“No liberation movement, no people that has struggled for its independence, has had to carry out a struggle as long and heroic as the people of Vietnam”—Fidel Castro, September 12, 1973.
Due to its advanced character, the Vietnamese Revolution posed a threat to the world-system at a time when the world-system was in transition from colonialism to neocolonialism. Both France, seeking to maintain its colonial empire, and the United States, the hegemonic power of the neocolonial world-system, would launch unsuccessful wars to subdue the Vietnamese Revolution. The US war in Vietnam was an important factor in stimulating the US revolution of the 1960s, for it exposed the imperialist character of US foreign policy. I will be discussing the revolution of the 1960s in future posts.
As we have observed popular revolutions, we have seen that they are characterized by the emergence of charismatic leaders, persons with exceptional capacities to understand the structures of domination and the steps that must be taken to attain liberation (see “Toussaint L’Ouverture” 12/10/2013; “Reflections on the Russian Revolution” 1/29/2014; “Lessons of the Mexican Revolution” 2/19/2014; “The dream renewed” 3/6/2014; “Is Marx today fulfilled?” 3/20/2014). The charismatic leaders do not emerge in a social vacuum. They are formed by intellectual and moral traditions that are tied to social movements, and their charismatic gifts include the capacity to bring the movement to a more advanced stage.
In the case of Vietnam, the charismatic leader who brought the revolution to a more advanced stage was Ho Chi Minh. Ho’s initial values and understanding were formed by the patriotic nationalist movement of the Vietnamese scholar-gentry class, of which his father was a member. As a young man, Ho traveled to Paris, supporting himself with various jobs. There he encountered socialism and the writings of Lenin, and he participated in the founding of the French Communist Party. Subsequently, he studied in the Soviet Union, where he was a constant advocate in the Communist International (Comintern) of the national liberation struggles of the colonized peoples of Asia and Africa. Under the direction of the Comintern, he was the leading figure in the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930, which established the Vietminh. By 1945, the Vietminh had become the leading force in the popular movement for the independence of Vietnam, and as a result, Ho Chi Minh became President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He led the nation against the French, in its war of re-conquest; and against the United States, until his death in 1969, in its unsuccessful effort to support a puppet regime in the southern half of the country as a bulwark for the interests of the neocolonial powers.
Ho’s comprehensive study and political education provided him with the intellectual and moral foundation for forging a creative synthesis of the French Revolution, Marxism-Leninism, and an Asian anti-colonial national liberation perspective. He saw domination as having a double axis of colonial domination and class exploitation. Accordingly, he believed that the full liberation of the people of Vietnam would require not only political independence from French, Japanese, and Chinese domination but also the liberation of peasants from class exploitation by traditional Vietnamese and colonial French landholders. And he believed that full liberation of the workers of the West would require their solidarity with the Third World anti-colonial movements of national liberation. His creative synthesis included a reformulation of the Marxist-Leninist concept of the vanguard, adapting it to the conditions of Vietnam. Accordingly, he sought to develop a vanguard political party consisting of the most enlightened peasants, workers, and intellectuals. A disciplined man who lived in modest material conditions, he was not only a political leader but also a writer, teacher, and educator.
The Vietnamese Revolution is an important example of insightful and courageous political action in a particular national context, a revolutionary movement that is part of a global revolutionary process that seeks a more just and democratic world-system. As we intellectuals of the North seek to understand what we ought to do in the context of the structural terminal crisis of the world-system (see “The terminal crisis of the world-system” 3/28/2014) and the emergence of an alternative world-system from below (see “The alternative world-system from below” 4/15/2014), we should study and take seriously the lessons offered to us by Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Revolution.
Vietnam, the Vietnamese Revolution, and Ho Chi Minh will be the themes of various subsequent posts. I will begin in the next post with discussion of the pre-modern empires of Vietnam and the emergence of a Vietnamese tradition of political and military resistance to foreign domination.
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, Ho Chi Minh