1999 Declaration of the International Communist Seminar

Toilers’ Struggle supports this declaration of principles as a fundamental starting point for the unity of communists on the basis of recognizing the basic theoretical principles of Marxism-Leninism and the rich experiences of socialist revolution which inspire and hold lessons for the struggle for socialism in the 21st century. 

Brussels, 4 May, 1999:

1. Today, communists all over the world are summing up the first century of socialist revolution, in order to prepare for greater struggles to come and to achieve ever greater victories. They will exert every effort for the 21st century to become the century of victory on a world scale.

2. The bourgeoisie struggled for three centuries in order to triumph over the forces of feudalism. The socialist revolution aims to put an end to the long reign of the exploiting classes and to eliminate all forms of exploitation of man by man. The final victory of socialism all over the world will take a whole historical epoch.

3. The twentieth century has witnessed great feats of socialist revolution and construction, but also treason and counter-revolution within communist ranks. The twentieth century has been one of dress rehearsal, during which the proletariat accumulated great positive experiences as well as negative and tragic ones. As long as the communist parties remained loyal to the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism, the world socialist revolution followed an ascending course. As soon as the revisionists imposed themselves on a great number of communist parties, the revolution began its downfall.

I A glorious experience

4. A hundred and fifty years ago, Marx and Engels published the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”. The fundamental principles laid down by this great programmatic document remain valid for the proletariat of all countries.

5. Marx and Engels drew the lessons from the Paris Commune, the first revolution to take the path of socialist revolution, the path of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The different forms of power of the working class essentially correspond to the measures taken by the Paris Commune, and later by the Soviets, so as to allow the workers to become the effective rulers of society.

6. Struggling against social-democratic treason, the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin defended Marxism and developed the strategy and tactics of the socialist revolution, leading the October uprising and wrenching the workers from the barbarism of imperialist wars and interventions. Lenin formulated the general line for building socialism. The October Revolution created a new situation in the world: bourgeois order had to coexist with its opposite, socialist order: the existence of a large socialist country reminded all exploited and oppressed people that the unjust order of capitalism and imperialism could be overthrown. Basically, capitalism’s area of exploitation of both the work force and mineral resources was reduced.

7. Neither the international bourgeoisie nor the opportunists in the Bolshevik Party believed that socialism could last in one backward country alone. It was the Soviet working class and labouring masses, led by the Party with Stalin at its head, who put Lenin’s political principles into practice and built a great socialist power, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

8. The struggle for industrialisation, which mobilised millions of young workers, transformed a backward and feudal country into an industrial power able to stand up to world imperialism. Middle Ages agriculture was transformed, becoming mechanised and collective. Thanks to the cultural revolution, the former country of illiterate moujiks became a country of scientists, engineers and technicians.

9. The Bolshevik Party, under the leadership of Stalin, built the Red Army in a high spirit of initiative and heroism and forged close links between the army and the popular masses. Practically on its own, the Red Army defeated Hitler’s armies.

10. The Soviet Union’s victorious anti-fascist war stimulated the development of the communist movement on a world-wide scale, especially in Europe and Asia. The victory of the Soviet Union over German imperialism gave new impulse to the revolutionary anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movement that shook imperialist domination in Asia and Africa. In several countries, people’s democracy and socialism triumphed.

11. In the wake of World War II, the focus of the world proletarian revolution shifted to Asia, where the most heroic wars of liberation were waged and won under the leadership of the communist parties of China, Korea and Vietnam.

12. By developing the theory and practice of protracted people’s war in the course of the anti-imperialist and democratic revolution in an immense Third World country, the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong made a contribution of international importance. He proceeded to transform the democratic revolution into socialist revolution, undertook socialist construction, put forward the theory and practice of continuing revolution to combat revisionism, prevent the restoration of capitalism and consolidate the gains of socialism.

13. At the time of Stalin’s death, the socialist camp and the forces of anti-imperialist revolution enjoyed unprecedented power and prestige. They were on the offensive, the oppressed all over the world could look to the future with optimism.

II The rise of revisionism and the struggle against it Continue reading

What Went Wrong with the Pol Pot Regime? An Analysis of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea (Cambodia)

(By F.G.) 



In April 1975, two weeks before the fall of Saigon in Vietnam, an army of ragged, thin and very young peasant men and women defeated the US-backed government in neighbouring Cambodia. In January 1979, some 44 months later, this new regime was swept from power and scattered by invading Vietnamese soldiers.

The briefness of this period is part of what makes it hard to understand. Further, there are no sweeping eye-witness accounts, and even some of the basic facts are in dispute among those who study Cambodia (or Kampuchea, as it is called in the country’s Khmer language). A major difficulty is that the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) led by Pol Pot made a secret of its policies and goals and even its existence for most of its time in power, and since then none of its leaders have come forward to defend its line. Yet the main source of confusion about this period is that a reactionary consensus has been imposed, both because it has been drummed into people’s heads by the media, and because there have been so few dissenting voices.

Whenever Pol Pot is mentioned (often, considering that it has been two decades since the demise of his Democratic Kampuchea regime), the conclusion is always the same: revolution is worse than the social ills it claims to cure. Many studies focus on unsubstantiated figures on the number of people who died during the Democratic Kampuchea period in an effort to prove that the forces who drove the US out of Southeast Asia turned out to be worse than the imperialists themselves.1

The truth – who and what do you believe – is a big issue here. Any reader who doesn’t ask “Why should I believe that?” isn’t fully awake to the way this issue is being used.

We are out to overthrow “common knowledge” on this question. Unlike others who falsely claim they have no particular viewpoint from which they judge, our basic stand is explicit: as Mao said, “It’s right to rebel against reaction.” In other words, here our starting point is that the war waged by the three Indochinese peoples (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) against imperialism was just. No matter how critical our conclusions on the Pol Pot regime, the fact is that they had to deal with the horror that the US created. If anyone should be on trial for genocide in Southeast Asia, it should be the US ruling class. The charges of genocide the rulers of the US want to press against former CPK leaders are an attempt to reverse right and wrong.


A major problem in other analyses of this experience is the foregone conclusion that it was “irrational” and therefore basically inexplicable. We’ve looked at it through the lens of dialectical materialist reason, examining who was trying to do what – their politics and policies – and further, what was possible in that objective situation, and the results of those policies. This is why we have focused on basic questions the CPK had to solve.
There are four intertwined, key issues:

• The relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam. This question conditioned the entire development of the Cambodian revolution. The CPK was born and developed in conflict with the Communist Party of Vietnam (formerly known as the Workers Party of Vietnam), which sought to strategically subordinate the Cambodian revolution to the Vietnamese struggle against imperialism. After the victory in Cambodia, Vietnam, in the eyes of the CPK leadership, became the main danger to their revolution. This was a defining question, both objectively and in the thinking of the CPK leadership. The course of the revolution in Cambodia depended on it.

• The kind of society the CPK sought to build and the role of the masses in that. This means the path of revolution in Cambodia, especially the fundamental question of two-stage revolution, in the specific context of the Indochina war centred in Vietnam, with all the particular opportunities and constraints that imposed; the united front during and after the war, including a very complicated relationship with Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk; and socialist construction in the shadow of a Vietnam whose failure to carry out social revolution was linked to an increasing dependence on the USSR. Many people have heard how the Democratic Kampuchean government completely emptied the cities, for instance. Here we intend to examine these policies and why they were carried out.

• The question of the party: the state of affairs in the CPK and its leaders’ conception of what a party is for. Until September 1977, the Cambodian people didn’t know that what they called “the Organisation” [Angkar] and what its opponents called the Khmer Rouge was a communist party. Yet, to a large extent because of the Vietnamese victory over the US, this Party was suddenly thrust into power. It also had to deal with a situation in which its own line and ranks were far from consolidated.

• The question of the CPK’s attitude toward foreign experience in general and especially Maoism. It has often been claimed that the CPK was guided by Maoism and the Chinese revolution. This is based on little but ignorance of the facts, or, in some cases, a deliberate effort to slander Maoism.2 The Cambodian Party never made such a claim. Although Pol Pot lived in China on the eve of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and even though this earth-shaking event, the farthest advance yet achieved by the world proletarian revolution, had a spontaneous impact on Cambodian political life, still any support for the GPCR is completely absent from CPK documents and other statements during Mao’s lifetime.3 The CPK was pro-China because Vietnam was pro-Soviet (and for the same reason also had relations with North Korea, Albania and Yugoslavia), but when CPK documents refer to the Chinese revolution it is usually to belittle it by comparison to Cambodia. The CPK claimed that it was so advanced that it “exceeds Lenin and is outstripping Mao”,4 leading a revolution so “unique” that, “[i]n this case, it is better to learn nothing from foreign experience”.5 But the “foreignness” of this experience is not the only reason why the CPK leadership did not want to learn from Mao’s development of Marxism. They didn’t like its content. As we shall see, the policies they carried out were the opposite of those developed by Mao. For the most part, the CPK leadership maintained their reserve on China until September 1977, when they established enthusiastic relations with Deng Xiaoping, the man who overthrew Mao’s successors. It didn’t matter much to Pol Pot what class ruled in China when he was looking for an ally against Vietnam.6 Continue reading

Actually Existing Socialism – Grassroots Democracy in Vietnam: A Gramscian Analysis

(Published by Socialism and Democracy

In addition to a radical modification of the preexisting economic model, Vietnam’s Doi Moi (renovation)1 has also entailed a gradual process of institutional adaptation without altering the core components of the country’s political system. The introduction of liberal market economy principles since the late 1980s has co-existed with both a Marxist single-party institutional architecture and an ideological corpus envisioning socialist democracy. Both these approaches point to the integration of state and society, which in the Vietnamese context is viewed as resting on four main principles: the leading role of the party, the socio-political functions of the mass organizations, the concept of ‘people’s mastery’, and the exercise of democratic centralism.

The institutional adaptation process has been driven by both societal demands triggered by the new economic order and legal changes undertaken by the Vietnamese leadership. This process is, ultimately, modifying the framework of relationships between rulers and citizens. In this regard, and given the lack of political pluralism and other liberties connected to political liberalism, recent legal changes aimed at promoting grassroots democracy in the rural context, mostly the so-called Grassroots Democracy (GD) regulations,2 merit attention as a mean to comprehend the country’s current and future socio-political trends. The purpose of this essay is to conceptualize and contextualize such legal changes in order to ascertain their scope and potential.

Defining features of the Vietnamese local governance system

According to Held’s definition of the variants of Marxism (2006: 118), the Vietnamese formal institutional structure still fits today the classic model of an orthodox interpretation of Marxism. In such a system a “professional leadership of a disciplined cadre of revolutionaries … the party, is the instrument which can create the framework for socialism and communism”. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is, therefore, the core element of a socio-political system in which other affiliated entities (mainly the mass organizations) also play an important role in attempting to integrate the state and society. These leading organizations, as well as the state’s executive and legislative or supervisory organs, are present in the entire country through a pyramidal system of territorial representation, selection and election of leaders, authority and accountability, from the grassroots level up to the top. However, this system is by no means static, and the actors involved have gradually changed their functions over the last two decades. Nevertheless, these changes have not been coupled with a dramatic alteration of the traditional forms of governing. On the contrary, the country’s leading force has exhibited a noteworthy capacity for adjusting and accommodating old ways of decision-making with the new practices demanded by a fully different economic, administrative and international environment. Continue reading

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

(By Return to the Source)

Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam

At Return to the Source, we frequently use the term ‘actually existing socialism’ to describe various countries that we identify as socialist. The term specifies ‘actually existing’ to highlight the need to approach socialism from a materialist, rather than idealist perspective. We would define actually existing socialism as the material manifestation of the socialist ideal. Imperfect as it may be, it is the reality of what it takes to build socialism in a world dominated by imperialism.

But what does actually existing socialism mean for revolutionaries in the 21st century, long after the fall of most of the socialist bloc? Five countries – Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – survived the wave of counter-revolutions in the early 1990s, but their survival has forced them to make certain concessions and retreats to the market system in varying degrees. Continue reading

Socialism and the Path to Socialism – Vietnam’s Perspective

(Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, paid an official friendship visit to Cuba and gave a presentation at the Nico Lopez Party School of the Cuban Communist Party on November 17, 2012.)

The following are excerpts from Party leader Trong’s presentation.  

Socialism and the path to socialism is a fundamental and practical theoretical topic with broad and complicated content, demanding thorough and in-depth study. I hereby mention just a few aspects from Vietnam’s perspective for your reference and our discussions. And several questions are focused: What is socialism? Why did Vietnam choose the socialist path? How to build socialism in Vietnam step by step? How significant has Vietnam’s renewal and socialism building process been over the past 25 years? And what lessons have been learnt?

As you know, socialism can be understood in three different aspects: socialism as a doctrine, socialism as a movement, and socialism as a regime. Each aspect has different manifestations, depending on the world outlook and development level in a specific historical period. The socialism I want to discuss here is a scientific socialism based on Marxist-Leninist doctrine in the current era. Continue reading