1960s >> 1968 >> no-768-august-1968

Background to the Vietnam Peace Talks

The peace negotiations, coming in the middle of hostilities without either side obtaining an overwhelming decision, will cause many people to ask if the Vietnam war has been worth fighting.


Let us look, therefore, through the ideological smokescreen that has been blown over the mass murder there and see what are the real interests involved.


The Vietnam war is an example of an established capitalist power being challenged by an up-and-coming one. America, having helped to smash Japan in the last World War, and being in control of South Korea and Taiwan, is the dominant power throughout the Pacific, but is being challenged by China.


That America can suddenly try to negotiate a peace underlines the conflicting interests that lie behind the American government. Robert Kennedy, in running for the Presidential candidature on a policy of peace in Vietnam, is indicative of such interests, which are further demonstrated by the rise of many stocks and shares on both the U.K. and American Stock Exchanges at the news of peace.


But opposing interests arc demonstrated by the losses on the Metal Exchange and Wool Market:

  Copper, the most strategic of the raw materials, fell sharply yesterday on the London Metal Exchange when news of the Hanoi peace talk moves reached the market.
After a quiet morning, when the forward wirebars price had eased by £5, afternoon dealings saw the price “drop like a stone by £20 before anyone had a chance to open their mouth”, according to one dealer.
By the close, cash wirebars were £45 lower at £527.10s. and forward metal lost £38.10s. to £493 a ton.
Stop-loss selling also pushed down the prices of the other base metals, but to a lesser extent.

Japanese reactions.   Wool prices on the London terminal market were up to l.9d. a pound easier, a movement directly related to the fact that a large part of Japan’s economy is hinged to the American commitment in SE Asia —and to the fact that Japan takes around 30 per cent of the Australian wool clip.
There is a fairly logical belief that Japan will be cutting its wool purchasing if peace is achieved in Vietnam. (Financial Times, 4/4/68).

Some of the American capitalists hope to profit from the extensive cash crops and the minerals resources from the mines — the coal, copper, tin, zinc, bauxite, manganese, phosphates and gold and precious stones. They would also like to retain Vietnam as a market for American goods. All this cannot be in the interests of the would-be rulers of Vietnam and one can understand that they win fight against this almost to their last worker.


Those who believe that the “free world” is concerned in fighting for lofty principles should read reports from Indonesian newspapers. Indonesia has been reluctant to join Western-backed military pacts in S.E. Asia. Djakarta newspapers are rather sceptical about calls for “unity to fight communism” in Vietnam. Gotand Rojong recently quoted a Republican member of the U.S. Congress, who alleged that during June last, nine British ships, one Italian and one Cypriot ship carried 76,000 tons of cargo, (including, he claimed, strategic goods) to Hanoi — more than was delivered by Russian ships in the same period. During the first six months of this year, he stated, the number of ships from the “free world” calling at North Vietnam ports had shot up to 39, compared with 20 in the previous six months. So much for capitalist principles!


Ho Chi Minh, the so-called communist leader of North Vietnam, takes great pains to mislead the workers under his control.


He holds himself out as being at heart in favour of the workers, but pleads that capitalism won’t let him do all he would like to do for them. That if only the workers would oust the American colonialists then everything would be all right.


Like their counterparts elsewhere in the capitalist world the rulers of both North and South Vietnam have managed, with the help of the profit system, to create scarcity in the midst of plenty. In Vietnam, of all places, the climate ensures that crops are lavish to an incredible extent. Even the fish thrive to such a fantastic degree that the facetious maintain that the sea surrounding Vietnam consists of 90 per cent fish and 10 per cent water. But the food ration for the North Vietnam troops is 1½lbs. rice a day and for the civilian poor, starvation is never far away. Ho proclaims that he is out to defeat capitalism and colonialism and that North Vietnam is a communist state run for the benefit of the workers, and has changed the name of the Party he leads from Vietminh (National Party) to Vietcong (Communist Party).


But some observers cannot detect any difference between the governments of North and South. A member of the Vatican delegation said that “all they need do is to change flags, and overnight. South Vietnam could be a communist country” (The Making of a Quagmire—David Halberstam).


Both North and South are police states with similar terrorist methods, a wages system, conscription, payment by result, an exploiting class and a working-class.


Russia, China and America have been competing with each other in trying to gain favour by supplying new industries to Vietnam. Of these the cement factories are directly useful in prosecuting the war and so are the roads and civil engineering works.


The country is being opened up and the mines developed, and, at the same time, is rapidly becoming modernised and mechanised. For years the workers engaged in the war have been operating up-to-date equipment, like their opposite members in the American forces. Even the agricultural workers in producing coffee, rubber and rice, are intimately bound up with international markets. They work under capitalist conditions and when the cash crops they produce cannot be sold on the world’s markets they are unemployed.


It is the battles that creates the sensational news coming from Vietnam and help to sell newspapers in the West. But, when peace is declared, and the dust of battle settles, it will be found that a great change has quietly been coming about and that Vietnam will have taken its place in the present day world of capitalism. But there will be another war continuing there — the class war. The world of capitalism is becoming one!


Wealth will be churned out and fortunes will be made. The war in Vietnam will have been worth fighting after all —but not for the workers.


Frank Offord