Nguyen Ai Quoc
and his journey to find a way to save the country
Ho Chi Minh’s departure to find a way to save the country was the beginning of a long journey to find and choose Lenin’s revolutionary path, as well as supplement and perfect it in accordance with the practical conditions of the Vietnamese revolution.
On June 5, 1911, the patriotic young man Nguyen Tat Thanh officially started a new journey to find a path for the national liberation struggle, which was at a standstill at that time. Stemming from patriotism, from the burning aspiration to save the country, through a journey of nearly 10 years of practical experience and theoretical research, Nguyen Tat Thanh (then famous as Nguyen Ai Quoc) found Lenin’s revolutionary theory, then became a communist soldier when he voted to establish the French Communist Party on December 30, 1920.
Over the following 10 years, Ho Chi Minh was active in practice and perfected his theory on the national liberation revolution. He made creative contributions, supplemented and developed Marxism-Leninism in the field of struggle for the liberation of colonised peoples - a field that became more and more hot as capitalism in the world developed into imperialism and the liberation struggles of colonised peoples became the great issue of the times. Ho Chi Minh had great creativity when he discovered the position and importance of national strength.
Ho Chi Minh identified that the revolutionary force was the entire nation - in which the core were workers, farmers and other working classes united under the leadership of a genuine revolutionary party which put the interests of the people at the top. This was proven in practice by the establishment of the Communist Party of Vietnam in the spring of 1930. It was convened by Nguyen Ai Quoc at the Founding Conference, and the Party's first revolutionary platform was also drafted by him.
The 8th plenum of the Party Central Committee (May 1941) returned to the strategy and tactics of the Vietnamese revolution in the First Platform, putting the task of national liberation and independence first. This is considered a decisive factor in the victory of the national liberation movement in the years from 1941 to 1945, leading to the victory of the August General Uprising in 1945.
It is necessary to look back at the starting point which is the basis that led to Ho Chi Minh’s thinking and decision 110 years ago on June 5, 1911, when he officially committed to finding a way to liberate the nation, along with his steps in the finding process and affirming the revolutionary path of national liberation, in order to clarify those successes.
The first colonial exploitation of the French colonialists in Indochina began in 1897, under the administration of Governor General Paul Doumer. Along with the penetration of Western capitalists, the commodity economy broke the isolation of the traditional subsistence economy in the colonies, leading to many changes in Vietnamese society in the early 20th century. It was a social change, in which elements of capitalism in the form of colonialism were intertwined with the feudal relations of production that the colonial government here still wanted to maintain. A colonial-style governing and management institution was imposed by the colonial government over the traditional feudal institutions.
In the early years of the 20th century, the progressives absorbed bourgeois democratic ideas in Vietnam were a rather special class - the bourgeois elites. They were patriots, but they were really mentally disturbed by the collapse of the imperial court and the impotence of feudal ideology and methodology in facing the task to lead the struggle for national independence. In that crisis, the influences of ideological trends from outside in the context that the world was undergoing drastic and profound changes had a strong impact on Confucian scholars at the time.
After the Reform in China in 1898, while Japan became powerful thanks to the Meiji Restoration that defeated tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Vietnamese Confucian scholars turned their perception to the East, mainly China and Japan, mostly due to the wave of Chinese reformed thought via the New Book and the New Literature of Chinese scholars who were awakened and moving towards European bourgeois democracy. The idea of asking for foreign support and study was quite exciting, culminating in the Dong Du movement that brought Vietnamese youth and students to Japan in 1905-1909. This movement was initiated and led by Phan Boi Chau and his like-minded scholars (such as Nguyen Thuong Hien, Tang Bat Ho, Vuong Thuc Oanh...), marking new development of new ideological movements in the Vietnamese society in the early years of the 20th century.
At that time, the influence of the outside world on Vietnam had never been so strong. Bourgeois Confucian scholars and intellectuals led the first patriotic struggle movements according to bourgeois democratic ideology in Vietnam in early years of the twentieth century, such as the Dong Du movement (1905-1909), the Duy Tan movement in central provinces (1907-1908), and the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc movement in Hanoi and many provinces of the north and the central region (1907).
The Western trained intellectuals but bearing the spirit of patriotism and national pride is increasingly numerous. From schools and training curriculum, and more broadly, the observation of Western social experience, they brought home advanced scientific knowledge of the time. They were also pioneers in East-West cultural contact in Vietnam. The intellectuals trained by France and progressive scholars gradually understood and brought to the nation new ideas from the treasure of human knowledge, from the land of the rulers of their own nation. Many of them used these weapons of knowledge in the common struggle of the nation and became patriots and revolutionaries. Those were things that were beyond the intentions of the colonial rulers when developing a Western-style education in Indochina.
Ho Chi Minh was born and spent his teenage years in his hometown of Nghe An. This long, narrow central strip has to endure a harsh climate with hot winds, heavy rainstorms, and frequent droughts and floods. Living in a harsh natural environment, Nghe An’s people have forged a precious tradition for themselves - that is the spirit of hard work, creativity, solidarity in fighting against aggression and perseverance against natural disasters.
Bringing a sensitive soul, Ho Chi Minh inherited and absorbed the quintessence of his nation and homeland’s traditions from his young age, where he lived. In the years he grew up in his homeland, the spirit of the Huong Khe Uprising still remained with time. The strong will to fight and the heroic sacrifice of those in the Dong Du and Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc movements, as well as many other patriotic anti-French movements had lit a smouldering fire that still burned in the hearts of Vietnamese patriots.
In the article “Nghe Tinh Do” (Red Nghe Tinh), Nguyen Ai Quoc wrote about the revolutionary tradition of his homeland as follows: “The people of Nghe-Tinh are famous for their stubbornness. During the French invasion as well as in the national revolutionary movements (1905-1925), Nghe-Tinh was famous. In the current struggle, Nghe-Tinh workers and farmers still uphold their revolutionary traditions.” [2, p. 79].
The forging of the traditions of his country, homeland and family is promoted by Ho Chi Minh's own personal qualities - that is, an unyielding will and extraordinary energy in the face of great difficulties and challenges, forming the character and bravery of an ambitious young man.
Nguyen Tat Thanh studied in Hue through preparatory classes (1906) and elementary classes (1907) at Dong Ba France-Vietnam primary school, and intermediate classes at Quoc Hoc school (1908) [3, p. 27-30]. During the time he studied in Hue, the country had many political upheavals: Phan Boi Chau with the Duy Tan Association and the Dong Du movement launched by him spread among scholars and young people; Duy Tan and an anti-tax movement broke out in Annam from 1906 and lasted until 1908; in 1907, Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc School, first opened in Hanoi and then in some northern provinces, spreading many new ideas and promoting the reform and democracy movements.
In Hue, Nguyen Tat Thanh absorbed knowledge of Western culture, reform ideas and contemplation on the way to salvage the country of his predecessors. Although his French language was still limited, Nguyen Tat Thanh began to interact with French books and newspapers. As a result of this cultural contact, a great idea formed and gradually built up: Finding a way to learn and absorb progressive things that can help Vietnamese people and the country. The burning determination "Freedom for my compatriots, independence for my Fatherland" was ignited in the affection of the patriotic Nguyen Tat Thanh, leading to the event on June 5, 1911 - officially starting his journey to find a new path in the struggle for national independence, [3, p. 112]. The aspiration to liberate the nation and the Vietnamese people was a source of strength to lift the footsteps and warm the spirit of Nguyen Tat Thanh on his long journeys.
Between 1911 and 1917, Nguyen Tat Thanh (with the name Van Ba) lived the life of a labourer. He had to work hard, but he still took advantage of self-study. Author Tran Dan Tien (Ho Chi Minh) later recounted: On the Latouche - Tréville ship, Mr. Ba had to work from 4 am every day, "the work lasted all day", "all day, Ba was covered by steam and sweat, his body was full of coal dust”, in the evening, two soldiers, discharged from the army and who had returned to France, were kind, and “taught him to read and write” [4, pp. 12-14]. While working in the garden for his ship owner in Sainte Adresse, "he studied French with a female domestic worker." [4, p. 18].
Going through colonial countries, witnessing many scenes of oppression, many hardships that the peoples of other ethnic groups were suffering like the people of Vietnam, he came to a realisation: Everywhere people are exploited by exploiters; the independence of the nations, the freedom and happiness of the people cannot depend on the granting of favours from the exploiters, but must be fought for.
Through those years, Nguyen Tat Thanh also accumulated great practical life capital. He also received a lot of useful knowledge from the cultures of other peoples. All of these forged and trained the bravery of the later to be professional revolutionary.
Around the end of 1917, Nguyen Tat Thanh returned to France from England, when World War I had entered its final stages [*], and the Russian 1917 October Revolution having succeeded. Although he did not fully understand the great meaning of this revolution, he found this to be a great event, with a wonderful attraction. From "sensory perception", with a political acumen besides practical experience in the French workers' movement, he participated in the struggle to support the people of Soviet Russia.
[*] There are still many different opinions about the time Nguyen Tat Thanh returned to France: Late 1916, early 1917; June or July 1917; at the end of November or beginning of December 1917. Many researchers believe it to have been at the end of 1917. Recently, Thuy Khue on RFI said that Nguyen Tat Thanh returned to France from England in May or June 1919. This thesis has been refuted by author Ngo Tran Duc in the Ho Chi Minh Study Special Journal No. 1 (January 2011). We follow the Ho Chi Minh Biographical Chronicle, National Political Publishing House, H, 2006.
Around the end of 1918 or early 1919, Nguyen Tat Thanh joined the socialist youth union and then the Socialist Party of France. In the summer of 1919, he was seen at meetings of the Socialist Party, the federation of labour and the human rights association. With tireless efforts, Nguyen Ai Quoc became one of only a few revolutionary soldiers with the most practical experience in the movement for the liberation of colonial peoples in the early years of the twentieth century.
Nguyen Ai Quoc read the draft thesis on national and colonial questions, as written by V. I. Lenin and published on the L’Humanité newspaper on June 16 and 17, 1920, and received the answer to his burning question.
What V.I. Lenin emphasised was to establish a close relationship and solidarity between the proletariat movement in capitalist countries and the movements of people in colonial and underdeveloped countries in the context of major political events on a worldwide scale as capitalism had developed into imperialism and caused the first world war 1914-1918, causing much suffering to people in European countries as well as in colonial countries.
This was the first time Nguyen Ai Quoc had read a document that directly and strongly addressed national and colonial issues. The thesis of V.I. Lenin created within him a strong emotional reaction. He found in it the support and strength needed to achieve the goal of national liberation.
Nguyen Ai Quoc supported the French Socialist Party in its stand with Lenin's Third International, because “We see that the Socialist Party's membership of the Third International means the Party promises that from now on it will properly evaluate the importance of the colonial issue”.
In the second half of 1920, Nguyen Ai Quoc participated in debates with the help of comrades in the French Socialist Party such as Marcel Cachin, Paul Vaillant Couturier, Mongmusso, and others. On December 30, 1920, at the Tours Congress, Nguyen Ai Quoc voted in favour of its establishment and became one of the founders of the French Communist Party.
The results of practical activities and his acceptance of the original thesis further clarified the path of national salvation that he was looking for, following his decision to go West for national salvation. This was the decision to bring the Vietnamese national liberation movement to follow the revolutionary path of Lenin.
Studying and absorbing the basic principles of the Marxist-Leninist thesis on the revolution for national liberation, Nguyen Ai Quoc creatively applied and added new arguments to the thesis to make it suitable with the reality of a colonial revolutionary movement and historical practices of Vietnam.
He argued that it was necessary to add to Marxism-Leninism the problems of Eastern nations, that in the nineteenth century due to historical conditions, Marx and Engels were unable to define or did not fully grasp - that was the patriotic movement and the movement against colonialism’s aggression in Eastern countries and in Vietnam in particular.
He discovered great substance there, as the theoretical works of that time rarely mentioned the power of genuine nationalism and patriotism hidden within each individual and historically nurtured from tradition.
National and patriotic factors can not only affect the movements of the working class and peasants, but also have the ability to change the viewpoint of other classes such as the petty bourgeoisie, national bourgeoisie and part of the squirearchy. This power was vividly demonstrated in Vietnam in the movements against French invasion which attracted members from all social forces and all classes.
In the process of building the revolutionary forces, especially in the period preparing for and conducting armed uprisings, Nguyen Ai Quoc said it was essential to mobilise the strength of the entire nation. “Nationalism is the great driving force of the country” and if that source of “great motivation” is mobilised and brought into full play, the cause of national liberation will be successful.
In May 1921, when mentioning the suffering in Asia, Nguyen Ai Quoc wrote an article entitled Indochina (published in La Revue Communiste magazine, No. 15, May 1921) that the: “Asian people - despite being considered backward by Westerners - still understand the necessity for comprehensive reform of their current society” [1, p. 47]. Even by raising themselves up with a national liberation revolution, people in colonial countries can also play an important role in helping the revolution in capitalist countries.
At the end of the article, Nguyen Ai Quoc made the comment that: "The day when hundreds of millions of massacred and oppressed Asian people wake up to get rid of the despicable exploitation of their greedy colonialist, they will form a huge force, eliminating one of the conditions of capitalism, which is imperialism, they can also assist their fellows in the West in their liberation missions.” [1, p. 48].
Ho Chi Minh's interpretation and analysis showed that the national liberation revolution in colonial countries was determined by internal factors, not imposed from outside or from the capitalist country. These ideas in the above excerpt also clearly express Ho Chi Minh's new, unique and creative thought process: The revolution in the colony can gain success before revolution in the capitalist countries. That interpretation was based on Marxism-Leninism but is also full of creativity.
This statement was proven by the historical reality of the 20th century. Colonialist rule was eliminated all over the world. A series of previously “weak and small” countries gained independence (albeit in different forms and to different degrees), became independent nations and members of the United Nations with a role on the international arena.
Also during that time, in Western capitalist countries, highly-developed capitalism, following the scientific and technological revolution, went through many crises of varying degrees but adjusted itself to survive and find new development opportunities. In the 21st century, no “proletarian revolutions” have ever broken out in developed capitalist countries – several of whom former colonising countries.
Ho Chi Minh always used the practical situation of Vietnam to analyse social conflict in Vietnam. Born in a colonised country, he looked at class division and conflict in a colony with a subjective and scientific view. In some of his works written in the early 20th century such as Indochina, The Trial of French Colonialism, and The Revolutionary Path, Ho Chi Minh thoroughly analysed the distinguishing characteristics of the national and class conflict in Vietnam, contrasting them with other countries, especially some Western countries.
From his correct assessment and analysis of revolutionary forces, he assembled, united and maximised the strength of the great national solidarity bloc to fight for the common goal of gaining national independence and building a new and better society.
Patriotism and the aspiration to save the nation, and other new elements later in his life, followed Ho Chi Minh from the day he left the Nha Rong Wharf on June 5, 1911, thereafter encountering Marxism-Leninism. Researchers all note that Ho Chi Minh was not absorbed in debates over ideology or philosophy, but instead devoted his mind to the specific (and urgent) issue of liberating the Vietnamese nation from colonial rule. And he succeeded.
Despite having their own estimations, Western researchers have reached a broad consensus when acknowledging Ho Chi Minh deserves to be remembered as a man who made history, who married the dream of national independence and the aspiration for socio-economic equality as laid out by American philosopher Sydney Hook and quoted by William J. Duiker.
Such things have made Ho Chi Minh’s name and reputation go far beyond the Vietnamese border, becoming a symbol for all the oppressed peoples in the world who have fought for dignity and freedom.
1. Complete Works of Ho Chi Minh (2011), Volume I, National Political Publishing House
2. Complete Works of Ho Chi Minh (2011), Volume III, National Political Publishing House
3. Ho Chi Minh Biographical Chronicle (2006), Tran Dan Tien - National Political Publishing House
4. Stories about President Ho Chi Minh's Revolutionary Life (1972), Literature Publishing House
5. Ho Chi Minh - A Life (2000) W. Duiker - Hyperion