What is happening in Saigon? Two months after the liberation from imperialist domination, confusion still exists over the intentions of the new regime. Will there be rapid reunification with the North, or will the South retain an independent existence for an indefinite period? Who is actually running things in the newly liberated areas? Will the new regime move to introduce a planned economy in the South?
At least on one matter the North Vietnamese leaders are quite frank: the new regime in the South is not socialist. In a report to a meeting of the North Vietnamese National Assembly that ended in Hanoi June 6, Premier Pham Van Dong categorically stated that while the regime in the North was socialist, that in the South was “advanced democratic.”
Veteran Stalinist apologist Wilfred Burchett is also very clear on this point. In an article in the June 11 issue of the American Maoist weekly the Guardian, he quotes approvingly from an interview he had in 1965 with “leaders of the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP) – the Marxist-Leninist party within the NLF.”
“Democracy for us means a real national, people’s democracy, based on the unity of workers, peasants, intellectuals and patriotic bourgeoisie of all tendencies. We are carrying out a national-democratic revolution with the unity of all sections of the population as a basic element. We have to think of it at two levels: the present rather low level, based on an alliance between workers, peasants and the lower strata of the bourgeoisie, which we consider as a sort of people’s democracy; and, on the higher level, of still broader unity which we are aiming at and which we would call a national democratic union to include the upper strata of the bourgeoisie.
“Our present people’s democratic alliance must approve measures acceptable to this upper strata as well. It may seem strange for outsiders to find communists fighting for the interests of the upper class, but we understand the vital necessity for national union at the highest level, not only now during the period of struggle but for the years of postwar reconstruction as well.” (Burchett’s emphasis.)
The development of the economy in the two months since the liberation of Saigon bears this out. The leaders of the new regime show little interest in introducing measures that are socialist in principle. However, they are probably finding it very difficult rounding up enough members of the “upper strata of the bourgeoisie” to unite with. Most of these types packed their booty and fled with the Americans.
Although on May 1, the day after the liberation of Saigon, a decree was broadcast announcing the nationalization of factories, farms, and businesses, reports since then indicate that the new regime is intent on retaining capitalist enterprises. According to a United Press International dispatch in the May 29 Los Angeles Times, “the new government is jostling private firms to reopen businesses. Fears that private enterprise would not be permitted under the Communists have so far proved unfounded.”
Nayan Chanda reported in the June 6 Far Eastern Economic Review that the Military Management Committee of Saigon was even providing credit to a number of factories in order to revive industrial activity.
As for foreign companies – which were mostly French and Japanese – Chanda reported that apparently only establishments abandoned by their foreign owners were being nationalized. Those foreigners who remained were allowed to stay in business.
The May 29 Wall Street Journal reported that two Japanese joint ventures in South Vietnam have resumed production of electric appliances.
French-owned businesses are opening up again also, James Laurie reported from Saigon for the June 6 Far Eastern Economic Review:
“Although there are many sceptics in the still fairly large Saigon-French business community, it appears, at least for the time being, that the Government wants the operation of foreign firms to continue. Several French business leaders were recently invited to Independence Palace and advised that some French firms would be asked to stay on indefinitely. Heading the PRG list was the Michelin and other rubber plantations in Dau Tieng and Tay Ninh provinces. Other major French firms in Saigon, such as Brasserie Glacier Indochine (BGI), Denis Freres and Lucia, will, apparently, also be allowed to operate.”
With the overthrow of the puppet regime, North Vietnamese currency began to circulate. It has now been withdrawn, and the piaster of the former regime is still the main currency.
Faced with the problems of acute unemployment and a consequent rise in crime, the new regime has responded by shooting thieves on the spot or else bringing them before a public tribunal.
The “reeducation” courses for officers and officials of the old regime are getting under way in Saigon. The courses last three days for minor officials and a month for those in the higher echelons. (Top leaders such as Duong Van Minh and Tran Van Huong have reportedly been excused from attending the courses.) Those attending are told exactly how much money to bring to cover food for the period of the course, as well as a detailed list of other items required – blanket, towel, mosquito net, pullover, toothbrush, paper, pen, and so on. According to persons coming from the central coast, army and police officers in reeducation camps in Quang Ngai and Quang Nam have been filling up bomb craters, clearing mines, and reclaiming fallow land, besides studying the PRG program and learning revolutionary songs.
A police clerk in the former regime said each student in the reeducation courses is required to tell of at least one crime he committed while working for the old government.
The Military Management Committee of Saigon launched its own “cultural revolution” on May 15 with a decree prohibiting the sale or possession of literature published “under the former regime.” Films and music were also included in the ban. By May 22 most bookstores and stalls in Saigon had closed down, and sound trucks toured the city broadcasting the new orders.
Several hundred students marched through the streets on May 23 and May 27 in support of the campaign, exhorting residents to discard any copies of Playboy and Oui magazines and all other items identified with the “decadent culture” of the departing Americans. They carried banners saying: “Students and youth are determined not to read, not to keep at home, not to distribute, books and magazines, pictures and tapes that are reactionary and decadent.”
The Saigon newspaper Liberation Daily reported a huge bonfire in a downtown residential sector of the city on May 25. It said residents tossed books, tapes, and magazines onto the fire. “The crowd applauded as a girl threw her hippie clothes onto the fire,” the official newspaper said. Saigon radio said that from May 23 to 25 more than a thousand books were burned. According to Hsinhua News Agency, in a few days young people and students had “confiscated nearly 135,000 reactionary and pornographic books.”
On May 28, however, the regime issued a new decree halting the burning of books. Instead they were to be handed over to qualified organizations.
“We are a civilized people, we respect the culture of others, even that of the American people. We respect scientific research,” said the Saigon management committee’s chief of information and culture. The committee, he said, had only given the order to stop the sale of “decadent and reactionary” books. “We must abolish a culture of slaves and save the culture of our people by all methods, but we have never demanded the burning of books.” He said that the “decadent and reactionary” books would be submitted to a qualified commission.
Although Vietnamese leaders have made it clear that the establishment of a workers’ state is not on the agenda in the South, they have been much more ambiguous in their pronouncements on a likely timetable for reunification of the country and on who is actually in control in Saigon.
In their more rhetorical moments, the leaders of North Vietnam and the PRG speak as though the country were already reunited:
“We hail the beautiful land of Vietnam, from now on whole again from Langson (on the Chinese border) to the Cape of Camau (far in the south), from now on completely independent and free,” North Vietnamese Communist party leader Le Duan told a victory rally in Hanoi May 15, according to the May 16 Washington Post. The North Vietnamese army’s newspaper printed a map showing all of Vietnam as a single country, with Hanoi as its capital. This line was echoed in the South:
“The division of the country no longer exists,” General Tran Van Tra, president of Saigon’s Military Management Committee, told a victory rally in Saigon May 15.
But estimates as to when the country will be reunified in reality have varied widely. A special United Nations envoy who spent three weeks in Hanoi said May 12 that although the “final aim” was reunification, North and South Vietnam might exist separately for a year or longer. A Saigon official said May 14 that reunification “might even take years.”
United Press International correspondent Alan Dawson reported May 30 that after a three-week series of meetings. North and South Vietnamese officials agreed that political reunification is at least five years away. “The attitudes of the people, the manner of life in the two zones is completely different now, and it will take some years to bring them close enough to reunify the country,” one senior official said. As for the people of Saigon, “It may take 20 or even 30 years to change their thinking,” said another official.
In many practical ways links between the two areas have already been repaired. Communications have been restored; cadres and aid for reconstruction have been flowing into the South from the North; both now even operate on the same time zone.
But the central question is whether a separate government will be retained in the South, whether the PRG will administer full control in its zone.
The revolutionists took power in the name of the PRG on April 30, but the PRG did not make the first announcement in its own name until May 10. It did not hold its first cabinet meeting in Saigon until June 6, and apart from that it has held one or two receptions.
Yet the president of the National Liberation Front, Nguyen Huu Tho, called on May 15 for diplomatic relations to be established between Saigon and other countries. And both Hanoi and Saigon have told UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim that they intend to apply for UN membership as separate delegations in time for next fall’s session of the General Assembly.
The PRG’s ambiguous status was analyzed by Jacques Decornoy in an article in the June 18 Le Monde, under the heading, “How Can One Be United and Divided at the Same Time?” What is the PRG? Decornoy asked.
“Or rather: what will it be – at the UN, for example, or in other international gatherings? A way for Hanoi to get two votes? Or a useful fiction the North will use to join, via the intermediary of the South, the nonaligned world, something very useful to anyone wanting to get a little respite from the subtle game, really quite tiring, of balancing between Moscow and Peking? Or else the transposition, onto the diplomatic level, of a local division that is difficult to resolve completely, like a bad fracture?
“It is a delicate game to play. The Vietnamese have proclaimed thousands of times since the start of their fight that they are one people, one country. But their actual declarations on the subject of reunification are as imprecise as one could imagine. Basically, they would like the impossible: to be ‘one’ and ‘two’ at the same time. ‘One,’ because that corresponds to the historical analysis, to the political line, to common sense from the point of view of economics. ‘Two,’ because it is necessary to take into account the special features of the two zones, and because of the international considerations set out above.”
The delay in the emergence of either a separate PRG government or a firm move toward reunification led to speculation among some observers of a possible rift between the PRG and Hanoi. According to “authoritative French sources” cited by Flora Lewis in the June 12 New York Times, as the North Vietnamese forces pressed ever closer to Saigon, the PRG asked France to arrange negotiations with ever more urgency. She said the PRG “preferred negotiations for fear of being eclipsed and left powerless by the North Vietnamese if the war ended with the entry of Hanoi’s troops in the southern capital and without any agreement....
“That is what did happen,” Lewis said. “The new information is that the Provisional Revolutionary Government now has virtually nothing to say in the South.”
But are there really any big disagreements between the North Vietnamese leaders and the leaders of the PRG? Certainly, the North Vietnamese Communist party is thoroughly in control of the situation in the South, exercising power mainly through the army at this stage, with some assistance from local committees that serve to implement directives.
Further confirmation of North Vietnamese dominance was provided by a highranking official in Hanoi, who told Japanese newsmen that the Communist parties and armed forces of North and South Vietnam have been merged.
The delays, confusions, and ambiguities in the situation in the South, however, are not the result of any rift, but the result of the contradictions between the objective dynamic of the situation, the needs of the Vietnamese masses, and the political line projected by leaders of North Vietnam and of the PRG that the revolution in the South stands only at the “democratic stage.”
In face of the pressure to reunify the country and to move toward socialism it remains to be seen how long the leadership can succeed in holding the revolutionary process back.