“It is difficult to imagine the Vietnamese revolution without the active participation of Ho Chi Minh. Although the current historical fashion emphasizes the importance of great underlying social forces in unleashing the major events of our time, it remains clear that in many instances, such as the Bolshevik revolution and the Chinese Civil War, the role of the individual can sometimes be paramount. Such was the case in Vietnam. Not only was Ho the founder of his party and later the president of the country, but he was its chief strategist and its most inspiring symbol. A talented organizer as well as astute strategist and a charismatic leader, Ho Chi Minh’s image was part Lenin and part Gandhi, with perhaps a dash of Confucius. It was a dynamic combination. While the Vietnamese war of national liberation is an ineluctable fact that transcends the fate of individual human beings, without his presence it would have been a far different affair, with far different consequences” (2000:576).
The underlying social forces to which Duiker refers indeed are present. Charismatic leaders do not act in a social vacuum. When social structures contradict cultural values, and when the objective conditions for social movement exist, social movements emerge. These underlying social conditions have been present in the modern world-system since the last decades of the eighteenth century: the ideology of the world-system has proclaimed democratic values, but it has maintained colonial and neocolonial structures that negate democratic rights; and among the colonized and neocolonized, the human and material resources for the organization of social movements have been present. But the social movements have been full of contradictions and confusions, which is to be expected, given the complex nature of social dynamics. The gift of the charismatic leader is to discern, in the midst of the confusions and contradictions, the correct way from the wrong path and to unify the movement on the basis of the correct direction, thus bringing the movement to a more advanced stage.
We in the societies of the North have gone down the path of cynicism. We distrust authority in any form, including charismatic authority. We doubt anyone’s capacity to discern the correct way from the wrong path, and we prefer self-expression to discipline. But let me mention an example. In the mass demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1969 in Washington, some demonstrators were dancing nude and smoking marijuana, a celebration that was recorded by television cameras. A celebration of this form was an error. The goal of the protest ought to have been the building of a sustained popular movement, and this would require bringing on board people of all ages and religious values, which cannot be accomplished with behavior that is insensitive to the values of many of the people. The goal ought to have been the political education of the people, focusing on the imperialist character of US foreign policy. If some felt the need to raise cultural issues pertaining to sexual mores and drug usage, the movement can arrange for such discussion, conducted responsibly in an appropriate context. But the movement at that historic moment lacked a charismatic leader who could discern the correct path and lead the movement in the correct direction, bringing it to a more advanced stage. The revolution of the 1960s did not succeed.
In revolutionary processes that succeed, we observe a charismatic leader, teaching and exhorting the people with respect to issues ranging from concrete strategies to grand theoretical analyses. In case of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh possessed the capacity to discern the correct path for the Vietnamese Revolution and to lead the people toward the fulfillment of its mission. Ho’s most important contribution was to adapt Marxism-Leninism to the colonial situation of French Indochina. He discerned that it was not a question of class exploitation versus national domination, and that there is a double axis of domination, in which both class exploitation and national domination are intertwined. Accordingly, liberation requires the transformation of both forms of domination. Unlike Marxism-Leninism, Ho was not suspicious of the peasantry, for he saw the revolutionary spontaneity of the peasant. But he recognized that the peasants needed organization and leadership, and he thus grasped the need for the formation of a vanguard political party composed of enlightened members of the various popular sectors of intellectuals, peasants, and workers. He understood that revolutionary steps could be taken only when national and international conditions are present, and he therefore paid careful attention to these conditions and was flexible in the implementation of the revolutionary program, often holding back militant members of the party who were anxious to proceed quickly. And although he led his people in two wars of national liberation against global powers, and although he never wavered in his commitment to the principles that made the wars necessary (namely, Vietnamese national independence and reunification), his search for a peaceful resolution was constant.
We will be looking at subsequent posts at the son of a Confucian scholar who was born in 1890 in the French protectorate of Annam with the name of Nguyen Sing Cung, who was given the name of Nguyen Tat Thanh (meaning “he who will succeed”) at age 11 by his father, who took the name Nguyen Ai Quoc ( “Nguyen the Patriot”) at the age of 29 in Paris, and who became known to the world as Ho Chi Minh (“He Who Enlightens”).
Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Vietnam, Confucian scholars, Vietnamese nationalism, Ho Chi Minh