered saboteurs and provocateurs, enemies of national independence. Our democratic liberties will be granted and guaranteed by the democratic allies.”
While Ho Chi Minh was reading the Declaration of Independence in Hanoi, the southern Viet Minh organized a demonstration on 2 September to greet the British troops which were to arrive imminently. Late in the afternoon more than 400,000 persons joined in a peaceful demonstration proceeding to the Cathedral. As a priest known as sympathetic to the Vietnamese was speaking from the steps of the Cathedral, shots rang out and he was killed. The crowd ran for cover, but more than 150 were wounded in the shooting which followed. The situation developed into a generalized riot, with attacks on French colons suspected of responsibility for the criminal attacks on the demonstration. A number of French were arrested, but then immediately released the next day by the Stalinist police chief Duong Bach Mai, who issued a statement “deploring” the “excesses.”
In response to the events of 2 September the Stalinists and Trotskyists issued two clearly counterposed appeals. As the British troops under General Gracey were expected to arrive any day, the Viet Minh proclaimed:
“In the interests of our country, we call on everyone to have confidence in us and not let themselves be led astray by people who betray our country. It is only in this spirit that we can facilitate our relations with the Allied representatives.”
—leaflet of 7 September 1945
In contrast the ICL declared:
“We, internationalist communists, have no illusions that the Viet Minh government will be capable, with its class collaborationist policies, of fighting successfully against the imperialist invasions in the coming hours. However, if it declares itself ready to defend national independence and to safeguard the people’s liberties, we will not hesitate to aid it and to support it with all technical means in the revolutionary struggles. But in return we must repeat that we will strictly observe the absolute independence of our party with respect to the government and all the political parties, because the very existence of a party calling itself Bolshevik-Leninist depends entirely on this political independence.”
—communiqué of 4 September 1945
The People’s Committees
Under the influence of the ICL, during the three weeks after 16 August more than 150 “People’s Committees” (To Chuc Uy Banh Hanh Dong) were set up in the Nam Bo (southern Vietnam), approximately 100 of them in the Saigon-Cholon region. A Provisional Central Committee composed of 9 members (later expanded to 15) was constituted after the 21 August demonstration.
The question of the historical role of these “people’s committees” is of paramount importance to revolutionary Trotskyists. In the Quatrième Internationale article cited earlier, “Lucien” (a Vietnamese leader of the ICL) writes: “The ICL led the revolutionary masses through the intermediary of the People’s Committees. Despite its numerical weakness, the ICL achieved, for the first time in the history of the Indochinese revolution the grandiose historic task of creating the People’s Committee or Soviet.”
The ICL and the People’s Committees did consistently call for political opposition to the bourgeoisie. Thus the People’s Committees gave no political support to the bourgeois Viet Minh government, while calling for a military bloc against the invading Allies (which the Viet Minh naturally rejected, since its policy was to greet the Allies). The ICL called for the arming of the working masses and took practical steps to carry this out. The ICL slogans called not for a “democratic” revolution limited to national independence, but also for expropriation of industry under workers control.
Nevertheless, the very term “People’s” Committee obscures the need for the independent mobilization of the proletariat as a separate class. While an alliance with the peasantry and sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie against imperialism and semi-feudal landowners is a burning necessity, this alliance must be based first of all on the independent organization of the working class. In predominantly peasant countries, indiscriminate mobilization of the “people” guarantees the domination of the unstable petty bourgeoisie over the working class. The necessary alliance of workers and peasants Soviets must destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with a workers state.
These general considerations had an immediate practical consequence. While the People’s Committees refused the ultimatums of the Viet Minh to subordinate themselves to the bonapartist regime, the class difference between the two powers was not always clear to the masses. The People’s Committees, especially in Saigon, were essentially organs of workers power, while the Southern Committee government of the Viet Minh was a popular front regime based on the existing bourgeois state. But to the masses this appeared simply as the difference between two “people’s governments,” one dominated by the Stalinists, the other by Trotskyists. Between these two state powers a violent clash was inevitable but by calling for People’s Committees the Trotskyists of the ICL failed to adequately prepare the masses politically for the impending battle.
Massacre of the Trotskyists
The inevitable clash soon took form. On 7 September Giau issued a decree ordering the disarming of all non-governmental organizations. All weapons were to be turned over to the Viet Minh’s “Republican Guard.” This affected the religious sects but also the “vanguard youth organizations” and factory-based self-defense groups led by the Trotskyists. The most important such group was the workers militia jointly organized by the workers of the Go Vap streetcar depot and the ICL. The militia issued an appeal to the workers of Saigon-Cholon to arm themselves for the struggle against the inevitable British-French invasion.
The British and Indian troops under General Gracey arrived in Saigon on 10 September. Along the road from the airport the Viet Minh had put up banners and slogans welcoming the Allies; at city hall Allied flags were flying on both sides of the Viet Minh flag. The Viet Minh “Southern Committee” sat inside doing its paper work, while the British proceeded to eliminate its power in the city. Gracey, who only a few weeks earlier had declared, “The question of the government of Indochina is exclusively French,” banned the Vietnamese press, proclaimed martial law and imposed a strict curfew. All demonstrations were forbidden as was the carrying of any arms, including bamboo sticks.
On 12 September the People’s Committees and the ICL issued a joint manifesto denouncing the policy of treason of the Viet Minh government. Popular discontent was seething in the workers’ districts. Faced with the likelihood of insurrection, the Viet Minh moved to behead it. At 4 p.m. on 14 September Duong Bach Mai, Stalinist head of the police, sent a detachment of Republican Guards to surround the local of the People’s Council which was in session at the time. Incredibly, the Trotskyists simply gave up to these butchers! In the words of the ICL account:
“We conducted ourselves as true revolutionary militants. We let ourselves be arrested without using violence against the police, even though we were more numerous and all well armed. They took our machine guns and automatic pistols. They sacked our office, breaking furniture, ripping our flags, stealing the typewriters and burning all our papers.”
By this single act of cowardice, the ICL leadership sealed its own doom and that of the first Vietnamese revolution. Behind such a capitulation must have lain a serious misunderstanding of the true nature of Stalinism. It is true that during the 1930’s the southern leaders of the ICP were in a long-term bloc with the Struggle group, and showed themselves to be somewhat more “leftist” than Ho. But this was only a tactical adaptation to the presence of significant Trotskyist forces. In a similar fashion the Bolivian CP agreed to form the Popular Assembly in 1971 along with the “Trotskyist” POR, but only in order to better betray it. A proof that this was only a temporary aberration is given by the Stalinists’ own criticism of the southern party for its “leftist deviations... its underestimation of the Trotskyist danger and its unprincipled cooperation with the Trotskyists” in the popular front period.
(Among the ICL leaders who were shot as a result of the Stalinist coup were Lo Ngoc, member of the central committee of the ICL; Nguyen Van Ky, ICL labor leader; and Nguyen Huong, young leader of the workers militia, killed by the Stalinist police in July 1946.)
By 22 September the British had sufficiently fortified their position to try an open test of strength. The British took over the Saigon jail, while the French troops of the 11th Colonial Infantry were armed. The French colons went wild later that day, arresting, beating and killing innumerable Vietnamese. During the following night French troops reoccupied several police stations, the post office, central bank and town hall, all without armed resistance.
As the news reached the working-class districts a spontaneous movement of resistance broke out. The Viet Minh opposed “violence,” instead trying to obtain “negotiations” with General Gracey. In the outlying suburbs trees were felled, cars and trucks overturned and furniture piled up in the street creating crude barricades. During this time the workers’ suburbs (Khanh Hoi, Cau Kho, Ban Co, Phu Nhuan, Tan Dinh and Thi Nghe) were firmly in the insurgents’ hands. In some areas French were shot indiscriminately in an outburst of racial hatred, the result of 80 years of brutal colonial domination. In the center several important factories and warehouses were burned down, and the port was under continuous attack. Water and electricity were cut off completely and supplies were precarious. The following day the Vietnamese insurgents openly paraded in the main streets of the city center.
The most significant organized contingent in the insurrection was the workers militia of the Go Vap streetcar depot, a force of 60. The 400 workers of the company were well known for their labor militancy. While affiliated to the Stalinist-dominated labor federation, they refused to use the label of Cong Nhan Cuu Quoc (“Workers Saviors of the Fatherland”), and refused to carry the Viet Minh flag (yellow star on a red background), saying they would fight instead under the red flag of the workers. The force was organized into shock groups of 11 members under elected leaders, with the overall command headed by Tranh Dinh Minh. a young ICL leader and novelist formerly from Hanoi.
(Faced with the joint opposition of the Allies and the Viet Minh police, the Go Vap workers militia tried to open a line of retreat to regroup in the Plaine des Joncs area. After several battles with the French and Indian troops they reached the regroupment area, where they established contact with the poor peasants. Already having lost 20 men, and on 13 January 1946 its leader Minh, in battle against the imperialist forces, the militia was eventually overwhelmed, several of its members stabbed to death by Viet Minh bands.)
In this revolutionary atmosphere the Viet Minh Committee of the South issued its appeal: “there is only one answer—a food blockade.” Futilely hoping to starve out the French (while British ships controlled the port!), Giau concentrated on negotiations with the British. A truce was announced on 1 October, but by 5 October General Leclerc and the French expeditionary force arrived and rapidly moved to “restore order” and “build a strong Indochina within the French Union.” The truce was the best present the beleaguered French and British troops could have received, an obscene betrayal of the insurgent masses.
While the Viet Minh continued its policy of appeasing the Allies, agreeing to allow free passage to British and Japanese troops through rebel areas, the French and Indian troops launched a general attack to the northeast, thus breaking the blockade of the city. Instead of fighting back, the Stalinists concentrated their efforts on eliminating the Trotskyists. Having eliminated the ICL and the People’s Committee leadership on 14 September, they now moved on the Struggle (La Lutte) group and, surrounding its headquarters in the Thu Duc area, they arrested the entire group and interned them at Ben Suc. There they were all shot as French troops approached. Among those thus murdered were Tran Van Thach (elected a Saigon municipal councillor in the 1933 elections), Phan Van Hum, Nguyen Van So and tens of other revolutionary militants. Shortly after this the Viet Minh were forced out of Saigon.
Ho Sells Out to the French
In the North, Ho was following a similar policy of capitulating to the Allies, in this case the Chinese and French. However, the process took considerably longer than in the South, as the first Chinese troops did not arrive until late September, giving the Viet Minh time to consolidate its rule. Also, the Viet Minh had its own makeshift guerrilla army in the North, and the Chinese were not actively opposed to an independent Vietnam. In line with this policy of “broadening” the coalition to include bourgeois nationalists and Catholic leaders. Ho in November ordered the complete liquidation of the lndochinese Communist Party. The Central Committee statement said that “in order to complete the Party’s task...a national union conceived without distinction of class and parties is an indispensable factor” and that this step was being taken to show that Communists “are always disposed to put the interests of the country above that of classes, and to give up the interests of the Party to serve those of the Vietnamese people” [our emphasis]!
At this same time, however, opposition was still strong in the North. The Struggle group at this time was publishing a daily newspaper in Hanoi. Tranh Dau (Struggle), which had a circulation of 30,000 in late 1945. A letter to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International in this period spoke of a well-organized but persecuted organization of the Struggle group in the North. Led by “Th...,” former leader of the Tonkin printers during 1937-38, it held large meetings and published several books in addition to its daily newspaper. One region where the line of the Struggle group had particular success was Bach Mai. As a result of a large meeting there. Ho Chi Minh gave the order to arrest Th... and other supporters of the Fourth International. (Th... was able to escape from his Viet Minh captors and was fighting in the guerilla operations in the countryside at the time.) Already a large number of Trotskyists had perished in the resistance. Eventually this group, too, was wiped out entirely by the Stalinist repression.
At this time, Ta Thu Thau, the leader of the Struggle group was in Hanoi, working on coordinating flood relief and “conferring” with Ho Chi Minh. On his way south he was arrested on the orders of the Viet Minh. Tried three times by local People’s Committees, he was acquitted each time, a tribute to the Trotskyists’ reputation in Vietnam at that time. Finally, he was simply shot in Quang Ngai in February 1946, on orders from the southern Stalinist leader Tran Van Giau. Gullible souls have questioned whether the wise Uncle Ho could ever have carried out such a vicious act. Such doubts are an expression of political light-mindedness, as there is no known account of Thau’s murder that even suggests that he was not killed by Viet Minh forces, acting on orders. As for Ho, his only known statement on the subject was made in a conversation with the French socialist Daniel Guérin:
“‘He [Thau] was a great patriot and we mourn him.’ Ho Chi Minh told me with unfeigned emotion. But a moment later he added in a steady voice. ‘All those who do not follow the line which I have laid down will be broken.’”
Having physically liquidated the entire leadership of the Trotskyist movement in Vietnam. Ho was now ready to conclude a “deal” with the French government (which included the Communist François Billoux as minister of defense!). The preliminary convention between France and the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” signed in Hanoi on 6 March, provided among other things that “the Government of Vietnam declares itself prepared to receive the French army amicably,” and for the stationing of 15,000 French troops north of the 16th parallel. The overall content of the accords was for a limited independence, within the French Union. Defending this despicable betrayal against revolutionary Trotskyist criticism, which lived on in spite of the physical extermination of the Trotskyist cadres, Ho was forced to call a mass rally in Hanoi the following day, during which he declared: “The people who are not satisfied only understand total independence as a slogan, a demand on a piece of paper or in the mouth. They do not see independence of the country results from objective conditions....” Primary among these objective conditions, of course, was the fact that the French Communist Party and Stalin were opposed to Vietnamese independence!
It was with the arrival of Allied troops that the defeat of the first Vietnamese revolution was sealed. The primary responsibility for this defeat lies clearly with Ho Chi Minh and the Stalinists who consistently sabotaged the popular uprising and murdered its leaders. Only by realizing the magnitude of this betrayal can one gauge the significance of the capitulation of the Struggle group in joining the Viet Minh, a move which led to its physical annihilation and to the generation-long war against French and U.S. imperialism. While the International Communist League demonstrated a similar underestimation of the lengths to which the Stalinists would go to eliminate revolutionary opposition, its overall policies in this period presented a clear Trotskyist opposition to the class collaboration of the Viet Minh.
—from Workers Vanguard No. 21, 25 May 1973
After repeatedly capitulating before the imperialist powers (Saigon, September 1945; the 6 March 1946 accords; Fontainebleau modus vivendi), the Viet Minh were finally forced to fight the French by a series of open provocations in late 1946. On 20 November, the French navy, which had blockaded the Haiphong port, seized a Chinese junk trying to run the blockade; in response, a Vietnamese shore battery shelled the French. Seizing on this incident as an excuse, three days later the French brutally attacked Haiphong with heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, killing roughly 20,000 Vietnamese. Early in December, the French demanded that the Vietnamese withdraw entirely from the city and the surrounding roads; in response, the Vietnamese commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, proposed a mixed commission to discuss the question! Subsequently, on 19 December the French demanded the disarming of the Viet Minh militia, and that night general fighting broke out in Hanoi. The fighting continues to this day. As it turned out, the Viet Minh were quickly driven out of the capital and did not return until after the 1954 Geneva settlement. Had the Stalinists resisted the French reoccupation from the beginning, when the imperialists were weakest, a quarter century of war and more than two million deaths would have been avoided.
The attitude of the French Communist Party in this conflict was an illustration of the lengths to which the Stalinists would go in attempting to ingratiate themselves with their respective bourgeoisies. Thus, while Ho Chi Minh was writing servile letters to the Americans, forming political blocs with the pro-Chinese bourgeois nationalists, dissolving the Indochinese Communist Party and agreeing to permit the entry of French troops into the north, his French comrades were busy explaining why the right of national self-determination did not apply to Vietnam and voting war credits to finance the French expeditionary force!
As early as September 1945, the Saigon committee of the French CP “warned [the Viet Minh] that any ‘premature adventures’ in Annamite independence might ‘not be in line with Soviet perspectives.’” That same month the French government (including several CP ministers) proposed a military budget of 193 billion francs, including 100 billion for the Expeditionary Force in Indochina; the CP voted for the bill. In July 1946, smelling a victory in the next elections, the Communists took up a virulent nationalist stance: “Are we, after having lost Syria and Lebanon yesterday, to lose Indochina tomorrow, North Africa the day after?” wrote L’Humanité (24 July 1946). Two days later the CP deputies voted for a constitutional definition of the French Union which made Vietnamese “independence” purely fictional!
But this obscene nationalism could not stop at mere generalities: On 20 December 1946, a month after the French bombardment of Haiphong, the CP voted in the French Assembly to send congratulations to General Leclerc and the Expeditionary Corps. On 23 December, three days after the outbreak of hostilities in Hanoi, the CP deputies voted a special military budget made necessary “because of the resumption in hostilities in Indochina.” As Vice-Premier in the government of Paul Ramadier in March 1947, Maurice Thorez, head of the French CP, signed the order for military action against the Vietnamese; at the same time, Ramadier stated that “on the question of Indochina, we have always noted the correctness of the government of the Soviet Union.”
Some have alleged that because of these nationalistic acts, the French CP during the late 1940’s was opposed to the line of Ho Chi Minh in a fundamental sense, implying that Ho was essentially a centrist, as against the reformist Thorez. That the differences were essentially tactical is shown by Ho’s repeated efforts to enlist American aid (at least eight letters to Truman in this period), his agreement to the March 1946 accords and the Fontainebleau agreement and the extremely conservative policies followed by the Viet Minh through most of the first Indochinese war. Ho and Thorez were simply capitulating to different bourgeoisies; qualitatively their policies were the same.
The Agrarian Question
As Leon Trotsky wrote in the “Transitional Program”:
“The central task of the colonial and semi-colonial countries is the agrarian revolution, i.e., liquidation of feudal heritages, and national independence, i.e., the overthrow of the imperialist yoke. Both tasks are closely linked with each other.”
From the very beginning, in 1941, the Viet Minh took only the most minimal reformist position on the agrarian question, favoring a 25 per cent reduction in rents. The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam written in 1946 stated flatly: “The rights of property and possession of Vietnamese citizens are guaranteed.” In the period from 1945 to 1949 even this minimal program of rent reduction was only applied to five per cent of the land belonging to large landlords, while eight per cent (belonging to “unpatriotic” landowners) was redistributed—hardly a radical land reform, much less an agrarian revolution. However, beginning with the agrarian decree of 12 April 1953, the picture changed as the stipulations calling for reduction of rent, elimination of debts and distribution of lands owned by colonists were put into effect by the local peasant unions. At the same time, the membership of the peasant unions doubled and the percentage of poor peasants in the Lao Dong [Workers] Party increased from 37 per cent to 53 per cent. The French commander at Dien Bien Phu commented that after the new agrarian legislation he wasn’t dealing “with the same adversaries.”
Yet even this change was merely tactical. With the beginning of the Cold War with the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, the Soviet foreign policy had undergone a shift to the left, embodied in the “Zhdanov line.” The victory of the Chinese CP in the civil war with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 meant that Ho was assured of supplies from the deformed workers states. Thus, soon after, the Vietnamese Communist Party was refounded as the Lao Dong [Workers] Party in 1951, and in 1953 the Viet Minh decided to launch a militant land reform campaign. This pattern was virtually identical to that followed by Mao in China, where even the simple democratic demand for land reform was put off until the final break-off of negotiations with Chiang in 1946! However, in both cases, the agrarian program which was implemented in the final stages of the civil war in no way called into question bourgeois property relations in the countryside. We have referred to Mao’s policies in China as simply “reformism under the gun,” a label which certainly applies with equal force to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.
1954 Geneva Settlement
As Stalinists, the Viet Minh leadership ultimately represented the interests of the bureaucratic clique running the deformed workers states. At the first opportunity after a stalemate was reached in the Korean War in 1953, the Russians began pressing for a peace settlement in Vietnam as well. Ho soon took up the refrain even though the Vietnamese were winning militarily. By the time the negotiations finally took place in spring of 1954, the Viet Minh controlled roughly 85 percent of the country, according to Western estimates, and had decisively defeated the French expeditionary force at Dien Bien Phu. Commenting on the settlement, Douglas Pike, a U.S. official associated with the CIA, has written:
“Ironically the agreement written at Geneva benefitted all parties except the winners....
“Only the Viet Minh, the winners, lost. Or were sold out. Ho Chi Minh somehow was persuaded—apparently by a joint Sino-Soviet effort—to settle for half the country on the grounds that the other half would be his as soon as elections were held....”
The role of the Soviet Union in pushing for this sellout “settlement” is well known. The equally pernicious role of the more militant-talking Chinese was documented by the “Pentagon Papers.” A key point in the negotiations came on 18 July 1954, when a Chinese official transmitted a message to U.S. negotiators at Geneva. According to a State Department cable:
“The informant said the Communists are pressing for the stamp of American approval on the armistice agreement—already okayed in principle by Britain and France—which would divide Vietnam between Communist leader Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh and Bao Dai’s pro-Western regime....
“But the informant did not (repeat not) rule out the chance of an Indochina cease-fire even if the U.S. refuses to okay the armistice agreement.”
As for Ho, despite rumors of secret dissatisfaction with the cease-fire, and opposition to Moscow and Peking, this is how he presented it to the Vietnamese people:
“At this conference, the struggle of our delegation and the assistance given by the delegations of the Soviet Union and China have ended in a great victory for us.”
With victories like this, who needs defeats!
The Viet Cong
The whole struggle for the liberation of South Vietnam since the 1954 Geneva agreement reads like a replay of the earlier war against the French. The names are changed, but the play is the same. For six years Ho and the Hanoi leadership refused to organize a revolutionary movement in the South, believing instead in the miraculous powers of “peaceful coexistence.” Meanwhile, the butcher Diem was hunting down southern resistance leaders, throwing peasants off their lands, murdering thousands. Ho’s answer to this savagery summed up the position of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) leadership quite nicely: “Our policy is: to consolidate the North and to keep in mind the South.”
As late as 1960, the DRV was still trying to hold down the struggle in the South, arguing:
“The Northern people will never neglect their task with regard to one half of their country which is not yet liberated. But in the present conjuncture, when the possibility exists to maintain a lasting peace in the world and create favorable conditions for the world movement of socialist revolution and national independence to go forward, we can and must guide and restrict within the South the solving of the contradiction between imperialism and the colonies of our country.” [our emphasis]
As in the first Indochinese war the agrarian program and political perspective of the National Liberation Front are clearly and precisely limited to “democratic” tasks. From the very beginning, the NLF called for a coalition government:
“The present South Vietnamese regime is a camouflaged colonial regime dominated by the Yankees.... Therefore, this regime must be overthrown and a government of national and democratic union put in its place composed of representatives of all social classes, of all nationalities, of the various political parties, of all religions....
“Support the national bourgeoisie in the reconstruction and development of crafts and industry.” [our emphasis]
The NLF has subsequently called for protection of foreign investment and has never expropriated the French rubber plantations; thus in good old Stalinist fashion it distinguishes between the good and the bad imperialists.
As for the agrarian program, in the words of NLF Chairman Nguyen Huu Tho:
“Our program reflects the broad nature of the Front and the forces represented in it. We are in favor of land to the peasants for instance, but not systematic confiscation; we are for reduction of rents but for the maintenance of present property rights except in the case of traitors. Landlords who have not supported the U.S. puppets have nothing to fear.”
The 1973 Paris Accords
Since April 1965, when Premier Pham Van Dong set out the DRV position on peace negotiations (the “Four Points”), the fundamental North Vietnamese demands have been for U.S. withdrawal and a coalition government in Saigon. The coalition government is clearly intended to be based on the existing state apparatus, which would make it a classical popular front regime. If realized it could spell outright defeat for the millions of Vietnamese who have fought for years with the NLF against U.S. imperialism and the feudal-bourgeois reactionary regime in the South. By preserving the property rights of “patriotic” landlords and the “national” bourgeoisie, by guaranteeing foreign investors against expropriation, such a regime would necessarily be unable to fulfill the fundamental aspirations of the working masses.
The actual Paris accords of January 1973 do not set up such a government, nor do they call for regroupment of North Vietnamese forces or disarmament. As a result, this “ceasefire in place” is not simply a sellout, as the 1946 and 1954 agreements clearly were; on the other hand, aside from the U.S. withdrawal, which itself could be reversed, it settles nothing. There is no peace; the civil war goes on. In the meantime the Stalinist leadership of the DRV/ NLF has essentially abandoned the civilian political prisoners in the South, as it continues its fundamental strategy of betrayal, the search for a bloc with the non-existent “good” bourgeoisie.
• No Support for the Robbers’ Peace—U.S. Imperialism Out of S.E.Asia—Free All Political Prisoners in Saigon Government Jails!
• Unconditional Military Defense of the DRV—Political Revolution in Hanoi!
• Military Victory for the NLF—Viet Cong Take Saigon—No Coalition Government!
—from Workers Vanguard No. 21, 25 May 1973
Vietnam in 1945 was a typical colonial country. The vast mass of the population was composed of poor peasants and landless laborers, who suffered from exploitation at the hands of feudal and bourgeois landowners, and from direct military oppression by various imperialist powers (France, Japan, China, Britain and the U.S.). Yet, as shown by centuries of unsuccessful peasant revolts, this heterogeneous popular mass was unable to lead a victorious social revolution. In the early years of this century the urban petty bourgeoisie threw up a series of nationalist sects which, however, were equally unable to achieve the unity or social force necessary to overthrow a developed colonial power. At the same time, the tiny bourgeoisie never advanced beyond the most timid reform demands and, faced with an awakened working class and peasantry, chose instead to cower behind the protection of its French, and later U.S., masters.
Thus the lot of emancipator of the oppressed Vietnamese masses fell to the young, small, but highly combative proletariat. In contrast to India or even China, the bourgeois nationalists were never more than a secondary (and at times minuscule) force in Vietnam after 1930, while the political scene was dominated by the two major currents of the workers movement, Trotskyism and Stalinism.
The Trotskyists stood on the historic Marxist program of permanent revolution, insisting that because of the combined feudal-capitalist character of Vietnamese society and the uneven development of the various class forces, the “national” and “democratic” tasks of the bourgeois revolution could be fulfilled only under the dictatorship of the proletariat, supporting itself on the peasantry. This program was represented in Vietnam by the International Communist League (ICL), which called for complete national independence, land to the peasants, nationalization of the factories under workers control and a workers and peasants government. At the height of the Saigon insurrection of 1945 this program was crystallized in the demand of all power to the People’s Committees. While seeking to overthrow the bonapartist bourgeois Viet Minh regime in Saigon, they called for a military united front against the invading imperialist powers. Nevertheless, although at the high point of the uprising the ICL led tens of thousands of workers, it was militarily overwhelmed by the Stalinist Viet Minh, which brutally massacred hundreds of its militants, along with leaders and members of the centrist Struggle group (also supporters of the Fourth International) and various bourgeois nationalist leaders.
This heinous crime gave Ho Chi Minh and the Stalinists unchallenged hegemony in the Vietnamese political scene. However, despite this position they have consistently refused to mobilize the working class for socialist revolution. When faced with imperialist armies, their policies have amounted to a classic “bloc of four classes”—a purely national revolution in coalition with the “patriotic” bourgeoisie (and, in this case, the monarchy as well). In power, they have adhered to the policy of “socialism in one country” (more precisely in half a country), first sacrificing and then only reluctantly supporting their own comrades against U.S. imperialism and its puppet regimes in South Vietnam.
These are the counterrevolutionary policies of Stalinism, the political expression of a parasitic bureaucracy which acts as the agent of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement; this is the program of the “communist” Ho Chi Minh. It is also the program of his foreign mentors, in the first instance Stalin himself and the French Communist Party, but also of the more militant-posturing yet equally reformist Mao regime in China. The sorry results of this strategy of betrayal have been three successive robbers’ peace settlements, in 1946, 1954 and 1973, each of which has left intact a bourgeois regime in Saigon.
What attitude are proletarian revolutionaries to take when faced with the actual struggles led by the Stalinist leadership, these butchers of the Vietnamese Trotskyists, betrayers of the peasants and workers, appeasers of French and U.S. imperialism—who, however, also base themselves on and, in a limited and distorted manner, defend the conquests of the working class? As Marxists we must begin with the fundamental question—what is the class character of the states involved? The Democratic Republic of Vietnam is a deformed workers state; that is, while it has socialist property relations, political power is in the hands of a parasitic bureaucracy rather than the working class. The struggle in South Vietnam is essentially a civil war, pitting the working class and exploited peasantry on the one hand against the local and foreign bourgeoisie on the other. Fundamentally, the NLF-controlled areas in the South are deformed workers states in embryo. Therefore, the only attitude that a party claiming to represent the historic interests of the proletariat can take in a conflict between the NLF/DRV and capitalist forces is one of revolutionary defensism. Thus we unconditionally defend the NLF/DRV against the U.S. and the bourgeois regime in Saigon, while at the same time calling for a political revolution to overthrow the treacherous reformist leadership which is holding back the struggle.
This was the approach taken by the Vietnamese Internationalist Communist Group in France, which in 1947 declared:
“Our attitude vis-a-vis the Viet Minh can best be defined by Lenin’s phrase ‘march separately, strike together.’ The Vietnamese internationalist communists are ready to join their blows against imperialism with those of the Viet Minh, but they must maintain complete programmatic independence and freedom of criticism, because in the face of the past capitulations of the Viet Minh, placing confidence in its policies would mean renouncing a revolutionary position.”
Ho “Assimilates the Permanent Revolution”
In their rush to capitulate to the heroes of the petty-bourgeois radical milieu, the fake-Trotskyists of the “United Secretariat” and the “International Committee” must gloss over the real history of Stalinism in Vietnam.
The USec of Frank, Mandel and Hansen is the direct descendent of the Pabloist International Secretariat, which in the early 1950’s formulated the “theory” that the world was divided into two camps, the imperialists and the Stalinists; because of the sharp character of the impending conflicts, the Stalinists would be forced against their will to defend the interests of the proletariat. Pablo’s conclusion: The Trotskyists should dissolve their movement in favor of “deep entry” into the Stalinist parties.
In the early 1960’s the U.S. Socialist Workers Party came over to Pabloism with its theory that Fidel Castro was an “unconscious Marxist” and thus the SWP’s function was to be merely a cheering section for Castroism, recapitulating the European Pabloists’ capitulation to the Algerian nationalists. The common thread of Pabloism is the belief that one or another non-proletarian force (the Stalinist bureaucracy, students, peasant guerillas, etc.) will carry out the revolution, thereby rendering superfluous or at least secondary the leading role of the Trotskyist party.
What this means in the case of Vietnam can be seen from a recent book by Pierre Rousset, a leading member of the French USec, on Le Parti Communiste Vietnamien. The book’s central thesis is that:
“... the Vietnamese leadership as a whole has assimilated the decisive implications of the permanent revolution for colonial and semi-colonial countries.” [emphasis in original]
As we have shown, Ho Chi Minh’s policies of vacillation and betrayal were in direct counterposition to revolutionary Trotskyism and in fact required the massacre of thousands of supporters of the Fourth International. How does this revisionist explain the extermination of the Vietnamese Trotskyists?
“These assassinations, about which historians of the Indochinese CP don’t speak, in their writings in French at least, show at least two things: the width of the political gulf which then separated the Trotskyist groups from the Indochinese CP [one would hope so!], the former probably underestimating the importance of the national question in the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, the latter profoundly underestimating the social question in the colonial revolution, including at the outset.”
In short, for the Pabloists there is not only no need to be a Trotskyist in Vietnam, since the North Vietnamese and NLF leadership has absorbed the lessons of the permanent revolution; but in addition, the ideological conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam was entirely unnecessary, since there was a little bit of truth on both sides. The murders? Just an unfortunate mistake.
Healy and “People’s War”
The position of the USec at least has the virtue of reflecting a consistent long-standing policy: the open abandonment of the Transitional Program and rejection of the essential lessons of Trotskyism. It is noteworthy that the Socialist Labour League (Britain) and its fake “International Committee,” which claim to be fighting Pabloism, and which criticize sharply Hansen’s phrase about Castro being an “unconscious Marxist,” take precisely the same position regarding the Vietnamese Stalinists as the USec. In their obituary of Ho we read:
“There can be no doubt that he [Ho Chi Minh] contained within himself and came to personify, all the anti-imperialist hatred and fighting spirit of the colonial peoples....
“Like Mao Tse-tung, Ho instinctively yearned to do battle with imperialism and the internal forces of reaction within his native country.”
Rather than an “unconscious Marxist” (à la USec), we find here Ho Chi Minh the “instinctive” Marxist. A distinction without a difference, if ever there was one! Elsewhere the Healyites elaborated:
“It is indisputably true to say that, on the basis of the Vietnamese experience, guns combined with the courage and endurance of individual guerrilleros would have meant little or nothing if Ho Chi Minh and other leaders were unable to analyse the principal and secondary conditions within Vietnam as well as between Vietnam and imperialism and on that basis outline a strategy for the conquest of power.”
And just what was this strategy?
“It [Vietnam] demonstrates the transcendental power and resilience of a protracted peoples war led and organized by a party based on the working class and the poor peasantry and inspired by the example of the October revolution [!].”
And the Vietnamese Trotskyists, murdered by these “instinctive” Marxists—what of them? Well, here it seems that Ho was a little naughty, for which the SLL slaps his hand in reprobation:
“We do not forget these crimes committed against our movement by Ho Chi Minh, any more than we seek to play down his very real contribution to the struggle against world imperialism.”
But at the very moment that Ho massacred the Trotskyists, he was according to the Healyites lined up against world Stalinism itself!
“Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were on one side of the barricades, Thorez, Stalin and French imperialism on the other.”
So you see, it is all here: The unconscious (or instinctive) Marxism, the assimilation of the lessons of the permanent revolution, the understanding attitude toward the murders of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. And it is no isolated case. Healy’s famous “method” also allows him to support the Red Guards, Mao Tse-tung, the “Arab Revolution” and Indira Gandhi as supposed fighters against imperialism.
Although Healy uses “theory” and “method” primarily as a smokescreen to hide his abandonment of fundamental Marxist principles, there is in fact a method to the madness. The thread which unites these various positions is the same objectivism which is implicit in Pabloism: Since the sweep of the revolutionary wave (the objective forces) is so all-embracing, the struggle for the program of permanent revolution, the organization of the Trotskyist vanguard party, the struggle to rebuild the Fourth International—all this is secondary and ultimately expendable.
SL and the Vietnamese Trotskyists
In contrast, the Spartacist League continues to uphold the struggle and the memory of the Vietnamese Trotskyists, while recognizing and seeking to learn from their mistakes. This is no secondary or sentimental question. We have seen how the scandalous abandonment of the theory of permanent revolution on the part of the IC and USec leads them to solidarize themselves with the Stalinists against the Trotskyists in Vietnam, going so far as to apologize for the murder of the latter. The practical consequences of Pabloism are liquidation of the revolution and annihilation of the revolutionaries.
The Spartacist League has consistently, throughout its history, called for military defense of the NLF/DRV, including in times or places where this has not been a popular demand. We have demanded that Russia and China provide adequate military aid to the Vietnamese. Alone of all the tendencies of the U.S. left we raise the question of the war in our trade-union work, calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal and labor strikes against the war. At the same time, as Trotskyists we hold high the banner of permanent revolution and expose the repeated betrayals of the Vietnamese Stalinists. Likewise we analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Vietnamese Trotskyists in order, in the words of the Transitional Program, “to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.” Only in this manner, by openly struggling for the program of revolutionary Marxism, can the Fourth International be reborn.
— from Workers Vanguard No. 21, 25 May 1973
In Part II of this series, in a paragraph dealing with the differing fortunes of the Vietnamese Stalinists and Trotskyists during World War II, we wrote:
“.. .the Stalinists supported the Allies in World War II (as did Chiang Kai-shek) and were willing to make an alliance with the Kuomintang against the Japanese. The Trotskyists, in contrast, took the Bolshevik position of revolutionary defeatism during the war, refusing to support any of the rival imperialist camps and their puppets.”
While the paragraph is clearly talking of the Vietnamese Trotskyists, the sentences in question could be misinterpreted as implying that the Fourth International as a whole took a defeatist position in the war between China and Japan. While the FI took a revolutionary defeatist line in the struggle between the Allied and Axis imperialists, it did make a distinction in the Far East by supporting China against Japan. In WV No. 4, January 1972 (“War, Revolution and Self-Determination”) we argue that this position was correct until 1942, when the Chinese were essentially subordinated to and integrated into the inter-imperialist war, thereafter necessitating a position of revolutionary defeatism, while continuing to support the right of self-determination for China. This was the position taken by Lenin with regard to Serbian and Polish independence in the similar situation during World War I.
The position of the Vietnamese International Communist League gives added support to this policy. In the specific conditions of Vietnam, where both Japanese and Chinese sought to dominate Vietnam, a position of support for the Chinese could only have led to a new imperialist master, as in fact occurred in North Vietnam in 1945 and early 1946, with Ho Chi Minh acting in concert with the Kuomintang .army instead of fighting against it. Back
In Part I we referred to the Struggle group as the official section of the FI. It has since come to our attention that this is only partially correct. An article from Vietnam in the Labor Action of 27 October 1947 mentions that when the Struggle group was recognized as the official section of the FI in 1939, the ICL fused with it. In 1945 the two groups separated once more, over profound divergences concerning the attitude to be taken toward the Viet Minh. At that time (1945-47) the reports on Vietnam appearing in the official organ of the International Secretariat (Quatrième Internationale) treated both groups as Trotskyists. Back
The series “Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam,” while an important contribution to the history of this little-known chapter of world Trotskyism, nonetheless contains certain significant omissions. Part I of the series in WV, 27 April 1973. leaves open to question whether the 1933 electoral bloc between the Indochinese Stalinists and the Trotskyist group led by Ta Thu Thau (the “Struggle” group) “was simply a no-contest pact or involved joint propaganda around a lowest common denominator program.” I. Milton Sacks, in his article “Marxism in Vietnam” (in F. Trager, ed.. Marxism in Southeast Asia. Stanford. 1959) states that the Ta Thu Thau group and Indochinese Communist Party ran on a common electoral program which “stressed mainly a series of democratic demands (right to strike, right to form unions, voting rights, etc.) and a number of welfare measures designed to alleviate the condition of the Vietnamese workers (lighter taxes, housing, recreational facilities, etc.).”
Part 2 of your series ( WV, 11 May I973) states that “Seeking to avoid any appearance of revolution, the Viet Minh asked for and received the abdication of Bao Dai...” The Viet Minh were so anxious to avoid “any appearance of revolution” that they actually did not ask for the abdication of Bao Dai and were anticipating working within the framework of the monarchy. The Stalinist “two-stage revolution” which divides the democratic and national tasks in the colonial countries from the socialist revolution, and proscribes a prior “democratic-national revolution” which is supposed to be carried out in alliance with the colonial bourgeoisie, is converted in practice into a “three-stage revolution” with a prior “progressive aristocratic-comprador bourgeois” stage! The Stalinists in inverted fashion are aware of the dynamic of the permanent revolution outlined by Trotsky, i.e., that to carry through the tasks of the democratic and national revolution the tasks of the socialist revolution are necessarily placed on the agenda. Thus, the Stalinists, in order to delay the socialist revolution, must also prevent the tasks of the national and democratic revolution from being carried through. So it was in Spain where the Stalinists prevented the expropriation and redistribution of land; so it was in Vietnam; and so it is today in Chile. Ho Chi Minh’s futile attempt to recrown the “progressive monarch” Bao Dai, puppet of French and Japanese imperialism, anticipated Mao Tse-tung’s courtship of that cast-off puppet-Prince of U.S. and French imperialism, Sihanouk, by 25 years. Bao Dai’s actual abdication was the result of a telegram sent on 21 August 1945 by a mass meeting of the Hanoi General Association of Students, in response to a motion raised by Ho Huu Thong, leader of the Trotskyist lndochinese Communist League.
18 May 1973
1 Ahn-Van and Jaqueline Roussel, Mouvements nationaux et lutte de classes au Vietnam. Paris, 1947, pp. 47-51. Except where otherwise indicated, most of the factual information is taken from this book.
2 Le Thanh Khoi, Le Viet-Nam, Paris, 1955, p. 448.
3 Ellen Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955, Stanford, 1954, p. 92.
4 Philippe Devillers, Histoire du Viet-Nam de 1940 à 1952, Paris, 1952, p. 69.
5 La Lutte, No. 205, 14 August 1938.
6 Hammer, op. cit., p. 92.
7 Jean Chesneaux, Contribution à l’histoire de la nation vietnamienne, Paris, 1955, p. 230.
8 Lucien, “Quelques étapes de la révolution au Nam-Bo du Viet-Nam,” Quatrième Internationale, September-October 1947, p. 43. Much of the factual information in this section is taken from this article.
9 Devillers, op. cit., p. 156.
10 Lucien, op. cit., p. 45.
11 Ibid., p. 47.
13 Pierre Rousset, Le parti communiste vietnamien, Paris, 1973, p. 26.
14 “1945: The Saigon Insurrection,” Spartacist West No. 17, 22 August 1969. Most of the details on the September insurrection come from this article.
15 Alan W. Cameron, ed., Viet-Nam Crisis. A Documentary History, Vol. 1, pp. 66-67.
16 I. Milton Sacks, Nationalism and Communism in Vietnam, unpublished dissertation, Yale University, 1960, p. 224.
17 “Les Trotskystes au Tonkin (lettre de Hong Kong),” Quatrième Internationale, January-February 1948, pp. 71-72.
18 Quoted by Jean Lacouture, Ho Chi Minh, New York, p. 148.
19 Chesneaux, op. cit., p. 245.
20 Harold Isaacs, No Peace for Asia, pp. 173-174.
21 Bob Potter, “The Rape of Vietnam,” Solidarity pamphlet, p. 9.
22 Quoted in Hammer, op. cit., p. 190.
23 Potter, op. cit., p. 9; Hammer, op. cit., pp. 198, 200.
24 Hammer, op. cit., p. 178.
25 Chesneaux, op. cit., p. 298.
26 Ibid., pp. 297, 300.
27 Douglas Pike, Viet Cong, Cambridge, 1966, pp. 51-52.
28 NY Times, The Pentagon Papers, New York, 1971, p. 48.
29 Bernard Fall, ed., Ho Chi Minh on Revolution, New York, 1967, p. 246.
30 Ibid, pp. 272-273.
31 Le Duan, On the Socialist Revolution in Vietnam, Hanoi, 1965, Vol. I.
32 “Program of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (1960),” in Bernard Fall and Marcus Raskin, eds., The Viet-Nam Reader, New York, 1967, pp. 216-218.
33 Quoted in Wilfred Burchett, Vietnam: Inside Story of the Guerilla War, New York, 1965, p. 187.
34 Comité central, Groupe communiste internationaliste vietnamien en France, “Nouvelle étape de la contre-révolution et de l’offensive impérialiste en Indochine.” Quatrième Internationale, November-December 1947, p. 64.
35 Rousset, op. cit., p. 98.
36 Ibid., p. 44.
37 Newsletter, 9 September 1969.
39 “The Vietnamese Revolution and the Fourth International.” Fourth International, February 1968.
40 Newsletter, 9 September 1969.