* Ho’s speech to the French socialist congress in 1920 was 12 minutes long and delivered without notes.
* It got some applause but that was about it.
* He realised that French socialists were more worried about affairs at home than they were about colonialism in a distant land.
* When a group of socialists broke off to form the French Communist Party, Ho went with them.
* He had read Lenin’s “Theses on the National and Colonial Questions,” a document that attracted him as a means of liberating Vietnam and other oppressed countries from colonial rule.
* Other Marxist writers whose work he knew seemed concerned only with how to achieve a classless utopia.
* Only Lenin spoke powerfully about the connection between capitalism and imperialism and about the potential for nationalist movements in Africa and Asia.
* Only Lenin offered a cogent explanation for colonialist rule and a viable blueprint for national liberation and for modernizing a poor agricultural society such as Vietnam’s.
* Lenin’s message was simple and direct.
* In their struggle to overthrow the capitalist system in advanced industrial countries, Communist parties in the West should actively cooperate with nationalist movements in colonial areas in Asia and Africa.
* He understood that Many of these movements were controlled by the native middle class, who, in the long run, were not sympathetic to social revolution.
* But the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
* Who said that first?
* The earliest known expression of this concept is found in a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, the Arthashastra, which dates to around the 4th century BC, while the first recorded use of the current English version came in 1884
* The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy.
* The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).
* So any alliances with bourgeois nationalist groups should be implemented with care, and only on the condition that local Communist parties maintain their separate identities and freedom of action.
* But given such limitations, Lenin viewed the national liberation movements of Asia and Africa as natural, albeit temporary, allies of the Communists against the common enemy of world imperialism.
* It was the ability of the Western capitalist countries to locate markets and raw materials in underdeveloped countries that sustained the world capitalist system and prevented its ultimate collapse.
* Cut off the tentacles of colonialism in the far-flung colonies, and the system itself could be overthrown.
* Ho Chi Minh assured his Vietnamese allies in Paris that Communism could be applied to Asia,; more than that, it was in keeping with Asian traditions based on Confucian notions of social equality and community.
* On top of that, Lenin had pledged Soviet support, through the Comintern, for nationalist uprisings throughout the colonial world as a key first step in fomenting worldwide socialist revolution against the capitalist order.
* What could be more relevant to Indochina’s situation?
* Years later speaking of Lenin’s pamphlet, he said “What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness and confidence it instilled in me. I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted aloud as if addressing large crowds: ‘Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need, this is our path to liberation.’ ”
* Ho stayed in Paris for a few years – writing plays, writing articles for many magazines, reading victor Hugo and Voltaire and Shakespeare.
* Then he finally came to the conclusion that the French Communists cared for the plight of the Vietnamese only slightly more than the other French socialists, so in 1923 he moved to Moscow, hoping to meet Lenin.
* Unfortunately when he got there, in July 1923, Lenin was already ill and dying.
* He died January 1924.
* Ho took the news hard: “Lenin was our father, our teacher, our comrade, our representative. Now, he is a shining star showing us the way to Socialism.”
* He stuck around in Moscow for a while, attending meetings of the Comintern, giving speeches about Asian self-determination, but again felt like a “voice crying in the wilderness.”
* The Moscovites, like the French, were mostly interested in Europe.
* But his time in Moscow was useful and a relief.
* He didn’t have to watch over his shoulder for French police to arrest him for treason.
* And he got to know various Soviet leaders, including Grigory Zinoviev, one of the original Politburo, and Kliment Voroshilov, one of the original five Marshals of the Soviet Union.
* And he became known as a specialist in asian affairs.
* In the autumn of 1924, the Soviets sent him to southern China, ostensibly to act as an interpreter for the Comintern’s advisory mission to Sun Yat-sen’s Nationalist government in Canton but in reality to organize the first Marxist revolutionary organization in Indochina.
* To do that, he published a journal, created the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in 1925, and set up a training institute that attracted students from all over Vietnam.
* Along with Marxism-Leninism, he taught his own brand of revolutionary ethics: thrift, prudence, respect for learning, modesty, and generosity – which were principles he learned from Confucianism.
* In 1927, when Chiang Kai-shek began to crack down on the Chinese left, the institute was disbanded and Ho, pursued by the police, fled to Hong Kong and from there to Moscow.
* The Comintern sent him to France and then, at his request, to Thailand, where he spent two years organizing Vietnamese expatriates.
* Then, early in 1930, Ho Chi Minh presided over the creation of the Vietnamese Communist Party in Hong Kong.
* Eight months later, in October, on Moscow’s instructions, it was renamed the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), with responsibility for spurring revolutionary activity throughout French Indochina.
* There were already plenty of nationalist parties in Vietnam but as usual most of them suffered from the old Judean Peoples Front problem.
* Which left the door wide open for Ho.
* French security services soon singled out the ICP as the most serious threat to colonial authority and devoted most of their resources to identifying the leadership.
* But Ho and his top lieutenants survived all French efforts to eliminate them.
* Ho kept constantly on the move in the 1930s, spending one year in Moscow, then in China, then in the USSR again, using different pseudonyms, his health often poor.
* In the mid-1930s, the party benefited from changes in the international scene.
* From 1936 to 1939, pressure from French authorities eased as a Popular Front government in Paris allowed Communist parties in the colonies an increased measure of freedom, the result of increased cooperation between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies against the common threat of global fascism.
* In late 1939, however, after Moscow signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, French authorities outlawed the ICP and forced its leaders into hiding.
* A few thousand French officials could maintain effective control over some twenty-five million Indochinese.
* as the 1930s drew to a close, only the most optimistic Vietnamese revolutionary—or pessimistic colonial administrator—could believe that France would soon be made to part with this Pearl of the Far East, this jewel of the imperial crown.
* But when WWII broke out in 1939 and France was on the brink of disaster, Ho saw his opportunity.
* At a meeting with his leadership colleagues in Southern China he said he saw “a very favorable opportunity for the Vietnamese revolution. We must seek every means to return home to take advantage of it.”
* When France fell to Germany in 1940, most Americans probably knew very little about Indochina.
* Not many lived there or had ever visited there or had much reason to pay attention to what was happening there.
* Which is one reason why the American government did nothing to assist the French authorities in Indochina when the Japanese threatened to invade and the Vichy government in France did a deal to let them in.
* Sensing opportunity with the fall of France in June, the ICP in the autumn launched uprisings in both Tonkin, the north eastern section of Indochina, and Cochin China, the very southern tip, against French authorities, only to be brutally crushed.
* Despite Ho’s objections.
* He thought the action as premature.
* YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT PREMATURE THINGS, RAY. WHY…
* In Cochin China, the French used their few aircraft as well as armored units and artillery to destroy whole villages, killing hundreds in the process.
* Up to eight thousand people were detained, and more than one hundred ICP cadres were executed.
* It would take the southern branch of the party years to recover.
* But despite the losses, Ho still saw his chance to move.
* In 1941 he snuck back into his home country for the first time in 30 years.
* And he called for a plenary meeting of the ICP.
* He set up camp in a cave, just a mile from the Chinese border.
* The group slept on planks of wood in the cold and damp cave and had only one small oil lamp among them.
* The diet was meager, mostly soup of corn and bamboo shoots, fortified by fish caught in the stream.
* Each morning Ho woke up early to do calisthenics and then swim in the stream before sitting down to work at a flat rock he used as a desk.
* He spent long hours reading, writing—on his trusted Hermès typewriter—and conducting meetings, all for the purpose of setting up a new Communist-dominated united front and outlining a strategy for liberating Vietnam from foreign rule.
* The delegates sat on simple wood blocks around a bamboo table, and out of their discussions a new party came into being. Its official title was Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or the Revolutionary League for the Independence of Vietnam—or, for history, the Viet Minh.
* This new party had a new platform.
* It moved the revolution away from the class struggle and toward national liberation.
* Women were to be an important part of the struggle and were to be given equal rights.
* Ho declared the vision of the party in a letter that was widely circulated in June 1941.
* “National Salvation is the common cause to the whole of our people. Every Vietnamese must take a part in it. He who has money will contribute his money, he who has strength will contribute his strength, he who has talent will contribute his talent. I pledge to use all my modest abilities to follow you, and am ready for the last sacrifice.”
* They were Communists, convinced that Marxism-Leninism represented the best path of development for their country.
* And their goal was to not only get mass support among the Vietnamese people but also to win the sympathy of the Allied powers.
* Which was going to be easy because that’s what The Atlantic Charter was all about – the freedom of people to determine their own future.
* But first they were going to have to deal with both the French and the Japanese.
* Who joined forces to crack down on the Viet Minh.
* Then in July of 1941, after they signed a neutrality pact with the Soviets, and then watched happily as the Nazi invaded the Soviet Union, Japan forced the Vichy government to let it send more troops to Indochina, build bases there, and to occupy strategic areas in the south, including the key port of Cam Ranh Bay and airfields at Da Nang and Bien Hoa.
* This gave the Japanese a forward vantage point from which to move quickly against Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia), and the Philippines.
* Which finally got the Americans to sit up and take notice.
* Because, remember, the Philippines was controlled by the United States at the time.
* Why not?
* This lead to FDR freezing all Japanese assets in the U.S. and embargoing all oil exports.
* For Japan, so poor in natural resources, the implications were dire.
* The country consumed roughly twelve thousand tons of oil each day, 90 percent of it imported, and also imported most of her zinc, iron ore, bauxite, manganese, cotton, and wheat.
* She could not survive a year of a thorough embargo—unless she seized British and Dutch possessions in Asia.
* Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, a moderate among hard-liners, proposed a summit meeting with FDR and indicated a willingness to withdraw from Indochina as soon as the war with China was settled.
* Roosevelt was tempted by this offer, but his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, persuaded him to insist on Japanese abandonment of China as a precondition for such a meeting.
* The proposal collapsed, and Konoe was ousted as prime minister in mid-October.
* Tojo replaced him.
* Diplomatic maneuverings continued, and in November Tojo offered to move troops out of Indochina immediately, and out of China once general peace was restored, in return for a million tons of aviation gasoline.
* Hull rejected the offer and repeated the American insistence on Japanese withdrawal from China and abandonment of the Southeast Asian adventure.
* Meanwhile in August 1941 FDR and Churchill met for the first time to sign The Atlantic Charter – we first talked about this back in Cold War 8 in April 2016.
* Two and a half years ago!
* This was when they talked about self-determination for all peoples.
* But remember.
* Two weeks before the Atlantic Charter meeting, the U.S. Acting Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, assured the French government that they could keep their empire intact after the end of the war.
* He wrote: “The US Government, mindful of its traditional friendship for France, has deeply sympathized with the desire of the French people to maintain their territories and to preserve them intact.”
* The Department of Defense history of Vietnam (The Pentagon Papers) noted that “in the Atlantic Charter and other pronouncements, the U.S. proclaimed support for national self-determination and independence” but also “early in the war repeatedly expressed or implied to the French an intention to restore to France its overseas empire after the war.”
* In late 1942, Roosevelt assured French General Henri Giraud: “It is thoroughly understood that French sovereignty will be re-established as soon as possible throughout all the territory, metropolitan or colonial, over which flew the French flag in 1939.”
* In May 1945, Truman assured the French he did not question her “sovereignty over Indochina.”
* And then On December 7, Japan’s main carrier force, seeking to destroy the American fleet and thereby purchase time to complete its southward expansion, struck Pearl Harbor.
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