Vietnam 1975: A victory for all humanity!

Thirty-five years ago the monstrous US (and Australian) war against the people of Vietnam finally came to an end. On April 30, 1975, Vietnamese forces entered Saigon. There were memorable scenes — the Vietnamese tank smashing through the gates of the puppet presidential palace; people streaming to the roof of the US embassy to catch the last helicopters out of Saigon; helicopters being pushed overboard from US aircraft carriers off the coast to make way for more fleeing helicopters.

Vietnam had finally won its freedom and independence after a 30-year struggle, first against French colonisation and then against the US. The two halves of Vietnam, cruelly separated by imperialism after their initial victory against the French, were reunited. The final collapse of the puppet forces was so rapid that the Vietnamese revolutionary forces had difficulty keeping pace with the retreating Saigon regime’s army. The final offensive took only five weeks to roll back the Saigon army throughout the country.

The Vietnamese people fought for decades with a will, determination and bravery that inspired the oppressed of the world and broke the onslaught of imperialism. Up to half a million US and allied troops were at war in Vietnam at any one time; thousands of aircraft and naval vessels were deployed; billions of dollars were spent.

International solidarity

The victory was also helped by the solidarity and the protests of people around the world. These protests were huge, beginning small and building to enormous demonstrations of millions in the US. In Australia, the first demonstrations took place in 1965, as the first Australian troops were sent to join the US forces. Conscription was soon introduced to fill the ranks. The protests were small at first, sometimes acts of civil disobedience to try to alert the population to what was happening. I was among the first arrested, as part of a sit-down protest in a Canberra street in May 1965. The protests spread, embracing all sectors of society. They grew in size, until in 1970 and 1971, the massive Moratorium demonstrations stopped city centres.

The growing campaign against the war linked up with many other social issues and led to the politicisation and radicalisation of a whole generation of young people. Capitalist governments in the following years had to work consciously to depoliticise and win back their youth. For decades, Washington found it harder to deploy its military might as it wanted, having to counter the “Vietnam Syndrome” of a generation of young people unwilling to fight its wars.

Winning freedom and reunification was not the end of their struggle for the Vietnamese people. They immediately faced harassment and invasion from the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia; then invasion from China; the ongoing refusal of Washington to pay any war reparations for the horrendous damage caused by its bombings and war (more munitions were dropped than in Europe during World War II); the economic embargo imposed by the US to try to economically destroy a brave people they’d been unable to defeat on the battlefield; and the terrible legacy of Agent Orange, affecting 4 million people, generation after generation.

Commemorating the victory

Such a great victory, such a heroic struggle, needs to be commemorated for generation after generation around the world. The Revolutionary Socialist Party and Direct Action have therefore organised seminars in four cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, which will be accompanied by a poster exhibition of Australian antiwar and Vietnamese posters and a film festival.

Three panels at the seminars will focus the discussion. The first will examine the history of Vietnam’s long struggle for liberation. The second will be a discussion and reminiscences from activists who were involved in organising the Australian campaign against the war in Vietnam. The third will be a discussion of Vietnam today — how the economy is recovering from the years of war, and what solidarity is still needed on such issues as the legacy of Agent Orange.

Speakers at the seminars will vary, but will include Vietnamese representatives, and many veteran activists of the Australian campaign against the war. Some speakers confirmed so far are Sylvia Hale, Greens MP in the NSW upper house; Jack Mundey, former NSW Builders Labourers Federation leader and green bans activist; Kevin Bracken, Victorian Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia; Bob Gould, founder of Sydney Vietnam Action Campaign; Harry Black, former wharfie involved in stopping the Jeparit from shipping war supplies; John Tully, lecturer in Political Science and Asian Studies at Victoria University.

The poster exhibition includes posters from the Australian antiwar campaign, mostly Sydney demo posters, and reprints of Vietnamese posters, as well as badges, pamphlets, books and magazines. (If you have any antiwar posters from that era stashed away and would be willing to add them to the exhibition, please get in touch with us — they’ll be well looked after.)

[John Percy was radicalised by his involvement in the campaign against the war in Vietnam. He is now national secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]