Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 September 2009
Cold War historians have neglected the significance of the year 1948 for Indochina. Based on new sources, this paper shows critical shifts in politics within the Vietnamese nationalist movement in 1948. These were the result of converging developments during late 1947 and early 1948, including changes in international politics, in French–Vietnamese relations, and in the relationship between non-communist and communist leaders within the Việt Minh state. By late 1948, Party ideologues were already looking beyond national independence towards building a new socialist regime. The nationalist coalition that had led the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was seriously damaged in 1948, even though civil war would only break out several years later. As elsewhere in Southeast Asia, 1948 thus marked a new period: the beginning of the end of the ‘united front’ period and cooperation with bourgeois nationalists.
1 See Ninh, Kim, A world transformed: The politics of culture in revolutionary Vietnam, 1945–1965 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chs. 2 and 3, which focuses on the shifts in cultural policy and on the ensuing clash between party ideologues and cultural intellectuals during 1948–50, and which agrees with the argument here that 1948 represented a watershed in the Vietnamese revolution.
2 A full review of changing ICP policy on class struggle over time is beyond the scope of this paper. Essentially the ICP placed a heavy emphasis on class struggle during its first decade of existence, but downplayed it from 1941 to 1948. Prior to 1948, ICP policy on class struggle had always been strongly influenced by Comintern policy directions while also reflecting the internal debates about specific policy measures between radical and moderate leaders. For a standard treatment of ICP policy and the Comintern-ICP relationship in the 1930s, see Khánh, Huỳnh Kim, Vietnamese communism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982)Google Scholar. Elsewhere I have analysed in detail ICP policy during the 1940s and 1950s concerning the relationship between national revolution and class struggle; see Tuong Vu, ‘Paths to development in Asia: South Korea, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)’; and Vu, ‘From cheering to volunteering: Vietnamese communists and the arrival of the Cold War, 1940–1951’, in Connecting histories: The Cold War and decolonization in Asia (1945–1962), ed. Christopher Goscha and Christian Ostermann (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009). Still, we know more about the internal debates between radical and moderate ICP leaders in the 1930s than in later periods.
3 Guerrilla forces. For an account of an intellectual who left the maquis, see Duy, Phạm, Hồi ký: Cách mạng và thời kháng chiến (Memoir – The revolution and resistance period) (PDC Musical Productions, 1991)Google Scholar.
4 This paper benefits especially from two memoirs recently published by Mr Vũ Đình Hòe. These memoirs incorporated the unpublished memoirs of several of Mr Vũ's close associates such as Phan Anh and Vũ Trọng Khánh. Mr Vũ Đình Hòe, born in 1912, is the only non-communist minister in the Việt Minh government (1945–54) who is still alive. I thank Mr Vũ and his son, Professor Vũ Thế Khôi, for granting numerous interviews since 2003.
5 Chiêu, Vũ Ngự, ‘The other side of the revolution: The Empire of Vietnam (March–August 1945)’, Journal of Asian Studies, 45, 2 (1986): 293–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Vũ Ngự Chiêu shows how the TTK government created favourable conditions for a successful Việt Minh seizure of power in August 1945. See also Tønnesson, Stein, The Vietnamese revolution of 1945 (London: Sage Publications, 1991)Google Scholar; and Marr, David, Vietnam 1945: The quest for power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)Google Scholar.
6 The role of the Japanese in the Indochinese future was less straightforward than was the case in Indonesia. In the Dutch Indies, Japanese forces landed, quickly defeated the Dutch colonial army, and brought back prominent indigenous nationalists to work as advisors to the Japanese military government with a promise of future independence. However, in Vietnam, with the French still in place, the Japanese did little besides keeping their options open by establishing contacts with Vietnamese groups such as Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài, and by protecting a few nationalists from French suppression.
7 For discussion of the many hypotheses regarding Japanese motives in doing this, see Tønnesson, The Vietnamese revolution of 1945, pp. 282–6; Marr, Vietnam 1945, pp. 116–17.
8 Thắng, Nguyễn Quốc and Thế, Nguyễn Bá, Từ điển nhân vật lịch sử Việt Nam [Dictionary of Vietnamese historical figures] (Hồ Chí Minh City: Văn Hóa, 1997), pp. 894–5Google Scholar.
9 Vũ Ngự Chiêu, ‘The other side of the revolution’.
10 See François Guillemot, ‘Vietnamese nationalist revolutionaries and the Japanese Occupation: The case of the Đại Việt parties (1936–1946)’, in Imperial Japan and national identities in Asia, 1895–1945, ed. Li Narangoa and Robert Cribb (New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003), pp. 221–48.
11 This was composed of many lawyers, doctors and professionals who published the journal Thanh nghị in Hanoi from 1940–45. Thanh nghị is often translated literally as ‘Clear discussion’.
12 In my interview with Mr Vũ Đình Hòe (Hanoi, Dec. 2003), who was the secretary of this party, he explained that ‘Hội’ at the time also meant ‘party’ and not just ‘association’.
13 Hòe, Vũ Đình, Hồi ký Thanh nghị (Memoir about Thanh Nghị) (Hanoi: Văn Học, 1995), pp. 182–9Google Scholar. The New Vietnam Party would be suppressed by the Japanese in July 1945 and many of its leaders would join the Việt Minh.
14 Tønnesson, The Vietnamese revolution of 1945, p. 247.
15 Ibid., pp. 114–25.
16 Ibid., pp. 125–32 and 144–7.
17 Ibid., p. 122. Hồ Chí Minh travelled to southern China in 1943, was arrested by GMD forces, and held in prison for a year before being released and asked to collaborate with other nationalist groups.
18 Ibid., p. 131.
19 Ibid., p. 249. In an article in Việt Nam độc lập [Independent Vietnam], the Việt Minh's newsletter (30 Apr. 1945), it was acknowledged how the movement had benefited from the fall of the French.
20 See Việt Nam độc lập, 21 Apr. 1945.
21 Nghĩa, Lê Trọng, ‘Các cuộc tiếp xúc giữa Việt Minh với Chính phủ Trần Trọng Kim’ [The meetings between the Việt Minh and the Trần Trọng Kim government], in Lịch sử, sự thật và bài học [History, truth and lessons] (Hanoi: Trẻ, 2000)Google Scholar.
22 Marr, Vietnam 1945, p. 393.
23 Marr, David, ‘Beyond high politics: State formation in northern Vietnam, 1945–1946’, in Naissance d'un état-parti: Le Viet Nam depuis 1945 / The birth of a party-state: Vietnam since 1945, ed. Goscha, Christopher and de Tréglodé, Benoît (Paris: Le Indes Savantes, 2004), pp. 25–60Google Scholar.
25 Non-communists included Vũ Đình Hòe (Education, and later Justice), Dương Đức Hiền (Youth), Vũ Trọng Khánh (Justice), Nguyễn Mạnh Hà (Economy), Nguyễn Văn Tố (Social Affairs) and Nguyễn Văn Xuân (non-portfolio). More non-communists would be added later, including Nghiêm Xuân Yêm (Agriculture), Nguyễn Văn Huyên (Education), Trần Đăng Khoa (Irrigation) and Phan Anh (Trade and Industry).
26 For a description of the theory and the ICP practice of united front in the 1930s, see Huỳnh, Vietnamese communism, pp. 137–41.
27 Phạm Văn Đồng, ‘Phải kiện toàn chính quyền cộng hòa nhân dân’ (We must strengthen the Republican People's government), speech at the Third National Cadre Conference, 21 Jan.–3 Feb. 1950. Đảng Cộng Sản Việt Nam [Communist Party of Vietnam, hereafter ĐCSVN], Văn kiện Đảng toàn tập [Collections of Party documents], vol. 11, p. 185.
28 Peter Worthington, ‘Occupation and revolution: The Chinese Nationalist Army in northern Vietnam, 1945–1946’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Hawaii, 1995).
29 Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 113–14Google Scholar, 176–81.
30 Nguyễn Quốc Thắng and Nguyễn Bá Thế, Từ điển nhân vật lịch sử Việt Nam, pp. 953–4.
31 ‘Non-partisans’ means they belonged to neither the ICP nor the VNP and VRL.
32 Hòe, Vũ Đình, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh [Hồ Chí Minh's humanist legal principles] (Hanoi: Văn Hóa Thông Tin, 2000), p. 58Google Scholar.
33 On the communist efforts to take control of the Interior Ministry from the non-partisan appointee, see Giản, Lê, Những ngày sóng gió: Hồi ký [Those stormy days: A memoir] (Hanoi: Công An Nhân Dân, 2000)Google Scholar.
34 Chiang Kai-shek's government yielded to US pressure to let the French army replace Chinese troops. The French in return offered Chiang certain trade privileges in northern Vietnam. See Worthington, ‘Occupation and revolution’.
35 Those who stayed on did not fare well. For example, VNP leader Chu Bá Phượng, the Minister of Economy, was sent to a concentration camp for trying to flee the Việt Minh area; see Văn phòng Quốc hội [Office of the National Assembly], Đại biểu Quốc hội từ Khóa I đến Khóa X [Representatives of the National Assembly from the First to the Tenth Session] (Hanoi: Chính Trị Quốc Gia, 2002) for the fates of many of these VNP and VRL leaders.
36 Vũ Đình Hòe, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh, pp. 68, 96–100. A prominent example was Nguyễn Văn Huyên, the DRV Minister of Education (until 1975), who was a son-in-law of the mandarin Vi Văn Định, the provincial chief of Thái Bình.
37 Tønnesson, Vietnamese revolution of 1945, p. 336.
38 A loose party of French-trained intellectuals and student leaders that the ICP helped set up in June 1944 to mobilise support among urban elites. The ICP maintained its influence on the DP through (closet) communists planted in the DP leadership. The DP was treated as the minor party in the Việt Minh government.
39 Marr, Vietnam 1945, p. 393; Vũ Đình Hòe, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh, p. 63.
40 Marr, Vietnam 1945, pp. 375–7.
43 Marr, ‘Beyond high politics’.
44 See Hồ Chí Minh's letter, ‘Thư gửi Ủy ban nhân dân các kỳ, tỉnh, huyện và làng’ [Letter to Regional, Provincial, District and Village People's Committees], n.d., ĐCSVN, v. 8, pp. 16–18; also the series of articles in a newspaper of the VNP, ‘Xưa và nay: Nhìn qua các Ủy ban hành chính địa phương’ [Before vs. now: A glimpse at local Administrative Committees], Việt Nam, 25 May–5 June 1946.
46 Vũ Đình Hòe quotes from a 1948 report by Phạm Tuấn Khánh, DP General Secretary (Vũ Đình Hòe, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh, p. 141). Conflicts broke out in Hải Dương province and in southern Vietnam. See also Marr, Vietnam 1945, pp. 409–10.
47 See ‘Chỉ thị của Ban chấp hành Trung ương’ [Instructions of the Central Committee], 25 Nov. 1945, ĐCSVN, v. 8, p. 30.
48 This was not unique in Vietnam: in Indonesia Sutan Sjahrir compromised with and cooperated with Sukarno and Amir Sjarifuddin but not Tan Malaka. See Vu, Tuong, ‘State formation and the origins of developmental states in South Korea and Indonesia’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 41, 4 (2007): 27–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
49 After 1954, non-communists who cooperated with communists in Vietnam would be similarly marginalised in two token political parties (the DP and the Socialist Party) in the DRV.
50 From various sources, it appeared that most of the personnel in the Việt Minh government were able to leave the towns before or right after war broke out. It is not known how many chose to stay, or were stranded or killed while fighting.
51 ‘Nghị quyết Hội nghị cán bộ Trung ương’ [Resolution of the Central Cadre Conference], 3–6 Apr. 1947. ĐCSVN, v. 8, pp. 178–9. See also ‘Chỉ thị của T. U.’ [Instruction of the Central Committee], 22 May 1947. Ibid., pp. 207–13.
52 ‘Chỉ thị cua T. U.’, p. 207. One of the best accounts of events in 1947–50 from the French perspective is Hammer, Ellen, The struggle for Indochina 1940–1955 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955)Google Scholar. A recent analysis of French politics in connection to Indochina policy is Martin Thomas, ‘French imperial reconstruction and the development of the Indochina War, 1945–1950’, in The First Vietnam War: Colonial conflict and Cold War crisis, ed. Mark Lawrence and Fredrik Logevall (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 130–51.
53 Tân Trào (Trường Chinh), ‘Việc mở rộng chính phủ’ [The broadening of our government]. Sự thật, 19 Aug. 1947. In this article, Trường Chinh suggested that the move was only symbolic and warned readers not to have any illusions about negotiations. In an internal document, the Party told its members that they would have to ‘fight harder’ if the French were to be brought to the negotiating table. See ‘Thông cáo của T.U. về việc thay đổi một số nhân viên chính phủ’ (Announcement by the Central Committee about cabinet reshuffle), 27 July 1947, signed by Lê Đức Thọ (DCSVN, v. 8, pp. 248–9).
54 For the DRV reactions, see ‘Bô-la nói gì? Ta phải làm gì? Chỉ thị của T.U.’ [What did Bollaert say? How should we respond? Instructions of the Central Committee], 15 Sept. 1947. ĐCSVN, vol. 8, pp. 289–303.
55 Hammer, Struggle for Indochina 1940–1955, pp. 209–22.
56 Thomas, ‘French imperial reconstruction’, pp. 142–6.
57 The ICP hoped that the French Communist Party would lead a civil war in France. They predicted that in such circumstances, General Franco of Spain might intervene in France to support the conservatives while the United States might intervene in Indochina. They thus predicted a new ‘revolutionary movement’ in Europe and the joining of the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions against the alliance between the US and conservative France in the Asian theatre. See ‘Thông cáo của Thường vụ T.U.’ [Announcement of the Central Committee Executive Body], 2 Dec. 1947, signed by Phương (Trường Chinh). ĐCSVN, vol. 8, pp. 337–9.
58 Hammer, Struggle for Indochina 1940–1955, pp. 221–3.
59 Zhdanov's report was translated and published in several issues of Sự thật beginning on 19 May 1948, while Mao's report and the CCP's new land policy were also translated and published serially in Sự thật beginning 15 Apr. 1948.
62 In Leninist theory, ‘fellow travellers’ are those who agree with the Communist Party's short-term objectives but prefer not to march under its banner. They are to be incorporated into mass organisations in a united front. See Huỳnh, Vietnamese communism, pp. 138–9.
63 ‘Trung ương Hội nghị lần thứ Tám’ [The Eighth Central Committee Plenum], May 1941. ĐCSVN, v. 7, pp. 120–1. See my analysis of this document in Vu, ‘From cheering to volunteering’.
64 Bộ Canh Nông [Ministry of Agriculture], Giảm tô giảm tức, thể lệ lĩnh canh [Rent and interest reduction and tenancy regulations] (Việt Bắc, c. 1950), pp. 7–12.
65 ‘Cách mạng tháng Tám: Triển vọng của Cách mạng Việt nam’ [The August revolution: The prospects of Vietnam's revolution], Sự thật, 7 Sept. 1946.
67 ‘Chính sách của Đảng ở nông thôn (Việt Nam)’ [Party policy in rural Vietnam], Trường Chinh's report at the meeting of the Central Economic Committee, 5–7 July 1950. ĐCSVN, vol. 11, pp. 608–12. The document did not mention the confiscation of land from collaborators. Unlike policy towards land owned by the French, policy up to then regarding collaborators’ land was to be made only on a case-by-case basis.
68 For a case of this tension, see Vũ Đình Hòe, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh, pp. 120–1. Another account in the Party's newspaper observed that the campaign was carried out fully in the south, went sluggishly in the central region, and was ignored or neglected in the north up until 1948. Chí Thanh, Sự thật, 30 Oct. 1950. No detailed information about the situation on the ground is available and a case can certainly be made that local officials were being made scapegoats for implementation problems. However, see below for evidence suggesting that the problems did exist within Party and state organisations.
69 See also Hiền, Dương Đức, ‘Đảng Dân Chủ Việt Nam trong hàng ngũ Mặt trận’ [The DP within the National Front], Độc lập, 20 Feb. 1951Google Scholar; and Đức, Hoàng Văn, ‘Hiện trạng đời sống viên chức, trí thức’ [The current living conditions of intellectuals and government officials], Độc lập, 15 Oct. 1951Google Scholar.
70 For example, Đỗ Đức Dục, a member of the Thanh nghị group and a DP leader, called for rich peasants to be protected during the land reform (Độc lập, 15 Mar. 1953).
71 These were French-trained lawyers Vũ Trọng Khánh and Vũ Đình Hòe.
72 Vũ Đình Hòe, Pháp quyền nhân nghĩa Hồ Chí Minh, pp. 53–6.
73 Ibid., pp. 159–65, 196–7.
74 ‘Cách mạng tháng Tám: Nhiệm vụ cần kíp của dân tộc Việt nam’ [The August revolution: The urgent tasks of the Vietnamese nation], Sự thật, 4 Oct. 1946.
75 ‘Nghị quyết của Hội nghị Cán bộ Trung ương’ [Resolution by the Central Committee Conference], 31 July–1 Aug. 1946. ĐCSVN vol. 8, p. 103.
76 Trường Chinh, ‘Chính sách của Đảng ở nông thôn (Việt Nam)’ [The party's rural policy (Vietnam)], pp. 612–13. In his speech at the same conference, Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng also regretted that the ICP had retained colonial bureaucrats although he did not elaborate on the problem. See Phạm Văn Đồng, ‘Phải kiện toàn chính quyền cộng hòa nhân dân’ [We must strengthen people's republic government], p. 185.
77 See ‘Nhân dân dân chủ chuyên chính ở Việt nam’ [The democratic dictatorship of the people in Vietnam], a report to the Third Plenum of the Central Committee probably in April 1952. ĐCSVN, vol. 14, pp. 95–6.
78 See ‘Vấn đề chỉnh Đảng’ [On Party rectification], Lê Văn Lương's report to the Third Plenum of the Central Committee. ĐCSVN, vol. 14, p. 102.
79 ‘Nghị quyết Hội nghị Trung ương mở rộng’ [The resolution of the expanded Central Committee Plenum], 15–17 Jan. 1948. ĐCSVN, vol. 9, p. 16.
81 Ibid., p. 31. See also the subsequent order to implement the policy: ‘Chỉ thị gửi các Khu ủy về việc tịch thu ruộng đất, tài sản của bọn Việt gian phản quốc’ [Instructions to Zone Party Committees on the confiscation of land and property of Vietnamese traitors], 18 Feb. 1948. ĐCSVN, vol. 9, pp. 60–1. The Party did not yet attack landlords at this point.
82 ‘Chỉ thị về vấn đề vận động nông dân’ [Instructions about peasant mobilisation], 19 May 1948. ĐCSVN, vol. 9, pp. 140–1.
84 Ibid., p. 44. See also a more detailed decision: ‘Quyết nghị của Ban Thường vụ Trung ương’ [Decision of the Executive Committee of the Central Committee], 1 Apr. 1948. ĐCSVN, vol. 9, 85–8.
85 ‘Chỉ thị của Ban Thường vụ Trung ương’ [Instructions by the Executive Committee of the Central Committee], signed by Lê Đức Thọ, 1 June 1948. ĐCSVN vol. 9, p. 149. Reasons for the delay of the Party Congress were many, but two appeared most important: the difficulties of Party delegates from central and southern Vietnam to travel to the base in Việt Bắc in 1948–49, and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. See Vu, Paths to development in Asia, ch. 6.
86 There was no mentioning of purging members with suspicious backgrounds, which would not take place until around 1953.
87 ‘Bài nói chuyện trong buổi bế mạc Hội nghị’ [Closing speech], Central Cadre Conference, 14–18 Jan. 1949. ĐCSVN, vol. 10, pp. 166–7.
88 ‘Báo cáo về tình hình Đảng năm 1948’ [Report on Party organisation in 1948], Central Cadre Conference, 14–18 Jan. 1949. ĐCSVN, vol. 10, pp. 120–50. The figure of 450 per cent for 1948 is taken from ‘Hoàn thành nhiệm vụ chuẩn bị, tích cực chuyển sang tổng phản công’ [Completing preparations for the general offensive phase], Trường Chinh's report at the Third National Conference, 21 Jan.–3 Feb. 1950. ĐCSVN, vol. 11, p. 92.
89 The growth was uneven, however: there were 70,000 members in Zone 3 (provinces in the upper Red River delta) alone. Southern Vietnam had about 30,000 members in total by the end of 1948.
90 The debate took place in Sự thật (Truth), the ICP's journal, and Độc lập (Independence), a weekly journal of the DP.
91 See Quang Đạm: Nhà báo, học giả [Quang Đạm: A journalist and scholar] (Hanoi: Lao Động, 2002). Quang Đạm was the pen name of Tạ Quang Đệ who had been a clerk in the colonial administration and had no connection with Thanh nghị. His brother, Tạ Quang Bửu, was far better known, had served the EVN government and was a Việt Minh deputy minister.
92 ‘Tư pháp với nhà nước’ [The judicial branch and the state], Sự thật, 15 Apr. 1948; ‘Tính chất chuyên môn trong tư pháp’ [The specialised knowledge of judicial work], Sự thật, 19 May 1948.
93 ‘Ý kiến bạn đọc về vấn đề tư pháp’ [Readers’ opinion about the judicial system], Sự thật, 19 Aug.–2 Sept. 1948; and ‘Vấn đề tư pháp’ [The judicial system issue], Sự thật, 20 June, 10 July and 1 Aug. 1949.
94 ‘Tư pháp trong chế độ dân chủ mới’ [The judiciary in the new democracies], Độc lập, July 1948.
95 ‘Vài điểm căn bản về vấn đề tư pháp’ [Some basic points about the judicial system], Sự thật, 15 Nov., 30 Nov. and 19 Dec. 1948; and ‘Về cuộc thảo luận vấn đề tư pháp’ [On the debate about the judicial system], Sự thật, 6 Jan. 1950.
96 Not until 1950 did Quang Đạm write about ‘nhân dân’ as a class-based concept, i.e., ‘nhân dân’ as a collective composed of two main classes (workers and peasants) which led the national revolution and class struggle. See Quang Đạm, ‘Người trí thức trong xã hội và trong cách mạng’ (Intellectuals in society and the revolution), Sự thật, 15 Mar. 1950. The term ‘nhân dân’ was not common prior to 1945. Until 1950, it was primarily used by a few authors, one of whom was Trường Chinh. The term became widely used and came to acquire certain Marxist connotations perhaps thanks to Trường Chinh's efforts to promote it and to the import of the Chinese revolutionary discourse into Vietnam after 1950. ‘Renmin’ (transliterated in Vietnamese as ‘nhân dân’) was a central term in Maoist discourse.
97 Trần Chánh Thành would later become Minister of Information in the Republic of Vietnam under Ngô Đình Diệm.
98 Trường Chinh, ‘Chúng ta chiến đấu cho độc lập và dân chủ’ [We fight for independence and democracy], speech at the Fifth Cadre Conference, 8–16 Aug. 1948. ĐCSVN, vol. 9, p. 191.
102 Vu, ‘From cheering to volunteering’.
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