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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).

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Battle for Trotskyism

Under Vichy France’s jackboot

By Simon Pirani
Reprinted from Workers Press, 13 December 1986.

Vietnamese workers’ organisations were set up in France during and after the second world war by Trotskyists.

The French Trotskyists’ opposition to ‘popular front’ politics, and their consistent defence of Vietnam’s national rights, enabled them to recruit some of the best militants among the super-exploited and largely illiterate Vietnamese immigrant community.

When Hitler’s armies conquered France, the Vichy regime subjected the majority of the 15,000 Vietnamese workers to militarised labour.

Working barefooted, eating a bowl of rice a day and receiving less-than-subsistence wages, they soon rebelled with strikes and demonstrations.

Many of the Vietnamese interpreters – these were crucial, since most Vietnamese workers could neither speak German or French nor could they read – sided with the revolts.

Each of the imperialist powers hoped to use the Vietnamese workers to their own ends.

The Germans tried to win Vietnamese support on the grounds of a common interest against France: their attempts to recruit for an Indochinese branch of the SS were unsuccessful and only a small number of Vietnamese bourgeois nationalists would do business with them.

The French Stalinists, on the other hand, tried unsuccessfully to win support among the Vietnamese workers for De Gaulle’s ‘fight against fascism’.

While rejecting this policy, a number of Vietnamese, independently, did fight alongside the French resistance.

The Vietnamese Trotskyist Hoang Don Tri was meanwhile organising the militarised workers around defeatist policies of Vietnamese national independence.

He recalled: The vast mass of Vietnamese and other immigrants well understood the French and British colonial oppression which they had previously experienced. They knew nothing of German, Italian or Japanese oppression – and even less of their barbarism.

To make propaganda among the Vietnamese without denouncing French colonialism, under which they had suffered and been humiliated their whole lives, would get nowhere.

They were moved by, and mobilised around, anti-colonialist slogans’. (quoted in CERMTRI Notebooks No. 23, ‘The Indochinese Workers in France During the Second World War’, by B. Stora, Paris 1983, p. 21).

Most of Hoang’s propaganda work was done by word-of-mouth.

There were however some leaflets: one distributed in early 1943 explained that ‘the anti-colonialist struggle and the anti-Nazi struggle is not limited to one country; barbarism and savage exploitation are the doing of fascism, which exists in different proportions in all countries’ (quoted in Stora, p. 24).

Hoang recalled: This propaganda of our internationalist beliefs created a movement in all the barracks and Vietnamese workers’ camps.

We brought the right message at the right time’. (Stora, p. 25).

At the end of the war a strike wave engulfed France: the French Trotskyists led the main Renault factories out in opposition to the Stalinists, who were desperately working for the reconstitution of bourgeois democracy.

The Trotskyist-led Vietnamese workers’ organisations, 15,000-strong, joined the movement and played an instrumental part in setting up the General Convention of the Indochinese in France, which defended and fought for the immigrant workers’ rights. The first meeting of the General Convention in June 1945 passed a resolution stating:

‘The revolutionary road doesn’t stop at the point of the reconstruction of the trade unions, but proceeds straight to the building of autonomous organisations: action committees, soviets, which will push past the bureaucratic apparatus, which the social-traitors are trying to rebuild in order to block the mass movement’. (Stora, p. 29).

This perspective of turning the post-war mass movement into social revolution, was not realised due to the treachery of the Stalinists.

But the movement around the General Convention had two important results: it strengthened the immigrant workers’ organisations in France for years to come, and provided a number of cadres who returned to Vietnam to take part in the 1945 August Revolution.*

* This is mistaken. The Vietnamese Trotskyist group in France sent their cadres back to Vietnam not in 1945 but in 1951, when the group was already split into pro- and anti-Pablo factions. – SP, see p. 51.

Letters to the Workers Press

Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 3 January 1987

In your issue of December 6 [see pp 21-25]; Simon Pirani accuses me of ‘justifying Vietminh collaboration with the imperialists, falsely claiming that they “tried to save the revolution” thereby’.

While we wait for Pirani to refute this view, can I just point out that I am not the author of the remarks that he attributes to me.

Pirani has lifted the phrase ‘tried to save the revolution’ from within a longer quotation which took from Joseph Buttinger’s book Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled.

As I used it, the quotation reads:

‘Only two lines of action were open . . . the first . . . which called for an attempt to prevent French troops from re-entering Vietnam, although widely supported by nationalists of all political shades, was consistently advocated only by the Trotskyists.

The opposite course, which tried to save the revolution by avoiding an immediate armed conflict with the French, was that of the Vietminh’.

It is quite plain that this is Buttinger’s attempt to summarise the differences between the Vietnamese Communist Party and the nationalist organisations in 1945.

False or otherwise it is not my claim. Since the quotation summarised both views, I could with equal justice be accused by some other unscrupulous adversary of advocating the Trotskyist position.

The same applies to Pirani’s assertion that my very tentative and incomplete document ‘purports to be a well-researched statement’.

I have never made any such claim. Pirani’s remark is on a par with his (unfounded) presumption that my document is available from Communist Forum.

To the best of my knowledge the WRP Education Department is the only body that has thought it worth publishing. Whether this says more about the department or the document is a matter for others to judge.

I myself have neither the time nor the expertise to undertake anything more than a literature survey of this complex and difficult topic, which is more or less what my document consisted of.

Now that your paper purports to have a commitment to tell the truth, I expect you will be happy to publish this letter and clear up any false impression your readers may have gained from Pirani’s article.

John Spencer

Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 3 January 1987

John Spencer is quite right that it was the historian Joseph Buttinger, and not he who wrote that the Vietminh ‘tried to save the revolution’ in Vietnam in 1945 by doing a deal with French and British imperialism.

If Spencer does not himself hold this view, I apologise for attributing it to him.

But if his document ‘The Vietnamese Trotskyists and the 1945 August Revolution’, currently being circulated by supporters of the Communist Forum group led by Mike Banda, is indeed a ‘literature survey of this complex and difficult topic’, then I do hold him responsible for misdirecting his readers.

He has quoted, at length, from Buttinger who contrasted the Vietminh’s ‘common sense’ politics (i.e. collaboration with the British and French) with the Trotskyists’ ‘insane’ adherence to proletarian internationalism.

But he has made no attempt to explain the Trotskyists’ political reasoning, nor even survey the relevant Trotskyist literature.

Similarly, Spencer liberally sprinkles his document with quotations from others and remarks of his own, which leave the reader with the impression that the Trotskyists were working, if not in the pay of, then certainly in the interests of, Japanese imperialism.

He neither mentions the fact that the Japanese had virtually collapsed by this time, nor has he surveyed the Trotskyists’ responses to these serious allegations which he repeats.

Of course, he may object that, since his document was ‘tentative and incomplete’, I had no right to accuse him (as I did in Workers Press, 13 December) of trying to add weight to the Stalinist lie that the Trotskyists worked with the Japanese.

But such ‘incompleteness’, whether he likes it or not, serves a purpose. The context of this discussion should be explained.

Spencer, myself and many others had to re-examine the politics of the organisation in which we had spent most of our adult lives.

And this was connected to the historical crisis of the Fourth International as a whole.

Spencer and some others proceeded broadly speaking with three assumptions: firstly, that they bore little personal responsibility for the movement’s crisis, and were not obliged to undertake self-criticism in the party; secondly, that the WRP regime under Healy was ‘immoral’ and vile and that they could just sound off against its negative aspects without attempting to explain how it had arisen in the revolutionary movement; thirdly, that this vileness was in any case a direct continuation (and not a contradictory negation) of the vile and ‘misconceived’ Fourth International—and consequently, the whole International should be got rid of.

An outlook roughly along these lines enables Spencer to view Vietnamese Trotskyism not from the point of view that this is his own history, but from the standpoint of bourgeois ‘impartiality’.

So his ‘literature survey’ ignores the quite obvious fact that the very availability of literature on Vietnamese Trotskyism is conditioned by history itself: the Stalinist version has been published in dozens of languages by the Stalinist-controlled state and inevitably affected to a degree the work of bourgeois historians (and is now being re-issued in Xerox copies of Hanoi publications by Communist Forum).

On the other hand Trotskyist literature on the subject has rarely been published, and in the case of all but one of the Trotskyists’ eye-witness reports of the 1945 revolution, kept in a file of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International quite unknown even to most Trotskyists.

Along with the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement itself, the truth about 1945 was nearly obliterated on the one hand by Stalinist repression and falsification and on the other by liquidationist forces inside the Trotskyist movement.

Simon Pirani

Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 31 January 1987

I read with great interest your articles on Vietnam and Trotskyism, particularly as this is at least the third country (the other two being Sri Lanka and Bolivia) where the Trotskyist movement has had considerable influence amongst the masses during a revolutionary situation, where the Trotskyist leadership has predominated in vital spheres of the workers’ movement.

On each occasion the Trotskyists and the vanguard workers have been massacred by reactionary forces.

Is not a critical examination overdue, with special study to seek causes for these defeats and endeavour to find a link between all three?

One common tactical approach which should be examined is the ‘critical support’ given to ‘left’ bourgeois governments, ostensibly as a means of exposing these forces to the masses of the workers and so freeing the masses from illusions.

The LSSP in Sri Lanka, Lora’s Bolivian party and the Vietnamese Trotskyists all advocated critical support to left bourgeois governments of the day – the governments that blocked the path of the masses to overthrowing the capitalist system. i.e. the Kerenskys of their countries.

It was these governments that led the attacks upon the workers. Is there not a lesson to be learnt from this?

What does ‘critical support’ mean and how could it contribute to the defeat of the revolutionary forces?

Firstly, the tactic abdicates the vanguard role to that force which one ‘critically supports’.

One cannot prepare for revolutionary struggle against the forces to which one is giving in practice support with verbal criticism.

How can one, particularly in a revolutionary situation, tell the masses to prepare their forces for the overthrow of the capitalist government, and at the same time call for support for the same government?

This is a centrist position: revolutionary words to cover up reformist practice. It is contradictory and can only create confusion with the ranks of both vanguard and ordinary worker. One cannot lead the workers to power by supporting the power of its enemy.

Secondly, critical support for ‘left’ bourgeois forces, including our own Labourite variety, creates the illusion that under pressure these ‘lefts’ can carry out progressive and at times even revolutionary acts.

This creates illusions but also subordinates the revolutionary energy and temper of the masses to influencing or forcing bourgeois ‘lefts’ to carry out a role they are incapable of, instead of struggling for their overthrow.

It denies the need for a vanguard revolutionary party to lead the masses and is in essence liquidationary—as witnessed by the history of entryism.

Advocates of the ‘critical support’ line should study Lenin’s position in relation to Kerensky. He considered such support to be not a tactical error but an unprincipled act.

To lead the masses to revolution the vanguard party must unambiguously decIare itself the leadership party, to the exclusion of all others; it must not vacillate or concede its role to another even for temporary non-tactical reasons.

To do so undermines the confidence of its members and supporters and gives the enemy the initiative, which as we have witnessed in the above countries proves fateful for the working class and the revolutionary struggle as a whole.

We can and must strike with temporary allies against the immediate and main enemy, but never under any circumstances allow temporary allies of today, who are our enemies of tomorrow, to assume the leadership of the revolutionary movement, or to infringe upon its independence in either ideology or organisation.

P. Conlon


Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 21 February 1987

We have been interested to read the excellent treatment by Comrade S. Pirani of the struggles of the Vietnamese Trotskyists in the Workers Press for the last few weeks, and they fill a gap in the literature on the subject, at least in Britain.

However, in the issue dated 24 January, there is the statement that the Fourth International publicised the massacre of the Vietnamese Trotskyists, followed by the remark that Natalia Trotsky ‘was in 1947 accusing the FI leaders of relaxing the fight against Stalinism’, without any further explanation.

The truth of the matter was that when the news of 1945 came through to Europe the initial reaction of the leaders of the International Secretariat was to support the Stalinists.

In spite of the fact that Ho Chi Minh had said in July 1939 that the Stalinists would do their utmost to annihilate the Trotskyists on the political level and to ‘unmask them as agents of the fascists’, the French Trotskyist paper La Verité announced that ‘the majority of the Communist Party of Indochina has broken with Stalinism and joined the Fourth International’ (reproduced in Socialist Appeal, mid-July 1945).

Front Ouvrier published the following from the pen of Daniel Guerin:

That is why the intellectual elite of the Annamites, after having been nationalists for a time, today adhere in the majority to revolutionary Marxism. Is not the President of the Vietminh really the militant communist Nguyen Ai Quoc? His book, The Process of French Colonisation, is known to all friends of the Indochinese people. (The Militant, 24 November 1945).

Without this information Natalia Trotsky’s complaints remain inexplicable. Her evolution to a third camp position, like that of the Cliff group in Britain, was a result of the capitulation of the International Secretariat to Stalinism in the first place, and cannot be explained in any other way. The Yugoslav affair was only the final proof, if any more were needed, as far as she was concerned.

Al Richardson and Sam Bornstein

Letter to the Editor by Simon Pirani

Reprinted from Workers Press, 28 February 1987

How did the Fourth International’s leaders react to the laughter of the Vietnamese section?

Al Richardson and Sam Bornstein say: ‘ … When the news came through to Europe the initial reaction of the leaders of the International Secretariat was to support the Stalinists.’

Must we conclude, then, that our movement was so degenerated by 1945 that it could not raise a whimper about the massacre, that it supported the assassins?

No. Al and Sam tell us that Socialist Appeal reported in July 1945 (wrongly) that a majority of Vietnamese Stalinist had been won to the Fourth International. Is there proof that this was anything more than mistaken information?

Then Al and Sam point out that Trotskyists published, in November 1945, the enthusiastically pro-Stalinist comments of Daniel Guerin. I will add that in early 1946, Trotskyists participated in an anti-colonialist conference in Paris, advancing no criticism of Ho Chi Minh. This uncritical attitude was a serious mistake, from which we can learn. But comrades made it not knowing the terrible fate of the Vietnamese section. Definite news of this massacre, in October 1945, did not reach Europe for at least nine months.

There was a reaction: Trotskyist leaders of the Vietnamese immigrant workers in France met Ho Chi Minh and demanded an explanation for the massacre. His reaction, feigned sorrow for Trotskyist leader Ta Thu Thau and a repeated warning that political opposition would not be tolerated, was reported in Chroniques Vietnamiennes and published in English in December last year by Socialist Organiser.

Ta Thu Thau’s death, Ho’s reaction and the Saigon massacre were all publicised by the Fourth International Secretariat when they received news of them.

The Fourth International’s mistake was not that it ‘supported the Stalinists’ when the news came through – but that it failed to learn the lessons of the Vietnam experience and so simply continued with largely, but not totally, uncritical support for Ho against France.

There was no mention of the Saigon massacre in the FIs second congress resolution of 1947 – that was what justifiably incensed Natalia Trotsky.

What happened in 1951 with regard to Mao’s repression of the Chinese Trotskyists was quite different. Pablo deliberately suppressed news of this.

Here was liquidationism with its hand round the FIs throat: there was a reaction to that too, from Peng Shu-tse and others.

There is a difference between serious mistakes and that sort of treachery.

Simon Pirani (WRP, Glasgow)

P.S. A question for P. Conlon (Workers Press, 31 January)

Which ‘left bourgeois government’ did the Vietnamese Trotskyists ‘critically support’?

I only know of their critical support for Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam in its military struggle against French imperialism from 1947.

(This was two years after the working class, and the Trotskyists, had faced repression by the French and the Stalinists.)

What course of action would P. Conlon have advised?

Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 21 March 1987

I’m surprised by Simon Pirani’s postscript to his letter of 28 February.

Surely it is obvious that the ‘left bourgeois government’ which I refer to as being supported by the Trotskyists of Vietnam is the Stalinist government established in Saigon in 1945.

Simon Pirani states that the only critical support he knows of was for the Stalinist government ‘in its military struggle against French imperialism from 1947’.

Is it not strange that he states this when in his very own article (part 3) he writes of a ‘motion put by the Trotskyist Ho Huu Thuong calling on the Vietminh to form a government’.

Can one imagine the Trotskyists calling for a government by the Stalinists and, on its formation due in no small measure to Trotskyist pressure for such a government, not then to give it at least practical support with verbal criticism?

This is fully confirmed by an eye-witness account (Workers Press, 3 January), by a Vietnamese worker who was in Saigon in 1945: ‘The militants of the Trotskyist group The Struggle are the first victims of the Stalinist terror, despite their proclamations of “critical support” to the Vietminh government’.

This means that both Trotskyist tendencies gave support to the Stalinist ‘left bourgeois government’.

How is it that Simon Pirani’s memory is so short? Pirani, in good Healy style, is attempting a cover-up through ‘forgetting’ historical events, to protect and defend a policy that has been catastrophic for the revolutionary forces.

This is why he remembers ‘critical support’ after the ‘repressions’ but not before - in other words the policy of Trotskyism did not contribute towards the ability of the Stalinists to murder your own people. Instead of arguing a case Pirani prefers to forget.

Innocently, Simon Pirani continues in his PS: What course of action would P. Conlon have advised?’ – as if I had not suggested an alternative in my letter, which Pirani has no doubt forgotten!

The Vietnamese Trotskyists ‘won the leadership of the working class in the North from the Stalinists … in the late 1930s’ (Workers Press, 6 December); they initiated the Soviets or Popular Committees which ‘posed an increasing threat to the Stalinist government’ (Workers Press, 17 January, see p54-55); though numerically weak, they were able to rally 30,000 militants under their banner, so paralysing the bourgeoisie, who left ‘the field clear for the activities of the Trotskyists’; they also ‘led the revolutionary masses through the Popular Committees’ (Workers Press, 17 January).

Despite all this influence over the revolutionary sections of the workers and peasants, who were apparently straining at the leash to seize the factories and the land and go forward to a state of dual power and Soviet rule, the Trotskyists confined the struggle to an anti-imperialist perspective (as did the Stalinists), pledging support for the Vietminh in these words:

“We shall not hesitate to assist it” (the Stalinist government) “and to support it with all physical means in the revolutionary struggles."

In the “revolutionary struggles” for socialism or workers’ power? Oh no, this was conditional on the government declaring itself “to defend national independence and to safeguard the people’s liberties".

And furthermore this “support … with all physical means” was to be given to a self-proclaimed ‘bourgeois democratic government’ (Workers Press, 17 January).

The Stalinists at this juncture were acting the role of a left bourgeois government, holding back the revolutionary forces, defending the rights of the national bourgeoisie, and preparing to welcome back the Allies, i.e. the British and French.

In Vietnam the Trotskyists should have provided independent class leadership to the revolutionary forces, and not compromised their role as the vanguard party by offering – in fact pleading for – accommodation with the Stalinist ‘bourgeois democratic government’.

One does not grow strong and win the support of one’s opponent’s followers by seeking to support one’s opponent, whatever tactical considerations one may plead. History has taught us that this policy is fatal to the revolution.

I challenge Pirani to show one instance where such a policy has brought about a successful revolution, whereas I can point to numerable defeats arising out of such policies.

We all make mistakes, and we must learn from our mistakes, and Isuggest to Simon Pirani that as a revolutionist he should face up to and admit that certain policies and tactics can and should be subjected to further study and analysis in the light of historical facts. To ignore the facts is to condone the mistakes.

Paolo Conlon

Letter to the Editor from Simon Pirani

Reprinted from Workers Press, 25 April 1987

How do we approach the history of our movement? To confirm hardened prejudices – or to enrich our theoretical arsenal for today’s struggles?

Comrade P. Conlon (Workers Press, 31 January) tells us that all the ills of Trotskyism stem from ‘the “critical support” given to “left” bourgeois governments’. He re-writes Vietnamese history (Workers Press, 21 March) to prove it. Finally he showers me with abuse (I am ‘attempting to cover up’ in ‘good Healy style’) for questioning him.

Yes, we must learn from history. But he is approaching history with blinkers on: he has already made up his mind what the Vietnamese Trotskyists (whose history is only now being discussed in Britain) did wrong.

He says that in 1945 they ‘compromised their role as the vanguard party by offering – in fact pleading for – accommodation with the Stalinist “bourgeois democratic government"’. Let’s look at the facts.

1. Comrade Conlon mentions that the [former] Trotskyist Ho Huu Thuong moved a resolution on 21 August at a Hanoi students’ meeting, calling on the Vietminh to form a government.

Did Thuong encourage the illusion that the Vietminh would lead the working class to socialism? – if so, that mistake was deadly. Or did he fling this challenge in the Vietminh’s face, along with calls to the working class to organise, and warnings that Ho Chi Minh would work with imperialism? The records are so sparse that we don’t know. But it does seem that by his call to the Vietminh, unaccompanied by a call to the working class, Thuong made an impermissible compromise. He did so not with the support of other Vietnamese Trotskyists, but condemned by them – a point comrade Conlon ignores.

2. A Vietnamese worker, says comrade Conlon, condemned the Struggle Group for its ‘critical support’ of the Stalinist administration in Saigon. True. But what was this critical support in practice?

In the first period of the revolution, when Japan collapsed and there was no government in Saigon (16-22 August), the Struggle group proposed a united front to the Vietminh, around slogans of national independence and agrarian reform. (There is no evidence that they dropped their independent programme; certainly they published 20,000 papers daily to explain their line).

The Stalinists rejected this proposal, and set up an administration on 22 August: so began the second period of the revolution, during which the Struggle group called for ‘action committees, an Indochinese congress, the arming of the people, a workers’ and peasants’ government, and a popular army’. That was hardly ‘abdicating the leading role’, as comrade Conlon claims.

In the third period of the revolution, from 10 September onwards, the Stalinists worked with the Allied imperialist troops which were arriving, to crush opposition. Certainly, the Struggle group delayed, inexplicably, before breaking links with the Stalinists: a joint meeting of Struggle leaders, bourgeois nationalists and the Vietminh was held as late as 19 September, where the Stalinists paved the way for repression by condemning Struggle as provocateurs.

It appears that the Struggle group paid a terrible price for this delay. (I believe this stemmed from a wrong policy towards Stalinism, rather than over ‘left bourgeois governments’ in general). Anyway, it didn’t prevent them, once the Stalinist and imperialist repression began, playing the leading role in the military struggle.

Comrade Conlon’s generalisations, far from drawing out the real lessons of such struggles, ignore them.

3. Comrade Conlon quotes a statement by the other major Trotskyist group, the Ligue Communiste Internationaliste (LCI), which declared on 4 September that it was ready to ‘assist’ and ‘support’ the Stalinist administration ‘with all physical means’ … ‘if the government declares itself prepared to defend national independence and safeguard the people’s liberties’.

Did this ‘abdicate the vanguard role’, or ‘create illusions that under pressure … these “lefts” can carry out progressive and at times even revolutionary acts’? No, not at all. If the LCI had offered ‘support’ or ‘assistance’ to the Vietminh unconditionally, without calling the working class to action, and without politically condemning the Stalinists, that would have been criminal. But the sentence before the one comrade Conlon quotes reads: ‘We, internationalist communists, have no illusions at all that the Vietminh government, with its policy of class collaboration, will be capable of fighting imperialism in the days to come’. Is this ‘creating illusions’?

The sentence after the one comrade Conlon picks out reiterates that ‘we shall strictly maintain the complete independence of our party in relation to the government and all other parties’. Is this ‘abdicating the vanguard role’?

The whole statement breathes contempt for the Vietminh and the imperialist ‘Allies’. And that theme ran through every practical action of the LCI. On 2 September, they participated in the biggest demonstration in Vietnamese history shouting ‘all power to the Popular Committees’, against the Stalinist slogan of ‘power to the Vietminh’. Two weeks earlier they had convened a conference of 150 soviet-type Popular Committees, which resolved ‘that the national bourgeoisie will be completely incapable of playing the role of the revolutionary vanguard’, proclaimed that ‘only the popular alliance of industrial workers and rural toilers’ could solve the national and agrarian questions, pledged the Committees’ aim to organise that vanguard and indicated their ‘complete political independence’ from the Vietminh and the bourgeoisie.

All the evidence points to the fact that these communist fighters advocated working class revolution and were wiped out for it. But that’s not good enough for the r-r-revolutionary comrade Conlon. To offer support to a bourgeois government at any time is ‘contradictory’ and ‘can only create confusion’, he says. For him, this tactic is always impermissible. What childish ultra-leftism!

‘How can one’, he asks, ‘particularly in a revolutionary situation, tell the masses to prepare their forces for the overthrow of the capitalist government, and at the same time call for support for the same government?’

The answer is: the way the Bolsheviks did! They prepared the November 1917 revolution by supporting the bourgeois government of Alexander Kerensky against the counter-revolutionary General Kornilov in August 1917.

They had been jailed or driven underground by Kerensky in July-August – but they mobilised workers in his support, carrying out not only the military defeat of Kornilov, but a political offensive against the reformist and petit-bourgeois parties (Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries) who still had a majority in the Soviets. With Kornilov beaten, the Bolsheviks proposed a bloc to the Mensheviks and SR’s: that they break with the bourgeoisie and take power. They refused. Two months later the Bolsheviks took power themselves and formed the world’s first workers’ government.

The ABC lesson of the 1917 revolution is that tactical alliances with bourgeois governments, under certain definite conditions, are permissible and necessary.

‘The sale “condition” for every agreement with the bourgeoisie’, Trotsky wrote, ‘for each separate, practical, and expedient agreement adapted to each given case, consists in not allowing either the organisations or the banners to become mixed directly or indirectly for a single day or a single hour; it consists in distinguishing between the red and the blue, and in not believing for an instant in the capacity or readiness of the bourgeoisie either to lead a genuine struggle against imperialism or not to obstruct the workers and peasants.’ (Trotsky on China, p. 292).

Such alliances were necessary in Vietnam in 1945, and (to quote a more modern example) in Nicaragua in 1979.

Simon Pirani

Letter to the Editor

Reprinted from Workers Press, 23 May 1987

Whilst apparently accepting that the Vietnamese Trotskyists did give critical support to the Stalinists before 1947, cde. Pirani, in Workers Press, 25 April [see p. 84], considers that such support, even to counter-revolutionary Stalinists who in 1945 were prepared to welcome back Allied imperialist forces, was justifiable on condition of course that it was accompanied ‘by a call to the working class’.

This ‘call’ consisted of demands for ‘ . . . action committees, an Indochinese Congress, the arming of the people, a workers and peasants’ government and a popular army’.

And if by chance the masses of revolutionary workers who look to Trotskyism through its revolutionary slogans and calls happen to be slightly confused by the demand to support the Stalinists – against whom apparently, the workers support the Trotskyists!! – then all we have to do apparently is to declare ‘We . . . have no illusions . . . in the Vietminh being able to fight imperialism, and hey presto, the contradiction is solved. It’s like a Papal dispensation purging ‘critical support’ of its inherent evil.

More to the point of course is that it is centrism to the core, the likes of which was also pursued in Bolivia by POR (Lora) which led to the massacre of Trotskyists and revolutionary workers by the military reaction, who were shielded by the ‘lefts’ whom the Trotskyists again ‘critically supported’.

Reformist action of support for the Stalinists or bourgeois left, who betray the workers to the capitalist reaction, is not condoned, excused or made revolutionary by high-sounding revolutionary words, ‘calls’, or programmes. One has only to read Lenin on Kautsky to learn this.

Pirani states that ‘for him (Conlon) this tactic (supporting the bourgeoisie) is always impermissible. What childish ultraleftism.’

I would go further cde. Pirani, and say, not only is it never permissible, but support for the bourgeois left, right or centre is UNPRINCIPLED. In this era of imperialism there is no such thing as a progressive bourgeoisie, be it in the advanced or backward countries; imperialism permeates and corrupts all the national bourgeoisie and their agents. The greatest fear of all the wealthy classes is the proletarian revolution.

To stave off the day of reckoning, the bourgeoisie will lie, cheat, bribe, and even espouse the cause of ‘socialism’; they will at times introduce popularist measures and thump the drum of anti-imperialism.

It is precisely under these circumstances cde. Pirani, where we as Marxists must place the workers on their guard and prevent the infringement of the working class independence in both ideology and organisation, by refusing to bow to mass pressure and submit to giving support to such popular movements. Accepting the Kerensky case raised by cde. Pirani as an excellent example Pirani declares that the Bolsheviks . . . prepared the November 1917 revolution by supporting the bourgeois government of Kerensky . . . ‘ (my emphasis, PC).

Let us now quote a participant in that very same revolution: ‘ . . . those who become unprincipled are people who slide . . . into supporting the provisional government’. And again: ‘Even now’ – during the Kornilov revolt – ‘we must not support the Kerensky government. That is unprincipled’. And once more: ‘We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky’.

The witness? V.I. Lenin (Works Vol. 25, p. 285) To ‘March separately and strike together’ is the essence of this Leninist tactic whereby we can fight Kornilov as Kerensky does – but this by no means even suggests that we support Kerensky.

One strikes with a temporary ally against a common threat through independent class action which will destroy both forces.

‘Critical support’ strengthens the ally of today – who is our enemy of tomorrow.

P. Conlon

Letter to the Editor from Simon Pirani

Reprinted from Workers Press, 20 June 1987

‘The ABC lesson of the 1917 revolution is that tactical alliances with bourgeois governments, under certain definite conditions, are permissible and necessary’, I wrote in Workers Press, 25 April 1987.

The ‘sole condition’ for such alliances is ‘not allowing either the organisations or the banners to become mixed directly or indirectly for a single day or a single hour’, said Trotsky in a quotation I used, ‘and in not believing for an instant in the capacity or readiness of the bourgeoisie either to lead a genuine struggle against imperialism or not to obstruct the workers or peasants’.

Such a tactical alliance was proposed in early September 1945, by the Vietnamese Trotskyists of the Ligue Communiste Internationaliste, to the Stalinist Vietminh administration formed in insurrectionary Saigon.

They said they would ‘support and assist’ it, ‘if the government declares itself prepared to defend national independence and safeguard the people’s liberties’. The Stalinists never made such a declaration, and the Trotskyists never supported or assisted them.

Both before and after including this call to the Vietminh in a manifesto, the Trotskyists fought for the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government based on soviet-type ‘popular committees’. They formed 150 such committees, a conference of which was broken up and delegates placed under arrest by the Stalinists.

After that time, the Trotskyists did not support the Stalinists, ‘critically’ or otherwise, but withdrew to the countryside and waged guerrilla warfare against bands of Vietminh assassins.

Comrade Conlon raises the question of Bolivia, where in 1971, the ‘left’ Torres government was overthrown by the military coup of Banzer.

It would have been correct to oppose the coup – with methods of working class struggle. But Guillermo Lora and the POR placed political confidence in the bourgeois Torres regime to lead the fight against Banzer. They hoped Torres would give the workers guns: he didn’t. The working class vanguard was massacred.

This was a political crime – especially because the Bolivian working class had previously suffered, in 1952, when the revisionists of the USFI advised the Bolivian Trotskyists to place political confidence in the bourgeois nationalist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR).

Finally, comrade Conlon raises the question of the Russian Revolution. He correctly criticises me for saying that the Bolsheviks ‘supported’ Kerensky’s government against Kornilov; I should have said that they ‘allied themselves temporarily’ with Kerensky, that they fought against Kornilov alongside Kerensky, placing no confidence in and making no compromise with Kerensky or his government.

‘It is no wonder that the masses led by the Bolsheviks in fighting against Kornilov did not place a moment of trust in Kerensky. For them it was not a case of defending the government, but of defending the revolution’. (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 741).

Simon Pirani

Vietnam: The ‘hideous reality’

By Simon Pirani
Reprinted from Workers Press, 25 July 1987

Vietnam’s Gorbachev-style ‘reformers’ face a new obstruction: the election of ‘conservative’ Pham Hung as Prime Minister.

The appointment last month of Pham Hung, 75, represents a challenge to Gorbachevist Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Van Linh, who is proposing an ambitious reform programme.

Newly-appointed president Vo Chi Cong, 74, will probably try to balance between the ‘reformist’ and ‘conservative’ factions.

But holding together the deeply divided bureaucracy may prove too much for Cong.

Gorbachevists like Van Linh are raising questions which cannot be answered by any of the bureaucrats: the seemingly endless poverty on one hand and gross corruption by CP officials on the other; the CP’s failure to tackle the economic problems left by the US, Chinese and Kampuchean wars; the need for ‘democratisation’ etc.

Vietnamese Gorbachevism first became apparent last July, when the official Communist Party newspaper began printing letters denouncing bureaucratic privilege, inefficiency and corruption.

Then came searing ‘self-criticism’ at the sixth party congress last December: delegates sat open-mouthed as CP general secretary Truong Chinh’s main report blamed Vietnam’s problems not (as is usual) on Chinese expansionism, the war, and climatic conditions – but on ‘the shortcomings and mistakes’ of ‘the Central Committee, the Politbureau, the Secretariat and the Council of Ministers’.

Politbureau member Vo Van Kiet’s report on the economy was equally blunt: targets had not been achieved, and the majority of state investment and foreign aid over the last decade went on heavy industrial projects which were never completed.

The congress turned the entire CP leadership upside down, with the most important Politbureau figures ‘retiring’ through ‘ill health and old age’.

Those put off the Politbureau included:
* Defence Minister and head of the armed forces Van Tien Dung, 72, architect of the military defeat of US imperialism in 1975, latterly a leading ‘conservative’ and corrupt careerist;
* Pham Van Dong, 79, Prime Minister of North Vietnam from 1950 and of the whole country from 1975, one of Ho Chi Minh’s closest collaborators;
* Former president and CP general secretary Truong Chinh, 80, now discredited;
* Le Duc Tho, 75, another veteran who negotiated the ceasefire with the US in 1973, worked with the late CP leader Le Duan, and had spoken vaguely in favour of ‘reforms’ but back-pedalled at the congress and supported the ‘conservatives’.

The congress produced an uneasy stand-off between the factions – but in May this year Van Linh intensified his campaign against corruption in a weekly column in the CP paper which frequently accuses corrupt officials by name.

What is the effect of Vietnam’s social and political crisis on the ordinary people?

Why, despite all their talk of ‘reform’, are the Gorbachevists, like the other bureaucrats, unable to solve the country’s problems?

No better light has been shed on these questions than by a report, direct from Ho Chi Minh City, in the latest issue of Chroniques Vietnamiennes, published in Paris by Vietnamese comrades who belong to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

‘The economy faces an impenetrable impasse’, it says, ‘There is no hope of a respite, without radical change in every field: taxation; wages and prices; economic and administrative management methods; the conceptions and criteria for the training of cadres, scientists and technicians; the opening of the Vietnamese market and the re-establishment of relations with the capitalist world after the example of the Chinese People’s Republic’.

But even these measures, says the report, would create new problems, not least a heightening of conflict between the ‘reformist’ and ‘conservative’ bureaucrats.

‘North and south alike are ravaged by every kind of social disease’, the report goers on. ‘Unemployment, inequality, exploitation of labour, corruption and abuse of power, robbery from public funds, violation of human rights, card playing, opium addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, robbery and banditry.

‘It is a hideous social reality, with which none of the worst moments in our history, either under French colonialism, or American occupation, can compare . . . ’

Without the democratisation of the regime and the aid of the international workers’ movement, there is no hope of industrialisation, or of an improvement in the standard of living, given the restrictions imposed by Vietnam’s underdevelopment and its geographical borders.

‘Here, too, we see the pay-off for the theory of socialism in a single country’.

The warring Stalinist factions are indicted in scathing tones by the report. CP secretary Van Linh ‘does not have the necessary prestige to take the party along this road. A section of the Central Committee has no confidence in him and won’t obey him, despite the pressure from Moscow’.

The report, written in February, says the internal divisions – which are raging in the government, army and police – are threatening the regime’s stability.

Southern based ‘liberals’ have opened up the press and speak of ‘democracy’; the conservatives, based in the north, aim to sabotage the diplomatic overtures to China and halt Vietnam’s phased troop withdrawals from Kampuchea.

One conservative group around Le Duc Tho launched a ‘counter-offensive’ after the congress, attempting to secure control of key state posts.

‘According to one incredible hypothesis, the recent battle between Chinese troops and Vietnamese troops at Ha Bac on the northern frontier was provoked by the conservative clique of General Van Tien Dung, to test the reaction of the new Politbureau, which is confronted with the delicate task of trying to re-establish diplomatic relations with China’.

Moscow is unlikely to stand by idly as the conservatives gain ground, the report estimates – they have their Pacific bases at Da Nang and Cam Ranh to think about.

Scandals are rocking the bureaucracy: rumours abound that the deaths of Le Duan and of Generals Hoang Van Thai and Le Trong Tan, were not accidental; Van Tien Dung has been discredited by his wife’s black-market dealings, with which the wives of veteran Politbureau member Xuan Thuy, former planning chief Le Thanh Nghi and former Interior Minister Tran Quoc Han were also linked.

‘In a word, many of the main leaders and their wives are corrupt, and think of nothing but enriching themselves, living the lives of bourgeois, without bothering about the people’s poverty. Here is the real face of “new man”, of so-called socialism’.

Can the bureaucracy itself combat bureaucratism? asks Chroniques Vietnamiennes. The situation in Vietnam following the sixth party congress provides an eloquent answer, the comrades point out.

They draw special attention to the section of the congress resolution which, after all, the rhetoric about ‘democracy’, insists on the need for a security force ‘of a more and more professional type’, ‘to prevent and punish acts of economic, political, ideological and cultural sabotage’.

The hand of the political police is being strengthened, against the force that the bureaucracy fear above all: the Vietnamese workers and peasants.

That force – which fought fearlessly against French and US imperialism – will eventually settle accounts with the bureaucracy which has climbed on its back.

In that struggle the programme of Trotskyism, of world revolution as opposed to ‘socialism in a single country’, will take shape once again in the struggles of the Vietnamese masses.

Trotskyists in the imperialist countries such as Britain have a responsibility both to fight tooth and nail to defend the bureacratised workers’ states, and also to assist in every way the building of Trotskyist parties in all countries.

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