6th September 07:12
French Imperialism in Vietnam http://www.plp.org/vietnam/vn2.html
Most Vietnamese are poor peasants. A few landlords used to own most of the
land. They took over half the peasants' crop for rent.
For over a century the landlords, joined later by big businessmen and other
local parasites, have worked. as junior partners with a series of
imperialist powers -- first France, then Japan, and now the U.S. -- getting
"a piece of the action" from the exploitation of most Vietnamese.
Since it started before World War II, Vietnamese peasants' and' workers'
fight against these oppressors has grown into a great war of millions of
working people. It has inspired billions more around the world. Right now,
this people's war has been set back, not mainly from outside but from
within. It's been set back by leaders who claim to be reds but are really
after a sellout deal with imperialism
But that's getting a little ahead of the story.
As we said, first the French took over Vietnam. The French never were able
to "pacify" Vietnam. Revolts occurred all through the period of French
rule -- from the mid-19th century to 1954
During the 1920's and'30's opposition grew. Economic exploitation was
crushing the people. French capitalists -- big businessmen -- set up huge
rice and rubber plantations. They gave even more land to local landlords,
recruiting colonial "civil servants" from these "mandarins."
THE RISE OF THE VIETMINH
When France fell in 1940, Japan Indochina. Vast quantities of rice were
seized by the Japanese, so that about 2 million died of starvation during
World War II..
Vietnamese workers and peasants fought back -- as always. The Vietminh was
formed, led by Communist Party. By the time the war ended, most of the
country was controlled by Vietminh forces. On September 2, 1945, the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed.
The French (and the U.S.) didn't want to lose "their" colony. Backed by
British and U.S.-controlled Kuomintang (anti-communist Chinese) forces,
French troops returned to Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, the Vietminh leader and.
until his recent death, president of North Vietnam, agreed to a cease fire
with the French. The French used this deal as a cover to build up troops. In
November, the French navy bombed the port of Haiphong, thus starting the
French/Indochinese war. It ended eight years later in a French defeat.
THE U.S. HELPS THE FRENCH
Under both Truman and Eisenhower, the U.S. backed the French. Starting in
1947, vast amounts of Marshall Plan aid went to France for use in the war.
..In. 1949, after the Chinese people beat the U.S.-backed Kuomintang, the aid
increased. And in 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean war, the U.S.
government further expanded its aid and set up a military mission id
Vietnam. By 1954, the U.S. was paying about 80 per cent of French war costs.
This was a time when the government was moving hard to destroy the
much-weakened Left in the U.S., especially among workers. Overseas, the U.S.
government had adopted the key strategy of encircling and defeating
revolutionary communism in China.
But hundreds of thousands of French troops, armed and supplied through vast
U.S. aid, couldn't beat the Vietnamese people. The French were isolated in
their outposts and hostile cities. Desperate to disguise the colonial nature
of the war, the French "officially" granted their dedicated puppet emperor
Bao Dai independence ... several times!
In defence of the U.S. one might argue that perhaps the government thought
France was popular in Vietnam. But ex-President Eisenhower made clear how
wrong that would be:
"The enemy had much popular sympathy, and many civilians -aided them by
providing both shelter and information. . guerrilla warfare work two ways;
normally only one side can enjoy reliable citizen help...the French could
not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam. . badly
weakened their military position.
(Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, p. 373)
In other words, the U.S. knew very well that France was a hated colonial
tyrant in Vietnam. It supported France based on its strategy of stopping
revolution in Asia, especially China.
IMPERIALIST STRATEGY, 1958
In mid-March, 1954, the French. government told Washington the Vietminh was
winning the Indochina war. This had been brought home sharply by the defeat
of the massive French fort at Dienbienphu. The French rulers could me so
further gain in fighting for the U.S. They wanted out. Thus, early in the
spring of '54 the French agreed to a Geneva Conference to discuss how they
could get out of Vietnam.
But as the conference began, the U.S. government had a different view. For
it, "keeping Vietnam" was a must. As Secretary of State John Foster
explained in a basic policy statement: The "imposition" of communism in
southeast Asia "by whatever means" would not be allowed (N.Y.Times, 3/30/54)
The class of powerful businessmen and bankers who own this. country and run
the U.S. government all agreed: Vietnam had to be "held."
There were of course certain disagreements among government officials. In
1954, lust as today, there were "doves" as well as "hawks" among the rulers.
But none ever suggested that the U.S. allow the "imposition" of communism.
All agreed that Vietnam had to be "held" -- the only question was how to do
Nixon, a "hawk" politician in '54, reasoned that:
If the French withdraw, Indochina would come Communist-dominated within a
month... It is hoped that the United States will not have to send troops
there but if this government cannot avoid it, the Administration must face
up to the situation and dispatch forces. (N.Y. Times, 4/17/54)
The Vietminh had overwhelming support and would surely take power once
France withdrew; "holding" Vietnam would require many U.S. troops -- that
was Nixon's argument.
Where did the "dove" politicians stand? They did not disagree with 'Nixon's
goal of stopping the reds. Nor did they think he overestimated Vietminh
popularity. Thus, JFK admitted:
It should be apparent that the popularity...of Ho Chi Minh...throughout
Indochina would cause a coalition government to result in eventual
domination by the Communists. (John F. Kennedy, speech in the Senate,
Kennedy and other "dove" politicians thought Nixon mistaken only on the
question of sending many U.S. troops right away. Instead, argued the
liberals, the U.S. should take a more farsighted approach. The government
should work for a deal at the Geneva Conference. France could withdraw and
the Vietminh could regroup in the northern part of the country. The U.S.
would then hold onto the southern part, install a puppet dictator, send did
to prop up this puppet government as a strong counter-revolutionary force to
'cut back Vietminh influence -- and if things went wrong, "whenever
necessary" there could always be "some commitment of our man-power." Kennedy
and-the "dove" politicians thus proposed hiding behind a puppet dictator --
a more subtle method than an immediate, large-scale invasion,
In ;1954,as today, "dove" and "hawk" politicians had disagreements -- over
the tactics for defeating revolution. However they agreed on the absolute
necessity of keeping working people down. Both groups were trying to serve
the billionaires' class interests. They came out with much bombast about
democracy and about protecting what Kennedy called "the values and
institutions which are held dear in France and throughout the noncommunist
world as well as in the U.S." What they really wanted was to make the world
safe for big -U.S. banks and corporations.
As things turned out, the "dove" politicians' tactics -- not Nixon's --
became the basis for U.S. strategy in '54. Thus U.S. puppet Ngo Dinh Diem
was installed to run South Vietnam. The "doves", not "right wing generals,"
started the U,S. war!
THE GENEVA AGREEMENTS
So U.S. government aims at Geneva were clear:
to use that conference to reverse the terrible political situation --
terrible from the billionaires' viewpoint, that is As it turned out, the
dove plan pushed by John F. Kennedy was the best way to achieve those aims.
By installing a pro-U.S. puppet regime in southern Vietnam, the U.S.
officials hoped to make southern Vietnam once again safe for U.S. business
interests and eventually transform all of Vietnam into a stable base for the
As it turned out, the official terms worked out at Geneva weren't perfect
from the U.S. point of view. One thing' they didn't like was that Vietnam
was split. into two parts -- north anti south -- only temporarily. They
wanted that split to be recognized as permanent so. that the puppet regime
they'd set up in the south would be officially recognized. But according to
the terms of the agreement nationwide elections were supposed to reunite
Vietnam in 1956. It was clear to U.S. officials who would win. those
elections -- the Vietminh had overwhelming political support all over
Vietnam. They'd win hands down. And the agreement said that no reprisals
were to be taken any more by either-side. How could the U.S. smash the
revolutionary movement in the south without taking reprisals?
Here's Eisenhower's comment in his Memoirs:
The, agreement did contain features...that we did not like, but a great deal
would depend on how these features worked out in practice. (Mandate for
Change, p. 371; our emphasis.)
So that was the real question -- what would happen in practice? Secretary of
State John Foster Dulles made U.S. plans in regard to this clear shortly
after the conference ended:
One of the good aspects of the Geneva Conference is that it advanced the
truly independent status of southern Vietnam. (N.Y. Times, 7/24/54.)
What could this mean? As we have seen, official terms agreed to at Geneva
did not recognize southern Vietnam as an independent state -- the division
of north and south was supposed to end in '56. The only official reason
given at Geneva for this temporary division was that it would let the French
withdraw peacefully while all Vietminh troops temporarily regrouped in the
northern part of the country. So what was Dulles talking about? The answer
is, he was talking "between the lines." His statement makes plenty of
imperialist sense if you read it this way: "One of the good aspects of
the Geneva Conference is that it sent all the Vietminh troops to the
northern section of Vietnam. This will allow us to advance into southern
Vietnam, install and arm a puppet dictator and then declare that southern
Vietnam is an independent state." Thus, the U. S. rulers were proceeding
with John F Kennedy's plan -- full speed ahead!
So the actual details adopted at Geneva were never so important. What
counted was that the Vietminh was withdrawing troops to the north for two
years. This gave the U.S. rulers what they needed to carry out Kennedy's
plan -- it gave them two years to install a puppet. With this puppet
providing the "native cover," the U.S. could wreak havoc on southern
Vietnamese working people, smash up their revolutionary organizations --
organizations which- were now stripped of protection by Vietminh troops.
This was a terrible setback for Vietnamese working people. It gained them
nothing. It cost them dearly.
But, one might argue, what else could they do? If they'd refused to talk
turkey, the U.S. would have just sent in half a million troops, just like in
Quite true, we'd answer -- but that would have been a lot better! Why do we
say this? Consider. What would have happened if the Vietnamese had refused
to come to Geneva? First, France would have pulled out anyway. Second, the
U.S. could not have adopted Kennedy's plan -- for it rested on Vietminh
troops withdrawing to the north. So Nixon's plan would have had to be used.
Half a million troops would have been sent to Vietnam. But until the
Vietminh troops withdrew to the north, after Geneva, all of Vietnam, north
and south, was one vast Vietminh revolutionary base. An invasion of Vietnam
would have bogged down the U.S. government in a vast, relentless war against
millions of working people --the same thing that happened when the U.S.
invaded in 1965. And this was right after Korea. U.S. working people were
pretty damned fed up with "police actions," so class struggle would have
sharpened within the U.S. -- just like after the 1965 U.S. invasion. It all
adds up: the Vietnamese would have been in a terrific position while the
U.S. government would have been overextended and backed into a deadly
political corner. What a gain for all working people. But, instead, the
Vietminh leaders agreed to withdraw their troops to the north. Thus, at the
Geneva conference table they lost half the country and allowed the U.S. to
move in and smash revolutionary forces in the south at will.
How could they have done this? This terrible reversal was only possible
because of serious political weaknesses on the part of the Vietnamese
leaders. These wrong ideas -- really the ideas of the very enemy they were
fighting -- proved more deadly than all the U. S. paid-for bullets that
French legionnaires had fired for 10 years! What were these ideas?
First, there was NATIONALISM. The Vietminh leaders viewed the struggle very
much in terms of independence for "their own" country. This meant they did
not take into account the effect -- on the class struggle in the U.S. and
all over -- of continuing the fight. They were not mainly trying to further
the world-wide liberation of all working people, they were mainly trying to
get at least part of Vietnam freed of foreign control. Not only did
nationalism blind them to their duty to the world wide working class, it
also blinded them to the support they could get if they kept on fighting.
For that increase in, that tremendous strengthening of, class struggle
around the world would have, in turn, helped them. A vast movement could
have and surely ;would have developed demanding the U.S. be driven out of
Vietnam at once. Instead, they saw things in terms of the "sacred Vietnamese
Secondly, and very much related to this, the political outlook of these
leaders included many reformist-liberal ideas where there should have been
revolutionary-communist ideas. For after all, the whole point of the
negotiations was to "get on good terms" with the U.S. government. "If we are
nice to the imperialists," was their reasoning, "they'll be nice to us." By
being "reasonable" and "coming to the bargaining table," Vietnamese leaders
hoped they'd get -a "fair shake" from the U,S. government. Thus they
constantly spoke about the 1956 elections deal. But why would the U.S.
government, having been given two years to entrench a pro-U.S. regime, let
it all go by the board peacefully in 1956? Where had any ruling class ever
allowed itself t be thrown out peacefully? This was not merely an "abstract"
error either. For by pushing this elections agreement, the Vietminh leaders
were saying: Don't worry about the troops going north, we'll win peacefully
in two years. They were telling Vietnamese and all other working people that
imperialism could be trusted, that revolutionary armed force was
unnecessary. There were setting whoever listened to them up for the kill --
and plenty listened, including the movement in southern Vietnam. People's
War, class struggle guided by complete internationalist support by all
working people for each other -- this kind of revolutionary movement is the
only way any working people can smash imperialism. What a terrible example
the Vietnamese leaders provided for revolutionary forces around the world
A particularly striking aspect of this political weakness was the
"dove"-"hawk" aspect. That is, the Vietminh leaders were trying the 1954
peace talks gambit to play Kennedy-types off against Nixon-types. They hoped
that if they came to the butcher's table and talked turkey, the nicer
"doves" would gain the upper hand in the U.S. But the Nixon-Kennedy
controversy was not antagonistic. Nixon's plan for sending-in U.S. troops
was a) very risky but b) necessary if the Vietminh refused to talk.
Kennedy's plan was a) much harder to beat (since it meant hiding behind a
puppet dictator with -a Vietnamese cover) but b) only possible if the
Vietminh agreed to leave the south in U.S. hands.
Thus the real meaning of "strengthening the doves' hand" was that Vietminh
leaders gave U.S. imperialism a chance to employ the better of 2 tactics. No
Nixon-type invasion took place because none was needed. The only force the
U.S. needed was the force it employed to try to break the neck of the
revolutionary organizations in the south.
In other words, the Vietminh leaders agreed to hand the southern Vietnamese
working people over to U.S. imperialism on a silver platter. If we don't do
this (was their argument) the U.S. might invade and if the U.S. invades we
might lose half the country !
So Vietnamese leaders relied on nationalism and lost half the country. They
relied on liberal U.S. "dove" politicians and got Ngo Dinh Diem, the U.S.'s
puppet butcher, And together, the U.S. government and their pet snake Diem
subjected Vietnamese working people to many years of vicious exploitation
and oppression before People's War reasserted itself fully in the '60's.
And now, despite all the terrible lessons of 1954, the same leadership is
betraying the hard-rebuilt struggle of the working people in the same way.
The scenario is similar. Fulbright and McGovern are calling for a "coalition
government" including the NLF. At this point this corresponds politically --
in the ;current situation -- with "dove" Kennedy's stand in 1954. It would
mean a terrible retreat for the NLF- and give U.S. imperialism a new lease
on life. And the DRV/NLF leaders are backing the new "dove" politician
line....But more on this later. Let's return to 1954
VIETMINH STRENGTH IN THE SOUTH
Some U.S. apologists have argued that, at the time of Geneva, the Vietminh
was really quite weak in the south. Thus, they claim, the U.S. takeover
represented only a formalization of political reality. Consider the report
of the virulent anticommunist, Joseph Alsop, who traveled through
Vietminh-controlled areas in the south just after Geneva:
It; was difficult for me...to conceive of a Communist government genuinely
'serving the people.' I could hardly imagine a communist government that was
also a popular government and almost a democratic government. But this was
just the. sort of government the palm-hut state actually was.... By the time
Dienbienphu fell, very nearly half of southern Indochina was under the
control of the Vietminh. (The New Yorker Magazine, June 25, 1955.)
Alsop understates. In Vietminh-liberated areas all over the south there had
been a social revolution. The landlords had been overthrown. But the
U.S.-created Diem regime gave the landlords one more chance.
The U.S. war against Vietnam, which started in !54, can be divided into four
1) From '54-'60, the U.S. tried to create an anticommunist government under
Ngo Dinh Diem.
2) From'60-'65, the U.S. used "special war" to fight the growing Vietnamese
revolt with "native forces."
3) From '65-'68, the U.S. invaded the south and bombed the north.
4) From '68 to the present, negotiations took the "people" out of People's
War in Vietnam.
Ancient Times to the Present
Thomas D. Lairson
Nationalist resistance has a long tradition in Vietnam, especially between
the 1st and 10th centuries
Peasant world was able to survive mostly intact from the Chinese
occupation - retained much
The peasant world was massively disrupted by the French occupation who
penetrate the village
for taxes and political control and western education
French undermine the traditional village notables and attack village
From 1862-1900 most resistance was decentralized and largely ineffective; it
was also ruthlessly
suppressed by the French
After 1900, resistance shifts to mandarin-intellectuals who look to Japan
and China for inspiration:
Phan Boi Chau - operated in China, arrested from 1925 until his death in
Phan Chau Trinh - advocate of democracy; arrested from 1908-1925; death in
The mandarin-intellectuals wanted a constitutional monarchy and sought
change through education of a
new Vietnamese elite; their influence ends by 1916 when restoration of the
monarchy dies as a form of
The combination of Vietnamese young being educated in China after 1911 and
the 100,000 Vietnamese who participated in World War I in France radicalizes
the nationalist resistance
Some nationalists were initially inspired by the rhetoric of U.S. President
Woodrow Wilson, who talked
generally about the idea of self-determination, including Ho Chi Minh
When these hopes proved unfounded, many turned away from Western liberalism
to Russian communism.
Drawing Vietnamese to communism were:
1) the rigid French determination to hold Vietnam and ruthless repression of
all nationalist sentiments
2) the rhetoric of communism which condemned imperialism
3) the revolutionary activity in China by the communists in the 1920s and
The Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD) or Vietnamese Nationalist Party founded
in Hanoi 1927
VNQDD was non-communist and modeled after the Kuomintang (KMT) in China and
contained many urban middle class radicals ready to use terrorism against
VNQDD launches a general uprising in 1930 based in Vietnamese troops in the
French army in
Vietnam: the Yen Bay Revolt
The French quickly suppress the uprising and destroy the VNQDD
The Communists and Ho Chi Minh
Ho was born in 1890 to a low mandarin scholar revolutionary family
Leaves Vietnam in 1913
Attempts to petition the Versailles Peace Conference for Vietnamese
Drawn into the French Communist Party and is sent to Russia in 1923
Between 1924-1927 Ho trains Vietnamese revolutionaries in Canton
In 1930 in Hong Kong, Ho helps to found the Indochina Communist Party (1,500
members plus approximately 100,000 peasants organized in Vietnam)
In 1930, along with the VNQDD, the communists organized a revolt which was
also suppressed by
In 1931, Ho was arrested by the British in Hong Kong; he disappears from
sight from 1933 - 1941
The ruthlessness of French retaliation for the revolts led to increased
support for independence in
Vietnam, made for more converts to radicalism, and even led to protests in
France. In 1936, the French
Popular Front government recognized the Vietnamese communists and released
them from jail.