Ho Chi Minh
Article abstract: Ho was the chief architect, founder, and leader of the Indochinese Communist Party (1930), an organizer of the Viet Minh (1941), and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 1945 until his death. An ardent proponent of his country’s independence, Ho was recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest anticolonial revolutionaries and most influential Communist leaders.
Ho Chi Minh was a native of the village of Kim Lein, in the province of Nghe An, in central Vietnam (then part of French Indochina), an area long noted for its poverty, rebellious spirit, antiforeign leaders, and anticolonial activity. He was originally named Nguyen Sinh Cung and called by several others, before adopting the name Ho Chi Minh in the early 1940’s. Ho’s father, Nguyen Sinh Sac (sometimes Nguyen Sinh Huy), was a Mandarin and man of letters like his father before him. Nguyen Sinh Sac was dismissed from his civil service post for anti-French activities and nationalist leanings. Ho’s mother, Hoang Thi Loan, was the eldest daughter of a village scholar with whom Ho’s father studied as a young man.
Ho was the youngest of three surviving children. Like both his brother, Khiem, and his sister, Thanh, Ho espoused anticolonial ideas in his youth. He was sent initially to a public school to study the Vietnamese and French languages in addition to Chinese ideograms. At the age of nine, Ho, his siblings, and his mother, who had been charged with stealing French weapons for rebels, fled to Hue, the imperial city. Ho’s father had left for Saigon, where he earned a meager living by practicing Oriental medicine.
Ho’s stay in Hue was short. His mother died suddenly, and the young boy (age ten) found himself back in Kim Lien. Also, at age ten, according to custom, Ho’s birth name was changed to Nguyen That Thanh (Nguyen who is destined to succeed). At age fifteen, Ho started attending Quoc Hoc Secondary School studying Quoc Ngu (the romanized form of Vietnamese) and French. The school was then considered the best in the country. While there, he was involved in some insurrectional movements that swept across central Vietnam in 1908. After four troubled and disappointing years of study, Ho headed southward to the town of Phan Tiet, where he taught French and Vietnamese at an elementary school.
After several months Ho went to Saigon, was enrolled in a vocational school, and then decided to leave Vietnam after the first Chinese Revolution broke out in October of 1911. Under the name of Ba, he took work on a French steamer. He was a seaman for more than three years, visiting ports in France, Spain, North Africa, and the United States. At the outset of World War I, Ho gave up his seafaring career and took up residence in London. In 1917, he moved yet again. When he set foot on French soil toward the end of World War I, he saw his future mapped out before him.
Ho’s life was dedicated to improving conditions in his own country, working to force colonial regimes to introduce reform, and promoting revolution (ultimately worldwide revolution) against imperialism. Adopting the new name of Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the patriot) in Paris, Ho immediately took up the struggle for the political rights of the Vietnamese people, a struggle which lasted five decades. During the six years Ho spent in France (1917-1923), he became an active socialist, and then a communist. In 1919, he organized a group of Vietnamese living in France and, with others, drafted an eight-point petition addressed to the Versailles Peace Conference that demanded that the Vietnamese people be given legal equality with the French colonials; freedom of assembly, press, speech, and emigration; better educational facilities; and permanent Indochinese representation in the French parliament. He also requested a general amnesty for political detainees. There was, in the modest document, no explicit mention of independence or of self-determination.
Because the petition brought no response, except to make Ho a hero among certain Vietnamese, he took more drastic measures. In 1920, he became a founding member of the French Communist Party. He then began to denounce the evils of British and French colonialism in his new French journal, Le Paria (the outcast). The journal was the voice of the Intercolonial Union founded in 1921 to acquaint the public with the problems of the colonial people. When Ho went to Moscow at the end of 1923, his friends considered him a thoroughgoing revolutionary. He participated in revolutionary and anti-imperial organizations and took an active part in the Fifth World Congress of the Communist International. Under the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc, Ho was the first of a series of Vietnamese revolutionaries to attend Moscow University for Oriental Workers, studying political theory. Although throughout his life Ho considered theory less important than revolutionary practice, he felt at home at the university as his emotional ties with the Soviet Communists grew stronger.
In December, 1924, Ho’s first visit to Russia ended when he departed for the southern Chinese port of Canton. This area was a hotbed of agitation and a center of Vietnamese nationalist activities. There he organized the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association known as the Thanh Nien. Almost all of its members had been exiled from Indochina because of anticolonial beliefs and actions against the French. Canton became the first real home of organized Indochinese nationalism.
After expulsion from China at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek, Ho sought refuge in the Soviet Union. In 1928, he was off again to Brussels, Paris, and finally Siam (Thailand), where he spent two years as the Southeast Asian representative of the Communist International Organization. In February of 1930, Ho was brought back from Siam to Hong Kong to preside over the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party. Ho’s achievement was his unification of three separate Communist groups into one organization. Ho, still using the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc, summarized and published the results of his and others’ efforts by issuing a call for support of the new Communist Party among the workers, peasants, soldiers, youth, and students of Vietnam. This document also contained Ho’s first demand for the complete political independence of Indochina.
In the summer of 1930 there occurred the first mass revolutionary uprising in Vietnam brought about by the peasants (something Ho had advocated earlier). It followed on the heels of a less successful rebellion in February of 1930 and originated in the provinces of Ha Tinh and Nghe An (where Ho was born). The French reacted brutally, executing without trial some seven hundred anticolonials and torturing others. Though Ho was outside the country during the...
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