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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 3. 1966.

Letters — Pocock's view attacked


Pocock's view attacked

Sirs,—I read with Interest Professor Pocock's article entitled "U.S. Strategy in Vietnam."

I feel I must comment on this sophisticated apologia for his anti-revolutionary stance.

Under the cloak of rolling language in scholar's tones can he seen the body of the familiar myths; the same old garbage that is dished out by the propagandists in the mass media. His whole approach is couched in the familiar terms of Marxism-Leninism, the class war, the "party," the "people," etc., etc.

All this is totally irrelevant. The appeal to the masses which accompanies the kind of revolution that he is talking about is made in precisely the above terms —in terms of political concepts and persuasions. But it would be difficult to outline exactly what kind of political persuasion is aimed at the Vietnamese peasant by the National Liberation Front.

To be sure the Front has a programme which lies somewhere in the liberal-socialist range, but it must be pointed out that this programme has been drawn up to appeal to Vietnamese intellectuals and middle-class citizens and to people outside the conflict like Professor Pocock and myself.

This is an academic appeal only. The motivation and drive behind the frenzied activities of the peasant guerrilla is an immediate visual stimulus which he finds repugnant, such as a white devil trampling all over his land and dropping bombs on him.

Thus the appeal to the peasant is devoid of the "workers arise and cast off your shackles" motif but is couched instead in terms of nationalist aspiration (with ethnic overtones) and foreign imperialism (rather than capitalism).

Scott Nearing (Monthly Review, December. 1965) has put the point with clarity:

"This grim survey of a people who have been at war almost continuously for the last 20 years presents the point of view of an outsider—from halfway around the earth. It does not explain why the Vietnamese are in the war ... For at least a thousand years the Vietnamese have been trying to enforce the rule, 'Vietnam for the Vietnamese.' In recent years their chief adversaries have been: first France: then Japan, and, since 1954, the United States. In each of these cases the Vietnamese have been trying to prevent a foreign power from taking over their country. That is the chief reason why Vietnamese. North and South, are fighting today.

"State Department propaganda overlooks this plain fact. Consequently it is persistently out of focus. State Department policy is not concerned with Vietnam but with the United States and its interests."

I think Professor Pocock overlooks the point, too. In fact, I doubt very much whether the Vietnamese situation could even be described as a revolutionary war. It is the reaction of a people against the forces of an occupying power and a collaborating dictatorship conducted by way of guerrilla strategy, which is a different thing altogether.

In his general theoretical remarks Professor Pocock peddles some more myths. The first is his equation: freedom and democracy equals multi-party elections.

This is nonsense. As an anarchist I must maintain that all forms of authority are ultimately corrupt and malevolent, but even accepting for a moment the premises underlining traditional political thinking it is obvious that this equation does not stand up to examination.

Parliamentary democracy is a farce. The people are presented with an artificial choice over which they have little control in formulation. In a state where two parties differ greatly the minority (even if it be 49 per cent) is basically dissatisfied, and in a country like New Zealand where the parties are practically identical the majority and the minority are dissatisfied because the choice presented them is relatively more artificial and contrived.

Conversely, and apparently paradoxically, there may be more room for articulation of differing viewpoints in a one-party state. a state of affairs which has yet to emerge in the socialist and communist countries.

It is precisely the above points which seem to' highlight the differences between Western and Asian attitudes. To the Western people it matters little what a government does when it is in power so long as it arrived there "legally" by "democratic" means.

Thus New Zealanders are party to a war which they did not vote for, but many. although regretting, apologise for their regrets by the dreary bromide "they are our elected representatives."

Thus government policy becomes identified with national interest and to speak out against the government is to entertain treasonous thoughts.

To the Asian it seems to be the deeds of a government which determines its worth in his eyes. It matters little how it got there, so long as its getting there brought him no harm. If it is a good government it is supported and respected, if it is a bad government doing bad things it is overthrown (which explains why the Peking regime has remained in power).

Both the "democratic" government and the relatively benevolent one-party state are ultimately tyrannical institutions, but at least in the latter case the "mandate from the people" is of an immediate and restricting nature.

Professor Pocock makes the comment: "... but not every government under revolutionary attack is a system of legality, and, if it is, the revolutionaries will, of course, try to prevent it functioning as one. To provoke the would-be just into behaving unjustly is a well-known revolutionary technique."

If this statement is to have any relevance to the Vietnam war, it appears that the professor adheres to the "if only the Vietcong would stop fighting, the Saigon government would develop into a true democracy" school of thought.

But he must recall that Diem had four years relatively free of insurgency in which to set up a benevolent democracy, and the Americans had tour years in which to oversee the implementing of the "Fourteen Points" which they are now so busy waving about with an air of self-righteousness.

The interference in and behind-the-scenes control of South Vietnamese affairs by the Americans and the bungling, obnoxious dictatorship of the Ngo family inevitably resulted in the reaction that we see at the moment. The "we create that which we fear" doctrine has never had more ample demonstration than in Vietnam.

Professor Pocock really should know better. If it is true, as I have heard, that his specialty is peasant revolution then. I suggest a re-examination of most of the revolutions of the past, since the analysis that he offers is insufficient, sometimes false, and in the case of the Vietnam war, largely irrelevant.

R. G. Benson.