War in Indochina, popularly known as the Vietnam war, occurred in two phases. First Indochina War was fought mainly between Viet Minh (the national independence coalition, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap) and France (backed by the British) as the colonial power of that region on those days. The second one was fought between Viet Cong and the USA. France, as a leading colonial power, entered the region (Indochina, comprising of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) following the footsteps of Jesuit father Alexandre de Rhodes, who went there to propagate religious beliefs in the 17th century. Arising of Capital took the same route all over the world, in each colonized country. Traders and merchants of European states took the lead, while their state‘s military forces backed the initiative.
In 1941, Japan occupied Vietnam, but Japanese forces faced resistance from the indigenous people of the region. Ho Chi Minh, along with Viet Minh, organized a protracted resistance movement against the occupying forces, which got initial support from the USA, and Japan being the enemy country in the Second World War. Japan left the region after handing over the power of Vietnam to the nationalist force headed by Ho Chi Minh. He declared independence for Vietnam, but no sooner than Japan left the arena, France returned to reclaim the authority over the region. However, French colonial rule came to an end in 1954 after the defeat of the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended an eight-year war.
But hostilities with the western power continued. The USA entered the arena with the object of helping France from the 1950s. This was an era of the cold war when America‘s avowed objective was to restrict the spread of communism all over the world. So, the USA took the baton of military deployment from France and was involved in a long drawn war of 19 years 5 months 4 weeks and 1 day, which began on 1st November 1955 and ended on 30th April 1975 with the victory of Viet Minh. Vietnam was united. The rest of the history is already known to us.
But what was accomplished after so much suffering, loss of humanity, money and resources? If we look back now, we will observe that a sea change has taken place in terms of the practice of Capitalism and the mode of governance in the Third World countries.
Thoughts and discussions started taking place during wars in Indochina, as well as in Korea (almost at the same time), but the full realization and policy decisions had only taken place after the end of the Second Indochina War.
Capitalism as an economic system
Capitalist production relation is very different from feudalism or slavery, which considers the private ownership of production, commoditized wage labor, and the sanctity of the free market. Capitalism believes in laissez-faire model, minimal governance of the state to the point where the state should exist and govern for the competitive market economy and in whose image, society is to be reshaped. The state’s policy regime needs to be directed to create, secure, and facilitate the competitive market economy even as it leaves that functional economy to self-regulate itself.
The existence of other forms of production relations is simply an aberration of capitalism. In the post-WWII arena, capitalism entered in the so-called Third World countries by first freeing, creating and organizing rules of market competition and then allowing markets to operate freely in an increasingly competitive environment (however uneven it may be), while it fundamentally transformed the existing structures and lives of the peasantry and rural society.
In the process of creating and deepening the competitive market economy in the Third World, the need for ‘developing’ the underdeveloped countries was very much felt. The former US President Harry S. Truman brought it to the notice of the capitalist world with his famous speech on January 2, 1949. In this speech, he put forward his argument, that the underdeveloped countries are victims of their own backward social structures.
Hence, the development of the underdeveloped world is possible only through ‘painful adjustments’, he insisted, and that all “ancient philosophies have to be scrapped; old social institutions have to disintegrate; bonds of caste, creed, and race have to burst” (Truman, Harry S. 1951, Department of Social and Economic Affairs, United Nations). That is, Capital must penetrate the Third World, create markets for itself, and transform it from within.Photo: U.S. Information Agency
How the changes took place
The struggle in Vietnam initially began as a nationalist movement very much like in other colonies in Asia. But gradually it turned into a war between two philosophies.
From the initial stages of the struggle, it became clear to the occupying forces, that this war would not be an easy one, as the erstwhile Soviet Union and China stood behind resisting forces. As the war escalated, the determination of the Vietnamese forces made it also clear that it would be difficult for full-fledged capitalism to make inroads in Vietnam in the near future. Problems inspiring the people to fight, despite terrible holocaust, could not be solved only by the use of the state’s repressive apparatus. Something needed to be done to eradicate the abject poverty of the people so that the Communist philosophy of equality and poverty reduction could be checked and guaranteed in a limited space.
There was a strong belief in the Western intellectual circle that modern, rich, advanced Western countries, with their superior technology and culture, could uplift the poor, backward, stagnant people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But it seemed the majority of the population in Indochina did not have any faith in those western rulers after centuries of depredation of their countries by those so-called advanced European states. They were simply biding time for proper leadership who would instill in them the confidence to strike back. Indochina got this opportunity under the leadership of Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh in particular.
Leaders of Europe and the USA, to their astonishment, found that a half-fed, half-clad, so-called backward people could put up such a vehement resistance against their latest war machine when their proud rhetoric only fell on the deaf ears of their compatriots.Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths-The Tet Offensive
Developing the Underdeveloped
It was clear to the global capital that the transition from agriculture to industry, which promised the ultimate victory for Capital, was not going to be very smooth in the Third World countries. Also, a changed liberal philosophy was needed to cope with the poverty and destitution in underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The capital was prepared to accept a parallel economy, if needed, to attack the wretched condition of indigent people, so that animosity among them against capitalism could be quenched. This would have a debilitating effect on the revolutionary zeal of the recalcitrant poor.
The protracted war in Indochina made it clear that suffering people of the third world will no more acquiesce in the rule of global capital. Ignominious defeat of both France and the USA in the first and second wars of Indochina surely paved the way for such a change. Changed look of Capital in Third World countries first appeared in the utterance of Robert McNamara, the then President of World Bank, in 1975. McNamara, as the President of World Bank, delivered a lecture on September 24, 1973, about development in underdeveloped countries, known as Nairobi Lectures. He warned that inequality was accelerating in poor countries, particularly between rural and urban areas.
The focus now shifted towards deep engagement and persuasion, rather than indifference and repression as a strategy for a more effective method of control and regulation of subjects.
“The basic problem of poverty and growth in the developing world can be stated very simply. The growth is not equitably reaching the poor. And the poor are not significantly contributing to growth….”
The accepted strategy in the development literature and policy paradigm has emphasized growth through industrialization, modernization, and urbanization, which in turn is supposed to rapidly reduce mass poverty. But McNamara argued, “without rapid progress in smallholder agriculture there is little hope either of achieving long term stable economic growth or of significantly reducing the levels of absolute poverty”. From the altar of one of the most important international organizations in the capitalist world, he sent a clarion call to all in power, to abandon the notion of growth-centric development and directly address the social needs of the poor.
The focus now shifted towards deep engagement and persuasion, rather than indifference and repression as a strategy for a more effective method of control and regulation of subjects.Photo: Getty Images
A Change in Governance
Even at the time of war, global capital was apprehensive about the power of the monolithic structure of Capitalism to eradicate absolute poverty. What the global capital needed was not the annihilation of the Third World, but reshaping it in its own image; perspectives, practices, and forms of life. So, a change in policy was sought within its framework. Now it felt the necessity to respond to the social movements with active redistributive roles of the states (such as with poverty alleviation and unemployment benefit programs) while facilitating industrialization through capital accumulation.
This opened up before the capital, the possibility of a novel strategy and technique of non-violently engaging with, and recasting the demands of any social movements in its domain and favor. The concept of development itself underwent a change. But the point was not to enhance the capabilities of the Third World subjects or letting them govern themselves.
The idea was to penetrate the Third Word with its principles of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’, by rewriting the language-logic-ethos of Third World in terms of hegemonic logic of global capital.
And herein, even today remains the need for resistance.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.