Duiker is an anti-communist biographer of Ho Chi Minh, who has received various accolades from the U.$. government approved press and academia, but Duiker is not the crudest of anti-communists and this book contains many useful details on the life of Ho Chi Minh--the leader of Vietnam's revolution against the Japanese and French colonial occupiers and then the Amerikkkans. Born and raised to be a government official in the Confucian mandarin style, both Ho and his father before him went on intellectual quests to find out how to save Vietnam from outside occupiers. In Ho Chi Minh's case, the result was travel abroad--much more than by the average persyn of his day or our day today.
The whole life of Ho Chi Minh stands as a lesson against those who would say narrow nationalism is the way forward. Quite the contrary, Ho Chi Minh was a relative success in ousting imperialists from his oppressed nation, but he was far from narrowly focused on his nation. That's not to mention that "Uncle Ho's " revolution was multi- national. All nationalists should check out whether their nationalism is the effective kind like Ho Chi Minh's or the narrow kind which serves as a justification for chauvinist ignorance and ceding ground to imperialism. One thing we learn in this book is that Ho Chi Minh found himself hunted by French colonial authorities in Vietnam from his teenage years.(pp. 37-9) As a result, in the rest of his life, he was a master of disguises and travel, constantly staying one step ahead of police. For two years he worked at sea and visited numerous parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia. By 1912, he had also stayed in the United $tates and he managed to attend meetings in Harlem of an organization for Blacks created by Marcus Garvey.(p. 50)
Ho Chi Minh first started answering his own question of how to save Vietnam through his contact with the French Communist Party, when it was still really communist. Likewise, almost all the major leaders of Mao's day in China except for Mao himself also took up Marxism-Leninism in France--people such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping before they were to become more central to capitalist restoration in China. From his contacts with the French comrades, Ho went on to meet the Soviet comrades and take up schooling there in the COMINTERN. He received financial support and jobs through his own efforts and those of his French and Soviet comrades. Ho worked on all kinds of jobs ranging from ship attendant to chef to photographer. He also received money from comrades for writing news articles. His flexibility in taking jobs and adopting disguises by itself would mark Ho Chi Minh as a man of extraordinary energy and capability. He would be considered "a real go-getter" in the united $tates, but he also requested and received aid from Soviet and French comrades. It was not until after 30 years that Ho Chi Minh was really able to return to Vietnam.(p. 256)
Ho Chi Minh once told an interviewer that he left ideological questions to Mao Zedong.(p. 5) There is both truth and trouble in this statement. In fact, what Ho did was observe what Mao was doing first-hand in China. Later, Ho took up the same methods of protracted People's War in Vietnam. By the time the Amerikkkans had 500,000 troops in Vietnam, Ho had already seen his comrades take up the Maoist strategies in previous wars and battles.
According to Duiker, prior to observing Mao's revolution in China, Ho Chi Minh already had the idea that "the actions of a humane and energetic ruler at the apex of the system" could contain bureaucracy and greed below.(p. 29) Mao's and Ho's favorite books from childhood overlapped (p. 23) because of the influence of Confucianism and both had a sense of ancient Chinese history in that manner. Exposed to Lenin's works, Ho became a convert to communism through Lenin's "Theses on the National and Colonial Questions."(p. 64) As a teenager, one of Ho's first acts was to write poetry calling for a future without white rulers in Vietnam.(p. 34) His experience with the so- called communists of Western Europe was not very encouraging and Ho constantly berated his European audiences for not paying attention to the Vietnamese colonial question. In this sense, there is some continuity today. The labor aristocracy and their labor bureaucracy leaders continue to leave Marxism with a bad name in the imperialist countries. Today the colonies may not be [direct] colonies anymore, but the bought-off population of imperialist countries continues to support repression of labor leaders in the Third World.
Nonetheless, young Ho Chi Minh mourned the death of Lenin whose "Theses on the National and Colonial Questions" predicted and called forth a generation of Ho Chi Minhs. Ho Chi Minh's frequent ambivalence on the hardest ideological questions showed up early in his European travels. In one of his speeches he called for unity of the 2nd, 2.5 and 3rd Internationals. In effect, Ho was calling on the social-democrats of Europe to unite with the communists to back his cause in Vietnam. Ho was no doubt aware that the social-democrats had just backed a World War I over colonies at the expense of millions of proletarians' blood spilled; yet somehow Ho naively expected these same social- democrats to turn around and unite to save his colonized country. His speech referred to all three organizations as "revolutionary."(p. 71) Saying such things, Ho must have left a narrow nationalist impression, the image of someone who did not know the issues he spoke of; yet, he still expected help for his national cause. After all, the social-democrats did not even claim to be revolutionary by that time.
Perhaps for this sort of reason, Stalin later suspected him of Tito type nationalism. (Note: Stalin was a suspicious man. He had long experience of how particular people were likely to degenerate politically. However, he made clear that he would give fraternal aid to both Mao and Ho. Anyone equating Mao or Ho with Tito in the eyes of Stalin is clearly either ignorant or a provocateur.) Stalin reportedly said to Ho when he met simultaneously with Ho and Mao, "'From now on, you can count on our assistance, especially now after the war of resistance, our surplus materials are plenty, and we will ship them to you through China. But because of limits of natural conditions, it will be mainly China that helps you. What China lacks, we will provide.' Mao then assured Ho Chi Minh, 'Whatever China has and Vietnam needs, we will provide.'"(p. 422) The most important question that Ho dodged in his lifetime was the Mao versus Khruschev debate.
When it came to Khruschev's criticism of Stalin, Ho Chi Minh supported Khruschev and said the same spirit should enter the Vietnamese Communist Party.(p. 482) The way in which he dodged the Mao versus Khruschev debate on line in general influenced the Black Panther Party and has a lot to do with where we are in the United $tates and the whole imperialist country communist movement today. In Lenin's and Stalin's day, they called people like Ho "practicals." These are people who are good at particular tasks but who do not follow ideological arguments. In many ways, Ho was just a "practical" like early Stalin; Ho and Stalin both had talents in many, many areas. In Stalin's case, those concerns eventually drove him into theoretical debates. To the extent that Ho was still fighting U.$. occupier troops when he died, it was correct for him to focus on practical matters regarding the national question. Yet as a communist, Ho contributed greatly to confusion in the international communist movement.
What Ho Chi Minh and today's Ludo Martens in Belgium and others obsessed with geopolitics miss is that Marxism-Leninism is supposed to be a science. Lenin did not have to call the Kaiser of Germany "socialist," much less "Marxist-Leninist," in order to receive aid from him during World War I. Ho himself received military aid from the predecessor to the CIA called the OSS during World War II. He should have known he did not have to call Uncle Sam "communist" in order to receive that aid. Hence, for Ho to straddle Mao and Khruschev on the grounds that Khruschev was giving aid to the Vietnamese Revolution was wrong. A communist should not dodge scientific questions, even in the midst of a national liberation struggle. Mao said a communist without a people's army has nothing. A so-called communist without a means of discerning truth from falsehood may have an army, but it will be a bourgeois army.
Today we can see clearly that Khruschev had to be defeated. It was his ideas and practical power that put Yeltsin in the party and Gorbachev's ideas in the air. In his day, Khruschev was opposing armed struggle in the Third World. For this alone, the international communist movement had a duty to tar and feather Khruschev so long as he claimed to be "Marxist-Leninist." He could have been given his own room to go his own road, and even give aid to movements and countries that he thought were in line with his interests--so long as he did not call himself "Marxist-Leninist." Instead, people such as Castro and Ho gave Khruschev breathing room that guaranteed disunity in the international communist movement--a major schism as opposed to the isolation of an outbreak of revisionism.
Later Brezhnev sacked Khruschev and mastered the relationship to ambiguous Third World revolutionaries by offering them increased military and economic aid. In Vietnam, the situation was that Ho Chi Minh was one of the most pro-Soviet of comrades. He wanted to preserve every chance of Soviet military aid, and he was willing to call the U.S.S.R. "Marxist-Leninist" to accomplish this goal. Ho's other comrades were on the path to making the Vietnamese Communist Party completely Maoist. The Vietnamese comrades did not need anyone to tell them that Mao was right in opposing Khruschev's "three peacefuls." When the Sino-Soviet split broke out in public in 1960, the Vietnamese leader Le Duan took the Chinese side immediately on the question of whether or not the united $tates was fomenting a new world war, while withdrawing on all other questions.(p. 522) (It was Khruschev's point of view that the strength of the U.S.S.R. had made u.$. imperialism peaceful.)
After all, the Vietnamese had tried repeatedly to negotiate diplomatically for their independence and still they found themselves having to carry out a People 's War. The history of the international communist movement might have been different had Brezhnev delayed even another year or so in replacing Khruschev, because it appears the Vietnamese with the exception of Ho were fed up with Khruschev.(p. 528) The Ninth Plenum of the Vietnamese party in December, 1963 was preparing resolutions to slam Khruschev and Duiker says that the plenum in no way rubber-stamped the Politburo. In fact, after the plenum, the Politburo did firm up and started a process to purge overly pro- Soviet elements from the party, including an associate of General Giap. 10 months later, Khruschev was out and Brezhnev was in.
In 1963, none other than Liu Shaoqi had gone to Vietnam and quietly and correctly criticized those taking a "middle course."(p. 531) In response, Ho made yet another speech that failed to mention the issues, this time in a banquet for Liu Shaoqi.(p. 532) China repeatedly offered to make up any aid that Castro or Ho were getting from the U.S.S.R. if calling a spade a spade resulted in a cut-off of aid. Had Ho and Castro rebuffed the Khruschev line firmly, the Soviet revisionist line would have been isolated. Instead, Ho and Castro failed to unite for the correct line.
The practical result in the United $tates was that Huey Newton turned to "inter-communalism" in a way that ended in eclecticism. What the post-modernists and radical eclectics have in common is focus on who is speaking instead of the correct line. Mostly Newton opposed this relativist approach in the 1966 to 1969 period; however, by 1970, when he was already doing much too heavy drugs, Newton and others started treating all movements and leaders calling themselves communist "equally" instead of reviewing each line one at a time for correctness or errors as Newton had done in the past. Such automatically granted "equality" of correctness paves the way to post-modernism and Liberalism. It still infects those who think there is a united "left" or some use in upholding all lines calling themselves "communist." Naturally, the production of revolutionary science declines in such a situation where split-the-difference between opposites is the rule.
The Vietnam War created the most radical generation of Amerikans, especially radical in its internationalism. The first splinter in the new communist movement over Vietnam was by the Mao-recognized "Progressive Labor Party." PLP was angry with Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese comrades for straddling Mao and Khruschev. Next arose the opposition to the PLP which defended the Vietnamese. How they defended the Vietnamese also divided the movement in the united $tates. Some took the line that all calling themselves "communist" were equal and to be respected -- an easy out that required no knowledge of revolutionary science or effort to apply it, an advantage in spreading this particular Liberal ideology. Malcolm X had taken a Third Worldist position by siding with Mao against Khruschev. However, once Ho, Castro and Kim started straddling Mao and Khruschev or even leaning toward Khruschev in Castro's case, it was fair game for everyone to do so, "Third Worldist" or not.
The communist movement suffered a huge wound when Khruschev spit on Stalin; yet, the true descent into eclecticism, Liberalism and eventual post-modernism took the advent of people like Ho, Kim and Castro who put geopolitical calculation first and the universal truths of communism second. The real unity of the communist movement can never come about through Liberalism or treating all opinions as if they were equal. We communists are obliged as Marx pointed out in the "Theses on Feuerbach" to unite in the "this- sidedness" of reality. Khruschev was irrelevant in the new communist upsurge of the 1960s in the united $tates, but the people fighting for their lives in Vietnam were heroes. As a result, Ho Chi Minh's line had more influence than Khruschev's. No one did more to divide the fledgling u.$. communist movement than Ho Chi Minh.
Specifics of the Vietnamese revolution
It is a commonplace today for many calling themselves Hoxhaites and Trotskyists to dispute the stages of revolution that occurred in Russia, China and Vietnam. In contrast, MIM has pointed out that at one point in history, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin all agreed that even anti-feudal struggle can take the backseat to national struggle at certain points and in certain places in history including the early 20th century in which they lived. ( See "Classic Quotes" on our web page.)
In Vietnam too, there was a discussion of this question. At one point, on June 6, 1941, Ho Chi Minh said that the patriotic landlords and native bourgeoisie were reserves of the revolutionary forces.(pp. 252-3) By this theory, the mode of production problem can be more easily straightened out within Vietnamese society, once the imperialists have been expelled physically. It's a question of science, how best to advance beyond semi- feudalism in Vietnam and hence we communists call it a question of "theory," which does not mean moral principle but rather how the world works. Compared with the Chinese Revolution, Vietnam differed in one important physical characteristic in that there was no large area to retreat to for a base area as in China.(p. 428) For the most part, however, the Vietnamese were able to copy Mao's strategies of People's War directly in Vietnam.
One of the more spectacular peculiarities of the Vietnamese Revolution was the changing hands of the imperialists and the neighboring Chinese. During World War II, the Japanese were occupying Vietnam at least partly in opposition to the prior French colonialists. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "'France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indochina are entitled to something better than that.'"(p. 283) During World War II, the predecessor to the CIA [the OSS] sent a handful of weapons and various other kinds of support to Ho Chi Minh. The right opportunists and the revisionists should notice that Ho Chi Minh never called F.D.R. a "socialist" or "Marxist-Leninist" to accomplish this alliance. No one was required to say "2+2=5" in order to obtain military aid.
Despite U.$. support for Ho Chi Minh or neutrality during World War II, the French continued to attack the Vietnamese guerrillas. The absurdity of the French position came to light when the Japanese suddenly took over on March 9th, 1945.(p. 295) After the Japanese takeover, the U.$. Government decided the French were worthless when it came to fighting the Japanese and that is the time at which the OSS made itself available to the Vietnamese patriots including Ho Chi Minh, who volunteered 1000 troops to fight the Japanese.(p. 299) In fact, American medical treatment may have saved Ho Chi Minh's life when he was battling malaria and dysentery during World War II.(p. 302)
When the Japanese surrendered to the United $tates in August, 1945, the Vietnamese communists convened a meeting of the people called a "National People's Congress" and the banner portraits were Lenin, Mao and General Claire Chennault of the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force. (p. 290) Soon after, the Vietnamese seized their country briefly from all colonial occupiers. The United $tates brokered a situation where English troops occupied the southern portion of Vietnam while Chinese troops took over the northern part. The English and Chinese were supposed to supervise the surrender of the Japanese still in Vietnam.(p. 317) The French were excluded again; even though the French claimed Vietnam as a colony. The English established their order in "their" part of the country, partly by leaving the Japanese occupiers in place and allowing them to carry out law enforcement! The English even complained that the OSS was "blatantly subversive,"(p. 335) when it came to maintaining order. Whether or not the English staged that little spat with the United $tates, there were real contradictions in relieving the Japanese of their role and establishing an overall imperialist strategy in Vietnam.
In 1945, the Vietnamese managed to kill some European occupiers. On September 2nd, more than 150 Europeans died in one section where Japanese were still in nominal control for law and order. Duiker says it was a crime syndicate in Saigon that carried out the killings.(pp. 335-6) Eventually the English handed off to the French.
Next, the Chinese led by Chiang Kai-shek made a deal with the French for the French to return to the northern part of Vietnam as well. The Chinese deal was stickier for the French, and bought some time for the Vietnamese fighters to get ready for the return of the French. In fact, the Chinese military ended up in battle with the French briefly before concluding an agreement on withdrawl from Vietnam.(p. 363) In fighting with the returning French, the Vietnamese comrades had to pull back into the most difficult terrain as 1945 ended. At that time, Chinese loyal to Chiang Kai-shek also factored into the Vietnamese equation. Chiang Kai-shek's party the Guomindang (KMT) supported small parties in Vietnam that were nationalist but not communist. Ho Chi Minh constantly had to compromise with these forces while also making sure they never got the chance to call him a traitor to the Vietnamese national cause. In typical semi-feudal fashion, Ho Chi Minh guaranteed his allies in other parties a certain number of seats in the parliament, regardless of their election showing -- 70 seats for two parties. Ho Chi Minh's party won 97% of the vote.(p. 353)
Next, history produced a Socialist Party government in France, led by Felix Gouin in January 1946. As if to prove MIM right that certain issues require a high quality of support, not just high quantity, the "Socialist Party" government refused to recognize the independence of Vietnam.(p. 358) For that matter, the "Communist Party" of France may have been two- faced as well. In public, the "Communist Party" sometimes catered to the nationalist labor aristocracy of France with swagger about retaining Vietnam as a colony. At the same time, "CP"- related publications gave favorable coverage to the freedom-fighters in Vietnam. The Socialist Party and "CP" behaved nicely to Ho, especially at first, but foreshadowed "political correctness" in the shallowness of that rapport.
Instead of the "Socialist Party" in France, Ho Chi Minh turned toward the Truman administration in Washington and offered a navy base in Vietnam in exchange for help getting the French out.(p. 377) That offer and his offer to the French to stay inside the French trade bloc and give France preferential business deals was not enough to allow the Vietnamese people a chance to avoid a People's War for their own liberation. The French "Socialist Party" government including a subsequent Leon Blum government could have released Vietnam and could have spared numerous lives -- French, Vietnamese and later, Amerikkkan lives. Instead, millions died because a "Socialist Party" had no internationalist principles and sought to retain a colony.
It's a clear example why MIM insists there are certain minimal questions that have to be a matter of principle, no matter how difficult the situation. MIM's internationalism may be unpopular in the united $tates and other imperialist countries today, but it was in Hitler Germany and colonial France too. We at MIM have made the clear choice between catering to the pampered "workers" of the United $tates and other imperialist countries on the one hand and upholding proletarian internationalism on the other hand. We do not care if we do not obtain majority support for internationalism and we give no credit to the French "Socialist Party" for its popularity. Internationalism comes first. Without it peace is impossible globally and the species may end in disaster soon. There is no way to "moderate," water-down or make merely "tactical" this fact.
The turning point for Vietnam was the victory of Mao Zedong in China in 1949. A December 1949 Vietnamese congress of trade unions stated as much that Mao had shifted "the balance of forces toward the democracies."(p. 418) The banners at the conference were Stalin, Mao and Ho.
Prior to Chinese Liberation Day, October 1, 1949, the French were feeling the heat from the wrath of the Vietnamese People's War. The French would have been bogged down in a long costly war even without Mao's victory. When China's border with Vietnam suddenly became a friendly base area for the Vietnamese, with supplies crossing over to the freedom-fighters, the French knew it was over and started to negotiate. The French and Uncle Sam subsequently had no way of winning complete victory -- though a minority of reactionary retards in the united $tates still does not get it and likely won't get it until a nuke or two falls on u.$. troops or civilians -- much to the peril of the whole species.
Later, Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were to make the same decision as the French -- that total victory was impossible. Nixon and Johnson knew they could increase attacks on Vietnam, but the u.$. imperialists also knew that China promised to intervene if Johnson knocked out Ho Chi Minh's government in northern Vietnam. Such a conflict could become nuclear, and, of course, there is no way for outside occupiers to "win" such a conflict.
Duiker is an anti-communist -- check his summary of Soviet history (p. 211) -- but we can read this book with a grain of salt. Most of the problem comes in two areas. One is what Duiker considered important and unimportant. Two is that he does not understand ideological disputes amongst those calling themselves "Marxists." Overall, the book is very useful to understanding Ho Chi Minh. Especially for people with no background in political ideologies, it may be best to start with a book like this one to understand the life of just one man before going on to issues in general.
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