Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

My First Steps Towards the Permanent Revolution

The following account was written by ‘Comrade P’, who was then a militant of the La Lutte group, but who has had no contacts with the Trotskyist movement since the 1940s and now lives in France. Its translation we owe to Comrade Simon Pirani, and the text was given to us for reproduction here by Comrade Ngo Van Xuyet.

It expresses the view of the La Lutte group (as opposed to the ICL to which belonged ‘Lucien’ (Lu Sanh Han) and Ngo Van, and whose basic document is reproduced in Our Position below). The La Lutte group, seeing no other possible policy due to the relationship of forces, gave critical support to the Vietminh Nam-bo Committee (cf. Paolo Conlon, Yet More on the Vietnamese Trotskyists, in Workers Press, 21 March 1987, answered by Simon Pirani, Looking at History with Blinkers On, Workers Press, 25 April 1987). It did not actually join the Vietminh government, as is so often stated, but it did agree to sit upon a commission set up to negotiate with the Allies when they landed in Saigon, which in the event never met. It was, so Comrade Ngo Van commented, “perhaps a bit like the behaviour of Stalin and Kamenev in February 1917” (Conversation with Al Richardson, 1 June 1990).

The La Lutte group criticised the ICL as being ‘sectarian’ (cf. Trotskyism in Vietnam in International Communist, no.7, March 1978, pp.49-51), and when the latter appeared on the great Saigon demonstration (cf. the account of Comrade Ngo Van Xuyet, above) the La Lutte group denounced it as follows:

“The La Lutte group, which has joined the Vietminh front, has made known that in the course of the demonstration of 25 August, a group of persons marching under the banner of the world revolution [a red flag bearing a globe crossed by a lightning flash] had sown confusion by its slogans. They declared that they had no links with these people.” (Journal de Saigon, no.17017, 28 August 1945). The La Lutte group, which later named itself the Socialist Workers Party, was much more numerous than the ICL. Differences widened in the exile in France, where the ICL adopted a state capitalist analysis of the Soviet Union. The exiles in France belonged to both tendencies, but were not divided into two organisations over basic questions as they had been in Vietnam.

I was then 17 years old. Japanese imperialism had undergone a defeat, and the French were despoiled, under guard and concentrated) in various large towns. The old political leaders were returning from deportation and the extermination camps. Saigon, my birthplace, was able to breathe its first breaths of freedom normally for the first time. Such was the political situation in Saigon on the day I joined the Trotskyist La Lutte group.

After an absence of eight years, La Lutte, the organ for the defence of the working class, made its reappearance before the Saigon public. In a few days the number of papers brought out climbed to dizzy heights. Three editions a day were not enough for the workers and the Saigon public. [1] The Stalinist organisations, on the one hand preoccupied with the question of taking power, and having on the other already been defeated by the Trotskyists at the time of the election campaigns of 1936-37, no longer had the time to carry out work among the factory workers and toilers in the towns. Since the first days of political agitation it seemed to me that the October Group wished to carry out extensive work among the workers, and it succeeded overwhelmingly. This work, however, was unfortunately only carried out on the basis of revolutionary instinct; its leading cadre, moreover, severely affected by imperialist repression as well as by the treachery or defection of a certain leading member [2] was unable to regain its sense of direction. It then abandoned this work to resort to an adventurist policy of dual power with the Stalinists.

As for the La Lutte group, its leadership was re-established and the same personnel were once again reunited. [3]

In the midst and at the height of the struggle one fact has tormented me for a good number of years: our leader Ta Thu Thau left us in order to return to the north of Vietnam. The entire defeat was partly the result of his departure from the field of battle. Officially, as far as we rank and file militants were concerned, Ta Thu Thau had left on a mission to the north. However, according to his second in command, he intended to get to Chungking (via Yunnan). [4]

In accordance with the unanimous political orientation at that time, “march separately, strike together”, the remaining Central Committee carried on its work of agitation and propaganda, whilst placing itself under the control of the Vietminh front when it came to action. In addition, the Central Committee obtained permission from the Stalinists to set up a workers’ militia of self-defence (with the proviso that the military command was put under government control). The government, moreover, already under the direction of the Vietminh Front, took charge of material aid, arms and ammunition. Nothing could get through without the permission of the Stalinists. So carried away by their enthusiasm, and by the favourable political situation at the time, our comrades had forgotten all distrust of the Stalinists. From then on our comrades slowed down the work of setting up soviets in the city, of turning the factories into fortresses, and of preparing for a civil war. The militants of the October Group only weakly criticised the La Lutte group. The final days of the existence of the Vietminh Front in Saigon were painful. Everybody, on our side as well as the entire population, felt that something dire was threatening us and lying in wait for us. It was too late for we Trotskyists to do anything in the city of Saigon, no matter what.

23 September 1945. A violent seizure of power by French imperialism, assisted actively by the British army and passively by the Japanese military police. The Vietnamese government immediately gave the order to evacuate Saigon and await further instructions: “Let us keep calm”.

The Central Committee of La Lutte was completely dispersed for several days. Then, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by a comrade who passed on to me instructions appointing me as an aide to a member of the Central Committee [5], along with an order to meet him 150 kilometres south-west of Saigon and conduct him safe and sound to our headquarters, situated 20 kilometres to the north of Saigon. What joy! I can still remember how, half an hour after this news, having kissed my mother goodbye and leaving her in the care of my sister, I left on my bike at one in the morning and pedalled without stopping to carry out my mission. Three days later we were at headquarters.

The ‘General Staff’ of the La Lutte group existed for about 12 days. It must be realised that we were far from really being that. All this existed in name only. The abrupt dispersal of our comrades led us, in fact, to total disaster: we only had 30 soldiers to the right and left of us, along with different organisations in a state of dissolution. As far as the city workers were concerned, they had either obeyed the evacuation order or were following the regular regiments of the government.

Among the Central Committee members present at headquarters were:

  1. Tran Van Thach, a lawyer and former editor of the paper La Lutte.
  2. Phan Van Hum, author and philosopher.
  3. Phan Van Chanh, a university lecturer.
  4. Ung Hoa, the group’s General Secretary.
  5. Nguyen Thi Loi, a schoolteacher.
  6. Nguyen Van So. [6]
  7. Le Van Thu, a journalist.

These were seven out of the 11 members of the Central Committee of La Lutte. We were very well placed from the point of view of military strategy. We enjoyed sympathy and deep respect as regards the civilian population. They looked upon us as serious people and as revolutionaries who were willing to sacrifice themselves to build something better. [7]

In the remaining paragraphs I shall go over the entire meticulous preparations of the Stalinists for the extermination of the Trotskyists. As I see it, it was a conscious undertaking on the part of the Stalinists. For two weeks before the date of 23 September everywhere in every village on the official notice boards could be found articles drawing the attention of the public to the secret preparations of a “certain organisation” to sabotage the peace and the independence of the country. This was a blow aimed at the Trotskyists. So our comrades could easily determine the atmosphere among the public that surrounded us at that time.

I have forgotten to tell you until now that Saigon under the Vietminh government had four military districts: the first was controlled by the Stalinists and the other three by nationalist forces and by forces close to the Trotskyists.

Here is a diagram that will enable you to follow the tactics of the Stalinists in action. Zone 1 was under Stalinist control and was mainly peasant. Zone 2 was half peasant and half working class, and was under the control of the second and third divisions of the Vietnamese army. The majority of the staff in command of the second zone were Trotskyists (former members of the La Lutte group). In addition, a number of principled agreements had been reached between Vu Tranh Anh, the commander of the second division, a former officer in the Japanese army, and the leaders of the La Lutte group.

One further point: the headquarters of the La Lutte group had been set up on the border of the non-Stalinist and Stalinist zones. Zones 3 and 4 had no military divisions, but the apparatus of the GPU was in Zone 3. The administrator of Zone 4 was a neutral intellectual. Every approach to and negotiation with the Vietminh took place through his mediation.

My stay at headquarters was for me an unforgettable and historic memory. United in a common cause, we, who previously had belonged to different social layers, helped each other hand by hand through the fire of our enemies. Day and night, in sun and rain, through vicious jungles and vast rubber plantations, we soldiers of the proletarian general staff tirelessly carried out military manoeuvres by the techniques of guerilla warfare. We were under the command of a former NCO in the French army. We had hardly anything in the way of weapons. Some reliable comrades were assigned the tasks of buying or acquiring arms by our own means on the one hand, or on the other of negotiating with the Vietminh government.

While I am on this subject, as a soldier I did not know anything of the various negotiations between our General Staff and the Vietminh leaders. Nevertheless, on several occasions our comrade Phan Van Chanh was summoned by the Stalinist representatives. And on one occasion, four days before the arrest of our comrades, a Stalinist military and political commission came right into our headquarters, whether to negotiate or to look us over, I don’t know which. As for the surrounding civilian population, they were very impressed by our ideals and actions. Every day they brought us firewood, rice and various foodstuffs free of charge.

Three days before our headquarters was disbanded, we received a number of items of disturbing news:

1. A French cruiser, the Richelieu, had disembarked Leclerc’s troops onto our territory.

2. The second division of the Vietnamese army, on which we had placed all our hopes, had suffered reverses and had had to withdraw. At the front the Allied airborne troops and those of Leclerc (the armoured division in particular) were on the rampage; in the rear, in Zones 3 and 4, the soldiers of the second division had been discharged by the Stalinist forces, who had incited the entire population against this division – a division commanded by a traitor.

3. Our comrade Phan Van Chanh, ask to go with the Vietnamese police, gave himself up and was arrested on the spot. We have had no news of him since then. As far as he is concerned, even his wife who was arrested at the same time and was afterwards released, has not been able find out whether her husband is still alive.

From then onwards we witnessed the complete dispersal and disappearance of our comrades. Our General Staff sent Nguyen Thi Loi on a mission in Zone 1 and then he disappeared.

Our General Staff (I do not know whether it was an order on behalf of the Vietminh government or by its own decision) informed and advised us to get ready to leave for the front in the course of the week. Each of us had to leave our dirty linen in the care of a reliable comrade and we were able to obtain 24 hour leave. As I was still a soldier, I was much intrigued by all of this; it meant leaving the front under arms.

One day before the entire headquarters was arrested, more and more alarming decisions permitted us to foresee certain disaster. And on the basis of all this, I insist that our leaders knew and were aware of the crime that the Stalinists had in store for them.

Comrade Phan Van Hum left the headquarters to go 20 kilometres to the north east to prepare a camp, so that oor soldiers could find refuge there after the ‘final battle’. He left, and then disappeared.

On the final night comrade Tran Van Thach was the only Central Committee member to remain at the headquarters. We soldiers received the order to form a double guard and search everybody who passed in front of our headquarters.

At 5.30a.m. 10 gardes mobiles arrived, under the command of the Stalinist police commissioner of the district, to take away comrade Train Van Thach, to search the entire building and to collect everything together.

Then, for the first time in my life, I heard at first hand the slanders and actions of the Stalinists (both at the same time). Brandishing his revolver, the commissioner gave we soldiers a long lecture.

As for comrade Nguyen Van So, he too was arrested a few days later in equally stormy circumstances (according to accounts on the spot). Then he disappeared.

Of the seven comrades present at the headquarters, five have been murdered, and only two were able to escape.

One of them, Ung Hoa, has, I think, allied with Bao Dai during recent times, since he is related to the royal family.

As for the last of them, Le Van Thu, he still remains in Saigon, sending money to La Verité from time to time.

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

Do not forget!
Only conscience knows it
And future deeds will respond to it!

‘Comrade P’



The notes are those of the author unless otherwise stated.

1. It should be noted that the circulation did not exceed 15,000. Nonetheless, this was a considerable figure for a non-industrial city of 250,000 inhabitants.

2. Ho Huu Tuong (1910-1980) was arrested at the beginning of the war in 1939 and condemned to four years in prison on 16 April 1940. In 1944 he declared that he had abandoned Marxism and went over to Buddhism, and he later became a professor at the Buddhist University in Saigon. He was released, but placed under house arrest. According to his autobiography, 41 nam Lam Bao (41 Years in Journalism), p.130, the emancipation of humanity by the proletariat is the greatest myth of the nineteenth century, and the revolutionary potential of the proletariat in Europe and North America the greatest myth of the twentieth.

He became a nationalist, and as advisor to Bay Vien, the chief of the Binh Xuyen pirates in rebellion against the Diem government, was arrested and on 28 September 1957 was condemned to death and sent to Poulo Condore concentration camp. When Diem fell from power he was released, and in 1970 campaigned for non-alignment and a ‘third force’, for which he was then deported again by the Thieu government. After the southern regime fell he was arrested by the Stalinists and then interned in a. ‘re-education camp’, and died on the day of his release, 26 June 1980. [Information given to us by Comrade Ngo Van Xuyet]

3. If the La Lutte group allowed some important political issues to bypass it, that was the result of the weakness of our movement on the international level at that time, of the lack of contact between the various sections and particularly of contact with the International Secretariat. Our comrades were unable to keep up with international movements during their five years of deportation.

4. Two years afterwards, once I was able to survey the events as a whole, I came to the conclusion that at that time Ta Thu Thau was all too aware that the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the north and that in the south were not acting in concert with each other. The operations conducted by Tran ’don Giau in Cochin China from the start were not dictated by Ho Chi Minh. It was through wanting to meet Ho Chi Minh, in other words the entire action committee, that Ta Thu Thau exposed himself to risk in this way.

5. He was engaged in carrying on a campaign for the formation of a trade union among schoolteachers.

6. I do not know exactly what his profession was. He was a former student at the ecole normale superieur. He did not live at the headquarters, but about 10 kilometres from there.

7. That was a mistake on the part of our leadership. The population accused us of nothing. It could, however, clearly see the formation of a state within a state. On 22 September 1945, one day before the decision to evacuate the city, on the orders of the Stalinist leader Tran Van Giau, the government decreed the disarming of all military divisions, and the issue of a warrant in particular for the arrest of Vu Tran Anh on a charge of embezzling funds. Now it seems to me that he insinuated himself into the ranks of the Japanese army in order to get out of the country, since he had relinquished his command to his aide-de-camp.

Updated by ETOL: 18.7.2003