Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
Why the Vietnamese had to Make Concessions
Why the Vietnamese had to Make Concessions
When the Vietnam cease-fire agreement was signed on January 20, it was greeted with widespread relief. Most people thought that, at last, the war was really over, or about to end. Now, tour months later, there is far more scepticism about the prospects for peace in Indochina. The situation in Vietnam is as unstable as ever, and heavy fighting and bombing continues in Laos and Cambodia.
It was in this context that I gave a talk at the Young Socialists Educational Conference in Wellington on May 5. This talk analysed the events leading up to the signing of those agreements, their meaning, and what the antiwar movement should do next. Don Franks' report in last week's Salient bore no resemblance to what I actually said, so I will outline the analysis here, in order to set the record straight as to the real position of the Trotskyist movement:
1) The cease-fire agreement signed on January 20 does not give self-determination to the Vietnamese. The United States maintains its presence in several key ways: the tens of thousands of "civilian advisers" in Vietnam such as the "military personnel managers" employed by private (!) U.S. corporations; the U.S. Air Force and Navy stationed all around S.E. Asia threatening to resume offensive operations against the Vietnamese; and above all the massive U.S. military aid to the Saigon puppet regime.
How can the Vietnamese really determine their own affairs "free from outside interference in such conditions?
2) Despite the U.S. presence mentioned above, the cease-fire agreement means that the U.S. ground troops and air force have been withdrawn from Vietnam, and it would be exceedingly difficult for Nixon to reintroduce them. In this sense the accords represent a victory, one which the Vietnamese and the international antiwar movement can take full credit.
3) The accords represent concessions forced upon the Vietnamese by the terrible pressure of the bombing and mass slaughter carried out by the United Stales over several years. No once can blame the Vietnamese for making concessions under such pressure, but that is no reason to limit the demands of the antiwar movement to these concessions. That is what Peter Franks and Mike Law (Chairman of the Wellington Committee on Vietnam) do, when they insist that the New Zealand government recognise "two administrations" in South Vietnam, namely the Thieu regime and the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
The antiwar movement must fight against the Thieu regime in Saigon as being nothing more than a puppet of the United States, and demand that no support be given it whatsoever. In fact today the central form of the U.S. presence in Vietnam is through its puppet government in Saigon. A genuine U.S. withdrawal would Coincide with the disappearance of the hated Thieu regime.
The concessions made to the U.S. in the January 20 agreement include the abandonment of the following central demands which the Vietnamese had been making since 1968: (i) the ouster of Thieu, (ii) the establishment of a coalition government, (iii)the cut off of all U.S. support to the Saigon regime.
4) The reasons for the Vietnamese making these further concessions in late 1972, which resulted in the signing of the peace agreement are to be found in changes in the world political situation.
After Nixon had failed to achieve victory in Indochina by invading Cambodia in 1970 and backing the Saigon regime's invasion of Laos in early 1971, he was facing rapidly mounting pressure at home to get out of Vietnam. This was expressed, for example, in the huge antiwar demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco in April. In order to get himself out of this corner, Nixon turned to Moscow and Peking for help.
Nixon temporarily shelved his ambition to overthrow the Chinese worker stale. From his trips to Peking and Moscow, launched from mid-1971, Nixon sought three things: (a) a guarantee of no serious Soviet and Chinese response to further escalation in Vietnam; (b) increased pressure from Moscow and Peking to force Hanoi to come to terms; (c) the defusing of the international antiwar movement. In return, Nixon offered diplomatic and trade concessions.
The third of Nixon's aims, the defusing of the antiwar movement, was possibly the mo important for him, and he succeeded to a certain extent. Millions of people were convinced that an end to the war would result now that President Nixon was talking it all out in Moscow and Peking, and the numbers and forces supporting antiwar demonstrations dropped markedly, most notably in the United States. At the same time, Nixon stepped up the bombing in Vietnam — bombing Hanoi and Haiphong for the first time and mining the ports and coasts of North Vietnam. As the Pentagon Papers show, Washington had never dared to take this step before, because of fear of Soviet or Chinese military response.
As the U.S. journalist I.F.Stone put it: "China bought her way out of containment with the blood of the Vietnamese people".
The conservative status quo foreign policies of Moscow and Peking dale back to the time of Stalin's rule in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the classic example of this policy was when, at stain's behest, the pro-Moscow French Communist Party, which was part of the French government at the lime, signed the orders sending French troops to re-take Vietnam at the end of World War II.
The leaders in Moscow and Peking are in a contradictory position. They are forced to pay lip service to "world revolution", and have even given a limited amount of aid to the Vietnamese, but this has always been insufficient to allow the Vietnamese to gain a decisive advantage.
The Kremlin supplied the most advanced weaponry and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid to a capitalist state, Egypt, but it supplied only obsolete missiles to the North Vietnamese, which were unable to shoot down more than a few B-52s. Thus responsibility for the resulting deaths of thousands of Vietnamese can be placed both in the hands of the United States and in the hands of the leaders in Moscow, who betrayed the Vietnamese when they most needed help.
In conclusion, the antiwar movement should not place its hopes on the good intentions of the bureaucratic, conservative rulers in Moscow or Peking, nor in the possibility of a peaceful disappearance of the bandits in Saigon, who are armed to the teeth and have the third largest air force in the world; U.S. supplied of course.
The antiwar movement must remain ready to respond to any new major developments, and to continue to demand, as it always has: U.S. and N.Z. Out of Southeast Asia Now!
This means continuing to mobolise people, and to raise all the related demands such as No N.Z. Support for the War; N.Z. Out of Seato and Anzus; Withdraw all support for the Saigon Puppet Regime; Free the political prisoners in South Vietnam; Indochina for the Indochinese peoples!
Only when these demands are realised can mere be a lasting peace in Indochina.