Thus, Ho Chi Minh possessed the social foundation for a synthesis of Third World nationalism and Marxism-Leninism, and he had developed the basic components of this synthetic perspective by 1924. Although his perspective necessarily involved a reformulation of Lenin on the basis of the colonial situation of Indochina, Ho did not announce a reformulation of Lenin’s thesis. Rather, his strategy was to invoke Lenin, calling upon the international communist movement to take seriously Lenin’s thesis on the colonial question, and providing interpretations of Lenin’s thesis that were subtle reformulations.
In its classical formulation, Marxism-Leninism viewed the industrial working class as the vanguard of the socialist revolution, since the factory workers had the most advanced revolutionary consciousness. And it viewed the peasantry as prepared to support a worker-led socialist revolution, if the revolution unequivocally supported peasant interests in obtaining land (see “The proletarian vanguard” 1/24/2014).
At the time of the triumph of the October Revolution, Lenin believed that in order for the Russian Revolution to be able to sustain itself, a triumph of the proletarian revolutions in the advanced nations of Western Europe would be necessary (see “A permanent global revolution” 1/27/2014). When the proletarian revolutions in the West did not triumph, Lenin reformulated his understanding of the global revolution, giving greater emphasis to the revolutions of national liberation in the colonies. He understood that the profits obtained through the exploitation of the colonies increased the capacity of capitalism to make concessions to core workers, thus enabling the system to create a labor aristocracy in the advanced nations, thereby undermining the possibility of revolutionary transformation to a political-economic system governed by workers. Lenin therefore called for the formation of alliances between the proletarian movements in the core and the national liberation movements in the colonies, even when the national liberation movements include the national bourgeoisie, with the intention of struggling against international imperialism and the imperialist exploitation of the colonies. He believed, however, that the revolutions in the colonies ultimately must be led by a proletarian vanguard (Lenin 2010:130-37; 1972:55-60; 1993:261-65).
Lenin’s “Thesis on the national and colonial questions” converted Ho Chi Minh into a Leninist. Ho invoked Lenin’s concept in order to criticize the Western communist parties for ignoring the national liberation movements in the colonies. Like Lenin, Ho believed that the colonies were decisive, because most of the strength of the capitalist class was derived from the exploitation of the colonies. As we have seen (“Ho the delegate of the colonized” 5/6/2014), Ho believed that attacking capitalism via the industrial working class of the advanced countries was like trying “to kill a snake by stepping on its tail.” He did not make the reverse error of believing that the capitalist snake could be killed by the movements of national liberation of the colonized. Rather, he advocated the forging of a global revolution through complementary movements of workers in the core and of national liberation in the colonized regions, working on a basis of alliance, solidarity, and mutual support.
But Ho’s understanding involved a subtle reformulation of Lenin. Lenin considered support for national liberation movements as a tactic in the global transition to socialism, which ultimately would require revolutionary movements in the colonies led by a proletarian vanguard. Ho, however, viewed the global revolution as a having complementary dimensions: a proletarian struggle in the core, which would embrace and support national liberation movements; and national liberation struggles in the colonized region, which would seek not merely political independence but would pursue a class revolution within the nation. For Ho, they were different but equal partners, and they would support each other in order to kill the capitalist snake.
Ho Chi Minh’s view of the global revolution implied a reformulation of the concept of the vanguard, and here too Ho was subtle. The vanguard in the Vietnamese revolution was composed of “workers,” but Ho had a dynamic concept of workers. In his view, during the transition to socialism, agriculture would be modernized, and peasants therefore would be transformed into agricultural workers. At the same time, intellectuals would learn to complement their intellectual work with manual labor (as Ho himself did during his life). Thus peasants and intellectuals were workers, even though they were in a sense workers in formation. But as potential workers, they could become part of the vanguard, if they possessed advanced political consciousness. In practice, the Workers’ Party of Vietnam was composed of intellectuals, peasants, and workers, with intellectuals being in the majority, but with peasants and workers also playing a significant role. In this way, Ho subtly reformulated the Marxist-Leninist concept of the proletarian vanguard, adapting it to the colonial situation of Vietnam (Ho 2007:155-57, 168, 170-71).
Ho always presented himself as a disciple of Lenin, and he was. But he reformulated Lenin’s insights in accordance with the colonial situation of Vietnam. Whereas Lenin envisioned a proletarian vanguard, Ho developed a vanguard consisting of enlightened intellectuals, peasants, and workers. Whereas Lenin distrusted the peasant as susceptible to bourgeois thinking, Ho discerned the revolutionary spontaneity of the peasant. Whereas Lenin believed that petit bourgeois socialists betray the revolution (see “The role of the petit bourgeoisie” 1/28/2014), Ho saw the central role of the Confucian scholar-gentry class in the origin and development of Vietnamese revolutionary nationalism. Whereas Lenin saw patriotism as an instrument of the bourgeoisie in manipulating the working class into participating in imperialist wars (see “Revolutionary patriotism” 8/15/2014), Ho saw genuine patriotism as a necessary component of the struggle against colonial domination.
In adapting Lenin to the colonial situation of Vietnam, Ho was following the recommendations of Lenin himself. In his message to the communist organizations of the East, Lenin asserted, “Relying upon the general theory and practice of communism, you must adapt yourself to specific conditions such as do not exist in the European countries. You must be able to apply that theory and practice to conditions in which the bulk of the population are peasants, and in which the task is to wage a struggle against medieval survivals and not against capitalism” (1993:263).
Ho Chi Minh, therefore, was both Marxist-Leninist and nationalist, who forged in practice a theoretical synthesis of the two political-intellectual-moral traditions, a theme to which we discuss further in the next post.
Ho Chi Minh. 2007. Down with Colonialism. Introduction by Walden Bello. London: Verso.
Lenin, V.I. 1972. “Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Questions” in Speeches at Congresses of the Communist International. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
__________. 1993. “Address to the Second All-Russia Congress of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East” in John Ridell, Ed., To See the Dawn: Baku, 1920—First Congress of the Peoples of the East. New York: Pathfinder Press.
__________. 2010. “Tesis sobre la cuestión nacional y colonial” in La Internacional Comunista: Tesis, manifiestos, y resoluciones de los cuatro primeros congresos (1919-1922). Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
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