Reviewed by Bill Leumer
The Revolution Defamed: A Documentary History of Vietnamese Trotskyism
Edited and annotated by Al Richardson
Socialist Platform 2003, £6.00
The Vietnamese Trotskyists of the 1930s and 1940s, along with the Revolutionary Workers Party of Bolivia in the early 1950s and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party in Ceylon in the early to mid-1960s, were the three Trotskyist groups that succeeded in exerting a major political influence in their respective countries. The Vietnamese Trotskyists, however, distinguished themselves from the two others by consistently maintaining principled opposition to any form of class collaboration on the part of the working class with any of the political forces defending capitalism. These principled politics were responsible for winning massive support from the workers and the oppressed in the southern part of what is now known as Vietnam.
The Revolution Defamed is a defense of the revolutionary integrity of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. The book clearly documents the recognition on the part of the Vietnamese Trotskyists of the indispensable role of a revolutionary working class party. These Trotskyists understood that an objective, revolutionary situation, by itself, will not produce revolutionary change. As long as national liberation movements and even deformed workers’ parties adhere to a policy of class collaboration with capitalist or imperialist forces, the revolution will be derailed. Only a revolutionary working class party aimed at leading all of the oppressed towards establishing a workers’ and farmers’ government is capable of winning genuine national liberation.
Article after article (some of them were recently translated for this volume) starkly contrasts the revolutionary politics of the Vietnamese Trotskyists to those of the Ho Chi Minh Stalinists. These articles make abundantly clear the crucial fact that the Trotskyists were able to win the mass support of the workers and farmers precisely because of their class struggle, revolutionary politics.
Citing a 1930 article by Ta Thu Thau, a central leader of the Vietnamese Trotskyists who was murdered 15 years later by Ho Chi Minh’s Stalinists, and by Huynh Van Phuong, author Daniel Hemery indicates the strategic point of reference for the revolutionists, namely the struggle was not for a bourgeois democratic revolution but one that was against both the native bourgeoisie and the French colonizers. Hemery quotes them as arguing: ‘Stemming from the conquest [i.e., the conquest of Vietnam by France in the 1860s], which was a real economic revolution replacing production in small plots with capitalist production, it [the native bourgeoisie] could only live and develop within the system established by the conquest.’ Consequently, it was supremely important to make ‘a resolute break with this self-satisfied elite, whose inevitable bankruptcy it is necessary to demonstrate’. Hemery concludes: ‘For all these reasons, the era of bourgeois revolutions had come to an end.’
The political significance of this analysis is its opposition to the Stalinist assertion that Vietnam remained ‘feudal’ so that the national bourgeoisie could still play a progressive role in national liberation. This then justified the Stalinists limiting the struggle to a bourgeois stage, thereby indefinitely postponing a socialist revolution.
In a later article in the book, Ta Thu Thau attacks the Stalinists for providing political support to the French Popular Front government, which became a crucial distinction between these two competing political parties, especially after 1937. Prior to that year, the Trotskyists, led by Ta Thu Thau, had organized a form of united front with the Stalinists in the Saigon area that upheld the Marxist advocacy of class struggle and the political independence of the working class from the colonialist and capitalist forces. Ta Thu Thau’s rejection of supporting the Popular Front government was based on the recognition that it was merely ‘another form of capitalist domination’, and he insisted that supporting the French colonialist government meant that the Stalinists were prepared to subordinate ‘the perspectives for the proletarian revolution to democratic abstractions’. Continuing in this polemical attack, Thau pointed out to his Stalinist interlocutor that ‘the danger of fascism only disappears along with capitalism’, and that he was ‘not discussing today the nature of revolution in Indochina. I say that it will either be proletarian, or that it will not happen at all’.
The Stalinists argued that it was necessary to unite the workers with the peasantry and the middle class and that to accomplish this they must join with the leaders of these forces in a common, multi-class, bourgeois democratic government, a policy that they attributed to Lenin and the Russian Bolshevik Party. In response, Thau argued that ‘The Bolshevik Party was able to get the peasantry and the middle classes by struggling against their leaders, and by refusing any Popular Fronts.’
The Popular Front, for the Trotskyists, was ‘preventing the proletarian revolution and by holding back the workers and peasants . . . [was] saving the capitalist system and keeping the fascist threat in being’. They argued that ‘it is not a matter of breaking up the French Popular Front. It is a question of saying to the workers, peasants and middle classes: “The Popular Front is defending the capitalist system. You have to carry out the socialist revolution.” We must now as from today prepare the working masses “ideologically” and practically for the proletarian revolution. . . . To refuse, under whatever pretext, to prepare the proletariat and the working masses ideologically and practically for this means to betray them, and to encourage the victory of Fascism’.
This volume contains the defaming of these courageous Trotskyists by Ho Chi Minh. In a series of letters sent to the Stalinist cadre, Ho Chi Minh accused the Trotskyists of being in league with, and in the pay of, the Japanese imperialists and of sabotaging the workers’ movement, and he concluded with this dire directive: ‘As regards the Trotskyists, there must be no compromise, no concessions. All available methods must be employed to unmask them as agents of Fascism. They must be politically exterminated.’ As a result of this policy, hundreds of Trotskyists were murdered by the Stalinists.
Unfortunately, the book was unable to deal in detail with the August 1945 revolution that erupted with the Japanese surrender. There were massive demonstrations in Saigon with demands of national independence. Over 300,000 demonstrators marched, and the Trotskyists received massive support for their slogans calling for a workers’ and farmers’ government, for the peasants to seize the land and the workers to seize the factories. The Trotskyists were winning the workers to the revolutionary policy of opposing the French reoccupation that Ho Chi Minh welcomed. This revolutionary policy alone was what led to their slaughter at the hands of the Stalinists.
This book is a ‘must read’ for Marxists who want to study the relation of revolutionary theory to revolutionary practice.
Originally published January 2004 in Workers Action (Britain)