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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was the most famous Vietnamese revolutionary and statesman of his time. He was one of the shrewdest, most callous, dedicated, and self-abnegating leaders, a man apart in the international Communist movement.

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam, the little Asian country that held two leading Western powers—France and the United States—at bay after the end of World War II, was founded and proclaimed by Ho Chi Minh in 1945. In spite of his shrewdness, the frail, little Ho looked like an old peasant with a gaunt face, an expression of simplicity and gentleness, and nothing surprising except his amazingly lively eyes. His familiar garb consisted of a linen work suit and rubber sandals made of discarded tires.

Ho was born Nguyen That Thanh on May 19, 1890, in the village of Kim Lien, province of Nghe An, central Vietnam, into a family of scholar-revolutionaries, who had been successively dismissed from government service for anti-French activities. At the age of 9 Ho and his mother, who had been charged with stealing French weapons for the rebels, fled to Hue, the imperial city. His father, constantly persecuted by the French police, had left for Saigon. After a year in Hue, his mother died. Young Ho returned to Kim Lien to finish his schooling. At 17, upon receiving a minor degree, Ho journeyed to the South, where he spent a brief spell as an elementary school teacher.

At the news of the first Chinese revolution, which broke out in Wuchang, the fiercely patriotic Ho left for Saigon to discuss the situation with his father. It was then decided that Ho should go to Europe to study Western science and survey the conditions in France before embarking upon a revolutionary career. Unable to finance such a trip, Ho nevertheless managed to obtain a job as a messboy on a French liner.

Years in Europe

By the end of 1911 Ho began his seaman's life, which took him to the major ports of Africa, Europe, and America. As World War I broke out, Ho bade farewell to the sea and landed in London, where he lived until 1917, taking on odd jobs to support himself. It was here that Ho cultivated contact with the Overseas Workers' Association, an anticolonialist and anti-imperialist organization of Chinese and Indian seamen.

In 1917 Ho departed for France. He settled in Paris, working successively as a cook, a gardener, and a photo retoucher. Ho spent half his time reading, writing, trying to gain French sympathy for Vietnam, and organizing the thousands of Vietnamese, who were either serving in the French army or working in factories. He also joined the French Socialist party and attended various political clubs.

Distressed by the Western powers' indifference toward the colonies both during and after the Versailles Conference in spite of the Fourteen Points of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, Ho, whose only interest up to that time had been Vietnam's independence, began to drift toward Soviet Russia, the champion of the oppressed peoples. At its Tours Congress in 1920, the French Socialist party split on the colonial issue: one wing remaining indifferent to the problems of the colonies and another advocating their immediate emancipation in accordance with Lenin's program. Ho sided with the latter faction, which seceded from the parent organization and formed the French Communist party.

In 1921 Ho organized the Intercolonial Union, a group of exiles from the French colonies which was dedicated to the propagation of communism, and published two papers, one in French, Le Paria, and one in Vietnamese, the Soul of Vietnam, which carried emotional articles denouncing the abuses of colonialism. His most important work, French Colonialization on Trial, was also written during this period.

In November-December 1922 Ho attended the Fourth Comintern Congress in Moscow. In October 1923 he was elected to the 10-man Executive Committee of the Peasants' International Congress. Late in 1923 Ho went to Moscow, where he absorbed the teachings of Marx and Lenin. Two years later he arrived in Canton as adviser to Soviet agent Mikhail Borodin, who was then adviser to the Chinese Nationalists.

Early Organizing Efforts

Passing for a nationalist, Ho brought the Vietnamese émigrés in Canton into a revolutionary society called Youth and organized Marxist training courses for his young fellow countrymen. The Youth members were the nucleus of what was to be the Indochinese Communist party. Those who refused to obey Ho's orders were severely punished; Ho would forward their names to the French police force, which was always eager to put them behind bars. Ho also set up the League of Oppressed Peoples of Asia, which was to become the South Seas Communist party.

In April 1927, as the Chinese Nationalists broke with their Soviet advisers, Ho had to flee to Moscow. Subsequently, he received a brief assignment to the Anti-Imperialist League in Berlin. In 1928, after attending the Congress against Imperialism in Brussels, Ho journeyed to Switzerland and Italy, then turned up in Siam to organize the Vietnamese settlers and direct the Communist activities in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Early in 1930 Ho went to Hong Kong, where on February 3 he founded the Indochinese Communist party.

A year later Ho was arrested by the Hong Kong authorities and found guilty of subversion. Thanks to a successful appeal financed by the Red Relief Association, Ho regained his freedom. He immediately left for Singapore, where he was again arrested and returned to Hong Kong. Ho obtained his release by agreeing to work for the British Intelligence Service. Back in Moscow in 1932, Ho underwent further indoctrination at the Lenin School, which trained high-ranking cadres for the Soviet Communist party. In 1936 Ho returned to China to take control of the Indochinese Communist party.

Return Home

In February 1941 Ho finally crossed the border into Vietnam and settled down in a secure hideout in a remote frontier jungle. With a view to bringing all resistance elements under his control, winning power, then eliminating all competitors and creating a Communist state, Ho founded an independence league called the Viet Minh, whose alleged program was to coordinate all nationalist activities in the struggle for independence. (At this time Ho adopted the name Ho Chih Minh—"Enlightened One.") While the Viet Minh included many nationalists, most of its leaders were seasoned Communists.

In August 1942 Ho went back to China to ask for Chinese military assistance in return for intelligence about the Japanese forces in Indochina. The Chinese Nationalists, who had broken with the Communists and been disturbed by the Viet Minh activities in both Vietnam and China, however, arrested and imprisoned Ho on the charge that he was a French spy. After 13 months in jail Ho offered to put his organization at the Chinese service in return for his freedom. The Chinese, who were in desperate need of intelligence reports on the Japanese, accepted the offer. Upon his release Ho was admitted to the Dong Minh Hoi, an organization of Vietnamese nationalists in China which the Chinese had set up with the hope of controlling the independence movement. Ho repeatedly offered to collaborate with the United States intelligence mission in China, hoping to be rewarded with American assistance.

The Statesman

As the war approached its end, Ho made preparations for a general armed uprising. Following Japan's surrender, the Viet Minh took over the country, ruthlessly eliminating their nationalist opponents. On Sept. 2, 1945, Ho proclaimed Vietnam's independence. In vain he sought Allied recognition. Faced with a French resolve to reoccupy Indochina and determined to stay in power at any cost, Ho acquiesced in France's demands in return for French recognition of his regime. The French, however, disregarded all their agreements with Ho. War broke out in December 1946.

Many nationalists, while aware of the Communist nature of Ho's government, nevertheless supported it against France. The war ended in July 1954 with a humiliating French defeat. An agreement, signed in Geneva in July 1954, partitioned Vietnam along the 17th parallel and provided for a general election to be held within 2 years to reunify the country. Because of mutual distrust, absence of neutral machinery to guarantee freedom of choice, and opposition of South Vietnam and the United States, the scheduled election never took place.

Ho, who had hoped that a larger population under his control, a Communist-supervised election in the North, and a more or less free election in the South would produce an outcome favorable to his regime, became greatly frustrated. He ordered guerrilla activities to be resumed in the South. Regular troops from the North infiltrated the South in increasing numbers. The United States, correspondingly, increased military assistance, sent combat troops into South Vietnam, and began a systematic bombing of North Vietnam.

Ho refused to negotiate a settlement, hoping that American public opinion, as French public opinion had done in 1954, would force the United States government to sue for peace. Apprehensive that his lifework might be destroyed and anxious to spare North Vietnam from further devastating air attacks, Ho finally agreed to send his representatives to peace talks in Paris. As the antiwar feeling mounted in the United States and other countries, Ho stalled, intent on obtaining from the conference table what he had failed to get on the battlefield. While the talks were dragging on, Ho died on Sept. 3, 1969, without realizing his dream of bringing all Vietnam under communism.

Further Reading

Of the several biographies of Ho Chi Minh, the most comprehensive, and critical is N. Khac Huyen, Vision Accomplished?: The Enigma of Ho Chi Minh (1971). A short and sympathetic biography is David Halberstam, Ho (1971). A short, quasi-official, and highly propagandistic biography was published by the government of North Vietnam: Tru'o'ng-Chinh, President Ho-chi-Minh: Beloved Leader of the Vietnamese People (1966). The following books contain enlightening chapters on Ho: Harold R. Isaacs, No Peace for Asia (1947); Frank N. Trager, ed., Marxism in Southeast Asia: A Study of Four Countries (1959); Bernard B. Fall, The Two Viet-Nams: A Political and Military Analysis (1963; rev. ed. 1964); Hoangvan-Chi, From Colonialism to Communism: A Case History of North Vietnam (1964); and Joseph Buttinger, Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled (2 vols., 1967). Recommended for general historical background are Ellen J. Hammer, The Struggle for Indo-China (1954); Donald Lancaster, The Emancipation of French Indochina (1961); Patrick J. Honey, ed., North Vietnam Today: Profile of a Communist Satellite (1962); Robert A. Scalapino, ed., The Communist Revolution in Asia: Tactics, Goals, and Achievements (1965; 2d ed. 1969); and Frank N. Trager, Why Vietnam? (1966). □

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

Born: May 19, 1890
Nghe An, Vietnam

Died: September 3, 1969
Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnamese revolutionary and president

Ho Chi Minh was the founder and first leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party. He led the movement for Vietnamese independence and unity through struggles with France and the United States. He also served as president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969.

Early life

Ho Chi Minh was born Nguyen Sinh Cung on May 19, 1890, in Nghe An province in central Vietnam. Nghe An had been the center of resistance to the thousand-year Chinese control of Vietnam from 111 b.c.e. to 939 c.e. and the Ming Dynasty in the fifteenth century. Many of the leaders of the opposition to French control in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also came from the province. Ho's father, Nguyen Sinh Huy, educated himself to pass the civil service exam and worked for the government. He eventually resigned in protest against French involvement in Vietnamese affairs. When Ho was ten years old, his mother died while giving birth. Ho had two older siblings, a sister named Thanh and a brother named Khiem.

Ho's opposition to colonialism (the rule of an area and its people by another country) began at the age of nine, when he worked as a messenger for an anticolonial organization. His father also introduced him to several revolutionaries. Ho went on to attend the National Academy in Hué, Vietnam. Dismissed from the academy after taking part in protests against the French in 1908, he traveled to southern Vietnam in 1909 and worked briefly as a schoolteacher. Ho signed on as a cook with a French steamship company in 1911. At sea for two years, he visited ports in Europe, Africa, and the United States and began to develop his language skills, eventually learning Chinese, French, Russian, English, and Thai in addition to his native Vietnamese.

Committed to communism

During World War I (191418), Ho worked in London, England, and Paris, France. This is when his lifelong commitment to communism and Vietnamese independence began. Communism refers to a system in which the means of production (such as land, factories, and mines) are owned by the people as a whole rather than by individuals. Communists believe that such a system can be achieved only by revolution and government by a single party. In Paris, Ho adopted the name Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot) and attracted attention when he presented a written request to the Versailles Peace Conference demanding independence for Vietnam. Ho became a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1920. From 1920 to 1923, he was an outspoken leader of the Vietnamese community in Paris, participating in the Intercolonial Union formed under Communist sponsorship and publishing two anticolonial journals.

Ho was invited to Moscow, Russia, in 1923, where he studied at the University of Oriental Workers. In 1925 he was sent to China to organize a communist movement. He formed the Thanh Nien (Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League), whose members were mostly Vietnamese students in the southern Chinese port city of Canton. The league called for independence, redistribution of land, fair taxation, and equal rights for men and women. In 1927 Ho was forced to leave Canton after a Chinese government crackdown on local communists. During his absence, the league began to split into different factions, or groups. Ho returned to South China in early 1930 to unite the factions as a formal Communist Party, drawing its members from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He continued his organizing in Hong Kong and Shanghai but was arrested by the British in 1931 and imprisoned for two years. Released in 1933, he spent the next several years in the Soviet Union.

Return to Vietnam

In 1940 Ho returned to South China and met with members of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The following May, with most of Vietnam under Japanese occupation, he chaired a meeting of the party's Central Committee inside the Vietnamese border, marking his first return to Vietnam in thirty years. Ho and the ICP then announced the formation of the Viet Minh (League for Vietnamese Independence), an organization demanding independence from French rule and Japanese military occupation. From 1941 to 1945, although imprisoned again in China for more than a year, Ho led the ICP in seeking support for the Viet Minh, forming alliances with American diplomats and intelligence officers in South China, helping victims of a famine that killed over two million people in north and central Vietnam from 1943 to 1944, and building up the party's military forces.

In August 1945 Viet Minh forces attempted to seize power in Vietnam. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh, as president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, stood before thousands of supporters in the city of Hanoi. He proclaimed "that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent countryand in fact is so already." At the end of World War II (193945), the French tried to regain control of Vietnam. Although Ho reached a settlement agreement with the French in March 1946, calling for the creation of a Vietnamese "free state" within the French Union, the French changed their minds. In December, war broke out between Vietnamese and French forces. By 1954 the French had tired of war and sought a settlement at the Geneva Conference. In July an agreement was reached calling for a truce and division of Vietnam into a Communist north and a non-Communist south.

Later years

After 1954 Ho Chi Minh remained president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and chairman of the Communist Party but slowly turned over day-to-day responsibilities to others. Ho was active internationally, where he promoted Vietnamese interests within other countries and attempted to prevent a split between the Soviet Union and China. A land reform campaign from 1954 to 1956 was a major failure. Modeled on land redistribution plans developed by Chinese Communists, the reforms were very unpopular among Vietnamese peasants, some five thousand of whom were killed by Ho's government in its determination to make the plan work.

Ho also oversaw the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF) in 1960, a movement of resistance against the non-Communist government in southern Vietnam. Clashes between that government and the NLF led the United States military to step in on the side of the South Vietnamese. As the American military commitment increased, with the arrival of American ground troops and the beginning of a heavy bombing campaign against northern Vietnam in 1965, Ho sought to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union and China in order to obtain military assistance and supplies from both Communist powers.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, Ho Chi Minh's health declined, and he made only occasional public appearances. He never married, but he was widely viewed in North Vietnam as the father of his country and often referred to in his later years as Bac (Uncle) Ho. He died of a heart attack on September 3, 1969, almost six years before the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government was defeated and Vietnam was unified. The city of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in his honor.

For More Information

Duiker, William J. The Communist Road to Power. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981.

Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion, 2000.

Halberstam, David. Ho. New York, Random House, 1971.

Kahin, George. Intervention. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Lloyd, Dana Ohlmeyer. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh 1890-1969

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ho Chi Minh played a pivotal role in the global processes of anticolonialism and decolonization that accompanied World Wars I and II. His leadership has become an enduring symbol of third world resistance to the West during the twentieth century.

Ho Chi Minh was born in on May 19, 1890, in central Vietnam. Biographers have estimated that he used over fifty aliases during his career. He was educated in the Confucian classics, instructed in three languages (Chinese, French, and romanized Vietnamese), exposed to a modern multidisciplinary curriculum, and steeped in Vietnamese history. In 1908 he was expelled from the National Academy for his involvement in a peasant demonstration.

In 1911 Ho Chi Minh resolved to leave Vietnam to experience life in France. He secured employment with a steamship company and traveled widely to ports in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States. He claimed to have lived in New York in 1912. In 1913 he moved to London, where he studied English, and in 1917 he returned to France.

In 1919 Ho Chi Minh gained notoriety when he presented to the major powers gathered at the Versailles peace conference a petition arguing that Woodrow Wilsons Fourteen Points should be applied to the colonial peoples in Indochina. This document was signed Nguyen Ai Quoc, a pseudonym he used for the next quarter century. In 1920 Ho Chi Minh joined a breakaway faction of the French Socialist Party that joined the Communist Third International.

In 1923 Ho Chi Minh moved to Moscow and began a career as an agent of the Communist Third International (or Comintern). He was assigned to China in 1924. In February 1930 he presided over the founding conference of the Vietnam Communist Party. Ho Chi Minhs revolutionary career was interrupted by his arrest and detention by British authorities in Hong Kong (19311933). He resumed work with the Comintern in Moscow after his release, and in 1938 he was posted back to China.

In February 1941 Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam after an absence of three decades. In May of that year he founded the anti-Japanese Viet Minh Front. He was detained by Nationalist authorities in southern China the following year and released in 1943. While in China, he made his first contacts with U.S. officials. He professed admiration for President Franklin Roosevelts anticolonial sentiments. In 1944 Ho Chi Minh reached an agreement with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in China. He agreed to supply intelligence and assist in the rescue of downed pilots in exchange for OSS assistance to and training of Viet Minh troops.

In August 1945 the Viet Minh seized power, and on September 2 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent, citing the opening words from the American Declaration of Independence. He used his OSS contacts to convey messages to President Harry Truman requesting support. In 1946 Ho Chi Minh twice offered the United States access to Cam Ranh Bay.

Ho Chi Minh led the Vietnamese people in a successful eight-year war to expel the French (19461954). From 1954 until his death on September 2, 1969, he held the twin positions of head of state and chairman of the party in North Vietnam. In reality power over domestic affairs was held by the party general secretary and senior members of the politburo. Increasingly he focused his energies on foreign affairs and national reunification.

Ho Chi Minh was both a Communist and a nationalist. His brand of communism was more pragmatic than doctrinaire, while his patriotism was uncompromising. In Ho Chi Minhs words, Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.

SEE ALSO Anticolonial Movements; Communism; Domino Theory; Freedom; Nationalism and Nationality; Self-Determination; Vietnam War; World War I

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. New York: Hyperion.

Quinn-Judge, Sophie. 2002. Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years, 19191941. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Carlyle A. Thayer

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (hô chē mĬn), 1890–1969, Vietnamese nationalist leader, president of North Vietnam (1954–69), and one of the most influential political leaders of the 20th cent. His given name was Nguyen That Thanh. In 1911 he left Vietnam, working aboard a French liner. He later lived in London and in the United States during World War I before going to France near the end of the war. There he became involved in the French socialist movement and was (1920) a founding member of the French Communist party. He studied revolutionary tactics in Moscow, and, as a Comintern member, was sent (1925–27) to Guangzhou, China. While in East Asia, he organized Vietnamese revolutionaries and founded the Communist party of Indochina (later the Vietnamese Communist party). He also established a training institute that attracted many Vietnamese students, where he taught a unique blend of Marxism-Leninism and Confucian-inspired virtues. In the 1930s, Ho lived mainly in Moscow and China. He finally returned to Vietnam after the outbreak of World War II, organized a Vietnamese independence movement (the Viet Minh), and raised a guerrilla army to fight the Japanese.

Ho proclaimed the republic of Vietnam in Sept., 1945, and later agreed that it would remain an autonomous state within the French Union. Differences with the French, however, soon led (1946) to an open break. Warfare lasted until 1954, culminating in the French defeat at Dienbienphu. After the Geneva Conference (1954), which divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel, Ho became the first president of the independent republic of North Vietnam. The accord also provided for elections to be held in 1956, aimed at reuniting North and South Vietnam; however, South Vietnam, backed by the United States, refused to hold the elections. The reason was generally held to be that Ho's popularity would have led to reunification under Communist rule. In succeeding years, Ho consolidated his government in the North. He organized a guerrilla movement in the South, the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong, which was technically independent of North Vietnam, to win South Vietnam from the successive U.S.-supported governments there (see Vietnam War).

See biographies by J. Lacouture (1968), D. Halberstam (1971), J. Sainteny (1972), C. Fenn (1974), D. O. Lloyd (1986), and W. J. Duiker (2000).

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890?–1969), international Communist and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).The son of a scholar‐official, Ho was born in Nghe An, central Vietnam, and went to a Franco‐Vietnamese school. He moved to France in 1911 and thereafter used over 100 aliases.

A sailor for two years, Ho worked between Le Havre, London, and New York. During World War I, he lived in London, working as a domestic. Back in France, he became a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1920, and, in Moscow from 1923, a Comintern (Communist International) expert on colonial and Asian questions. During long periods in China Ho was instrumental in forming the proto‐Communist Vietnamese Youth League in Canton (1925) and the Indochinese Communist Party in Hong Kong (1930).

Ho returned to Vietnam in 1941 and emerged at the head of the Vietnamese Independence League (Viet Minh). Using the code name “Lucius,” he supplied anti‐Japanese intelligence to American authorities in Kunming, China, in 1944–45. As he led the Viet Minh to power in Vietnam in the August 1945 revolution, Ho's attempts to gain American support against a resumption of French rule continued, but failed. During the thirty‐year war for independence against French rule and American intervention, he remained president of the DRV until his death. Although he wanted to be cremated, the myth of the “Uncle‐President” became so central to Vietnamese political culture that Ho's body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum.
[See also Vietnam War: Causes; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Jean Lacouture , Ho Chi Minh, A Political Biography, 1968.
Charles Fenn , Ho Chi Minh: A Biographical Introduction, 1973.

Greg Lockhart

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) ( Nguyen That Thanh) Vietnamese statesman, president of North Vietnam (1954–69). He founded the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. Forced into exile, he returned to Vietnam in 1941 to lead the Viet Minh against the Japanese. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence and led resistance to French colonial forces. After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu (1954), Vietnam split and he became president of North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh organized and supported the Viet Cong against South Vietnam and committed North Vietnamese forces against the USA in the Vietnam War.

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Ho Chi Minh

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