[Speech for International Meeting on Solidarity, Friendship and Cooperation with Vietnam, Hanoi, August 31-September 2, 2005, by John Percy, national secretary Democratic Socialist Perspective, Australia.]
The 60th anniversary of the founding of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Comrades, I bring warm greetings of solidarity from Australia on behalf of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, our youth organisation Resistance, and our newspaper Green Left Weekly.
We warmly salute the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, when Comrade Ho Chi Minh proclaimed Vietnam’s independence to hundreds of thousands gathered in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. After years of fighting the French colonialists, and then five years of Japanese occupation, Vietnam was free. But full liberation was to take another 30 years of suffering and sacrifice, and fierce fighting.
2005 has been a year of important anniversaries. We’re heartened and inspired by the past victories represented by those anniversaries that we celebrate this year.
The 30th anniversary of the final liberation of Vietnam
The final liberation of Vietnam was won on April 30, 1975, 30 years ago, after that long and heroic fight for freedom and independence against the French, with that world-shattering victory at Dien Bien Phu, then against the United States imperialists, and to our shame the Australian government as well. It was one of the most courageous and epic struggles in history.
The extent of the suffering and devastation was enormous, and an affront to the conscience of the world:
- More than 14 million tons of explosives were used by the US, the equivalent of 720 Hiroshima atomic bombs. (That’s another 60th anniversary this year, but not something to celebrate; it was the worst, most atrocious terrorist attack in history!). More than 400,000 tons of napalm were used against the people.
- The environmental devastation was immense, the chemical warfare, real weapons of mass destruction that left a terrible legacy even today. 1.7 million tons of “defoliants” such as Agent Orange had a murderous effect on the population. More than three million people are still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange/dioxin, and the US is still denying responsibility. Of course, none of the promised compensation for the destruction of the country has been forthcoming.
- The lives lost record the ferocity of the onslaught, four million Vietnamese killed. The majority were civilians, men, women and children, slaughtered by the cruel and heartless carpet bombing, mines, chemical weapons, and imperialist policies of laying waste the areas they couldn’t control, but there were also hundreds of thousands of brave Vietnamese killed fighting for their country’s freedom and independence.
The 30 years since final liberation have been difficult also, overcoming the horrible effects of US imperialism’s onslaught, the economic devastation, the destruction, the millions of killed and maimed and poisoned. We’re extremely heartened by the economic progress and diplomatic successes of Vietnam in recent years.
The 75th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Vietnam
The leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam was a vital, essential factor in the victory of the Vietnamese people, at all stages of the struggle. And that’s another anniversary to celebrate, the founding of the CPV 75 years ago.
So we bring our solidarity, and deep humility and respect for the enormous achievements the CPV has made, in war and peace. The CPV learned and carried out important lessons, drummed in by leaders such as Ho Chi Minh. These are lessons we can learn also, in our own struggles all around the world:
- The need to be with the masses, to win the masses;
- The need to build unity in the struggle;
- The need to build a party to lead;
- The need for persistence and dedication.
Another factor in that enormous victory 30 years ago was international solidarity. In no way on the same level of importance as the Vietnamese people’s struggle itself, but still a factor in the final defeat of imperialism, was the international antiwar movement, especially in the United States, but also in Australia.
There were hundreds, thousands of protest actions, pickets, vigils, marches, teach-ins, strikes, media stunts, small acts of civil disobedience and resistance, and huge mass demonstrations that showed the tide had turned and the majority of people were fiercely opposed to the war of aggression against Vietnam and wanted US and Australian troops out.
The protests built up support, until a majority demanded, “Withdraw all the troops now!” And the US and Australian governments were forced to retreat. This campaign and these protests changed minds, and helped change history.
Another anniversary, mine
They also changed lives. This year is another anniversary, mine. Forty years ago, in 1965, as a student at Sydney University, I was wakened to political consciousness through anger at the Australian government’s participation in the War on Vietnam. In May that year I was one of the first arrested in a civil disobedience action against the war, at a demonstration in Canberra. In the course of that year I participated in many demonstrations. It was a time of activism, radicalisation, awakening.
By the end of the year I was a committed revolutionary Marxist, and have remained so for the past four decades.
So I have a special personal debt to the Vietnamese people – awakening me to political consciousness, inspiring me to political activity, and thus enabling me to have a fulfilling life, directed to assisting the emancipation of humanity, a noble unselfish goal.
Vietnam radicalised me, helped convince me of the need for socialism, the need to change the system, change the world. And thus changed my life.
After 10 more years of struggle in Vietnam, that other anniversary, the final victory in April 1975, also had a big impact on me.
At the time I was working as a journalist on Intercontinental Press, an international weekly socialist news magazine published in New York, and it was my pleasure and honour to be the comrade writing about the final months of the victorious liberation forces advancing and finally taking Saigon, as the puppet forces retreated in disarray:
- The scenes as the last US forces and their hangers-on were lifted off by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon;
- The scenes of the US officials punching off their Vietnamese supporters who were trying to scramble on to the departing helicopters,;
- The scenes of the emptied US helicopters being ditched off the decks of the US aircraft carriers standing off the coast, to make way for the next arrivals.
The paper that the DSP published at the time, Direct Action, the precursor of Green Left Weekly, printed a special edition, with a wonderful front-page banner headline: “A victory for all humanity!” And it was.
And I, like many veterans of that period from around the world, treasure the memories and the lessons of the Vietnamese people’s struggles, and the lessons of their supporters building solidarity in countries like the US and Australia.
Because those memories, and those lessons, are so fresh and relevant still today, and so much still needed today, for our current and future struggles.
- Because the issues are still there, the crimes and contradictions of capitalism are ongoing;
- People are still fighting for their freedom and independence;
- Workers are still fighting for their rights and for the full fruits of their labour;
- People are still battling the impact of imperialism in every corner of the globe.
The parallel with Vietnam’s struggle has been noted many times and many places, by those fighting for their freedom, as well as defensively by the US ruling class.
The Iraqi people are suffering horribly from US – and Australian – occupation and devastation. Now the neo-conservative plotters in Washington say the occupation will last another 12 years!
In Latin America, the US’s own “backyard”, more and more people want to follow the example of Cuba and Vietnam, a horrible affront and threat to the US imperialists, who thought the continent their personal fiefdom.
During the heroic struggle against the US war on Vietnam, Che Guevara made a famous call to the world’s people: “Create two, three, many Vietnams”. Follow the example of Vietnam, and thus help ease the pressure on Vietnam.
We need to repeat that call, “Create two, three, many, Vietnams, two, three many, Cubas, two, three, many, Venezuelas” and work to make them realities.
So that we can add, “Four, five, many anniversaries of victories”.
We need to work together to have more anniversaries of victories to celebrate, more anniversaries of revolutions, as more people win freedom, dignity, their political and economic independence from imperialism.
In Venezuela today the people are winning huge gains under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, and making steps to build socialism, the first socialist revolution of the 21st Century.
60 Australian comrades have just returned from a very inspiring Venezuelan Solidarity Brigade we organised that culminated at the World Youth Festival in Caracas. Our comrades saw the support on the ground for the revolutionary process, visited factories, the missions, met with people’s organisations, saw in action some of the 26,000 Cuban doctors and nurses providing real help and solidarity.
They heard President Hugo Chavez address the cheering participants at the festival, and proclaim the need for socialism, for Marxism-Leninism. And they’ve returned to build ongoing solidarity with Venezuela, just as we need ongoing solidarity with Vietnam, and ongoing solidarity against imperialism.
Imperialism is constantly looking to reverse the gains made, the victories won. It will try to subvert the social gains won in Vietnam, it is continuing its 45-year blockade and open aggression against Cuba, and it is showing increasing hostility against Venezuela.
But that struggle continues, from the victory 60 years ago, to the victory of the Cuban Revolution, to final liberation of Vietnam 30 years ago, to the revolution taking place in Venezuela today.
At the World Youth Festival, Chavez spoke to the leaders of the delegations, and reminded them of the dilemma posed by both Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, the choice of “socialism or barbarism”.
Chavez pointed out that “Karl Marx could reflect, think and write looking towards a distant future, a century, the same could be said of Rosa Luxemburg… but for us it can’t. The circumstances have changed terribly. The situation today is radically different. We don’t have centuries in front of us, it could be decades at most that are left for the peoples of this planet to make a decision. Or we really change the social and economic order, we give real form, viability and outlet for socialism, we say now a new, renovated socialism of the 21st century, or we decide that life finishes on this planet. We no longer have the long time that Karl Marx had, or any other fighter of that era….
“This reflection is something I feel deep in my heart because of my profound conviction that the planet is being degraded more and more everyday, and that life on this planet is under threat. Because of this today more than ever the dilemma has returned with much more force, ‘socialism or barbarism’.
“I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world”, said Chavez. “A real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet. I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, ‘tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do’.”
We can wholeheartedly agree, and use the lessons and the inspiration of the Vietnamese Revolution to help us in that task.
– The Activist was as the internal discussion bulletin of the Democratic Socialist Party