The Heritage of Vietnamese Nationalism 10

A superb photograph taken at the meeting shows Ho, thin and intense, addressing a collection of corpulent Frenchmen with walrus mustaches. Speaking without notes, he rebuked the delegates who interrupted him as his speech rose to an impassioned plea: “In the name of all mankind, in the name of all Socialists, right wing or left wing, we appeal to you, comrades. Save us!”
The decision that faced Ho at the Tours congress transcended Viet¬nam. A majority of Socialists, enthused by the Russian Revolution, had broken away to form the Communist party. Ho might have preferred to stick with Socialists like Longuet and Blum, whose gentle temperament he shared. But he opted for the Communists, figuring that their Soviet patrons had the potential power to spark the global revolution that would liberate Vietnam. As Ho explained years after¬ward, “It was patriotism and not Communism that originally inspired
me.”
Ho Chi Minh became a prodigious polemicist during the Paris years. His diatribes contained flashes of acerbic wit, like the remark in his pamphlet, French Colonialism on Trial, that “the figure of Justice has had such a rough voyage from France to Indochina that she has lost everything but her sword.” He wrote for the French Communist daily, L’Humanite, and he edited Le Paria, a journal put out by a group of Asian and African nationalists. Smuggled back to Vietnam and circulated secretly, his writings exposed many Vietnamese for the first time to Lenin’s thesis that revolution and anticolonial resistance were inseparable. “It opened a new world to us,” recalled Tran Van Giau, a veteran Vietnamese Communist.
By the early 1920s, the French police were tracking Ho’s move¬ments. He fascinated one of their inspectors, Louis Arnoux, who arranged an informal encounter at a cafe near the Paris Opera. The two men, destined to become mortal enemies, thereafter met from time to time, Arnoux listening as Ho recounted his experiences and aspirations. Arnoux urged Albert Sarraut, then minister of colonies, to grant Ho an audience. Sarraut refused, contending that Nguyen Ai Quoc did not exist. He was, said Sarraut, merely an alias of Phan Chu Trinh, the prominent Vietnamese nationalist then still living in exile in Paris.
In 1924, Ho moved to Moscow. Now known as Linh, he met Stalin, Trotsky and the other Soviet leaders, but decried their lack of sufficient interest in Vietnam. They were busy squabbling over the succession to Lenin, who had just died. Besides, as a Soviet analysis put it, Vietnam’s nationalists were “disorganized,” and its “politically inert” masses scarcely worth an investment. Still, Ho used his time in the Soviet Union to attend the so-called University of Oriental Workers, an academy for Asian insurgents, where he learned Lenin’s key dictum: revolution must be launched under favorable conditions. He was to wait another twenty years before staging his revolution, and even then he may have acted prematurely.
The sojourn in Moscow transformed Ho from a propagandist into a practical organizer, a role that he would begin to play when he traveled to Canton later in 1924. There Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader then allied with the Chinese Communists, had a Soviet adviser, Mikhail Borodin, the legendary Russian agent later characterized in Andre Malraux’s novel Man’s Fate. Ho, now using the alias Ly Thuy, became Borodin’s part-time interpreter while ped¬dling cigarettes and newspapers to supplement his income. He also wrote occasionally for a Soviet news agency under the byline Lou Rosta, and in contacts with foreigners in Canton he posed as a Chinese by the name of Wang, a variation of Vuong, a Vietnamese nom de plume he signed to articles that he contributed to a local Chinese news¬paper. He sometimes called himself Nilovsky.
During this period, Ho started to mobilize Vietnamese students in southern China, creating the Thanh Nien Cach Mang Dong Chi Hoi, the Revolutionary Youth League. Following classic Communist pre¬cepts, he taught his pupils to form small cells to avoid detection and to write tracts for specific audiences, and he inculcated them with the boy scout virtues of thrift, generosity and perseverance. Above all, he urged them to be concrete. “Peasants,” he cautioned, “believe in facts, not theories.”
But Ho’s prospects suddenly dimmed in 1927, when Chiang Kai- shek slaughtered his Communist associates in a surprise betrayal. Ho fled to Moscow and then, with little else to do, toured Europe to gaze at castles and cathedrals. He secretly slipped into Paris under the name of Duong, and nostalgia for the city welled up in him. A French Communist friend of the time later recalled to me how he had en¬countered Ho one evening on a bridge overlooking the Seine, Looking at the city’s lights reflected in the river, Ho mused to him wistfully, “I always thought I would become a scholar or a writer, but I’ve become a professional revolutionary. I travel through many countries, but I see nothing. I’m on strict orders, and my itinerary is carefully prescribed, and you Cannot deviate from the route, can you?”
A year later, Ho turned up in Bangkok, now a center of Vietnamese dissidence abroad. He shaved his head and donned the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk to proselytize in the temples. Then he settled in northeast Siam, the site of a large expatriate Vietnamese community, where he opened a school and published a newspaper. He concealed his identity under a collection of pseudonyms, such as Nguyen Lai, Nam Son and Thau Chin, which means Old Man Chin in Siamese— another language he mastered. Even after becoming North Vietnam’s president in 1954, Ho continued to hide behind aliases, perhaps a holdover from his clandestine past. He wrote articles under such names as Tran Luc, Tuyet Lan, Le Thanh Long and Dan Viet, the last of them signifying Citizen of Vietnam.

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