Letters: What about Vietnam?
As a practical expression of my personal disgust and repugnance I ask you to take the name of this organisation off your mailing list.
This protest is brought about by your article in your January issue which carries the odious title “The Issue at Pinkville”. To give to a Vietnamese village the same name as was given to it by the American aggressors is completely unforgiveable in a magazine which purports to be socialist. The lunatic right fringe may dub My Lai thus, they presumably know no better. You are supposed to be on the side of freedom and justice, yet you stoop to the same level as those who carried out the massacre.
Your references to the “Viet Cong” are also in bad taste and reflect the limitations of a mind which has been successfully brainwashed. “Viet Cong”, for your information, was a term coined by Deim — a contemptuous term which dubbed anyone who opposed his bloody and dictatorial regime as “communists”. It is on a par with the name “Pinkville”.
You have the gall to speak of “ferocious Viet Cong atrocities”. And who, may I ask., was responsible for this war which has forced the freedom fighters to defend their very existence? Do you equate the actions of a rapist and a murderer with a person who is being raped and murdered, and solemnly conclude that it is all a matter of which side you are on? Pity help the Vietnamese people if they have to rely on people like yourself for their moral support.
I cannot decide if your paper is a bogus front, unintelligent or lamentably ill-informed on the facts about Vietnam. I do not know if the writer is consciously reactionary or merely a poor deluded fool who has read too many Time magazines.
Not that I care very much. People who are ignorant enough to think in terms of “Pinkville” and “Viet Cong” atrocities may enjoy your paper. Those of us who are concerned with freedom and justice have better things to do than read it.
(Minister, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church. Melbourne. Aust.)
When we have sifted out the abuse from Mr. Moore’s letter we find that it has only one serious point. In the fourth paragraph he more or less argues that any atrocities committed by the Viet-cong are justified because it was the Americans who started the war. This is of course a very old argument — it was used to excuse the obliteration of Hiroshima and in fact has always been used by capitalist states as part of their war propaganda.
It is true that the Americans interfered in Vietnam — in the same way as the North Koreans did in the South, and as the Russians did in Czechoslovakia, Finland and so on. In each case the inference has been justified by counter-accusations of threats from the subject of the interference. And so we go on — all the time avoiding the real issue, which is why wars, invasions and international interference take place. Why are they sometimes (not always) resisted? What interests are at stake? In Vietnam, we are seeing a struggle between rival capitalist groups for the control of an area of great economic and strategic importance. The interests in the war are those of capitalism; the people on both sides stand to gain nothing from the war and their interests are in keeping out of it as far as they can. Whoever wins, the people of Vietnam and of America will lose.
Mr. Moore, who accuses us of being deluded fools, thinks the North Vietnamese are fighting for freedom and justice. Is it part of freedom and justice to commit mass murder among the Vietnamese people? In war no one side is alone responsible for all the atrocities and this is widely accepted, with only a few people like the John Birchites on one side and Mr. Moore on the other closing their eyes to the evidence.
We thought the names “Pinkville” and “Vietcong” had passed so finally into common usage as to be acceptable to even the most touchy lefty. After all, there are plenty of protest banners which carry the slogan “Victory to the Vietcong”.
Two last points. First, why does Mr. Moore get so upset about trivial matters and ignore the main argument of the article in question, which was that capitalism is the cause of war and since war and atrocities are inseparable it is capitalism which causes the atrocities? Second—and here we probably find the answer to our first question — why is Mr. Moore so anxious to avoid reading the Socialist Standard, when his only complaint against it is that he disagrees with it?
In the February issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD Noam Chomsky is accused of confused, muddled and wishful thinking. This description would be more aptly applied to your writers.
“Principled opposition to capitalism necessarily gives rise to principled opposition to war, which—and this should always be made clear means hostility to both ‘sides’ in every war.”
“Whatever the outcome the workers will have gained nothing on either side”
“In part it (this confusion within the shell of Chomsky’s glittering erudition) is due to his overpowering abhorrence of the war, and the sense of urgency he feels about it. Everything must be subjugated to the task of stopping the war.”
May we examine these statements in the light of some of the facts?
First, here is a description of North Vietnam (‘no paradise” as you insist) in the time when it was a French colony:
“Translated into the policies of empire, the French presence made of Vietnam at once a prison and a museum. Exquisite French scholarship explored the ancient history and archeology of Vietnam; exquisite French cruelty made it the most savage colony in Asia. In my youth in Asia, I remember it as the place where I first saw grown men strike other grown men and watched the stricken cringe —white Frenchmen had the right to slap awkward native waiters who spilled the soup, or slap native rickshawmen who argued about the fare. It was a place where the state monopoly’s purchase of opium exceeded by five times French expenditures on schools, libraries and hospitals combined . . .”
It is from Theodore White’s The Making of a President. But it is mild in comparison to Edgar Snow’s reports of Vietnam under French domination where there was a guillotine in every village.
One does not even need to go to communist sources—one has only to read The Peasants of North Vietnam by Chaliand—Mission To Hanoi by Atheker, or Cameron’s or Burchett’s accounts to see that although it is not paradise, it is a new and better life for the people since Vietnam won independence from the French.
Would you have the Vietnamese still exploited by the French because we must oppose both sides in every war and the workers gain nothing on either side ?
Would they have the Vietnamese remain slaves under the French because in struggling for indpendence they might not achieve paradise and might fall under the influence of China or Russia? (Incidentally Jean Lacouiure in his study of Ho Chi Minh has described the diplomacy of Ho and his government in keeping a middle course between these two communist powers).
And what of South Vietnam:
“The Army’s area handbook for South Vietnam (1967) says 2.5 percent of the landowners held half of the cultivated land, and more than 80 per cent of the land was cultivated by peasants owning no land at all whom the landlords could dispossess without cause . . . Former Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman told a reporter recently (Richard Critchfield in Washington Star March 16 ’69) that the US Embassy in Saigon ‘informed Washington it opposed land reform on the grounds that it would create political instability’.”
The NLF may not be creating paradise but it is doing something about land reform for the land hungry peasnats. Left in peace it would be able to do more. Are you aware of the corruption, exploitation, oppression and terror resulting from the series of Saigon regimes which America has backed financially and militarily? Were the people of the South to accept this because all wars are equally wrong and therefore both sides equally bad—all governments equally corrupt and all leaders equally bad?
Meanwhile, to have any sense of urgency about opposing the war, which we see as American aggression—to have any sense of guilt about what is being done to Vietnam is to have been hypnotized by some ‘immediate’ issue and to have indulged in the guilt of the flagellant!
The trouble with your writers is not that they are looking for paradise but that they think they have found it in their pure principles which are totally removed from realities. These socialists of Great Britain are very British in their outlook. Fair play, chaps—never take sides, and whatever you do, never get ruffled! This is the same attitude which permeates the British Government, the BBC, television and press whenever the war is mentioned. In the face of what Chomsky has rightly called “an enormous pattern of devastation which, if seen in its entirety, would have to be described as one of the most evil acts committed by any nation in modern times”, it is simply not done to take sides.
Of course we would not have the workers and peasants of Vietnam exploited by French colonialism. Nor do we say that the people of South Vietnam should put up the series of corrupt American-imposed governments there. We are fully aware of what the world capitalist system has done, and is doing, to the people of Vietnam. The question is, however, how to deal with this: Is it by supporting the rise to power of a new state capitalist ruling class or is it by struggling to establish world Socialism?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that capitalism (including the state capitalism of Russia and China) as a world system has become reactionary and that it has no progressive role to play anywhere in the world. This is because Socialism, the next stage in social development which will involve the emancipation of all mankind, is possible. Only Socialism is progressive, and this alone is what workers everywhere should strive to establish.
We do not deny that the NLF in Vietnam as carrying out land reforms and other changes necessary for the development of (state) capitalism there. What we do challenge is the assumption that, now Socialism is possible, Socialists should support this. What workers everywhere should be striving for is Socialism, not national state capitalism.
Our correspondent’s final paragraph is typical of the self-righteousness of many of our critics. Because Socialists do not support their pet struggles we are accused of being unconcerned about the suffering capitalism causes human beings. We could turn the tables on them by saying that in concentrating on single issues it is they who are prolonging the suffering capitalism brings by diverting attention from the struggle to over it.
Note also that our position is to oppose both sides, not neutrality as our correspondent suggests.