Ho Chi Minh

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Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was a Vietnamese revolutionary against French rule in French Indochina. Following the partition of Vietnam after the Geneva Conference of 1954, he became President of the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He remained the titular national leader for the rest of his life, occasionally taking power after internal Communist dissension.

While he was the symbol of the Communist side in the Vietnam War, he was not, as many Westerners assume, making day-to-day decisions. Power shifted in the North Vietnamese leadership, but the actual conduct of the war was more in the hands of Le Duan, Vo Nguyen Giap, and others. Le Duan took major power in 1960. He had much more direct responsibility against the French. He would, however, make visible policy and leadership pronouncements as late as the Tet Offensive in 1968.

He embraced both Vietnamese nationalism and Marxist-Leninist Communism. How he balanced and reconciled these views remains, to this day, controversial.[1] He told U.S. Office of Strategic Services officer Archimedes Patti that he was strongly influenced, in the 1920s, [2] by Lenin's Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions for the Second Congress of the Communist International,[3], in which Lenin had proposed a stage of a transitional national federation between independence from colonialism and final communism. There is probably more argument that he was a nationalist first and a Marxist second. The metaphor that he was the "Tito of Vietnam" was often used. Some authors insist that he was a committed revolutionary Marxist both before and during the Cold War.[4] Abbot Low Moffat, the U.S. diplomat who met with Ho in 1946 seeking a compromise over Cochin China, was warned by Dean Acheson that the U.S. would not favor a Communist Vietnam. However after their meeting, Moffat reported that while Ho might indeed be an unrepentant Communist, his first goal was establishing an "effective nationalist state" as a "prerequisite to any objective of establishing a Communist state—which objective must for the time being be secondary." [5] Yet another distinction,[6] made in the March 25, 1951 issue of Nhan Dan, the journal of the Lao Dong Party, was that he was the "soul of the Vietnamese revolution and the Vietnamese revolution", while Truong Chinh, the actual General Secretary of the Party, was the revolution's "builder and commander". [7]

In Ho's early years, he was known by a variety of names. Some of these were political aliases, but others simply were the Vietnamese custom of the time.[8] Ho was named by his parents Nguyen Sinh Cung, but at age 11, entering adolescence, his father renamed him Nguyen Tat Thanh, "he who will succeed." [9] He took on the name Ho Chi Minh, for which he had he identity card of a Chinese reporter, in 1942. It is of Chinese origin, and can be translated as "he who enlightens" or "enlightened will."

While he died before the unification of North and South Vietnam in 1975, his symbolic importance was such that the former southern capital of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

Early life

His father, Nguyen Sinh Sac[10], was highly educated in the French colonial system by tutor Hoang Duong.[11] Following his education, Sac was employed in the colonial civil service. Sac was attracted to Duong's daughter Hoang Thi Loan, and they married in 1883. Sac was later dismissed from the civil service.[12]

Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19, 1890, in the village of Kim Lien, in Nam Dan district of Nghe An Province in Annam; he did not visit rural Tonkin until 1941 and the Hanoi-Haiphong area until 1945. His milk name was Nguyen Sinh Cung.

Ho attended school in Hue and Phan Thiet. As was customary for promising children, he was put into the care of a tutor, Vuong Thuc Quoi.

Foreign travel

In 1911, he attended baking school in Saigon.[13] In June 1911, he presented himself, using the name "Ba", to the captain of the French liner Amiral Latouche-Trevilk and became an assistant cook. Reports are conflicting whether he actually led a life at sea for the next two years or so, or merely traveled as a member of ships' crews. He wrote a letter, on September 11, 1911, to the President of France, asking for admission to the Colonial School.

He appears to have spent some time in New York in 1913, spending at least 1913 in New York. While the documentation about his time in the U.S. is scant, there is at least one letter that he signed Paul Tat Thanh.[14] Pham Van Dong said he had lived in Harlem, was impressed by "the barbarities and ugliness of American capitalism, the Ku Klux Klan mobs, the lynching of Negroes." In 1924, he published a pamphlet, "La Race Noire" ("The Black Race"), criticizing racism in America and Europe. [15]

By the spring of 1914, he had settled in London. Ho apparently was a competent cook, telling, in his autobiography, of working under Auguste Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel.[16] Before the famed Carlton Hotel, in London's Haymarket section, was replaced by New Zealand House, it bore a blue plaque commemorating that the founder of modern Vietnam had worked in its kitchens.[17]

It is not completely clear when he returned to France, certainly by 1918, but most likely December 1917.[18]

Early revolutionary activities

In 1919, he took on the name Nguyen Ai Quoc ("Nguyen the Patriot"), which was to be his main revolutionary alias until the Second World War.

November 1920 saw him becoming affiliated with French groups that identified with the Comintern. These included the Section of Socialist Youth, and going to the Tours Congress of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. [19] At this Congress, the party repudiated the Second International and affiliated with the Comintern; the Comintern supporters became the nucleus of the French Communist Party (FCP). At an early FCP meeting, he spoke on French Indochina before going to Moscow in 1923. [20] As opposed to the general Vietnamese call for independence and reform, this specifically introduced a Marxist-Leninist context.[21]

He had been at the FCP First Congress in 1921 and Second in 1922, and, at the latter, he may have come to the attention of one of the attendees from Moscow, Dmitri Manuilsky. Manuilsky, not a favorite of Josef Stalin, was a Comintern functionary who later became a deputy to Georgi Dimitrov, who would later (1935) become General Secretary of the Comintern. [22]

When he first arrived in Moscow in 1923, his status was as a member of the Intercolonial Union of France, and complained that while Comintern envoys were eager to gain a role in China under the Kuomintang, there was far less interest in more distant colonies, such as those of France. The Second Comintern Congress, while it contained Lenin's theses that attracted Ho, set up expectations for colonies, but, he felt, merely stirred up the colonial authorities. At this time, he kept a low profile, and had the benefit of not being identified, as had been a number of his patrons in France such as Boris Souvarine and Jacques Doriot, as a Trotskyite. [23]

He attended the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in 1924. Afterwards, he moved to Guangzhou (Canton), China, teaching revolutionary theory using Marx and Lenin, but also Gandhi and Sun Yat Sen. His actual importance as a revolutionary, at this time, is controversial; Quinn-Judge suggests that sympathetic biographers have tried to make him larger than life. For example, Jean Lacouture's biography,[24] considered the standard from a sympathetic standpoint, suggests that Ho was an intimate of French leftists such as Boris Souvarine, who may not have had much contact with Ho before 1923.

Nineteen-twenty-four through 1927 was a period during which several nationalist and revolutionary organizations were formed. As Nguyen Ai Quoc, Ho formed the Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Menh Dong Chi Hoi ("Revolutionary Youth League"). In 1926, after studying translations of Marxist material, he said "only a communist party can insure the well-being of Annam".[25] and wrote the handbook, Duong Cach Menh (The Revolutionary Path), in 1926.[20]

Development of Vietnamese communism

Ho began his communist activities, while still in France, by writing for a Vietnamese audience there. Copies of his writings were secretly sent to Indochina in 1921.[26] Over time, he would move back to Asia and build infrastructure, eventually forming the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). Sometime in 1923, he joined an association of Vietnamese exiles, the Tam Tam Xa.[27]

During the thirties, he was involved, in and out of French Indochina, of building Communism organization there. Many of his early colleagues died, variously formally executed, in prison of natural causes or of abuse, and sometimes simply of disease and illness. His survival, at times, seemed a matter of good luck or good timing.

Writings from Paris=

He wrote an condemnation of French colonialism in the twenties, which was not available in Vietnamese until years later. Written in French and not translated into Vietnamese until years later, his "French Colonialism on Trial" (Proces de la colonisation francaise) focused on the French system of taxation. It showed the clash between the demands of a modern state's infrastructure and the funding of this infrastructure by the peasantry. This was not simply a French colonial problem, as this particular problem continued after the French were gone.[28] Ho also addressed in this essay the sexism and general cruelty of the French toward the Vietnamese. "Colonial sadism," he wrote, "is unbelievably widespread and cruel".[29]

Ho's guerrilla training manual of the period explicitly saw women as part of the revolutionary forces; female equality, however, was also seen as a way to break up Confucian structures. [30]

As of January 1923, Leon Trotsky, with Jacques Doriot as his deputy, was still the designated Comintern consultant on France. Ho's status with the Communists was unclear, perhaps because the leadership had not decided to treat him as French or as Asian. Ho had been working with Albert Treint, a supporter of Zinoviev's leftist position in the Comintern; Treint was purged by the end of 1927 and anyone associated with Stalin's failed United Front in China was under suspicion.[31]

At the Comintern Fourth Congress in 1922, Comintern activities in East Asia were considered "completely unsystematic", and reorganized, in May 1923, into an Eastern Section, with a Far Eastern Secretariat reporting to the Comintern Executive Committee (ECCI). Grigory Voitinsky took charge, as it came under increasing Soviet control. Mikhail Borodin became the field representative. [32]


The young Nguyen Ai Quoc was invited to Moscow in 1924, and worked with the Comintern and other international organizations. Russian archives show him receiving a "non-staff worker" pass for the Comintern offices in April 1924.[33] He was visible at the Fifth Comintern Congress in the summer of 1924, which began to establish his role as an Asian revolutionary; he had been named to the Far Eastern Secretariat of ECCI. [34]

Again, his actual impact there is not agreed. Note that his membership was in a Comintern body, not in any Asian Communist party. It was suggested that he briefed Stalin, but there is little evidence that he did more than send reports into the system. He did not have a vote at the Congress.[35]

Return to Asia

In November 1924, he moved to Guangzhou.[36], China. Not initially having any official role, he quickly made contacts, including with Mikhail Borodin, the Comintern representative to Sun Yat-sen's government. There is little evidence for his being a deputy of Borodin. [37] He went to work at the Soviet news agency in Guangzhou, also working on the formation of a Vietnamese revolutionary party, and education of Vietnamese elites in Marxism-Leninism. [38]

He linked up with Tam Tam Xa members; in June 1925, he transformed this organization into the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth Association, a precursor of the ICP. [39] The VRYA name, commonly Thanh Nien (youth) in Vietnamese, was not yet used; he referred to it as the Vietnamese Guomindang in early 1925.[40] The League, however, had nationalist aspects separate from Marxism. [41]

Phan Boi Chau

A controversial area, during this period, was Ho's relationship to Phan Boi Chau, a prominent Vietnamese dissident exiled to China. He had formed a variety of revolutionary organizations, beginning with the Duy Tan Hoi (Reformation Society) in 1904, replaced in 1912 by the Viet Nam Quang Phuc Hoi (Vietnam Restoration Society). [42] Its members included Le Hong Son, [43], Truong Van Lenh, Le Hong Phon, and Le Quang Dat, who were to become followers of Nguyen Ai Quoc.[44] All were to take part in revolutionary preparation, but variously be executed, imprisoned, or otherwise out of power by 1945.[45]

The Tam Tam Xa was a spinoff of his organization by more activist members disappointed with Phan Boi Chau's leadership. Eventually, the Vietnam Restoration Society became part of the noncommunist but nationalist VNQDD.

In May 1925, Phan Boi Chau was arrested by the French and charged with treason. There are various arguments on who betrayed him. His own memoirs name his personal assistant, Nguyen Thuong Huyen, who eventually went to work for the French. Other non-Communist nationalists, however, claim it was Ho's associate Lam Duc Thu, or possibly Nguyen Ai Quoc himself. Duiker regards the evidence as inconclusive, but it was most likely Nguyen Thuong Huyen, possibly Lam Duc Thu, and probably not Nguyen Ai Quoc. Phan Boi Chau made statements of high esteem for Ho, up to his death in 1940. [46] Quinn-Judge says reports from Lam Duc Thu state that he had been informing on Phai Boc Chau. [47] Questions remain on whether Nguyen Ai Quoc saw Phan Boi Chau as an obstructionist, or the man who would hand the mantle to him.

League of Oppressed People

From the United Front in Guangdong, focused on peasants and workers, he formed the Vietnamese League (or Society) of Oppressed People on June 30, 1925, an overt Vietnamese group in China. His pseudonym of the time was Ly Thuy. [48] Other Leagues for Oppressed People (against imperialism) existed in other countries, affiliated with Comintern members, such as the LOP in India, formed in 1928.[49]

Possibly by a youth group within it, the journal Thanh Nien began publication and clandestine distribution throughout Southeast Asia, to teach Marxist theory. [20] Before he left Moscow for Indochina, he had been asked to represent the Peasant International in China, which initially cooperated with the Kuomintang under Sun Yat-Sen; the education effort was part of this representation.

Beginnings of Communist organization

Probably in 1926, from the larger Thanh Nieh organization, he created an inner communist group. This has been known by two names, Thanh Nien Cong San Doan (Communist Youth League), or Viet Nam Than Nien Cach Man Hoi (Association of Revolutionary Vietnamese Youth); the former is probably the more authoritative name. [50] Just as the League as a step toward Vietnamese identity, the 1926 group was a step in developing Vietnamese Communist identity.

Chiang purges Communists

Ho had arranged for some members of the Revolutionary Youth League to attend China's Whampoa Military Academy.[20] After Sun Yat-Sen's death in March 1925, Chiang Kai-shek took power, and initially cooperated with the Communists. Chiang Kai-shek arrested Soviet advisors at the Whampoa Military Academy in March 1926.[51] Borodin accepted a reduced Communist role in the KMT when its Executive Committee met in May.

By February, however, Ho joined a visiting Comintern group that included Jacques Doriot, now head of the Colonial Section of the FCP as well as a deputy in the French National Assembly. On March 3, Doriot, Ho (signing himself as "Lee") and a representative of the Russian advisory group asked for Comintern funding, and drew up a program for the League. Doriot wrote that Thanh Nien had groups in Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin (the largest number) and Siam; he addressed the League as a nationalist group and did not speak of Communism. There are strong indications the Comintern wanted to position Thanh Nien as nationalist; Ho would lead it. [52] Note that Thanh Nien had significant strength outside China.

Chiang, fully purged them, however, in April 1927, and Ho fled to Hong Kong in May. Pursued by British authorities, he went to Soviet Far East headquarters in Vladivostok, and then moved to Moscow. The initial plan was for him to move to Siam as a base for organizing Indochinese Communism, but, instead, spent time in various European cities. Eventually, he arrived in Bangkok in July 1928. Assuming the identity Father Chin, he moved to northern Siam late in the year; the French lost track of him. A French tribunal, however, sentenced him, in absentia, to death, on October 29, for plotting revolution in Annam.[53]

Also in December 1927, Nguyen Thai Hoc founded the non-communist Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD, Vietnamese Nationalist Party), in Hanoi. Ho's relationship with the VNQDD, the most significant non-communist nationalist party, would be complex for decades, as he participated in coalitions but eventually purged them from North Vietnam.

Chiang's coup wrecked the United Front. Ho probably took refuge in the Soviet consulate or went into North China. The Chinese Communist Party counterattacked in August, so the Vietnamese with the KMT were in a difficult position. Ho, however, was out of China by then, and did not need to commit either to the cCP or united front.

Hong Kong meeting, 1929

In May 1929, the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League met in Hong Kong, with representatives from the three regions of Indochina. Le Hong Son listened to a proposal from Tran Van Cung[54], from Tonkin, to form a Communist part, but felt that this was premature. Congress chairman Lam Duc Thu, however, opposed it.

Several different Communist factions formed parties, beginning with a group, called the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP--Dang Cong San Dong Duong), started by Cung's group of Thanh Nien members, on June 17, 1929. Based in Hanoi, this Tonkinese group was affiliated with the Comintern. Meanwhile, in August, an Annam Communist party (An Nam Cong San Dang) formed inside the league, with leadership by Le Hong Son, Ho Tung Mau, and Le Quang Dat. Mau wrote to Cung and suggested forming a unified party, but the latter said he was "too busy". Mau then wrote to the Comintern to seek a means of unity.

An Annamese group called New Revolutionary Party or Tan Viet Party, of Thanh Nien and radical members of yet but no direct tie with the Comintern, renamed itself the Indochinese Communist League (Dong Duong Cong San Lien Doan). [55]

At the beginning of 1930, there were actually three communist parties in French Indochina competing for members. In an October 27 message, the Comintern, disapproving, asked Ho, then in Siam, to bring the three groups together in a Hong Kong meeting. [20] It supported the Hanoi faction of Tran Van Cung. [56]


At the founding meeting on February 3, 1930, Ho presided over the formation of the Vietnamese Communist Party (Viet Nam Cong San Dang). At the Comintern's request, the name was changed later that year at the first Party Plenum to the Indochinese Communist Party, thus reclaiming the name of the first party of that named founded in 1929. A Comintern representative, however, told Ho Tung Mau and others that none of the Vietnamese organizations would be recognized until the Comintern decided they were unified. Until then, the Chinese Communist Party would direct the Vietnamese groups.[57] Finally, the Indochinese Communist Party was recognized on February 18, 1930.[58]

Nguyen Ai Quoc, still under death sentence, stayed in Hong Kong in 1931, with an increasingly restive Tran Phu, the first General Secretary, in Saigon. Phu was irritated both by the poor communications, and Quoc's nationalism.[59] Tran Phu himself, however, was caught in a French sweep, and died in 1931, possibly of torture.

Nationalist vs. internationalist split

Changing the organization name from "Vietnamese" to "Indochinese" also reflected a Comintern desire to move the context from nationalism to class struggle. [60]In Vietnamese communism, there was an increasing split between those focused on advancing worldwide communism, and a more nationalist, although still Marxist, emphasis. Ho was in the latter camp.

In the international Communist movement, however, there was another split, between the Stalinists that controlled the Comintern, and the Trotskyites. A Vietnamese Trotskyite group, in 1933, created a publication, La Lutte (Struggle). While the Comintern forbade official cooperation, an informal slate of ICP members and Trotskyites won four seats on the Saigon municipal council in 1935.

Meanwhile, Ho headed back to Moscow in 1934. Three other members represented the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, but he only had observer status. Le Hong Phong gained new prominence at Ho's expense, even though Le Hong Phong was a "leftist" supporter of class struggle, while the Soviets had adopted anti-fascism as a higher priority.

Ho, who had been working in Moscow as a translator, as well as studying ideology and Russian, requested to go back to Asia, and returned to China in 1938. In July 1939, he advised the Comintern that his party should be moderate in its demands; to seek independence is "to play into the Japanese fascists’ hands." He spoke of broad-front tactics to include Indochinese nationalists as well as French "progressives". His position was clearly Stalinist: "With regard to the Trotskyites there can be no compromise, no concession. We must do everything possible to unmask them as agents of fascism and annihilate them politically."[61]

By 1939, Ho (Quoc) and colleagues were receiving military training in China, in an unusual cooperation between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party. [62] Le Phong Hong, who was the Comintern representative, was arrested in September 1939, following the German invasion of Poland.

Second World War

When Japan occupied French Indochina in 1940 and collaborated with French officials loyal to France's Vichy regime. Ho, contacted the Allies and assisted actions against the Japanese in South China and Indochina. Especially in Indochina, however, the Allies were cautious about causing tensions with the French, after the fall of the pro-Axis Vichy French government.

Truong Chinh became General Secretary in May 1941. In the spring, the Communists reorganized into what became the Viet Minh. [63] In the interest of a broad front, it was initially chaired by Ho Hoc Lam, with Pham Van Dong, using a pseudonym, as vice-chairman. The Chinese arrested Ho soon afterwards. During the Japanese occupation, even during French administration, the Viet Minh exiled to China had an opportunity to quietly rebuild their infrastructure. They had been strongest in Tonkin, the northern region, so moving south from China was straightforward. They had a concept of establishing "base areas" (chien khu) or "safe areas" (an toan khu), often mountainous jungle.[64] Of these areas, the "homeland" of the VM was near Bac Kan Province. (see map) [65]

Released after noncommunist groups failed to meet Chinese expectations, in early 1942, he established his headquarters in the Coc Bo Grotto, in a mountain near Pac Bo hamlet of Cao Bang Province. [66] He made a statue of Karl Marx out of one of the stalagmites, and named the spring running in front of the grotto entrance after Vladimir Lenin and the highest mountain peak also after Marx. The Ministry of Tourism plans to develop as a historical site.[67] He returned to China in August 1942, taking the name Ho Chi Minh, but was arrested by the Chinese.

In 1943, the Chinese released him from jail and allowed him to head the Dong Min Hoi coalition, initially dominated by the VNQDD party. formed in October 1942 but had but had accomplished little. The Allied goal was to get better intelligence from Indochina, where only the Viet Minh actually had personnel.

Ho's associates in China asked for U.S. recognition in August 1944. [68]The analysis department of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) became aware of his activities in the Tuyen Quang-Bac Kan-Lang Son-Thai Nguyen provinces, informing the field missions in 1945. LTC Paul Helliwell, the OSS Secret Intelligence (i.e., clandestine human-source intelligence) chief in Kunming, China, gave Ho a small number of weapons in March 1945.[69] Ho was designated OSS Agent 19. [70]

He directed that the Armed Propaganda Brigade be formed in December 1944: "Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Viet Nam shows that greater importance is attached to its political than to its military action. It is a propaganda unit...the most resolute and energetic cadres and men will be picked from the ranks of the guerrilla units in the provinces of Bac Can , Lang Son and Cao Bang".[71] According to Hammer. by 1945, it had organized 10,000 soldiers led by Vo Nguyen Giap, who recruited both from ethnic Vietnamese and Montagnards. [72]

Attempt at independence

Vietnamese Communist Party documents say he called for insurrection in August,[73] although Duiker describes the August actions as focused more on some rural test cases, preparation for revolution, but still some willingness to negotiate with the French. There was also considerable difference in the political situation in Cochin China [74] and Annam. Patti met with Ho, Giap, Truong Chinh, and possibly a few others on August 27. [75] Jean Sainteny requested American help, approximately on August 28, to meet with Ho.[76]; Giap met with Sainteny the next day.[77]

In the fall of 1945, Communists killed Quang Chieu, head of the Constitutionalist Party; Ngo Dinh Koi, the brother of Ngo Dinh Diem, and Vo Van Nga, of the Party for Independence. [78]When Ho later held Ngo Dinh Diem prisoner,Ho responded to the question, "Why did you kill my brother?" Ho claimed it was a mistake and caused by confusion. Asked by Ho to become his Minister of the Interior, Diem said he would do so only with full information and involvement in all decisions. Ho could not accept that, although he tried to change Diem's mind, eventually releasing him. Moyar complicates the image of Ho by saying it was a measure of Ho's respect for Diem that he did not have him killed, and "also the biggest mistake he ever made."[79]

Ho told a French interviewer that he had killed Trotskyists with regret, speaking of Ta Thu Thau, "Thau was a great patriot and we mourn him. All those that do not follow the line I have laid down will be broken."[80]

On September 2, 1945, Ho declared independence for Vietnam, as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).In a dramatic speech, he began with

All men are created equal. The Creator has given us certain inalienable rights: the right to Life, the right to be Free, and the right to achieve Happiness...These immortal words are taken from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a larger sense, this means that: all the peoples of the world are equal; all the people have the right to live, to be happy, to be free. [turning to the Declaration of the French Revolution in 1791, "It also states Men are born, must be free, and have equal rights. These are undeniable truths.[81]

Within days, the French acted against the rebellion against them. By September 12, the Bank of Indochina had closed the DRV and declared it bankrupt. Ho, Pham Van Dong, and Vo Nguyen Giap decided to launch "Gold Week", asking for contributions.[82]

In March 1946, he signed a treaty with Jean Sainteny of France, along with the VNQDD leader, Vu Hong Khanh.[83] Sainteny spoke of Ho as a "person of the highest caliber" whose "intelligence, vast culture, unbelievable energy, and total unselfishness had earned him unparalleled prestige and popularity in the eyes of his people."[84] A variety of sources speak of Ho's respect and regard for Sainteny.

Of the agreement, Ho said "I am not happy about it, for basically it is you that has won." Sainteny felt Ho was sincere in knowing he could not have everything at once; "this had been his plan for thirty-five years, he knew how to wait a little longer." Under a military annex, the occupation force would be limited to 15,000 Frenchmen and 10,000 Vietnamese, under French Command. [85] This agreement, however, was only under Sainteny's authority, and the French government never honored the provisions giving limited autonomy to the DRV. When details reached Washington, Ho's Communist ties were emphasized.[86]Nevertheless, the situation declined, until, in November, the French shelled Haiphong, killing an estimated 6,000 people. [87] The Viet Minh struck back in December; Ho, who was ill, fled. [88]

At approximately the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson directed U.S. personnel in Hanoi, "Keep in mind Ho's record as clear agent international communism." The Soviet Union, however, was not to recognize the DRV for several years. [89] The same guidance, however, observed "[French High Commissioner for Indochina] d’Argenlieu's usefulness impaired by outspoken dislike Vietnam officials and replacement perhaps desirable".[90]

As the U.S. Office of Strategic Services missions left Hanoi, their commander, MAJ Archimedes Patti, had personal disciussins with Ho and Giap. Patti, talking privately with Ho, asked him how he had decided Communism was the way,and he responded that he did not consider himself a true Communist, but a "national-socialist".[91] He had come to communism through meetings of anticolonialists, in Britain in 1913. at that point, he did not understand the differences among socialism, communism, trade unions, and even pollitical parties. At the time, Communism was by no means unified; there had been the Socialist Party, Bolshevik October Revolution, and Lenin's Third International.[92]

He objected to the U.S. considering him a puppet of Moscow. Rather than making him a hard-line Communist in American terms, he was repaying 15 years of training with party work. To the Truman Administration, the issue was not anticolonialism, but whether the Vietnamese were Soviet-dominated. Were Ho's organization supportive of Stalin, then U.S. policy would be to support his enemy, the french.[93] There was a brief period of increased negotiations between Thach and vice-consul James O'Sullivan in late April and early May, during which U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall tentatively approved discussions at a higher level. By March 7, however, Marshall withdrew permission, based on reports from American diplomats in China, as well as those that dealt with the Chinese consuls general in Hanoi and Saigon. The U.S. Ambassador to China, John L. Stuart, a Kuomintang supporter, said that the Chinese had given up territorial ambitions in Indochina, and were supporting French policy.[94]

In May 1947, the French sent Paul Mus to Ho, to carry a message of the French High Commissioner's conditions for a cease-fire and new meetings; Mus had no negotiating authority. [95]. From Ho's perspective, this was a demand for surrender, which they were not able to compel him with force. [96]. Ho responded, "There is no place in the French Union for cowards. I would be one were I to accept." [97]

By the fall of 1947, however, they tried military measures.

In 1948, however, U.S. State Department analysts estimated that the "Vietnamese Communists are not subservient to Moscow," and it had been the "French colonial press that had been strongly anti-American,...to approximating the official Moscow position."[98]

First Indochina War

In 1950, French Colonial Minister Marius Moutet had had Ho met at the airport as "President of the Vietnamese Government and a Socialist"; he was not termed a Communist until negotiations failed. The meetings at the Fontaineblea, in Paris, cancelled most of the March 6 agreement. The French had wanted d'Argenlieu to chair the meeting, but that was refused by the Vietnamese. Paul Revet, a Socialist, resigned from the delegation after two hours; he believed that the alternative French chairman, Max Andre, while a French Senator, had links with the Bank of Indochina that were a conflict of interest. [99] While Ho was present and active, he was not part of the delegation, which was headed by Pham Van Dong, although he was their guest on July 26. Negotiations ended on September 10, but Ho stayed briefly in Paris. Sainteny asked him to come back to Vietnam and help settle the situation but Ho stayed, asking Colonial Minister Marius Moutet, whom he knew, "Don't let me leave France like this. Arm me against those who are trying to outstrip me; you'll have no reason to regret it." He held a press conference on September 11, using the analogy of a dispute within a family, and called on U.S diplomats, reminding them of wartime cooperation. He also spoke with New York Times correspondent David Schoenbrun, predicting a war with the French. He continued to talk with Moutet and Sainteny, and signed a minimal modus vivendi on September 16, calling it his "death warrant". Finally leaving by ship on the 19th, he took a slow trip back, for which he said was good for his health, but later that he feared being attacked on the offered aircraft. [100]

Ho's group hoped for a looser arrangement, like the British Commonwealth coming into being if the Left won the upcoming French election. Ho, on November 8, reconvened the National Assembly and obtained an approval of what had been agreed. Ho formed a cabinet of 7 Communists, 2 Democrats, 1 Socialist, 1 VNQDD, and one Independent.[101]

On February 7, 1950, France ratified treaties that created the French Union, of the three Vietnamese regions, Laos, and Cambodia. On February 7, The U.K. and U.S. recognized Bao Dai as chief of state of Vietnam.[102] Ho concluded there was no chance of an agreement with France, and obtained recognition of the DRV from the Soviet Union and China. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson said the Soviet recognition "should remove any illusions as to the 'nationalist' nature of Ho Chi Minh's aims, and reveals Ho in his true colors as the mortal enemy of native independence in Indochina".[103]

The Two Vietnams

Ho remained active in leadership until his health declined and he became more of a symbol. Soon after the partition, he faced both Chinese urging, and internal pressure from more ideological colleagues such as Truong Chinh, for land reform as part of class struggle. In retrospect, it was a disaster, with peasant revolts and large-scale executions. Ho tried gradual restraint in 1955. His subsequent actions may hae been affected by Nikita Khruschev's denouncement of Josef Stalin in February 1956.

because I lacked a spirit of democracy, I didn’t listen and didn’t see, so we must now promote democracy. I accept responsibility in this time of trial. All the top leadership must listen, observe, think and act accordingly. This grievous lesson must be a lesson for us.[104]

By August, he said there had been errors and those who had been treated wrongly would be rehabilitated. At the Tenth Party Plenum in September, Truong Chinh and several of hs supporters were dismissed. In 1956-1957, Ho launched a "rectification of errors" campaign, releasing political prisoners. [105]

Ho took back the leadership, bypassing Vo Nguyen Giap whom, while popular with the people and next in the hierarchy, was a subject of jealousy by many in the leadership. Le Duan took on more responsibility as the Party's regional representative for the South. Ho apparently preferred the role of the elder statesman, and named Le Duan as the interim General Secretary in 1957; Le Duan then selected Le Duc Tho as his deputy for internal Party control, as head of the Central Committee's Organization Committee. Duiker speculates that Le Duan, a Southerner, did not have the power base of Giap, and also signaled reunification as a priority. After handing over operational authority, he returned to international socialist relations. In his writing, he made the public admission that he was Nguyen Ai Quoc. [106]

Key decisions about military takeover of the South were made in January 1959, with Ho cautioning against provoking an American response. Ho traveled to China and the Soviet Union in February, consulting with leadership although the exact subjects discussed are not known. In May, the Central Committee approved the operational decision to begin preparing intervention in the south, creating the 559th Transportation Group to construct what would become the Ho Chi Minh trail. Effectively becoming the chief diplomat, Ho again traveled to the Soviet Union and China in the summer.

At the Third National Congress, in September 1960, Ho explicitly stated reunification as a priority: "this Congress is the Congress on socialist reconstruction in North Vietnam and on the struggle for peaceful unification of the country." [107] That Congress also put Le Duan into the leadership role. [108] In December 1962, the Politburo passed a directive emphasizing military means (i.e., armed dau tranh). Le Duan's allies included Le Duc Tho and Gen. Nguyen Chi Thanh. Vo Nguyen Giap represented a different strategic faction. Le Duan even ridiculed Ho's reluctance to use militry means. [109]

Pham Van Dong, rather like Zhou Enlai in China, was less of an ideologue, concerned more with running a government. Neither Ho nor the various factions tended to regard him as a threat, as he was not interested becoming the highest national leader.

Late years and death

Ho reasserted himself, at the policy level, in March 1964, but never retook full power. [110]

Tension between North Vietnam and China was growing during the Vietnam War, and Ho had a role in reducing the tension both at the time, and even indirectly after his death. One of the conflicts involved Chinese vs. DRV views about the conditions for a negotiated settlement with the U.S. Duiker cites his position being expressed to the Politburo, a position requiring an unconditional end to U.S. bombing as a precondition to any negotiation.[111] In October 1966, he elaborated that the reason for his insistence on a bombing halt was that bombing interfered with the military solution for reunification with the South. [112]

Meeting with Pham Van Dong in April 1966, Mao Zedong apologized for the misbehavior of Red Guards in North Vietnam. Zhou En-Lai, however, asked Le Duan if Vietnam was concerned, as press reports suggested, that China was trying to dominate Vietnam; Vietnam would withdraw its 100,000-plus personnel if deired. Le Duan thanked China, but also asked China to respect Hanoi's relationship with Moscow, as a matter of pragmatism. Ho eventually met with Zhou and Deng Xiaoping, wh claimed that the forces in China, on the Vietnamese border, were to protect against U.S. invasion. [113] While Ho reduced the tension, it was to return after his death, in the Third Indochina War. He addressed North Vietnam shortly before the Tet Offensive in January 1968, which was symbolically important to many in the People's Army of Viet Nam.

Ho died in 1969. [16] Le Duan used Ho's eulogy as a statement about the active Sino-Soviet border conflict.

I am very proud to see the growth of the international communist and workers movement, but very grieved to see the dissensions between the fraternal parties. I wish that our party do its best to contribute effectively to the restoration of unity among the fraternal parties based on Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, in a way consonant with the requirements of heart and reason.[114]

Le Duan pledged to "constantly enhance Ho's pure internationalist sentiments."[115]

While he had not wanted a state funeral or elaborate memorials, memorials and artwork are common themes. [116] This is not necessarily surprising in a culture with widespread traditions of ancestor veneration and memory of cultural heroes two millennia later, as with the Trung Sisters.


  1. William J. Duiker (2000), Ho Chi Minh: a Life, Hyperion, ISBN 0786863870, pp. 123-126
  2. Patti, Archimedes L. A. (1980). Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America's Albatross. University of California Press. , pp. 373-374
  3. V. I. Lenin (June 5, 1920), Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions For The Second Congress Of The Communist International
  4. Michael Lind (1999), Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict, The Free Press, p. xi
  5. Marilyn Blatt Young (1991), The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990, HarperCollins, ISBN 0060921072, p. 21
  6. Sophie Quinn-Judge (2002), Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years, 1919-1941, University of California Press, ISBN 0520235339
  7. Thai Quang Trung, Collective Leadership and Factionalism, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1984, cited by Quinn-Judge, p. 2
  8. For example, a child was given a "milk name" at birth, but a new name on entering adolescence, typically at age 11. The latter name reflected the parents' aspirations for the child. Ho's milk name was Nguyen Sinh Cung. See Duiker, pp. 17-18
  9. Duiker, pp. 22-23; See personal names for his political and literary aliases.
  10. but also as Nguyen Sinh Huy
  11. also known as Hoan Xuan Duong or simply as Master Duong.
  12. Duiker, pp. 17-18
  13. Charles E. Kirkpatrick (February 1990), "Ho Chi Minh: North Vietnam Leader", Vietnam Magazine
  14. Duiker, pp. 50-51
  15. Ho Chi Minh, On Lynching And The Ku Klux Klan
  16. 16.0 16.1 Alden Whitman (September 4, 1969), "Ho Chi Minh, 79, Was Noted for Success in Blending Nationalism and Communism.", New York Times
  17. Richard Tames (2006), London: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195309537,, p. 75
  18. Duiker, p. 54
  19. Branko Lazitch and Milorad Drachkovitcz, Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern, Hoover Institution Press, 1970, p. 150, cited by Quinn-Judge, p. 31
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Ronald J. Cima, ed. (December 1987), Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Movement, Vietnam: a country study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
  21. Arthur J. Dommen (2001), The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, Indiana University Press, ISBN 025333854p. 41
  22. Alexander Dallin and F. I. Firsov, ed. (2000), Dimitrov and Stalin 1934–1943: Letters from the Soviet Archives, Yale University Press, p. 6
  23. Quinn-Judge, pp. 51-52
  24. Jean Lacoutre, Ho Chi Minh, Penguin, 1968, p. 33, cited by Quinn-Judge, p. 2
  25. Patti, p. 508
  26. Duiker, pp. 77-81}}
  27. Rich Gibson, Ho Chi Minh (material from Wilfred Burchett's Ho Chi Minh: An Appreciation
  28. John T. McAlister Jr and Paul Mus (1970), The Vietnamese and their Revolution, Center for International Studies, Princeton University/Harper & Row,p. 141
  29. Jayne Werner (2008), Gender, Household and State in Post-Revolutionary Vietnam, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0415451744, p. 42. Werner states that this was published in Paris in 1925, but obviously had to have been written before then.
  30. Werner, p. 20
  31. Quinn-Judge, pp. 67-68
  32. Quinn-Judge, pp. 62-64
  33. Quinn-Judge, p. 55
  34. Duiker, p. 102
  35. Quinn-Judge, p. 2
  36. Canton in traditional English
  37. Quinn-Judge, p. 66
  38. Duiker, pp. 114-117
  39. Patti, p. 508
  40. Quinn-Judge, p. 79
  41. Duiker, pp. 123-124
  42. Ronald J. Cima, ed. (1987), Phan Boi Chau and the Rise of Nationalism, Vietnam: A Country Study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
  43. also known as Le Van Phan
  44. Duiker, p. 116
  45. Quinn-Judge, pp. 318-343
  46. Duiker, pp. 127-128
  47. Quinn-Judge, pp. 74-75
  48. Quinn-Judge, pp. 83-85
  49. Hakim Mirza (February 1944), "After Thoughts on Dissolution of the Comintern", Workers’ International News
  50. Quinn-Judge, p. 84
  51. Quinn-Judge, p. 89
  52. Quinn-Judge, pp. 101-103
  53. Duiker, pp. 145-153
  54. also known as Quoc Anh
  55. Duiker, pp. 158-159
  56. Duiker, p. 160
  57. Duiker, p. 162
  58. Ho Chi Minh (February 18, 1930), Appeal made on the occasion of the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party, vol. Ho Chi Minh selected writings, Part one (1920-1945), Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee
  59. Duiker, p. 192
  60. Duiker, p. 187
  61. Ho Chi Minh (July 1939), The Party's line in the period of the Democratic Front (1936-1939), vol. Ho Chi Minh selected writings, Part one (1920-1945), Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee
  62. Duiker, pp. 236-238
  63. Hammer, Ellen J. (1955), The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955: Vietnam and the French Experience, Stanford University Press, p. 95-96
  64. Leulliot, Nowfel & Danny O'Hara, The Tiger and the Elephant: Viet Minh Strategy and Tactics
  65. Thomas Hodgkin (1981), Vietnam, the Revolutionary Path
  66. Patti, p. 524
  67. Dreamvietnam Travel, ATK
  68. Patti, pp. 54-55
  69. Patti, p. 63
  70. Young, p. 10
  71. Ho Chi Minh (December 1944), Instructions for the setting up of the armed propaganda brigade for the liberation of Viet Nam, vol. Ho Chi Minh selected writings, Part one (1920-1945), Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee
  72. Hammer, pp. 97-98
  73. Ho Chi Minh (August 1945), Appeal for General Insurrection, vol. Ho Chi Minh selected writings, Part one (1920-1945), Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee
  74. Duiker, pp. 314-316
  75. Patti, pp. 199-203
  76. Duiker, p. 319
  77. Patti, pp. 207-210
  78. Joseph Buttinger, A Dragon Embattled, vol 1, Praeger 1967; quoted in Lind, pp. 241 and 304
  79. Moyar, Mark (2006), Triumph Forsaken, Cambridge University Press, p. 18
  80. Loren Goldner, "The Anti-Colonialist Movement in Vietnam", New Politics Summer 1967; quoted in Lind, pp. 241 and 304
  81. Patti, pp. 250-253
  82. Patti, pp.337-339
  83. Bulletin Hebdomada;re Ministere de la France d'Outremer, no. 67 (March 18, 1946) translated in Harold R. Isaacs (ed.), New Cycle in Asia (1947), pp. 161-162 (March 1946), Agreement on the Independence of Vietnam
  84. Young, p. 16 [1]
  85. Hammer, p. 153
  86. Patti, p. 382
  87. Hammer, p. 183
  88. Karnow, Stanley (1983), Vietnam, a History, Viking Press, p. 157
  89. Patti, p. 382
  90. , Chapter 2, ""U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954" Section 1, pp. 53-75, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1
  91. There is no indication he meant the Nazi usage
  92. Patti, p. 372-373
  93. Mark Bradley (1993), An Improbable Opportunity: America and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam's 1947 Initiative, in Jayne S. Werner and Luu Doan Huynh, The Vietnam War: American and Vietnamese Perspective, M.E. Sharpe, Bradley, pp 3-4
  94. Bradley, pp. 11-12
  95. McAlister & Mus, pp. 20-21
  96. , Chapter 2, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954" Section 1, pp. 75-107, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1
  97. McAlister & Mus, p. 23
  98. Karnow, p. 171
  99. Hammer, p. 165-167
  100. Duiker, pp. 375-376
  101. Patti, pp. 382-383
  102. Hammer, p. 270
  103. Karnow, p. 175
  104. Duiker, p. 485
  105. Neil L. Jamieson (1995), Understanding Vietnam, University of California Press, ISBN 0520201574, p. 262
  106. Duiker, pp. 499-500
  107. U.S. Joint Publications Research Service (9 July 1970), New Ho Chi Minh Biography.Translation of Chu tich Ho Chi Minh, serialized in Nhan Dan, May 17, 18, 20, and 21, 1970., vol. Translations on North Vietnam, No. 751. JPRS 50916., p. 61
  108. Duiker, pp. 523-524
  109. Duiker, pp. 535-537
  110. Duiker, p. 539
  111. Politburo meetings of December 1965, Ho Chi Minh bien nien tieu su [A chronological history of Ho Chi Minh]], Thong tin Ly Luan [National Political Publishing House], 1992, Volume 9, pp. 338-363; cited in Duiker, p. 667
  112. Politburo meeting of October 18, 1966, Ho Chi Minh bien nien tieu su [A chronological history of Ho Chi Minh]], Thong tin Ly Luan [National Political Publishing House], 1992, Volume 9, pp. 485-486; cited in Duiker, p. 667
  113. Duiker, pp. 549-550
  114. Ho's testament as read by Le Duan, quoted by Wich
  115. Richard Wich (1980), Sino-Soviet Crisis Politics: A Study of Political Change and Communication, Harvard University Asia Center, ISBN 0674809351
  116. Christophe Robert (1998), Ho Chi Minh's Life after Death