Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

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.

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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.

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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).

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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

Updated by ETOL: 18.7.2003