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Labor Action, 24 February 1947


Indo China:

Inside Story of French Imperialism’s
Suppression of Colonial Freedom
Told by a French Socialist


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 8, 24 February 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following is excerpted from a speech delivered at the Labor Action forum in New York last week by a French comrade who had visited this country. If is an excellent survey of the events in Indo-China and will give our readers a clearer picture of what is happening in that country from the point of view of revolutionary socialists who stand for the unconditional independence of all of Indo-China. The speech was translated by Henry Judd.


The recent events in Indo-China make me, a Frenchman, ashamed of being a Frenchman.

I walked into a newsreel theater here in New York and saw the pictures of Indo-China, and the war going on there. I said to myself that what I saw there made me incapable of believing that such a thing could have transpired – that such a thing was possible. I saw women being tied and thrown into trucks by French soldiers. It was brutal and revolting.

The question of Indo-China is an old question – it is not a question beginning from today – it is a problem that goes back a long ways.

I was in Indo-China in 1930. Accidentally, I witnessed a rebellion that took place that time in Hanoi; I saw at that time how French imperialism suppressed that particular movement. The atmosphere that was created in Indo-China at that moment was exactly the same as that created by the Gestapo in Germany and in Europe later on. To give you one example: I had the opportunity to speak with many Indo-Chinese of different social classes. When I left Indo-China, the French Governor General had upon his table a high stack of dossiers containing reports of my conversations with these people. Already, at that time, there were concentration camps of the same type that Hitler organized, and they contained tens of thousands of Indo-Chinese prisoners in French Guiana and elsewhere.

A Bloody Monk

After the liberation of France in 1944 the whole thing began all over again, just as before the war. General de Gaulle had taken over power and he made as the central point of his program to give back to France its previous grandeur – that is, to revive France as a great colonial empire. General de Gaulle had the impression that since the 1940 defeat France had lost much prestige and that the colonial peoples did not have the former proper respect due to France. Gen. De Gaulle said, it will be very difficult to reconquer Indo-China, but at any rate we will send troops and begin a war against the people and prove to the natives that we are still a great power.

So he then sent to Indo-China a man who was a personal friend of his, the head of a religious group, a Catholic monk. Admiral d’Argenlieu, a monk who abruptly left his monastery to help de Gaulle liberate France and then to spill some blood in Indo-China.

Since this period there has been, in reality, in France two policies with respect to Indo-China. A policy inspired by the Communist Party, and partly, by the Socialist Party, which sought, at no matter what price, to come to an agreement with the Viet Minh Party and Ho Chi Minh. But at the same time Admiral d’Argenlieu opposed, by all means, this policy and did everything possible to prevent an agreement with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Nam government.

I would like now to speak briefly on the policy and tactics of Ho Chi Minh. First of all, we must understand that the nationalist struggle of the Viet Namese people in 1945 was not inspired by any one political party such as the Communist Party. It was an uprising of an entire people for its liberty. We could not find a contrast of such a broad movement except in France during the great revolution and the Russian revolution. That is due to the fact that Indo-China has a social structure which is different from that of other colonial countries. Indo-China is a country that does not have feudalism and in which the native bourgeoisie is very small. Its property base is very narrow and restricted. The only real bourgeois elements in Indo-China are the big rice farmers and landlords of Cochin China. But these men have a greater fear of a mass movement which would put in danger their private property holdings than of French imperialism.

The Theory of Trotsky

It is particularly in Indo-China that we find an excellent illustration of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. There is not, in Indo-China, a bourgeoisie capable of leading a purely bourgeois revolution and a purely national-liberation movement. Consequently, in Indo-China the revolution can only be made, is only possible, by the exploited masses. These masses are on the one hand small groups of workers in the industries created by French imperialism, and on the other hand the great mass of small cultivators, small peasants, who are extremely poor and very close to the proletariat. This is why for 15 or for 20 years there has not been in Indo-China a movement purely nationalist in character.

The fact is that the movement that existed in Indo-China before the 1939 war was not a nationalist one. It consisted of the Stalinist Party and the Fourth International. After the collapse of Japan, we witnessed the actual seizure of power by the proletariat and the poor peasants. Throughout the country it created local committees, quite similar to Soviets and the peasants organized a popular militia.

It was at this moment that, tragically enough, Stalinism put its hand upon this mass movement, the movement that the Stalinists had not created and which was far deeper and far broader than Stalinism itself could have made it.

Stalinism was assisted by the enormous personal prestige of Ho Chin Minh [sic!], a prestige of which Ho Chin Minh himself was very well aware. When he spoke to me in Paris last summer he told me that even if the masses became disappointed or disillusioned in his policy they would continue to follow him. Stalinism, in order to really get hold of this movement found it necessary to cut off the masses from the more progressive and revolutionary elements of the Fourth Internationalists.

In the light of this I want to give you some details about Ta Thu Thau. It is quite possible that Ta Thu Thau was assassinated by the Stalinists. I will tell you exactly the story that one of the Indo-Chinese Stalinist leaders told me at Paris. Ta Thu Thau, travelling in an automobile during the uprising of the masses, crossed an area where the people were up in arms. By curious coincidence, in the village about which I am speaking, the Stalinists were in control of all the levers of political and military command. A guard demanded of Ta that he step out of his automobile and produce his papers. He replied a bit brusquely, “How come you ask me, Ta Thu Thau, to show my papers?” What I am saying is the story told me, not my interpretation of it. The guard placed him against the nearby wall and shot him.

The policy that Moscow has dictated to Ho Chin Minh is as follows: We prefer, says Moscow, the existence or the presence in Indo-China of the French, the so-called democratic French, rather than the presence of America. Consequently, it was demanded of Ho Chin Minh that he find a basis for agreement or compromise with the French, as well as with his own native ruling class. It is as a consequence of this that Ho Chin Minh made the Indo-Chinese revolutionary movement go back. He limited the power of the local committees, he disarmed the militia – in short, he cut down considerably the power and initiative of the masses in favor of the power of the central government.

Ho Chin Minh’s Activity

I had a discussion with Ho Chin Minh on this question and I made an allusion to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. He replied that all that is true, but it is all in the books and between books and reality there is a great difference and the difference is the realities of international politics. By that he meant the desire of Moscow that the French remain in power rather than the Americans. As a result of this, Ho Chin Minh signed an agreement with the French government, the agreement of March 6th. This agreement was, in my opinion, a serious error for the Viet Nam government, because the French troops at that time occupied only Cochin China. North of the 16th parallel there were no French troops, only Chinese. And the result of the agreement of March 6th was to peacefully permit the French troops of Leclerc to occupy the province of Tongking.

At this moment, the French Trotskyists who had spoken with Ho Chin Minh and other representatives of Viet Nam, warned them that if by chance the French do not keep their word they would find themselves in a catastrophic situation, because the French soldiers would already be there. To this Ho Chin Minh replied, if contrary to my hopes, the French do not keep their word, we will fight them as one man to the last. And today he is keeping that word.

And this is why today, despite our political criticisms of Ho Chin Minh’s policies, we render with emotion homage to him and his people. Henry Judd said before that the French resumed the war in order to create the possibility for another and new agreement, more favorable to them than the previous one. This is correct but the explanation is not in my opinion sufficient.

The real reason for the resumption of the war is that at this moment the French are in danger of losing their entire colonial empire. Morocco, Algeria and even Madagascar await at this moment only the signal to begin the struggle for their liberation. And the French government is forced to renew its attack, to adopt a policy of violence, in order to frighten these other colonial peoples. I am convinced that in this desperate situation, the French bourgeoisie has committed an almost fatal mistake. I am almost certain that France will not succeed in putting down this revolt.

The French Trotskyists

And now to finish with a few words. I would like to answer the question as to what the French Fourth Internationalist Party has been doing in this affair. First of all, the day following the liberation we had to face in France the problem of the Indo-Chinese who are now living in France. There are three categories of Indo-Chinese living in France. First of all, the students, intellectual’s, professionals, doctors, and so on. Secondly, workers who are not soldiers but who are sent from Indo-China and forced to become workers in war industries. And finally, soldiers brought to France – Indo-Chinese soldiers called sharpshooters.

It was these three categories, numbering about 25,000, who constituted themselves as an Indo-Chinese delegation in France. This delegation was admirably organized. The type of life of these workers and soldiers permitted their organization an easy time because they were concentrated in war camps and army barracks. They elected their delegates and these delegates came together in a national congress. And the intellectual element put itself at the service of the workers delegations in a remarkable fashion. We saw doctors working in the hospitals, technicians of all kinds who put themselves at the service of workers delegates as secretaries and organizers and spokesmen.

The French party played an Important role in this. While respecting the independence and the initiative of the Viet Namese, it participated in the organisation, and aided the organisation of these local committees. They were organised so well that when Ho Chin Minh came to France he felt an attitude of discontent on the part of the Indo-Chinese workers and soldiers against his compromise policy. This was not an open actual achievement on the part of the party but it had been carried out under the influence of the French Trotskyist organisation. Since the war began again, two meetings were organized.

You have seen in the Fourth International press here that the first meeting was banned by the police and when held it was attacked and the participants, beaten up by the French police. The second meeting took place last week. It was also forbidden and the General Secretary of the party was arrested and is still in prison.

The French party finds itself in a difficult position with respect to its activities on behalf of Indo-China because it is operating in a war atmosphere. You know from previous experience that when there is a war on the revolutionists find themselves alone. All the organizations that had previously expressed their sympathy for the Indo-Chinese are quiet now – no longer wish to do anything? But this isolation does not frighten us. On the contrary, it is living proof to the Viet Namese people and the nationalist movements in other “colonies” that only the Fourth International is at their side at the time when they have to fight.

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