Create two, three, many Vietnams

[Editor’s note:] In April 1965, Che Guevara left Cuba to lend his leadership abilities as a guerrilla commander to revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world — from the Congo to Bolivia. The following undated message was addressed to the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL, also referred to as the Tricontinental), which was established following a January 1966 conference in Havana. It was published on April 16, 1967, in a special inaugural edition of Tricontinental magazine, published by the Executive Secretariat of OSPAAAL. It appeared there under Guevara’s title, “Create two, three … many Vietnams, that is the watchword.” The Cuban leader Manual Piñeiro, in charge of Cuba’s relationship with revolutionaries in the Third World at the time, explained in 1997 that the “Message” was written by Che in a training camp in Pinar del Río in Cuba before setting out for Bolivia in 1966. Reproduced here from Che Guevara Reader: Writings on Politics and Revolution (LeftWord, 2004).

Message to the Tricontinental

“It is the hour of the furnace, and the light is all that can be seen.”
— José Martí

Twenty-one years have elapsed since the end of the last world conflagration, and various publications in every language are celebrating this event, symbolized by the defeat of Japan. A climate of optimism is apparent in many sectors of the different camps into which the world is divided.

Twenty-one years without a world war in these days of heightened confrontation, violent clashes and abrupt turns, appears to be a very large number. All of us declare our readiness to fight for this peace; but without analyzing its practical results (poverty, degradation, constantly increasing exploitation of enormous sectors of humanity), it is appropriate to ask whether this peace is real.

The purpose of these notes is not to write the history of the various conflicts of a local character that have followed one after another since Japan’s surrender. Nor is it our task to recount the numerous and growing instances of civilian strife that have occurred in these years of supposed peace. It is enough to point to the wars in Korea and Vietnam as examples to counter the boundless optimism.[1]

In Korea, after years of ferocious struggle, the northern part of the country was left submerged in the most terrible devastation in the annals of modern war: riddled with bombs; without factories, schools or hospitals and without any kind of housing to shelter 10 million inhabitants.

Dozens of countries intervened in that war, led militarily by the United States under the false banner of the United Nations, with the massive participation of U.S. troops and the use of the conscripted South Korean people as cannon fodder. On the other side, the army and people of Korea and volunteers from the People’s Republic of China received supplies and advice from the Soviet military apparatus. The United States carried out all kinds of tests of weapons of destruction, excluding thermonuclear ones, but including bacteriological and chemical weapons on a limited scale.

In Vietnam a war has been waged almost without interruption by the patriotic forces of that country against three imperialist powers: Japan, whose might plummeted after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; France, which recovered its Indochinese colonies from that defeated country, disregarding the promises made at a time of duress; and the United States, in the latest phase of the conflict.

There have been limited confrontations on all continents, although on the Latin American continent there were for a long time only attempts at freedom struggles and military coups d’état. This was until the Cuban Revolution sounded its clarion call, signaling the importance of this region and attracting the wrath of the imperialists, compelling Cuba to defend its coasts first at the Bay of Pigs and then during the October [1962 missile] crisis. The latter incident could have touched off a war of incalculable proportions if a U.S.-Soviet clash had occurred over the Cuban question.

Right now, however, the contradictions are clearly centered on the territories of the Indochinese peninsula and the neighboring countries. Laos and Vietnam were shaken by conflicts that ceased to be civil wars when U.S. imperialism intervened with all its power, and the whole region became a lit fuse leading to a powder keg. In Vietnam the confrontation has taken on an extremely sharp character. It is not our intention to go into the history of this war. We will just point out some milestones.

In 1954, after the crushing defeat [of the French forces] at Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Accords were signed, dividing Vietnam into two zones with the stipulation that elections would be held in 18 months to determine who would govern the country and how it would be reunified. The United States did not sign that document but began maneuvering to replace Emperor Bao Dai, a French puppet, with a man who suited their aims. He turned out to be Ngo Dinh Diem, whose tragic end — that of an orange squeezed dry by imperialism — is known to everyone.[2]

In the months following the signing of the accords, optimism reigned in the camp of the popular forces. They dismantled military positions of the anti-French struggle in the southern part of the country and waited for the agreement to be carried out. But the patriots soon realized that there would be no elections unless the United States felt capable of imposing its will at the ballot box, something it could not do even with all its methods of electoral fraud.

The struggles in the southern part of the country began once again, and these have been gaining in intensity. Today the U.S. Army has grown to almost half a million invaders, while the puppet forces decline in number and, above all, have totally lost the will to fight.

It has been about two years since the United States began the systematic bombing of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in yet another attempt to halt the fighting spirit in the south and to impose peace negotiations from a position of strength. At the beginning, the bombings were more or less isolated occurrences, carried out in the guise of reprisals for alleged provocations from the north. Then the intensity and regularity of the bombing increased, until it became one gigantic onslaught by the U.S. Air Force carried out day after day, with the purpose of destroying every vestige of civilization in the northern zone of the country. It is only one episode in the sadly notorious escalation.

The material aims of the Yankee world have been achieved in good part despite the valiant defense put up by the Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries, the more than 1,700 planes brought down and the aid in military supplies from the socialist camp.

This is the painful reality: Vietnam, a nation representing the aspirations and hopes for victory of the disinherited of the world, is tragically alone. This people must endure the pounding of U.S. technology — in the south almost without defenses, in the north with some possibilities of defense — but always alone.

The solidarity of the progressive world with the Vietnamese people has something of the bitter irony of the plebeians cheering on the gladiators in the Roman Circus. To wish the victim success is not enough; one must share his or her fate. One must join that victim in death or in victory.

When we analyze the isolation of the Vietnamese we are overcome by anguish at this illogical moment in the history of humanity.[3] U.S. imperialism is guilty of aggression. Its crimes are immense, extending over the whole world. We know this, gentlemen! But also guilty are those who, at the decisive moment, hesitated to make Vietnam an inviolable part of socialist territory — yes, at the risk of a war of global scale, but also compelling the U.S. imperialists to make a decision. Also guilty are those who persist in a war of insults and maneuvers, begun quite some time ago by the representatives of the two biggest powers in the socialist camp.[4]

Let us ask, seeking an honest answer: Is Vietnam isolated or not, as it tries to maintain a dangerous balancing act between the two quarrelling powers? What greatness has been shown by this people! What a stoic and courageous people! And what a lesson for the world their struggle holds.

It will be a long time before we know if President Johnson ever seriously intended to initiate some of the reforms needed by his people — to paper over the class contradictions that are appearing with explosive force and mounting frequency.[5] What is certain is that the improvements announced under the pompous title of the Great Society have gone down the drain in Vietnam. The greatest of the imperialist powers is feeling in its own bowels the bleeding inflicted by a poor, backward country; its fabulous economy is strained by the war effort. Killing has ceased to be the most comfortable business for the monopolies.

Defensive weapons, and not in sufficient number, are all these marvelous Vietnamese soldiers have besides love for their country, for their society, and an unsurpassed courage. Imperialism is bogged down in Vietnam. It sees no way out and is searching desperately for one that will permit it to emerge with dignity from the dangerous situation in which it finds itself. Furthermore, the “four points” put forward by the north and the “five” by the south have it caught in a vise, making the confrontation still more decisive.

Everything seems to indicate that peace, the precarious peace that bears that name only because no global conflagration has occurred, is again in danger of being broken by some irreversible and unacceptable step taken by the United States.

What is the role that we, the exploited of the world, must play? The peoples of three continents are watching and learning a lesson for themselves in Vietnam. Since the imperialists are using the threat of war to blackmail humanity, the correct response is not to fear war. Attack hard and without let-up at every point of confrontation — that must be the general tactic of the peoples.[6]

But in those places where this miserable peace that we endure has not been broken, what should our task be?

To liberate ourselves at any price.


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[1] Che’s first analyses of the wars in Korea and Vietnam were written in 1954 during his stay in Guatemala, which was also invaded by imperialist forces. In very different circumstances, after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, he again discussed events in Asia. See, for example, “Solidarity with South Vietnam” (1963), the prolog of the book War of the People, People’s Army (1964) and Che’s UN speech (1964).

[2] South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated on November 1, 1963, at the instigation of Washington, which was dissatisfied at the inability of his regime to counter the military and political successes of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front.

[3] For a more detailed understanding of these ideas, see Che’s speech at the UN and his Algerian speech in this volume, where he proclaimed: “The ominous attack of U.S. imperialism on Vietnam or in the Congo must be met by a show of unity, gathering all our defenses to give our sister countries our unconditional solidarity.”

[4] On many occasions, Che referred to the differences that beset the international revolutionary movement — particularly the conflict between China and the Soviet Union — and the need to resolve those differences within the movement itself, in order to avoid damage on a wider scale. Following this line of thought, Che’s theses on the Third World tried to avoid dogma and schemas. The works in this volume are an expression of Che’s position on this issue.

[5] President Lyndon B. Johnson was Vice-President when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and increased the level of open aggression against Cuba, providing unconditional support for counterrevolutionary organizations.

[6] Che’s ideas about tactics and strategy reflect a dialectical development in terms of content and objectives, tracing his experience in the Cuban revolutionary struggle up to the point where he joined the struggles in Africa and Latin America. The following works are key references: Guerrilla Warfare, “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method,” Episodes of the Revolutionary War, “Tactics and Strategy of Latin American Revolution” and Episodes of the Revolutionary War in the Congo.

Featured image for representational purposes only.