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How Did Communism Win Control of Vietnam?
         Scholars have often pointed out the irony that the philosophy of Karl Marx, which was originally written with first-world, industrial laborers in mind, rose to victory in the most un-industrial nations of the third world, begining with Russia, Vietnam and China (in that order). It is also true, and Vietnam is no different than most other communist countries in this regard, the movement has always won power on the backs of a people who have little or no understanding at all of the philosophy behind their movement. In the case of Vietnam, the Communist Party was able to play on a number of pre-existing
conditions and the poor state of the populace to come to power.
          The Vietnamese have always been very traditional, very patriotic and very nervous about foreign involvement in their country. Given the repeated invasions by China and later the colonial rule of France, this is entirely under-standable. In the early days of colonialism and previously, all of the liberation movements had been traditional and monarchial in nature, from the Mandarins Revolt and Can Vuong movement under Emperor Ham Nghi, the restoration movement of Marquis Cuong De and Phan Boi Chau and the attempted up-rising by Emperor Duy Tan and Tran Cao Van in 1916. There were little other efforts of consequence until the arrival of "Nguyen Ai Quoc" (Nguyen the Patriot", who had learned the principles of Communism in France.
          It is ironic that the freedom of French society, combined with their colonial rule of Indochina, would ultimately lead to their own un-doing. The traditional Vietnamese authorities and the monarchy had been undermined by their association with the French and inability to defeat these latest invaders. Yet, the French "chattering classes" were also responsible for the formation of Nguyen Ai Quoc, the founding father of Vietnamese communism. In France, communism was a drawing room party, but in Vietnam it was a tool with which Nguyen Ai Quoc could ultimately gain popular support for dictatorship.
Nguyen Ai Quoc
         However, Nguyen Ai Quoc knew his people well enough to know that they did not understand what communism was, nor did they have any desire to learn. Unlike those in France, the Vietnamese remained very religious, traditional and mostly concerned with survival rather than political ideaology. So, he simply ignored the economic principles of communism with his people, other than the elite circle around him who would lead the movement and ultimately come to rule the nation. Instead, he emphasized nationalism and the inherent anti-colonialism present in Marxism to divide society and encourage anti-French activities. Soon, his reputation grew and peasants who knew nothing of communism began to see the mysterious Nguyen Ai Quoc as a man who was on their side, who was determined to fight colonialism and reward them with land and prosperity.
         He was aided considerably by the underestimation of him by the French officials, who dismissed him and his movement as being of no real concern. Had he been preaching the doctrines of communism, they probably would have been correct, but Nguyen Ai Quoc kept this behind closed doors and instead focused on nationalism, slogans like "freedom", "democracy", "independence" and a classless society. Some people, even the highly educated, such as the future general, Vo Nguyen Giap, found this in keeping with their own (monarchist) history, in which the king could be seen planting rice in the fields along with the rest of his subjects. He played on existing fear and prejudice.
         Around the time of World War II, when the French were already humiliated, Nguyen Ai Quoc began his formal campaign for power and took a new name, "Ho Chi Minh" (he who enlightens). He knew how to gain the confidence of the public and had succeeded at it brilliantly. He never talked about government ownership of all property, but focused only on "land-redistribution". He never condemned traditional values but manipulated them to his own advantage. He impressed the people by never being seen with any of his communist mentors from Russia or China, he always dressed simply and won the people over face to face, giving the image of himself as a simple man just like them, unconcerned with luxury and committed to national independence. The court at Hue had been rendered powerless by the colonial system, and even after the Emperor's declaration of independence in 1945, was unable to exercise effective control over the country. Ho seized the day.
          While the emperor was entangled with French and Japanese officials, Ho organized his political movement, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or Vietminh, to bring hunger relief to the starving people of Hanoi where Japanese exports and a recent famine had worked together to devestate the population at just the right time to work to Ho's advantage. This greatly added to his prestige as a true friend of the people who cared for them when others would or could not. Revolution swept the country and when Emperor Bao Dai formally surrendered the sword and seal to representatives of the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam" it seemed to many of the traditional Vietnamese that Ho Chi Minh had gained the mandate of Heaven. It also helped that he had the only standing Vietnamese military force in the country. This force had been armed and trained by O.S.S. agents of the United States military, their association with Ho Chi Minh also helped to raise his prestige in the eyes of the court. The Emperor Bao Dai felt that Ho had American support and that his association with the Japanese
had ruined any chance he had of acceptance by the west.
          Ho Chi Minh was also very careful to portray himself as a nationalist open to all "patriotic" Vietnamese. Purges in the south carried out by the Communists, including the assassination of monarchists like Pham Quynh and Nguyen Van Sam, were officially condemned by Ho Chi Minh. He spoke of welcoming all people into his government and even gave the former Emperor the title of "Supreme Advisor" to the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam. When people's courts began to round up landowners and massacred thousands of them, working on a quota system, Ho said they had gone too far, but of course all of it worked to his own advantage.
          In all, many factors worked together to bring Ho to power. The French had destroyed the monarchist resistance of Phan Dinh Phung and Phan Boi Chau, as well as the republican resistance of Phan Chu Trinh and Nguyen Thai Hoc. By 1930 the Communists had no real competition for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. This, combined with his ability to portray his movement as nationalist and patriotic rather than communist and marxist, ensured the ultimate success of Ho Chi Minh and the establishment of a socialist dictatorship in Vietnam.