Workers Vanguard No. 1048
13 June 2014
As U.S. Imperialists Tighten Vise on China
Vietnamese Stalinists Fuel Anti-China Frenzy
For Workers Political Revolution from Hanoi to Beijing!
For several days in mid May, upwards of 20,000 Vietnamese waving flags and carrying metal bars rampaged through industrial parks in central and south Vietnam. They hunted down Chinese workers and set fire to Chinese and other foreign-owned factories, screaming: “We are Vietnamese!” This outpouring was the culmination of a series of anti-China protests in at least 22 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces that left over 20 people dead and nearly 100 injured. Beijing sent a small armada to evacuate its nationals. Seeking to prevent foreign investors from pulling out of the country, the Vietnamese Stalinist bureaucrats moved to rein in the anti-China frenzy they had unleashed.
The stated reason for this bloody nationalist rampage was a $1 billion deepwater oil-drilling platform deployed by China near the Paracel Islands, which lie roughly equidistant from the coastlines of Vietnam and China. Vietnam also mobilized its navy and coast guard to face off with the approximately 80 Chinese vessels that accompanied the rig, resulting in periodic clashes and skirmishes between the two countries.
What is behind this confrontation is that the Vietnamese government is directly lined up with the U.S. imperialists in their drive to encircle China, the most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalist/imperialist rule was overthrown. The Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy is seeking to push back against Washington’s attempts to dominate the South China Sea. A crucial component of U.S. strategy is building closer ties with Vietnam, which like China is a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Today, the Vietnamese coast guard is partly U.S.-funded and is trained by the U.S. and Japan.
The Vietnamese actions took place following Obama’s recent tour of Asia, which was all about, as CNN pointed out, “China, China, China.” While unable to secure firm commitments to sign onto the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an attempt by the U.S. to create an anti-China Asian economic bloc—Obama was successful on the military front. In Japan, he expanded the parameters of the longstanding Japan-U.S. security treaty to include the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, a strategically important link in China’s military perimeter. We support China’s claim to these islands against imperialist Japan (see “U.S., Japanese Provocations in East China Sea,” WV No. 1041, 7 March).
In the Philippines, an American neocolony, the U.S. Commander-in-Chief signed a new ten-year defense deal that will give U.S. troops, ships and planes expanded access to bases there. A new “comprehensive partnership” was signed with the Malaysian government that includes strengthening “security” and cooperation on “defense.” We demand the removal of all American bases and all 80,000 U.S. troops from the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the struggle to mobilize the U.S. working class against its own exploiters and their predatory military adventures.
Vietnam Signs on to U.S. Anti-China “Pivot”
Four decades ago, the U.S. imperialists were humiliated on the battlefield by the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants in a victorious social revolution against landlord and capitalist rule. The cost was high: almost three million Vietnamese killed and many more maimed. Even today, Vietnam suffers a high rate of birth defects resulting from the millions of tons of Agent Orange defoliant dropped by American planes. The vengeful U.S. imposed a starvation embargo on Vietnam that was lifted only in the late 1990s.
It is a bitter irony that today Vietnam is acting in concert with U.S. imperialism in targeting China. The diplomatic rapprochement of the Vietnamese Stalinists with Washington is a product of the country’s isolation following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, as well as the continuing pressures of poverty and the historic mutual animosity between Vietnam and its bigger and stronger Chinese neighbor. This rapprochement began with Democrat Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam in 2000, the first by a U.S. president since the American defeat. Following in her husband’s footsteps, ten years later Hillary Clinton declared at a meeting of ASEAN member states held in Hanoi that the U.S. has a “national interest” in the South China Sea. Since then, U.S. diplomatic, economic and military ties with Vietnam have increased. It was reported that in the anti-Chinese rampage at the Binh Duong industrial park outside Ho Chi Minh City, an electronics plant flying U.S. and Vietnamese flags was not touched.
Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called on the U.S. to play a more forceful role in the region. Top military officials from both countries have met, and U.S. naval ships are now permitted to visit Vietnamese ports. On a visit to Washington last July, Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang and Obama announced a U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership, which, in the words of the East Asia Forum (6 August 2013), provides Vietnam with “more confidence—and indeed more options—in confronting China in the South China Sea.”
To cement that agreement, in December John Kerry pledged $18 million in new assistance to enhance the capacity of coastal patrol units, beginning with training and the provision of five fast patrol vessels to the Vietnamese coast guard. On May 20, Vietnam signed onto the Proliferation Security Initiative, created by George W. Bush, that allows member countries to stop ships carrying cargo “for a recipient that might use it to harm the U.S. or other country.”
Stalinist Policies Benefit Imperialism
The characterization of China and Vietnam as deformed workers states signifies that the economies in both countries are based on collectivized property forms, which have made possible a tremendous leap in the living standards and social conditions of the working masses. But at the same time, the working class does not wield political power, does not control production and does not decide international policy. We stand for the unconditional military defense of these countries against imperialism and counterrevolution, while fighting for workers political revolution to oust the parasitic bureaucratic castes.
Formed and organized on a national basis, the bureaucracy of every deformed workers state seeks to maximize its own economic privileges and political grip on society. The anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country,” first put forward by Stalin in 1924 as the ideology of the consolidating conservative bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, is at the root of the nationalist policies of all Stalinist regimes. Hoping to placate the imperialist powers, Stalin increasingly turned the Communist parties worldwide away from any fight to overthrow their own rulers and toward pressuring those rulers to peacefully “coexist” with the USSR. The same suicidal policy is today pursued by Beijing and Hanoi, leading to periodic alignments with imperialist powers as the bureaucrats seek to defend the “socialism” of their own country at the expense of other workers states.
In the late 1950s and during the 1960s, antagonism between the Soviet Union and Beijing developed into a full-blown split. Among the betrayals marking this split were the Kremlin’s delivery of MIG fighter planes to capitalist India during its 1962 border war with China and China’s seriously disrupting, at times, the flow of Soviet military aid to Vietnam during that country’s war with the U.S. Mao declared “Soviet social imperialism” to be his main enemy. This dovetailed with the American rulers’ strategic aim of destroying the Soviet degenerated workers state, at the time the main obstacle to U.S. world domination. The Chinese Communist Party’s stance led it into an alliance with U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union, sealed with Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China in which he drank champagne with Mao as the U.S. escalated its bombing of Vietnam and mined Haiphong harbor.
In 1979, China invaded Vietnam, acting as a cat’s paw for U.S. imperialism. The invasion came in the wake of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the U.S. in pursuit of foreign investment. Recently, the Chinese Stalinists have worked together with the imperialists to draw up sanctions to punish North Korea for testing its nuclear weapon systems. By pursuing such policies, the Stalinist bureaucracies dangerously undermine the defense of the social gains of the revolutions that overthrew capitalist rule.
An example of how the Vietnamese bureaucracy promotes reactionary anti-Chinese chauvinism among the workers and peasants was a ceremony held for the first time in Hanoi in January to protest China’s having taken control of the Paracel Islands in 1974. This anniversary has traditionally been commemorated by counterrevolutionary Vietnamese émigrés overseas, who are bitter that China took these islands away from the capitalist South Vietnamese government, a U.S. puppet. But this year in Hanoi, demonstrators chanted anti-China slogans while laying flowers at the feet of the statue of eleventh-century emperor Ly Thai To.
Trying to explain the phenomenon of two “Communist” countries facing each other down in a military confrontation, the Workers World Party (WWP) wrote a May 22 editorial that was completely in sync with their Stalinoid tradition and utter anti-Marxist liberalism. On the basis that China is “a strong power” and Vietnam “a relatively small, underdeveloped country,” they call on China “to take the first step in de-escalating this crisis.” While claiming to defend both countries against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution, WWP does not acknowledge that Vietnam is in fact giving a hand to the U.S. as it tightens the noose around China. Using language similar to everyone from neo-cons to Obama to anti-Communist social democrats, WWP demands that China “erase all traces of big power domination.” Refusing to distinguish between the workers states and their imperialist-appeasing bureaucratic rulers, WWP can only plead with the latter to do the right thing.
If the imperialists succeed in transforming China once again into a giant sweatshop through capitalist counterrevolution, it would give a shot of adrenaline to the imperialists’ whole decaying profit system. Both military encirclement and economic penetration have their place in achieving this goal. Beijing’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has meant fostering profit-making enterprises and welcoming imperialist and overseas Chinese investors. Such measures have sharply increased inequality and favored the growth of capitalist forces within China.
Yet the impact of imperialist investment in China and Vietnam is contradictory: economic growth has raised incomes and brought about significant growth of a young, urbanized proletariat. The bureaucrats of both countries understand that they are sitting atop a volcano of social unrest. Although lacking the infrastructure and more sophisticated technology of China, Vietnam has a vibrant, militant proletariat that has been fighting against low wages, inflation, growing inequality and the corruption of the bureaucracy, staging over 800 strikes in 2011. In many cases, their exploiters are the same, such as the Taiwanese sports shoe manufacturer Yue Yuen, which was the target of the biggest strike in China in decades and which manufactures one-third of its total output in Vietnam.
If revolutionary workers governments were in power in Beijing and Hanoi, the conflict over the Paracels would be easily resolved with both countries sharing technology and cooperating in development of the area’s natural resources, and in mutual defense against imperialism. The Trotskyist program of proletarian political revolution—the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracies and the establishment of governments based on workers, peasants and soldiers councils—constitutes the only truly effective defense of these states and is part of the strategy of proletarian revolutions internationally to put an end to the imperialist order.