Angry, Frightened Over Vietnam? Then Read This:


VIETNAM ? ? ? ?

Millions of Americans are angry, bitter, resentful and bewildered because of United States' policy in Vietnam. Most of them voted for Mr. Johnson in 1964 because of his seemingly "sensible" stand on war in general, and on the Vietnamese war in particular. Now they feel themselves double-crossed, betrayed.

This reaction is understandable. Mr. Johnson had flagrantly violated his pre-election pledge not to seek a wider war. Nevertheless, and paradoxically, the tendency to put the blame for U.S. policy in Vietnam on Mr. Johnson has the practical effect of obscuring the root cause of this policy.

President Johnson did not act alone. He had powerful forces behind him, applauding his "firmness," which was the President's supporters' description for his reckless gamble with the lives of mankind. Nor was it just the State Department that was behind him, nor the professional militarists of the Pentagon -- for whom Vietnam is apparently a "laboratory for war" in which to try out new tactical theories and test new weapons.

There was, of course, manifest irony in the support President Johnson received for his policies from Barry Goldwater and other leaders of the Republican party. "Today," Barry Goldwater said April 1, 1965, "the United States is moving firmly and decisively on a foreign policy course charted straight out of the Republican campaign of 1964."

But even more significant than all this was the support the President received from a solid majority of the nation's bankers, industrialists, newspaper publishers and other top capitalists. This was the support that was really determining. It was the support of this country's ruling class acting in response to its material interests.


It is easy to generate emotion over Vietnam. But to understand it, to understand the forces that fatedly propel the United States toward ever deeper involvement, is something else again. It is the position of the Socialist Labor Party that it is not possible to understand the war in Vietnam without examining it in the context of the world struggle -- a struggle that has raged since World War II -- between the two rival imperialisms of East and West. Once this is done, however, we can view Vietnam as one of several peril points in the world where the two imperialisms -- one capitalistic, the other bureaucratic -- are in abrasive contact.

Other danger spots, easily recognizable as such, are Berlin, Cuba, the Congo, Laos, Korea and Cyprus. And, assuming the East-West conflict continues, there will be others.

Only when we view Vietnam in this perspective can we intelligently face the question: Why is the U.S. in Vietnam?

The reason has nothing to do with ideology. It has nothing to do with "freedom" or "democracy." President Johnson spoke with feeling of America's "commitment" to protect a "brave little country" from its aggressive neighbor. But this was mere political window dressing. The real reason the U.S. is in Vietnam, the reason it risked a nuclear confrontation in Cuba, the reason it waged war in Korea, and threatened to carry the Berlin crisis to a test of military strength, is that it is involved with imperialist foes for control of world markets and sources of the world's raw materials.


Top U.S. capitalists understand the issue. In 1961, two of their prominent statesmen -- former Secretary of State Christian A. Herter and former Under Secretary of State William L. Clayton -- p ut it this way in a statement to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress:

"The declaration of Soviet economic hostilities against the non-Soviet world has been made. The immediate objective in this war is the control of the contested countries, more than three-score and ten in number. The ultimate objective is the control of the world. The struggle will be relentless, irreconcilable, merciless."

Note that there's nothing about ideology here. The issue is coldbloodedly stated as one of controlling the contested countries -- of which Vietnam is one. U.S. capitalism desperately needs this control because the capitalist economy, based on the exploitation of wage labor, requires ever expanding markets abroad to absorb the surplus product that would otherwise pile up and choke the economy at home.

Make no mistake about it. Here, in the system of wage-labor exploitation, lies the built-in compulsion that periodically drives capitalist powers to wage competitive struggles for economic control of the world. And there are similar compulsions driving the despotic bureaucratic nations, Russia and China. The competitive struggles reach such ferocity that they culminate in war.

World War I was over the issue of world markets and raw materials. President Woodrow Wilson admitted this when he said in a speech in St. Louis, Missouri, Sept. 5, 1919:

"Why, my fellow citizens, is there any man here, or any woman -- let me say, is there any child here -- w ho does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?"

World War II was over the same issue. Indeed, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed for an apt name for World War II on April 3, 1942, the then president of Columbia University, Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, offered this candid comment:

"I call it the Twentieth Century World War. It began in 1904-1905 with an economic struggle, then became a military struggle in 1914, and after that we thought we were getting somewhere organizing the world for peace, but we got right back into it again. It is all one great struggle for control of the economic resources of the world...."

Now, once again mankind is threatened with global war -- and once again it is, basically, over the issue of markets and sources of raw materials. Only two things have changed.

1. As a result of the crushing defeat of German capitalism and the rise of Russia, a bureaucratic State despotism, to the status of a superpower, new imperialist alignments were formed.

2. The development of nuclear arsenals has confronted the ruling classes on both sides with an unprecedented dilemma, a dilemma with two grim and menacing horns.

One is the truth, acknowledged by rulers on both sides, that nuclear war would speedily end in mutual suicide; there could be no victory.


The other is that neither side has any way of blocking the expansion of its foe except by using the threat of war. In ruling-class jargon, this is called "nuclear deterrence." Nuclear deterrence is a gigantic game of bluff. It is a game of nuclear poker in which the object is to persuade your opponent to believe the unbelievable -- that is, that you are ready to start a suicidal war rather than let him win his point.

This is what President Kennedy did when he sent the U.S. Navy out to interdict Soviet vessels bound for Cuba in October 1962. According to the U.S. capitalist boast, Kennedy "stood up to the Russians" and allegedly made them back down. But what really happened was that both Kennedy and Khrushchev came to their senses in time to avert a head-on collision and arranged a quid pro quo -- Khrushchev agreed to take Soviet missiles out of Cuba, and Kennedy agreed not to invade the island.

But, what really happened in October 1962 is now lost in the myth. President Johnson emulated Kennedy's "bold" stand. He used U.S. military power in Vietnam, barbarously and in brazen violation of the U.S. Constitution (which restricts to Congress the power to make war), in an attempt at persuading the rulers in Moscow and Peking to believe the unbelievable.


There is a vital lesson in all this. It is that politicians do not control events; events control them. This was demonstrated in World War I when President Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the campaign slogan "He Kept Us Out of War!" -- then, shortly after his inauguration for the second time, took the country into that fateful struggle. It was demonstrated again in World War II. In the 1940 elections, President Roosevelt solemnly pledged to the fathers and mothers of America: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." In the next few years, he sent millions.

Mr. Johnson demonstrated it once again when he sent hundreds of thousands of men to Vietnam, despite his campaign promises.

Yes, it is easy to generate emotion over Vietnam. It is easy to organize mass demonstrations of protest over U.S. policy and hope that such manifestations of popular dissent may persuade the Administration to take another course. But history and experience demonstrate that the hope is an empty one leading to sad disillusionment. Both World War I and World War II were preceded by huge "peace" demonstrations. They consumed the peace-inspired emotions of millions. But they failed to atop the implacable war-breeding forces of capitalism.

The truth is that the only hope for peace in the world today lies in the words and deeds of those who are striving to abolish existing systems of class rule and to reconstruct society on sane and sensible Socialist lines. Only when private ownership of the economy is replaced by social ownership, and production for sale and profit by production for use, can we end war-breeding competition and enthrone the peace-preserving principles of cooperation and brotherhood.

To consummate this thoroughgoing social change requires that the working class -- which means all the people who perform the useful work of society, mental and manual -- organize politically and into one integral Socialist Industrial Union as advocated by the Socialist Labor Party. Study the SLP program and help us save mankind from catastrophe.