Tag Archives: China

Castro Didn’t “Take The Guns”, Alex Jones: Guns & Socialism

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog:

January 11, 2013

Looks like he missed a few guns…

True, we have a higher gun violence level, but overall, muggings, stabbing, deaths — those men raped that woman to India to death with an iron rod 4 feet long. You can’t ban the iron rods. The guns, the iron rods, Piers, didn’t do it, the tyrants did it. Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns, and I’m here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! It doesn’t matter how many lemmings you get out there in the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?

Alex Jones on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, 1/7/13

Of all the most common arguments used by the Right in the US to defend their helter skelter view of the Second Amendment, none stands more dishonest than their indictment of socialist leaders like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro as ‘tyrants who take guns’.

The argument goes something like this. First, throw out the names of some political leaders demonized in the United States. Second, claim that they banned guns and confiscated firearms from the population and that this act more than anything else facilitated their rise to power. Finally, liken gun control advocates and liberals to these leaders and argue that regulation of gun ownership is a slippery slope towards ‘tyranny.’

The infamous Drudge Report headline, bizarrely likening Stalin to Hitler

Incidentally, this argument has gotten a lot more press coverage in the last week. The now-infamous Alex Jones-Piers Morgan interview was only outdone by a Drudge Report headline from January 9th, which featured pictures of Stalin and Hitler above a caption that read, “White House Threatens Executive Orders on Guns.”

It’s all nonsense, of course, starting with the premise that the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, warrior of the highest escalations of capital, has anything in common with revolutionary leaders like Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Chavez. Then there’s the bloated death totals we hear quite often in the corporate media and Western academia, parroted most recently by Jones, who claimed that Mao “killed about 80 million people because he’s the only guy who had the guns.”

However, a closer examination of the historical record reveals that the entire argument is based on distortions or outright falsehoods. Guns were not summarily banned in any of these countries – including Nazi Germany, as a matter of historical note. Although firearm ownership took a distinctly different form than the Wild Wild West policies in the United States, which favor individual rights and vigilante justice over social and class rights, guns remained an important part of defending socialism from imperialist aggression.

Before we go any further, I want to make one point very clear: Return to the Source has already published a piece on the Marxist position on gun control, to which people ought to refer back. We have no interest in defending liberals and gun control advocates like Piers Morgan, whose position is just as much a part of bourgeois class oppression as the right-wing’s gun fanaticism. We also have no interest in beating a dead horse by calling attention to Alex Jones’ bizarre antics and combative demeanor.

Instead, our focus is on the allegations that socialist government is predicated on the confiscation of firearms. History runs completely counter to this claim by the right-wing, and the record in most socialist countries reflects that the people generally retained the right to bear arms socially as a class, while also retaining benign individual gun rights related to hunting and sports.

Let’s start with Cuba. If Fidel Castro’s goal was to confiscate all private firearms in Cuba, one has to conclude from the data that he’s done a poor job. According to GunPolicy.org, there are an estimated 545,000 privately owned guns held by civilians in Cuba, meaning that approximately 4.8 people per 100 own guns. It’s not as high as the staggering 88.8 guns per person in the US – a grossly inflated statistic that doesn’t account for at least 48% of all gun owners having more than four guns – but it patently disproves the assertion by Alex Jones, the Drudge Report, and the right-wing fanatics that “Fidel Castro took the guns.”

Of course, there are regulations for firearm ownership in Cuba, but even this reflects the very different meaning of ‘the right to bear arms’ in a socialist country. Chapter 1, Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba enshrines this right:

“When no other recourse is possible, all citizens have the right to struggle through all means, including armed struggle, against anyone who tries to overthrow the political, social and economic order established in this Constitution.”

At first glance, this horrifies the gun fanatics, who argue that one only has the right to bear arms in Cuba if they are doing so in defense of the existing government. Indeed, that is exactly the case. Arms for hunting and personal protection in some cases are allowed, again according to GunPolicy.org, but the chief function of the right to bear arms in a socialist country is to defend the class power of the workers.

The Bay of Pigs invaders captured and detained by an armed Cuban citizen

The lunacy of the anti-communist gun argument is accentuated further though by a look at Cuban history. After taking power on January 1, 1959, Castro and the July 26th Movement set to work expropriating the property held by oligarchs, corporations, wealthy land owners, and bankers in Cuba. This angered the US and those elements loyal to the Batista government, who sought to restore capitalism to Cuba through an invasion. Castro, well-aware at the foreign plots to bring down the Cuban revolution, “universally armed all of its workers, including women, for the defense of their country,” according to the Cuba History Archive.

Castro put it this way in a 1960 speech entitled ‘Establishing Revolutionary Vigilance in Cuba‘. After a bomb went off nearby the place he was speaking, Castro defiantly proclaimed, “For every little bomb the imperialists pay for, we arm at least 1,000 militiamen!” His words received thunderous applause.

To best exercise the right to bear arms collectively in defense of the revolution, the Cuban people organized themselves and formed popular citizens militias to defend themselves and the revolution, which was immediately under attack. After US planes bombed three Cuban sugar mills in October 1959, “Cubans form[ed] a popular militia” to rebuild. By September 1960, the CIA was funding rogue forces within Cuba to sabotage industry and stage terrorist attacks aimed at bringing down Castro’s government. The people responded in the form of popular citizens militias again, who promptly put down the imperialist-instigated unrest.

From the same speech, Castro described the role of these militias, which would later go on to form the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, as follows:

“The imperialists and their lackeys will not be able to make a move. They are dealing with the people, and they do not know yet the tremendous revolutionary power of the people. Therefore, new steps must be taken in the organization of the militia. Militia battalions will be created throughout Cuba. Each man for each weapon will be selected. A structure will be given to the entire mass of militiamen so that as soon as possible our combat units will be perfectly formed and trained.”

Of course, the largest and most trying test for the new revolutionary government and the Cuban people was the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, organized by Eisenhower and executed by Kennedy. An armed band of Cuban exiles were to invade Cuba from the Bay of Pigs, establish a foothold in the country, and with US military support, create “a new Cuban government under U.S. direction.” The Cuban History Archive describes the initial moments of the invasion:

Shortly before 3 a.m. on Monday morning, a civilian member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution spots the U.S. warships, just yards off the Cuban shores. Less than 20 minutes later, the entire Cuban government is informed about the invasion, and their response is immediate. Castro tirelessly coordinates defense of the island; first the civilian population is immediately alerted about the invasion: for the past months the Cuban government had begun an aggressive program of giving weapons to the entire Cuban population and training their people in basic military tactics to defend the island in case of invasion.

Coordinating with the newly assembled Cuban Armed Forces, the armed Cuban populace repelled the US invaders handily. A pledge of support by the Soviet Union discouraged Kennedy from fully committing to US air support for the rebels. When Kennedy did finally authorize overt US military intervention, it was too late. One last time, we look to the Cuban History Archive:

All planned support by the U.S. Air Force is called off, and the 2506 Brigade is left stranded to fend for itself in Cuba. The battle was going poorly for the U.S. invaders, not able to gain an inch on the beach they had been deserted. In the face of utter defeat, Kennedy continues to maintain that the U.S. is not involved in the invasion. After two days of intense fighting, Kennedy momentarily reverses his previous decision with his stomach full of regret, and orders the U.S. Air Force to assist the invasion force in what way they can. Four American pilots are killed, shot down by people who months ago had known little more about the world than harvesting sugar.

Let’s call it what it is: the Alex Jones/Drudge Report argument against gun control is a flat-out lie. The Cuban people were widely and universally armed, and they received their guns from Castro’s government, no less.

Jones was right about one point, though. Guns and an armed population were essential to resisting the rise of tyranny. Without an armed population, there’s a chance that the Bay of Pigs invasion would have re-installed the corrupt, mafioso Batista regime for the profit of US corporations and banks. Instead, the Cuban people exercised their right to bear arms collectively – thus democratically – and defended the Cuban Revolution, free from foreign rule or dominance. They were successful, and their experience is a testament to the role of guns in a socialist society.

This isn’t uniquely true to Cuba, either. The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania’s Constitutionguaranteed the right of its citizens to own firearms, for which military training was a necessity. Even before the right was enshrined in the 1976 Constitution, Chairman Enver Hoxha said this in a 1968 conversation with Ecuadorian leaders:

“All our people are armed in the full meaning of the word. Every Albanian city-dweller or villager, has his weapon at home. Our army itself, the army of a soldier people, is ready at any moment to strike at any enemy or coalition of enemies. The youth, too, have risen to their feet. Combat readiness does not in any way interfere with our work of socialist construction. On the contrary, it has given a greater boost to the development of the economy and culture in our country.”

In her book Albania Defiant, Jan Myrdal describes the tremendous scale to which Socialist Albania armed its people:

The entire Albanian people are armed, but the navy, the air force, and armored units are—naturally enough—not particularly strong. In May 1961 the Soviet leaders tried to undermine Albania’s defenses by giving their officers orders to steal Albania’s eight submarines. Naturally, this theft irritated the Albanians. But it hardly undermined Albania’s defenses, which are based on the ability of its totally armed population to defend its mountains.

Chinese support is important, but crucial to Albania’s defense is that the entire Albanian people are armed, have weapons. There are weapons in every village. Ten minutes after the alarm sounds, the entire population of a village must be ready for combat. There has never been any shortage of weapons in Albania, but never have the people been as armed as they are today. (Source)

Other socialist states like the former Yugoslavia and nationalist states like Libya guaranteed widespread gun ownership. In the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries, military-grade education that included the assembly and use of guns was mandatory for all students in middle school onward, according to Joseph S. Roucek’s October 1960 article, ‘Special Features of USSR’s Secondary Education’.

The People’s Republic of Poland went a step further and maintained a citizens militia called Milicja Obywatelska until its fall in 1990, which any citizen could join and receive indoor firearm training and bear arms. Some kind of collective outlet for gun use and ownership existed in most socialist countries, not unlike Cuba’s own Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Like all capitalist countries, the socialist countries adopted different laws and had different levels of regulation, but the overarching trend was that the right to bear arms was to be exercised socially and collectively. While this won’t satisfy the cravings of fanatics like Jones, it provides leftists with a more democratic way of understanding the right to bear arms.

Different material conditions require different responses, though. Jones’ claim that Venezuela has “taken the guns” under Hugo Chavez is dishonest for a number of reasons. It is true that Venezuela has discontinued the legal right of citizens to purchase firearms from state manufacturers for private use, but this came after international outrage at the unusually high murder rate in the South American country, with nearly 18,000 murders annually. About 70% of murders in South America are linked to guns – versus just 25% in Western Europe – so the Venezuelan government has taken the logical step of ending the widespread sale of firearms to curb crime.

Will it work? Time will tell. The point, though, is that Chavez didn’t “take the guns” to consolidate ‘tyranny’. In fact, he’s stood for eight elections, most recently in October 2012; an elections process that former US President Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world.”

All of it goes to say that Alex Jones and the Drudge Report are guilty of outright falsifications. It’s not that we expect better from these two fringe right-wing sources, but we are concerned that many people will hear these outlandish claims and associate socialism with gun control.

The right to bear arms means something different in socialist countries, but it still exists. Instead of the individual bourgeois right as it exists in the US – resulting in the vigilante murder of Black and Latino people from Reconstruction to the present day – gun ownership becomes a social right of the working class to exercise in defense of the revolution. And regardless of the lies and distortions that the right-wing puts out, that socialist exercise of the right to bear arms makes it a fundamentally more democratic right than we have in the US.

CPN-Maoist Chairman Kiran: ‘China respects our sovereignty, India sets evil eye on Nepal’

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The following article below was originally published by Telegraph Nepal

Mohan Baidya Kiran, Chairman of the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist.

Mohan Baidya Kiran, Chairman of the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist.

Nepal note: China good, India evil, NCP-Maoist leaders claim

January 9, 2013

Whereas China respects Nepal’s sovereignty unconditionally, India on the other hand, has set an evil eye on Nepal. The northern neighbor has respect for us but the Indian ruling elites have always looked towards us with mal-intent. India’s evil eye towards Nepal must come to an end.

Addressing the inaugural session of the sixth general assembly of the party, Chairman Mohan Baidya Kiran of Nepal Communist Party-Maoist, made these fiery remarks in Tudikhel in Kathmandu, January 9, 2013.

Chinese Ambassador Yang Houlan was also present on the occasion. This has immense meaning.

Vice Chairman C.P. Gajurel informed the crowd that the party has received a congratulatory message from the Communist Party of China.

“The Indian expansionism is the major obstacle towards successful completion of our revolt,” Baidya continued.

“We do not want to criticize India for nothing. We want friendly relations with the people of India and we also want good relations to exist between the two countries. There exist several unequal treaties between the two countries. The Indian ruling elites continue to treat us unequally and they have set an evil eye on our country. There lay threat to our sovereignty from the South.”

In his high voltage speech, Chairman Baidya also said that his party was ready to take the charge of the nation.

But only if awarded. But who will begin this charitable work?

“We will come with new policies, plans and objectives. We will focus our discussion on defeating imperialists and expansionists. We will bring our plan of action to successfully complete the revolt that began a decade back. We are ready to take the country forward in the direction traced by our party.”

“It has become wide and clear that the parliamentary parties have become a failure. They are outdated. There is however, the need for alliance between real communists, republicans and nationalists. We do not want to maintain our relations with the parliamentary parties.”

Seated beside the firebrand leader Netra Bikram Chan Biplav was the Chinese ambassador followed by the Ambassador from North Korea.

Biplav, as per the media reports, has been secretly meeting PM Bhattarai upon his return from China.

The party leaders Dev Gurung, Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’, Netra Bikram Chand Biplav, C.P. Gajurel, Manik Lal Shrestha were also present on the dais.

Spokeswoman, Pampha Bhusal told the reporters that none representing the parliamentary parties including the Unified Maoists Party were invited to take part in the inaugural session.

Societal boycott?

“Our objective is to fight against the parliamentary system. It would have been unsuitable to have brought them to the dais”.

The Diaoyu islands belong to China

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The following statement below was originally published by Red Youth, the youth organization of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and issued by the International Department of Red Youth in connection with the recent demonstrations in China; not the demo’s promoted in Western media concerning “censorship” [censorship of anti-socialist propaganda] – BUT the really massive, militant and anti-imperialist rallies against at Japanese and US imperialism!

January 9, 2013

This past year China has seen huge demonstrations against the increasingly aggressive and bellicose behaviour of Japanese imperialism. These protests have gripped every region and major city across the country, with protestors shouting “Down with Japanese imperialism!” and “1.3 billion Chinese can smash little Japan!” At a recent protest, Chinese students surrounded the US ambassador’s motorcade in Beijing, shouting at him to answer for his country’s support for Japan.

People from all sections of Chinese society, from middle-school students to the elderly, have participated in the protests holding placards denouncing imperialism, waving red banners and the flag of the People’s Republic of China – and many proudly raising portraits of Chairman Mao.

One of the largest days of protest coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Mukden incident, which marked the beginning of Japan’s invasion of China. Many Chinese are angry that Japan still refuses to acknowledge or apologise for its slaughter of many millions of Chinese. This unrepentant attitude towards its imperial past, as well as its ongoing colonial delusions, disgusts the people of China, who know the price they paid for their freedom from colonialism.

The background to these protests begins in 1895, when Japan forced China to relinquish control over many of its island territories – the Taiwan and the Diaoyu islands to name just two. This was only three years before Britain was able to occupy all of Hong Kong. In this era, China was characterised as ‘the weak man of Asia’, and seen as an easy target by both European and Japanese imperialists. Many European countries controlled swathes of China and their colonial puppets could operate outside of Chinese law.

Even when the Chinese communist party was founded in 1921, European empires dominated Shanghai and the French colonial police attempted to break up the first congress of the CPC. The era of colonial subjugation in China didn’t truly end until the victory of the communist forces in 1949, when Jiang Jieshi’s (Chiang Kai-shek’s) surrogate regime (which was entirely dependent on US capital and weapons) was finally defeated by the People’s Liberation Army.

At the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the USA promised freedom to Japan’s colonial subjects, but, as we know from the case of Korea, the people of Japan’s former colonies in fact just swapped one master for another.

These recent China protests have also highlighted the way the alliance between Japanese and US imperialism. The USA stands with Japan against China and other nations in Asia, including the DPRK. The USA’s backing of Japan is important in its so-called ‘Asia pivot’ of international relations, as it seeks to encircle, contain and weaken an ever-stronger and more confident China. This strategy is reminiscent of the US approach in the late 1940s, when President Harry Truman talked about “containment” of communism. It is clear that the US is as determined as ever to undermine socialism in Asia.

The USA’s ‘pivot towards Asia’ shows that imperialism is preparing military aggression in Asia. The governments of Japan and Taiwan are upgrading and expanding their militaries with huge US help, and large numbers of US troops and bases are being deployed to countries such as Australia in a definite trend towards increased militarisation of the region.

The new right-wing Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said there would be no negotiation or compromise by Japan over the disputed islands and that he is prepared to send more ‘permanent staff’ to the islands. At the same time, the Japanese right wing are calling for a scrapping of a clause in the Japanese constitution which says Japan’s military can only be used in self-defence.

On 6 January this year, Japan’s prime minister ordered the military to consider deploying fighter jets to the Diaoyu islands to prevent Chinese planes flying through the island’s airspace. Meanwhile, as this article is being written, and in another act of unprovoked and unjustified aggression, Japan has boarded Chinese ships near the islands.

Progressive people everywhere must oppose the designs of Japanese and US imperialism in China and throughout Asia.

Down with Japanese imperialism! Down with US imperialism! Hands off China!

For more information on this dispute and Chinese socialism, visit:

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/754115.shtml

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90883/8084122.html

http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-01/09/content_16096980.htm

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/754535.shtml

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90883/8044425.html

 

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

January 8, 2012

Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam

At Return to the Source, we frequently use the term ‘actually existing socialism’ to describe various countries that we identify as socialist. The term specifies ‘actually existing’ to highlight the need to approach socialism from a materialist, rather than idealist perspective. We would define actually existing socialism as the material manifestation of the socialist ideal. Imperfect as it may be, it is the reality of what it takes to build socialism in a world dominated by imperialism.

But what does actually existing socialism mean for revolutionaries in the 21st century, long after the fall of most of the socialist bloc? Five countries – Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – survived the wave of counter-revolutions in the early 1990s, but their survival has forced them to make certain concessions and retreats to the market system in varying degrees.

Much to the dismay of many leftists, China, Vietnam and Laos have all pursued a path of development that emphasized the role of a heavily regulated market economy in continuing to build socialism. Cuba and the DPRK maintained planned economies more similar to the Soviet Union’s model, but even recently they have accepted strategic market reforms.

Though the market reforms of China and Vietnam have both led to tremendous economic growth, the actual implementation of these new economic policies is decidedly unique. For Trotskyites and left-communists, these market reforms are simply manifestations of state capitalist policies. However, a closer look reveals that these market reforms were deliberate policy decisions demanded by the masses to continue building socialism in a post-Soviet world.

Like China, the commanding heights of the Vietnamese economy remains in the hands of the state. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) – the party of the working class and peasantry – remains at the helm of the state, and it still relies on a planned economic model that incorporates some market elements. The working class still holds political and economic power in Vietnam, and the market reforms were implemented as a means of strengthening socialism rather than weakening it.

Indeed, if many critics of actually existing socialism actually looked into Vietnam, they would find a vibrant protest movement by workers and peasants who work with, rather than against, the CPV to improve socialism. The state subordinates the interests of capital, both foreign and domestic, to the class interests of the people, and the CPV plans the economy to address the needs and demands of the working class first and foremost.

At varying points in history, socialist countries have had to make certain temporary concessions to the market in order to strengthen and preserve socialism. Economically backwards nations that have socialist revolutions face the task of revolutionizing the productive forces in order to meet the material needs of the masses. As Lenin so adequately put it, “Electricity plus soviets equals socialism.”

Vietnam is continuing the arduous task of socialist construction. Hardened by the experience of savage onslaught by US imperialism and inspired by their victory over it, the Vietnamese people have persevered through periods of retreat and economic crisis to continue building socialism in the 21st century. Though market reforms have brought many challenges and negative consequences, the overall orientation of the Vietnamese state and economy is towards the working class, and that alone makes socialism in Vietnam worth studying and defending.

This essay is broken into smaller, digestible chapters:

  • Doi Moi, Market Reforms & Socialism in Vietnam
  • Socialist Market Economies vs. Capitalist Market Economies
  • Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam
  • Trade Unions & Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam
  • Market Reforms as a Mass Demand
  • Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom’: Protest & the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Vietnam
  • What Does Actually Existing Socialism Mean for Socialists in the US?

While the specifics of Vietnam’s market reforms are discussed at length in this piece, we see no reason to reinvent the wheel and one again demonstrate how market socialism is rooted firmly in the direct ideas and experiences of Marx and Lenin. Readers interested in our discussion on market socialism and Marxism-Leninism should refer back to China & Market Socialism: A Question of State & Revolution.

Doi Moi, Market Reforms & Socialism in Vietnam

In his 2010 book, Vietnam: Rising Dragon, journalist Bill Hayton argues that despite market reforms, Vietnam remains a patently socialist country. Sympathetic but not apologetic towards Vietnamese society, Hayton is a Western liberal but even he cannot escape the conclusion that Vietnam is decidedly different from the other capitalist countries in Asia. His book may be the most useful and telling study on modern Vietnam available in English, and we will quote it profusely throughout this piece. Unless otherwise denoted, all quotes come from his book.

After the devastation wrought by the US imperialist war against Vietnam and the continued legacy of French colonialism, “the rural economy was in ruins, the north had been bombed back to a pre-industrial age and the war had killed, wounded or displaced millions.” Vietnam’s ravaged infrastructure forced the country to import about “200,000 tonnes of rice just to prevent starvation.” Further adding to the economic problems, Vietnam was drawn into a war against its neighbor, Democratic Kampuchea (DK), after Khmer Rouge troops attacked Vietnamese citizens on the border. This led to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an ally of the DK, to cut off essential economic aid to Vietnam.

In this context, limited market reforms were implemented to preserve, rather than dismantle, socialism. These reforms strikingly resembled the New Economic Policy (NEP) that Lenin and the Bolsheviks implemented in the Soviet Union in 1921. Under this first set of market reforms, “State-owned enterprises still had to meet their commitments to the central plan – but they were now allowed to buy and sell any surplus independently.” In the agricultural sector, “Farmers could also sell any rice they had left over once they’d supplied their allotted quota.”

Rather than undermining socialism, these reforms actually protected the working class orientation of the Vietnamese economy. Like in the Soviet Union, “some State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were already trading informally, and even doing business with foreigners, just to pay the bills. By tacitly approving these informal transactions the Party leadership hopes to control them and gradually rein the in.” These initial efforts failed, and illegal trading doubled from 1980 to 1982, creating a similar ‘second economy’ to the one seen in the Soviet Union.

The CPV responded and “tried to get tough” with measures like Decree 25-CP, which ordered “all state firms to register their market trading.” At this point, the CPV introduced the policy of doi moi, which means ‘change to something new’. Doi Moi boosted agricultural output and reduced the country’s rampant inflation, which had “hit almost 500 per cent” in 1987.

Just as Lenin and Stalin saw the NEP as a temporary retreat in order to meet the challenges posed to socialist construction, the CPV used – and continues to use – market reforms to strengthen socialism, and continued control of the economy by the state insures that the fledgling class of business owners never develops an independent class character.

However, the limited scope of these market reforms changed in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. No event had a greater impact on the remaining five socialist countries than the dissolution of the USSR, which was the largest trading partner for four of the five countries. Not unlike Cuba, Vietnam was heavily dependent on Soviet aid, especially following China’s hostility after the war for the liberation of Kampuchea. It is critical to understand that the loss of the USSR as a trading partner forced the CPV to consider the long-term viability of these reforms to insure continued economic growth and prevent the overthrow of socialism in Vietnam. Hayton writes:

“In 1981, aid from the Soviet Union funded about 40 per cent of the Vietnamese state budget. In 1991, it was cut off completely. The Party declared Vietnam open for foreign investment and the combination of low wages, under-used factories and a great geographical location was too tempting for overseas corporations to miss.”

However, this was decidedly different from the counter-revolutions and capitalist restoration wave that swept Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Hayton continues:

“But even at this point, the state remained in control, and foreign investment was directed into joint ventures with state firms. In every other communist country that has embarked on economic transition, the proportion of the economy controlled by the state has fallen. In Vietnam it actually rose: from 39 per cent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2003 – and these figures exclude foreign-invested firms, which were usually joint ventures with SOEs.”

The economic reforms performed their stated purpose and strengthened Vietnamese socialism. With the state taking an increasingly greater role in the economy, Vietnam’s SOEs began to produce at a level that replaced the lost Soviet aid that had devastated the economy a decade earlier. Once again, we quote Hayton:

“But unlike many other countries, state control did not mean economic torpor – growth rocketed to 8 per cent a year. The boom was particularly strong in the south. By the end of the decade, state firms in Ho Chi Minh City contributed about half of the national state budget. In effect Saigon and its surroundings had taken over the role performed by the Soviet Union two decades earlier.”

Vietnam’s involvement in the World Trade Organization is often criticized as a deep concession to international capital, but this view demonstrates a mistaken, ill-informed view of Vietnamese socialism. Although the World Bank and the IMF were allowed to lend to Vietnam starting in 1993, Vietnam resisted taking even the most enticing loans from both since the “country had very little debt and was making enough money from exports and commercial foreign investment not to need cash.”

In 1998, Vietnam was offered more loans by the World Bank in the form of more than $2.7 billion in conditional and unconditional funding “if it [the government] agreed to implement a timetable to sell off the remaining SOEs, restructure the state banking sector and introduce a trade reform programme.” Although the CPV took the deal, they “took no action to implement it” because the “demands were too much for the mainstream of the Party to accept.” Hayton notes that “Over the course of three years, it turned down a total of $1.5 billion because it placed political stability ahead of the promises of economic liberalisation,” political stability meaning the working class orientation of the economy. He says, “Vietnam had gone eyeball-to-eyeball with the mighty institutions from Washington and won.”

Hayton takes exception to the idea that the presence of private businesses and commercial trade makes Vietnam a capitalist country. He argues instead that academic fixation on “the froth of petty trading is distracting.” He writes:

“Vietnam has not developed in the way it has – balancing rocketing economic growth with one of the most impressive reductions in poverty anywhere, ever – by completely liberalizing the economy. Yes, restrictions on private enterprise have been lifted, markets have been allowed to flourish and foreign investment has been encouraged – but Vietnam’s success if far from being a triumph of World Bank orthodoxy. Some might snicker at the official description of a ‘socialist-oriented market economy’ but it’s not an empty slogan. Even today, the Communist Party retains control over most of the economy: either directly through state-owned enterprises which monopolise key strategic sectors, through joint ventures between the state sector and foreign investors, or increasingly, through the elite networks which bind the Party to the new private sector.”

We cannot fully understand the importance of these market reforms without comparing Vietnam’s experience to that of the USSR. In their book, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny meticulously detail how the growth of the ‘second economy’, or black market, in the Soviet Union materially undermined socialism and led to its overthrow in 1991. They point out that the short-lived ascension of Yuri Andropov as the General Secretary of the CPSU could have led to a crackdown on the black market economic relations that had developed in the Soviet Union, but his premature death led to the ascension of forces within the Party who had grown to accept and profit from the ‘second economy’. These forces, embodied in Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, unleashed a wave of counter-revolution in the Soviet Union that led to the dissolution of socialism.

In Vietnam, the gradual implementation of market reforms allowed the CPV to insure the continued dominance of the socialist state over the private sector. Additionally, it forced ‘second economy’ enterprises to emerge from the black market and placed them under control of the state. The Enterprise Law of 1999, for instance, led to 160,000 enterprises registering with the government, most of which were “existing businesses which had been operating without licenses and took advantage of the new law to register.”

Socialist Market Economies vs. Capitalist Market Economies

The fundamental difference between a socialist market economy and a capitalist market economy is the role of the state. As Lenin describes in State and Revolution, the state is an instrument of class rule. It does not exist above class, but is wielded by one class to dominate another. In the US and the capitalist countries in Western Europe, state intervention and regulation in the economy is wielded by and in the interests of the capitalist class.

However, in a socialist market economy, the state is controlled by workers and dominates the private sector. It allows it to flourish only to the degree that it helps in the economic development of the whole country and serves the greater class interests of the working class and peasantry. The vast majority of businesses and companies are not independent of the government and are instead dominated by the workers state. Hayton describes this in Vietnam specifically:

“There are bigger private firms but they’re few in number. Although 350 companies are now listed on the country’s two stock exchanges, 99 per cent of the country’s businesses are still small or medium sized. In 2005 there were just 22 domestic privately owned firms among the top 200 companies and…’private’ is a debatable term.”

Even in the realm of foreign investment, the Vietnamese state dominates international capital ventures, rather than the other way around. In addition to its rebuke of the World Bank and IMF privatization policies, Hayton points out:

“The foreign-invested sector is a highly visible part of the economy, employing millions of people and providing plenty of tax revenue, but it doesn’t dominate the commanding heights. They are still, in theory at least, controlled by the state. In 2005, 122 of the 200 biggest firms in Vietnam were state-owned. The figure has changed only marginally since then, although some privately owned banks are now marching up the league. For the Party, a strong state sector is the way it can maintain national independence in an era of globalisation. It means the Party can still set the big goals – like its decision, in December 2006, to develop the country’s ‘maritime economy’ – a catch-all concept covering everything from oil to dish and ships. It is also determined to maintain high degrees of state control over strategically important sectors such as natural resources, transport, finance, infrastructure, defence and communications.”

Workers overwhelmingly support these policies as well, even those employed in joint enterprises with foreign firms. Hayton quotes Vu Thi Tham, a shoe production line worker, who noted that the work provided higher income and a better way of life “than being a peasant.” She said, “It’s OK. I’m working here because the income is stable. Before I was a farmer and my income depended on the weather. If it was good, I could make good money. But if it was bad, I couldn’t. Even in good times I could only make $30 per month but working here I can make $60 or more if I do overtime.”

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

None of this is to say that the introduction of market reforms has not brought negative effects associated with capitalist markets to Vietnam, but the overall orientation of the state and the economy is still in the class interests of the workers and peasants. Hayton writes, “Growth is vital, but not at the expense of creating too much inequality.” He continues by saying, “The beneficiaries have been the peasants and proletarians.” For instance, poverty in Vietnam dropped from 60% to less than 20% between 1993 and 2004, according to government data. In 2010, the government reported that poverty had dropped to a mere 9.45%, further demonstrating the positive effects of Vietnamese market socialism on the people.

Like most socialist countries, Vietnam has eliminated illiteracy and significantly reduced its infant mortality rate, corresponding to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The state continues to have guaranteed employment, which it’s able to achieve efficiently through the market reforms.

In a March 2011 article for Direct Action, Hamish Chitts notes the overall impact that these policies have had on the economy in raising the overall population out of poverty and underdevelopment. Chitts writes:

“According to World Bank figures, Vietnam’s gross domestic product per capita (measured in current US dollars) has grown from $239 in 1985 to $1155 in 2010. The government has ensured that this growth benefits the people. Vietnam has made impressive progress, reducing the poverty rate from 70% in 1990 to 22% in 2005.”

Much like China, market reforms have brought forth contradictions in health care and education, which are no longer purely administered through public channels. A May 4, 2005 article by Michael Karadjis writing for GreenLeft notes that, “Following the Soviet collapse, Vietnam introduced small fees for education and health.” Although Karadjis calls this a “blow against socialist fundamentals,” he also acknowledges that it “was forced by necessity” because  ”Vietnam’s per capita GDP had dropped to $78 by 1990.”

Nevertheless, health care in Vietnam is planned and administered by provincial people’s committees, according to Chitts, and 100% of rural communes now have health workers, demonstrating the CPV’s prioritization of insuring health care access for rural areas.

Further highlighting Vietnam’s socialist character, Karadjis notes that the government – as a part of the Poverty Alleviation and Hunger Elimination Program, launched in 2001 - ”builds schools, health centres, clean water systems and roads in remote areas, delivers free healthcare and education, and delivers a large amount of subsidised, low-interest collateral-free credit to the poor, to help them set up or improve small household businesses in farming, handicrafts and the like.”

Of the inequalities brought about as a result of market reforms, Chitts describes the changing productive forces that allow Vietnamese socialism to both survive and prosper, which lays the material basis for providing these services on an increasingly widening mass basis. He says:

“While doi moi has introduced some inequity through “user pays” systems for essential social services, this has always been alleviated as much as possible at every level. As the productive forces grow, more is available to improve people’s lives. Without doi moi, millions of people would have been condemned to poverty and disease. If it had ignored the objective reality of Vietnam, the government would have brought about what the French, US and allies like Australia could not achieve by 30 years of brutal war – the defeat of socialism in Vietnam. Instead the CPV and the people continue to build a stronger base for socialism in Vietnam and by example a stronger base for socialism internationally in the 21st century.”

The market reforms in Vietnam were essential measures designed to cope with the difficult task of socialist construction for a poor country in a post-Soviet world. They allow the revolution to move forward and continue revolutionizing the productive forces so the state can more adequately meet the needs and demands of the people.

For all of its shortcomings, socialism perseveres in Vietnam and deserves recognition for its achievements. The aforementioned article by Karadjis compares Vietnam’s economic performance with comparably impoverished nations. He writes:

“Vietnam is a “low income” country (US$430 per capita GDP), but its educational and health indicators are on par with, or better than, “middle income” countries such as Thailand ($2000 GDP per capita), China and the Philippines, and far above those of similarly poor countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania.”

Karadjis goes on to note that “Primary school enrollment rose from 88% to 95% between 1990 and 2001,” despite an enrollment decline in the overall East Asia and Pacific region in the same period. Secondary school enrollment is up, class sizes are down, and the nominal fees associated with school – mostly for supplies – are waived for poorer families.

In the realm of health care, Vietnam “cut child mortality to 23 per 10,000 live births, and infant mortality to 19, lower than Thailand, China and the Philippines, and dramatically lower than India and Indonesia,” according to Karadjis. Vietnam’s life expectancy outstrips comparably poor countries in the region and ranks equivalent to wealthier East Asian countries, like Thailand. The country’s elaborate health care infrastructure insures access to medical care for even the most rural citizens, and ethnic minorities, the poor, and children pay nothing for health care.

Even amid the world economic meltdown of developed capitalist nations like the US, Vietnam maintains a 2.29% unemployment rate. Unemployment that low indicates only frictional unemployment for workers who are going between jobs, meaning that Vietnam is essentially able to employ all of its people.

Though these observations of Vietnamese social programs are an important aspect of evaluating the orientation of the state and the economy, they are by no means the only determinant. We will now examine the relationship between the Vietnamese state and the most basic economic organization of the working class: the trade union.

Trade Unions & Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

Union workers in Vietnam celebrating Workers Month.

On the subject of trade unions, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) plays a vital role in representing workers’ day-to-day needs and grievances, but it also acts as their representative on larger legislative matters. Cynical critics claim that trade unions in socialist countries act as rubber stamps on government initiatives, but Simon Clarke and Tim Pringle of the University of Warwick, UK, find that the opposite is usually true. Writing in a comparison study between trade unions in Vietnam and China entitled ‘Can party-led trade unions represent their members?’, Clarke and Pringle find:

“Until 2007 VGCL was directly involved in drafting all labour legislation, and it continues to have the statutory right of consultation. Over the past five years VGCL has taken an increasingly independent position in pressing its own views on the government, most notably in criticising the inadequacy of government enforcement of labour legislation, in pressing for increases in the minimum wage and in insisting on the retention of the right to strike in the 2006 revision of the Labour Code.”

Contrary to propaganda put out by the Western media (and gobbled up by misguided leftist critics), strikes are legal in Vietnam, though there is a formal legal procedure required for launching strikes. However, most strikes in Vietnam, like China, are not necessarily legal but are also not interrupted or broken up by the government. Clarke and Pringle write:

“Faced with growing industrial unrest the trade union and the party-state are forced back into a fire-fighting role. In Vietnam the local office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLISA) generally takes the lead, persuading the management to meet the workers’ demands, at least to the extent that the strike has been provoked by legal violations, while the local VGCL representative encourages the workers to return to work before the strike spreads to neighbouring enterprises. The police will also be called to maintain order as the workers spill out onto the streets. It is rare for there to be any police action against strikers, although strike leaders, if identified, may subsequently be victimised by the employer.”

Strikes, even unauthorized strikes, function as critical pulse-checker for mass sentiment and economic conditions faced by workers, and they usually provoke new pro-worker legislation by the Party. In this sense, the true class nature of the Vietnamese state is revealed as proletarian. After all, if the state steps in to mediate and force concessions from management, the duration of the strike will naturally shorten. We look again to Clarke and Pringle’s findings:

“The strikes in the new booming capitalist industries in both China and Vietnam have been steadily increasing in scale and extent, so that ‘collective bargaining by riot’ (Hobsbawm 1964, pp. 6 –7) has become the normal method by which workers defend their rights and interests. Workers have developed a very good idea of what they can get away with and how far they can go, so that short sharp strikes and protests have become an extremely prompt and effective way of redressing their grievances.”

Indeed, this unravels the criticism levied against socialist countries by many leftist critics, who focus on the legal limitations on strikes rather than the outcome of unauthorized strikes and other forms of worker activism. For the last time, we quote Clarke and Pringle’s conclusion:

“The limitation of the right to strike has been by no means as significant a factor as the absence of freedom of association in inhibiting worker activism and the reform of the trade unions in China and Vietnam. The important issue is not so much whether or not a strike is legal as whether or not it is effective. In China and Vietnam strikes have proved to be an extremely effective method for workers to achieve their immediate demands, as the authorities refrain from repressing strikers for fear of exacerbating the situation and press employers immediately to meet the workers’ demands, to prevent the strike from spreading.”

Anytime strikes take place in socialist countries, leftist critics are quick to argue that this inherently demonstrates the antagonistic interests of the state and the workers. Time and time again, they blur the real issue at play, which is that the workers demands are almost always met by the state. This, in fact, highlights the importance of the concept of ‘actually existing socialism’.

For some leftist critics, there should be no class struggle under socialism. Every worker should be in a state of perpetual bliss, according to their view, because any evidence of poor working conditions or exploitation – usually from foreign companies – is evidence that the country in question is not socialist. Socialism is a complete end; a utopia. Intrinsically, this is an idealist conception of socialism that will never manifest itself in reality, ever.

Socialism is only as valuable as it actually exists in the material world, hence ‘actually existing socialism’. Class struggle continues because of the necessary measures taken to improve the lives of oppressed people; measures that often bring many unsavory, and indeed capitalist, contradictions. This struggle, however, does not disprove the existence of socialism. In actuality, it confirms its existence.

We learn about the essential class character of the state when looking at its overall orientation. A capitalist state does not mediate disputes between trade unions and management in favor of the workers. Strikes are short in capitalist countries because they are repressed with force. The capitalist state doesn’t allow trade unions to sit in the pilot’s seat in drafting labor law.

But all of these things happen in Vietnam. When looking at the class orientation of the state, it defies all logic and evidence – and if these Western leftist critics were honest with themselves, it defies their own experience with capitalist states – to claim that Vietnam is a capitalist country.

Market Reforms as a Mass Demand

There is a misunderstanding of market reforms as a purely top-down phenomenon, rather than an actual demand of the masses in Vietnam. While many of the policies were crafted by the CPV – itself made up predominantly of workers and peasants – many emerged as actual mass demands raised from villages and cities. In Saigon, for instance, urban workers began renovating their own homes and creating their own food production centers to meet demands where the crisis-stricken state economy could not. Although these economic changes were technically illegal, the Vietnamese state had no interest on cracking down on them because they strengthened, rather than weakened, socialism. Hayton notes:

“The houses and livelihoods were illegal, but if the state had enforced the law the result woul have been mass destitution and instability. Instead, households and state reached a compromise which was both pragmatic and tasty. In 1989, as state-owned enterprises and the military laid off a million and a half people, the streets were ‘opened’ and Vietnam’s street-food revolution began. Women led the way. They took control of the means of production: a charcoal burner, a large pot and a few wooden (later plastic) stools, and began to support themselves and their families by selling tea, pho noodle soup, bun cha mini kebabs on noodles, lau stew and all the other homemade delights for which Vietnamese food has now become justly famous. Previous petty trading would have been quickly, and literally, stamped out. Now, a change in police behavior made it obvious that they’d been told to leave the women alone.”

Economic market reforms benefited urban workers, particularly women, by allowing them to meet demands that were going unmet because of the period of crisis brought on by declining aid.

Many detractors from the left view market reforms simply from the perspective of the top leaders in the CPV and view it as a policy concocted by the Party bureaucracy to make more money. As the experience of Saigon in the late 80s demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth.

Actually existing socialism finds itself within the confines of a world dominated by imperialism. After the Sino-Soviet split and the fall of the Soviet Union, the continued improvement of material conditions for the masses was compromised, and despite its best efforts, the state could not continue to provide services at the same level that they were before.

Ever the innovative animus of society, the masses pushed for many of these market reforms to meet their own needs directly. Women in particular led this charge in the late 80s, and the state respected their act of civil disobedience. This demonstrates the unity of class interests between the masses and the state, which are both oriented towards the working class in Vietnam. Therein is the essence of actually existing socialism.

‘Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom’: Protest & the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh & Mao Zedong meeting together

The Right relies on the image of socialist countries as totalitarian to fuel its propaganda war against Marxism-Leninism. Even left anti-communists – most commonly in the form of Trotskyites and anarchists – frequently argue that existing socialist countries stifle dissent and that this makes them categorically not socialist.

Leaving aside the peculiar reading of socialism as a question of bourgeois civil rights, these criticisms have no basis in actual fact. Protest and criticism play an important role in actually existing socialism, albeit a role very different from that under capitalism. Nowhere is the vibrancy and dynamism of protest and criticism-self-criticism seen more prominently than in Vietnam.

In an article for Asia Sentinel called “Vietnam’s Not-So-Rare Protests,” reporter David Brown describes the frequent protests that take place in Vietnam on all manner of issues. He begins by quoting Article 69 and 79 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which enshrine the right of the people to free speech and assembly, but also reinforce the demand of the people to enforce and obey the law. Protests are frequent in Vietnam, despite what the Left and Right detractors claim. Brown writes:

“Invariably AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press, etc. describe these demonstrations as “rare.” The wires are wrong. Though a recent informal poll of academic Vietnam specialists failed to turn up anyone who’s been keeping careful count, a consensus readily formed that public protests have become relatively common in Vietnam.”

The state has a dialectical understanding of these two constitutional articles that follows in the tradition of Mao Zedong’s “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” in which protests and demonstrations that emerge from real demands of the masses – rather than hopes of capitalist restoration and counter-revolutionary efforts – should be encouraged, promoted, and respected. Mao writes:

“People may ask, since Marxism is accepted as the guiding ideology by the majority of the people in our country, can it be criticized? Certainly it can. Marxism is scientific truth and fears no criticism. If it did, and if it could be overthrown by criticism, it would be worthless. In fact, aren’t the idealists criticizing Marxism every day and in every way? And those who harbour bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas and do not wish to change — aren’t they also criticizing Marxism in every way? Marxists should not be afraid of criticism from any quarter. Quite the contrary, they need to temper and develop themselves and win new positions in the teeth of criticism and in the storm and stress of struggle. Fighting against wrong ideas is like being vaccinated — a man develops greater immunity from disease as a result of vaccination. Plants raised in hothouses are unlikely to be hardy. Carrying out the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend will not weaken, but strengthen, the leading position of Marxism in the ideological field.”

We find evidence of the CPV’s attitudes towards principled criticism and dissent by the country’s working masses in the Party’s recent announcement to consider legalizing same-sex marriage. The Vietnamese Justice Ministry announced plans to include same-sex marriage in a new marriage reform law proposed in July 2012, according to the Huffington Post. While this move has raised the cynical ire of Vietnamese ex-pats in the US, it comes in response to the growing gay rights movement in Vietnam and the re-evaluation of the gay question by Marxist-Leninist ruling parties all over the world. If this proposal becomes law, Vietnam will become the first socialist country and the first Asian country – and only the 12th country in the world – to fully legalize same-sex marriage.

Indeed, an AFP article from August 5, 2012, describes the first gay pride parade in Hanoi that followed the Justice Ministry’s announcement. Though small, the activists and organizers faced no repression from the state and feel tremendous support from Vietnamese society in publicly demonstrating for gay rights. We quote a brief excerpt from the article:

“The first gay pride parade in communist Vietnam took place in the capital Hanoi on Sunday with dozens of cyclists displaying balloons and rainbow flags streaming through the city’s streets.

Organised by the city’s small but growing Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, the event went ahead peacefully with no attempt by police to stop the colourful convoy of about 100 activists despite their lack of official permission.

“There was no intervention which is a good thing for Vietnam,” said one of the organisers, Tam Nguyen.”

Whether or not same-sex marriage is legalized is still on the table, but the issue highlights the relationship between the Party and the masses. Protests that strengthen socialism and the position of the masses are allowed and supported.

However, the other side of this is the dealing of non-Marxist criticisms and dissent. In the same work, Mao writes, “What should our policy be towards non-Marxist ideas? As far as unmistakable counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs of the socialist cause are concerned, the matter is easy, we simply deprive them of their freedom of speech.” This is the protective function of the dictatorship of the proletariat - the class power of the workers to crush agents of imperialism, wreckers, and counter-revolutionaries.

Evidence of the dictatorship of the proletariat abounds in Vietnam. During a series of small-scale political dissent between 2006 and 2007, the Vietnamese state took measures to distinguish between criticism directed at improving socialism – in other words, criticism that came from a desire for unity – and criticism designed at undermining the workers’ power. Hayton writes:

“The events of 2006-7 seem to have generated a new modus vivendibetween the dissidents and the security forces. The dissidents who were arrested and jailed were not those who simply held dissident thoughts or even wrote about them online. They transgressed the Party’s limits of tolerance in much more significant ways – in particular by breaking its monopoly of political organisation with independent parties and trade unions. They were also involved at a much deeper level with activists based outside Vietnam, they took money from anti-communists overseas and they tried to take their message to the people in the offline world – in the universities, factories and streets of Vietnam.“

Indeed, the only protest and dissent that is dealt with harshly in Vietnam and repressed is that which is instigated from abroad for the purpose of undermining socialism. “Dissidents who did not do these things – the majority of signatories of the original Manifesto – may have been harassed or questioned by the police but they were not jailed,” according to Hayton.

This too follows along in the political tradition of Mao, who writes later in the same work:

“There are also a small number of individuals in our society who, flouting the public interest, wilfully break the law and commit crimes. They are apt to take advantage of our policies and distort them, and deliberately put forward unreasonable demands in order to incite the masses, or deliberately spread rumours to create trouble and disrupt public order. We do not propose to let these individuals have their way. On the contrary, proper legal action must be taken against them. Punishing them is the demand of the masses, and it would run counter to the popular will if they were not punished.”

The dissidents that receive the bulk of attention in the West are those who seek to restore capitalism in Vietnam, like the Bloc 8406 that gained notoriety in 2006. Hayton dedicates a substantial part of his book to describing the rise and fall of this so-called movement and why it failed to gain any substantial traction. Even liberal estimates put the Bloc’s membership at “around 2,000 open supporters within the country – about one in 40,000 of the Vietnamese population.” The US and European media praised this pathetic movement that lacked any mass base as a reform wave in the vein of Solidarity, which was the CIA front that overthrew the People’s Republic of Poland. Hayton dismisses the comparison on its face:

“Their [Bloc 8406's] idealistic comparisons with Poland and Solidarity were misplaced. In the 1980s, Poland’s economy was stagnant. Vietnam’s is growing; Solidarity had the backing of the Catholic Church but there is no equivalent mass support in Vietnam and the activists were not the same either – not so much shipyard trade unionists as capital-city lawyers. They didn’t have the same community roots. The parallels are less with Poland than with Czechoslovakia. The Czech dissident movement, the group known as Charter 77, comprised outspoken intellectuals who remained isolated and unknown by the mass of the population until the Party leadership finally cracked in 1989.”

Idealist leftists who attack Vietnam and other socialist countries often look to dissent movements as evidence of the state’s oppressive nature, but in doing so, they ignore the severe degree of isolation these dissidents face from the masses, who overwhelmingly support the Vietnamese government.

Furthermore, they ignore the blatantly imperialist, anti-socialist, and downright illegal practices and beliefs of these ‘opposition groups’. One of Bloc 8406′s ‘largest’ constituency groups was a small, bizarre faction mistakenly called the Vietnamese National Progressive Party (VNPP). Hayton describes their call for independent trade unions ‘opportunistic’ because  their “interim platform had little to say on workers rights. Indeed, the only thing it had to say on economic matters was that it would ‘Re-establish and exercise the full and legitimate right of the Vietnamese People to private ownership,’ which suggests that it might have been more favorable to the interests of the owners of capital than to those of the proletariat.”

While not all protests and calls for reform are anti-communist and pro-imperialist in socialist countries, these groups are often organized and supported by the US and Western Europe to push a pro-capitalist agenda. That these groups only face repression when they actively organize is a testament to the level of dissent and debate allowed in a country like Vietnam. Hayton sums up the relationship between the Vietnamese state and the so-called dissident movements nicely:

“The authorities’ paranoia is not entirely misplaced. Various US-based zealots have periodically hatched hare-brained plans to instigate uprisings in Vietnam. Their plans have underestimated both the security forces’ degree of control and the allegiance the vast majority of Vietnamese have to their country. Most people are, in fact, relatively pleased with their improving lot and quite happy to be loyal citizens of the Socialist Republic.But from their [foreign-based dissidents] faraway vantage point, the exiles convince themselves that this must be the result of propaganda and that if only they could break its stranglehold on the media, the Communist Party would be overthrown.”

What many leftist critics cannot seem to grasp is that the masses rule in socialist countries like Vietnam. Like these out-of-touch foreign dissidents, they convince themselves that the propaganda they hear is correct and they focus purely on the cosmetic changes in Vietnamese society. Yes, there is a private sector. Yes, there is state repression of some dissent. But by failing to properly contextualize these facts, they obfuscate the real class nature of Vietnam, which is ruled by and oriented towards the working class.

What Does Actually Existing Socialism Mean for Socialists in the US?

Market socialism is imperfect and certainly unorthodox. Some may call it revisionist. The important point is to contextualize these shortcomings and flaws so we can understand where they come from. Actually existing socialism will always fall short of the socialist ideal because it is precisely that ideal implemented within the confines of reality. The objective conditions limit the subjective conditions that revolutionaries can create, and Vietnam’s objective conditions became a lot more difficult after 1991.

Nevertheless, socialism continues to exist and prosper in Vietnam. For the student of Marx, the defects and inequalities still present in Vietnamese society should trigger Marx’s own words in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, in which he describes the ‘lower’ stage of socialism:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

Vietnam was a colonized, oppressed nation that was forcibly partitioned by the Western imperialist powers. After its partition, the nation suffered a vicious onslaught by the US military over fifteen years, and against all odds, the Vietnamese people defeated imperialism. Beaten and battered, but not broken, the CPV led the nation forward out of multiple economic crises to establish a better, more democratic society ruled by the working class.

The reality of the fall of the Soviet Union, the continued impact of the Vietnam War (Agent Orange, in particular), and their encirclement by imperialist powers forced the Vietnamese revolution to make some tactical, strategic retreats into market reforms. With these reforms, Vietnam has maintained the structural integrity of class-based socialism and improved living conditions for its almost 88 million people.

For socialists in the US, defending Vietnamese socialism is very important. Vietnam represents continued defiance of imperialism, and it exists as a symbol of hope that another – better – world is possible. Although Vietnam remains a poor country and its example is not as dynamically inspirational as the USSR in the 1920s or China in the 1960s, socialists in the US should use the experience of Vietnam when explaining the positive aspects of government by and for workers, i.e. socialism.

At a time when trade unions in the US are facing extermination by right-wing state governors, corporate handouts are disguised as ‘health care reform’, and public education funding gets slashed to the bone, actually existing socialism in Vietnam provides a powerful what-if for workers to consider.

Long live the Vietnamese revolution!

 

China-Bashing, Syria & The “Degenerate Left”

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog:

By Vince Sherman
December 12, 2012

The Syrian Armed Forces defending national sovereignty from foreign-backed terrorists.

The US State Department’s formal recognition of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) is no small occurrence in the imperialist world’s campaign to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. To pretend, as many on the US left do, that the US and France have not actively struggled against Assad by materially supporting the rebels is no longer possible, even from a standpoint of technicalities. Arms and ammunition continue to flow to the rebels in Syria, and whether this lethal aid is delivered by the Central Intelligence Agency or puppet regimes in the Persian Gulf makes no difference to the fundamental imperialist mission afoot in Syria.

The US may not launch a military strike in Syria – no small thanks would go to China and Russia for providing material solidarity in the form of military deterrence - but the cruise-missile leftists at The North Star cannot continue to claim that “that, from the standpoint of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, there are no good options or outcomes as a result of the Syrian revolution.” (1)

In response to the chemical weapons allegations that emerged last week from Washington, Pham Binh – the author of “Lybia and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong” – penned another screed denouncing the anti-imperialist left in favor of the rebellion. Binh claims that the threat of military intervention against Syria is empty, but he goes further in his denunciation of anti-imperialism by asserting that the US and Western Europe have a vested interest in seeing Assad remain in power.

Identifying, examining and combating the basic premises of what Takis Fotopoulos calls the “degenerate left” is important in light of the left’s disunity on the question of Syria. Most leftists do not take positions as horrifying as The North Star has, but the rejection of Marxism-Leninism as a means of understanding imperialism has put many on the US left in the camp of the imperialists themselves.

One of the principle reasons for the abandonment of anti-imperialism is the US left’s willingness to engage in China-bashing and not acknowledge China’s important role in world politics. As the second largest economic power in the world, China’s rise has effectively changed the way US imperialism operates and today functions as a counter-weight for aggression in Syria. Though their role is rife with contradictions, identifying China as an enemy, rather than a very important friend, of the global anti-imperialist movement is a dangerous starting point that leads to equally dangerous – and degenerate – conclusions.

China-Bashing & the “Degenerate Left”

There is an incredibly small section of the left in the United States and Western Europe that upholds China as a socialist country (Workers World Party, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the Party for Socialism & Liberation are the three Marxist groups of note). There is a slightly larger section of the left that has a positive to ambivalent view of China and Chinese influence, including but not limited to the revisionist Communist Party USA and the left-refoundationist Committee for Correspondence on Democracy and Socialism.

However, the majority of the left in the US holds a partially to wholly negative view of China. Groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the International Marxist Tendency share the same view of China with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the Economist; the view that it is a state capitalist country.

The ISO takes this position even further in labeling China an imperialist power on par with the United States. Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could find common ground with this stance, given her comment at a summit in Tanzania last year that China pursues a policy of “new colonialism” in Africa. Clinton made these comments without a hint of irony, just as there is no irony to be found in “China’s Record of Imperialism,” an article that appeared in Socialist Worker in 2009.

This is unsurprisingly a view shared by The North Star, which calls China “an essential support – perhaps the essential support – for capitalist domination internationally.” (2) This is important starting point for understanding the theoretical basis for the “degenerate left,” of which The North Star is a part.

Tellingly, Binh’s latest piece is devoid of any mention of the military or political deterrence provided by China and Russia in Syria. In the original piece defending NATO intervention in Libya and Syria, Binh makes mention of China and Russia’s opposition to a Libya-style intervention, saying:

Paradoxically, NATO’s successful campaign in Libya made a future U.S./NATO campaign in Syria less likely. Russia and China are now determined to block any attempt to apply the Libyan model to Syria at the United Nations Security Council and the Obama administration is not willing to defy either of them by taking Bush-style unilateral military action for the time being.

Five months later, the role of China and Russia are worth nary a mention, even as Binh ridicules the anti-imperialist left for responding to new signs of aggression. Instead, the explanation for Washington’s reluctance to directly intervene on behalf of the rebels is reduced to three major points: (1) Washington does not have the troops necessary to invade and occupy Syria, (2) the US Senate is restricting Obama’s ability to launch a no-fly zone, and (3) the US fundamentally does not want to see Assad toppled because the rebellion is pro-Palestinian and Palestinians support the rebellion.

China and Russia’s Role as Counter-Weights to Imperialism

China and Russia veto the UN’s no-fly zone resolution.

Let’s begin with the second argument about the lack of domestic political support in the US Senate for a no-fly zone. Binh’s argument is laughable given the US, France, and the other imperialist powers already pushed for a no-fly zone through the UN – just as they did a year ago to launch the Libya assault – in June. Had they faced the same abstentions from China and Russia as they did with the Libyan no-fly zone, there is no reason to believe that military intervention would not have occurred already.

However, China and Russia did, in fact, veto the UN Security Council no-fly zone, greatly reducing any perceived international consensus around foreign military operations in Syria. In August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “warned the West not to take unilateral action on Syria, saying that Russia and China agree that violations of international law and the United Nations charter are impermissible.” (3) Both China and Russia continue to trade with Syria and break the West’s sanctions on Assad’s government, with Russia going further to actually aid the Syrian government in the conflict. Both China and Russia continue to call for a political solution to the Syrian crisis and explicitly disavow the Free Syrian Army strategy of seizing power through continued warfare. And both China and Russia have opposed US escalation, including the recent placement of Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Would China and Russia respond militarily if the West unilaterally intervened in Syria? It’s hard to say, although Russia is far more poised to launch a counter-attack to defend Assad’s government. The most salient point is that China and Russia have exerted their influence as a counter-balance to Western imperialism in Syria. The Western imperialist powers may still militarily intervene in Syria, but rest assured that one of the largest obstacles that has kept them at bay to this date is China and Russia.

What should we make of China and Russia’s abstention during the Libyan no-fly zone debate at the UN in 2011, which facilitated NATO’s barbaric assault on the Libyan people and the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi? I would propose that both China and Russia sum it up as a failure; a passive ‘buyer’s remorse’. Martin Beckford of the Telegraph reported this in the early weeks of NATO’s attack:

China, which frequently faces criticism over its own suppression of democracy movements, said it “regretted” the military action and respected Libya’s sovereignty.

A foreign ministry statement said: “China has noted the latest developments in Libya and expresses regret over the military attacks on Libya.

“We hope Libya can restore stability as soon as possible and avoid further civilian casualties due to an escalation of armed conflict,” it added. (4)

Russia’s reaction was similar. China has rarely used its veto power on the Security Council, and post-1991 Russia has followed that path as well, despite both quietly supporting independent nations like Syria. However, the scale and ferocity of the assault on Libya came to change the position of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who summed up their inaction as a failure which they “regret.”

Dumb & Dumber: China-Bashing and Misplaced Cynicism of the Degenerate Left

Binh and those at The North Star will be quick to point to China and Russia’s commercial interests in Syria, along with their close economic relationship with Iran. Yusef Khalil of the ISO described China and Russia’s veto of a no-fly zone over Syria as “[moving] in to protect their own imperialist interests in the region.” (5)

The question of Russia is an equally important topic but one we will have to reserve for another time.

Admittedly, China is Syria’s top trading partner and largest foreign stake-holder in Syrian oil. (6) After the crippling embargoes set by the West, China has continued purchasing Syrian oil and severely undermines the success of ‘sanction warfare’. (6)

However, this inevitable counter-argument is as faulty and ridiculous as the entire premise that China is an imperialist country. Adel al-Toraifi, the Editor-in-Chief of al-Majalla news, unravels the arguments of anyone claiming that China’s stance on Syria is based on economic considerations:

…China has had strong trade relations with Syria, and strong economic cooperation with the Bashar al-Assad regime since 2001, after both parties signed an agreement on economic and technical cooperation; this means that China is Syria’s third most important trading partner. However the volume of trade between the two countries, which amounted to $2.2 billion in 2010, is nothing in comparison to the commercial exchange between China and the Gulf States, which exceeds more than $90 billion per year. Therefore China is not too concerned about the loss of Syria as an economic partner, however the issue is not one of profit or loss or business considerations, particularly as many Chinese interests are served by opposing the US and European movement to bring about regime change in the Middle East. (7)

Claiming that China, a country that by and large has not exercised its veto power on the Security Council, would suddenly go out on a whim and stand by a minor trading partner like Syria defies logic. Just a crude analysis of the basic numbers reveals that China had more than $20 billion in investments with Libya under Qaddafi’s government, almost ten times the amount of investments in Syria. (8)

Is oil a determinant factor for China’s different line on Syria versus Libya? Not even close. Syria is already a very minor oil producing country by Middle Eastern standards, but less than 1% of Syrian oil exports go to China (less than 4,000 barrels per day). (9) China imported more than 150,00 barrels of Libyan oil per day under Qaddafi, or about 37.5 times the amount imported from Syria. (10)

We could continue unraveling the argument of China’s economic self-interest through economic comparisons. For the sake of the reader, though, let’s cut to the chase: China has considerably less of a stake in defending Syria from Western aggression than it did with Libya, and yet the two questions elicited different responses.

The degenerate left and the right-wing in the US both share a common cynicism for Chinese actions in world affairs. However, the right-wing cynically uses China-bashing as a naked propaganda tactic designed to stir up nativism in the US. The degenerate left, on the other hand, actually seems to believe this farce and repeat the same lies to the detriment of the world anti-imperialist movement.

China-bashing puts the degenerate left just a hop, skip, and a jump from neo-conservatism

China’s foreign policy is a far cry from the critical support given by the Soviet Union to national liberation struggles around the world. In fact, it’s important for anti-imperialists to note and be critical of the foreign policy errors committed by Beijing during the Sino-Soviet Split, which far too many US groups in the New Communist Movement embraced uncritically.

However, the degenerate left lumps China in with the US as a competing imperialist interest in the world with a total neglect of the actual dynamics at play. Because most Western leftists have only witnessed global trade as an affair directed by trans-national corporations, they view China’s role in the world market as part of the same imperialist machine they protest in their own countries. An element of political opportunism plays into this analysis as well when looking at the patently anti-China flames fanned by many trade unions in the US.

The degenerate left’s cynical attitude towards China, even when it does something incredibly laudable like vetoing the no-fly zone resolution, comes primarily from its embrace of anti-China propaganda. The North Star, along with other blogs like Politics in the Zeroes, continue bashing China for the Tiananmen Square “massacre” that even the US admits did not happen. (11) Of course China is always falsely implicated as an imperialist power for their relationship with Tibet, despite the thoroughly feudal and imperialist interests fueling the Free Tibet movement. (12)

For all of its contradictions, China remains a socialist country. The commanding heights of the economy are still controlled by the state, which itself is controlled by the Communist Party and oriented towards working people and peasants. A capitalist sector has developed in China since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms that mirrored Lenin’s own New Economic Policy, but this sector is wholly dependent on the socialist state. And although China is no longer a vocal advocate for world revolution – many would call this revisionism – their line on the Syrian question demonstrates the CCP’s continued commitment to anti-imperialism and independent development.

By rejecting China and the entire socialist experience in the 20th century, the degenerate left already accepts the basic premises of the right-wing and bourgeois elite in the US. Of course it does not stop with just China. If one rejects China as a state capitalist, or even an imperialist state, then one must go further by rejecting bourgeois nationalist states like Assad’s government in Syria or Qaddafi’s government in Libya. Any attempt to support these governments from Western aggression by China, or even Russia, is seen as an inter-imperialist struggle, according to the degenerate left.

With that, the so-called Marxists in the motley crew can dust off Lenin, cite some out-of-context quotes denouncing the Second International, and call it a day. Some, like Binh, skip the Lenin and go straight for Malcolm X, ripping “by any means necessary” so grossly out of context that they use one of the most revolutionary national liberation leaders to justify the very imperialism he fought against. All are smug in their satisfaction that they are opposing tyranny – not even capitalism anymore, but the metaphysical concept of tyranny – on behalf of some imaginary workers movement ‘from below’.

That last point regarding the simplistic and thoroughly anti-dialectical worldview of the degenerate left is very important in understanding its relationship to neo-conservatism. Because Syria is a bourgeois state with a capitalist economy, the degenerate left views Assad’s government and its actions in a political vacuum. There is no dialectical understanding of primary and secondary contradictions, which would reveal that the struggle of oppressed nations against oppressor nations is the principle contradiction facing the Syrian people. Instead, Assad is viewed by the degenerate left the same way Saddam was by the Bush administration: a tyrant who denies his own people freedom and democracy. 

According to this worldview, Assad cannot possibly be progressive in any context because he leads a bourgeois state. Nevermind that he is a nationalist at odds with Western imperialism! Nevermind that the Syrian economy is still largely controlled by the state! Nevermind that he supports national liberation struggles in Palestine and Lebanon! He oppresses his people; a particularly condescending phrase towards whatever people happen to be talked about. And of course there is no discussion or differentiation on the sector of people facing repression by the Syrian state (collaborators, imperialist-sympathizers, terrorists).

China also factors into this tautological worldview. For the degenerate left, international solidarity by a state – any state – is categorically impossible because they consider either most or every state to be capitalist.

Consider the tautology at work here: When China vetoes a no-fly zone resolution, it’s tyrannysupporting tyranny. When China doesn’t veto a no-fly zone resolution in Libya, they are providing “essential support – perhaps the essential support – for capitalist domination internationally.” (2) When Russia positions ships to offset the US’s Patriot missiles in Turkey, it’s an imperialist power looking out for its strategic and commercial interests. If Russia doesn’t oppose Western intervention in Libya, they are silent partners in the imperialist project.

…Or perhaps we have to approach China, and Russia, dialectically by considering their place in relation to imperialism at a given moment in history!

Is it any surprise that several of the Trotskyites from the 20th century, who built their measly political ‘careers’ denouncing every instance of socialism as state capitalism, became neo-conservatives in the Reagan era?* We begin to understand Christopher Hitchens’ disgraceful pro-war line on Iraq when we realize his hatred for all existing socialist countries, which he viewed as capitalist and imperialist powers no better than the US.

Syria, China & the US Left

Military intervention in Syria seems more likely every day. Tragically, the response from the US left seems to grow smaller with every war or military action launched by the Obama administration.

With its significant economic ties to the US and world markets, China could take a more active role in economically pressuring the imperialist powers to not intervene. Ultimately if NATO is dissuaded from a Libya-style intervention over the issue of chemical weapons, Russia’s military presence in the Gulf will probably have more to do with it.

The most salient point is that the degenerate left continues to side with the imperialist powers, whether in word (The North Star) or in deed (the ISO). The US left must discard these bankrupt theories and embrace anti-imperialism if it hopes to build a militant resistance to these criminal attacks; an anti-imperialism that sends a unified message supporting Assad and Syrian self-determination in this period of crisis, as we wrote about this past weekend.

However, the China-bashing of the degenerate left will continue to haunt movements in the US, which find themselves unable to distinguish friend from foe. Russia-bashing, a related topic for another time, also feeds into a simplistic world view alien from the Leninist theory of imperialism. Most assuredly capitalist, Russia is still not an imperialist power and, most importantly, functions as a counterweight to imperialism along with China. Both China and Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis have different contradictions, but anti-imperialists would recognize that these two countries have made the subjugation of the Syrian people to Western finance capital more difficult.

Neither China nor Russia are the leaders of the world anti-imperialist movement. That distinction belongs to the masses fighting battling for self-determination and revolution in Colombia, India, Palestine, the Philippines, and all over the world. But the US left must recognize that China is a friend, not an enemy, of the anti-imperialist movement, and it will begin to see questions like Syria much more clearly.

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Return to the Source has defended China’s socialist orientation and its role in global trade before, and those interested in a more thorough examination should refer to China & Market Socialism: A Question of State and Revolution.

* By no means should this statement be taken as an indictment on all groups professing ideological heritage to Leon Trotsky. As flawed as we believe many of these groups’ lines and organizing strategies are, there are groups like the Socialist Equality Party have overwhelmingly upheld an anti-imperialist position on Syria.

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(1) Pham Binh, The North Star, ““Red Line” or Empty Threat? How the Left Gasses Itself on #Syria,” December 6, 2012, http://bit.ly/RFo9ec

(2) Gabriel Levy, The North Star, “The Trouble With Economic Growth,” October 2, 2012, http://bit.ly/U8zzb7

(3) Reuters, “Russia, China warn West against Syria intervention,” August 21, 2012, http://bit.ly/NhpwI2

(4) Martin Beckford, The Telegraph, “Libya attacks criticised by Arab League, China, Russia and India,” March 21, 2011, http://bit.ly/gS9sHO

(5) Yusef Khalil, Socialist Worker, “A Turning Point in Syria,” May 31, 2012, http://bit.ly/LIFJ7w

(6) Joel Wuthnow, The National Interest, “Why China would intervene in Syria,” July 16, 2012, http://bit.ly/Mzuyjb

(7)Adel al-Toraifi, al-Majalla, “Does China truly support Bashar al-Assad?” February 16, 2012, http://bit.ly/wZsVih

(8) Michael Kan, The African Business Journal, “China’s Investments in Libya,” http://bit.ly/TTv0js

(9) Energy Information Administration, “Country Analysis Briefs: Syria,” Updated August 2011, http://www.eia.gov/cabs/Syria/pdf.pdf

(10) Deborah Brautigam, China in Africa: The Real Story, “China’s Oil Imports From Libya,” March 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/eoRojH

(11) Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, “Wikileaks: No Bloodshead Inside Tianamen Square, cables claim,” June 4, 2011, http://bit.ly/mxFf3m

(12) Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” January 2007, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html