Hồ Chí Minh Écouter, born Nguyễn Sinh Cung on May 19, 1890 in Hoàng Trù (Nghệ An province) and died on September 2, 1969 in Hanoi, was a Vietnamese statesman and an important figure in anti-colonialism and international communism.
He was known as Nguyễn Tất Thành (“Nguyên Great Expectations”) in the 1900s and 1910s, and Nguyễn Ái Quốc (“Nguyên the Patriot”) in the following two decades.
Ho Chi Minh”s youth was marked by travels around the world, which contributed to his discovery of the communist ideology. Committed to the anti-colonialist cause in France, he stayed in the USSR, where he completed his political training, before returning to Asia. Founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930, he played a central and active role in the independence of his country from 1941, before becoming the first president of the democratic republic of Vietnam, internationally recognized in 1954.
Throughout his career, Ho Chi Minh developed an ideology that differed from Russian and Chinese communism, with which he sometimes came into conflict. His thought continues today to inspire politicians and individuals in Vietnam, where he is the object of a true cult of personality. Vietnam”s most populous city, formerly named Saigon, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh) in his honor in 1975.
Nguyên Sinh Cung was born on May 19, 1890 in Hoàng Trù into a family of literate civil servants, when the French had just completed the formal annexation of Indochina and the military and administrative conquest of the territory was stalling. Indeed, the northern province of Nghệ An, where he was born, was marked by significant resistance to French expansion, which ended when he was 8 years old. He was the last born of three siblings, his sister Thị Thanh was born in 1884 and his brother Sinh Khiêm in 1888; his mother”s name was Hoàng Thị Loan (1868-1901)). His father, Nguyên Sinh Sac (vi) (1863-1929) was a doctoral student who served as a mandarin in the capital and later became a sub-prefect in the provinces.
Nguyên Sinh Cung grew up in the small village of Kim Liên, fourteen kilometers west of the city of Vinh, Nam Đàn district in northern Annam (present-day Nghệ An province, Vietnam). He first studied in Hue, at the Quốc Học School (literally “national school” in Vietnamese) founded by Ngô Đình Diệm”s father. He followed a traditional apprenticeship, based on the teaching of Sino-Vietnamese characters, and certainly obtained the French-Indigenous primary school certificate . In accordance with Confucian tradition, he was renamed by his father when he was about ten years old; he was then known as Nguyên Tât Thanh.
In 1901, his father obtained his Doctor of Letters (phó bảng), Vietnam”s highest academic honor, and became a teacher. After repeatedly refusing any appointment as a senior official in the imperial administration, as is the norm for the holder of a phó bảng, he became a mandarin in May 1906 under pressure from the French authorities, within the Annam Protectorate. He did not like this function which he considered “worse than slavery” .
In 1908, Nguyên Tât Thanh witnessed the anti-tax demonstrations that took place in central Vietnam. His participation in this peasants” demonstration, for which he became the spokesman, led to his exclusion from school the very next day, and attracted some attention from the French authorities. Until 1911, he traveled in the three kỳ (Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina), perfecting his knowledge of Vietnam. In 1911, he applied for admission to the colonial school, which may seem surprising coming from a future great revolutionary and anti-colonialist leader. However, he was denied access to the school because he was a “native without a French diploma.
That same year, his father was dismissed. According to Vietnamese communist historians and French colonial archives, he was degraded from his position by the new colonial power, and gradually sank into a depression. According to another version, he was dismissed for abuse of power after the death of an influential local figure following the 100 strokes of the stick inflicted for an infraction. In any case, he left the colonial administration. The father then retired to a village, where he worked as a traditional doctor until his death. The decline of his father as a result of this colonial injustice left a strong impression on the young Nguyên Tât Thanh, who decided to leave for new horizons and embarked for France around June 5th.
On June 5, 1911 Nguyên Tât Thanh embarked in Saigon on the mixed liner Amiral Latouche-Tréville of the Compagnie maritime des Chargeurs réunis, which was then sailing from Hai Phong to Dunkirk via various stopovers. He disembarked in Marseille with only ten francs in his pocket, then went to Le Havre with the aim of taking a ship to cross the Atlantic. In Le Havre, he used the pseudonym Van Ba and worked in the suburbs of the city as a gardener, before getting a job as a cook for the officers of an ocean liner
This period is marked by a permanent wandering. Between 1911 and 1913, he went to Bordeaux, Paris, Lisbon, Tunis, Dakar, West Africa and America, where he witnessed the lynching of African-Americans by the Ku Klux Klan. During his numerous trips, he always went to meet his Vietnamese compatriots and showed a real facility in learning languages. He thus became a true cosmopolitan, without ever forgetting his Vietnamese roots. During his stay in the United States, he met in Boston with Korean nationalists who were then fighting against Japanese ambitions, but could not meet their leader Syngman Rhee, who was out of the United States at the time.Nguyên Tât Thanh returned to Europe in 1913 or early 1914; these various trips and meetings with anti-colonialists allowed him to draw parallels between colonial situations and to develop his anti-colonial thought.
After these many trips, the young Annamite settled in London. As in the United States, he took on a variety of jobs, including road cleaner and room service driver, before working in the kitchens of the Carlton Hotel. After his stay in London, he returned to France in the summer of 1919 to live in Paris. He then followed the worldwide revolutionary effervescence. The Soviet revolution gave the theory of the “right of nations to self-determination” (Lenin) a universal echo at a time when the “Fourteen Points” of the American President Wilson proposed a new model of international relations based on equality between nations, and in particular a general association of nations that was supposed to offer in the future “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to both small and large states.
A communist activist abroad
Nguyên Tât Thanh had become close during his first stay in Paris to nationalist Vietnamese émigrés who wanted to emancipate themselves from France: Phan Châu Trinh, who introduced him to the profession of photo retoucher, Nguyên The Truyen (vi), an engineer, Phan Van Truong (vi), a lawyer, and Nguyễn An Ninh, a writer-journalist. Together they are known as “the five dragons”; the leader of the group is Phan Châu Trinh, their ideals are those of the French Revolution. He writes articles with them; they publish under the pseudonym of “Nguyễn Ở Pháp” (“Nguyễn in France”). Their French friends convinced them to change their pseudonym to “Nguyễn Ái Quốc” (“Nguyễn the Patriot”).
In 1919, Nguyên Tât Thanh co-signed with his four comrades the manifesto Revendications du peuple annamite, written by Phan Van Truong. However, this text, intended for the diplomats gathered at the Paris peace conference, did not find any echo; this failure made Thanh understand that the right of peoples to self-determination, defended by Wilson, only concerned the Westerners. He then began to use the pseudonym Nguyên Ai Quôc for himself.
The failure of the Revendications, the absence of autonomy in the colonies despite the large participation of Indochinese in the First World War and Nguyên Ai Quôc”s disillusionment with the reformist nationalists, led him to join the French Section of the Workers” International, where he campaigned to affirm the national existence of the colonized. Present at the Tours Congress in December 1920 as a delegate of the 13th section and of a phantom Indochinese Socialist Group, he supported the SFIO”s membership in the Comintern and thus joined the French Communist Party (PCF) at its birth.
Nguyên Ai Quôc participates in the life of the PCF, also to promote the party”s commitment to the colonized populations. He wrote in L”Humanité, La Vie ouvrière and Le Libertaire. In July 1921, he participated in the founding of the Union intercoloniale, an emanation of the PCF which published Le Paria, within which a specific Afro-Asian communism was born, mainly Vietnamese and North African. He was a specialist in Asia and became friends with Jean Ralaimongo and Max Clainville-Bloncourt (brother of Élie Bloncourt).
He wrote plays, such as The Bamboo Dragon, and an anti-colonial work, The Trial of French Colonization. His life is precarious. Although a lawyer friend provided him with an official residence at 6 Villa des Gobelins, from July 1921 he actually occupied a small room in the 18th arrondissement. He lived from retouching photography and was watched by the police. During the winter of 1922-1923, he was convinced that he had to leave France, as he knew he was threatened with deportation to his native country. Moreover, he was disappointed not to have succeeded in involving a large number of militants in a concrete action against colonialism. He then leaves France for the USSR, without even warning his comrades. Dmitri Manouïlski had indeed invited him to come, along with Jean Cremet, as a specialist on Asia.
Leaving for the USSR via Berlin (under the guise of a pleasure trip to Switzerland), Nguyên Ai Quôc arrived in Moscow in July 1923 as a representative of the colonies within the French delegation to the founding congress of the Red Peasants” International, known as the Krestintern, scheduled for October 12. It was an eighteen-month trip to the central apparatus of the Comintern; an expert on colonial and Asian questions from 1924 onwards, he became a formidable political practitioner. This stay in the USSR allowed Nguyên Ai Quôc to complete his political training. He studied as a professional revolutionary at the University of the Workers of the East (Russian acronym: KUTV), founded in 1921. When the writer Ossip Mandelstam interviewed him on December 23, 1923, he described him as a “kominternchik”, a term that was not given to just anyone.
From June 17 to July 10, 1924, the fifth congress of the International took place. Quôc, supported by Manouilski, launched the project of forming an international propaganda constitution for the colonized or mandated territories, which was completed after the end of the fifth congress. Alongside Quôc, who became one of the main representatives of these territories, was the Algerian Abdelkader Hadj Ali, who also came from the PCF.
In December 1924, the anti-communist deputy of Cochinchina, Ernest Outrey, announced that Quôc was to “return from Russia in the near future”, whereas he had in fact been in southern China for a month. Indeed, from the beginning, his goal was not to stay in Moscow but to return to Indochina; thus, on March 24, nine months after his arrival in Moscow, he wrote to the International to indicate that his goal was to go to China.
Arriving in Canton in November 1924, he recruited many exiled Indochinese (including nationalists) and in 1925 founded the Thanh Niên (Revolutionary Youth of Vietnam), whose best students were sent to Moscow. In October 1926 he married a Chinese and Catholic midwife student, Tăng Tuyết Minh (曾 雪 明). On April 12, 1927, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek initiated major anti-communist purges in Shanghai. Nguyên Ai Quôc was forced to take refuge with the Soviet consulate in Hankéou, then left the territory via Hong Kong
At that time, Nguyên Ai Quôc was rather appreciated by the leaders of the Cominterm, but he could not remain inactive for long and, in December 1927, he made a strange trip to France. Indeed, the political authorities as well as the security forces had known his identity for a long time, Quôc being considered as a man with important influence and therefore dangerous; he was consequently extremely wanted. He arrived in Paris at the beginning of the month and was spotted there on the 12th, and was in great danger. At the same time, Albert Sarraut, who was in charge of the Ministry of the Interior and had twice been Governor General of French Indochina, declared: “Communism is the enemy,” and “the destruction of the fatherland is not an opinion. It is a crime”. A communiqué was then issued, the content of which was as follows: “The Annamite agitator Nguyên Ai Quac, who until recently was delegate for colonial propaganda within the Communist International in Moscow, has arrived in Paris these days. He applied to the Communist Party leadership for a job, but was not offered a position. Nguyên Ai Quac would have expressed his intention to leave for Moscow.
Searches are launched to find him, but without success. No clues or visuals of his presence were detected. It is unlikely that the goal of finding a job, mentioned by Sarraut in his communiqué, was an acceptable objective for Quôc”s trip to France. Indeed, as he was a Comintern executive at the time and was gambling with his life, he would have had no interest in becoming a simple employee in the colonial section of the PCF, so his trip had a link with the Indochinese colony. According to the American historian Sophie Quinn-Judge, the PCF had to merge the Indochinese revolutionary elements in France as soon as possible in order to create a disciplined communist nucleus with the aim of reaching Indochina and framing a future Communist Party there, and why not even to impulse a work of popular agitation in East Asia. After a passage through Moscow, he was sent in 1928 to Siam to reorganize the local communist parties, an action that he also carried out in the Straits Settlements (present-day Malaysia).
Combat in Vietnam
From December 1929, Nguyên Ai Quôc settled in Hong Kong, in several furnished apartments. He performed the key function of liaison between the clandestine Eastern Office of the Comintern, in Shanghai, and the communist organizations of Southeast Asia. He succeeded in creating a unified Vietnamese Communist Party in February 1930.
In the meantime, he went to Moscow again, where he studied at the Lenin International School, an institution created in 1926 for the leaders of the communist parties. He then took up a position in the Eastern Secretariat of the Comintern and lectured to Vietnamese students at the Institute of National and Colonial Issues, becoming once again an important Comintern official and, as such, attending the Seventh Comintern Congress in 1935
In April 1940, Nguyên Ai Quôc arrived in Yunnan, China. From May, in Kun Ming, he worked under various pseudonyms with the local branch of the Chinese Communist Party. After the Indochinese uprisings, he began to set up a resistance base in Vietnam; at the beginning of February 1941, he crossed the border (at marker 108) and settled under the pseudonym of Father Thu in the cave of Côc Bo, in the hamlet of Pác Bó. He met Võ Nguyên Giáp and Phạm Văn Đồng.
In Pac Bo, Ngûyen Ai Quôc rethought the communist project, without entering into contradiction with the Comintern but defending an almost absolute autonomy of initiative. He thus chose to give priority to the national struggle, which he wanted to articulate with a resistance to Japanese and French imperialism.The main instrument of this project was a political front, led by the Indochinese Communist Party and whose name was Viêt Nam Dôc Lâp Dông Minh (Alliance for the Independence of Vietnam), better known under the shortened name of Việt Minh. It was a new metamorphosis, for the country as well as for Nguyên Ai Quôc, who took the name Hô Chi Minh, meaning “Hô with an enlightened will”
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He eventually obtained the admission of the Viet Minh as a member of the projected provisional government, and also managed to establish close contacts with the American general staff during a trip to Kunming, China, in 1944. In December 1944, he created an “armed propaganda brigade for the liberation of Vietnam”, the embryo of the liberation army, entrusted to Võ Nguyên Giáp. His men having found a downed American airman in the jungle, Hồ Chí Minh went with the latter to the OSS antenna in Indochina and obtained from American intelligence services money, weapons and ammunition, as well as the support of several teams of Detachment 101 which would be parachuted into the jungle with radio operators and trainers for his guerrillas in 1945.
From June 1945, Hô Chi Minh is established in the village of Tan Trao, at eighty kilometers in the north of Hanoi, where he is warned on August 11 of the imminent Japanese capitulation in front of the Allies. On August 16, the Viet Minh founded a national liberation committee, chaired by Hô; the August revolution was launched. On the 21st, he quietly entered Hanoi, and on the 25th, Emperor Bảo Đại, who had abdicated on the 23rd, handed over the sword and the imperial seals to his envoys. He presided over the provisional government formed on August 29, in which he was surrounded by fifteen ministers, nine of whom were Communists. On September 2, he read the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in front of the governor general”s palace, he had already become the man of independence.
From 1945, he set up a state bureaucracy that inherited as much from the Nguyen apparatus and colonial Indochina as from the reforms imported from Maoist China. For him, morality represents the first element, even the essential quality of revolutionary fighters. Ho Chi Minh is the main personality put forward by the new power to create figures of gathering able to gather the Vietnamese. The image of the frail, slimmed down but still smiling president in his faded khaki suit was popularized; his first biographies were published, anecdotes, good words and messages circulated, and his birthday was officially celebrated in 1946. He thus adopted a personal mode of exercising power and a unique status, as the nation”s unifier and supreme recourse, somewhat in the imperial tradition; this was the figure of “Uncle Hô”. Ho Chi Minh”s privileged field was that of foreign affairs, in which he really played the negotiation card. Thus, following a “Preliminary Convention” with Jean Sainteny on March 6, 1946, he made a long stay in France from May 31 to October 20 of the same year, during which he deployed a major campaign to bring non-communist opinion to the idea of a peaceful transition to independence, during this stay, the aim of which was the Fontainebleau negotiation which, in July, finally led to nothing. At the end of this last trip to the West, he could see the weak weight of the democratic republic of Vietnam in international decisions. He nevertheless pushed the negotiation card to the end, exploiting the divisions between the French and counting on a rise in the left.
On December 19, 1946, at 10:00 p.m., Ho Chi Minh evacuated Hanoi with his government, after having launched a solemn appeal to the resistance: “Let him who has a gun use his gun! Let him who has a sword use his sword! If one does not have a sword, let one take picks and sticks! Let everyone put all his strength to fight colonialism to save the Fatherland! In 1948, he launched a first campaign of patriotic emulation within the framework of a permanent mobilization of the peasantry as well as the urban people, with a triple slogan: “to beat famine, to beat ignorance, to beat the invader”.
Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various land reforms, including “rent reduction” and “land reform,” which were accompanied by political repression. During the land reform campaign, over 13,500 people were executed.
In the interlude between the Indochina War and the Vietnam War, the figure of Ho Chi Minh is more than ever a central reference in Vietnamese political culture. Head of State, General Secretary (from 1956 to 1960) then President of the Party, he ensured the cohesion and exceptional stability of the leading group. A decisive player, he thought about and assumed the international dimension of the national future more than any other communist leader, promoting pragmatism against utopian dogmatism. In 1960, he supported the creation of the National Front for the Liberation of South Việt Nam (FNL), soon nicknamed “Việt Cộng” (a contraction of “Việt Nam Cộng Sản,” or “Vietnamese communists” in French) by the Americans and the South Vietnamese. In 1963, however, the leadership of the Communist Party of North Vietnam underwent a change of direction, with the arrival of Lê Duẩn and Lê Duc Tho, supporters of an all-out struggle who pushed aside Ho Chi Minh.
In 1965, he became one of the heroes of Western youth and especially of the growing anti-war movement in the United States, which had just entered the Vietnam War. He is the man of the parallel contacts with neutrals (such as Jean Sainteny or Raymond Aubrac) who initiate the negotiation of Paris in 1968, but also the man of the secret diplomacy which prepares and accompanies the resumption of the fight; he breaks the relative isolation of the democratic republic of Vietnam, and obtains military aid from China and the USSR.
Although he was probably ill from 1965, Ho Chi Minh maintained most of his activities until 1969. He was treated from spring 1967 by Chinese medical teams, but died on September 2, 1969. His death was officially announced as having taken place on September 3 so as not to tarnish the national independence day of September 2. Hồ Chí Minh wanted his ashes to be spread over the country from north to south. However, his heirs decided to embalm him like Lenin, against his will, this while waiting for reunification to take place.
As soon as he returned to France in 1919, Nguyên Ai Quôc frequented the SFIO and the LDH. The young Annamite indeed saw in socialism the only political current in France defending the rights of the natives in the colonies. Nevertheless, this first socialist commitment quickly gave way to another one; Quôc had to choose between staying in the “old house” (Léon Blum) of socialism or joining the communist radicalism, knowing that at that time his political formation was still in its infancy.
The echoes of the second congress of the Comintern in Moscow in 1920 were published in L”Humanité, and were thus easily accessible for Quôc who was enthusiastic about Lenin”s theses. According to a testimony of Ho Chi Minh himself, he cried out “Dear martyred compatriots! This is what we need, this is the way to our liberation! From then on, the young activist became more and more attentive to the communist discourse.
After the Tours Congress, Nguyên Ai Quôc was very active, particularly within the French Communist Party and the Intercolonial Union.
Nguyên Ai Quôc collaborated with the Soviet agency Rosta for the production of propaganda images. Once in Moscow, Quôc obtained international responsibilities. He participated in the Krestintern (International Peasant Conference) from October 10 to 15, 1923, and denounced “the undignified exploitation of the Indochinese rural classes. At the end of this conference, he remained a representative of the colonies in the Soviet Union.
In the summer of 1934, Quôc returned to Moscow, where he became a student of the Lenin International School, a school reserved for the top communist cadres. He was then sent back to theoretical studies, and this for several years. This was not a promotion for a man who had been the driving force behind the Comintern in Southeast Asia, and there were many reasons for his dismissal. First of all, his escape from the jails of British imperialism gave rise to some suspicions, and moreover his dissidence of opinion in relation to the International at the time of the creation of the CPV (then ICP) is still remembered by all. Hoang Tung summarized the situation as follows: “In the Soviet Union, and particularly with Stalin, from 1928 on, Quôc was considered a nationalist and a reformist. His alliance with the nationalists, the small landowners, etc., did not pass in the USSR.
Nevertheless, Quôc”s survival of Stalin”s purges raises questions; he is undoubtedly a faithful communist, but one may wonder if he is a Stalinist. In his writings, there are many references to Lenin, much fewer to Stalin, even though the latter was the main ideologue of the Comintern on the colonial question. The reality is undoubtedly that Quôc has an “absence of ideological rigidity” (he is much more turned towards action and practical achievements on the ground than towards the dogmatic debates that can take place in the Soviet capital.
In spite of everything, his theses of alliance with the social-democracy returned to the front of the stage in the middle of the 1930s, with the aim of fighting in the best possible way against fascism and Nazism. These theses were even endorsed by the VIIth Congress of the International, even if this did not coincide with a return to favor with the Soviet authorities. However, when the Popular Front came to power in France, the ICP pursued a policy of collaboration with it, which illustrated the tactical flexibility of Vietnamese communism, as explained by Quôc in his text “The Party Line during the Democratic Front Period”. In this text, Quôc expresses once again the necessity of making the broadest possible alliance, including “the national bourgeoisie”, to improve the democratic rights of the oppressed and to fight against Japanese fascism.
Nguyên Ai Quôc participates in a fundamental debate to determine if communism is applicable in Asia; he considers that by its very ancient history, for which he goes back 5000 years (land pooling, sense of equality, love of peace, internationalism…), Asia is predisposed to communism. For him, it is the restrictions of freedom (press, circulation, meeting, teaching and education) imposed by the colonial power that prevent Asia from plunging into communism. Contrary to the Europeans, who consider that the proletarian revolution will take place first in the West and will spread to Asia by ricochet, Nguyên Ai Quôc believes that when the “millions of martyred and oppressed Asians wake up, they will form a colossal force and will be able, by suppressing one of the conditions for the existence of capitalism, imperialism, to help their brothers in the West in the task of total emancipation.
The Party accepted his request to leave for China; he received his mission order in September 1925 and arrived in Canton in November of the same year. He then took the name of Ly Thuy. At that time, the Chinese city included a Vietnamese community, sensitive to the patriotic effervescence underway in Vietnam. Upon his arrival, he joined the Tam Tam Xa (Society of United Hearts), a group of young Vietnamese patriots whose role in the development of communism in the country was important.For the struggle, Ly Thuy proposed a more systematic political education, to convince the oppressed to revolt against colonialism, as well as an iron discipline in the organization; he was going to allow the creation of the Than Nien newspaper, by uniting the political forces in the Communist League. To make his movement effective, he set up a training school and a newspaper teaching his communist ideology. The school benefited about 300 Vietnamese, who then returned to Indochina to found communist cells, while the newspaper was distributed in South China and Vietnam, in a clandestine way. Its aim was to “combat the cruelty of the French”, “to urge the Annamite people to unite” and “to make them aware of the causes of their misfortunes and miseries and to indicate how they can avoid them”.
In 1927, Quôc was asked to go to France to help merge the Indochinese revolutionary elements into the CP in order to make a disciplined communist nucleus, capable in the future of returning to the country to supervise a future Communist Party, but also of carrying out political agitation and revolutionary propaganda. This passage in France, of very short duration, is a failure, because of the permanent threat of an arrest by the French police, but also because of the disorganization of the CPF at that time (Quôc could not have any serious discussion.
He understood the importance of establishing communism in Siam, where he went in 1928. The communist presence in the country was already significant, but it was divided among many groups, all of which claimed to be a single section of the Communist International. In 1929, in Hong Kong, Quôc convened the delegates of the different factions and succeeded in imposing unity. From then on, the different communist groups were united and presented a common discipline. This unity led to an ideology divergent from that of the VIth Congress, since it proposed a class alliance against the colonizing enemy. The new Communist Party was then founded in February 1930, under the name of Communist Party of Vietnam. During the call for the foundation of the Party, Quôc recalled the crimes committed by French imperialism in Indochina (exploitation, expropriation, misery…) and called on the oppressed to join the Party. Its objectives were to “overthrow French imperialism”, “to conquer the complete independence of Indochina”, to apply a communist program (nationalization, redistribution…), to offer education for all, and to establish equality between men and women. The name evolved into the Indochinese Communist Party, whose spirit was well oriented towards class struggle and which was led by Tran Phu; Nguyên Ai Quôc then seemed to have lost the support of the International, which relied instead on the new leadership team.
Quôc returned to Siam for a time in March 1930, then went to Singapore in April, where he chaired a meeting of the Malayan Communist Party on behalf of the Comintern, proof that he still had responsibilities. He then moved to Hong Kong, where he was arrested by the British police on June 6, 1931. His death was faked by a British lawyer to try to prevent his extradition to Indochina, which would have meant his death. The news spread everywhere, L”Humanité paid tribute to him in an article, while the International organized a wake for him in Moscow in August 1932. The cause of his death was said to be tuberculosis, but the doubt of an assassination in prison persisted. In reality, the British chose to release him and expel him from Hong Kong in 1933, and the news of his survival appeared in the spring.
When Ho Chi Minh took power in Vietnam, he set about implementing agrarian reform, which he began with minimal and partial measures such as the reduction of land rents, the abolition of certain debts, and the confiscation of the lands of French colonists and “Vietnamese traitors” (Vo Nhan Tri”s expression). Ho Chi Minh”s broad alliances prevented him from going further in his agrarian policy, which led to an insufficient result from the point of view of communist ideology, especially since even in the years that followed, Ho did not call for radical agrarian reform.
But finally, under pressure from Moscow and Beijing, Hô began concrete agrarian reform in 1953, with the formation of a Central Agrarian Reform Committee under the chairmanship of Trường Chinh. The law was promulgated on December 19, 1953, and immediately applied in some provinces, then to the entire DRV at the end of 1954, including the confiscation and redistribution to poor peasants of the land of landowners, deemed “enemies of the people.” In 1957, the government set up “error rectification committees” to erase the imperfections of the reform.
In his testament, Hô expressed the priorities which must be that of the Party in the years to come. For example, it is necessary to find for all a “stable and safe” housing, to develop professional training adapted to each individual, to perpetuate the patriotic tradition and to take care of the children, widows and invalids of war. He also stated that it was useful for the nation to train qualified cadres and workers, who should be the “spearheads of the successful building of socialism in Vietnam”, and reiterated the need to educate women to enable them to participate more in activities and hold leadership positions in the future, in order to achieve equality between women and men.
When Ho Chi Minh was born, the colonial conquest was barely over, and the pacification of the territory was stalled.
Alongside Phan Châu Trinh, Phan Van Truong, Nguyên The Truyen (vi) and Nguyễn An Ninh, who like him had settled in Paris, Nguyên Ai Quôc wrote an explanatory text in 1919 to publicize the situation in his country. Named Revendications du peuple annamite (Claims of the Annamite people), this text mainly calls for the establishment of the rule of law in Vietnam, and is far from calling for a brutal confrontation against colonial domination. Its first goal was to reach the members of the Paris Peace Conference, but it was also printed as a tract () to be distributed during meetings of the SFIO, the LDH and the CGT. Nguyên Ai Quôc and the other members of the group also target the Vietnamese in France, to whom they try to spread their demands as much as possible.
Nguyên Ai Quôc”s involvement in the socialist and then communist movements initially had only one objective: to free his people from the colonial yoke. During the Tours congress, Nguyên Ai Quôc was the only colonized person and made the only intervention of the congress on the colonial question, as a representative of Indochina. He then asked the Communist Party to “finally give colonial questions the importance they deserve. He also planned to write a book summarizing the sufferings of his people as well as their demands on the colonial issue, a book that was to be called “The Oppressed” but never saw the light of day. In France, he also wrote in left-wing newspapers, such as Le Populaire (SFIO) or L”Humanité (PC) (already 16 articles in 1922), which he used to publicize the plight of colonized populations both in his own country and throughout the world, since he wrote articles on China (1922), Tunisia (1922), Dahomey (1923), Black Africa under British rule (1924), Morocco (1924) or Turkey (1924). This shows that the young Nguyên Ai Quôc already had strong internationalist opinions.
His writings on Indochina, such as Revendications or the Trial of Colonization, spread as far as Indochina, which worried the local authorities who tried to intercept these texts. The colony”s newspapers gave importance to Nguyên Ai Quôc”s writings and responded to him by criticizing their content, which contributed above all to publicizing Nguyên Ai Quôc and his speech.
At the beginning of 1923, Quôc made the decision to leave France. In addition to police harassment (threat of arrest and expulsion), he realized that he could not mobilize a large crowd against colonialism from the metropolis. In the Soviet Union, Quôc is one of the representatives of the colonies in an international propaganda commission for the colonized territories, and is part of a bureau of the Orient of Southeast Asia. His trip to the USSR thus enabled the young Annamite to gain an international dimension.
In July 1940, Quôc sent a report on Indochina to Moscow, in which he proposed the creation of a United Front against colonial France and militarist Japan, with the aim of achieving independence. Three months after this report, members of the ICP start an insurrection in the south of Vietnam. It was put down in blood, killing several thousand people, which resulted in the decapitation of the movement in the south of the country. The center of the Vietnamese resistance thus moved north, not far from the Chinese border. On the other hand, Operation Barbarossa, which began in 1941, gave Quôc greater freedom of movement in Indochina vis-à-vis the Communist International. With the collapse of France in 1940, the situation became more complicated for the colonial power in Indochina, which pushed the CPV to make the choice to return to the country.
Quôc crossed the border on January 28, 1941 and returned to his native land. His strategy did not change, he worked to build a United Front against French colonialism. Quôc proposed the founding of Viêt Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Việt Minh) (League for the Independence of Annam), which brought back the use of the name Viêt Nam, replaced by Indochina at the time of the founding of the Communist Party. The Viet Minh opted for a more nationalist than communist propaganda, and the League for the Independence of Viet Nam was formally founded in September 1941. Quôc took advantage of this to write poems that recalled the importance of unity in the fight to be waged, or criticized Marshal Pétain.
In the summer of 1942, he went to China to try to obtain more support against the Japanese from the Chinese nationalists. On this occasion, Quôc took the name of Hô Chi Minh for good. He was arrested at the border because of the absence of proper papers, and put in prison in appalling conditions. He took advantage of this detention to write a series of poems collected in the Prison Notebooks. He was released by the Chinese in 1943 so that he could fight against Japan, and was able to reach Vietnam in September 1944.
In 1945, to fight against Japan, the Viêt Minh allied itself with the United States. Ho Chi Minh received in July 1945 an American team in charge of preparing the Viêt Minh militiamen for the guerrilla war. Once the Japanese were defeated, the Americans withdrew their support to the Viêt Minh, since the communist commitment of part of their members was repressed by Washington. Vietnam was then cut in two, the north being dominated by the Chinese and the south by the British. In 1944, the “Viet Nam Liberation Propaganda Brigade” was created, a group with more political than military action.
After the defeat of Japan in August 1945, Vietnam suffered a kind of power vacuum. The French were disarmed and disorganized, the Japanese defeated, and the Chinese and British had not yet invested the territory. This is the moment chosen by Ho Chi Minh to start the revolution; he settles in Hanoi on August 25, 1945 and, on September 2, declares on Ba Dinh Square that the people of Vietnam free themselves “completely from any colonial relationship with imperialist France. This is the independence of the country, which becomes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Việt Minh controlled the north (ex-Tonkin) and the center (ex-Annam), while the south (ex-Cochinchina) was still controlled by the British, who chose to rearm the French. Once independence was proclaimed, Hô did not give up discussions with the French, insofar as the latter recognized the country”s independence and where the fear of domination of Vietnam by China seemed more frightening than a return of French colonial authority.
While Hô was on his way to Paris to negotiate with France, Admiral d”Argenlieu organized the creation of a republic of Cochinchina, which created a real attack on the unity of Vietnam. Nevertheless, Hô continued his trip to France. He wished for economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries and, for that, he relied on the French Union, which he wished to empty of all imperialist ideas and to which he wished to confer a character of free membership. However, the French authorities were ultimately hostile to an agreement, not imagining a peaceful decolonization, especially with a Communist leader.
Hô does not cease denouncing the American imperialism in the South Vietnam, in particular when Kennedy sends there material and military advisers in number. Johnson continued this policy, and was at the origin of the first bombing on the DRV, in February 1965. Over the whole war, three million American soldiers were sent on the ground. Hô kept the same guideline throughout the war; he wanted peace, but not at any price. He asked in 1966 “That the United States put an end to the war of aggression in Vietnam, withdraw its troops from that country, and peace will return immediately.” This method of negotiation was made possible by the military successes of the Vietnamese soldiers, who did more than resist the American power. Ho Chi Minh declared in 1968 that the Vietnamese forces had shot down more than 3,200 planes and burned more than a hundred ships. That same year, he repeated that the sacred task of his people was to liberate the South, defend the North and progress towards the peaceful reunification of the Fatherland. However, he died in 1969, before he could see this goal achieved.
Throughout his life, Ho Chi Minh defended the participation of women in the revolution. For him, “women have an immense role in political affairs”, and he affirms “that the revolution cannot be made without the assistance of women”. Therefore, he believes that they must be educated and taught revolutionary theories in the same way as men. In his Procès de la colonisation française of 1926, he dedicates an entire chapter to the “martyrdom of the indigenous woman”.
His newspaper Thanh Niên published many articles on the condition of women, such as “Women and the Revolution” (1926), in which he compared the sufferings of women in Indochina (lack of political rights, guardianship, lower wages, domestic tasks, etc.) to the situation of women in the USSR, which he judged idyllic. The Vietnamese communist movement was headed by many women such as Nguyên Thi Thap (vi), Nguyên Trung Nguyet, Nguyên Thi Luu, and Nguyên Thi Minh Khai (vi).
Ho Chi Minh continues to have influence at both the grassroots and government levels, as Vietnam is still ruled by a single party, the Vietnamese Communist Party.
For the fiftieth anniversary of his death, the Vietnamese state has organized celebrations, which shows the will to make him, again and again, an icon of the country. On September 2, 2019 in Hanoi, a series of commemorations, symposiums and exhibitions took place, with the legacy he left at the heart of them. For example, eleven million young people participated in the campaign entitled “Vietnamese Youth Apply Uncle Hô”s Testaments,” and Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam and President of the Republic, defined that “following Uncle Hô”s teachings is for everyone not to retain and learn them by heart but to have them permeate his veins, his heart, to transform them into what torments him, makes him think and motivates him to follow in Uncle Hô”s footsteps.” The 50th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh”s death has allowed the Vietnamese Communist Party to update Ho Chi Minh”s testament, conceived between May 1965 and May 1969, and to correlate it with current struggles such as corruption, as the Vietnamese Communist Party states.
A new book containing photographs of Ho Chi Minh as well as his will is published in 2019 by the Vietnamese news agency, attempting to idolize Ho Chi Minh. For example, we see photos of Ho Chi Minh barefoot in the agricultural fields during the Vietnam War, cultivating; indeed, as the historian Pierre Brocheux reminds us, “the agrarian question is the social question par excellence. This example shows that the primary goal of this book is propaganda.
Ho Chi Minh”s influence, however, extends beyond the political sphere. Today, a portrait of “Uncle Hô” is still frequently found in Vietnamese homes, a presence that shows that he is almost part of the spiritual life of the Vietnamese. Some see him as a role model.
Globally, in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh has a real personality cult. This can be seen in the numerous statues in his honor throughout the country or in the fact that his face is still present on many everyday objects, such as stamps and banknotes.
After the capture of Saigon in 1975 by the Communists, they renamed the city in honor of their leader, who had died more than five years earlier. It is a particularly prestigious tribute since Ho Chi Minh City is, with more than thirteen million inhabitants, the most populated metropolis in the country, ahead of the capital Hanoi, and the economic lung of Vietnam.
In 1973, the construction of a mausoleum began in Hanoi to house the remains of Ho Chi Min, who died in 1969. The mausoleum was inaugurated on August 29, 1975. The body of the president rests in a glass sarcophagus and can be seen by visitors who wish to do so, as long as they respect strict rules.
In 1989, a new version of Ho Chi Minh”s will was published, announcing that he wished to be cremated and that he was formally opposed to the construction of a mausoleum in his honor, wishes which were therefore not respected. The Vietnamese leader wished that his ashes be divided into three boxes, one for the South, one for the Center and one for the North of Vietnam, and wrote that he wanted “neither a bronze statue nor a tombstone”. He was thus opposed to a cult of personality on his person.