Friday, April 22, 2005

Ba Dinh Square, August 2nd, 1945 (Part I): Who is Ho Chi Minh?

Ba Dinh Square is a multi-parts post on Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the political situation prior to US involvement in Vietnam. Since I cannot blog full time, I can only write one short session at a time. This is good because it is also easier to read and follow.

August 2nd, 1945, in Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, a speech that styled after the US declaration of independence was given to million of people, cheering and joyous. The man who made the bold declaration was Ho Chi Minh, formerly Nguyen Tat Thanh, and before that Nguyen Cung Sinh (this is the name given by his parent). Who is Ho Chi Minh? This question is extremely important in the context of the French-Indochina War and the later Vietnam War. Is he a Communist or is he a nationalist?

Historians, pundits, and academics have argued that had the US support Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam independence from France, the later Vietnam War would be avoidable. The main thesis for this reasoning is that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist that was driven into Communist camp by US rejection of Vietnam independence. It is argued that the war in Vietnam later was due to incorrect assessment of Ho Chi Minh and his ideology. Ho Chi Minh could have been a US ally for the duration of the Cold War.

Of the various strains of thought on the anti-war camp, this is a more reasonable one since at least it assume that Communism was reprehensible and since Ho Chi Minh was not really a Communist, he was essentially worth supporting. Often the same strain of thought also has a similar argument concerning Fidel Castro. It is commendable but nevertheless wrong.

Let put aside for a moment Ho Chi Minh career and activities prior to that faithful date, a career and activities that could easily prove his affilation with Third International and the Soviet Politburo. It started with his membership in the Communist Party in France and continued with his journey to Moscow and later his mysterous mission in China. Ho was infact a founding member of the French Communist Party.

But I will attempt to use a different approach, one that rarely argued, to prove that Ho Chi Minh had to be a Communist. In this approach one must look closely at the socio-economic condition of Vietnam during French colonial rule, in particular the inter-relation between the Vietnamese land owning class and the landless peasants. The key question is how did Ho Chi Minh accomplish what many other nationalist groups have failed before. And there were many of them. There were many nationalist groups long before Ho Chi Minh came to the political scene. There was the eary 1900's one such as Phan Boi Chau and his Dong-Kinh-Nghia-Thuc Society, Phan Chu Trinh and the Duy-Tan Movement (Modernization Movement). And there were Ho Chi Minh contemporaries such as Nguyen Thai Hoc of Viet-Nam-Quoc-Dan-Dang, or Nguyen An Ninh. They were all staunch nationalists and they all fail. What set Ho Chi Minh apart from other nationalists? How did he do it? What was his secret ingredient? The answer has to do with the colonial socio-economic condition at the time.

(Part II: the socio-economic landscape is here)


Blogger VietPundit said...

Keep it coming!

12:06 AM  
Blogger Huan said...

Ho Chi Minh had to be a communist because that was the most effective way to be a nationalist, when it came to fighting the french. But it was not the only way, as my grandfather was a nationalist without being a communist.
But power begets power, and the communist had the power (derived from outside Viet Nam) to evict the French more so than the republican nationalists. And success breeds success.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Knemon said...

Fascinating stuff!
The "But Ho loved the Founding Fathers!" card always gets played in big-picture arguments about SEAsia ...
keep on writing, the perspective/info (esp. cultural context in pt. ii) is great.

9:30 AM  

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