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Fourth International, September-October 1950


Jean Favre

War and Diplomacy in Viet Nam

The Five-Year Struggle for Indochinese Independence


From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.5, September-October 1950, pp.143-147.
Translated from the Quatrième Internationale, March-April 1950.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In the fifth year of the war in Viet Nam (Indo-China), the positions of the French colonial army can be outlined as follows; two-thirds of the territory is completely out of its control and is administered by the Ho Chi Minh government; the area occupied by this army in the North consists of the Tonkin delta and includes the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong; in the central part of several coastal cities of which Hue is the most important; in the South of a fairly large portion of Cochin-China including the city of Saigon.

It is in the zone occupied by the colonial army that incessant engagements and attacks against the Viet Namese guerrillas take place for control of die lines of communication. (In a conference convened on Feb. 26, 1950 by the Minister of Colonies, an officer of the expeditionary corps defined as “free” those roads to which access can be had two days of the week under the protection of stockades spaced a kilometer apart. These are the roads leading from Saigon in Cochin-China where the position of the expeditionary corps is infinitely better than in Tonkin.)

This is a very precarious situation for the imperialists despite a considerable war effort which, according to some serious estimates, equals the total of Marshall Plan aid to France. In September 1945, the Socialist-Communist-MRP government, presided over by de Gaulle, spent 100 billion francs merely to launch the expeditionary corps. Since then, these expenditures have been greatly exceeded each year.

The imperialists have been trying to augment their fighting forces by the recruitment of native Bao Dai auxiliary troops. To date these recruits do not exceed 3,000. The recent revolt of an auxiliary detachment occupying an outpost moreover is significant of the dangers in such recruitment. The French bourgeoisie is meeting with the greatest difficulties in cloaking its own intervention with a civil war. These difficulties flow directly from the consequences of 80 years of colonial domination.

In Search of “Collaborators”

Content in its comforts, the French bourgeoisie preferred “safe” investments and usurious operations to the investment of capital in the colonies. It saw in the non-industrialization of the colonies a measure of security for its empire, fearing above all the rise of a numerous colonial proletariat and the raising of the cultural level of the masses.

This explains the extremely backward state of the economy of Viet Nam which has known imperialism only in its piratical and plundering form. On the eve of the Second World War, the picture was as follows:

On the one hand the development of the volume of industrial production was negligible. Raw materials represented 96.5% of the bulk of exports. Latex was not converted industrially, but exported at a low price in the interest of the Michelin rubber trust in France. Although the country has mineral products in abundance (coal, iron, nonferrous metals) there is not a single blast furnace in all Indo-China, and two-thirds of the coal mined is for export. Add to this the fact that rice represents by far the most important export item at the expense of mass consumption.

The French bourgeoisie carried prudence to the point of dispersing concentrated industry, needed even for the preparation of latex or the husking of rice, by its diffusion into small artisan establishments. Banking capital, represented by the all-powerful Bank of Indo-China, has been degraded to the medieval role of pawnbroker and usurer, keeping the landlords in subjection, through whom it siphons the surplus value extorted from the coolies, day laborers and tenant farmers.

The social structure of the countryside is likewise very backward. On the side of large landed property: 700 European planters own one-fifth of the cultivable land, of which only one-half is cultivated; a slightly larger number of large Annamite landlords crush their tenants under the burden of debt. (At the beginning of the season, the tenant is obliged to borrow from the landlord. Six months later, at harvest time, he must repay him in rice at a 300% rate of interest. The landlord takes in all 70% of his crop.)

On the other side, the immense mass of poor peasants own less than two hectares of land on the average; in Tonkin, 62% of heads of families own an average of less than one hectare and only 8% owned more than 1.8 hectares. Even in large holdings, cultivation is split up on a family basis, lacking the most rudimentary implements and fertilizer (Tonkin phosphates are exported to obtain a larger profit). Irrigation is at a minimum. All this explains the low productivity of the Indo-Chinese rice fields whose output is 12 to 14 quintals to the hectare as compared with 32 in Japan.

* * *

By curbing the capitalist transformation of Indo-China, imperialism has hampered the development of a strong national bourgeoisie. Trade and manufacturing play only an accessory role for the Annamite capitalist who is almost always also a landlord because farming and its complement, usury, are a source of the greatest individual profits, and are therefore the preferred form of investment for the accumulated capital of the merchant or factory owner.

As a result of its extreme weakness, the native bourgeoisie is incapable of playing either a.revolutionary or an effective counter-revolutionary role. Organically tied to the class of landowning usurers it cannot embark on the first and principal step of the bourgeois democratic revolution: the solution of the agrarian problem. On the contrary it is in direct class opposition to the poor and landless peasants who constitute 92% of the population of Viet Nam. Weak numerically, a real historic abortion, the Viet Namese bourgeoisie cannot provide the counter-revolutionary fulcrum needed by French imperialism to crush the struggle of the Viet Namese people from within and to achieve a compromise of the Indian or Indonesian type. [1]

The dialectic of history has transformed the strength of French imperialism into its weakness. Without a strong bourgeois party, without a Nehru or a Sukarno, it has no one with whom it can deal. It is in the dilemma of all or nothing: either reconquer Indo-China and re-establish its rule along the old lines, or lose everything. Imperialism will not find any “collaborators” whom it can trust to safeguard the essence of its positions in its old colony.

Juridical Strategems

Since its own forces, after five years of war, are no longer sufficient for reconquest, the French bourgeoisie is employing one of those juridical stratagems of which it is so fond: it has baptized its own agents as the Viet Nam “Government.”

As far back as 1946 the French tripartite cabinet, in which the Stalinists participated, created a puppet government under Dr. Thin: seven out of eleven of its ministers were French colonials. The life of this “government” came to a tragic end with the suicide of Dr. Thin.

Then in October 1947 came the constitution of the “government” of General Xuan, general ... of the French army. Xuan did not commit suicide but his government had no more success than its predecessor’s.

Finally in April 1949, the Minister of Colonies dispatched Mis Majesty Bao Dai to Indo-China and placed at his disposal the expeditionary corps which installed him at Dalat. Endowed with such mighty protection and with a letter from President Auriol confirming the famous agreement of March 8, 1949, His Majesty Bao Dai became the dreamed of partner needed to sign a good agreement. His only defect is that he does not represent the struggling Viet Namese masses. He has even been incapable of consolidating around himself a native bourgeois and feudal force large enough to serve as a screen between himself and the masses.

Since the time of the conquest of Indo-China, the French bourgeoisie has made and unmade imperial dynasties, putting the most docile marionettes on the throne. Bao Dai was one of such selections. He was prepared to collaborate with Japanese imperialism when it occupied Indo-China in March 1945. Ten days after the Japanese capitulation, he abdicated: there was no hand to pull the marionette’s strings. It was then that Ho Chi Minh designated him as “councillor of the Republic” of Viet Nam, making him the symbol of Ho’s intention to remain “within the framework of the French Union.”

Bao Dai does not and will not enjoy the support of the popular masses. Today, as before he remains an instrument of imperialism. And there is no doubt, as a deputy said in the French parliament, that “the Viet Namese people will know how to inflict the punishment which those who betray their country deserve.”

Viet Minh and the Ho Chi Minh Government

The Ho Chi Minh government beyond any possible doubt is the representative of the broad Viet Namese masses in struggle against imperialism. It is the duty of the international proletariat to fight for the recognition of this government so as to deprive the imperialists of the shadow of justification which is represented by the support of this shadow Bao Dai government. That in no way implies approval of Ho Chi Minh’s policies.

Up to 1949, Viet Minh with its Stalinist leadership was the champion of “independence within the framework of the French Union.” Internally, this as the explanation for the liquidation of the self-governing organs of the masses, the assassination of revolutionary militants, outstanding among them Ta Thu Tau, the great Indo-Chinese Trotskyist leader, several weeks before the March 6, 1946 compromise, the dissolution of the Communist Party into the Viet Minh, the designation of the traitor Bao Dai as councillor of the government. Externally there were constant efforts at compromise with France which had the same results as those of Sukarno’s Indonesian government with Holland: to permit the invading army to strengthen its positions.

What were the consequences of the March 6, 1946 agreement? The expeditionary corps under General Leclerc was in a blind alley. After having seized Saigon on Sept. 23, 1945 with the help of British troops, he did not have the strength either to cut down the partisans in Cochin-China or to set foot in the North where the Chinese troops of Chiang Kai-shek were stationed. The offensive then gave way to diplomacy: in exchange for vague promises, vaguer even than those included in the present agreement with Bao Dai, the Ho Chi Minh government opened the big cities and the decisive lines of communication to the expeditionary corps and called upon the population to give the French troops a friendly reception. Then Ho departed for France to the Fontainebleau conference which was dragged out by the French government to Sept. 14 when a “modus vivendi” was signed which confirmed the capitulatory concessions made by Ho Chi Minh.

This seven months’ period was put to good use by the French government, in which the Stalinists participated, to reinforce its expeditionary corps in men and materiel and to set up the puppet government of Dr. Thin in Dalat. On November 20, the reinforced invading army was ready to renew hostilities. On November 24, the French fleet took

Haiphong after a bombardment which took 6,000 lives. The war has continued to this day despite constant offers by Ho Chi Minh.

The Indo-Chinese Policy of the US

American imperialism, conscious of the impasse of French colonialism, was not displeased by the indefinite prolongation of this war. It was to renounce its 1945 projects of trusteeship and to content itself for five years with raising a few virtuous protests against the military solution chosen by French imperialism. Recently, its strategic realism led it to the hope that a compromise could be effected before the expected victory of Mao Tse-tung. It was not satisfied with the Bao Dai maneuver.

In the last months of 1949, it demanded on the occasion of the delivery of arms provided for by the Atlantic Pact that these arms not be used in Indo-China. In a word American imperialism was biding its time and looking toward the future. The victory of Mao Tse-tung and the recognition by the USSR of the Ho Chi Minh government changed this policy. Truman’s ambassador, Jessup, went to Dalat to confer his blessings on the puppet Bao Dai. Fndowed with two masters, the valet-sovereign has been recognized in law as the government of Viet Nam.

If American imperialism has dropped its distrustful reserve, it was in order to reply to the recognition of Ho Chi Minh by the USSR and to fulfill its role of sick nurse of decaying imperialism on this new front of the cold war. But there is no enthusiasm in the Yankee press in its comments on the recognition of Bao Dai.

“The French,” writes the Baltimore Sun, “are not situated for the kind of policy which had its expression in India when England granted freedom to that country while keeping it in the Commonwealth ... No one can say yet whether the Bao Dai experience can be expected to succeed. The perspectives are not very good ...”

The N.Y. Herald Tribune makes the melancholy observation:

The western powers are in a difficult situation. The Bao Dai regime cannot be considered really independent while French troops remain in Viet Nam ... On the other hand, if the French troops leave Indo-China, the Ho Chi Minh forces will conquer all of Indo-China.

The British press itself, despite the kinship which binds the two imperialisms possessing colonies, wrote on the eve of England’s recognition of Bao Dai:

We will prepare a grave defeat in prestige if we recognize Bao Dai before taking measures which will preserve him from disaster. A premature recognition will be a dubious benefit for Bao Dai.

Thus the imperialist allies have had their hand forced. They have been obfiged to open a new front in the cold war, submerging their own rivalries and suspicions in the common support of Bao Dai. Having entered this road, the US, supplanting French imperialism, will be compelled to directly supply the Dalat government with dollars and war materiel.

The Recognition of Ho Chi Minh

The recognition of Ho Chi Minh by Mao Tse-tung’s China on Jan. 20, 1950 did not impel the imperialists to decide on this adventurous step. They resigned themselves to it only after the USSR in turn recognized the Ho Chi Minh government (Jan. 31, 1950), to be followed by the “people’s democracies.”

This belated recognition by Stalin did not make any decisive difference for the Viet Nam republic. In fact, its strength rests in the reality which convulses the structure of the world, in the mass upsurge of the peoples of Asia to free themselves from the chains of imperialism. Stalin now desires to utilize this irresistible force, to channelize the struggle for independence to provide water for his mill in the cold war.

Soviet recognition in 1945-1947 would have rendered a real service to the Viet Nam Republic; by allowing for the sending of material support, it would have quickly led to expulsion of the invading army. At that time Viet Nam’s position was stronger than it is now and it was not even disputed by French imperialism which had to deal with Ho Chi Minh.

But at that time, Stalin was scrupulously observing the Yalta agreements, that counter-revolutionary Holy Alliance which provided that Viet Nam was to remain a colony in the French Union. Maurice Thorez, Secretary of the French CP, was a government Vice-President and during the prolonged Fontainebleau conference (May-Sept. 1946), the party brought daily pressure on Ho Chi Minh to capitulate to the representatives of French imperialism.

The New Stalinist Policy

During the debate in the French parliament on Jan. 27, 1950 over the March 8 (1949) agreement, the French CP opened a violent attack against the policy carried on by French imperialism. One of its deputies especially, Jeannette Vermeersch called upon the international proletariat to take action against imperialism to force the withdrawal of the expeditionary corps. She went so far as to denounce the massacre of 40,000 Algerians in Constantinois on May 8, 1946 without, however, recalling that a Stalinist vice-president, Maurice Thorez was in the government responsible for this crime and that the planes which bombed the villages of Constantinois were dispatched by a Stalinist Minister of Aviation, Charles Tillon.

Similarly throughout her long speech, the speaker tried to imply that the war had lasted for three years and all the Stalinist speakers followed the same line. Undoubtedly their aim was to circulate the idea among the worker masses that the imperialist attack began only in 1947, that is after the Stalinist ministers left the government.

The CPF pretends that its deputies never voted credits for the Viet Nam war. But the facts are beyond question:

Nevertheless this memorable speech by Deputy Vermeersch, synchronized with the diplomatic recognition of Ho Chi Minh by the Soviet government, marked an important turn of Stalinist policy toward Viet Nam and the abandonment of all past efforts to keep it within the French Union. It was accompanied by a campaign of agitation involving strike movements or sabotage by fighting groups in several unions and localities.

The turn, made in the typical bureaucratic manner, threw the Communist workers into extremely violent and convulsive actions without an absolutely indispensable campaign of preparation and systematic mobilization of the masses. The result has been the isolation of the Communist workers who, in certain cases, were left with a handful of strikers exposed to employer and government repression while a large majority of the workers remained disoriented and passive.

To this disastrous tactic were added the demoralizing effects of slander. Here is one example: some 2,000 workers in Nice demonstrated against the shipment of a V2 landing platform to Viet Nam. They pushed the huge crates containing the engine off the dock. The next day they were to read in l’Humanité that this shipment was destined for ... Tito.

Far from pursuing a united, front policy which would permit the maturing of the consciousness of the masses and would aid their mobilization, the CPF intensified its ultimatistic and sectarian policy whose aim is the destruction of the Socialist Party. By these methods, it pits the Socialist and Communist worker against each other. Once more Stalinism has shown itself incapable of a genuine class united front policy. It can only switch from class collaboration to sectarian isolation in order to then return to class collaboration.

Socialists and Generals

The reformist leaders thus find it much easier to carry on their policy of camp followers and shameful accomplices of imperialism. With no concrete proposal for action to reject, with no explanations to give, they have ready answers to the wild insults and attacks of their Stalinist partners.

For years the social democracy has timidly implored for negotiations with Ho Chi Minh. But in the last several months it has become the accomplice of the Bao Dai operation, contenting itself with presenting an amendment to the agreement of March 8 to the effect that this agreement would be considered only as a point of departure and as definitive. Their amendments defeated, the Socialist deputies nevertheless voted for the agreement while begging for a cessation of hostilities.

But while the SFIO (Socialist Party) congress periodically votes for peace in Indo-China, the parliamentary apparatus of the party is engaged in intrigues for compromise among the job-seeking, military and administrative circles. This is accompanied by the usual deals in the corrupt ruling spheres of French imperialism, by lucrative traffic in posts, by bribery, by shady go-betweens.

Mired in these operations, which are a good reflection of the degree of degeneration of a party which has renounced the class struggle for several decades, the Socialist leaders became the target for the right wing of the MRP (the French Catholic Party), which is the mouthpiece for the Bank of Indo-China. [2] This was known as “the scandal of the generals” which went beyond the confines in which the MRP had hoped to keep it and revealed the corruption of all the ruling bourgeois circles and their Bao Dai agents.

Perspectives of the War in Indo-China

The perspectives of French imperialism in Indo-China are extremely bleak. It is impossible for it to provoke a civil war in Viet Nam. It is impossible for it to reach a compromise safeguarding its economic domination in the absence of sufficiently strong capitalist or feudal formations to constitute a government party which could put down the war of liberation. It is impossible for it to reconquer the old colony militarily.

All that remains for the already defeated French bourgeoisie is to aid in the transformation of the war of recon-quest into an arena of the cold war and to take a back seat behind American imperialism. That however does not permit it to relax its military effort which is its only means of holding on to a portion of its former privileges. In other words, there is no hope of healing the festering sore which for five years has weakened the emaciated body of French imperialism except by amputation, whose effects will be even more serious.

The struggle of the Viet Nam people since 1945 has been a very weighty element in the relationship of forces between the classes in France itself. The bourgeoisie has been able only to partially exploit its victories of 1947 and 1948 over the French proletariat because of the setbacks it suffered at the hands of Viet Namese proletarians and peasants The rise of De Gaulle has been bridled by the same reality since he has had to limit his criticism to this or that weakness, this or that hesitation of the government without being able to counterpose a more effective policy. He has had nothing better, nothing not just as bad to propose to the ruling circles of the French bourgeoisie as a way out of the Indo-Chinese impasse.

Hostility among the French working masses to the war in Indo-China is mounting. Government employees know that an increase in their salaries clashes against the all-devouring war budget. Peasants and middle classes see in the war one of the reasons for the heavy taxes that have been levied on them. The workers understand that the war is one of the causes of the debasement of their standard of living. Youth drafted into military service live in fear of being sent to Indo-China to strengthen the present army of volunteers. The war in Indo-China clearly appears as an unjust war, a criminal war, a war without end, as “the dirty war” as a bourgeois weekly called it.

What curbs the movement of the French masses today is their distrust of Stalinism which has only been able to organize defeats. Many workers refuse to be tools of Stalin in the cold war. This distrust can only be overcome by the creation of a genuine proletarian united front, based on

democratic rank and file committees. Such a united front would evoke a great response and would overwhelm the repressive apparatus of the French bourgeoisie, which cannot triumph over its own proletariat as long as it is unable to triumph in Indo-China. The proletarian united front would quickly paralyze ‘the imperialist war effort, forcing the withdrawal of the expeditionary corps. By the same token, Bao Dai would collapse, and with him the hopes of American imperialism.

The PCI, French section of the Fourth International, is fighting for the realization of the proletarian united front. The unwavering struggle it has carried on since 1945 against the war in Viet Nam, for the withdrawal of the expeditionary corps, the confidence it has won among the Viet Namese workers in France and among the national parties of the oppressed peoples spur it on to intensify its anti-imperialist work in the new situation.


1. Dutch imperialism also curbed the industrialization pf Indonesia. But the Indonesian national bourgeoisie today is incomparably stronger than the Viet Namese bourgeoisie. For example, 50% of the rubber plantations belong to the Indonesian bourgeoisie while 70’% of such plantations in Indo-China are owned by French companies. Moreover Indonesia benefited from a certain industrialization during the Japanese occupation in the last war.

2. The financial interests of the Catholic clergy occupy a predominant place in the Bank of Indo-China. A. Hamon wrote in The Masters of France in 1938:

“... the majority of the members of the administrative counsel of the colonial enterprises belong to the category of catholic capitalists or their representatives ... The Catholic Church and its congregations invest capital in colonial enterprises.”

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