One of the most widely used explanations for why the United States had to be involved in Vietnam during the 1960s/70s was that communism had to be stopped in its tracks, that if communists were allowed to “take over” Vietnam the rest of South East Asia would quickly follow. It was called the Domino Theory to suggest the image of how a row of domino tiles, placed on their edges and near to each other, could all be made to topple over by simply knocking the first one over onto the second. It was a pretty effective analogy and was widely used by most of the western media in the 1960s and 1970s to conjure up the horrors of jackbooted Russian soldiers invading our bedrooms – the so-called “Reds under the beds” image that was widely suggested at the time.
Today it’s quite popular for many left-leaning commentators to ridicule the Domino Theory and imply that no such movement ever existed. The usually excellent Abby Martin, for example, mentioned it about 15 minutes into her recent show on RT when she said the Domino Theory turned out to be “one giant sham”.
But it’s not strictly accurate. Anti-communist interventions by western countries most definitely did halt the spread of communism – at least for the time being (ideas never die) – and to suggest otherwise is misleading. However, like so many of these types of discussion, the difficulty lies in how language is used.
No hard evidence has ever been provided to show that Moscow intended to take over the world. So the suggestion implicit in the Domino Theory that some sinister Russian conspiracy lay behind the spread of communism around the world following the Russian Revolution is pure bunkum. What happened in reality was that ordinary people all around the world were deeply inspired by what the ordinary people of Russia had achieved for themselves, and wanted to copy the Russian model in their own countries where they too were being oppressed just as the Russian people had been oppressed prior to 1917. Communism did indeed spread like wildfire, and the 1% had been terrified of it from the moment of its birth; but it wasn’t being spread by Russian armies invading terrified countries, it was being spread by ordinary people all over the world freely choosing it in preference to the tyrannies with which they were all too familiar.
The war against communism lasted from 1918, when western armies first invaded Russia to 1991, when the Soviet Union committed suicide. Throughout that time the 1% who ruled the western world stopped at nothing to defeat their bitter enemy. From enforcing devastating economic sanctions, which still exist in Cuba and North Korea more than half a century later, to vicious military invasions – such as in Korea and Vietnam – to western sponsored military coups from Indonesia to Africa to Latin America, nothing was too much trouble for western elites in their vicious assault on a good idea.
When well-meaning people such as Abby Martin suggest that communism was not spreading at the time of the Vietnam War they propagate a mistake that serves western interests. Communism was unquestionably spreading in the 1970s, and although the US lost the war in Vietnam, it bought time for the multitude of other western-led anti-communist wars to gain traction all around the world. Abby Martin is perfectly right to imply that there was never any Moscow-led conspiracy to take over the world, but there was very definitely a widespread popular movement of ordinary people choosing to live their lives according to the Russian model.
So in a sense the western propagandists were correct. If left unchecked communism could well have spread from country to country in rapid succession, like a row of dominoes falling over; but the lie is about the driving force behind that movement. Western propagandists allege it was all a devious Russian plot, but the fact was it was ordinary people freely choosing for themselves an alternative model to the crushing tyrannies they were forced to endure.
The west did indeed defeat communism – for the time being. What the west cannot defeat, and never will defeat, is the idea of communism. That will not trouble the 1% overmuch, at the moment. The collapse of the Soviet Union has bought them many decades of security where they can return to their ruthless plundering ways untroubled by the real and significant existence of a better alternative. Communism was and is a perfectly workable economic model and the idea of it will never be eradicated as long as capitalism exists to prove what a good model communism is. This is not to say communism is perfect, and in my view better models exist; but it is considerably better than capitalism, and if communism had been left alone to evolve naturally almost certainly it would be in use today all around the world.
No discussion on Domino Theories could possibly be complete without looking at US foreign policy; for if ever a good example of the principle was wanted one need look no further than US military expansion around the globe, where ever since the earliest days of the US Empire over two hundred years ago the spread of US army outposts have insidiously helped to topple other nations all around the planet like… falling dominoes.