Dr Ho Chi Minh – familiarly known as “Uncle Ho” – is a legend among North and South Vietnamese alike. No leader of a small nation has ever left so deep an impression on the history of his time as Uncle Ho.
There are many others who have led their people to independence from colonial rule. But no one has had to face the kind of desperate odds Ho had to in waging armed struggle against a host of adversaries for so long a time.
Ho Chi Minh belonged to the generation of Gandhi and Nehru, the Asian generation that challenged the defeated the 200-year-old imperialism of Europe. He was to Vietnamese what Gandhi was to Indians. Nehru said about him: “Judged by any standard, he is most remarkable man of our time.”
Uncle Ho’s life was a story of struggle. He was born on 19th May 1890. He was originally named Nguyen That Thanh or Nguyen Van Thanh. His father Nguyen Sinh Huy, a scholarly aristocrat in court, was dismissed by the French for supporting one of the earliest nationalist movement.
The youngest of three children, Ho had a sister and a brother. Both of them took part in independence movement and died during the early 1950’s. Ho studied at the Lycee Quoc Hoc at Hue, which was regarded as the best secondary school in the country. Because of anti-imperialist views he was forced to leave the school without graduating.
In the summer of 1911, Ho Chi Minh joined a French merchant ship as a cabin boy. Over the next few years, he travelled throughout the world. By 1914 he was in London, working at a restaurant as a cook, where he joined a Chinese-led anti colonial group. He travelled quite a lot – United States, Africa, Portugal, and Germany.
Then he settled in Paris, where he worked as a gardener, cook, laundryman and later earned his livelihood retouching photographs. Actually, his revolutionary career begins here. He attended university lectures and political discussions and studied Marxism.
Founder of French Communist Party
In 1919 he joined the French Socialist Party. In the following year, he joined other members of the left wing in founding the Communist Party of France. As the party’s expert of colonial affairs, he travelled throughout Europe, speaking at party meetings and writing anti-colonial tracts.
Ho remained in Soviet Russia from 1922 to 1925. During this period, he became closely acquainted with top Soviet leadership, including Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.
In 1925 Ho went to China at the Soviet Consulate as a translator and aide to the Soviet Advisor to Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Government, which was at that time allied with the Chinese communists.
In China he helped to train communist cadres and recruited Vietnamese political refugees for a guerrilla force that aimed at liberation of Vietnam from French rule.
After the Chiang Kai-shek broke with communists in 1927, driving them underground, he fled to Moscow. By that time, he had become one of the key leaders in international communist movement.
On 6th January 1930, Ho Chi Minh formed the Indo-Chinese communist party. It was soon organising peasant revolts in Tonkin where famine and poverty were widespread.
Many rebels were arrested or executed by French police. Ho was arrested at their request by the British authorities at Hongkong. After his release, Ho was banished from Hongkong. He disappeared. The French put a price of 50,000 piastres on his head.
During most of the 1930s Dr Ho remained in the background. He helped organise communist party in Singapore and moved clandestinely through south east Asia, in the disguise of a Buddhist monk, a beggar or a business tycoon.
“He Who Shines”
With the outbreak of second world war he reappeared in south China under his adopted name, Ho Chi Minh, which means “he who shines”. He remained in China a long time and trained his forces.
In December 1944, Ho returned to Vietnam after an absence of more than three decades and organised guerrillas into formal military units, which worked closely with US in returned for American supply.
On 19th August 1945, Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces marked victoriously into Hanoi, driving out the Japanese. On 2nd September 1945, the Democratic Republic of China was proclaimed. When nation-wide elections were held, he was elected President. His Viet Minh won 230 out of 300 seats in the new national assembly.
Meanwhile, on 6th March 1946, France, unwilling to give up its former colony, recognised it as a free State within French Union. Ho declared a “national war of resistance.”
On 21st July 1954, following the defeat of the French in the seven-year war of resistance, a cease fire agreement was signed at Geneva which divided Vietnam into two parts, and provided for an election in two years to settled the future of the country.
In 1959, there emerged in South Vietnam a Viet Cong guerrilla force. Ho justified its existence on the ground that South Vietnamese Government had refused to permit elections, as specified under the Geneva agreement.
Meanwhile, the United States sent military aid to the Saigon Government to save it from the communists. Ho demanded unification of Vietnam and withdrawal of American intruders.
The Viet Cong grew from strength to strength, setting up parallel governments in large parts of the land despite the fact that USA threw half a million troops into the frying pan. In fact, it was the war against the US interventionists that the Vietnamese showed their true mettle.
Uncle Ho did not live to see the day of final victory of Vietnamese people. He died on 2nd September 1969.
Excerpts from Patriot, 14 September 1969
Post Script: The final victory came on 30th April 1975, when the last of US troops left Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought a 45-year-long war for to achieve their Independence.