Viet peace will come with victory
The Varsity, Friday November 17, 1972
Vietnam has become a cliche.
For over a decade, the brutal war in Indochina has been one of
the dominating facts of international politics. During that time,
it burned itself into the consciousness of an entire planet. In
the process, it served as a focus for the emergence of a wide spectrum
of radical and critical ideas, not only in the United States, but
in all of what was once called, by some, the Free World.
The war has contributed massively to the destruction of ideological
myths, and, through incessant coverage in the media, to the exposure
of what can only be called the utter barbarism of imperialism.
But, the ferocity with which the war has been, and is being, waged
seems to have lost much of its ability to shock, through the endless
multiplication of examples. And in North America at least, the current
negotiations for a ceasefire are being generally greeted with uncritical
relief that the war may soon be over, without much serious consideration
of the political implications of a settlement.
This is unfortunate. Vietnam is not a reality that can be taken
for granted or merely invoked as a particularly ugly example of
imperialism. The Vietnamese developments must be fully understood,
for they are one of the central features of an entire historical
As an aid to such an understanding, The Varsity carries
a summary of the historical development of the struggles in Vietnam
on pages 8 and 9 today. That history should not be considered in
isolation. It stands as an example that can illuminate the bases
of American foreign policy.
It should be realized, first of all, that the conflict is not between
the Free World and communist aggression.
A Free World that includes such blatant dictatorships
as Portugal, Greece, Brazil, and South Korea must have a basis of
unity other than pure freedom.
The explanation sometimes offered is that these regimes, unfortunate
though they are, must be supported since the only alternative is
that of communist rule. And, communism it is taken for granted,
is even worse. Authoritarian regimes and oppression in communist
countries, it is assumed, is the natural state of affairs. If they
occur in free world countries, of course, they are a
Similarly with war crimes, terrorism, or the killing of civilians
in Vietnam. When they are committed by the U.S. forces, they become
accidents, isolated incidents, unfortunate
excesses. If they are attributed to communists, they become
more proof of their essential wickedness.
Such a view of the world, and it is still offered by many, assumes
as well that communism is a monolithic conspiracy imposed on hoodwinked
populations by skilful foreign agents and agitators. This is a comforting
assumption for those who are incapable of believing that large numbers
of people could embrace communism of their own free will, but it
bears no relation to the facts provided by the actual history of
communist movements around the world, with their wide diversities
and internal disagreements.
Almost invariably, communist revolutions are not foreign
aggression, but uprisings by local groups that believe in
the ideology and principles of communism in one form or another.
They are based on the belief, whether right or wrong, that communism
is good for the country concerned, that this form of economic and
social organization is better than colonialism or capitalism. The
Vietnamese, for example, have not been fighting for 30 years against
the French, Japanese, and Americans in order to gain the privilege
of turning their country over to Moscow or Peking.
And perhaps it should not be too surprising that especially a Third
World nation, suffering incredibly low living standards under capitalism
should be willing, without attack or subversion, to
come to the conclusion that some form of communism would be preferable.
Nor is it valid to claim, as the U.S. sometimes does, that it opposes
revolutions because they threaten international order
by resorting to violent means. Where a country is a dictatorship,
such as South Vietnam, there are no legal
means for getting into power. Revolution becomes the only alternative.
American independence was only won as the result of a long war against
the imperialist power, Great Britain.
It is the inability of the U.S. to realize that revolutions and
guerrilla wars have their origins in wide-spread discontent that
has led it to view them as subversion of freedom. The
Vietnamese revolution, as I. F. Stone put it, was seen simply
as a communist plot, and communism as an occult conspiracy with
magical powers whereby a handful of infiltrating agitators can infect
a whole population with Marxism-Leninism though these same natives
can barely read the directions on a can of soup.
The truth is that the freedom which the United States professes
to be protecting is freedom of enterprise: the freedom for U.S.
capitalism to invest in, trade with, and exploit the rest of the
free (enterprise) world. It is for this reason that
the U.S. aids any government, no matter how reactionary or brutal,
that will ally itself with the U.S. and its interests.
And, the U.S. has good reason to pursue imperialist policies. Its
total investments abroad exceed ninety billion dollars. Profit rates
abroad for U.S. subsidiaries are about twice those domestically;
foreign sources of earnings account for about one-quarter of all
U.S. domestic, non-financial corporate profits. And, the raw materials
which the U.S. obtains overseas are absolutely vital to the functioning
of its economy. Thus, paradoxically, the U.S. economy although the
largest in the world, is also very fragile, because of its dependence
on an overseas empire.
For this reason, the U.S. opposes reform movements as well as revolutions,
although it may sometimes support minimal reforms to head off worse
trouble. Even reforms which, for example, raise tariffs or pass
restrictions on foreign ownership or effect land reforms can harm
the U.S. profit position.
Anti-communism becomes a rationalization for the protection of
the empire. But, then, communism or socialism really are threats
to the free enterprise empire, for there is much evidence that Third
World countries especially can achieve economic development only
by withdrawing from the capitalist system.
For this reason, the U.S. was willing to expend enormous amounts
of money and manpower in Vietnam, and to risk nuclear war over Cuba.
For if Cuba and Vietnam succeed, despite the opposition of the U.S.,
in making economic and social progress by withdrawing from the world
capitalist system, they will set an example that other Third World
nations will be tempted to follow. The loss of Vietnam
to communism could be survived. But the setting of the example is
what the U.S. feels it cannot allow.
What communist subversion amounts to, then, is that
leftist movements of national liberation are by word and deed subverting
the American empire by teaching that it is possible for a nation
to make progress and set up its own form of government without confusing
freedom with free enterprise, by showing that national self-interest
differs from the interests of the U.S., and by demonstrating that
the United States, for all its power and might, is not invincible.
This has been the meaning of the struggle in Vietnam. One need
not support all the policies of Hanoi and the National Liberation
Front to recognize that they represent the burning determination
of the Vietnamese people to control their own future. They have
asserted this resolve in the face of aggression of unprecedented
scale and barbarity by the worlds most powerful nation. They
continue to pursue their ultimate objectives although even their
supporters - the Soviet Union and China - are now willing to at
least partially sell out the Vietnamese for the sake of a détente
with the U.S.
This Saturday, demonstrations are being held to support the right
of the Vietnamese to self-determination. In Toronto, they leave
Holy Trinity Church at 1:15 pm, and proceed to City Hall. They deserve
full support, with the understanding that peace in Vietnam can only
come, ultimately, through the self-establishment of the NLF Provisional
Government in Vietnam, the reunification of the country, and the
complete victory of the Indo-Chinese revolution.
Published in The Varsity Friday November 17, 1972
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