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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Lessons from Vietnam

Liam O Ruairc • 17 May 2004

Fifty years ago, on May 7th 1954, the French army surrendered in Dien Bien Phu to the victorious Vietnamese forces. The fact that a small nation of peasants was able to defeat the French colonialists and later the US, the largest imperialist power in the world is of immense significance. The struggle of the Vietnamese people for national liberation and socialism provided inspiration to colonized and oppressed people all over the world. Today, Iraqi patriots resisting US and British occupation forces from Fallujah to Najaf will draw many important lessons from the people’s war in Vietnam. Why were the Vietnamese successful? In 1961, General Vo Nguyen Giap summed up “The Factors of Success”:

“The Vietnamese people’s war of liberation was victorious because it was a just war waged for independence and the reunification of the country, in the legitimate interests of the nation and the people, and which by this fact succeeded in leading the whole people to participate enthusiastically in the resistance and consent to make every sacrifice for its victory. The Vietnamese people’s war of liberation won this great victory because we had a revolutionary armed force of the people, the heroic Vietnam People’s Army. Built in accordance with the political line of the Party, this army was animated by an unflinching combative spirit, and accustomed to a style of persevering political work. …It is an army led by the party of the working class. The Vietnamese people’s war of liberation was victorious because we had a wide and firm National United Front, comprising all the revolutionary classes, all nationalities living on Vietnamese soil, all the patriots. This Front was based on the alliance between workers and peasants under the leadership of the party. The Vietnamese people’s war of liberation ended in victory because the existence of people’s power …under the leadership of the party. It devoted its efforts to mobilizing and organizing the whole people for the Resistance; it brought material advantages not only in the free zones but also in the guerilla base. The Vietnamese people’s war of liberation attained this great victory for the reasons we have just enumerated but above all because it was organized and led by the Party of the working class... In the light of the principles of Marxism Leninism, it was this party which proceeded to make an analysis of the social situation and of the balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves in order to determine the tasks of the people’s national democratic revolution…It was the Party which found a correct solution to the problems arising out of the setting up and leadership of a people’s army, people’s power and a national united front. It also inspired in the people and the army a completely revolutionary spirit which instilled into the whole people the will to overcome all difficulties, to endure all privations, the spirit of a long resistance, of resistance to the end…. If the Vietnamese people’s war of liberation ended in a glorious victory, it is because we did not fight alone, but with the support of progressive peoples the world over, and more especially the peoples of brother countries, with the Soviet Union at the head.” (People’s War, People’s Army)

Apologies to the reader for such a long quote, but it sums up very well the decisive factors which allowed the victory of the people’s war for national liberation and socialism: a just cause, a party an army and a united front (both of them under party leadership), a revolutionary theory, international support, and the existence of an alternative government. The French and US forces had a great deal of technical know-how but no sense of political know-why. The decisive strength of the Vietnamese patriots was their ability to put politics in command. They relied on a strategy of politicizing the masses and mobilizing them on an economic, political and military level. The current resistance of Iraqi patriots is not comparable to the Vietcong precisely because they lack their kind of political leadership. Note that the achievements of the Vietnamese revolution are not only extraordinary in terms of a successful struggle for national liberation, but also on how it rebuilt the country from scratches.

Vietnam is one of the world’s poorest countries, which half a century ago was still in the middle of colonialism and feudalism. It had to go through 40 years of wars and massive destructions. The US army, in its own words, brought the country “back to the stone age”. However, in 25 years of socialist construction, it was able to achieve more than many countries in terms of social and economic development. The World Bank begins its report on poverty in Vietnam by stating that “the achievements of Vietnam in terms of diminishing poverty are one of the greatest success in the history of economic development”. (Vietnam Development Report 2004)

From 1945 to 1999, the number of medical doctors has increased 700 times (from 51 to 37 100). Today, Vietnamese people have a life expectancy of over 68 years against 38 in 1945. Infant mortality is 42 for 1000 births (against 135/1000 in neighboring capitalist Cambodia for example). The world average of infant mortality is of 83.2. Economic growth over the last few years averaged 7 percent, and the country aims to become an industrialized nation by 2020! (Do not forget that a country like Belgium, for example, took about two hundred years to evolve from an agricultural to industrial economy.)

The UN recognizes that in Vietnam “the government places the individual human being at the center of development and promotes human potential and the well being of all”. (International Development Targets / Millennium Development Goals Progress - Viet Nam, July 2001) The World Bank acknowledges that the benefits of economic growth have benefited the population as a whole rather than a rich minority. It notes that “the greatest success of the period of economic growth is that it has not been matched by greater inequality.” (Le Vietnam realise ses engagements, Evaluation de la Banque Mondiale (rapport 2003) in Faites connaissance avec le Vietnam, ed. The Gioi, Hanoi 2004)

Those spectacular achievements of socialist Vietnam should not obscure the fact that there remain many challenges to face. One of the most significant issues facing the country is the problem of corruption and bureaucracy. The Communist Party of Vietnam itself recognizes that there is not enough struggle against bureaucracy and corruption. One of the resolutions of its ninth congress concluded that the problem of corruption was a life or death question for the party. (Report on half term of ninth Party Congress's resolutions announced, Nhan Dan, 4/02/2004)



On the fiftieth anniversary of Dien Bien Phu, Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary general who masterminded Vietnam's wars of independence against the French and American armies, warned the United States in a 90 minutes ‘Message to the World’s Young People’ that it faced defeat in Iraq. The 92-years old said Washington would fail in its bid to impose its will on the Iraqi people. "Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat. And all nations fighting for their legitimate interests and sovereignty will surely win," said General Vo Nguyen Giap. "Everyone in the world should acknowledge that each country has the right to independence and sovereignty. Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom."

However, he said he was unable to comment on the effectiveness of tactics used by Iraqi resistance fighters against US forces. "I haven't had a chance to go to Iraq and to study the specific tactics there" he said. Giap, stressed that the US and British aggressors would not prevail. "It was a benchmark in the history of Vietnam and it is the first time a weak colony has defeated a powerful colonialist power," Giap said. "Dien Bien Phu was not only a victory of the Vietnamese people but for many other countries around the world. It proved that a nation with enough determination can win against foreign aggressors no matter powerful they are." (Full story)






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

21 May 2004


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Computer Enchanced?
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A Comic Apology?
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Lessons from Vietnam
Liam O Ruairc


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