Publishing information: Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement. Copyright 1991, Duke University Press. Posted with permission. All rights reserved. This material may be saved or photocopied for personal use but may not be otherwise reproduced, stored or transmitted by any medium without explicit permission. Any alteration to or republication of this material is expressly forbidden. Please direct permissions inquiries to: Permissions Officer, Box 90660, Durham, NC 27708, USA; or fax 919.688.3524.
Transcribed: Johannes Schneider for the ETOL February, 2001
During much of the 1930s one of the major centers of strength of International Trotskyism was what is today known as Vietnam. That region was also the scene of what was probably unique in the world at that time, a united front between the Trotskyists and the Stalinists a united front which did not prevent the Stalinists a decade later from murdering virtually all of those Trotskyist leaders with whom they had been allied in the earlier period.
Before World War II present-day Vietnam consisted of three separate States. In the north was Tonkin which together with the empire of Annam in the center constituted a single French protectorate. In the south was Cochin China, an out-and-out French colony centering on the city of Saigon. The strength of the Vietnamese Trotskyists was concentrated in that period principally in Cochin China.
The founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party was a man who was then known as Nguyen Ai Quoc, but became famous later as Ho Chi Minh. He was in France at the end of the First World War and was a member of the French Socialist Party. He is said to have attended the congress in Tours in 1920 at which the Socialist Party was converted into the French Communist Party, to which he also belonged. In June 1923 he was sent by the French Communists to Moscow to attend the University of the Toilers of the East and to serve as French representative in the new Peasants International. He was chosen as the Asian member of the directing body of that International, a subsidiary of the Comintern.
Nguyen Ai Quoc was also a delegate to the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in mid-1924. Early in the following year he was designated by the Comintern to serve on the staff of Michael Borodin in Canton, with the assignment to work to establish an Indochinese Communist Party . The immediate result of his efforts was the setting up in June 1925 at Canton of the Viet Nam Revolutionary Youth League . It was principally out of this group that the Vietnamese Communist Party, or Indochinese Communist Party (PCI), as it soon came to be called, was formed. By 1930 there were three rival Communist groups, which Nguyen Ai Quoc was finally able to merge into a single organization in February of that year .
The new party had almost immediate success, particularly among the peasants. By mid-1930 peasant groups under Communist leadership were involved in a virtual insurrection, and in at least two localities established “soviets.” However, this movement was violently suppressed by French military forces and as a consequence, as I. Milton Sacks wrote, “Virtually the entire apparatus of the Indochina Communist Party was smashed." 
The Vietnamese Trotskyist movement did not arise from a split in the Communist Party, although undoubtedly the collapse of the Stalinists in 1930-31 helped the recruiting effort of the Trotskyists. The beginnings of Vietnamese Trotskyism were to be found in the National Party of Independence of Vietnam, also called the Annamite Party of Independence, which was founded in France among Vietnamese students there and was first led by Nguyen The Truyen, who returned to Indochina in December 1927. With his departure the party was reorganized, its principal leaders being Ta Thu Thau and Huynh Van Phuongi . Ta Thu Thau had founded in Saigon an illegal nationalist revolutionary group known as Jeune Annam before he had left to study in France .
The young people were very unhappy with the current position of the Comintern with regard to colonial questions. Daniel Hemery has noted that Ta Thu Thau and his comrades reproached it for its empiricism, the incoherence of its Chinese policy, but above all its not taking into account the interests of the colonial revolutionary movements. The International, they thought was proving incapable ... “of aiding the Vietnam revolutionaries and going beyond Sunyatsenism.”
Toward the end of 1929 Ta Thu Thau Huynh Van Phuong, Phan Van Chang, and others joined the French Left Opposition, then led principally by Alfred Rosmer. On May 22, 1930, they organized a demonstration in front of the Elysee Palace, as a result of which nineteen Vietnamese students were deported back to Saigon on May 23. These included Ta Thu Thau, Huynh Van Phuong, and Phan Van Chang .
When they returned home the students found that there already existed several Communist opposition groups in the Saigon area. One was the Ligue Communiste (Lien Minh Cong San Doan), led by Dao Van Long (also known as Dao Hung Long), a painter and one time member of the Association of Revolutionary Vietnamese Youth. It had a membership of about fifty and circulated a mimeographed periodical C1arté Rouge (Vung Hong) in villages near Saigon. In January 1931 this group entered into contact with the Trotskyists recently returned from France, one of whom, Ho Huu Tuong, had brought back with him the theses of the Left Opposition. In May 1931 the group was reorganized and began to publish an illegal periodical, Le Communiste (Cong San) .
In August the Ligue Communiste merged with the group of returnees from France to found the Opposition de Gauche Indochinoise (Dong Duong Doi Lap Ta Pahi), also known as the October Group from its periodical, October (Thang Muoi). In 1932 it was reinforced by dissidents from the Saigon Stalinist organization. However, in October 1932 the group was decimated by the general roundup of Communists by the colonial authorities.
The Trotskyists were soon divided into three groups, “of which it is not easy to understand the differences.” These were the Opposition de Gauche Indochinoise, led by Dao Hung Long and Ho Huu Tuong; Coimmunisme Indochinois (Dong Duong Cong San), led by Ta Thu Thau, organized in 1931; and a study circle, Editions de l’Opposition de Gauche (Ta Doi Lap Tung Thus), organized early in 1932 by Huynh Van Phuong and Phan Van Chang. Ta Thu Thaus group had a bimonthly journal Le Proktaire (Vo San), and published a pamphlet, LOrganisation d’une Cellule d’Entreprise. Phan Van Chang’s group, with its headquarters in the Orly garage in Saigon, which was owned by Huynh Van Phuong, translated the Communist Manifesto, Socialism Utopian and Scientific, and fifteen other classical Marxist works .
I. Milton Sacks has noted that “the principal issues dividing these groups were tactical divergencies arising from their collaboration with the Stalinists. ... They were all agreed, however, in accepting the line that Leon Trotsky had developed in his condemnation of the Communist International under the leadership of Stalin.” 
The three Trotskyist groups held a joint conference in April 1932, although Ta Thu Thau had at first thought it better to work within the Indochinese Communist Party. In August 1932 the Trotskyists were rounded up along with the Stalinists, and in May 1933 they were tried, and twelve were condemned to varying periods in jail. However, Ta Thu Thau was freed on January 21, 1933, for lack of evidence. It was three years before a formal Trotskyist group was again established .
Efforts to unite the Trotskyists were only partially successful. I. Milton Sacks has noted that “the split in their ranks that developed in 1932 was to be a permanent feature of Vietnamese Trotskyism.” He added that “one group, led by Ta Thu Thau, threw its full efforts behind the new La Lutte organization and was called the Struggle Group for this reason. The other group, known popularly as October Group, named after its illegal magazine (published 1931-36), was under the leadership of Ho Huu Tuong. The October Group supported La Lutte but criticized Ta Thu Thau and his followers for collaborating too closely with the Indochina Communist Party.”
The need for a legal organization was generally recognized by both the Trotskyists and the Stalinists. Both groups were faced with the problem of getting enough intellectuals with French cultural training to operate on a legal basis, and with maintaining contact of these intellectuals with the masses of the workers and peasants. In the face of these problems the Stalinists and Trotskyists had complementary advantages. The Trotskyists had an outstanding group of young intellectuals, whereas the Communists already had a substantial illegal organization with contacts among the masses .
It was some time before the Stalinists and the group of Trotskyists decided to form a united front. They were divided on several important issues. Among these were different views on the development of the Soviet Union; the Stalinists’ too extensive past dependence on the peasants; and the Trotskyists’ charge that the PCI was too conspiratorial and was looking toward coups and insurrections. For their part, the Stalinists tended to see the Trotskyists as nationalists who had just recently become Marxists .
Daniel Hémery has noted that “in 1930 the Vietnamese Trotskyists applied to Indochina the notion of ‘retarded capitalist development,’ a combination of the ‘artificial economic revolution’ engendered by the French conquest and of the monopoly situation of imperialist influences, to which the weak Vietnamese bourgeoisie contributed its ‘rachitic economy’ and its incapacity to go beyond the agrarian and usurious stages of its development.” Consequently, “the capitalist mode of production and exploitation has become preponderant in Indochina.”
The Trotskyists argued, according to Hémery, that “the working masses are exploited not by national feudal interests but by a very modern imperialism and by the capitalist means of exploitation. This capitalist means of exploitation is exercised through a combined structure of imperialist and indigenous bourgeois domination.” Hence, “Imperialism is not a limited phenomenon on a superficial level of dependent societies which can be expelled by simple rejection, but has penetrated, ‘denatured’ their basic structures.”
The Stalinists, on the other hand, emphasized much more the exterior development of capitalism, used the word “imperialism” much more often in their discussions, and talked about “nonequivalent exchange,” which meant emphasis on the continuing feudal nature of Vietnamese society. One Stalinist leader wrote in 1932 that “the liquidators (the Trotskyists) consider Indochina as a new country, a capitalist countryside, they push their theoretical and practical ignorance to the point of affirming that the cause of the misery of the peasantry is its exploitation by the indigenous bourgeoisie. Where, then, are the feudal lord and the landed proprietor?” 
Hémery went on to note that “from this came the antagonism of the two conceptions of the Vietnamese revolution. Democratic-bourgeoisie for its anti-imperialist and agrarian content for the Communists it cannot be accomplished in the absence of a truly revolutionary bourgeoisie except under the direction of the proletariat, and then develop according to an ‘uninterrupted’ process into the socialist revolution.” On the other hand, “Because of the impact of imperialism, on the ‘Asiatic’ structure of precolonial Vietnam, the Trotskyists thought ... that there was no possible stop at the bourgeois democratic stage, because there did not exist in Vietnam any historic basis for an autonomous bourgeois development; the emancipation of the peasantry and of the nation implies that the class struggle be carried out under the effective hegemony of the working class, to its proletarian finish, in a word, that there be permanent revolution.”
The first tentative steps towards collaboration between the Struggle Group of Trotskyists, led by Ta Thu Thau, and the Stalinists were taken in connection with municipal elections in Saigon on April 30 and May 7, 1933. The two groups named Nguyen Van Tao and Tran Van Thach as their nominees for these elections. They also brought out the first issue of the French-language newspaper La Lutte on April 24. The two left candidates were elected, along with four conservative “constitutionalists,” but the leftists nominees’ election was annulled in August by the authorities .
Although the publication of the newspaper had been suspended soon after the election, the independent Marxist Nguyen An Ninh acted as intermediary to bring about the reestablishment of the newspaper and the forging of a more durable alliance between the Trotskyists and Stalinists. His efforts were crowned with success about a year and a half after the election when an agreement was reached and signed by representatives of the two groups.
This agreement called for the joint publication of La Lutte and “specified the rules of its functioning: struggle oriented against the colonial power and its constitutionalist allies, support of the demands of workers and peasants without regard to which of the two groups they were affiliated with, diffusion of classic Marxist thought, rejection of all attacks against the USSR and against either current, collective editing of articles, which would be signed only in case of disagreement.” On this basis, La Lutte began regular publication on October 4, 1934 .
The editorial board of the newspaper consisted of three elements: left-wing nationalists, Communists, and Trotskyists. Representing the first of these groups were Nguyen An Ninh, Le Van Thu, and Tran Van Thach; for the Communists there were four people, Nguyen Van Tao, Duong Bach Mai, Nguyen Van Nguyen, and Nguyen Thi Luu~ and there were five Trotskyists: Ta Thu Thau, Phan Van Huu, Ho Huu Tuong, Phan Van Chang, and Huynh Van Phuong. The manager was a Frenchman, Edgar Ganofsky .
Communist influence predominated in La Lutte until late in 1936. The French police reported a statement by Tran Van Guau, a Communist leader, to the effect that “ La Lutte, which takes, in spite of certain faults, a Communist position, is more than under our influence; it is practically directed by the party .
The new paper and the group around it carned out many campaigns. One was constant support of the efforts of the workers to establish unions and to bargain collectively, which became very important and was marked by a large strike wave in late 1936 and early 1937, sparked by the sitdown strikes in France a few months earlier. Another was a drive for the election of a Popular Congress to draw up plans for the future of Vietnam, which involved the establishment of numerous local “action committees” to prepare for the congress, which committees the Trotskyists tended to regard as embryo soviets. Another was support of left-wing candidates in Cochin China assembly elections in March 1935, when three Communists and three Trotskyists were nominated in the east and center regions, and the La Lutte group got 17 percent of the votes in spite of a highly restrictive franchise and government favoritism for their constitutionalist opponents .
A high point of electoral activity was the municipal election in Saigon in May 1935, when six La Lutte candidates ran, including three workers and three intellectuals . I. Milton Sacks has noted that in this and other elections “The distinguishing characteristic of La Lutte’s participation in the municipal elections lay not in its program but in its candidates. These included, for the first time, a number of individuals who could by no stretch of the imagination be considered intellectuals. This ran counter to deep-seated Vietnamese beliefs about being educated, held in particular by the restricted electorate that could vote.” 
In the May 1935 elections four of the La Lutte group’s six candidates were elected: Tran Van Thach, Nguyen Van Tao, Ta Thu Thau, and Duong Bach Mai . Eventually, however, the elections of Tao, Thau, and Mai were annulled by the authorities .
During this period the Trotskyists’ close collaboration with the Stalinists did not go without criticism even within the Struggle faction of the Trotskyists. Sacks has noted that “Ta Thu Thau ... had considerable difficulty in convincing many members of La Lutte that they should accept Duong Bach Mai as a candidate, since they regarded him as much too ‘reformist.’ Ta Thu Thau felt that the united front must be maintained and spoke for Duong Bach Mai as the most capable representative of the Vietnamese Stalinists.” .
Sacks has indicated other important campaigns of the La Lutte group: “It carried on a campaign against the hard life of jailed Vietnamese and called for amnesty of political prisoners. It directly attacked the stereotypes which many French (and even some Vietnamese) held about the character of the Vietnamese people. ... To replace the restrictive, unrepresentative institutions that functioned in Indochina, La Lutte called for a parliament to be elected by universal suffrage. It championed democratic rights and liberties for all. It called for universal and free education and favored a program of public works. ...” .
Although the Popular Front government’s advent to power in France at first created considerable hope among the La Lutte group, the event resulted in only marginal changes in Vietnam. Sacks has noted that “a number of political prisoners were released from jail. A greater measure of civil liberties was allowed, and the revolutionary underground organizations were able to build legal counterparts.” However, the government of Premier Leon Blum did not, in the end, bring any fundamental change in the colonial status of French Indochina. It did enact some modest legislation on behalf of workers, such as a minimum wage law, and passed very complicated legislation on unions which, although ostensibly providing for their legalization, in fact made it virtually impossible for them to achieve legal recognition . Nevertheless, for about a year after the advent of the Popular Front government in France in early 1936 the colonial government did tolerate the de facto organization of substantial numbers of workers.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment of all, insofar as the left-wing Vietnamese were concerned was the failure to provide for any modification of the colonial status of their country. Not only was no kind of really representative govemment established in Viet Nam, but after long hesitation the Popular Front government rejected the idea of a Popular Congress which had been proposed by La Lutte and set out to suppress the local action committees which had been established to prepare for the Popular Congress. Colonial Minister Marius Moutet, a Socialist commented that “I have tried to find a formula which would permit a wide consultation with all elements of the popular [will] and not a so called popular meeting, in reality established under the aegis of the Trotskyist-Communists, intervening in the villages to menace and intimidate the peasant part of the population, taking all authority from the public officials. This formula we have not found, so I cannot permit the meeting of a congress in which the Trotskyists would incontestably be the leaders.” 
During the period before the Popular Front govemment’s final crackdown on the Vietnamese Left and the breaking up of the united front around La Lutte, the Trotskyists made considerable headway, particularly in the labor movement. In the spring of 1937 the Fédération Syndicale du Name Ky was organized under Trotskyist auspices. Its statutes were adopted on May 1.
The Federation had active organizers in at least thirty-nine enterprises in Saigon and Cholon including the important government arsenal plant, “where they were particularly influential,” as well as on the railroads, the tramways, in the water and electric company, the France-Asiatic Petroleum Company, several rice processing firms, pottery works, sugar refineries, in the Distilleries de l’Indochine at Binh Tay, and on the docks. Trotskyist influence was predominant in the wave of strikes which occurred in Cochin China in late 1936 and early 1937. Hemery has noted that “for the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement . . . this is the beginning of a base in the working class of the region of Saigon, the importance of which one can measure by the new frequency of the wamings in the clandestine Communist press against Trotskyism.” 
Both Trotskyist factions (the Struggle Group and the October Group) participated in work in the labor movement and in the general upsurge of activity in 1936-37. Hémery has noted that “in Vietnam as in many other countries there seems always to have been maintained the structure of a group without ever truly acquiring that of a broad and solidly organized Party.” He partly explained this by noting that Ta Thu Thau was “above all, a tribune.” As to the rival October Group, Hémery noted that “after the beginning of the Militant in October 1936, the illegal Trotskyist group of Ho Huu Tuong was able ... to maintain its activity and mount a complete system of clandestine and legal publications, and was on the way to becoming a force to be reckoned with. It published its statutes in the May 1937 number of its journal Tien Quan (L’Avant Garde).” It was active both in trade union work and in organizing action committees for the proposed Popular Congress .
In spite of progress made by both Trotskyists and Stalinists under the somewhat more relaxed Vietnamese political atmosphere resulting from the establishment of the Popular Front government in France, there was fundamental disagreement between the Trotskyists of both groups and the Stalinists concerning the attitude to be assumed toward the Popular Front and the government it had installed. This disagreement was to bring about the end of the Trotskyist-Stalinist united front in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Communists, like their French counterparts, were strong proponents of the Popular Front and of the supposedly “antifascist” role which it was playing. Maurice Thorez indicated in his report to the December 1937 congress of the French Communist Party the relationship between the antifascist struggle and the anticolonial issue in the French Empire. He commented that the interests of the colonial movements had to be subordinated to “defensive antifascism,” and added that “if the decisive question at the moment is the victorious struggle against fascism, the interest of the colonial people lies in their union with the people of France and not in an attitude which could favor the efforts of fascism.” 
For its part the Indochinese Communist Party, in a resolution of its Central Committee in March 1937 which advocated the maintenance of the united front with the Trotskyists “and other nationalist currents,” nonetheless proclaimed that “the government of Leon Blum is only a capitalist government of a progressive character. ... It can carry out reforms in favor of the population and thwart the fascists. If we do not support it, it will be overthrown and the fascists will take power. We therefore have the duty to give it our support but we must not forget for that reason the task of training the masses for struggle to defend their immediate interests and to carry on revolutionary education of the population. Our Party doesn’t believe that in approving this idea of supporting the Blum government and the French Popular Front it gives up criticism of the metropolitan government and struggle against the barbarous policy of reactionary functionaries in the colony.” 
But the Trotskyists took a radically different position. Their journal Tien Quan on May 15, 1937 wrote that “the partisans of the III International persist in supporting the Popular Front, alleging that it is not responsible for the acts of the government of the Popular Front and of the government of Indochina. The reality is that without the support of the Popular Front, there would not be a government of the Popular Front and that, without the confidence accorded by it to [the Governor General], without the confidence given by him to the chiefs of the local administration, and so on, there would not be the repressions suffered by the Indochinese masses.”
Hémery summed up the Trotskyists’ position: “For the Trotskyists, imperialism under the regime of the Popular Front remained imperialism. There was no need therefore to change the tactics of the revolutionary movement. After as before 1936 those consisted of the class struggle and of anti-imperialist combats for the long-term objective of a revolution with proletarian leadership and content. And to carry out for themselves in Vietnam the virtually Sisyphean task assigned at that historic moment and everywhere to the international Trotskyist movement: the construction of labor parties which were both revolutionary and associated with the masses.“ 
In March 1937 the Indochinese Communist Party proposed a new front of Indochinese parties and groups to support the French Popular Front. It should, according to the Stalinists, not only fight against the local authorities’ abuses, but “explain the policy of the government of the Popular Front to the population and support this policy. ... To support the government is a means of legally opposing its local representatives, of exploiting the apparent contradication between Paris and Hanoi.” 
The Trotskyists were strongly opposed to such a front. On the contrary, according to Hémery, they wanted “to play to the maximum the theme of anti-imperialism to obtam the political changes refused by the ministry of Leon Blum. The real international risk is in submitting the colonial struggle to the exigencies of a colonialism labelled antifascism.” 
These drastically different points of view with regard to the Popular Front and the general approach to revolutionary activity in Indochina under the Popular Front regime, as well as others with regard to the Moscow Trials and similar issues, spelled the end to the Trotskyist-Stalinist united front which had been built around La Lutte. However, there was clearly considerable reluctance on both sides to destroy an alliance which had served well the purposes of both participating groups.
An important factor leading to the breakup of the La Lutte united front was a decisive shift in the balance of power within the group participating in the newspaper. By late 1936 the Trotskyists were winning over to their side the left nationalists, who held the balance of power in the group. Tran Van Thach joined the Trotskyists in October 1936 and H~mery noted “others were going to imitate him.” .
As a consequence of this development the tone of La Lutte began to change. It began to reprint extensively articles from French Trotskyist publications. One of these was a report on the French Radical Party congress of October 1936, which blamed all of the mistakes of the Popular Front on them and asked rhetorically what could be expected of people who had served in the cabinet of Pierre Laval. On December 31 the Stalinists published in La Lutte an “open letter to the La Lutte group” which complained of alleged violations of the united front accord, including the publishing of five articles from the Trotskyist press . In February 1937 the paper published an article attacking the Chinese Communist Party for joining forces with the Kuomintang in the battle against the Japanese. An earlier article in December 1936 suggested that there should be a “colonial Zimmerwald” if a new war broke out .
In March and early April 1937 there was a polemic in the pages of La Lutte between the Stalinist Nguyen An Ninh and the Trotskyist Ta Thu Thau over the Indochinese policy of the Paris government. However, the La Lutte group published a resolution in the March 21 issue anouncing their intention to continue the united front, saying that the disappearance of the paper would be a “formidable retreat” by labor and the “progressive forces.”
One reason for hesistancy at that time to break up the Trotskyist-Stalinist united front was the fact that the victories of three of the four La Lutte people who had been elected in municipal elections shortly before had been cancelled by the authorities. Until new elections were held, in May, both sides were anxious to continue their cooperation. In the new elections the three men involved, Ta Thu Thau, Nguyen Van Tao, and Duong Bach Mai, were reelected .
At that point, however, the maintenance of the unity of the group around La Lutte became impossible. On June 9, a final common meeting of the group took place which adopted the proposal of Ta Thu Thau that there be cessation of all attacks against the Popular Front in the newspaper for three months, during which the Ministry of Colonies would be presented with a minimum program demanding amnesty, political freedom, trade union rights, and the purging of the Indochinese administration. The Communists accepted the four points to be sent to the Ministry but rejected the concept of a deadline, “a condition which they felt incompatible with their conception of the Popular Front.” As a consequence Nguyen Van Tao, Duong Bach Mai, and Nguyen left La Lutte, “which thereupon became the Trotskyist biweekly of the South.” 
There were undoubtedly outside pressures which helped foment the final split between the Trotskyists and Stalinists in the La Lutte group. These came particularly from the French Communist Party and the Communist Intemational. Hémery has noted that on March 3, 1937, Stalin gave a violent anti-Trotskyist speech, after which “the International mobilized to glorify the Moscow Trials.” He added that “the deleterious wind which inflated its leading organs brought innumerable polemics to Saigon ...”
More directly, the Comintern sent instructions to its Vietnamese affiliate, instructions which were signed by Gitton, the administrative secretary of the French Communist Party, and were dated May 10, 1937. These instructions said, “We are surprised that you have not received a letter which we sent there several weeks ago to comrade Mai. In that letter we gave our advice concerning the internal situation of the La Lutte group. We consider as impossible the continuation of collaboration between the party and the Trotskyists. In this letter we have also included the complete text of directives we have received for you concerning the attitude to be taken toward the Trotskyists in Indochina. ... We have received a letter from comrade Nguyen Van Nguyen also on the subject of collaboration with the Trotskyists. We have transmitted that letter to the House [the Communist International] with our personal observations.” .
However, William Duiker has noted that “even then, the ICP may not have responded with sufficient alacrity, for in the midsummer a high-ranking member of the FCP [French Communist Party] paid an official visit to Indochina, presumably to convey to the Party leadership in Vietnam the seriousness with which Moscow viewed any further cooperation with Trotskyites in Saigon. After this visit, the collaboration ceased entirely and in succeeding years the two factions competed for support among workers and intellectuals in Saigon-not always to the ICP’s advantage.” 
Although the breakup of the Trotskyist-Stalinist united front was probably inevitable given the then existing relations between the two groups on an international scale, it may well have been hastened by pressure from the French Communists and the Communist International.
During the two years following the breakup of the united front around La Lutte, the Vietnamese Trotskyists continued to be divided into two groups. From time to time they engaged in polemics with one another, although they generally shared the same p1atform and ideas.
The Struggle Group organized around Ta Thu Thau seems to have been the official Vietnamese Section of the Fourth International in this period . It continued to publish La Lutte in French and in 1939 began to publish a Vietnamese language version Tranh Dau as well. In elections for the Cochin China Colonial Council in April 1939 three Trotskyists of the Struggle Group, Ta Thu Thau, Tran Van Thach, and Phan Van Hum, got 80 percent of the total vote, “defeating three Constitutionalists, two Stalinists, and several independent representatives. ... ” I. Milton Sacks has commented that “this was probably the high point of Trotskyist strength in Indochina in the pre-World War II period. A Trotskyist source claims that they had a Vietnamese membership of three thousand in 1939.” Sacks also noted that as the threat of war approached, the Struggle Group established an underground organization in the Saigon-Cholon area .
Meanwhile, the October Group continued to be active. It proposed a joint Trotskyist-Stalinist ticket for the 1939 elections, but when the Struggle Group rejected that idea does not seem to have done anything on its own . Its legal newspaper Le Militant was suppressed at the end of 1937 because of its vigorous support of strikes then in progress. However, it quickly began to publish October once again as “a semilegal magazine” and also put out Tia Sang (Spark), first as a weekly and then at the beginning of 1939 as a daily newspaper, . perhaps the only Trotskyist daily then in existence anywhere.
With the outbreak of World War II the Trotskyists were severely repressed. A French law of September 26, 1939, which legally dissolved the French Communist Party, was also applied to Indochina and its enforcement encompassed not only the Stalinists but the Trotskyists as well. I. Milton Sacks has noted that “the French colonial police arrested some two hundred Stalinists and Trotskyists. The Indochina Communist Party and the Trotskyist soups were driven completely underground.” 
Clearly the Stalinists were better able to maintain their clandestine organization in the face of persecution by the colonial authorities than were the Trotskyists. John Sharpe claimed that this was the case because the Trotskyists were a greater menace to the French authorities than were the Stalinists (a somewhat dubious proposition), because the Stalinists were able to retreat across the border into China and subsequently received aid from both the Chinese and the Americans, and “partly because the Stalinists had begun retreating to clandestmity as early as 1938.” .
In any case, during the first five years of the war there was little evidence of organized Trotskyist activity in Vietnam. Only within the last year of the conflict did the two Trotskyist groups revive.
The first group to be reconstituted was the October Group, reestablished in August 1944 under the name International Communist League. At that time it had “only several dozen members.” However, one Trotskyist source has claimed that “among these were five founders of the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement, each having at least twelve years’ experience of revolutionary struggle, and several experienced cadre formerly from the Hanoi section.” .
In March 1945, the Japanese, who had been occupying French Indochina since September 1940, dispensed with the puppet French administration which they had maintained in place until then. Upon that occasion the International Communist League (ICL) issued a call to “the revolutionary Saigon masses,” dated March 24, 1945. This document argued that “The future defeat of Japanese imperialism will set the Indochinese people on the road to national liberation. The bourgeoisie and feudalism who cravenly serve the Japanese rulers today will serve equally the Allied imperialist states. The petty-bourgeois nationalists, by their aimless policy, will also be incapable of leading the people towards revolutionary victory. Only the working class, which struggles independently under the flag of the Fourth International, will be able to accomplish the advance guard tasks of the revolution.”
The document also denounced the Communists, saying that “the Stalinists of the Third International have already abandoned the working class to group themselves miserably with the ‘democratic’ imperialisms. They have betrayed the peasants and no longer speak of the agrarian question. If today they march with foreign capitalists, in the future, they will help the class of national exploiters to destroy the revolutionary people in the hours to come.” 
I. Milton Sacks noted that the program of the ICL “called for opposition to imperialism and for support of world revolution, a worker-peasant united front, the creation of people’s committees (soviets), establishment of a constituent assembly, arms for the people, seizure of land by the peasants, nationalization of the factories under workers’ control, and the creation of the workers’ and peasants government.” .
The Struggle Group was also revived shortly before the end of the war. It was reestablished in May-June 1945. Sacks noted that “the difference between the two Trotskyist groups, revolving mainly around the question of relations with the Vietnamese Stalinists, had not been reconciled, though their programs tended to be similar.”  However, a Trotskyist source claimed that the Struggle Group policy differed fundamentally from that of the JCL on at least one issue. For at least some time, the Struggle Group participated in a so-called National United Front, together with the Vietnamese Kuomintang, and the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religious sects .
With the collapse of the Japanese and the end of World War II on August 16, 1945, the Stalinists were able almost immediately to seize power through a coalition which they had formed and dominated, which was popularly known as the Viet Minh. Although within a short time British troops arrived in the Cochin China area and Chinese Nationalist troops in the north, followed after some time by the return of French forces, the Communists continued for some time to control much of the civilian administration of Vietnam. In late 1945 Ho Chi Minh went to France to try to negotiate Vietnamese independence under his leadership, and only after those negotiations failed did the military conflict between the Communist-led forces and their opponents, which was to go on for more than a quarter of a century, get under way.
During the weeks following the end of the war, both Trotskyist groups were very active. However, they followed very different policies. I. Milton Sacks has noted that “as distinct from the Trotskyist Struggle Group, which participated in the United National Front and in the negotiations with the Viet Minh, the International Communist League denounced the Viet Minh as a coalition including bourgeois elements in Vietnamese society; the League called on the masses to complete the revolution that had brought independence by building up People’s Committees as organs of state power and by distributing land to the peasants.”
Sacks concluded concerning the LCL that “they conceived of their role as equivalent to that of the Bolsheviks vis-à-vis the 1917 Kerensky government in Russia, with the Viet Minh government cast in the role of representative of the bourgeoisie. The International Communist League’s agitation for arming the population did strike a responsive chord among other nationalist groups who mistrusted the British and feared loss of their independence.” 
Although from the beginning the Communists, through the Viet Minh, controlled the northern part of Vietnam, this was not the case in the Saigon area in the south. There the National United Front, of which the Struggle Group was a member took over effective control. It was not until August 25, nine days after the Japanese surrender that the Stalinists were able to carry out a bloodless coup and seize power in Saigon .
Meanwhile, on August 21, the National United Front had organized an independence demonstration, attended reportedly by 300,000 people. A Trotskyist source noted that “The Hoa Hao and Cao Dai marched behind the monarchist flag with a delegation of 100,000. The Trotskyists of the International Communist League represented the other main pole of attraction in the march. Behind a huge banner of the Fourth International came a series of placards and banners with the ICL’s main slogans. ... As the banner of the Fourth International appeared, hundreds and thousands of workers who had never forgotten the revolutionary movement of the 1930s flocked behind it. ... In a matter of a few hours, the contingent of the ICL grew to 30,000. ” 
The ICL was very active after August 16 in establishing “People’s Committees” to take over power in local areas. Reportedly, it organized over 150 such groups about 100 of which were in the Saigon-Cholon area. After the August 21 demonstration, a Provisional Central Committee of nine members (later expanded to fifteen) was set up to coordinate these People’s Committees under Trotskyist control.
A Vietnamese Trotskyist, writing in Quatrième Internationale, said later that “the ICL led the revolutionary masses through the intermediary of the People’s Committees. ... Despite its numerical weakness, the ICL achieved, for the first time in the history of the Indochinese revolution the grandiose historic task of creating the People’s committee or Soviet.” 
The People’s Committees controlled by the ICL refused to give political support to the Viet Minh government. They also called for armed resistance against the landing of Allied troops in the Saigon region, and demanded arming of the workers and peasants “and took practical steps to carry this out.” They also demanded nationalization of all industries and their being placed under the control of the workers 
Meanwhile, the Struggle Group not only had participated in the National United Front and its temporary regime in the south, but also extended their activities to the Hanoi region in the north. There they published a daily newspaper, Tranh Dau (Struggle), with a reported circulation of some 30,000. They also published a number of books. They were particularly influential in the immediate postwar period in the Bach Mai area.
The Trotskyists of the Struggle Group played at least a minor role in the Viet Minh regime at its inception. Ta Thu Thau was reportedly placed in charge of coordinating flood relief. For a short while the Struggle Group had a seat in the Southern Committee of the Viet Minh . The Group also had at least a few members of the provisional parliament which the Viet Minh regime established. On one occasion, when the Trotskyist members of this body were interrogating one of the Viet Minh ministers, the minister involved patted his gun and commented that he would answer that question “later,” an obvious effort to intimidate the questioner .
Although in August 1945 the Vietnamese Trotskyists were an element of substantial importance in the country’s politics, within a few months they had been virtually exterminated politically and for the most part physically by the Communist government headed by Ho Chi Minh. The few Trotskyists escaping this holocaust were forced to flee abroad.
British troops under the command of General Gracey landed in Saigon on September 10, 1945. They were greeted with banners and slogans of welcome by the Viet Minh regime. However, the International Communist League and the People’s Committees under their control denounced the “treason” of the Stalinist regime in not only allowing them to land but welcoming them as well. A manifesto to this effect was issued on September 12.
Two days later, Duong Bach Mai, onetime member of the editorial board of La Lutte and now Viet Minh chief of Police in Saigon, ordered the arrest of the leaders of the ICL. At 4P.M, September 12, 1945, the headquarters of the pro-ICL People’s Councils were surrounded by Viet Minh police. According to the ICL account of what followed, “We conducted ourselves as true revolutionary militants. We let ourselves be arrested without using violence against the police, even though we were more numerous and well armed. They took our machine guns and automatic pistols. They sacked our office, breaking furniture, ripping our flags, stealing the typewriters and burning all our papers” 
Seeking to explain this peculiar event, I. Milton Sacks has suggested that “It seems that these Trotskyists still considered that they were part of the same movement as the Stalinists.” He then added that “the Viet Minh, for its part, displayed no such tender concern for the ‘true militants.’ In the months that followed, the leadership of both Trotskyist groups, the Struggle and the October, was decimated. The Stalinists were determined that their authority be accepted over the entire nationalist movement.” 
“Among those who were shot immediately after their arrest on September 12, 1945, were Lo Ngoc, member of the Central Committee of the Intemational Communist League, and Nguyen Van Ky, a leading LCL trade unionist. Some ICLers who escaped this first roundup helped to organize some armed resistance in working-class areas. This centered on the Go Vap streetcar depot, where about sixty workers gathered. However, after being forced to retreat into a rural area outside of Saigon, they were overrun in January 1946, and the ICL leader of the resistance, Tranh Dinh Minh, was among those killed.” 
Soon after rounding up most of the ICL leaders, the Viet Minh government moved against the Struggle Group in the Saigon region. According to one Trotskyist source, the police “surrounding its headquarters in the Thu Due area ... arrested the entire group and interned them at Ben Suc. There they were all shot as French troops approached.” Among those murdered at this time were Tran Van Thach, Phan Van Huu, Nguyen Van Tao “and tens of other revolutionary militants.” 
The turn of the Struggle Group leaders in the northern part of the country came not too long afterwards: “A letter to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International ... spoke of a well-organized but persecuted organization of the Struggle Group in the North. Led by ‘Th ‘former leader of the Tonkin printers during 1937-38, it held large meetings and published several books in addition to its daily newspaper. One region where the line of the Struggle Group had particular success was Bach Mai. As a result of a large meeting there, Ho Chi Minh gave the order to arrest Th and other supporters of the Fourth International. ... Already a large number of Trotskyists had perished in the resistance. Eventually this group, too, was wiped out entirely by the Stalinist repression.” 
The most notorious case was that of Ta Thu Thau, who as we have noted held some sort of position within the Viet Minh regime. Late in 1945 he left Hanoi to go to Saigon, but was arrested on the way. He was tried three different times by local People’s Committees under Viet Minh control, but was acquitted each time. However, “finally, he was simply shot in Quang Ngai in February 1946, on orders from the southern Stalinist leader, Tran Van Giau.” 
Some controversy has continued to surround the murder of Ta Thu Thau. The historian of the La Lutte united front, Daniel Hémery, expressed doubt as to whether he was executed on the orders of the top Vietnamese Stalinist leaders . However, that this was the case seems highly likely. As Rodolphe Prager, the French Trotskyist leader and historiographer, has pointed out, Ta Thu Thau was executed in Central Vietnam, where the officials of the southern part of the country had no jurisdiction, which would seem to indicate that he was done away with on orders from the highest sources.
When Ho Chi Minh was in Paris at the end of 1945 Prager was among those who asked him about how and why the Vietnamese Trotskyist leader had been killed. He replied that Ta Thu Thau and the other Trotskyist leaders were really revolutionaries and that it was a great shame that they had been killed, but that it had been done by local Viet Minh officials under conditions in which it was impossible for those in Hanoi to control what all of the local leaders were doing .
However, during this same trip Ho Chi Minh gave a different reply to Daniel Guerin, a French Socialist leader, who also asked about the fate of Ta Thu Thau and other Trotskyists. According to Guerin, “ ‘Thau was a great partriot and we mourn him.’ Ho Chi Minh told me with unfeigned emotion. But a moment later he added in a steady voice ‘All those who do not follow the line which I have laid down will be broken.’” 
Some remnants of Trotskyist influence seem to have continued in the area of the Republic of Vietnam in the south until it was overrun by the Stalmists in 1975. From time to time, for instance, there were reports of some Trotskyist influence in the trade union movement of South Vietnam .
Apparently the memories of Ta Thu Thau and some of the other Trotskyist leaders still lingered in Vietnam into the 1980s. During the period of the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s, streets in Saigon were named after Ta Thu Thau and two other Trotskyist leaders. According to reports as late as the early part of 1982, the Stalinist victors in that war had not seen fit to change the names of those streets’
With the physical extermination of most Trotskyist leaders and cadres in Vietnam itself, the major remnants of the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement were to be found in France among the 12,000 Vietnamese said to be living there right after World War II. As many as 500 of them were reported to be members of the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste de Vietnam (GCI Internationalist Communist Group of Vietnam). The movement published a paper Tranh Dau (Struggle) until 1947, when the Groupe held its first congress. Thereafter the paper was known as Vo San and was published until 1958 .
As a result of a move by the French government to send most of the Vietnamese migrants back to their homeland, about three-quarters of the Trotskyists were deported. They “simply disappeared after their return to Vietnam presumably through capitulation to the Viet Minh Stalinists or liquidation by either the Stalinists or the French.”
There were only about seventy Vietnamese Trotskyists left in France by 1952. The GCI included former members of both the Struggle Group and the ICL of Vietnam. The GCI was split at the time of the division in the Fourth International in the early 1950s, with some forty members of the organization reported as supporting the Pablo position, and eighteen backing the anti-Pabloites. The latter put out one issue of a paper, Cours Nouveau.
With the establishment of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in 1963 the Vietnamese Trotskyists in France were again united, establishing the Bolshevik-Leninist Group of Vietnam (BLGV). However, after 1964 the BLGV did not have a paper of its own, but participated in editing an anti-Stalinist journal sympathetic to Trotskyism, known as Quat San .
It is known that the BLGV continued to exist at least as late as 1974. At that time, it sent a letter to the Tenth World Congress of the United Secretariat. This document, after expressing regret at not being able to be represented at the congress, and noting that it had received little or no aid from either the International or its French section, ended by asking two questions: “(1) Should the International concern itself with a Vietnamese Trotskyist group which has remained loyal to the International and which has carried on against great obstacles, in the most difficult of conditions? (2) Should we work towards creation of a section of the Fourth International in Vietnam?” 
It is highly doubtful that any organized Vietnamese Trotskyist group continued to exist either in Vietnam or in France by the early 1980s. At least, at the time of a visit to France in July 1982, none of the several Fourth Internationals with which the author had contact professed to have a Vietnamese affiliate of any kind.
By the early 198os the history of the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement, which had once been among the most important and influential segments of International Trotskyism, had been all but forgotten by the Trotskyists themselves. There are at least two reasons. In the first place, the very thoroughness of the Stalinist extermination of the Trotskyist leadership in Vietnam left no outstanding figure of the movement alive to tell about it outside the country, and to continue to be active in one or another faction of the international Trotskyist movement.
However, there is undoubtedly another factor of importance which makes memories of the history of Vietnamese Trotskyism at least embarrassing for International Trotskyism. This was the passion, effort and attention paid by Trotskyists of virtually all countries and all factions to support of the Stalinist side during the long and cruel Vietnam War, which in one form or another went on for thirty years, from 1945 to 1975. With such strong commitment to the “degenerated workers state” of Ho Chi Minh and his successors any memories of what he had done to fellow Trotskyists had to be at least a source of discomfort if not outright embarrassment to the world Trotskyist movement.
Last updated on: 13.2.2005