USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Ho Chi Minh: Between Communism and Anti-Colonialism

In the May 25, 1922 edition of the French Communist Newspaper l’Humanite, Ho Chi Minh published his first article on political issues titled, “Some Considerations on the Colonial Question.” The article makes a bold point – and one that would become one of Ho’s central contributions to theories of Marxism: issues of colonialism and colonial domination were central (not peripheral) to the struggle of all workers against capitalists. In Ho’s view, the communist parties in industrialized countries like France, Britain and the United States needed to come up with real solutions to the problem of colonialism. Too often, Ho thought, the industrial working class viewed colonial issues as wholly separate from their concerns and even supported the national policy of imperial domination. Even if workers in the industrial countries recognized the plight of colonial subjects, Ho maintained, they did so sentimentally and without a clear program for change. Likewise, the workers in the colonies had no knowledge of political organizations and were caught in a web of ignorance. Change on both sides, Ho believed, was necessary for true reform:
The mutual ignorance of the two proletariats gives rise to prejudices. The French workers look upon the native as an inferior and negligible human being, incapable of understanding and still less of taking action. The natives regard all the French as wicked exploiters. Imperialism and capitalism do not fail to take advantage of this mutual suspicion and this artificial racial hierarchy to frustrate propaganda and divide forces which ought to unite.
This is a key statement and one very much of the times. First, we see here a link in Ho’s thinking between capitalism and imperialism, one that was lost established with the publication of Vladimir Lenin’s famous study on the subject. Many other colonized peoples would come to similar conclusions. This meant that the opposite was also connected – anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism were linked to anti-capitalism. We are starting to see why communism was becoming such a powerful motivational force throughout the colonial world. What’s more, while the West was full of apologists for colonial behavior, the Soviets had called for an unequivocal end to imperial domination. Vladimir Lenin, more than any other single individual, became the symbol of the anti-colonialist fight. It is no surprise, then, that we see Ho turning in his article to Lenin and the Russian position on the colonial question: 
In his theses on the colonial question, Lenin clearly stated that “the workers of the colonizing countries are bound to give the most active assistance to the liberation movements in subject countries.” To this end, the workers of the mother country must know what a colony really is, they must be acquainted with what is going on there, and with the suffering – a thousand times more acute than theirs – endured by their brothers, the proletarians in the colonies.
Lenin, of course, was thinking globally at the beginning of his revolutionary movement and this global vision of revolution found a receptive audience among the colonized peoples of the world. Ho is trying to do a difficult thing here – to make the suffering of the colonial subject real to the workers in France and the French Communist Party. In essence, he is trying to counteract French nationalism and racism within the French Communist Party – a very difficult task. Nonetheless, for the following couple of years, Ho continued to work to advance the rights of the Vietnamese from within France as a member of the French Communist Party. He turned his focus in an essay from July 1922 to the cruelty of French colonial administrators. In his piece, ironically titled, “The Civilizers,” Ho paints a bleak picture of colonial cruelty. He begins the piece by describing a scene in which a French administrator “poured molten rubber into the genitals of an unfortunate Negress.” He continues in this vein, “In March 1922,” Ho writes, “a customs-house officer at Baria (Cochin-China) all but sent an Annamese woman salt carrier to her death because she had disturbed his siesta by making a noise outside the verandah of his house.”

This piece is significant. It is one of the first attempts in the anti-colonialist discourse to invert the relationship between the “civilized” and the “primitive.” Ho is recognizing some very fundamental aspects of world politics here – that the issue of “race” is deeply connected to the issue of power, that the industrial powers use the issue of race as a strategy to divide colonial peoples from workers in the home country, and that the rhetoric of civilization obscures a widespread campaign of brutality.

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