Nationalism and its Relationship with Communism

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In examining the research question, one must be aware of the vast amount of work that has been done on the spread of communism, nationalism, and Vietnam and Cuba. This paper is looking to answer the question of exactly how big of a factor was nationalism in bringing communism to Vietnam and Cuba. There are many authors that have written about the politics of these countries during this period. This chapter seeks to look at the different theories and beliefs of others who have sought to explain the development of both nations.
When looking at American foreign policy during the Cold War, it seems that US policy makers accepted that communism spread because of the Soviet Union’s influence and actions in other nations. In fact, George Kennan’s famous telegram details the Soviet pattern of thought which eventually led to the United States fighting the Cold War through the policy of containment. Kennan described the communist ideology as one that saw the outside world as hostile and that communism must overthrow political forces beyond their borders. Kennan also described the Soviet concept of the struggle between capitalist, democratic America and the communist Soviet Union as one that needed no time table from which to emerge victorious. The Soviets were willing to pursue communist goals by continually applying pressure to every possible area that communism could take hold, especially in Third World countries that were not stable politically. This constant pressure would enable the USSR to win eventually, so there was no great need to state a possible time frame for winning the struggle. Therefore, Kennan viewed containing communism as the solution and great test for American democracy to moderate Soviet philosophy.13 It is through this lens that John Spanier examines US foreign policy during the Cold War and what Cuba and Vietnam meant to that policy. He describes the revolution in Cuba as a nationalist movement characterized with an anti-American feeling fostered by Fidel Castro himself in order to win popular support. Spanier states that Castro eventually turns to communism because he needed the organizational strength of the Communist party as well as the aid that came from the Soviet Union in the area of arms and military advisors.14 Spanier examines US foreign policy in Vietnam as well. He states that the Vietminh was organized by Ho Chi Minh to “…convert Vietnam from a feudal society to a classless communist society.”15 Yet, even though Spanier identifies Ho’s communist ties, he also acknowledges that the revolution that Ho led against the French was a nationalist one.16 Spanier’s writing evokes the common themes of most authors that have researched American foreign policy during the Cold War period.
Robert McMahon attacks the foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration, and by doing this, the foreign policy actions of most US Presidents during the Cold War. McMahon believes that the force that Third World Nationalism became was “the most significant historical development of the mid-twentieth century.”17 McMahon sees the Eisenhower administration as one who refused to recognize the fundamental economic, political, and social upheaval that was happening in the Third World. He accuses the administration of seeing the world only through the “distorting lens of a Cold War geopolitical strategy that saw the Kremlin as the principal indicator of global unrest.”18 McMahon describes the Eisenhower’s administration’s record in regard to Third World countries and their nationalist movements as “one of persistent failure.”19 If one goes by McMahon’s rationale, this view could also be attributed to almost all presidential administrations during the Cold War period whether it is the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in Vietnam or Reagan’s reaction to the Sandinista victory in elections in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Still, how do political scientists and historians who study communism view the revolutions in Vietnam and Cuba? Stephane Courtois in The Black Book of Communism articulates a view that explains why American foreign policy chose containment. “Every Communist country or Party has its own specific history and its own particular regional and local variations, but a linkage can always be traced to the pattern elaborated in Moscow in November 1917. This linkage forms a genetic code of Communism.”20 Richard Pipes expands on this idea in his book Communism: A History. He states that Courtois’ linkage alludes that communism everywhere came into existence by one of two ways. Either communism was imposed by the Soviet army like in Eastern Europe, or it emerged, usually with some Soviet help, in countries that had a similar social structure to pre-revolutionary Russia.21 At the Second Congress of the Comintern, Lenin wanted the Comintern to commit itself to championing the national cause, work with other anti-imperialist groups, and fight wars of national liberation, all the while retaining their communist identity. However, Pipes argues that most often, the attempts to implement this policy failed. He says, “…instead of exploiting the nationalists for their own purposes, the communists found themselves exploited by them.”22 Therefore, Pipes argues that in countries where the Soviet army was not present, it was the nationalist movement that controlled the revolution and not the other way around.
Archie Brown is an Oxford historian and political scientist who is an internationally acclaimed authority on communism. In his book The Rise and Fall of Communism, he addresses communism in both Vietnam and Cuba. Brown states that communism in Asian countries was attached to the larger themes of national liberation and anti-colonialism. In fact, he argues that communism’s success was due to the fact that young intellectuals in Asian countries in the first half of the twentieth century linked their nation’s freedom with the concept that capitalism would be replaced by a socialist or communist system.23 In fact, many Asian communists, including Ho Chi Minh, had hostility to both colonialism and capitalism due to the extreme exploitation of the local populations by foreign businesses allowed in by the colonial regime.24 Brown’s conclusion is that nationalism went hand-in-hand with communism in bringing independence to Vietnam, and it was nationalist revolutionary movement led by the Soviet-trained leader of the Communist party, Ho Chi Minh, who led it. For Brown, Cuba is an unusual communist state. He explains that Cuba was liberated by an indigenous revolution like many other communist countries. However, the revolution in Cuba was not led by the Communist party. Fidel Castro did not turn to communism until after he had taken control, and when he had realized that it was “the only available long-term example of non-capitalist, post-revolutionary governance” which could be offered to Cuba by the Soviet Union and other communist states.25  So, Brown sums the success of communism outside of Europe in the following way:
“Outside Europe, Communists were able to draw on the theme of national liberation and anti-colonialism to attract broader support than could be achieved by an appeal to Communist ideology alone…In Vietnam and Cuba, anti-imperialist sentiments and national pride were also of great importance both in the foundation of the regimes and for their persistence. These three Third World countries (Cuba, Vietnam, and China) all had indigenous revolutions, and while that has been no guarantee of survival, it can at least safely be said that indigenous revolution is a better predictor of Communist survival than non-indigenous founding of the regime.”26
Brown does not attribute direct interference or influence of the Soviet Union in these countries to their eventual adoption of communism, but rather to the indigenous revolutions that brought communism to the governments of Vietnam and Cuba.
Before discussing literature that has focused on each nation specifically, perhaps the field of sociology can be of some assistance in determining the research question.  Karl Marx was unique as a scholar as he was one of the first to correlate the relationship between humans and the material conditions they lived in.27 He stated that there is natural conflict that exists between the winners and losers of a society in the quest for resources.28 Marx stated that resources are distributed unevenly in any complex social system, and that the greater the inequality, the greater the level of conflict will be.29  So, according to Marx, it would seem that it would be natural for the native populations of Vietnam and Cuba to seek power from the colonial western nations that they felt had been oppressing them. Max Weber also explored this. He described power as the ability to get what one wants even when facing resistance by others.30 The different strata that exist in society come from these differing groups abilities to “obtain things and to prevail over others.”31 While Marx would argue that social classes would naturally unite in order to improve their conditions, Weber would not have agreed completely. Weber stated that for this to happen, it would require “specific social and cultural traditions” which would force the recognition of the similar circumstances these groups lived in.32 In other words, it would take a powerful unifying force like nationalism to get the peoples of Vietnam and Cuba to revolt against the conditions they lived in.
Michael Mann takes the work of Marx and Weber further. Mann examines the human drive to acquire power in his book. He states that power is not a goal of most people. Rather, “it emerges in the course of need satisfaction.”33 As a means to an end, Mann’s definition is based on the idea that humans are “restless, purposive, and rational, striving to increase their enjoyment of the good things of life and capable of choosing and pursuing appropriate means for doing so.”34 Mann states that this human characteristic is the original source of power. However, the more complex human social relations become, the less likely it is that an individual can wield power as an individual. He or she must belong to an organization, whether formal or informal.35 Mann’s definition of power is very simple, but it is similar as to what other theorists have come up with. He states that “power is the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of one’s environment.”36 The individual is unlikely to be able to obtain much power on his own. Therefore, he must belong to the institutions and organizations that are created by men in order to further this quest for power. Mann argues that this is achieved through four basic sources of social power: ideological, economic, military, and political. These are the four forms chosen because organizations can be based on them. Organizations can use them because “they give collective organization and unity to the infinite variety of social existence…they are capable of generating collective action.”37 Mann might argue that the revolutionary groups that came to power in Vietnam and Cuba possessed some political and military power but little economic power initially. They did, however, possess ideological power that stemmed from the nationalist and/or Communist movements that Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro each represented. In order to add to this ideological power and increase the political, economic, and military power of their regimes, each nation would have to ally itself in the bi-polar world created by the Cold War with one of the two super powers. Due to the presence of communism within the movements or due to the anti-Western nature of both revolutions, an alliance with the Soviet Union to solidify a hold on power would seem likely.


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Literature Review
Chapter 3. Nationalism and its Relationship with Communism
Chapter 4. Vietnam
Chapter 5. Cuba
Chapter 6. Conclusion

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