The ultimate victory of the Indochinese revolution has profound significance for the global order that emerged from the Second World War. After so much heroism and sacrifice the Vietnamese revolutionary movement has at last achieved the goal of which it was deprived by the way that war was concluded. The Vietnamese have sustained an unprecedented epic of three decades of struggle against the most terrible onslaughts ever unleashed by imperialism. They have inflicted a massive military, political and moral defeat upon us imperialism and all its minions from Saigon to Downing Street. Their victory is a blow to illusions in harmonious collaboration among the major powers and an inspiration to the new revolutionary forces that the Vietnamese liberation struggle has helped to bring into existence throughout the capitalist world.
In the last decade alone the United States, gendarme of the ‘free world’, dropped nearly 7 million tons of explosives on Vietnam—more than three times the total tonnage dropped by all combatants during the Second World War. Three and a half million acres were sprayed with 19 million gallons of defoliant. At least 6 million casualties were caused by the machinery of counter-revolution. During this same period the liberation forces destroyed 8,000 aircraft, including 4,500 helicopters; they forced the evacuation of over half a million us troops, including elite military formations; finally, they have routed 1½ million Saigon troops, lavishly equipped and protected by the world’s third largest air-force. Imperialism’s attempts to escape defeat by widening and escalating the conflict have extended the scope of its military defeat and added to its burden of infamy. In every part of the world those who aided or abetted the subjugation of Indochina share that infamy and defeat. We should not forget that British governments, especially British Labour governments, were accomplices of every phase of the cycle of repression and its attendant diplomacy—from 1945, when British occupation forces in South Vietnam sought to re-install French colonial rule with the aid of re-deployed Japanese troops, to the last-ditch attempts in 1974 to salvage the Lon Nol regime, whose seat at the United Nations was maintained by the voice and vote of the British delegate.
The extraordinary resilience of the Vietnamese liberation movement can only be explained by a political strategy rooted in the aspirations of the oppressed and exploited masses, especially those of the countryside. This supremely successful national liberation struggle was based on the defence of the class interests of the poor against the depredations of land-lords and moneylenders, officers and bureaucrats alike. By contrast, the regime in Saigon never succeeded in securing a viable social basis despite the vast resources put at its command: the eventual collapse of the South Vietnamese ‘state’ was triggered by the revolt of Montagnard tribesmen trained and organized by the cia.
In achieving the necessary combination of national liberation and social revolution the Vietnamese Communists drew on many of the best traditions of the international workers’ movement which produced them. But this triumphant conclusion was only reached at enormous cost after a struggle which was repeatedly interrupted and delayed by the conditional character of the support that was, in sober fact, materially indispensable to its victory: that of the Soviet Union and China. In the end the fate of Indochina has been settled by the ordinary peasants, workers and soldiers of Indochina itself and not by the statesmen who devised Yalta, Geneva and Paris. It has been shown that the belligerence of imperialism cannot be contained by a policy of self-imposed retreat and voluntary concession, but must be driven back by the hard blows of a popular revolutionary force which appeals directly to the populations of the imperialist states over the heads of their rulers. The growth of solidarity with the national liberation movements and of opposition to the war throughout the world—above all in the United States itself—critically restricted imperialism’s room for manoeuvre and materially contributed to its defeat.
Indochina has been lost to capitalism at a time of mounting disarray on every front: slumpflation, 15 million unemployed in the advanced capitalist countries, together with the diverse political convulsions which removed Nixon, Heath, Brandt, Tanaka, Selassie, Caetano, Papadopoulos and Kittikachorn in less than a year. The precise tactics and strategy which triumphed in Indochina no doubt apply only to a limited number of countries: even in many third world states the decisive battles may well be fought as much in the towns and cities as in the countryside. But the example of a socialist revolution succeeding against such formidable opposition, and after so many cruel disappointments, will stimulate the struggles of the exploited and oppressed everywhere. It will have a special resonance in those many lands where the hopes aroused by the defeat of fascism in the Second World War were to be subsequently frustrated or repressed: in Madrid and Barcelona, Lisbon and Luanda, Milan and Athens, Manila and Seoul. In 1968 the Tet offensive helped to detonate the May events in France. The immediate reverberations of the liberation of Indochina cannot yet be seen, but they will already be silently making history.