On the night of November 29, 2023, the public was informed of the death of Henry A. Kissinger, former National Security Adviser to the President and a former US Secretary of State. The bourgeois media along with various statesmen and politicians are shedding tears for their late loyal servant.
An obituary in The New York Times described Kissinger as a, “scholar-turned-diplomat who … used cunning, ambition, and intellect to remake American power relationships.” Foreign Policy magazine—a favorite publication of DC’s military, diplomatic, and intelligence elite—titled their obituary “Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage,” and said “the late statesman was a master of realpolitik.” Tributes have been pouring in from across the bourgeois political spectrum. Republican former President George W. Bush said of Kissinger, “America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices on foreign affairs … I have long admired the man.” Anthony Blinken, Joe Biden’s Secretary of State, said he was, “very privileged to get his counsel many times, including as recently as about a month ago.”
US imperialism’s leaders and their propagandists claim it is such a loss for the United States and that Henry Kissinger did great things for “our country” and helped to protect us. These very same people are always denouncing the bloody crimes of “terrorists” and “communists.” We all know that at times like these, lies and hypocrisy tend to increase in vast quantities.
The working class knows that the US Government and state apparatus is not “our government.” It is the tool of the class which owns the means of production, here and abroad. The wealthiest 10% own three quarters of all the wealth. The main task of their state is to maintain the system of exploitation, not just in the US, but throughout the world that US imperialism dominates. Henry Kissinger was a key strategist for US imperialism and advised presidents from JFK through Biden. The red thread running through his blood-soaked career is the killing of masses of people to maintain the US Empire. It would take a book, maybe many books, to go through the despicable role that Kissinger played. Right now, we can only focus on some highlights.
The ambitious refugee
Henry Kissinger was born in Germany in 1923. Ten years later, Hitler and the Nazis came to power. Kissinger’s family was Jewish, and they escaped Germany, emigrating to the US in 1938. They were some of the lucky Jewish refugees from Europe, as the US had antisemitic immigration quotas before and after World War II. Many other Jewish refugees were sent back to Europe to their deaths.
Kissinger joined the US Army in World War II and then went to Harvard after the war. In the US, the Ivy League universities are the prime training ground of the ruling class, and Harvard is the first among them. Kissinger used his education and connections to eventually become the National Security Advisor to President Nixon in 1969. He also became Secretary of State in September 1973 and held onto both positions for the rest of Nixon’s term. President Ford took office in August 1974, when Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. He removed Kissinger from his National Security Advisor role but kept him as Secretary of State until January 1977. After this, Kissinger founded his own consulting agency, which advised the government and politicians in exchange for hefty fees. In a 2016 Democratic Presidential debate, Hilary Clinton mentioned how she had consulted Henry Kissinger on foreign policy, showing his continued influence. In all these five decades, Kissinger’s role was to advise and set policy for US imperialism, and he left his bloody footprints everywhere.
Vietnam and Cambodia
The US had more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam in 1968. The Tet Offensive exposed the lies of the Johnson Administration that the war was almost over as the “communists” were on the decline. When Nixon became president in 1969, the revolt among the US armed forces against their officers was increasing.
“Fragging” refers to soldiers rolling a fragmentation grenade into their own officer’s tent, to stop them from being sent into combat. In 1969, there was one fragging incident for every 3,300 servicemen and this increased to one per 572 in 1971. The determined fight of the Vietnamese people, the Black revolt in the US, and the antiwar movement all helped to create a situation where the discipline and chain of command in the US military was falling apart.
Nixon and Kissinger knew that they had to get the US troops out and they started to withdraw. But how would it look for the world’s greatest and most formidable imperialist power to turn tail and run? Kissinger had to create a diplomatic show. The US was not just removing its troops, but it was going to negotiate a face-saving peace agreement which would provide a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of US forces and the fall of their artificial puppet state of “South Vietnam.” Nixon and Kissinger thought that to get the North Vietnamese to play along, they must be bombed to the bargaining table. This is exactly what they did. How many lives were lost? It is estimated that more than 3.5 million people lost their lives in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1954 to 1975. We know the US bombing at this time greatly contributed to the total. The US dropped more bombs on this area than all sides dropped in the entirety of World War II!
As part of Kissinger’s attempt to gain leverage on the Vietnamese, bombing was expanded to Cambodia, with the excuse that the North Vietnamese Army were using routes in neutral Cambodia to resupply their forces in the south. This caused a huge destabilization in Cambodia, setting off a chain of events eventually leading to the Pol Pot genocide.
In 1973, after all this killing, Kissinger and Nixon allowed the US to pull out its troops. “South Vietnam” was left standing for the moment, but it fell and Vietnam was reunified in 1975. The fact that the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Kissinger (lead Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho rejected his prize) in 1973 for negotiating a truce in Vietnam has to be one of the sickest jokes in world history.
China and the USSR
As part of the attempt to pressure Vietnam to the bargaining table, Kissinger argued that the US should use the differences that arose between the Russian and Chinese Stalinists to its advantage. The US had tried, unsuccessfully, to isolate China after the 1949 Revolution. In that revolution—the second greatest event in world history after the October Revolution of 1917—capitalism and imperialism were overthrown. A workers’ state was established, but it was a deeply deformed one under a Stalinist regime headed by Mao Zedong. The privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracies in both China and the Soviet Union were tied to their national states, and this created conflicts between the two.
Kissinger argued that the US could change its policy and open up to China, trying to play China against the USSR and vice versa where possible. This would also get both powers to help the US contain the colonial revolutions which were sweeping the globe. This eventually led to the “One China Policy” as the US imperialists deemphasized their previous commitments to Taiwan as part of their imperialist poker game.
The fact that Mao and many top Chinese leaders got along so well with Kissinger shows how far they were from being genuine communists in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky. Capitalism has been restored in China, but the affection of its leaders for Kissinger hasn’t abated. Chinese President Xi Jinping said of the late strategist of US imperialism, “Dr. Kissinger will always be remembered and missed by the Chinese people.”
Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East
There was barely anywhere in the world untouched by Kissinger’s blood-stained hands. He paid particular attention to Latin America, the traditional “backyard” of US imperialism. In 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president in Chile as part of the Popular Unity coalition, which included the Socialist and Communist parties there. Kissinger immediately set the CIA to work to disrupt and destabilize the government and pave the way for a coup. This came to fruition on September 11, 1973 with the military takeover and establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship. Pinochet, with the help of US Imperialism and dear friend Henry, killed and tortured many leftists and working class activists. The National Stadium in Santiago went from being a sports arena to a massive prison.
Kissinger was also supportive of the Argentine military and its coup in 1976. Kissinger was a friend of military strongmen who served the interest of the US and took whatever actions were necessary, no matter how bloody, to maintain the rule of capitalism. This was the same clique of generals who initiated the “Dirty War.” As many as 30,000 were killed or “disappeared” in this one-sided war by the Kissinger-supported Junta.
South Asia did not escape Kissinger’s murderous ministrations. In 1971, he spearheaded the delivery of weapons to the Pakistani dictatorship of Yahya Khan. Kissinger saw the reactionary Pakistani regime as a key bulwark of US imperialism in the region, and used the Pakistani rulers as a go-between in his negotiations with China. Khan used the US weapons in a failed attempt to keep Bangladesh from seceding from Pakistan. The cost in human lives of this policy is heavily disputed with estimates ranging between 300,000 and 3 million Bangladeshi civilians killed.
In 1975, Kissinger turned his attention to Indonesia. In December of that year, Kissinger and Ford met with Indonesia’s viciously anti-communist dictator Suharto, who had been installed in a CIA-backed coup in 1965. They gave him the green light to launch an invasion of East Timor and supplied the weapons to do so. For appearance’s sake, Kissinger demanded that the bloodshed not begin until after he and Ford had returned to the US. The invasion kicked off a 24-year long occupation during which at least 185,000 Timorese lost their lives.
In the Middle East, Kissinger continued the policy of US backing of Israel. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was reported that he had been notified by Israel of the attack and he delayed letting Nixon know of this for three and a half hours. Kissinger wanted to stall any ceasefire in this war, so Israel could gain more territory. True to Kissinger’s perspective, his main goal was to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of US Imperialism and there was no concern for the millions of Palestinians who lived there and were subjected to these horrible wars and occupation.
A new world is necessary and possible
The death of a despicable person such as Henry Kissinger reminds us all of past crimes of the bloody capitalist system. It should also remind us that a very different world is possible. One where workers around the world join hands to overthrow their rulers. One where the resources of the earth, our impressive technology, and human labor power are coordinated as part of a democratic plan can provide abundance for all. Global problems require global solutions and this can be done only by socialism. This is the world the communists of the IMT are fighting for. We will get rid of the cynical and bloody politics of Henry Kissinger and his ilk and create a world which will harness the best of humanity. To paraphrase Trotsky, the Kissingers of the world will be relegated to the dustbin of history.