Ted Grant

The Bureaucratic Road to Conflict

Written: March 1979
Transcription/Markup: Emil 2001
Proofread: Emil 2001

The invasion of Vietnam by an estimated 100,000 Chinese troops, has provoked headlines and front page articles throughout the capitalist world. This invasion follows a whole series of border incidents between Vietnam and China. These were provoked by the border clashes between the Vietnamese and Cambodian Stalinists which resulted in the recent Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in alliance with a section of Cambodian Stalinists.

The Russian bureaucracy which has a defence treaty with Vietnam, has issued threats of intervention if the Chinese invasion does not end and the Chinese troops are not withdrawn. There is a build-up of Russian and Chinese troops on their respective borders, especially around Sinkiang.

It is as if the actions of these self-styled "socialist countries" were especially designed to discredit the ideas of workers' solidarity, socialism and internationalism. The capitalists, their press and media hirelings, can hardly conceal their malicious glee.

But class-conscious workers, shop stewards and socialist activists must understand that in reality the rulers of all these "socialist" countries have nothing to do with the struggle for world socialism. What concerns all these gentlemen is not socialism or even state ownership of industry and the means of producing wealth, on which their economies rest, but their own power, privileges, incomes and prestige.

They are forced to defend state ownership and a plan of production because it is on this that their privileges are based. But these countries cannot even begin a transition to socialism until the workers and peasants control industry and the state.

Thus these events indicate the monstrous character of absolutist Stalinist rule. They show that though they are workers' states they are Bonapartist or military police deformed workers' states, which are a caricature of the ideals of socialism and the methods of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

In the conflict with American imperialism Russia and China supported the struggles of the Vietnamese people for national and social liberation. They gave economic and military aid to the embattled Hanoi regime. The Chinese bureaucracy in particular did not want American troops and bases so near to their borders. It was for this reason that American imperialism did not dare to attack the North with troops, but restricted themselves to aerial bombardment. Any drive to Hanoi would have brought China into the war.

With the collapse of American imperialism, contradictions appeared between the Vietnamese and Chinese Stalinists. The former wanted to dominate the whole of former French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). But the Cambodian regime preferred to play off China against Vietnam. In turn the Vietnamese tried to play off the Russian bureaucracy against the Chinese.

This led to tension and friction between former "comrades". In 1974 while Vietnam was preoccupied with defeating American imperialism, the Chinese regime swooped on the Paracel islands, off the coast of Vietnam, but claimed by China. The Paracels are important for their off-shore oil. The Vietnamese bureaucracy began to regard the Chinese population as agents of China. Many were merchants and when their property was seized they tried to flee to China. 200,000 Chinese have either fled or been forced out of Vietnam. Using the mistreatment of the Chinese population as an excuse, the Chinese Stalinists ended all economic aid, and withdrew their specialists and economic experts.

The Chinese bureaucracy thus emulated the Russian bureaucracy. When the quarrel between Russia and China broke out the former tore up plans and blueprints, leaving half-completed factories and machinery in ruins. Such is the malice of affronted bureaucrats and dictatorial upstarts!

The ruling bureaucrats of these countries look at world politics purely from the standpoint of their own vested interests and not what would be most beneficial to the economies and peoples of their countries.

If workers' democracies existed then a socialist federation of Vietnam and China would have taken place, to the mutual benefit of the workers and peasants. But with Stalinist regimes this is impossible because it would mean the domination of the stronger national bureaucracy over the weaker and smaller economy of the other. For the same reason China and Russia could not federate even in the days when the bureaucracies of these countries were allies.

The greedy bureaucrats who control these countries are indifferent to the public opinion of the world working class and the world labour movement. They are determined to show their power to their capitalist rivals and to their fellow bureaucrats. World politics for them, as with the capitalist powers, is power politics. Their policy is the opposite of that of Lenin, who throughout his life and especially when in power, saw the Russian revolution as part of the world revolutionary struggle for socialism. Socialism and internationalism were always indivisible.

The elimination of capitalism and landlordism in these countries undoubtedly marked a gigantic step forward for them and for the world working class.

But it is only the first necessary step towards socialism. Because these were economically backward countries and Stalinist Russia was their model, dictatorial domination by a bureaucratic elite has been established.

They are more progressive than capitalist regimes because the brake on economic and cultural development, which is represented by private ownership of industry and the land, has been broken. But they are only superior to capitalism in this one decisive respect. That is the only thing which they have in common with a genuine workers' democracy. Apart from this they are repulsive Bonapartist or military police dictatorships.

These events have made the various sects who claim to be Marxists ridiculous in their attitudes. They have nothing to do with scientific socialism. They bowed down before the Vietnamese and Chinese Stalinists uncritically.

They claimed, at various times, that the Chinese and Vietnamese regimes were healthy workers' states. They did not understand the dual character of these peasant-based (not working class) movements and states. As a consequence, when the realities of the situation are revealed through armed clashes they are caught naked and without any real explanation. Their "criticisms" have a comical aspect, but nothing in common with a Marxist materialist approach.

The British Communist Party and their paper, The Morning Star, together with the Communist Parties of most of the world, have an even more ludicrous attitude. All they are concerned with is "Who is the aggressor?" They condemn the Chinese Stalinists while supporting Vietnam. Yet they try to ignore the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese Stalinists!

This was never the attitude of Marx or Lenin. It has nothing to do with the Marxist method. It is like a children's quarrel. Teacher wants to know who hit first!

Marxism begins with a class analysis of any war or border incidents. What class interests are involved on either side? If not class interests then what bureaucratic interests?

But how can they ask these fundamental questions when they declare that in all these countries "socialism" has been established? They look at all questions from a purely "national" and not "international" point of view. They, together with the sects, have a middle-class or petit-bourgeois point of view.

Lenin always has the criterion of class and international interests as decisive. In this case both sides are to be condemned as standing for the interests of national bureaucratic cliques, not for "national" or international socialism. Militant has not been caught by surprise as have the Stalinists and the sects.

What is really monstrous is that the Chinese Stalinists, unlike the capitalists when they conduct military operations, have precisely no economic or territorial aims in view. It is purely a question of bureaucratic "prestige". They want to "teach the Vietnamese a lesson". So arrogantly do the ruling caste conduct themselves. Not accidentally, Marxism has always taken the maxim of Clauswitz, the great German strategist, that "war is the continuation of politics by other means" as an attitude towards war.

The Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian Stalinists conduct the same vile politics at home as abroad. They sit on the backs of the workers and peasants. Of course the capitalists have an interest in sensationalising these conflicts. There will not be a protracted war. The Chinese will withdraw. After the style of the Mandarin bureaucrats they are interested in recovering "face".

But the damage will have been done, leading to cynicism on the part of politically backward and even wide layers of advanced workers. However, these events can help to educate wide layers of politically active workers. They will come to understand that political revolution is necessary in these countries in order to establish workers' democracy and to begin the genuine construction of socialism on an international basis.

The spotless banner of Marxism is the international banner of Militant. This will become the banner of the trade union and labour movement on a world scale. The ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky will unite the working class of the whole world.