Communist Review - On February 3rd 2023 the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) will celebrate it’s 93rd anniversary. This anniversary comes at an important time in Vietnam as the country is making magnificent efforts in expanding it’s foreign relations, improving the living standards of the people, protecting the environment, recovering from the pandemic and further developing the economy.
93 years ago, this all began in a small office in Hong Kong but the history goes back even deeper. On this the 93rd anniversary of the party we know today as the CPV, let us reflect on the legacy of the CPV, on the achievements, and on how the party came to be in celebration of not only the Vietnamese revolution but the continued efforts of the working class around the world in the fight for a better future, free of exploitation, free of oppression and for peace, and communism.
In this article, I will firstly discuss the founding of the party and Hồ Chí Minh’s (Uncle Hồ) journey in applying Marxism-Leninism to Vietnamese material conditions, in the second part I shall discuss the pre-1930 (pre-founding of the CPV) revolutionary currents, how they failed and what ideological backgrounds they had. In part three I will discuss the years from the Democratic Front to the French colonialists defeat at Điện Biên Phủ, In part four I will discuss the American war and reconstruction, and finally I will conclude in part five with an analysis of Vietnam today. It should be noted that due to the depth of each of these events it would be impossible to offer an exhaustive account of everything that happened in a single year let alone compiling the last 93 years into an article, I therefore chose to write this article with what I believe to be some of the most important or often ignored factors.
So with this in mind how did the CPV come into existence? How did Uncle Hồ come across Marxism?
Party Roots (Uncle Hồ’s Journeys and the Development of a United Party)
Although the CPV as we know it came into being 93 years ago, it should be noted that the roots of the party go back further than 1930. Before this period Uncle Hồ and many other important figures would be engaging in revolutionary activities to free their country from the yolk of French colonialism, and then later on in the 1920’s because of the work of Uncle Hồ, utilise a Marxist-Leninist analysis in creating the path to free the Vietnamese people not just from colonialism, but also from imperialism, and to create a unified, peaceful and socialist country. To begin a proper assessment of the CPV’s long and great history would be incomplete without an analysis of it’s main founder and the leader to which the party gains a unique perspective of Marxism-Leninism adapted to Vietnamese historical/material conditions, Uncle Hồ.
Uncle Hồ would leave Vietnam in 1911 travelling to various countries witnessing similar exploitation and colonial domination of working class and colonised peoples wherever he went, whether that be in the United States, in France (Where he helped found the French Communist Party), Germany, Senegal, Tunisia or the Congo (1). In 1919 already a member of the French Socialist Party, Uncle Hồ would become a part of the debate on the forming of the Third International whereby he was inspired by Lenin’s ‘Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions’ and voted for the French Socialist Party to join the Third International, his often misquoted famous quote comes from this period:
“At first, patriotism not yet communism, led me to have confidence in Lenin and in the Third International. Step by step along with the struggle, by studying Marxism-Leninism parallel with participation in practical activities, I gradually came upon the fact that only socialism and communism can liberate from slavery the oppressed nations and working people throughout the world” (2).
We can see here in this quote Uncle Hồ’s thought progression. Elsewhere in the article he writes about how he was earlier involved in politics in the French Socialist Party but at times did not understand yet fully some aspects of Marxism (3). Yet as he said in the above quote, by immersing himself in study and practical activities he saw that socialism and communism was the path to free not only the Vietnamese people but the proletariat the world over. Leninism Uncle Hồ described, was a compass, a sun which illuminated the path towards victory, to socialism and communism (4). As communists this is an important message, one which we can see emulated in the quote “Learning is a lifelong continuous process.” At this point we can say that Marxism-Leninism erupting onto the world stage after the October revolution had started to show what was possible, Uncle Hồ was among some of the very first people to understand this truly, and apply it for the first time to Vietnamese material conditions.
Uncle Hồ would later travel to the Soviet Union witnessing the achievements of the young newly formed Socialist state such as the University of the Toilers of the East, Soviet democracy and racial equality (5). Indeed Soviet democracy as witnessed and recounted by Uncle Hồ in his letters is still inspiring today, especially when applied to the educational setting, where practical as well as theoretical activities were on the curriculum and students had a voice in how their university operated (6).
Later in China after being an advisor for Mikhail Borodin whom was the Soviet adviser to the Kuomintang, Uncle Hồ would go to found the Vietnamese League of Revolutionary Youth with comrades Lê Hồng Phong, Hồ Tùng Mậu and other comrades in 1925 to conduct political training classes of Vietnamese Youth. This league would form the basis of the party, and would produce propaganda. This wa until 1927 when the Kuomintang under the leadership of Chiang-Kai Shek started to mercilessly repress all communists (7). The league once it was established however, produced many comrades who would go on to successfully take part in agitation and propaganda work in Vietnam, eventually taking part in the revolution, as Lê Duẩn states:
“Comrade Nguyễn Ái Quốc founded the ‘Association of Revolutionary Vietnamese Youth,’ introduced the ideas of Marxism-Leninism in the Vietnamese workers’ and patriotic movements, and undertook the ideological, political and organisational preparations for the creation of a vanguard party of the Vietnamese working class” (8).
After this Uncle Hồ would flee to Hong Kong. During his time in China he would also help found the ‘Union of Oppressed Asian Peoples’ (9) a union which aimed to bring together and promote the struggles of the oppressed peoples of Asia, this organisation would last until 1936 when it was merged with other organisations but was an essential moment in the struggle of socialism and anti-colonialism in Asia. When he arrived in Hong Kong Uncle Hồ was interrogated by British police and given 24 hours to leave the country, which then led to him going to Shanghai in disguise, then the Soviet Union, Germany, Paris, participating in conferences against imperialism, meeting other communists such as Sen Katayama, and writing articles. He then decided to return to Vietnam leading him on a journey through Switzerland, Italy (on the way being interrogated by Mussolini’s secret police where his alias managed to allow him to carry on his journey back to Vietnam) and Thailand (10). However whilst in Thailand Uncle Hồ learned that the Vietnamese League of Revolutionary Youth were going to split into three different communist parties upon which Uncle Hồ decided that he quickly needed to ensure that this not happen, so he ventured back to Hong Kong inviting representatives of the three factions where they eventually decided upon the creation of a singular communist party which would later become what we know today as the CPV, and at that time in the 1930’s known as the Communist Party of Indochina (11). Later in 1954 the Workers Party of Vietnam would be established. On February 18th 1930 Uncle Hồ would issue an appeal in the wake of the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party in which he described how the French colonialists had brutally exploited the Vietnamese people, how imperialist contradictions caused the first world war leading to increased exploitation of France’s colonies, how despite French repression the Vietnamese people are united and their movement is ‘grown stronger with each passing day’ (12) at the end of his appeal he stated firmly that:
“The Indochinese Communist Party has been founded It is the party of the working class. It will help the proletariat lead the revolution waged for the sake of all oppressed and exploited people. From now on we must join the party, help it and follow it...” (13).
We can see by analysing Uncle Hồ’s journey that his knowledge had created a lodestar for the Vietnamese people. His travel educated him on the situation of the proletariat in various countries, and allowed him to witness first hand colonialist exploitation outside of Vietnam as well as the horrific conditions of the working class of each country. As comrade Trường Chinh stated:
“In capitalist countries, what struck him most was the fact that a minority of capitalists could live parasitically from their exploitation of the workers and other toiling people, and live a life of luxury and debauchery while the majority of the people, the labourers, worked hard but lived in want and hardship” (14).
Uncle Hồ step by step through theoretical and practical experience developed a profound analysis of Vietnamese material conditions. His flexible approach and his adaptation of Marxism-Leninism for these conditions led to the creation of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement on the basis of the leadership of the working class with the Communist Parties role as vanguard, constantly emphasising the people as the roots. His analysis led to a developed path for national liberation, socialism, and communism by the peoples national democratic revolution, the overthrow of colonialism and imperialism, bringing the land back to the people, and establishing the basis for socialist construction.
Revolutionary Currents pre-1930
Whilst Uncle Hồ was engaging in these activities his propaganda and the members of the Vietnamese Revolutionary League of Youth would carry out activities in Vietnam and revolutionaries would organise workplaces, educate themselves, produce propaganda. A few to note include:
- In 1928 the 7th General Secretary of the CPV Lê Duẩn would join the Vietnamese Revolutionary League of Youth after coming into contact with revolutionary activity through his work in the railways.
- Lê Hồng Phong the 2nd General Secretary of the CPV (at that time the Indochinese Communist Party) would further his studies both practical and theoretical in the Soviet Union and in China from 1926 until 1930 becoming a member of the Soviet Red Army and a member of the Communist Party of China.
- Nguyễn Văn Cừ the 4th General Secretary of the CPV (Then Indochinese Communist Party) joined the Vietnamese League of Revolutionary Youth in 1927.
- Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, a founder of a predecessor organisation to the CPV the Tân Việt Revolutionary Party, which split into two tendencies left and right, joined the Vietnamese League of Revolutionary Youth upon the merger of the left tendency with the organisation. She also engaged in revolutionary activities in secret supported by her mother and father before founding or becoming a member of an organisation.
In the 1920’s the patriotic movements which were of mixed success in the past against the French colonists were gaining more momentum, as were the Vietnamese proletariat as this anti-colonial patriotic movement combined with the introduction of an analysis of Marxism-Leninism to Vietnamese material conditions by Uncle Hồ and others, led to serious social movements in Vietnam. Already in the 1920’s workers and peasants in Vietnam were offering resistance to the French colonialists as Lê Duẩn stated:
“In the 1920’s the Vietnamese working class emerged in the political arena and launched a comprehensive active struggle in mines, enterprises and plantations in the north, centre and south of the country for giving the people basic living freedom and democratic rights, and against imperialism. The struggle waged by the working class and the tempestuous actions mounted by the peasantry against taxation, high land lease payments and cruel oppression, and the revolutionary activities of the patriotic intelligentsia formed the powerful wave of the national-democratic movement for a new life and for new ideals” (15).
All this meant that as soon as 1930, revolutions to oust the French were taking place under direct support from the party. The Nghệ-Tĩnh soviets which lasted from 1930-31 whereby workers and peasants set up soviets establishing an independent and fair system of local governance in captured areas and redistribution of wealth and land. This movement was however eventually ruthlessly suppressed via the colonialists starving, imprisoning and executing those who had took part in it, burning down houses and gunning down/bombing crowds of people to disperse them.
Before this we must also realise that although not explicitly Marxist-Leninist, many movements were set up to oust the French colonialists from Vietnam, some royalist, some nationalist, examples are the Hương Khê uprising, the Royalist movement in the early stages of French colonialism (16), the Đông Du Movement and the Yên Thế movements (17). These movements stemmed from two chief conflicts, first, the conflict between the peasantry and the landlord class under feudalism, and secondly the conflict between the Vietnamese people the colonisers. (If we analyse many of Uncle Hồ’s early works we can see a constant analysis of these conflicts). However, these would all fail as they did not have a correct analysis of the material conditions of Vietnam and they lacked a proper direction, a proper analysis and theoretical basis. As a result many of these revolutions resulted in mass French colonial repressions in their wake and many of the revolutionaries in these movements would flee to Laos and later return to Vietnam after independence (18).
Anti-Fascist Resistance, Declaration of Independence to the American War
In the following years World War Two would break out and Japan would seize control of French Indochina, in response the party created the Broad Democratic National Front to oust the Japanese fascists and unite the people, Uncle Hồ realised that with the French weakened and the Japanese being fought by the Chinese, and others the Vietnamese people could seize the opportunity to achieve independence stating:
“Now the opportunity has come for our liberation. France itself is unable to help the French colonialists rule over our country. As for the Japanese, on the one hand bogged down in China, on the other, hampered by the British and American forces, they certainly cannot use all their strength against us. If our entire people are solidly united we can certainly get the better of the best trained armies of the French and the Japanese” (19).
In 1945 this would be successful and on September the 2nd Uncle Hồ would read the declaration of independence proclaiming, “Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence and in fact has become a free and independent country” (20) This independence would see immediate campaigns to fight illiteracy and famine and to initiate construction projects by the newly founded government under the leadership of the party. This independence however would be disrupted as the French colonialists again tried to seize Vietnam as the Kaysone Phomvihane wrote when analysing the events of 1945 in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia:“But soon the French colonialists, enlisting the support of American and British imperialists, once more invaded Laos, as well as Vietnam and Kampuchea” (21). Once again the Vietnamese people had to struggle against the French colonialists who were backed by the US government (22), until the colonialists were defeated them resoundingly at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, elsewhere in Laos they were also defeated in Phongsaly and in parts of Luang Prabang the attacks coinciding to deal big damage to the colonial forces (23).
After the French colonialists suffered a resounding defeat the countries would go on to sign the Geneva agreements which would recognise the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, Vietnam was agreed to be temporarily separated into North and South Vietnam, this temporary split however would become painfully backed by the US and other states as a form of permanent separation, the US started to funnel, equipment, military officers and resources the the South of the country, nationwide elections were to be held on reunification, however the US and it’s puppet state declined to follow the Geneva conferences decisions and instead created numerous excuses as to why such elections could not happen, meanwhile building the South up militarily. The real reason was clear, according to the author and journalist Felix Greene:
“The reason why the U.S. refused to allow elections was abundantly clear. No one who knew the conditions in Vietnam was in any doubt of that, if elections were held, Hồ Chí Minh would have been elected by an overwhelming majority of the people” (24).
Indeed President Eisenhower in his memoirs stated the exact same thing. With this partition being enforced by the US and it’s allies as permanent, the Vietnamese people would once again have to struggle for their independence and freedom, but this time not from the French but from the US and it’s allies.
The American War and Post-War Reconstruction
The US war in Vietnam is well known though often the stories of the civilians whom were victims of this war are constantly ignored in popular media in the US, UK and other countries. Nonetheless everyone agrees that it was a horrible conflict, where many many people suffered. When the words agent orange or Mỹ Lai are mentioned images are conjured in peoples heads of the horror inflicted on the Vietnamese people in this period, yet these atrocities were only the most reported and well known, countless other atrocities were committed of which many people do not know such as the bombing of hospitals, places of worship and schools, brutal torture of prisoners and the use of weapons such as hamburger and pineapple bombs. Suffice to say when Vietnam was finally liberated in 1975, two years after the momentous Paris Peace Accords were signed the newly established government led by the CPV had to deal with a country that had fought the French colonialists, Japanese Fascists and American Imperialists almost consecutively one after the other. It was estimated that one third of the population needed rehousing and half of forestry was decimated (25), moreover as an article in the Scientific American noted due to the immense amount of bombs dropped on Vietnam mosquitoes carrying disease were more common, and the nature and wildlife in Vietnam suffered an immense amount of damage (26). However despite all these hardships one thing was now clear Vietnam would at last be an independent, unified, peaceful and democratic nation. Vietnam was on a brighter path led by the CPV a party which puts the people first.
In the following years peace would again be disrupted as the Cambodian war would again cause difficulties for the Vietnamese people, however under the leadership of the party and with the heroism of the Vietnamese and Cambodian people, Cambodia would be freed from it’s tyranny. Vietnam would continue rebuilding despite it’s pressures of war, embargoes and sanctions, it would heal the country, reclaiming land, providing housing, transport, education, and healthcare for the people. Vietnam would move from success to success especially after the introduction of Đổi Mới in the 1980’s.
Vietnam in 2023
Vietnam is, under the leadership of the party, improving it’s economy year upon year, even when international pandemics hit, successfully taking care of the environment through it’s electrification of public transport, efforts by the Youth Union in tree planting and in its use of renewable energy, making it last year the 10th largest solar generating country in the world (27). Vietnam is a peaceful country which exhibits a great friendship with the people of the world. We can see this spirit of international friendship and diplomacy through its efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic to ship masks to other countries, we can see it through Vietnam’s contributions on the multilateral stage through it’s participation and leadership roles in ASEAN, the UN, APEC and other organisations. Leadership include, it’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the term 2023-2025, the Vice Presidency of the UN General Assembly Session 77 and being on the Committee of Inter-Government of the 2003 UN Convention for the Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO for the term 2022-2026. General Secretary of the CPV Nguyễn Phú Trọng states concerning foreign relations:
“At present Vietnam has been promoting the renovation work, the ever more intensive, extensive and effective foreign relations and international integration; the prestige and position of Vietnam in the international arena have been constantly improved. This is the fruit of the correct and creative application and development of the Hồ Chí Minh diplomatic thought and the correct foreign relations line of the Party and State of Vietnam” (28).
Vietnam is a thriving socialist republic that puts it’s people at the heart of governance, fighting corruption, involving the people in every step of democracy, and exhibiting outstanding labour regulations. Lastly Vietnam is developing on the path to socialism, all of the above shows that Vietnam is progressing steadily building socialism. General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng highlights in his 2021 article ‘Some Theoretical and Practical Issues on Socialism and the Path Towards Socialism in Vietnam’ that the characteristic features of capitalism have led to environmental destruction, massive wealth disparity, crises after crises, imperialism, and the control of the capitalist class over the whole of society (29), whereas in Vietnam we can see the exact opposite of these things we can see:
“A society in which development is truly for humans, not for exploitation and dehumanisation for the sake of profit… Economic development accompanied by social progress and equality, not an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor or greater social inequality… A society of compassion, solidarity and mutual assistance towards progressive and humanistic values… sustainable development in harmony with nature… a political system where power truly belongs to the people, is enforced by the people, and serves the people” (30).
These values are the values of socialism, the values of the CPV, and the path which the party and people of Vietnam in have chosen (31).
So on this 93rd anniversary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, let us reflect on the enormous success of the party and people, the history and struggle, let us look at Vietnam’s inspiring work in all fields and ourselves try to learn from that inspiring example and build a better future along the lines of socialism, peace and democracy.
(1) Commission for Research on the Party History: The Man Who Made A Nation: Ho Chi Minh, The Gioi Publishers, 1997, p. 11 - 21
(2) Hồ Chí Minh: “The Path Which Led Me to Leninism”, Hồ Chí Minh Selected Writings: 1920 - 1969, Hà Nội Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1973, p. 92
(3) Ibid, p. 250
(4) Ibid, p. 252
(5) Hồ Chí Minh: “The USSR and the Colonial Peoples”, Selected Works of Hồ Chí Minh: Volume I, Paris, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 2021, pp. 166 - 169
(6) Ibid, p. 68
(7) Hồ Chí Minh: Stories Told on the Trail, The Gioi Publishers, 2009, p. 57
(8) Lê Duẩn: “In the Struggle for National and Social Liberation”, Kommunist, USSR Report No. 4, United States of America, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1980, pp. 97 - 113
(9) Hồ Chí Minh: Stories Told on the Trail, The Gioi Publishers, 2009, pp. 55
(10) Ibid, pp. 64 - 71
(11) Võ Nguyên Giáp: Hồ Chí Minh Thought and the Revolutionary Path of Việt Nam, The Gioi Publishers, pp. 20 - 29
(12) Hồ Chí Minh: “Appeal Made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party”, Hồ Chí Minh Selected Writings: 1920-1969, Ha Noi Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1973, p. 40
(13) Ibid, p. 41
(14) Trường Chinh: President Hồ Chí Minh Beloved Leader of the Vietnamese People, Ha Noi Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1966, p. 11
(15) Lê Duẩn: “In the Struggle for National and Social Liberation”, Kommunist, USSR Report No. 4, United States of America, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1980, pp. 97 - 113
(15) Vu Thi Van Anh: “Causes and Main Vietnamese Exoduses to Laos”, Migration and Change in the Vietnamese Way of Life: An Anthropological Introduction to the Vietnamese Community in Laos, The Gioi Publishers, 2008, p. 47
(16) Commission for Research on the Party History, The Man Who Made A Nation: Ho Chi Minh, The Gioi Publishers, 1997, p. 8
(17) Vu Thi Van Anh: “Causes and Main Vietnamese Exoduses to Laos”, Migration and Change in the Vietnamese Way of Life: An Anthropological Introduction to the Vietnamese Community in Laos, The Gioi Publishers, 2008, pp. 35 - 61
(18) Hồ Chí Minh: “Letter From Abroad”, Hồ Chí Minh Selected Writings: 1920 - 1969, Ha Noi Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1973, p. 45
(19) Hồ Chí Minh: “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam”, Hồ Chí Minh Selected Writings: 1920 - 1969, Ha Noi Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1973, p. 56
(20) Kaysone Phomvihane: Revolution in Laos: Practice and Prospects, p. 15
(21) Felix Greene: Vietnam! Vietnam!, California, Fulton Publishing Company, 1966, p. 126
(22) Kaysone Phomvihane: Revolution in Laos: Practice and Prospects, p. 18
(23) Felix Greene: Vietnam! Vietnam!, Fulton Publishing Company, 1966, p. 132
(24) Nguyễn Khắc Viện: Vietnam ‘78, Ha Noi Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1978), p. 50
(25) Alain Jaubert: “Zapping the Viet Cong by Computer”, New Scientist, London, New Scientist, 1972, p. 685
(26) Vietnam Plus: “Vietnam Among World’s Top 10 for Solar Power Output”, Vietnam Plus, Vietnam, October 21st 2022
(27) Nguyễn Phú Trọng: “Preface”, Hồ Chí Minh: Symbol of Peace, Friendship Between Vietnam and the World, Ha Noi National Political Publishing House, 2020, p. 7
(28) Nguyễn Phú Trọng: “Some Theoretical and Practical Issues on Socialism and the Path Towards Socialism in Vietnam”, Communist Review, November 10th 2021
(30) Nguyễn Phú Trọng: “Some Theoretical and Practical Issues on Socialism and the Path Towards Socialism in Vietnam”, Ibid
(31) Nguyễn Phú Trọng: “Some Theoretical and Practical Issues on Socialism and the Path Towards Socialism in Vietnam”, Ibid