1950s >> 1954 >> no-598-june-1954

Geneva and Indo-China

The political all-in wrestling match which has been taking place at Geneva has been the focal point for the eyes of the world. It is not a simple struggle between two opposing sides but a free-for-all for any group with vested interests in S.E. Asia and/or world strategy. The various claims and counter-claims, the advances, retreats, feints, side-steps and trials of strength that precede the really getting down to grips have taken place in the glare of publicity and propaganda, although there is, in addition, the backstairs double-dealing and secret alignments which will, in due course, when put to practical use in the negotiating, have such telling effects. It is understandable that people should take an interest in the goings-on in Geneva, for it is in such trials of strength over the division and redivision of shares of wealth, which have been produced by the workers for their masters, that groupings of powers are formed which could plunge us into another war. For this fight at Geneva differs from some all-in wrestling bouts in that here the fight is a genuine one, with no holds barred.

The Viet-Minh
But there is a fresh young claimant in the ring challenging the French title to Indo-China—the native capitalists. Their interests are represented by the nationalist organisation known by its abbreviated name of Viet-minh, whose chief representative is the so-called Communist, Ho-chi-ming.

Viet-nam is the name given to the combined countries of Tongkin in the north, the empire of Annam in the centre and the former French colony of Cochin-China in the south. “Viet-nam for the Vietnamese” is one of the slogans of the nationalists. By this they really mean that the native ruling-class wish to exploit the workers there without having to share the loot with any other group. This attitude has the sympathy of many of the native governments of Asia who have only recently ousted the hated foreign masters themselves and one of them, India, has offered to act as referee at the Conference in order to help resolve the difference so that the claimants will not resort to war.

The internal situation of Viet-nam is complicated by the unrest in the native people and their desire for land reform. The native farmers operate such small segments of land and with insufficient capital that after they have paid the extortionate interest to the moneylenders there is usually insufficient left to maintain them in health. This, and the impact of revolutionary ideas inseparable from capitalism, have made of these people a force that must be placated. The Viet-minh have won their support by promising them reform if the Party succeed in seizing the reins of government.

Viet-nam
The existing native government, usually referred to in the newspapers as Viet-nam, headed by Emperor Bao Dai, is under the influence of the French. This puppet government tries unsuccessfully to steer a course which will satisfy firstly the foreign exploiters who hold much of the military power, secondly, that portion of the native ruling-class who wish for a greater measure of control for themselves but are prepared to leave the responsibility of keeping order to the French, and, thirdly, a native working population seething with unrest.

Russia
Though far removed geographically from the scene in S.E. Asia, the large and expanding economy of the U.S.S.R. has a vital interest in world strategy and it is this interest which may be affected by the forthcoming division of spoils being negotiated at Geneva. For France is a member of the European Defence Committee which seeks to combine those with a common interest in opposing the expansion of the Russian spheres of influence in Europe. The preoccupation with the trouble in Indo-China has, by weakening France, thereby weakened E.D.C. It is in the interests of the U.S.S.R. that the French and the other allied powers are pre-occupied with Asia for as long as possible. The Russians have practically nothing at stake there and thus gain greater freedom of action in Europe.

America
American interests are affected on two counts. One by reason of world strategy and the other arises from the need to safeguard their investments in S.E. Asia.

The American ruling-class regard Indo-China and Korea as bulwarks of democracy against the spread of Communism. To bring such high-sounding ideology down to earth it means that American capitalists wish to prevent their opposite numbers in China and Russia from extending their control of any more markets, sources of raw materials and exploitation of workers, at the expense of American-dominated Western Capitalism.

Apart from a considerable American investment in the French war in Indo-China the American government has invested in next-door neighbour Siam, which his a 900-mile river frontier with Indo-China. If Indo-China passes into the control of a hostile power Siam might be menaced too, and the Americans have no intention of allowing this to happen if they can avoid it.

Between Viet-nam and Siam lie the Buddhist kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia, both comparatively weak through being but sparsely populated, and almost undeveloped from the Capitalists’ viewpoint.

With the absence of dangerous revolutionary ideas —and any political unrest—these two countries, therefore, make an ideal buffer state to protect American investment in Siam and this indicates the policy the U.S.A. may pursue at Geneva.

Great Britain
British Capitalism has different interests again and therefore employs different methods to attain these ends. Having a long experience in the East, H.M. Government uses this superiority with telling effect against its rivals in the ring. For instance, probably realising that Dien Bien Phu was past help anyway, they refused any co-operation with the American proposal to despatch without delay all possible air help to the French troops, but giving as their reason that they did not wish to jeopardise the Conference.

The American embargo on war materials to China was evaded by the British, according to American charges, by shipping these goods to the British colony of Hong Kong and then transferring them across the common frontier with China.

The British Capitalists have much invested in some of the countries of S.E. Asia but particularly in the mines and plantations of Malaya. Here there is guerrilla fighting with the adherents of the Communist Party among the large Chinese minority living in Malaya who have been trying to oust the British and seize power.. But the Chinese Communist Party has steadfastly refused to assist their comrades in Malaya in any way, although by reason of British diplomatic representation in Peking, they are entitled to establish consulates throughout Malaya. Consulates are recognised channels for assistance to fifth-columnists elsewhere. Perhaps it suits the Chinese not to take on a venture in Malaya which they are not sure will be successful. Failure would explode the carefully nurtured Communist legend of invincibility, that history is on their side, a policy of inevitability that counts so much with many Asiatics of a fatalistic turn of mind. But also Mao-tse-tung, being an Asiatic, evidently knows what is meant by a bargain and the British Capitalists are probably expecting that their services over the matter of wrecking the American proposal of air help to the French in Indo-China, and their recognition of the present regime in China, will be remembered when the time comes in the East to hand out trade contracts.

China
It is reported by some of those who have made a study of the subject that China has given no help to the Viet-minh. Whatever the latter have had from China has had to be paid for. The record of Chinese dealings with so-called Communist Parties in other countries of Asia seems to support this view. But nevertheless China has, at the least, a strategic interest in the outcome of the struggle in Indo-China. This country has access to Chinese territory through a common frontier and the Indo-China railway system extends into China for 300 miles. It would seem to be to China’s advantage to have a weak nationalist regime in Viet-nam rather than France and her powerful allies. China, the most experienced of all contestants, will probably make her weight felt to the greatest advantage.

The French
The French are the present holders of the title to exploit Indo-China, which title they have held since 1787. And what a prize they have! For this is a country of profitable mines and the lush countryside produces that valued contribution to Capitalist profits —cash crops—that is, rubber, tea, sugar, rice, coconuts, timber.

At Cam Pha in the north is the coalmine-owner’s dream come true. Here is a seam of anthracite coal of fantastic size lying on the surface, 300 ft wide, 370 ft. deep and over 20 miles long. All that the workers have to do is to shovel the coal into trucks. All the owners have to do is to take the profits. Ocean transport is available in that veritable fairyland of beauty-spots—the islet-studded Bay of Along.

Those who support French colonial policy in Indo-China could also point to the development that has taken place in Cochin China in the south.. In the last 60 years 4,800,000 acres of new land have been reclaimed for agriculture. Swamps have been drained and canals dug; 7 billion cubic feet of land were dredged. Fields under rice cultivation have increased from 912,000 acres in 1868 to 5,760,000 acres to-day. In other provinces even greater increases of land under cultivation has been noted. In all some 12 million acres of tillable soil has been added to the land of Indo-China.

From 1885 to 1940 France invested a total of 5,200 piastres in the country.

Apart from its intrinsic worth, Indo-China has a strategic value arising from its position as a peninsular athwart many of the trade routes to S.E. Asia.

Yet there are people who say that Indo-China is not worth fighting for!

The Workers enter the ring
But it is the workers who drain the swamps, grow the valuable crops and work the mines of Indo-China. It is also they who fight to protect French property which they have created by their own labour or to extend the rights of the rising Indo-China capitalists. But they are not represented at the Geneva Conference and their interests will not even be discussed. Whoever comes out on top in the struggle at Geneva the workers will still be the under-dogs. For them there will be no prize. It will not alter their class position in this capitalist jungle if the French are elbowed out by a native ruling-class.

The Socialist movement alone has a working-class policy which would give a knock-out blow to all of the exploiters and throw the whole lot of them out of the ring for all time. Then will the fullness of the earth and the valuable cultures of all peoples be freely avail- able for the whole of mankind. Socialists have a slogan which in its pithy way expresses our ideas—Workers of the world unite. You have only your chains to lose you have a world to win.

F. Offord

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