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Fourth International, April 1947


R. Dassac

The Conflict in Indo-China

From the Fontainbleau Conference to the Resumption of Hostilities


From Fourth International, April 1947, Vol.8 No.4, pp.121-123.
Translated from Quatrième Internationale, Jan.-Feb., 1947, by George Lavan.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Four months after the March 6 Compromise which terminated in open hostilities between French imperialism and the Vietnamese masses who are determined to put an end to the odious 80 year regime of colonialism, the Conference of Fontainebleau opened at Paris, where the representatives of the Viet Nam Republic (members of Viet Minh) met with the representatives of French imperialism. This Conference was supposed to settle a number of important issues, particularly the status of the Viet Nam Republic in relation to the French Union, the question of Cochin China involving the puppet government of Dr. Tinh and Cochin China’s eventual unification with Viet Nam, and the referendum in Cochin China on the subject of this union.

The speech of Pham Van Dong, president of the Viet Namese delegation, made at the opening session of this Conference, on July 6, 1946, is a typical resume of the contradictions inherent in Viet Minh policy, an opportunist policy studded with protests which become the more violent, the more verbal they are. Pham Van Dong declared:

... The Vietnamese government wanted peace; so did the new France. For France, which emerged from the Resistance, cannot tolerate that a war of this nature he undertaken and waged in her name. …. The pact of March 6th was signed. It recognized our country as a free State and our government consented to receive amicably French troops in Tonkin and in Annam, north of the 16th parallel ...

Well, gentlemen, it is with deep pain that we tell you that certain clauses of the armistice of March 6th have not been lived up to by the French authorities, that hostilities instead of ceasing, have continued right up to this day, that French troops, instead of remaining in their positions (!), have done everything possible to take more terrain ... But above all we come to protest ... against the creation of an independent state in Cochin China and against the recognition of its provisional government by the French authorities at Saigon.

Gentlemen, if the pact of March 6th was signed with common agreement only to permit the French troops to penetrate unmolested north of Viet Nam while, at the same time, hostilities were precipitated in the South in order to force the Conference to bow before an accomplished fact, then it is our duty to say here that this has facilitated neither the negotiations nor the conclusion of a definitive treaty between France and Viet Nam for the good of both countries.

It is this definitive treaty that we want. We love our country deeply and that is why we desire to associate it with France to whom so many bonds unite us, and along side of whom we intend to place ourselves in the great family of free and democratic nations ...

The representatives of French imperialism plainly showed themselves intractable on the question of Cochin China, seeking, before all, to consolidate the gains already made and to gain more time. The parleys were broken up, and the “crisis of the Fontainebleau Conference” drew comments in the entire press. On this subject we said in La Verité of August 9th:

The French bourgeoisie has always considered the compromise which it had to sign with Viet Nam on March 6, as an advantageous armistice, preliminary to a new offensive against the masses of Viet Nam. The French generals signed the compromise because they saw that Leclerc’s army was incapable of reestablishing in a stable form the imperialist domination of Indo China; they knew it was impossible to achieve “pacification’ even a partial one. It meant demoralization and considerable losses of men in the expeditionary force; it meant a financial effort without any return.

The “armistice” permitted French imperialism to gain a breathing space, to occupy militarily regions that it would have taken years to conquer, to safeguard the financial interests of the French bourgeoisie, to save face before the French people and the other imperialist countries.

But there were no illusions about the “inviolability of treaties” in the minds of the direct agents of the imperialist bourgeoisie ...

While the first conference of Dalat was taking place, as now that of Fontainebleau, d’Argenlieu out in the colony was day by day forging new links in the steel chain with which to strangle Viet Nam.

The Indo Chinese communists, who are the backbone of Viet Minh, as well as Ho Chi Minh, have been putting spokes in the wheels since the beginning of the revolution, first by dissolving the Indo-Chinese Communist Party, then by abandoning their program of expropriating the French imperialists and the native bourgeoisie, and by putting themselves in financial dependence on the latter, and finally by tying their policy to that of the Communist Party of France, which led them to sign an armistice under the worst conditions.

What then can they do now? They have yielded everything to French imperialism: guaranteed its interests, left Cochin China under its control and accepted the dispatch of troops to all of its territories. Their somersault of the last few days, their refusal to humiliate themselves further at Fontainebleau only serves to save the remnants of their prestige: they will capitulate, they cannot do otherwise. They are paying and are making the Vietnamese people pay the consequences of their opportunist policies.

The Conference of Fontainebleau took a sharp turn. The Vietnamese government delegation prepared to return to Indo-China without any decision having been reached on the agreements of March 6th.

Some delegates had already left. At the last moment, as in a melodrama, it was learned that a modus vivendi had just been signed by Ho Chi Minh. The bourgeois press rejoiced, but discreetly of course, over the conditions of this modus vivendi. In effect, not the least agreement was reached on any of the points important to Viet Nam: the questions of the puppet government of Cochin China and of the referendum were left hanging in mid air. But in the hope of an eventual settlement of these two questions, Ho Chi Minh undertook in the name of Viet Minh to aid French imperialism in organizing the disarmament of the guerilla troops that were leading the struggle in Cochin-China. In this connection, here is what we wrote in La Verité September 20th:

Regarding the modus vivendi secured in extremis, Ho Chi Minh himself states, “On the two principal questions, the independence of Viet Nam within the French Union and the referendum in Cochin China, no agreement has yet been reached ... We have undertaken to facilitate the reestablishment of French economic and cultural interests in Viet Nam. On the other hand we have obtained the promise that democratic liberties will be established in Cochin China ...” This pitiable result can appear only as the confession of a fraudulent bankrupt to the martyrs of the Indo-Chinese revolution. On the other hand the appraisal made by “French circles” (Le Monde) of this modus vivendi permits a preview of a new treason. According to Le Monde, the modus vivendi “envisages that conversations will take place on the spot between the military authorities to put an end to the hostilities wherever they still continue.” Thus the Vietnamese revolutionists who refuse to accept the capitulatory conditions of the “compromise” of March 6th, and the Cochin-Chinese partisans who have been abandoned to d’Argenlieu will have to surrender their arms; and, in case of resistance on their part, they will find themselves facing not only the French colonial troops but also the Viet Minh government itself. The words of Le Monde can mean nothing else. The balance sheet of the policy of “national union” and of “alliance with the truly democratic French elements” becomes perfectly clear. The revolutionary wave of the Annamite workers and peasants has been dammed up, strangled, its left wing decapitated, and now the French colonial despots and Indo-Chinese Stalinists propose to liquidate the last remnants of the first Indo-Chinese revolution. The Viet Minh and the Indo-Chinese Stalinists continue to dig their own graves by destroying the vital portions and the organizations of the Vietnamese workers.

From the economic point of view the modus vivendi was characterized by Les Nouvelles Économiques of September 27 in the following manner: “Certain and considerable advantages have been granted to the French.” In effect, on all the important points, Ho Chi Minh gave way, accepting the very conditions fixed by the second conference of Dalat, which d’Argertlieu convoked at the same time that the conference at Fontainebleau was taking place in Paris, a conference of puppet flunkeys of French imperialism, against which the delegates of the Viet Minh government had previously protested violently. To sum up: French interests are guaranteed; requisitioned property is restored; the same freedom of business, property laws, business activity and the right to hire and fire for the French imperialists as for the natives. The piastre is subjected to the franc. Same tariffs on merchandise entering Indo-Chinese territory and going out.

The effects of the capitulation were not long delayed, but were felt all along the line.

Today the French bourgeois press is screaming about the “duplicity” of the government of Ho Chi Minh who, it says, prepared a new outbreak of armed struggle. Indeed, the Viet Mirth delegates were only too sincere in their repeated overtures to French imperialism, overtures which are implicit in the line imposed by the foreign policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The whole question for the latter, as for the Communist Party of France, was to maintain, within the French Union and to the south of China, a government under their orders, a docile pawn on the international chess board, at the price of any concession whatsoever in the economic field or the field of national independence. In this sense, and only in this sense, the Communist Party of France has not ceased, and with reason, to protest against the creation of a puppet Cochin-Chinese republic.

But on the other hand French imperialism could not tolerate the extension or the maintenance of the authority of the Stalinist-led Viet Minh in Indo-China. And this, not alone for reasons of foreign policy but mainly and primarily because it does not believe, and justifiably so, that the counter-revolutionary virtues of Stalinism are eternal. In reality, under the thin superficial layer formed by a handful of faithful flunkeys of Moscow millions upon millions of proletarians and peasants of Viet Minh are snarling. “Lack of authority,“ inability to control the “extremists,” such are the principal and essential reproaches for the moment that the French bourgeoisie really addresses to Viet Minh. For French imperialism it is now a question of backing a conciliatory petty bourgeois gang such as that in the autonomous Cochin Chinese “government,” whose existence depends on French bayonets and on which imperialism can lean in order to mutilate, deceive and then destroy all forms of mass organization of workers’ and peasants’ power (Peoples Committees). Imperialism doesn’t fear bourgeois “nationalism” as much as the social revolution of the Indo-Chinese workers and peasants. And operating on this general line since March 6 the representatives of French imperialism in Indo China have not ceased pursuing a policy of open provocation, combining military pressure with the snare of “diplomatic” negotiations tending to tighten the noose of the March 6 compromise.

Empirical Reactions of Viet Minh

Certain leaders of Viet Minh, in particular Vo Nguyen Giap, quickly recognized that making concessions to imperialism in order to gain the recognition of Viet Minh’s authority as the government for the whole of Viet Nam, was not the correct path. The preparations of the French militarists were clear enough in this respect. From July to December the two camps faced each other preparing for a new test of strength.

In July and August, Giap proceeded to eliminate the Dong Minh Hoi and the Viet Nam Guoc Dan Dang, bourgeois opposition parties, and openly pro-Chinese in the case of the Dong Minh party. Their leaders have been in part forced to seek refuge in China. In other fields, Giap reinforced numerically, structurally and militarily the Vietnamese army which has at least doubled its effective and tends more and more to assimilate modern military technique, taking into account of course its material inferiority as compared to the expeditionary force. The provocations and continual violations of agreements by the representatives of French imperialism in Indo-China have accelerated the resumption of hostilities.

Resumption of Hostilities

To answer the campaign of the French capitalist and “socialist” press on the responsibilities of Viet Minh for the resumption of hostilities, it should suffice to enumerate the successive violations of agreements committed by French imperialism in Indo-China.

However that may be, it is not from the point of view of “who is responsible for the resumption of hostilities?” that the French and the world proletariat should take its position on the colonial war of French imperialism. Since the beginning of the workers’ movement revolutionaries have always distinguished between just wars, revolts of an oppressed people or those accelerating the revolutionary process, from the reactionary and counter-revolutionary wars of imperialism. In the case of Indo-China there can be no doubt on this score: the war of the Indochinese masses is a just war, it is capable of accelerating the revolutionary process considerably in the French Union, in France and in the Far East. Even under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh and Giap, and even if it were led by bourgeois nationalists, it should be supported unconditionally and in every way by the world working class, and in the first instance by the French proletariat.

The Tasks of the French Proletariat and the World Proletariat

The traditional workers’ parties in France, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, have both participated objectively in the preparation of the new imperialist offensive by picturing the successive capitulations of Viet Minh, in reality defeats for Viet Nam, as victories. After having voted war credits, they celebrated the March 6th compromise; they spread confusion about the Fontainebleau Conference with their phrases about the French Union and about the treaty between the democratic Republic of Viet Nam and French democracy that emerged from the anti-fascist Resistance; and they hailed the modus vivendi as proof of reciprocal good will.

Since the resumption of hostilities their attitude towards the oppressed of Indo-China has only become more abject. The Socialist Party and its Bhtm government ranged itself definitively and clearly on the side of the imperialists. It may be said without a tinge of “extremist malice” that reformism in France and throughout the world (in England in particular) has replaced the Christian missionaries and the Jesuits in the role of “humanitarian” apologists for colonial repressions and massacres. Now it is in the name of “democracy rejuvenated by the Resistance” and sometimes even called “socialist,” that super-exploitation and counter-revolutionary imperialist massacres are justified. There is nothing new in this: It was a Blum government that dissolved the North African Etoile and covered up the Metlaoui massacres in Tunisia, it was a Socialist Minister of Interior, Tixier, who from Paris directed the massacres of May 1945 in Algeria.

Today the socialist Moutet demands “a military decision” in Indo-China.

When the bourgeoisie is no longer capable by itself of maintaining its domination and repression in its Empire, it becomes necessary to find professional traitors inside the working class, capable of sowing enough confusion among the workers to stem, check and repress all moves of effective solidarity between the oppressed in the colonies and the exploited masses at home. Today, not only do the Blums, Moutets and Co. play this role, but it also appears clearly, from numerous leaks in the bourgeois press, that the Blum government is in favor of a “more determined and more energetic” policy in Indo-China than certain militarists who judge the situation solely from a military point of view.

The attitude of the socialist “left” is even more abject on this score. It is this very wing which has most often, with its crises of conscience, crocodile tears, its heartbroken silences, that furnished Blum-Moutet, and consequently colonialism, an ideological cover sufficiently deceptive to keep the socialist workers in shameful passivity.

The Communist Party of France collaborates more discreetly in this business. Besides, this discretion stems specifically from the fact that a whole number of the present leaders of the Viet Minh are known to be docile agents of the foreign policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy. And the French CP cannot lightly look on while some of its pawns in the Far East are eliminated more or less from the political arena to the advantage of petty bourgeois conciliators who are inclined to orient towards American imperialism, be it by a pro-Chinese, pro-French or a more direct route. For Stalin’s French policy, there remains nothing except to maintain vigilance on the Indo-Chinese affair and to more or less abandon Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap and their colleagues. The CP can add to its certificates of good conduct, the following statement of the colonial newspaper Climats:

L’Humanité shows itself as much more national in spirit since the outbreak of hostilities; we rejoice over this. Unanimity should be maintained in the metropolitan center. Let not Paris undo what has been accomplished in Saigon (January 2, 1947).

Not once, during the first stage of the war of reconquest or in recent days, has the CP issued the slightest appeal for the smallest act of solidarity with the embattled Indo-Chinese workers. Each time it has denounced as fascist provocations, if not officially, then at least in its ranks and in those of the Viet Minh Dong Ti (Friends of the Viet Minh) in France, the acts undertaken or proposed by the Trotskyist. The CGT (French Confederation of Labor) which, with its millions of members, could organize an absolutely decisive boycott against the colonial expeditionary forces, has not breathed a word since the few verbal protests it uttered at the end of 1945. As for the World Federation of Trade Unions, its absolute bankruptcy here is another proof that it in no way is an international trade union body capable of undertaking or supporting efficaciously the revolutionary working-class movement.

The proletarians of France and of the entire world must understand that their role is decisive, necessary and sufficient to assure the victory of the oppressed Indo-Chinese. Even in the absence of any action organized by the French proletariat, the French bourgeoisie is incapable of restoring its domination over Indo-China at one stroke. It must proceed by stages and it suffices to read Le Monde or Climats to understand with what precautions, despite its grandiloquent declarations, it views the problem of a new provisional compromise. On the active solidarity of the world proletariat and particularly of the French proletariat completely depends the success or failure of this colonial undertaking.

The French workers must demand that their parties and their youth organizations take a clear position in favor of coordinated acts of solidarity with the embattled Indo-Chinese. But they must themselves TAKE ACTION without waiting for the decisions of the reformist or Stalinist bonzes. In particular, the longshoremen and die seamen, supported by the whole French working class, must organize, nationally and internationally, the boycott of the French Imperialist Expeditionary Forces in Indo-China. And in this way force:

The immediate cessation of hostilities!

The withdrawal of French troops from the whole of Indo-China!

Recognition of the complete independence of Viet Nam!

January 5, 1947

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