Indochina and revolution
Thursday 22 May 2008, by
The text below is extracted from Sur le Vietnam, a series of articles published in Informations et Correspondences ouvrières from the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968, at the height of the movement against the Vietnam war in Europe and North America. Whilst this description as a whole has not hitherto appeared in English, the final chapter, The Saigon Insurrection of 23 September 1945, was the only account of the events available in Britain for many years, having been first translated by Chris Pallis and printed in Solidarity, Volume 5 no.5, 27 October 1968, pp.3-6, 16. It was subsequently reproduced in the United States as a leaflet by the Spartacist West group of the movement now known as the ICL, and later by S Pirani (ed.), Vietnam and Trotskyism, Australia 1987, pp.56-60.
This account was largely written from memory, without the advantage of an extensive documentation to hand. Comrade Van’s more extensive treatment of the same period is to be found in Le Mouvement IVè Internationale en Indochine, 1930-39 in the Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.40, December 1989, pp.21-60.
The author, Ngo Van Xuyet, was a member of the League of Internationalist Communists for the Fourth International, formed in Saigon in 1935; like Ta Thu Thau’s organisation this group supported the Fourth International, but did not participate in the La Lutte front, concentrating instead on the publication of the journal Le Militant. He was jailed for a year in 1936, continued political activity on his release, participated in the 1945 Saigon insurrection, and has lived in exile in France since 1947.
1. The La Lutte Group and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Movement (1933-37)
South Vietnam in the ’thirties: we have seen how the world economic crisis reverberated in Vietnam in essentially peasant revolts and in the awakening of the working class movement momentarily decapitated by the repression at the beginning of the ’thirties.
Some Vietnamese students who had been trained in France organised themselves into the two main tendencies that divided the Third International: Stalinism and Trotskyism. Some of them had been expelled from France after their demonstrations against the sentences following the Yen-bay rebellion in 1930.  Moscow trained some of the militants who were assigned to reconstruct the Communist Party in illegality; the kernel of this new illegal party fell under the blows of police repression in 1935, and when one of its leaders, Tran Van Giau, now in Ho Chi Minh’s information services, was before the court in Saigon being questioned about his occupation, he declared that he was a professional revolutionary. Along with his companions he joined those who had been sentenced in 1933 in the hard-labour camp of Poulo-Condore. Also born in clandestinity round about 1932 were the small Trotskyist groups under the leadership of some of those expelled from France. Bulletins run off with gelatine disseminated in secret the theoretical discussions of the Vo-san (Proletarian) group of Ta Thu Thau and the Thang-muoi (October) group of Ho Huu Tuong and others amongst some of the awakened city workers. The second of these groups charged the first with a conciliatory tendency towards the Stalinists. Inspired by the Permanent Revolution, these disciples of Trotsky advocated a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in alliance with the peasantry in order to accomplish this ‘permanent revolution’, the foremost tasks of which would be national liberation through anti-imperialist struggle and agrarian reform through the abolition of private ownership and the division of the land amongst the peasants, whereas the Stalinists were planning on a ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ that would realise the same objectives. The secret political influence of the Trotskyists was essentially urban; the Stalinists rooted themselves in the countryside on account of the origins of their movement, where they propagated the notion that the Trotskyists were the enemy of the peasantry.
But very soon the three Trotskyist groups – the third being the Ta doi lap tong tho (Publications of the Left Opposition) – were broken up; in August 1932 the police arrested 41 militants and sympathisers in Saigon and in the provinces. The first trial of the Trotskyists took place in Saigon on 1 May 1933, and 16 out of the 21 accused were condemned to between three months’ and five years’ imprisonment.
At the time of the Saigon municipal elections in 1933 both Stalinists and Trotskyists attempted to carry out joint legal action by putting together a single electoral list, the ‘workers’ list’ (so lao-dong). In order to stand in elections you had to be either a proprietor or, at least, pay business tax, so the Trotskyist teacher Ta Thu Thau became a carpet seller in Lagrandière Street, whereas the Stalinist journalist Nguyen Van Tao became a lemonade seller in the Old Market. Electoral meetings began to be held in the Thanh-xuong, a small local theatre. Coolies, commercial employees, Saigon workers and young people were for the first time openly exhorted to struggle for the eight hour day, for trade union rights and for the right to strike by the candidates to the municipal council who were seeking the votes of the citizens in order to ‘represent’ them. The success of these meetings alarmed the police, who closed the Thanh-xuong theatre along with the theatres in the suburbs (Khanh-hoi and Tan-dinh), but meetings rendered impossible by this police intervention were transformed into street demonstrations. The bourgeois electoral list of the Constitutionalist Party was defeated, and the workers’ list gained a majority of those seats upon the municipal council that were set aside for the Vietnamese. It was at the time of this legal agitation that La Lutte first appeared, a weekly newspaper in French of the United Front between the Saigon Stalinists and Trotskyists (you should bear in mind that no paper in the native language was allowed to appear without the prior authorisation of the colonial administration, so La Lutte could only cater for a thin layer of the urban population, that which could read French; even then it was often the victim of seizures and searches, but in the Vietnamese language it would not even have been allowed to appear). A French journalist, old Ganofsky, who lived in poverty on the margins of colonial circles, gave his name as manager of La Lutte. This free spirit was afterwards interfered with on several occasions and he paid the consequences of his disinterested act right up to his death.
This local United Front that was dictated by the necessities of the struggle against strong colonial oppression soon became disrupted by the evolution of the politics of the Russian Communist Party, and consequently the politics of the French party. The France-Soviet Pact of May 1935 converted France into an ally of Russia, and the French Communist Party now had the duty of defending ‘French democracy’ against Fascism. The Stalinist group dutifully dispensed with its usual jargon of ‘French Imperialism’, no longer talked about national independence, and imparted a purely reformist direction to its slogans. Deep differences arose within La Lutte, but the Ta Thu Thau group still did not break its formal unity with the Stalinists. The wave of strikes that was followed by the factory occupations and the formation of the Popular Front in France in June 1936 had an immediate echo in the peninsula of Indochina, where the reformist current grew stronger. A Popular Front known under the name of the Indo Chinese Congress Movement (Phong-tiao-Dong-duong-Dai-hoi) was formed on the initiative of the La Lutte group with the bourgeois Constitutionalist Party, in order to draw up demands relating to the political, economic and social reforms that were to be presented to the Popular Front government of the metropolitan country. At the end of 1935 a small secret Trotskyist group was set up, the Internationalist Communist League, which launched the slogan of ‘action committees’ amongst the workers and peasants by means of a leaflet in the Vietnamese language, but its militants were immediately thrown into prison. The Stalinists urged respect for the law to the peasants who had begun to agitate in a violent manner against direct and indirect taxes and for a reduction in ground rent.
The ‘first trial of the Fourth International’, the trial of the Internationalist Communist League, opened in Saigon on 31 August 1936. Following a plea submitted by their lawyers with regard to the tortures and maltreatment they had undergone at the hands of the police, a complaint that raised an echo in the Depêche d’Indochine and La Lutte, Lu Sanh Hanh and seven of his comrades were sentenced to light prison sentences of between six and 18 months. 
The ferment among the workers manifested itself in partial strikes that culminated in the general strike of 1937 that included workers in the arsenal at Saigon, of the Trans-Indo Chinese Railway (Saigon-Hanoi), the Tonkin miners and the coolies of the rubber plantations, the mass of the proletariat, in other words. They were demanding an eight hour day, trade union rights, the right to strike and convene, a free press, etc. It was during this struggle that the workers, assisted by the militants, organised their strike and support committees and their contacts throughout the country. There was something spontaneous in this wave of demands and chain explosions, and in the limited understanding of the workers and peasants. They were fed on the illusion of the possibilities of freedom and social reform offered by the Popular Front of the metropolitan country. Agitation and propaganda and the legal and underground activities of the organised political groupings, whose members could be counted on the fingers, are not enough to explain this vast movement.
It was then that Brévié, who had been appointed governor of the colony by the Popular Front government, resorted to repression. Not only was the skeleton of working class trade unions formed during the General Strike banned, and its militants sent to prison (October 1937), but even the Movement of the Indochinese Congress was itself dissolved. Trotskyist and Stalinist papers that had sometimes been able to appear in the Vietnamese language were banned once more, and the labour legislation remained a dead letter. It now became difficult for the Stalinists to continue their defence of the Popular Front, which had in no way changed fundamentally France’s imperialist colonial policy.
The Moscow Trials were now at their zenith, and the French Communist Party sent the MP Honel to give the local Stalinists the order to break with the Trotskyists. Abandoning La Lutte to the Trotskyists, the Stalinists employed the same venomous methods against them as those of their masters in the Kremlin. In their new paper Le Peuple (later Dan-chung) they were to represent their erstwhile comrades as spies for the Mikado and provocateurs. The period of methodical murders will be described when we come to the 1945-46 period. The utter and immediate obedience of the Stalinist group to the orders of Moscow can only be explained by their blind fanaticism. Young men, driven by an ideal, were transformed overnight into wolves, howling to the death with the other wolves against their brothers in the fight, with whom they had still been elbow to elbow only the day before, in struggle as well as in prison. Regimentation had corrupted them, along with the Vietnamese workers’ and peasants’ movement, which was thus sacrificed from birth to Russian foreign policy. As we were later to see, the exploited were to forge new chains for themselves under the leadership of these ‘professional revolutionaries’, when they thought that they were struggling for their emancipation – those of the industrial world, where production is not a requirement of true and vital human needs, but those of state capitalism as the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ inevitably turned into a bureaucracy possessing the state.
Obviously, French imperialism breathed freely and easily during this period of relative support by the Stalinists for the integrity of the empire. The calm was broken by the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 23 August 1939, followed by the declaration of war on 3 September. The decree of 26 September, which dissolved all organisations “relating to the Third International”, was the prelude to the mass arrests of militants of all tendencies, Stalinists, Trotskyists, nationalists and the leaders of the magico-religious sects in October 1939, and then were to close upon them the sinister doors of the prisons and the camps for the “special training of workers”, the death camps that were established in unhealthy regions, in which few survived. In a declaration of November 1939 in conformity with Stalin’s foreign policy the Indochinese Communist party at one and the same time denounced the ‘imperialist’ war of France against Germany as well as the Japanese plans for aggression against Russia. This sudden shift translated itself in 1940 into a concealed peasant insurrection fomented by the Indochinese Communist Party in Cochin China, which was drowned in blood.
2. The Sects and the Vietminh
[We omit here the section dealing with the expression of peasant discontent through sectarian Buddhist consciousness, and extract merely what deals with the movements during the Second World War.]
The young Marxists carried their dream of “transforming the imperialist war into a civil war” into the prisons, but the words pronounced at Zimmerwald coming from far-off Europe, and their illustration in the Russian events of 1917, were nonetheless to continue to sound in their hearts. A Communist Party song composed about 1935 that called for civil war remained deep in their hearts: “We will take the opportunity of the war between the imperialisms and when Soviet Russia shall be attacked, we will engage in civil war” (“Thua luc de-quoc tranh-chien, voi luc danh So-viet lam noi-chien mau”). It was upon propaganda in favour of this same idea in an illegal Trotskyist duplicated sheet, the Vanguard (Tien-dao) that the Prosecutor attached to the Saigon court had supported his indictment at the time of the trial of the Internationalist Communist League in September 1936.
Pre-emptive arrests did not prevent the peasants of Cochin China from rising in December 1940, and in the same year an upsurge broke out at Bacson in Tonkin. Repression caused thousands of deaths, and courts martial sent those who were captured to death and to the prisons. The prisons were so full that a certain number of prisoners were locked up in barges berthed near Saigon, where they perished like flies.
[Here we omit more material upon the beliefs and history of the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao.]
It should be remembered that after the French defeat in Europe the Japanese occupied Indochina, and in agreement with Vichy preserved the French administrative and repressive apparatus, together with a new colonial governor henceforth at their service. The policy of the Japanese attempted to eliminate the Stalinist tendency and to search for a compromise of collaborating with the nationalist tendencies and the sects; in 1942 the ‘mad bonze’ who had been exiled in Laos was liberated by them, and when on 9 March 1945 the Japanese brought the French colonial administration to an end, they armed the devotees of these two sects, hoping to be able to use them as military auxiliaries in the event of an American landing.
Let us return to the Stalinists and to their activities up to their seizure of power in 1945. In May 1941 Ho Chi Minh, who was living in Kwangsi in China, convened a conference that brought together Vietnamese elements of all origins and formed along with them an organisation under the unassuming title of Viet Minh (an abbreviation of Viet-nam dot-lap dong minh, The League for the Independence of Vietnam), whose effective leadership belonged to his own followers.
The Chinese generals of the Guomindang now convened a second conference of the Vietnamese political refugees in China at Lieou-tcheou on 4 October 1942, with the intention of brushing aside the Communist tendency and of setting up the Dong-minh hoi, the Association for National Liberation, presided over by Nguyen Hai Tha, an old pro-Chinese emigré. Ho Chi Minh was imprisoned for 18 months. However, at the conference of March 1944 at Lieou-tcheou, in the course of which a programme for a ‘provisional republican government of Vietnam’ was elaborated, the Vietminh was represented, and had a portfolio. This programme consisted of two points: the liquidation of the domination of the French and Japanese, and independence for Vietnam with the assistance of the Guomindang; but whereas the nationalists of this government remained in China, where they waited for the intervention of the Guomindang to assure them of power in Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh group, under the banner of the Vietminh, came back into Tonkin and established itself in the region of Thai-nguyen. When the Japanese coup of 9 March 1945 put an end to French rule in Indochina, the Vietminh found itself practically master of the highlands. Orientating himself towards the Allies (Russia, Nationalist China, Great Britain and the United States), Ho Chi Minh organised a few skirmishes against the Japanese, made contact with the Americans at Kun-ming, and from them obtained weapons with which to struggle on the side of the Allies. After the surrender of the Japanese on 15 August 1945, the Ho Chi Minh group (the Vietminh) was already an organised military force, however hastily armed and numerically weak.
3. August 1945, The Coming of Ho Chi Minh
Here we shall examine the situation that permitted the seizure of power by Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh followers in August 1945.
The first cannon shots in Europe that began “the continuation of politics” in the blood of the slaves opened up for Japanese imperialism, which had been engaged upon a full-scale war of conquest in China since 1937, a perspective of realising the Greater Asia Plan of Tojo for the ousting of the old Western masters from South-East Asia. When the French refused to allow their troops to penetrate into Tonkin in 1940, the Japanese went over to the attack at Lan-son and Dongdang in the evening of 22 September, and on the 24th landed at Haiphong after having bombarded the port. So began the Japanese occupation of Indochina; it maintained the administrative apparatus of French colonialism with a Vichy admiral in charge who largely collaborated with the Japanese general staff. The systematic plunder of the produce of the country for the needs of war plunged the population into increasing misery; more than ever the peasant masses lived in destitution. American bombing, typhoons and exceptional cold all added up to disaster, culminating in the great famine of March to May 1945, with about a million deaths in the north, including deaths in the streets of Hanoi.
In the south of the country the religious sects that had been persecuted by the French cherished a hope in Japan. The Cao-daists, whose Pope Pham Cong Tac was living in exile at Nossi-lava (Madagascar), were counting on the return of Prince Cuong-de, who was a refugee in Japan, and the devotees of the ‘Mad bonze’, the Hoa-Hao, had obtained from the Japanese the return of their master Huynh Phu So, who had been exiled to Laos by the French. From 1943 onwards some pro-Japanese nationalist groups were formed, and their members were utilised in the Japanese propaganda and police services.
Round about 1943 in the mountain region of Tuyen-quang near the Chinese frontier in the north, Ho Chi Minh organised his guerilla centre and made contact with the Americans to ask them for weapons, whilst proclaiming himself to be on the side of the ‘democratic Allies against Japanese Fascism’; his ‘people’s army’ was officially inaugurated in the resistance starting from 22 December 1944.
Faced with the American offensive in the Pacific and the threat of ruin for the Berlin-Tokyo-Rome Axis, the Japanese put an end to the authority of the French over the whole peninsula by a coup starting from 9 March 1945. The French troops were disarmed and confined to their barracks, and the commanders were either imprisoned or put to death; the population was concentrated and strictly controlled. The Japanese effected a proclamation of independence by the Emperor Bao Dai and by means of Tran Trong Kim created a ‘national government’ at Hué on 2 March. The leaden cover that had weighed down upon the country was now split. The popular masses felt relieved, since of the two brigands who had been plundering them, one had fallen under the blows of the other, and they were filled with a feeling of satisfaction over the one that was impotent, along with the illusion that with ‘national independence’ something positive was going to be done about their condition. The arrogant policemen of the French regime were no longer in the streets of Saigon questioning workers and clerks returning from work in order to verify their personal identity cards (giay thne than). No longer were French colons to be heard threatening to kick the backsides of rickshaw boys who were claiming what was owed them. The members of the pro-Japanese nationalist groups received key posts in the administration. The youth of country, town and village was paramilitarily organised to serve as an auxiliary force for the Japanese army in the event of an American landing; this movement was known under the name of the Youth Vanguard (Thank-nien tied-phong). The Cao-daists formed their own armed groups, whereas the Hoa-Hao were forging sharp-edged weapons whilst “waiting upon events”, in other words, the opportunity for seizing power. The militants of the Stalinist group who had escaped the repression or who had been freed from the concentration camps after 9 March were working – mobilised after a fashion – for the ‘national government’ and the peasants, and were operating underground within the Youth Vanguard. All this political ferment in the South during the five months that preceded the defeat of the Japanese was escaping from their control, whereas in the regions of Upper Tonkin the zone of the armed groups of Ho Chi Minh was spreading; they, also, were waiting upon ‘events’.
The bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945 marked another bloody era for this corner of Asia, intended by the imperialist powers (the Potsdam agreement between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt) to be occupied to the north of the seventeenth parallel by Chinese troops and to the south of it by British troops. This new partition of the world wiped French imperialism from the map of Indochina, and through the mediation of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese the Americans were counting on including Northern Vietnam within their sphere of influence in South East Asia.
Faced with the political gap created by the Japanese surrender, and preceding the Chinese troops who were bringing with them the pro-Chinese nationalists of the Dong-minh-hoi and the Viet-nam quoc dan-dang, Ho Chi Minh brought together his supporters in the village of Tantrao (province of Thai-nguyen) and created a Committee for the National Liberation of Vietnam (Uy-ban giai-phong dan-toc Viet-nam), the majority of which was composed of about 10 former members of the Communist Party. In this way he broke with the ‘government in exile’ in China, and therefore with the pro-Chinese nationalists. After some spectacular demonstrations organised by his emissaries in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh made his entrance there at the head of his ‘people’s army’ around 18 August. Without further ado the representative of Bao Dai’s pro-Japanese government in Hanoi, Phan Ke Toai, withdrew. Thus the de facto power of the Vietminh was set up with the indifference of the Japanese, who had received instructions from the Allies to maintain order until the arrival of the Chinese troops. It should also be said that the Japanese released some 400 political prisoners who had been incarcerated in the Shell buildings who were claimed by the Vietminh, and that they allowed them to get hold of weapons. At the same time the ‘people’s committees’ took control of the administration in the provinces, and the Mandarins disappeared or submitted. A provisional Vietminh government was formed in Hanoi on 25 August, presided over by Ho Chi Minh; in Hue, after the resignation of the Tran Trong Kim government, Bao Dai also abdicated, and was designated as a ‘supreme counsellor’ by Ho Chi Minh.
What happened in the South of the country after 15 August? The same absence of power as in the North made itself felt in Saigon; the Japanese troops seemed to be frozen into immobility whilst awaiting the arrival of the British, whereas ever since 9 March the disarmed French had been waiting for their ‘liberation’ and their return to power. The supporters of Ho Chi Minh (some emissaries who had come from Tonkin had joined the Stalinist group of Cochin China) went around in cars provided with loudspeakers calling out “defend the Vietminh” (“ung-ho Viet minh”), the ‘Vietminh’ being a name hitherto unknown around Saigon having all the attraction of a mystery, and then they distributed leaflets claiming themselves to be “on the side of the Russian, Chinese, British and United States Allies for independence”. The ‘United National Front’ which in a few days had collected together the Party for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet-nam quoc gia doc lap dang), the Vanguard Youth, the Group of the Intellectuals, the Federation of Civil Servants and the Tinh do cu Buddhist sect along with the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai, appealed to the population to demonstrate for independence in the presence of an uncertain and threatening situation. On 21 August 1945, for the first time in the political life of the country, from the morning onwards, veritable masses of people assembled like ants and filled the Norodom Boulevard, then the Botanical Gardens near the governor’s palace, and then crossed the major arteries in order chanting slogans: “Down with French imperialism!” (“Da dao de quoc phap”), “Long live the Independence of Vietnam!” (“Vietnam hoan toan doc lap’”, whilst the flags and banners floating above this moving army indicated the presence of the Vanguard Youth, who had been a pro-Japanese organisation only yesterday, peasants led by Stalinist militants who had come from the environs of Saigon, workers of Saigon-Cholon, Cao-daists, Buddhists of various sects grouped around their bonzes, the Hoa Hao, and the militants of the Trotskyist La Lutte and Internationalist Communist League groups. The latter, under the flag of the Fourth International, raised the slogans of “the land and ricefields to the peasants, the factories and enterprises for the workers!”. Some demonstrators were armed with sharpened bamboo poles. Banners were seen with the unusual inscriptions such as “Murder Assault Groups” (“Ban am sat xung phong”) raised by bare-chested and tatooed men, who were carrying sharpened weapons and old rifles. The Vietnamese police at the service of the occupation no longer knew from where to take its orders: it remained passive in the presence of the procession crossing the city on strike, and the crowd only disappeared in the afternoon. This demonstration, which owed its initiation to the Vietminh, was the classic tactic preparatory to the seizure of power – it represented the seal of general approval. But in fact everybody went down into the street with different aspirations. The only common but overwhelming sentiment was “never to see the French back in power, long live the end of the colonial regime!”
This first awakening of these masses, who had been forever in “chains . and gags”, emanated an electric tension amid an unusual calm, the brooding calm that preceeds a storm. All constraint was broken, and everybody seemed to live a moment of total liberty, where the absence of the state and the bankruptcy of the police allowed everyone to prepare himself in his own way for the eventuality of a terrible conflict. What darkness upon the horizon of a fundamental change! Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had decided our fate at Yalta and Potsdam. We were now to be cast body and soul into a future without a tomorrow. Faced with the perspective of the imminent arrival of the British troops, and faced with the threat of the return of the old colonial regime (Colonel Cédile, the special envoy of the ‘New France’, was already in the Governor-General’s palace in Saigon), everybody decided to look for and obtain weapons; everyone lived in the same explosive atmosphere.
Events were about to unfold in these crucial moments of general crisis with the speed of lightning. The nationalist groups and sects that had been pro-Japanese remained armed, but incapable of taking the initiative: their time was finished with the fall of Japan. The Vietminh, politically reinforced by the coming of Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, and having already taken control of the movement of the Youth Vanguard, whose leaders has joined it, also having been strengthened by the monster demonstration of 25 August, in which it saw the approval of the masses for its policy of collaboration with the ‘Allies’ for national independence, was about to impose its rule.
In fact, a proclamation signed by the ‘Southern Provisional Executive Committee’ (‘Uy-ban hanh chanh lam-thoi Nambo’) soon appeared on the walls of the city. The Committee appealed to the population to range itself behind it with a view to obtaining the independence of the country by negotiation with the ‘Allies’, and promised the formation of a democratic parliamentary republic. At the same time as this poster announced the ‘taking of power’ by the Vietminh, a list of the members of the Provisional Government, presided over by the Stalinist Tran Van Giau, was put up in front of the Saigon town hall, fastened to an imposing column covered with red cloth; another Stalinist, Nguyen Van Tao, who had been a Saigon municipal councillor, was assigned to the Ministry of the Interior, and in order to give their committee the appearance of a national union that would be acceptable to the Allies in an eventual negotiation, the Stalinists secured the governmental collaboration of a doctor, some non-Stalinist intellectuals, and even a landowner. This Nam-bo committee sat in the town hall, guarded by militiamen in white uniforms. The police and cops had joined them, and the commissariats were controlled by Tran Van Giau’s comrades; the pirates of Le Van Vien, called the Bay Vien, had been enlisted as policemen and as agents for the future Stalinist assassinations (they had been well known under the French under the label of the ‘bands of Binh xuyen’, the name of a hamlet situated between Saigon and Cholon).
The activity of the Nam-bo Committee extended out towards the provinces, where they set up their own provisional committees that took control of the people’s committees that had spontaneously arisen in the villages and of the old Vanguard Youth. The arrival of the Allied Commission was announced for the beginning of September. In the streets of Saigon floated immense banners bearing inscriptions of greeting in English, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese: “Welcome to the Allied Forces!” Some demonstrative actions marked the intentions of the Nam-bo Committee to have done with French colonialism: the Saigon streets changed their names. The Rue Catinat, the luxurious artery of the city, famous for its police offices, jails and torture chambers, was baptised ‘The Street of the Paris Commune’, and the Norodom Boulevard was called ‘The Boulevard of the Republic’ ... The statues of the ‘heroes’ of the conquest (the Bishop of Adran holding the young prince Canh by the hand in front of the cathedral, Admiral Rigault de Genouilly at the side of the Saigon river, and Bonnard in front of the Municipal Theatre) and other monuments of the colonial era were destroyed.
On the morning of 2 September a large official procession was organised by the Nam-bo Committee. The newly armed militia opened the march in uniform. In the afternoon some shots were fired in the cathedral square, no-one knows from where, provoking a general outburst; the demonstrators flung themselves upon the French houses, and the demonstration ended late at night with dead and wounded on both sides.
Soon the Gurkhas of the Twentieth Indian Division arrived by plane under the command of the British general Gracey. From the moment of his arrival Gracey had leaflets spread all over the city by Japanese fighter planes proclaiming that he had charged the Japanese with the maintenance of public order, and that he forbade the population to keep any weapons under threat of severe punishment. An immense poster repeating this proclamation was stuck on the city walls. The haughty tone of this Allied military representative was the equivalent of a formal notice, addressed not only to the armed groups of the religious sects who had held onto quantities of Japanese weapons, but also to the Nam-bó Committee, whose armed militia was more or less held responsible for the ‘disorders’ of 2 September. Gracey installed his headquarters in the small palace of the governor of Cochin China. A feverish activity agitated the groups and sects. The Hoa Hao assumed the name of the Social Democratic Party (Dang dan-xa), and it seems that they, along with the Cao-daists, were invited to a few subordinate ministerial posts of social affairs by the Vietminh. The Trotskyists of the La Lutte group pronounced in favour of support to the Stalinist Vietminh in this phase of the struggle for national independence and for the formation of a democratic republic, but declared that they reserved the right to criticise; another Trotskyist tendency denounced as an illusion fostered among the masses the possibility of obtaining national independence by negotiation with the imperialist brigands whose alliance was being solicited by the Vietminh. Advocating the arming of the people (which was against the intentions of the Nam-bo Committee to control all the armed groupings) and the preparation of an armed insurrection and against the return of the old regime, they organised some tens of workers and clerks in a ‘People’s Revolutionary Committee’ (‘uyban nhan-dan cach-mang’) in the Tandinh suburb of Saigon, and a similar people’s committee was formed at Bien-hoa, some 30 kilometres from Saigon. But the activity of such committees, in a duality with the de facto power of the Stalinists, was a stain that could spread, and the arrest and incarceration of their members by the police put a stop to it. We should note that the militants of Tan-dinh allowed themselves to be disarmed without protest, for they feared that if they fired upon the police they would only foster the accusations of provocation that had been launched against them by those in charge in the town hall, and they would be misunderstood by the masses. The leaders of the sects who were also the victims of police searches disappeared, along with their armed groups. The repression of the Vietminh was already aiming at controlling all its opponents.
The Nam-bo Committee, to whom Gracey had accorded some polite acknowledgements without giving them formal recognition, still operated in the town hall; on the other hand Cédile, who was feverishly plotting with the British to “re-establish colonial order”, had also entered into a dialogue of the deaf with this same Committee. The leaflets of the Committee of 17 September called for a general strike against the French, but always in the hope of a possible negotiation with the British, and recommended calm to the population. Three days afterwards, on the 20th, the Vietnamese press was banned by the British, and the proclamations of the Committee were torn down and removed from the walls of the city. On the 22nd the British were controlling the prison, and were rearming some 1,500 French soldiers who had been shut up by the Japanese in the barracks of the second Indo Chinese Regiment. Finally, during the night of 22-23 September, the French, assisted by the Gurkhas, reoccupied the police stations, the political police headquarters, the Tax Office and the Post Office. The Vietminh Committee left the town hall and withdrew into the neighbourhood of Cholon; that same night the Saigon insurrection broke out.
4. The Saigon Insurrection
One of the main concerns of the Vietminh Committee was to ensure its ‘recognition’ by the British authorities as a de facto government. To this end the committee did everything it could to show its strength and demonstrate its ability to “maintain order„.
Through its press it ordered the dissolution of all the partisan groups that had played an active role in the struggle against Japanese imperialism.
All weapons were to be handed over to the Vietminh’s own police force. The Vietminh’s militia, known as the ‘Republican Guard– (Cong hoa-ve-binh) and their police thus had a legal monopoly in the carrying of weapons.
The groups aimed at by this decision were not only certain religious sects (the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao) but also the workers’ committees, several of which were armed.
Also aimed at were the Vanguard Youth Organisation and a number of ‘self-defence groups’, many based on factories or plantations. These stood on a very radical social programme but were not prepared to accept complete control by the Vietminh.
The Trotskyists of the Spark group (Tia Sang), anticipating an imminent and inevitable confrontation with the military forces of Britain and France, started to distribute leaflets calling for the formation of Popular Action Committees (tochuc-uy-ban hanh-dong) and for arming of the people.
They advocated the creation of a popular assembly, to be the organ of struggle for national independence.
Workers of the big Tramway Depot of Go Vap (about eight kilometres from Saigon), helped by Tia Sang militants, organised a workers’ militia. The militia issued an appeal to the workers of the Saigon-Cholon area to arm themselves and to prepare for the inevitable struggle against the forces of British and French imperialism. By now General Gracey had prolaimed martial law.
Before it abandoned the centre of Saigon, the Vietminh Committee plastered the walls with posters, inviting the population to “disperse into the countryside”, to “avoid confrontation”, and to “remain calm, because the Committee hopes to open negotiations”.
A sense of insecurity hovered over the town, which slowly drained itself of parts of its Vietnamese population.
During the night of 22-23 September 1945 French troops, supported by Gurkhas commanded by British officers, reoccupied various police stations, the Post Office, the Central Bank and the Town Hall. They met no immediate resistance. The news spread like a trail of gunpowder and triggered off a veritable insurrection in the working class districts of the town. Explosions were heard in widely separate areas. The movement had broken without anyone giving any kind of directive.
The Vietminh had certainly not called for insurrection. Their one preoccupation was ‘law and order‘ and their own accession to power – following negotiations.
In all the outlying suburbs trees were cut down, cars and lorries turned over, and primitive furniture piled up in the streets. Elementary barricades were set up to prevent the passage of French and Gurkha patrols, and the taking up of strategic positions by the imperialist forces. The centre of the town rapidly fell under the control of the French and Japanese troops, supported by Gurkhas. But the poorer suburbs of Khanh Hoi, Cau Kho, Ban Co, Phu Nhuan, Tan Dinh and Thi Nghe were firmly in the hands of the rebels.
The rebels themselves were not a homogenous lot. Among them were members of the Popular Committees, of the Vanguard Youth, Cao-daists, and even ‘off the line‘ groups of Stalinist Republican Guards.
In areas where the popular forces were in control Frenchmen were shot: the cruellest functionaries of the old regime, the hated policemen, known by the population to have participated in torture, were sought out, killed and thrown in the canals. Racialism, fed by 80 years of imperialist domination, and by the contempt of the white man for the yellow man, left its imprint on the violence of the masses, which erupted at moments like these. The massacre of a hundred French civilians in the Heraud Estate, at Tan Dinh, was a painful reminder of this fact. The threats of certain French colons to “skin the Annamites alive to make leather sandals” rebounded back against all whites.
The occupation forces feverishly searched the whole centre of town. This did not prevent the insurgents from setting fire to various important buildings, such as the Manufactured Rubber Company, and to warehouses.
During the night of 23-24 September, guerillas attacked the port without respite. The following day revolutionary groups openly paraded in the Rue de Verdun and marched up the Boulevard de la Somme, converging on the Market Place, which they later burnt down.
In Saigon there was neither water nor electricity. Supplies were breaking down. Each day the French sought to extend the area under their control, while various armed groups organised themselves as guerillas in the periphery of the city.
The Vietminh Committee produced a leaflet: “The French ... seem to take pleasure in murdering our people. There is only one answer: a food blockade.” While seeking to ‘starve out‘ the French (a futile hope, as the British ships controlled the access to the harbour) the Vietminh clung to its hope of starting negotiations with the British.
Talks with Gracey did at last start ... and a truce was announced on 1 October. On 5 October General Leclerc, head of the French Expeditionary Force, arrived. His mission was to “restore order” and to “build a strong Indochina within the French Union”. He landed his troops. The commandos of the battleship Triomphant paraded down the Rue Catinat. The hated Tricolour again fluttered from various windows.
The ‘negotiations’ between the Vietminh and the British continued. The only result was that British and Japanese troops were allowed “free and unmolested passage” through zones occupied by the insurgents. The Vietminh Committee, continuing its policy of appeasement towards the imperialist Allies, had consciously taken this decision.
The Gurkhas and the Japanese moved out further detachments occupying strategic points on the periphery of Saigon. On 12 October French troops, supported by Gurkhas, launched a general attack towards the north-east. The miserable peasant huts burnt from Thi Nghe to Tan Binh. The encirclement of the town by the rebels was gradually broken, in desperate fighting. The leader of the Bay Vien group of guerillas refused to undertake underhand police work against other tendencies not affiliated to the Vietminh. He proclaimed his independence in relation to the latter. His was not the only armed band to refuse the authority of the Stalinists. The biggest of such ‘dissident’ groups was known as the Third Division, de-tam-su-doan. It was led by an erstwhile nationalist, who had for a while placed his faith in Japan.
A few hundred armed men organised sustained resistance to the French, in the Plaine des Joncs, but they surrendered a few months later, and the group disbanded.
The Vietminh would not tolerate any tendency that dared formulate the least criticism of it. It dealt with such tendencies by physically liquidating them. The militants of the Trotskyist group La Lutte were the first victims of the Stalinist terror, despite their proclamations of “critical support to the Vietminh government”.
Gathered in a temple in the Thu Due area, and while preparing the armed struggle against the French on the Gia Dinh front, they were surrounded one morning by the Vietminh, arrested and interned shortly afterwards at Ben Sue in the province of Thu Dau Mot.
There they were all shot – together with some 30 other prisoners – at the approach of the French troops.
Among those murdered was Tran Van Thach, one-time municipal councillor for Saigon, elected in 1933 on a Stalinist-Trotskyist list, and a few months earlier released from the penal settlement at Poulo Condore.
Ta Thu Thau, also released from Poulo Condore, had gone to Tonkin Province to help organise assistance to the famine-stricken areas. He was murdered by supporters of Ho Chi Minh, on his way back, in central Annam.
In this atmosphere of Vietminh terror, the workers’ militia of the Go Vap tramway depot, some 60 strong, participated in the insurrection, on its own initiative. The 400 workers and employees of the Tramway Company were well-known for their militancy and independent frame of mind.
Under French imperialist rule there had been no trade union rights. After 9 March 1945, when the Japanese had replaced the French at the head of this particular enterprise, the workers had immediately constituted their own workers’ committee and put forward a series of demands.
Japanese soldiery, led by Colonel Kirino, had come to threaten them, but confronted by their militant and united stand, had eventually been obliged to grant them a wage increase and even to recognise 11 delegates elected by the 11 categories of workers: electricians, carpenters, metal workers, etc.
In August 1945, when foreign technicians had momentarily abandoned the enterprise, the depot had been taken over and managed by the workers themselves, until the time of the insurrection.
All those insurgents who did not rally immediately to the Vietminh flags were denounced by the Vietminh as traitors. Workers who didn’t identify with the ‘patriotic cause’ were called ‘saboteurs’ and ‘reactionaries’.
The southern CGT was presided over by the arch-Stalinist Hoang Don Van. Its function was to control the workers of the Saigon-Cholon area, by nominating their ‘representatives’ for them, from above.
In this atmosphere of violent ideological totalitarianism, the workers of the Go Vap tramway depot, although affiliated to the southern CGT, refused the label of Cong-nhan cuu-quoc (Worker Saviours of the Fatherland). They insisted on remaining a proletarian militia, and rejected the Vietminh flag (yellow star on red background), saying they would continue their fight under the red flag, the flag of their own class emancipation.
The tramway men then organised themselves into combat groups of 11 men under elected leaders … and under the overall command of Tran Dinh Minh, a young Trotskyist from the north who had published a social novel in Hanoi, under the pseudonym of Nguyen Hai Au, and who had come south to participate in the struggle.
At this stage the local Stalinists, under the command of Nguyen Dinh Thau, seemed far more concerned at arresting and shooting their left critics – and in fact all whom they saw as potential rivals for the leadership of the movement – than at prosecuting the struggle against the French. Terrorist acts became the rule. They left a deep imprint on the ‘state-in-embryo‘ which the maquis was soon to become. The emergence of the Vietminh as the dominant force, in the years to come, was only possible after a lot of working class and peasant blood had been shed.
Refusing to accept the authority of Nguyen Dinh Thau, the tramwaymen’s militia sought to regroup in the Plaine des Joncs, towards which it had opened a way, fighting meanwhile against the Gurkhas and the French at Loc Giang, Thot Not and My Hanh.
In the Plaine des Joncs the tramwaymen established contact with the poor peasants. And it was here that, in a fight against the imperialist forces, Tran Dinh Minh was killed, on 13 January 1946. Some 20 other tramway workers had already lost their lives in the course of battles waged on the way.
The intolerance of the Vietminh in relation to all independent tendencies, the accusations of treachery combined with threats of murder and the numerical weakness of the tramwaymen’s militia eventually forced its members to disperse. Three of them, Le Ngoc, Ky and Huong, a young worker of 14, were stabbed to death by Vietminh bands.
The Saigon explosion reverberated into the countryside and into the more distant provinces. The peasants seized the local officials who had most distinguished themselves by their cruelty or their extortions, and many were put to death. But in the countryside, as in the towns, the pretext of popular anger against the exploiters was everywhere used by the Vietminh to settle accounts with political dissenters.
Ngo Van Xuyet
1. For the Yen Bay incident, cf nl1, see below Ngo Van Xuyet’s account of Ta Thu Thau.
2. Apart from ‘Lucien’, the writer, Ngo Van Xuyet, was also jailed at this time.
Ta Thu Thau: Vietnamese Trotskyist Leader
The credit for the first attempt in Britain to confront the Vietnamese Stalinists with the question of the murder of Ta Thu Thau goes to Chris Harman of the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers Party), who broached the subject in his speech at a Ho Chi Minh Memorial Meeting, which was organised by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, and held in London on 13 September 1969. This resulted in the representative of the Stalinist regime walking off the stage in protest, and considerable pandemonium in the hall.
An eye-witness account of this meeting appears in David Widgery, The Left in Britain 1956-68, Harmondsworth 1976, pp 412-5. An account by the IS appeared in Socialist Worker (18 September 1969), and one hostile to the IS was in Black Dwarf (1 October 1969). Harman’s article, Ho – He Gave the ‘Third World’ Hope, which made much the same points as his speech, appeared in Socialist Worker (11 September 1969). A letter from Peter Sedgwick defending Harman’s position appeared in Black Dwarf (26 November 1969), with an editorial reply signed by Tariq Ali, Anthony Barnett, Fred Halliday, Adrian Mitchell and Sheila Rowbotham, saying that “Sedgwick ... knows little about Vietnam”. (The IS had previously published material on Ta Thu Thau in an article by Jim Scott, Ta Thu Thau – A Great Vietnamese Socialist, Labour Worker (7 September 1966).)
Some sections of the Trotskyist movement showed a distinct lack of principle on this issue. The International Marxist Group affirmed that “all talk of ‘Ho Chi Minh’s murder squads’ is an over-simplified distortion of an extremely complex situation” (Ta Thu Thau: Vietnamese Revolutionary, Red Mole, 15 September 1970), and Stephen Johns tried to exonerate the regime from responsibility by claiming that he had been “assassinated by a Vietminh cadre” (Stalinism and the Liberation of Vietnam, Fourth International (WRP), Volume 9 no.3, Autumn 1975, p.119).
Ho Chi Minh’s responsibility is established in the three letters and three interviews printed in Ho Chi Minh et les Trotskystes, Chroniques Vietnamiennes, no.1, November 1986, pp.13-18, from which come the pieces translated by Richard Moore in Political Terror in Vietnam, Socialist Organiser, no.295, 4 December 1986, and by Simon Pirani in Vietnam and Trotskyism, Australia 1987, pp.123-8. Tran Van Giau’s personal responsibility was raised with him when on a visit to France last year (Peter Salmon, Killer Confronted, Workers Press, 24 February 1990). Other accounts by the Groupe Trotskyste Vietnamien in France occur in Justice for Ta Thu Thau, Socialist Organiser, no.359, 9 June 1988 and Ta Thu Thau, Vietnamese Trotskyist, Socialist Organiser, no.360, 16 June 1988.
The following summary was written for us by the veteran Vietnamese revolutionary Ngo Van Xuyet, who now lives in Paris, and was translated for this magazine by Simon Pirani, and our thanks are surely due to both, as it consists of the fullest treatment of the life of this heroic figure that has yet appeared in English.
Ta Thu Thau was born on 6 May 1906 at Tan Binh (Longxuyên, south Vietnam), the fourth child of a large and very poor family: his father was a carpenter. In 1925 he began work as a teacher in Saigon.  At the age of 20, along with most of the ‘educated’ youth, Ta Thu Thau – in an experience he later called the “folly of his youth” – joined the nationalist group Young Annam, which was soon dissolved by the French colonial government.  On 24 March 1926 Ta Thu Thau took part in a mass demonstration to mark the return from France of the constitutional-nationalist leader Bui Quang Chiêu, and on 4 April 1926 in the demonstration marking the funeral of the veteran nationalist Phan Chau Trinh.  On 21 March that year he had taken part in a meeting in the Rue Lanzarotte, Saigon, organised by Nguyen An Ninh, for democratic liberties, and against the exploitation of Annamites, both natives from Annam and those from Tonkin. He wrote for the Annam newspaper of the nationalist lawyer Phan Van Truong. 
Ta Thu Thau arrived in France in September 1927 and enrolled at the Science faculty of the University of Paris. He joined the Dang Viet Nam Dôc Lap (Annamite Independence Party – PAI), and after its founder Nguyen The Truyen returned to Vietnam in 1928, took responsibility for its work.  The anti-colonialist monthly Resurrection, which began in December the same year, but was shortlived, was published by Ta Thu Thau in collaboration with Huynh Van Phuong. 
In January 1929, Pierre Taittinger’s Jeunesse Patriotes (Young Patriots)  clashed with Annamites under the PAI’s influence. Ta Thu Thau attacked L’Humanité, the French Communist Party’s newspaper, for the “bad faith” of its account, and the French Communist Party (PCF) for its failure to intervene on behalf of the Annamites arrested at this meeting, and wrote about the “retribution to be exacted from the PCF’s Colonial Commission” for its “counter-revolutionary factional work” within the PAI. The Annamite group of the PCF’s Colonial section, led by Nguyen Van Tao , hoped through this work to transform the PAI members into “automatons for carrying out their edicts”, as he wrote. A leaflet written by Ta Thu Thau concluded: “From our unspeakable slavery, we cry out to all the oppressed of the colonies: unite against European imperialism, white or red, if you want a part of this world for yourselves.” In March 1929 Ta Thu Thau tried in vain to defend the PAI from its legal dissolution by the Seine district court.
From 20 to 30 July 1929 Ta Thu Thau participated in the Second Congress of the Anti-Imperialist League at Frankfurt.  In left-wing Paris circles, he met Felicien Challaye, Francis Jourdain and Daniel Guérin.  He abandoned the nationalist beliefs of his early years and entered the Trotskyist Left Opposition. He was 23 years old.
Following the insurrection at Yên Bay, on the night of 9-10 February 1930, inspired by the Viet Nam Quôc Dân Dang (the Annamite Kuomintang) , Ta Thu Thau set out his political perspective in relation to the Indochinese revolution in La Verité, organ of the Left Opposition in Paris (April/May/June 1930).
The artificially-created indigenous bourgeoisie is not capable of making any revolution ... the indigenous bourgeois bloc, incapable of an independent existence, has welded itself firmly to the French bourgeoisie – which holds on tight to it, and uses it to break up the revolutionary struggle in the name of Annamite nationalism.
The badly-organised rising at Yên Bay ... without liaison between its organisation and the civilian population ... was launched on a confused ideological foundation ... a Sun-Yat-sen-ist synthesis of democracy, nationalism and socialism  ... a kind of nationalist mysticism.
This policy obscured the concrete class relationships, and the real, organic liaison between the indigenous bourgeoisie and French imperialism ... Those who speak of immediate and integral independence have nothing more than a mechanical and formalistic conception of the struggle. Not one of them can doubt that, behind these impressive words, there is a people within which operate perpetual molecular changes of the social classes, which are all the more imperceptible because they are veiled by the appearance of the conflict between races, which in many people’s eyes is real and eternal ... Neither terrorism nor Gandhism will resolve the colonial problem ... A revolution based on the organisation of the proletarian and peasant masses is the only one capable of liberating the colonies ... The question of independence must be bound up with that of the proletarian socialist revolution.
Ta Thu Thau here criticised the Third International and the PCF for their negligence in training Marxist cadres, and for their empirical approach to the so-called “continuous revolutionary situation” in Indochina; he denounced the “false policy of the International”, the adventurist policy of the Third Period, as a result of which “proletarian revolutionaries had capitulated to the nationalist parties ...” and “the Chinese revolution had been led to the graveyard.”
On 22 May 1930 the Annamite students in Paris demonstrated in the Champs d’Elysées against more than 50 death sentences passed against participants in the Yên Bay uprising; Ta Thu Thau was arrested, and on 30 May deported from France back to Vietnam with 18 of his compatriots.
When the clandestine Trotskyist Ta doi lâp (Left Opposition) was formed in Saigon near the end of 1931, Ta Thu Thau was one of its founders. But the group soon split into three factions: Ta Thu Thau organised the Dông duong công san (Indochinese Communism) group, which from 1 May 1932 published a duplicated news-sheet, Vô San (Proletarian). Huynh Van Phuong and Phan Van Chanh, who were also among those deported from France, published communist propaganda journals under the title Ta doi lâp tung tho (Left Opposition Publications). Another deportee from France, Ho Huu Tuong, together with other opponents of the Indochinese Communist Party, formed the Thang muoi (October) group. 
These clandestine groups were soon hit by severe repression. Forty-one people were arrested in Saigon and in the Baclieu, Baria, Giadinh and Soctrang provinces. Arrested on 8 August 1932, Ta Thu Thau was freed with a warning on 21 January 1933; but 15 activists were sentenced to between four months and five years imprisonment at a trial of 21 Trotskyists on 1 May 1933.
At the Saigon municipal elections on 30 April and 7 May 1933, Ta Thu Thau carried out legal agitation with the Stalinist Communist Nguyen Van Tao, the nationalists Nguyen An Ninh, Tran Van Thach, Le Van Thu, Trinh Hung Ngau and others.  This group constituted a ‘workers’ list (so lao dong) for the elections, an unusual event for Indochina. A French-language newspaper, La Lutte (The Struggle), was published to support the campaign (Annamite-language newspapers were subject to censorship); the first issue was dated 24 April 1933 and the paper disappeared the day after the election. To a stupefied reaction from colonialist society, two candidates from the ‘workers’ list’ were elected onto the municipal council.
On 15 November of the same year, following an initiative from a study circle of former students in France, Ta Thu Thau gave a lecture on the dialectic, to a large audience of students and workers gathered at a cooperative college.
In 1934, from the ‘United Front’ of Trotskyists, Stalinists and nationalists “for the defence of the working class”, the La Lutte group was formally constituted; the Trotskyists withheld their critique of the USSR and Stalinism, the Stalinists their criticism of Trotskyism, and the La Lutte newspaper reappeared on 4 October 1934.
Their election to office annulled , the group’s members presented themselves anew for the municipal election of May 1935. Ta Thu Thau was among those elected. Sought by the authorities for “subversive press activity”, he was given a two year suspended prison sentence on 27 June 1935, a punishment confirmed by the appeal court on 10 September 1935. On 26 December 1935 Ta Thu Thau – along with three other elected representatives of La Lutte – was arrested for making a speech in support of striking tilbury-drivers; they were released the next day. At the trial of the La Lutte newspaper on 18 March 1936, Ta Thu Thau was fined 500 francs in the Saigon court.
The coming to power of the Popular Front government in France in June 1936  triggered off a vast popular movement which swept Indochina: strikes in the rubber plantations, in the Arsenal, on the railways ... and peasant demonstrations. At a meeting on 13 August 1936, principally of militants from the La Lutte group and leaders of the constitutional-nationalist party, plans were sketched out for the Indochinese Congress movement. A committee was formed to prepare a charter of democratic demands for presentation to the Popular Front government. The Congress movement was banned on 19 September 1936, and Ta Thu Thau, who had taken part in its commission for legislation for the workers, was jailed along with Nguyen Van Tao and Nguyen An Ninh. They were all released after 11 days’ hunger strike, on 5 November.
In 1937 industrial strikes and peasant demonstrations exploded again. Ta Thu Thau found himself back in prison from 18 May to 7 June, and was then condemned by the Saigon court on 9 July to two years in prison, a sentence against which he appealed. It was at this time that the PCF ordered the Stalinists to break with the Trotskyists (cf the letter from Gitton, 19 May 1937).  A general strike of railwaymen landed Ta Thu Thau back in prison on 23 July 1937. After a hunger strike of 12 days, he was brought back it front of the Saigon court on 17 September on a stretcher. He was semi-paralysed. Condemned on 11 November to a further two-year sentence to run concurrently, he was released conditionally three months before the end of the sentence, on 14 February 1939, on the eve of the Annamite new year.
Working with his Trotskyist comrades Ta Thu Thau continued publication of the newspaper Tranh dau (formerly La Lutte which appeared in the Annamite language from October 1938), supporting the Fourth International. In the paper’s pages he waged a campaign for the Colonial Council elections of 16 and 30 April 1939 ,. where he was elected with his two comrades Tran Van Thach and Phan Var Hum Their programme included opposition to a national loan of 33 million piastres being raised from the people “for the defence of Indochina” – and this conflicted with the position of the Indochinese Communist Party, which was aligned with that of the PCF, that France had to get her security forces into a state of battle-readiness, as a consequence of the Laval-Stalin pact of May 1935. On 1 October 1939 Phan Van Hum was condemned to five years in prison for this anti-militarist propaganda.
Ta Thu Thau was authorised to leave Saigon on 21 August 1939 to go to Siam. He intended to seek medical treatment there. But the war broke out, and he was arrested and taken back to Saigon on 11 October 1939. The newspaper Tranh dau was among those affected by a banning order on 26 September 1939, and Ta Thu Thau’s group was among those “communistic groups and associations” affected by a dissolution order (decreed in October, 1939). Condemned in the Saigon court on 16 April 1940 to five years’ imprisonment a 10-year banning order and 10 years’ loss of civil rights, Ta Thu Thau was deported to the Poulo Condore island concentration camp in October 1940.
After his return from the camp at the end of 1944, Ta Thu Thau worked to build the Socialist Workers Party (Dan xa hoi tho thuyen). The Japanese coup put an end to French colonial power on March 1945, and replaced it with the government of Bao Dai and Tran Tron Kim.  By the middle of 1945, Ta Thi Thau had made his way to Tonkin, and made contact with Trotskyist militants in the Dan phuong region including Luon Due Thiep, Khuong Huu An and others who were publishing the newspaper Chieu dau (Combat) as the organ of the Socialist Workers Party of north Vietnam.
Ta Thu Thau participated in clandestine workers’ and peasants’ meetings in the mining areas of Nam dinh, Haiphong and Hai duong. After the fall of Japan and the coming to power of Ho Chi Minh in August 1945 , Ta Thu Thau hoped to get back to south Vietnam, but was arrested by the Vietminh at Quang ngai and assassinated in September 1945. 
On the subject of Ta Thu Thau’s death, here are the words of Ho Chi Minh in 1946, as told by Daniel Guerin: “He was a great patriot and we mourn him ... but all those who do not follow the line we have laid down will be broken.”
In the month following the Saigon insurrection of 23 September 1945, Ta Thu Thau’s closest comrades led the Tranh dau group into battle against the Franco-British force which aimed to reconquer Vietnam, an engagement in which some 200 Tranh dau men lost their lives; like Ta Thu Thau, the Tranh dau leaders were assassinated by Ho Chi Minh’s partisans.
We must recall that in 1939, echoing the Moscow Trials, Ho Chi Minh wrote three letters to his “beloved comrades” describing the Trotskyists as “notorious spies and traitors”, in the service of “international, Chinese, Spanish, Italian and German fascism”. To exterminate them was the implicit, but very clear, conclusion from this.
As a person, Ta Thu Thau was likeable and had great self-possession. Answering a summons by governor Pages  in April 1937, he declared: “A revolutionary I am, and a revolutionary I will remain as long as there is blood in my veins.”
Ngo Van Xuyet
1. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the National Liberation Front’s 1975 victory.
2. France sent military missions to Vietnam from 1848 (central and south Vietnam then constituting the nation of Annam, north Vietnam being known as Tonkin). Vietnam and Cambodia were under complete French control by the 1860s, and this was extended to all Indochina with the conquest of Laos in 1893. The national independence movement took the form of bourgeois conspiracies in the early years of the twentieth century; in the early 1920s it emerged as a mass movement. A Constitutionalist Party was formed in 1923; revolutionary nationalist organisations also proliferated, of which Young Annam (Viet Nam Thanh Nien Dang) was one.
3. Bui Quang Chieu founded the bourgeois Constitutionalist Party which aroused mass sentiment against the feudal class and colonialists in the 1920s, using occasions such as Phan Chau Trinh’s funeral for this purpose. As workers’ movements emerged, starting with the abortive uprisings of 1930, the Constitutionalists became extremely hostile to them and drew closer to the colonialist government and police.
Phan Chau Trinh was a mandarin at the Hue court, who quit his post in disgust at the court’s corruption in 1905, and joined nationalist veteran Phan Boi Chau in exile in Hong Kong. Returning to Vietnam in 1906, he was accused of inspiring a peasant uprising in 1908 and was jailed far three years. After being freed he continued political activity.
4. Nguyen An Ninh studied law in Paris, where he joined the nationalist movement. He returned to Vietnam in 1923 and founded the nationalist newspaper La Cloche Felée, which among other things published the Communist Manifesto in Vietnam for the first time; in the 1930s he played a leading role in the Indochinese Congress movement, and in La Lutte. The Rue Lanzarotte meeting, attended by 3,000 people, was the first-ever public political rally in Saigon. La Cloche Felée was followed by Annam in May 1926. Its editor, Phan Van Truong, had joined the nationalist movement as a student in France in 1912.
5. Nguyen The Truyen also joined the nationalist movement while studying in France, and in 1922-23 formed L’Union Intercoloniale to unite anti-imperialists from throughout the French empire. He returned to Vietnam in 1928. Back in France in 1936-37, he attempted to establish a union of oppressed nationalities together with the Algerian Messali Hadj.
6. Huynh Van Phuong came from a rich Mytho family; in 1927 he went to study law in Paris, where he joined the Trotskyist Left Opposition. Deported to Vietnam together with Ta Thu Thau in 1930, he edited the Left Opposition’s journal in Saigon, and was active in the La Lutte group. He was assassinated by the Stalinists in 1945.
7. Pierre Taittinger’s Jeunesses Patriotes were French fascists, inspired by Mussolini, who emerged as a force after the 1924 election of a Radical-Socialist coalition. These were lumpen thugs, dressed in blue raincoats and berets for their public provocations, downmarket in comparison to the Croix de Feu (predominantly ex-servicemen) and Charles Maurras’ Action Directe which headed the attempted fascist coup of February 1934.
8. Nguyen Van Tao joined the French Communist Party while studying in Paris, and became a full-timer in 1927; he was deported to Vietnam in 1931, where he played a leading part in the Stalinist organisation.
9. The Anti-Imperialist League, founded under the influence of the Stalinist Comintern leaders in 1927 at Brussels, brought together pacifists and other petty-bourgeois lefts. The Frankfurt congress, which Ta Thu Thau attended, brought its short life to an end.
10. Felicien Challaye, Francis Jourdain and historian and writer Daniel Guerin were French anti-colonialists, inspirers of numerous actions supporting colonial liberation, and founders in 1933 of an Amnesty Committee for Vietnamese political prisoners.
11. The Yen Bay insurrection began as a mutiny by Annamite troops stationed on the Chinese frontier; they massacred their officers and controlled the garrison for a night, but other garrisons either failed to rise or were defeated. The village of Co Am rose a few days later, and was suppressed by pitiless aerial bombardment. The severity of French repression following the rising finished the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dong as a political force.
12. Sun Yat Sen was founder of the Chinese bourgeois nationalist Guomindang; his philosophy combined anti-imperialist nationalism, democracy and utopian Socialist ideas.
13. Phanh Van Chanh joined the Left Opposition in Paris in 1929, and was deported along with Ta Thu Thau in 1930. He worked as a teacher, and was an editor of the Left Opposition’s Saigon journal. Deported to Poulo Condore 1940-43; he was assassinated by the Stalinists in October 1945 at Ben Sue, Thu Dau Mot. For Huynh Van Phuong see note 6.
Ho Huu Tuong began his political life as a nationalist, and joined the Trotskyist movement while studying in France, at Aixen-Provence and Lyons; he returned to Saigon in 1931. The October group, which later became the League of Internationalist Communists, supported the Fourth International and published Le Militant; it would not join the La Lutte front because this would have meant withholding public criticism of the Stalinists; its members played a leading role in forming soviet-type workers’ councils in the 1945 revolution. Ho Huu Tuong also participated in 1945, although he had renounced Trotskyism during the war.
14. Tran Van Thach, a nationalist, studied in Paris and was deported to Vietnam with Ta Thu Thau in 1930. He worked as a teacher and, following the struggle within La Lutte, became a Trotskyist in 1937. He was elected to the Saigon Colonial Council in 1939, imprisoned at Poulo Condore from 1940 to 1944, and assassinated by the Stalinists at Thu Dau Mot in 1945. Le Van Thu, another of the Paris deportees, remained a nationalist but played an active part in La Lutte and the workers’ movement. Trinh Hung Ngau, who had worked with Ta Thu Thau on the Annam newspaper, was a nationalist with Anarchist leanings.
15. The elections of La Lutte councillors were annulled on spurious grounds, such as the non-payment of taxes.
16. The elections of April-May 1936 in France gave a large majority to the Popular Front of the Communist Party, Socialists, Radicals and others. A government headed by Leon Blum of the Socialist Party took office on 2 June amidst a wave of strikes and factory occupations. The Stalinists supported this government, although they did not take part in it, thus ensuring that power remained with the bourgeoisie.
17. At this time the Trotskyists advocated intensified strike struggles against French imperialism; the Stalinists wanted an abatement of strikes on the grounds that the working class should not damage the French Popular Front government, a diplomatic ally of the USSR. The letter from French CP leader Marcel Gitton to the Indochinese CP stated “we consider it impossible to continue the collaboration of the party with the Trotskyists ...” and instructed it to cease. After the Stalinists split from La Lutte, the letter was published in it (29 August 1937).
18. Colonial Councils were administrative bodies with limited powers; there was a small property qualification for franchise.
19. Phan Van Hum was a teacher of law, literature and philosophy. He began political activity as a nationalist, but joined the Trotskyist movement in France in the early 1930s. Returning to Saigon in July 1933, he took part in La Lutte, was deported to Poulo Condore during the war, and was assassinated by the Stalinists in October 1945 in Bien Hoa. For Tran Van Thach see note 13. Their joint letter to Trotsky appears below.
20. Bao Dai, last emperor of Vietnam, succeeded his father in 1925 at the age of 12, but did not take the throne until 1932. He collaborated with the French, and when the Japanese coup took place agreed to work with them; he abdicated in 1945, joined the Vietminh briefly, went into exile, and returned as a French puppet again from 1949 to 1955. Tran Trong Kim, a mild-mannered academic, was his Prime Minister in 1945.
21. Japan surrendered to the imperialist Allies on 14 August 1945, after the atom bombing of Hiroshima: this provoked a revolutionary situation in Vietnam. In the north the Vietminh marched from their jungle bases into Hanoi and declared a ‘Democratic Republic’ on 2 September. According to Stalin’s agreement with the Allies, the south was to be placed under French control again, and while the southern Vietminh tried to prepare for this, it was resisted by the nationalists, and by the Trotskyists who called for the workers’ councils which had sprung up to take power. The Stalinists arrested delegates to a congress of workers’ councils and managed to establish a ‘provisional government’ despite the unpopularity of their line; they stood by as the French reinvaded in October, concentrating their fire on the Trotskyists, all of whose leaders were killed.
22. According to a report published in the journal Quatrième Internationale in 1947, Ta Thu Thau was tried by a Vietminh ‘people’s tribunal’ after his arrest. Due to his great prestige in the workers’ movement, this tribunal could not be persuaded to find him guilty of anything; then he was shot anyway.
23. Pierre Pages was French colonial governor of Indochina throughout the 1930s.
This essay is based upon the following sources: Archives nationales (Paris) F7-13406, 13408, 13409, 13410, 13167, 13170, Archives Outre-mer D2514; La Depeche d’Indochine, Saigon, various issues 1933-40; Nguyen Van Dinh, Ta thu thau, to qudc gia toi quoc te (Ta Thu Thau, from Nationalism to Internationalism), Saigon 1938; Phuong Lan, Nha each mang Ta thu Thau (The revolutionary Ta Thu Thau), Saigon 1974; D. Hemery, Du patriotisme au marxism: l’immigration vietnamienne en France 1926 a 1930 (From patriotism to Marxism: the Vietnamese emigration in France 1926-30), in Le Mouvement social, no.90, Paris 1975; D. Hemery, Revolutionnaires vietnamiens et pouvoir colonial en Indochine (Vietnamese revolutionaries and colonial power in Indochina), Paris 1975; D. Hemery, Ta Thu Thau: l’itineraire politique d’un révolutionnaire vietnamien pendant les annees 1930 (Ta Thu Thau: the political path of a Vietnamese revolutionary through the 1930s) in Histoire de l’Asie du Sud-Est. The translation and the notes are the work of Simon Pirani, to whom, along with the author, our thanks are due.
Some Stages of the Revolution in the South of Vietnam
The following is a translation of an article, Quelques etapes de la revolution au Nam-Bo du Vietnam, which appeared in Quatrième International, September/October 1947, of which a version appeared in instalments in the Militant (USA), 18 and 23 February and 1, 8 and 15 March 1948. A full translation subsequently appeared in Workers Press, 10 and 17 January 1987, and was reprinted in Vietnam and Trotskyism, a Communist League pamphlet, Australia 1987, pp.61-72. As this book is now out of print, it is this version that is reproduced below.
The author, writing under the thinly disguised pseudonym of ‘Lucien’, was one of the leading members of the International Communist League, and had been one of the militants of the pre-war October group who had been arrested and tried, as recounted in Ngo Van Xuyet’s outline above.
The War and the Revolutionary Crisis
At 9am on 16 August 1945, news of the final defeat of Japanese imperialism was announced throughout the countries of Indochina. The following day, the Japanese general staff announced that it was handing over civil administration to the indigenous peoples.
According to the terms of the statement, Japanese imperialism surrendered all power to the legal governments of the various countries that constituted Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These peoples, the statement added, were from now on independent, with the right to self-determination.
Several hours after this news had broken throughout Vietnam, from the north to the south, from town to country, from factory to street, from one family to another, a social storm arose with the power to overturn everything and smash anything.
Men and women of all ages, regardless of their political persuasion, poured into the streets in surging waves, shouting cries of hatred mingled with joy; together they swore to fight to the last drop of their blood for the complete liberation of their country.
On 19 August, the workers of the Ban Co district of Saigon were the first to move into action and set up the first popular committee in the south. Some went out into the streets with army rifles they had stolen from the Japanese and hidden away for months. Others carried pistols of various and dubious origins.
Those who had no firearms carried daggers or bamboo pikes. With their blue caps with red stars on their heads, and their weapons on their shoulders, they formed armed detachments, marching together through the streets, in groups of 50, 100 or 200.
They paraded in military formation, singing the revolutionary anthem, then shouting with a voice that pierced the sky: “Rather death than slavery! Defend the people’s power!”
On the morning of 20 August, throughout the Saigon-Cholon region, hundreds of Vanguard Youth Committees declared before their flag their willingness to die for freedom. Phu Nhuan district, the largest working class district in the city, elected its popular committee, proclaimed the complete abolition of the former regime, and proclaimed that from then on, 10 a.m. on 20 August 1945, only this Committee would be considered the legal power in the district.
During the following days, mass organisations of many social and political tendencies mushroomed, and it was impossible to keep track of their numerical strength and the extent of their activities.
From 19 August onwards, the word went around the capital that there were peasant uprisings in the provinces. Armed demonstrations and terrorist acts struck mortal terror into the bourgeoisie and the feudalists.
On 19 August, the peasants of Sadec province ransacked about 10 magnificent villas belonging to their landlords. At the same time they burned down a large number of granaries full of rice.
Many dignitaries and officials were arrested by the peasants, and a number of them were shot on the spot. While members of the rural police were drowned by the revolutionary masses, former officials of the French and Japanese governments, who had all been declared enemies of the people, saw all their possessions go up in flames. In the course of a few days in Long Xuyen, an entirely rural province, 200 dignitaries and rural policemen were stabbed to death.
From the middle of August, the revolutionary peasants in central Vietnam began to drive out the royalist-imperialist mandarins, and seized control of the organs of local government by armed force. During the same period, well-equipped armed detachments of peasants launched surprise attacks on Japanese military posts, capturing arms and ammunition.
From the second week of August onwards, the landowners of north Vietnam suffered the same fate as their brothers in the south. In a number of villages, granaries, villas and land were confiscated ‘arbitrarily’ for the benefit of the Popular Committees.
Big landowners and former officials were brought before popular tribunals, where they were tried publicly by the villagers. Several hundred former faithful servants of France and the Japanese general staff were beheaded in a few days.
The Reactionary Parties and the UNF
Faced with the revolutionary situation that was in full upsurge throughout the country, the leaders of the bourgeois and feudalist parties known as Cao-daists and Hoa Hao-ists or Nationalists were unable to find any force either on the right or on the left that could save their country, as they saw it, from the sword of the threatening revolution.
On 18 August, these groups of political nonentities called a joint meeting, at which they decided unanimously to set up a political front that then became known as the United National Front.
The day after reaching this political agreement, this bourgeois-feudalist bloc issued a joint declaration calling on the people to take part in a demonstration organised under the leadership of this Front, at Gam on 21 August in Saigon’s Norodom Square, to celebrate national independence. Who were these political parties?
The Cao-dai party: in reality this was only a semi-political religious organisation, based on a motley collection of mystical ideas. Essentially its purpose was to assist the French government in slaughtering the revolutionary peasants who followed the Communist movement in Cochin-China in the period of 1930 to 1941.
But when French imperialism signed its military and economic capitulation to Japanese militarism in 1941, the Cao-dai party turned its back on its former French patron in order to play the role of political double agent for the Japanese general staff.
However, with the coup of 9 March 1945, by which Japanese militarism ousted the French colonial government, this party’s position changed completely. Whilst its leaders preached loyalty to the emperor of Japan, its followers rose in revolt throughout the country, trampling God and landed property underfoot.
The second religious sect, the Hoa Hao party, which brought together more than a million poor and middle peasants, played a no less important role in support of the Japanese army. Hoa Hao-ism differed from Cao-daism in that it sought to unite politically urban workers and rural proletarians, but on the basis of a total rejection of the class struggle. What the former and the latter parties have in common is that they are both instruments in the service of foreign imperialism, and are both violently opposed to social revolution.
The National Independence Party, the acknowledged instrument of the national bourgeoisie, was essentially composed of petit-bourgeois intellectuals (academics, engineers, journalists, lawyers and former French government officials) and was totally devoid of theoretical and political principles. In reality, it was no more than a group of socially degenerate careerists and speculators.
During the years of revolutionary upsurge, the leaders of this party did nothing to conceal their reactionary attitude, and always placed themselves in the camp of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Today these petit-bourgeois take advantage of the absence of workers’ parties in the political arena, and impose their bogus patriotic sentiments to confuse the revolutionary masses.
The Party of the Fourth International and the Events of 21 August 1945
From 1939 to 1944 no revolutionary communist voice was to be heard among the masses. Hundreds of militants of the two parties (the La Lutte group and the LCI) fighting under the banner of the Fourth International, had been deported, exiled or jailed, and quite a few had disappeared into prisons and concentration camps.
But towards the end of 1944 the Trotskyist movement became active again. At first the LCI, reconstituted in Saigon in August 1944, brought together only a few tens of members, among them five founding members of the Trotskyist movement who had each experienced at least 12 years of revolutionary struggle. To this number were added a few experienced comrades sent by the section in the north.
After the Japanese coup of 9 March 1945, the LCI lost no time in issuing a manifesto calling on the revolutionary masses of Saigon to prepare politically for a revolution in the very near future:
The imminent defeat of Japanese imperialism will launch the Indochinese people on to the road of national liberation. The bourgeois and feudalists, who today are the cowardly servants of the Japanese general staff, will likewise serve the Allied imperialist states.
The petit-bourgeois nationalists with their adventurism will also be incapable of leading the people to revolutionary victory. Only the working class, fighting independently under the flag of the Fourth International, will be able to accomplish the task of leading the revolution.
The Stalinists of the Third International have already abandoned the working class in order to rally wretchedly to the ‘democratic’ imperialists. They have betrayed the peasants and no longer mention the agrarian question. If today they march with the foreign capitalists, then in the coming period they will assist the indigenous exploiting classes to crush the revolutionary people.
Workers and Peasants! Gather under the banner of the party of the Fourth International!
(Manifesto of 24 March 1945)
At Gam on 21 August more than 300,000 men and women, grouped in columns, thronged Saigon’s Norodom Boulevard. Banners and placards blossomed above this human sea.
The Cao-daist and Hoa Hao-ist peasants formed a column 10,000 strong, with the monarchist banner at its head. In opposition to the reactionary nationalist parties, the LCI boldly unfurled its huge flag of the Fourth International, three metres long and two metres wide.
Carried by the worker C, an old Bolshevik-Leninist, the flag was a proud beacon of revolutionary strength, and attracted the lively attention of hundreds of thousands of slaves, who had been duped for many years by the exploiters of their country.
Revolutionary slogans were inscribed in huge letters on a series of huge placards and banners that waved above our heads: “Down with imperialism! Long Live the World Revolution! Long Live the Workers’ and Peasants’ Front! Popular Committees everywhere! For a People’ Assembly! For the arming of the people! Nationalise the factories under workers’ control! For a workers’ and peasants’ government!”
Thousands of workers who had been leaderless, dispersed and demoralised during the war years, had never lost their memory of the revolutionary movement. From the first moment when the flag of the Fourth International and the slogans of the revolutionary proletariat appeared, they spontaneously recovered their political consciousness and felt their revolutionary faith reviving.
They embraced each other for joy in the midst of the crowd, and they competed for the right to carry this placard or that flag. Workers arrived in waves, greeting each other with the clenched fist salute, and declared themselves ready to fight with their vanguard party. Within a few hours, the workers who gathered under the leadership of a few tens of Trotskyists numbered more than 30,000.
Terrified by the violence of the revolutionary masses, the bourgeois could only grit their teeth: they were politically paralysed, and obliged to leave the field clear for the activities of the Trotskyists. While the masses marched through the streets, the militants of the LCI tirelessly put forward their policies at open air meetings.
For their part, the peasants, marching separately behind reactionary leaders, listened attentively to our speeches on the national and peasant problems.
Disregarding the political discipline imposed by their parties, they enthusiastically applauded every time the flag of the Fourth International was carried past. Inspired by the Trotskyist slogans, workers and peasants looked to each other as friends.
The Evolution of the Balance of Political Forces after 21 August
After the military defeat of Japanese imperialism the bourgeois and feudalist parties had fallen into hopeless disarray, and had no idea how to put an end to the ‘anarchist’ terror. These political nonentities had tried to deceive the masses once again with the setting up of the United National Front, but when they had taken stock of the situation they felt more isolated than ever.
Within a few days there emerged, in addition to these nationalist parties, about 50 other separate petit-bourgeois political groupings, each with its own headquarters and military leaders. The bourgeois and petit-bourgeois disagreed and were divided amongst themselves to the extent that the political unity of the ruling classes crumbled irretrievably. From only a few members at the beginning of 1945, the LCI saw its forces increase by the end of the August of the same year to 200, each of whom played a definite part in the revolutionary mass organisations. After the success of 21 August, the Trotskyists greatly increased their political influence, and formed, in relation to the bourgeois parties, an important political force that, at the time, was a formidable revolutionary pole of attraction.
On 23 August the LCI unfurled its huge red flag outside its headquarters, thus legitimising its political power in the face of reaction. The LCI had its own printing shops and press, and every three hours its political directives were sent among the people in the form of communiqués.
In addition to its political preparations, the LCI were actively engaged in the formation of military cadres, which was considered to be the burning question of the hour in relation to the arming of the people and the carrying out of the historical tasks of the party in the approaching decisive period.
The Vietminh Coup d’état and the Stalinist Reaction
During the war, the Indochinese Stalinists had become docile servants of the Allied imperialists. On 23 August, the leader of the southern Vietnamese Stalinists, Tran Van Giau, notorious above all for his anti-Trotskyism, admitted cynically in the proclamation of the Vietminh front of which he was General Secretary: “For five years we have fought at the side of the democratic Allies ...”
In fact, after the defeat of Japanese imperialism, the Vietminh (the Stalinist party in disguise) put themselves forward to the bourgeois nationalist parties as an authority sanctioned by the Allied imperialists.
For their part, however, the revolutionary masses saw in the Stalinist party a force capable of leading them on the road of anti-imperialist revolution. Under these historical conditions, the Stalinist party rose spontaneously above the social conflict and thus established a bonapartist dictatorship.
At a meeting of the United National Front on the evening of 22 August, Tran Van Giau, with the support of the former head of the Japanese police, Huynh Van Phuong, ordered the leaders of the self-styled pro-Japanese parties to relinquish completely their official positions in the administration, which were to devolve upon the Vietminh, the ‘official representatives of the Allies’. “Your role is now finished,” concluded Tran Van Giau, “hand over to us!”
The leaders of the pro-Japanese parties bowed their heads in submission and affirmed their loyalty to the Vietminh front. A day later, the UNF issued a statement proclaiming its own dissolution and the adherence of all the nationalist parties to the Vietminh front.
On 25 August at Sam all governmental posts were occupied by the leaders of the Vietminh front without the knowledge of the people. The transfer of power was carried out quietly, behind the backs of the whole population.
The Vietminh took power with the ruling classes and the whole of the state apparatus behind it. Nevertheless, 24 hours after the accession to power of the Vietminh, Tran Van Giau cynically proclaimed that the “revolution” carried out by his party was truly “democratic” and that there had been “no spilling of blood” (sic).
This was nothing but a lie: this was not a revolution at all, just a coup d’état carried out with the support of all the exploiting classes and behind the backs of the revolutionary masses.
The Events of 25 August
The LCI had marched with the masses on the demonstration of 21 August organised by the bourgeois National Front. It was impossible for the LCI not to take part in the demonstration of 25 August, even though it had been organised by the Vietminh who, from the moment they came to power, sought to gauge the depth of the likely political and moral reaction of the revolutionary masses.
All social classes participated in this huge demonstration. The number of demonstrators, who arrived from every corner of western Nam Bo, amounted to more than a million. Compared with the first demonstration, the political complexion of the second was expressed with much greater clarity and in much greater depth.
There must have been as many as 30 political organisations of various tendencies that turned up in full strength. Of these the Stalinist Vietminh and the Communists of the Fourth International were the most significant.
The class struggle had reached such a pitch that even the police, the loyal instrument of the bourgeois state, had split into two opposing political camps. The first, led by the two former chiefs of the Japanese police, Huynh Van Phuong and Ho Vinh Ky, marched under the banner of the Fourth International; they called themselves ‘assault police’. The second, more numerous camp, influenced by the Stalinists, gathered under the banner of the Vietminh.
The number of workers marching with the LCI was reduced to 2000 on this occasion, as opposed to 30 000 on the 21st. This was not accidental, as this time most workers felt obliged to march with their trade unions.
In spite of its numerical weakness, the LCI still remained a political force to be reckoned with on the demonstration. On the strength of its clear and truly revolutionary slogans it attracted to its ranks all the best elements of the working class. Hundreds and thousands of workers and peasants constantly and loudly applauded the slogans “Land to the peasants! Factories to the workers!”
Faced with the stand taken by the LCI militants, the Stalinist leaders could only grit their teeth, and had no idea of what to do in the face of the increasing excitement of the revolutionary masses.
The Stalinist Counter-revolution
Faithful to its revolutionary programme, the LCI remained politically independent of the Vietminh front, whilst constantly insisting on the necessity of pursuing the tactic a tactic of the anti-imperialist United Front, in accordance with which the LCI marched separately from, but fought together with, all popular organisations against foreign imperialism. The LCI never stopped explaining in its leaflets and its press that the Vietminh was a form of bourgeois coalition in which the Stalinists played a key political role
Whereas the Stalinists originally maintained in their propaganda that the democratic republic had already been established, we, the Internationalist Communists, told the masses that the revolution had not yet been made.
While the Stalinists shouted: “All power to the Vietminh!”, we replied: “All power to the popular committees!” Two days after his coup d’état, the Stalinist Minister of the Interior, Nguyen Van Tao, threatened the Trotskyists in the following terms:
Those who incite the peasants to seize landed property will be severely and mercilessly punished. We have not yet made the Communist revolution that will solve the agrarian problem. This government is only a democratic government. Therefore it is not up to it to carry out such a task. Our government, I repeat, is a bourgeois democratic government, even though the Communists are the ones actually in power.
The day after this leader of Vietnamese Stalinism had made this statement, the entire Stalinist press viciously attacked the Trotskyists, accusing them of trying to stir up trouble and provoke social unrest.
Day in and day out, Dr Phan Ng, Thach, a faithful lieutenant of Tran Van Giau, and a whole band of bureaucrat lackeys of the Stalinist government, constantly insisted to the people, through the press and radio, that the national independence of Vietnam was only a matter of diplomatic negotiations with the Commission of the imperialist Allies.
“Those”, said Tran Van Giau on September, “who incite the people to take up arms will be regarded as saboteurs and provocateurs, as enemies of national independence. Our democratic freedom will be granted and guaranteed by the democratic Allies.”
The Events of 2 September
At noon on 1 September, the Nam B0 government propaganda commission drove around Saigon-Cholon calling on the population to take part in the ceremony in honour of the Allied Commission that was to arrive in Saigon on the evening of 2 September.
The members of the propaganda commission insisted again that the country’s independence depended entirely on the will of the Allied Commission, which therefore meant, claimed the government, that the population had to observe perfect law and order. The people took the government at its word.
At 4 p.m. the following day, more than 400,000 people, men and women, young and old, marched peacefully past Saigon Cathedral in massed columns, armed with bamboo pikes and waving placards and banners above their heads. Suddenly, from high up on the church, a burst machine gun and pistol fire was shot into the peaceful and defenceless crowd. About 40 marchers were killed and about 150 were wounded.
Loud cries went up: “The French are shooting!” Maddened with fury, the demonstrators forced the church door, climbed to the roof and searched every nook and cranny that might hide their criminal enemies.
Facing the Common Enemy
The events of the evening of 2 September produced an unheard-of turmoil in the hearts of the people in Saigon. It had been proved that the government was incapable of defending the country, and even more so of leading it to real independence.
From then on it was rumoured around the city that French imperialism would probably be helped by the Allied forces to reconquer its colony soon, and slaughter the revolutionary people. It was a matter of life and death.
On 4 September the LCI Central Committee made an urgent appeal to the people for the revolutionary defence of national independence. In particular, it said, in the following clear Bolshevik terms:
We, the international communists, have no illusions at all that the Vietminh government, with its policy of class collaboration, will be capable of fighting the imperialist invasion in the days to come. Nevertheless, if the government declares itself prepared to defend national independence and to safeguard the people’s liberties, we shall not hesitate to assist and to support it with all physical means in the revolutionary struggle.
But to this end, we are entitled repeat again that we shall strictly maintain the complete independence of our party in relation to the government and to all other parties, for it is on this political independence that the whole existence of a party calling itself Bolshevik-Lenin depends.
(LCI statement of 4 September).
The Popular Committees and the Massacre of the Trotskyist Militants
In the south of Vietnam (Nam Bo) more than 150 Popular Committees were set up in three weeks under the influence of the LCI. One hundred of those in Saigon-Cholon were mainly working class.
A provisional Central Committee, the highest body of the Popular Committees, consisting at first of nine members and later of 15, had been formed after 21 August, and its independent headquarters were guarded by armed workers. That was where popular delegates of various political tendencies came to discuss and study the problems of the revolution.
On 26 August the delegates of the people of Saigon-Cholon, gathered together in general assembly, decided on their common programme which can be summed up as follows:
1. Recognising that the Indochinese revolution is an anti-imperialist revolution, we insist that the national bourgeoisie will be completely incapable of playing the role of revolutionary vanguard, and that only the popular alliance of industrial workers and rural toilers will be able to free the nation from. the domination of foreign capitalists.
2. The Popular Committees are the most concrete expression of the alliance of the revolutionary classes. They therefore proclaim the necessity for bringing together the proletariat and the peasantry under the leadership of the Popular Committees.
3. In relation to the bourgeois government and all political parties, the Popular Committees will maintain complete political independence.
4. The Popular Committees recognise only the Central Committee, elected on the principle of democratic centralism, their highest body.
5. The Popular Committees recognise that they alone are the real basis of the power of the revolutionary people. Th, highest authority will be the national assembly of delegates from all Popular Committees, which will take place in Saigon in the near future.
6. The Popular Committees insist the necessity for creating a single revolutionary front against imperialism, by categorically denounce all acts, from whatever quarter, that seek to sabotage the freedom of action of the working class and the popular masses.
(Resolution of the assembly of the popular delegates of the district [place name illegible in original]
Conferences were organised regularly at the headquarters of the Popular Committees at which participants were able to express their political position with the greatest of freedom.
The LCI led the revolutionary masses through the Popular Committees. It was due to these that it succeeded to a large extent in politicising the most advanced layers of the revolutionary masses.
For the first time in the history of the Indochinese revolution the LCI, in spite of its numerical weakness, carried out a great historical task, namely, the setting up of Popular Committees, or Soviets.
The defeat of Trotskyism in Indochina by the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy will never wipe out the correctness of putting Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution into practice in Indochina.
Once the question of armed struggle against the imperialist invasion had been posed at the beginning of September, the Popular Committees played an extremely important role in making the political and material preparations. Hundreds of committee members came to the Central Committee with many valuable proposals, about which the bourgeois governmental and military leaders hardly ever found out anything.
The workers of the Ban Co district and of Phu Nhuan proposed at the conference of 4 September to expropriate all imperialist enterprises and turn them into war factories. Others suggested that we should turn the Bank of Indochina building into a fortress that would be very resistant to bombardment by enemy ships in the ports. Many very important revolutionary proposals were put forward and studied.
The Popular Committee movement posed an increasing threat to the Stalinist government, which was also the target of constant criticism from the bourgeois parties who accused it of impotence in internal affairs, that is, in repressing the revolutionary masses.
On 6 September the government launched a vicious attack on the Trotskyists, accusing them of being responsible for unrest and provocations. The entire Stalinist press went into action against the Trotskyists in an attempt to divert the people from the imminent danger of imperialist invasion.
On 7 September Tran Van Giau gave the order to disarm all non-governmental organisations. The decree stated: “Those who call the people to arms and above all to fight against the imperialist Allies will be considered provocateurs and saboteurs.”
On 10 September British troops disembarked at Saigon, while successive waves of French aircraft flew over the city. Faced with the approaching danger, the LCI put all its efforts into preparing the masses for taking up the imminent armed struggle, in spite of all the slanders and threats from the Stalinist government.
On 12 September, the Popular Committees and the LCI issued a joint statement openly denouncing the political treachery of the Stalinist government in its capitulation in the face of the threat from the British general staff. The turmoil of the masses grew every day.
At 4.30 p.m. on 14 September the Stalinist chief of police, Duong Bach Mai, sent an armed detachment to surround the headquarters of the Popular Committees when the assembly was in full session.
We conducted ourselves as true revolutionary militants. We allowed ourselves to be arrested without violent resistance to the police, even though we outnumbered them and were all well armed. They took away our machine guns and pistols, and ransacked our headquarters, smashing furniture, tearing up our flags, stealing the typewriters and burning all our papers.
This was a defeat for Trotskyism in a two-fold sense: physical extermination of the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat, and the handing over of the people of Indochina to ‘democratic’ imperialism.
Having carried out this operation, Tran Van Giau, with the agreement of the government in the north, ordered the systematic killing of all Trotskyist elements in the country. Tran Van Thach, Ta Thu Thau, Phan Van Hum and dozens of other revolutionary militants were murdered in circumstances that, to this day, have not been property established.
The two former chiefs of the Japanese police, the accomplices of Tran Van Giau in the carrying out of the Vietminh coup d“état, were also killed, having been accused of Trotskyism.
For sympathising with Trotskyism, the woman doctor Ho Vinh Ky, a former member of the government, was shot together with the leaders of the La Lutte group by one of Tran Van Giau’s agents. Our three most dedicated comrades, Le Ngoc, a member of the Central Committee, Nguyen Van Ky, an engineering worker and trade union leader, and Nguyen Huong, a young Trotskyist and fighter in the workers’ militia, were murdered by a Stalinist police chief in July 1946.
Lu Sanh Hanh