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Vietnam & Trotskyism

A series of articles by Simon Pirani reprinted from the Workers Press together with supplementary material.

Written: 1986 / 87.
First Published: 1987.
Source: Published by the Communist League (Australia).
Transcription / HTML Markup: Sean Robertson and David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Copyleft: Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line ( 2013. Permission is granted to copy and / or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons license. Please cite any editors, proofreaders and formatters noted above along with any other publishing information including the URL of this document.

Battle for Trotskyism

Declaration of the Indochinese Oppositionists

This declaration is published here for the first time in English. It was written in August 1930 in French, by the Vietnamese group of the Left Opposition, sketching out a programme for the Indochinese CP (in which the Trotskyists existed as a faction at that time) and criticising the policy of the Stalin leadership of the Communist International. Taken together with Trotsky’s comments on it (pp. 101-104 below) it shows how Trotsky worked with young and inexperienced groups of Oppositionists internationally to develop communist leadership in the face of Stalin’s treachery.

It also forms – together with later writings of the Indochinese Trotskyists, and other material in this pamphlet – a picture of the Trotskyists’ political development and their relationship with Trotsky himself. This historical record crushes underfoot the obscene slanders of the North-led ICFI against the Vietnamese Trotskyists. The ICFI claim that the Trotskyists’ ‘tactical error’ of 1945 (!!) was ‘connected with the failure . . . to heed Trotsky’s advice, given 15 years earlier, to pay much greater attention to the peasant and national questions and not to concentrate exclusively on the urban centres . . .‘ (M. McLaughlin, Vietnam and the World Revolution, p. 17 – see p. 122 below). The actual discussion of 1930, and the subsequent 15 years’ record of struggle, answers that eloquently. – SP

Declaration of the Indochinese Oppositionists

In Indochina, as in the emigrant community, the Communist movement is going through one of its most difficult periods.

The bloody events which have been shaking the whole country since February have not yet yielded us a victory; imperialism rests firmly on its base, and attempts to rally the indigenous bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie to its cause by conceding economic and politicalreforms. The class struggle sharpens from day to day.

Every communist recognises the importance of the colonial problem under imperialist rule. The exploitation of millions of colonial workers has allowed the imperialists to assure to the European workers certain marginal reforms, encouraging thereby the development of reformist currents in the proletariat. The mass movements which have come into being, and which continue to proliferate, in China, India, Indonesia, Indochina and elsewhere undermine the basis of imperialist domination; every victory of a colonial people over imperialism is a victory for the proletariat, every defeat a defeat for the proletariat. A correct policy toward colonial problems is consequently of capital importance for the development of the world revolution.

Now the present leadership of the Communist International (the centrist Stalin group), with its fundamentally eclectic colonial policy, a heterogeneous amalgam of petit-bourgeois Sun-Yat-Senism with the Marxist conception of the emancipatory struggle of the proletariat, has led the colonial movements from one error to another, in practice abandoning the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist revolution. The most erroneous arguments are dredged up from the depths of old memories to justify the ‘national bourgeois democratic revolution’ while the fundamental teachings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, which had been remarkably expressed in the thesis on colonialism of the Second Congress of the Communist International, are trampled underfoot. The inevitable internal contradiction between the components of this amalgam show up in an incoherent, zigzagging policy. After the ‘bloc of four classes’, the continuing entrism of the Chinese CP into the KuoMinTang, and the opposition to the creation of soviets during the development of the Chinese revolution, came the raising – during the period of counter-revolution – of the slogan of soviets, and the Canton putsch. It was this policy which lost the Chinese revolution of 1927; it harms the formation of Communist parties in the Far East and is still doing its destructive work there, as much in India as in Indochina.

The substance of Leninist thought is a proletarian policy based on a correct analysis of events. It is because such a policy is lacking that the Communist opposition has come into being, to oppose, at whatever cost, deviations of all kinds.

The worst mistakes have been made in the colonies; there also the opposition is developing to work for the putting right of the Communist International.

The Indochinese Situation

The Communist movement in Indochina is of very recent origin. It did not know the glorious period of the first four Congresses of the Communist International led by Lenin and Trotsky, but it did know the period of disintegration of the International by the policies of Stalin.

In Indochina as in every other country this policy is infected with manifestly Menshevist tendencies, although this in no way excludes the possibility of adventurist practices.

This policy supports the thesis of the ‘national bourgeois democratic revolution first’ for the following reasons:

1. ‘The Indochinese economy is backward, industry little developed and very spread out; accordingly the Indochinese proletariat is weak, inexperienced and incapable of undertaking the dictatorship of the proletariat.

These are identical with the arguments used by the Russian Mensheviks against Lenin to criticise the taking of power by the Bolsheviks and to oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat after the October revolution. The events which have shaken Indochina since February have not enlightened the present leadership of the International any more than did the Chinese revolution of 1927; it over-estimates the revolutionary power of nationalism and forgets the ABC of historical materialism, believing as naively in the progressive nationalism of the colonial peoples as in the radicalisation of the European masses.* The nationalist agitation of recent years is no more than a manifestation of the crisis which deepens daily, and which has led to this year’s complete breakdown. The agricultural and industrial colonisation – a very obvious phenomenon under the formidable pressure for valorisation of the colony – expropriates the peasants and the petit-bourgeoisie, the classes most affected by this economic crisis; they believed naively that national independence could free them from poverty; but after the latest events the majority of them have seen their error.

2. ‘The Annamite bourgeoisie struggles for power; through a national bourgeois revolution the proletariat will acquire democratic rights and bourgeois freedoms, as in the West. After that the struggle for the proletarian revolution will appear clearly . . . The principal revolutionary force in Indochina is not the communism of the workers and poor peasants, but petit-bourgeois nationalism. In the struggle to overturn imperialism, an aim of the communists as well as the nationalists, it will be nationalism, not communism, which plays the principal role’. So goes another of their arguments.

The leadership of the Communist International should know better than anyone else that in the development of the struggle against imperialism, the Annamite bourgeoisie, just like any other colonial bourgeoisie, will take up a position on the side of imperialism; recent events have given a concrete demonstration of this. According to the Stalinist view, the alliance of workers and peasants will tear the power, out of the hands of imperialism and the bourgeoisie – since the latter will not do it – and give it to the indigenous bourgeoisie. This policy is, quite simply, monstrous and criminal.

3. The leadership of the Communist International also supports the centrist policy of the creation of a bipartite party of workers and peasants: (a) because there are too few workers, 95% of the population are peasants; (b) because on account of its exploited state the revolutionary potential of the peasantry is as high as, if not higher than, that of the proletariat.

The leadership of the Communist International accords the peasantry a revolutionary capacity which it does not have, instead of making a correct estimate of its importance.

The form of a party is the clearest expression of its intended policy. The ‘two-class party’ ** is the political subordination of the proletariat and the poor peasantry to the indigenous bourgeoisie in the anti-imperialist struggle, it is the class bloc, it is the whole opportunist policy in China before 1927.

On the ‘two-class party’ we return to what Comrade Trotsky wrote on this subject in his Critique of the Programme of the Communist International. ***

The theoretical errors which we denounce were very dearly formulated by Martynov, Stalin and Bukharin at the time of the Chinese revolution of 1927. Later, during the ultra-left zigzag period, this policy was abandoned, but only partially and only verbally, while in practice it was followed in Indochina as well as in India.

With comrade Trotsky we support the theses of the Permanent Revolution, the only living, concrete theory which could successfully lead the colonial movement to victory over imperialism and to the building of socialism. We reject Stalinist eclecticism as a false policy which will inevitably lead the proletariat to defeat.

Our Demands

We are for the liberation of the working class. We are convinced that only a class struggle overturning the indigenous and imperialist bourgeoisies and ending in a dictatorship of the proletariat can lead us along this road, and that every theory of class collaboration constitutes ideological camouflage for the rule of the capitalist class.

The Communist International is our international organisation. The Communist party is our Party. The Communist International, however grave its errors, is the only revolutionary organisation of the proletariat. We submit to the discipline of its decisions, always maintaining our point of view.

As far as the Indochinese CP and the Communist International are concerned, we are a fraction working within them, as circumstances may permit. Within the ranks of the international opposition we struggle for a correct policy for the Communist International, for its regeneration. In the first place, we call on the workers to defend the first conquest of the proletariat, the Soviet Union, which is the only workers’ state. The defence of the Russian revolution is not for us merely a verbal affirmation. The defence of Soviet Russia does not consist merely of preserving its economic development and its industrial success to the workers, but also, in pursuing in the capitalist countries a policy which strengthens the revolutionary movement, and in the USSR, a policy which develops the foundations of socialism (industrialisation and collectivisation) to the detriment of the capitalist forces (NEP-men, kulaks) and the bureaucracy. The defence of the Russian revolution requires the immediate release from prison of its most valiant fighters, the Russian Communist opposition, the halting of the repressive measures against them, and their reintegration into the Bolshevik Party.

A correct policy at the national level is inconceivable without a correct policy on the international scale. To this end, it is necessary to go back to the revolutionary policy of the first four congresses. Six years ago important changes took place in the structure of the world, forces were displaced, new contradictions appeared in the imperialist camp. But it is by the application of the principles of Marx and Lenin to each concrete case in its general framework and not by empiricism that we will conduct an effective struggle leading to victory.

In Indochina, where most of our activity takes place, our essential task is to prepare, to form, to organise the revolutionary proletarian vanguard, conscious of the historic mission of the proletariat. This leadership will fight back against imperialism step by step, closely watching its development. It will also pursue a relentless struggle against ideological currents which might lead the Indochinese masses in the wrong direction.

In Indochina, as in every other colony, the nationalism demanded hypocritically by the indigenous high bourgeoisie is nothing but an instrument which it uses against imperialism to win a larger share of the capitalist spoils; in the hands of the petit-bourgeoisie it is a dangerous weapon which would lead the country into Chinese compradorism. Nationalism which at all times has been a reactionary ideology, can only forge new chains for the working class. To liberate the proletariat, imperialism must first be overturned, but nationalism cannot be a weapon of the proletariat.

We assert that in the struggle against imperialism, the indigenous bourgeoisie, because of its congenital weakness, because of the internationalisation of the bourgeoisie, and because of its primitive methods of struggle (subjectivism, Gandhism, terrorism, . . . ) will be unable to carry this struggle through to the complete realisation of its programme. When in the development of the struggle the proletariat becomes a menace – as has happened already in Indochina – the indigenous bourgeoisie will defend its class interests, by acting in concert with imperialism to repress with greater ferocity the movements of the working class. Only the working class, allied with the small peasants, can overturn imperialism and the bourgeoisie; the democratic tasks which the Communist International imagines could be performed by the indigenous bourgeoisie will not be performed – except by the proletariat and the poor peasantry exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat with the aim of building socialism. In a word, the essential content of the ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ – catchword of the Communist International – will not be achieved except by the dictatorship of the proletariat carrying out socialist construction.

Moreover the Communist International commits a grave error by dividing its programme into stages, without basing itself on the process of revolutionary struggle in the colonies: (1) national emancipation and national unity (2) conquest of democratic liberties (3) socialist revolution. Life is not going to follow this decision of the International; it is more complex. The Indochinese workers themselves demand that these three aims be pursued together.

Our slogan is: overturning of the bourgeoisie and conquest of democratic freedoms by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The role of the Communist Party is bound up with the historic task of the Indochinese proletariat: hegemony in the anti-imperialist struggle, dictatorship of the proletariat.

We therefore fight the idea of a bipartite party. Thus we work for a strong Communist party in Indochina, prepared ideologically and practically as vanguard of the proletariat for the anti-imperialist struggle and the taking of power.

At present, when a single unified party, the Indochinese Communist Party, has just been formed by the fusion of the various revolutionary parties of Indochina – three communist parties and three nationalist parties – our task is to clarify this party ideologically and to urge it along the road to true communism.

After the defeats of revolts during this year, after the ferocious repression, we face the considerable tasks of regrouping and reorganisation. They will be performed together with an implacable struggle against the reformist currents which could gain strength from our defeats and which imperialism will not fail to promote (N.B. the speeches by Varenne and Pietri in the Chamber).

• for the creation of a revolutionary vanguard;
• for a communist policy in Indochina;
• against the creation of a two-class party;
• against the nationalist and terrorist tendencies in the Indochinese CP;
• against the reformist currents which imperialism tries to create;
• for the vigorous and well-organised struggle against capitalism leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat;
• against social democracy, which betrays the working class;
• against Stalinist bureaucracy and empiricism which weakens the communist parties.

We struggle, and call on all communists to struggle, despite the most odious calumnies of that bureaucracy which at present leads the Communist movement in a disastrous manner.

The Indochinese group of the Communist League (Opposition)
August 1930

* This is a reference to Stalin’s ‘third period’ ultra-left policy which held that the working class in Europe and the colonial masses alike were on the verge of revolution.

** This is a reference to Stalin’s policy of ‘worker-peasant parties’, which, together with the ‘bloc of four classes’, was used to justify the Chinese CP’s capitulation to the KuoMinTang. See The Third International After Lenin, New Park, pp. 162-171.

*** Published under the title The Draft Programme of the Communist International – A Criticism of Fundamentals, this was a criticism of the CI Sixth Congress draft resolution, written by Trotsky while in exile in Siberia in June 1928. See The Third International After Lenin, pp. 1-176.

On the Declaration by the Indochinese Oppositionists

Trotsky, 18 September 1930 (The declaration is reproduced on pp. 95-100 in this volume.)

The declaration, as far as I can judge from my totally insufficient acquaintance with conditions in Indochina, in its main outlines correctly expresses the tasks of the Indochinese Communists. The following observations have the aim of adding to the declaration, making it more precise, and eliminating possible misunderstandings.

1. It is necessary to speak more clearly, more fully, and more precisely about the agrarian question: the role and significance of the semi-feudal landed proprietors and of those with large landholdings in general; and about how much land the revolution would have at its disposal and as a fund for land distribution if it expropriated the large landed proprietors in the interests of the poorest peasants. The peasant question is left out of the declaration altogether.

Unless the regime of colonial enslavement is overthrown, the expropriation of the large and medium-size landowners is impossible. These two questions, the national question and the land question, must be linked in the closest possible way in the consciousness of the workers and peasants. Of course this question requires detailed study. Possibly such research has already been carried out. At any rate the declaration should contain a clear formulation on the agrarian revolution.

2. On the second page of the declaration it is said that the masses ‘believed naively that national independence could free them from poverty; but after the latest events the majority of them have seen their error’. This is obviously an incorrect formulation. National independence, as can be seen from the declaration itself, is a necessary element of the Indochinese revolution. However it is hardly likely that the entire Indochinese peasantry has come to understand the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of French imperialist rule. And it is all the more doubtful that the Indochinese masses have already understood the inadequacy and illusoriness of a liberation that would be solely national. Here the Communists have before them a vast arena for agitation and propaganda. It would be very dangerous to believe that the masses have already understood something which actually remains to be explained to them, or which can only be explained to them in the living context of the mass struggle. It is precisely in the interest of such explanatory work that it is necessary, as stated above, to link all the needs, demands, and protests of the peasants, for land, financial aid, against militarism, and so forth, with the struggle against foreign imperialism and its ‘national’ agents, that is, the Indochinese bourgeoisie.

3. On page three we find the following: ‘Every theory of class collaboration constitutes ideological camouflage for the rule of the capitalist class’. The thought expressed here is completely correct, but it is put in a way that can provide grounds for misunderstandings. We do not reject all collaboration between classes. On the contrary, there is a certain kind of class collaboration that we seek after with all our strength: that is the collaboration between the proletariat and the poor peasantry, as well as with the most oppressed and exploited lower layers of the urban petit-bourgeoisie. This kind of revolutionary collaboration between classes, which can be made a reality only on the condition of an uncompromising struggle against the national bourgeoisie, is such that it transforms the proletariat into the true leader of the nation, if by the word nation is understood the overwhelming majority of the oppressed and exploited masses of the town and countryside as opposed to the anti-national bloc between the propertied classes and imperialism.

4. On page four there is the statement that nationalism, ‘which at all times has been a reactionary ideology, can only forge new chains for the working class’. Here nationalism is taken abstractly as a transcendent supra-social idea that always remains reactionary. This is neither a dialectical nor a historical way of posing the question, and it opens the door for incorrect conclusions. Nationalism has not always been a reactionary ideology, not by far, and it is not always one today either. Can one say, for example, that the nationalism of the Great French Revolution was a reactionary force in the struggle against feudal Europe? By no means. Even the nationalism of the late-arriving and cowardly German bourgeoisie in the period from 1848 to 1870 (the struggle for national unification) represented a progressive force against Bonapartism.

At the present time the nationalism of the most backward Indochinese peasant, directed against French imperialism, is a revolutionary element as opposed to the abstract and false cosmopolitanism of the Freemasons and other democratic bourgeois types, or the ‘internationalism’ of the social democrats, who rob or help to rob the Indochinese peasant.

The declaration states quite correctly that the nationalism of the bourgeoisie is a means for subordinating and deceiving the masses. But the nationalism of the mass of the people is the elementary form taken by their just and progressive hatred for the most skilful, capable and ruthless of their oppressors, that is, the foreign imperialists. The proletariat does not have the right to turn its back on this kind of nationalism. On the contrary, it must demonstrate in practice that it is the most consistent and devoted fighter for the national liberation of Indochina.

5. Also on page four is the statement that ‘the Indochinese workers themselves demand’ a simultaneous struggle for national independence, democratic freedoms and socialist revolution. First of all, a bare reference to the opinion of the workers is not yet proof: there are various tendencies and points of view among the workers and many of them are mistaken ones. Furthermore, it is very doubtful that the Indochinese workers have actually brought the national, democratic and socialist elements of the revolution together as a single whole in their thinking as yet. Here again, a task that should just now become the main content of the work of the Communist Party is presented as one that has already been resolved. Finally, and no less importantly, it is unclear from this formulation what ‘democratic freedoms’ are being discussed. The next sentence speaks openly about the ‘conquest of democratic freedoms by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat’. This is, to say the least, an imprecise formulation. The concept of democraic freedoms is understood by vulgar democrats to mean freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, free elections etc. The dictatorship of the proletariat, instead of these abstract freedoms, places in the hands of the proletariat the material means and instruments for its own emancipation (in particular the printing presses, meeting halls, etc). On the other hand, the democratic revolution is not confined to the so-called democratic freedoms only. For the peasants the democratic revolution is first of all the solution of the land question and emancipation from the burdens of taxation and militarism, which are impossible without national liberation. For the workers the shorter working day is the keystone of democracy, for that is the only thing that can give them the opportunity to really participate in the social life of the country. All of these tasks can and will be completely solved only under the dictatorship of the proletariat, which bases itself on the semi-proletarian masses of the city and countryside. This, of course, is what we should be explaining to the advanced workers even now.

But the dictatorship of the proletariat is something we have yet to come to, that is, the masses numbering many, many millions have yet to be drawn to that perspective. In our agitation of today, though, we are obliged to start from what exists. The struggle against the bloody regime of the French occupation should be conducted with slogans calling for thorough-going and consistent democracy.

The Communists should be the best and bravest fighters against military injustice, for freedom of speech and assembly, and for an Indochinese constituent assembly. We cannot arrive at the dictatorship of the proletariat by way of an a priori denial of democracy. Only by struggling for democracy can the Communist vanguard gather the majority of the oppressed nation around itself and in that way move toward the dictatorship which will also create the conditions for transition to a socialist revolution in inseparable connection with the movement of the world proletariat.

It seems to me that much of what was said on this point in the manifesto to the Chinese Communists can also be applied to Indochina.

6. Again on page four it is stated that three communist parties and three nationalist parties recently united into a single Communist Party of Indochina. The reference to this is made in passing and takes up only two lines. However, from the point of view of the Opposition, as well as that of the Indochinese revolution as a whole, this is the central question. What do these six groups stand for – in particular, these three nationalist groups? What are their programs and social composition? Isn’t there a danger that an Indochinese Kuomintang is being created under the name of the Communist Party? The declaration says quite rightly that our task in relation to this newly formed party is to introduce ideological clarity. But in order to do that, the declaration itself should, as far as possible, define the true nature of the newly formed party more fully and precisely. Only on this basis will it be possible to determine our policy towards it.

7. The slogans with which the declaration closes (page 5) are in part too abstract and in part incomplete. They should be made more precise and enlarged upon in the light of what we have said above (agrarian question, national element, democratic slogans as transitional slogans, eight-hour day, etc).

In my criticisms I have proceeded on the basis of full confidence in our unanimity of thought, in regard to which the declaration leaves no doubt. The aim of the observations presented here is to arrive at a more carefully formulated declaration. On the other hand it is only too obvious to me that my criticism in turn suffers from the defect of abstractness owing to my inadequate familiarity with the social structure of political history of Indochina. For that reason I am not proposing any particular formulations. My comments are presented with only one purpose in mind: to point out the direction in which more precise and concrete answers should be sought to the questions of the Indochinese revolution.

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