Will Vietnam soon be free from communism

New research on the 40th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's death

"Vietnam has the right to be free and independent, and has indeed become free and independent. The Vietnamese people are determined to use all their spiritual and material resources to sacrifice life and property to assert their right to freedom and independence. "

The speaker had been announced as Ho Chi Minh; in previous years he had called himself Nguyen Ai Quoc. He wasn't really called that either, but under this name he had already appeared before the world public once in 1919 in Versailles to demand the separation of his homeland from the colonial power of France. Nobody wanted to listen to him then. He soon disappeared underground again, where he, pursued by the French secret service, repeatedly covered his tracks and changed his name. Historians today attribute 50 to 60 pseudonyms to him and can still barely understand long periods of his life.

A good year after the performance in Hanoi, he was already submerged in the jungle again. France did not want to release Vietnam from its colonial empire and therefore started the first Indochina War. The rest of the world just watched.

"Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!"

It became world famous at the end of the 1960s. He had long since defeated the French and proclaimed a socialist people's republic in the north of the country. Now the US wanted to bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age in the fight against communism, as they said.

Students around the world took to the streets to protest against this war. Wolfgang Kraushaar, who today works at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, was also there. Like many of his generation, even then he would have liked to have known more about the thin old man with the long goatee.

"Ho Chi Minh was something like the embodiment of anti-colonialism and at the time of the Vietnam War the embodiment of opposition to US imperialism. And at the same time someone who stood up for a common people and someone who did not have any kind of wealth or ostentation and did something else, but must have been very ascetic, those are the associations that existed back then. The knowledge about Ho Chi Minh was very limited. Basically, they were more buzzwords or catchwords. "

And it has largely stayed that way. Ho Chi Minh died on September 2, 1969, the USA withdrew their troops in 1973, and all of Vietnam had been communist since 1975. The party sealed off the country from the outside world, and Ho was forgotten again in the west.
Almost ten years ago, two historians, Pièrre Brocheux and William Duiker, independently presented his biographies. But because they had to rely mainly on French sources, researchers still do not know exactly which personal and ideological motives drove Ho Chi Minh, says Wolfgang Kraushaar.

"I think the most important thing about Ho Chi Minh was its will for independence. If you will, you can call him a nationalist. But he was certainly also a staunch Marxist and communist in the 1920s. The question of how Ho Chi Minh has been discussed frequently, even among biographers ... and this question has not really been resolved to this day. "

Just in time for Ho's 40th anniversary of his death, a new biography should shed light on the darkness. The author, Hellmut Kapfenberger, was a correspondent for the GDR news agency ADN in Vietnam for a total of ten years.

He answers the question, nationalist or communist, in a learned dialectical manner.

"His ideal was national liberation. Vietnam must become free, colonialism must be overcome. The Communist Party was the leading force. There was no other political force in Vietnam in the 1930s and early 1940s independence could have led. Only the communist party could do it. "

The nationalist had to become a communist in order to be successful as a nationalist.

This thesis permeates Kapfenberger's description of Ho's life: he grew up in a family of teachers in Hué, took part in illegal patriotic gatherings as a pupil, fled to France at the age of 21, later stations in at least eight other countries, with the writings of Lenin, which he served as his model, in his luggage explained.

"There is no diary of his. Ho Chi Minh himself once put a work on paper ... 'L'Oncle Ho'. There, ... under a pseudonym, sketches from the life of a man are described ... . As if the eyewitness had given the best. By now everyone knows that Ho Chi Minh in the third person wrote it down himself. However, that was never said in Vietnam. I was also told, please don't say it like that. Why I don't know. But there is very, very little of himself except for these sketchy notes in which he himself says and now the film is tearing off again, now we no longer know where he was - he writes himself ... With Ho Chi Minh it is ... quite obvious that Vietnamese historiography still has major gaps. "

The party needs him as an integrating figure. She built a mausoleum for him in Hanoi. Every morning a military band plays the national anthem in front of it, old fighters with gray beards and young people in blue shirts queue up to parade past his embalmed corpse. You should believe in him, you don't need to know any details. The files from five decades of the struggle for independence remain almost completely closed.

Also for Hellmut Kapfenberger. Nevertheless, he tried to shed light on the obscure sections of Ho's biography. These include the years 1934 to 1938 when he was in Moscow. It was the time of the great show trials.

"He lived in a boarding school of the CPSU, he was lucky not to have to live in the Hotel Lux, where a large number of foreign communists were picked up by the secret service. It is inconceivable that he was not aware of this terrorism. That can not be. Of course, he has not commented on it. "

There would have been a lot to tell. As Kapfenberger writes, Ho Chi Minh was summoned to a disciplinary commission as an alleged deviator in 1938, but acquitted after controversial deliberations. Most of them only succeeded in doing this at the time when they denounced others.

How Ho behaved cannot be understood. Kapfenberger was not allowed to see the Comintern files. He considers it impossible that he could have betrayed Vietnamese comrades, since not a single one of them fell victim to Stalin's terror. But Ho was also a member of the French Communist Party, and the commissioners were constantly looking for alleged traitors in their ranks.

Ho Chi Minh itself was once suspected of being a British agent. Kapfenberger says that would not have suited him.

Really not? After all, Ho was later, from 1944 under the code name "Lucius", on the list of employees of the American OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. Kapfenberger downplays the importance of this relationship, but in fact it is one of the most spectacular chapters in Ho's life. The historian Dixee Bartholomew-Feis from Buena Vista University in Iowa has elucidated it in a comprehensive study based on American sources.

Vietnam had been occupied by Japan since 1940. The US bombed his troops from the air. Ho Chi Minh attacked them on the ground with a small guerrilla force of the Viet Minh, the Vietnamese independence movement. He hoped to work with the US Army and on November 11, 1944 the opportunity arose for a first contact, reports Dixee Bartholomew-Feis.

"The Viet Minh had rescued an American pilot who had been shot down by the Japanese over North Vietnam. And Ho Chi Minh insisted on personally bringing this man back to an American base in southern China."

The secret agents and officers there had long since heard about the freedom fighter Ho Chi Minh and had already discussed internally whether he could provide them with information about the Japanese troops, which were almost invisible to them in the jungles of Vietnam.

"He said, yes, we can provide you with information. Weather reports that were vital for the pilots at the time. We can report troop movements to you. But for that we need good radio equipment and our people have to be trained on them."

He was able to take several radios with him on the way back. Soon after, the first US instructors were parachuting over areas controlled by the Viet Minh. They taught the fighters not only how to use radios, but also weapons.

The Americans knew they were supporting a communist. But Ho Chi Minh provided faster and more accurate reports than any other source from Vietnam. So their mistrust quickly faded and after a few months they even granted him the wish to be personally introduced to the pilots' commander in chief, says Dixee Bartholomew-Feis.

"At first the general was very reluctant to receive Ho, because he was not only a declared enemy of the Japanese, but also of the French, with whom the USA was allied in Europe. So the meeting was politically sensitive, but Ho was too much smart to ask for help in the struggle for independence. All he wanted was a photo with a dedication, which the general was only too happy to give him and which was useful to Ho. "

He was seriously ill. There were rivals in the ranks of the Viet Minh who wanted to oust him. But when he received personal gifts and then even a few weapons from representatives of the strongest power on earth, no one doubted his leadership role.

"Ho Chi Minh might have prevailed within the Viet Minh without the help of the Americans, but I would say that they made it easier for him and that this cooperation was very important to him. After all, in 1945 he never missed an opportunity to meet with Americans." and have them photographed. "

When Japan surrendered in August 1945, the US had only a small command of the military and intelligence officers in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh had developed friendly relations with the most important ones, and he hoped that larger units would soon follow them. But the Americans left the disarmament of the Japanese occupiers to their allies: in the north the Chinese Guomindang militia, in the south the British. These in turn allowed France, which had only recently been liberated from the Allies, to send new soldiers to Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh was able to proclaim the independence of his country, but his government was immediately threatened again by the overpowering old colonial power. In this emergency, the USA is said to have offered him to officially recognize his Democratic Republic of Vietnam and thus to protect against French claims if he would open the country to American investors in return. Ho, writes Hellmut Kapfenberger, refused.

"One saw the danger that the economic help from the Americans, for example, in building the infrastructure would have been bought with restrictions on independence. They did not want that. The sacrifices that had been made up to then were too great for any concessions to be made You just didn't want to swap one foreign dominance for another foreign dominance. "

If that's true, then Ho would certainly have been more of a communist than a nationalist. Then, for the sake of a communist social order, he would have seen his people slide into a war that would last nine years and cost hundreds of thousands of victims.

Dixee Bartholomew-Feis is also familiar with this story because in 1945 the French press reported indignantly that the USA wanted to disembark Paris with its offer. In the archives of the OSS and the State Department, however, she found no evidence that such a plan ever existed.

"Vietnam played no role at all for the decision-makers in Washington. They were concerned with the question of how to reorganize Europe and what to do with Japan. But they did not give any thought to Ho Chi Minh. So after my research, it never became one Offer submitted. "

According to this version, he would have had no chance of peace and good relations with the United States. All he could hope for was help from the Soviet Union. But in Moscow he fell on deaf ears.

"Stalin had a very bad opinion of Ho Chi Minh. He called him a communist caveman, not a revolutionary leader, but communist caveman, and punished him with disregard. Ho Chi Minh's request that a visit be treated as a state visit was brusquely rejected by Stalin. "

Only five years later, in 1950, did the Soviet Union recognize Vietnam. Economic aid came later, under Khrushchev, and it was combined with attempts at meddling.

According to Kapfenberger's research, Soviet advisors urged the Vietnamese Communist Party to set up agricultural production cooperatives. Those who did not want to give up their plaice were driven out as large landowners or arrested, sometimes tortured or even killed. Spontaneous riots broke out in many villages. The party was on the verge of turning the people, 90 percent of whom were peasants, against them.

"Ho Chi Minh then denounced that at a congress, maybe very late, but still very sharply. And it was then corrected. Many were then rehabilitated. Only those who were really harmed, it was for them too late. But the decisive course correction was made by him. "

When it came to implementing communist doctrines, he was rather cautious. His party learned little from him. After the conquest of Saigon in 1975, she tried again with a collectivization and plunged Vietnam into a famine. Ten years later it completely turned the wheel around and liberalized the entire economy.

Socialist achievements like free education and free health care that Ho Chi Minh introduced have now disappeared. In contrast to the student movement in 1968, according to Wolfgang Kraushaar's observations, it is therefore no longer attractive for modern social movements.

"He has nothing that he could have conveyed in terms of impetus or motives for an anti-globalization movement. I don't know anyone who would have come up with the idea of ​​conjuring up Ho Chi Minh in the course of the anti-globalization movement."

Because of its importance for the era of decolonization, Kraushaar believes that he deserves to have a really comprehensive biography written about him at some point. But that will remain impossible until the Hanoi and Moscow archives are opened to independent researchers.