Ho Chi Minh – Historic leader of the Vietnamese people and founder of modern Vietna

On May 19, 1890 Ho Chi Minh was born | Reflection by Steve Rutchinski

Mosaic portrait of Ho Chi Minh, created for the 2017 APEC Summit in Vietnam.

May 19 is the 131st anniversary of the birth of Ho Chi Minh, historic leader of the Vietnamese people and founder of modern Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is celebrated not only by the Vietnamese people, not only by revolutionaries and communists but by thinking, enlightened people the world over for his contributions to humanity.

In 1987 the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) formally recognized Ho Chi Minh as one of the great personalities who have left an imprint on the development of humanity. UNESCO described Ho Chi Minh as a “Vietnamese hero of national liberation” “a great man of culture” and “an outstanding symbol of national affirmation [who] devoted his whole life to the national liberation of the Vietnamese people, contributing to the common struggle of peoples for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress.” UNESCO encouraged member states to join in the commemoration of his birth “in order to spread knowledge of the greatness of his ideals and of his work for national liberation.”

The high esteem of UNESCO for the life and work of Ho Chi Minh provides a compelling reason to familiarize ourselves with the life and work of President Ho Chi Minh. In doing so, we find that the facts refute the uncultured self-serving propaganda we receive from ruling circles of western imperialist liberal democracies these days. The main aim of such propaganda in belittling, ignoring and even defaming communist leaders of revolutionary stature and renown such as Ho Chi Minh is to defame communism, communist parties and the fact that social progress is achieved today only by fighting for the right to be. This fight is successful in Vietnam because it is organized by the Communist Party founded by Ho Chi Minh and this Party continues to be guided by Marxism-Leninism and the thought material acquired by the people of Vietnam as a result of the lessons they have drawn from their ages-long life-affirming experience of fighting for their right to be.

Events in Hanoi and at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, mark the 30th anniversary of UNESCO’s resolution on Ho Chi Minh, November 2017.

Ho Chi Minh was born into a poor peasant scholar family on May 19, 1890. From an early age he was imbued with the spirit of resistance of the people who for generations had struggled against brutal exploitation, forced labour, theft of their land, and other injustices of feudalism and later, French colonial rule.

At the age of 21, Ho Chi Minh went abroad to deepen his knowledge of the western world which had already put an end to feudalism and had ushered in a new social order espousing enlightenment. “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” was the motto first taken up by the French Revolution. Ho Chi Min was in search of new ideas, modern approaches to bring an end to the colonial oppression of his homeland.

He traveled the world. He saw firsthand the conditions of the people in several French colonies in Africa. He saw the deplorable conditions of the descendants of the enslaved African peoples in the United States of America, the Caribbean and other countries. He shared weal and woe with the working people in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere. He saw that the promise of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” had been cast down in dishonour.

He came to the conclusion that whether in the colonies or in the colonizing countries working people faced the same brutal oppressors. He wrote at the time that although the colours of the skin were different, there were only two kinds of people on earth, the exploiters and the exploited. The only true friendship was with proletarian brothers. His experiences ultimately led him to the conclusion that it was their unity and support for one another that would end imperialism and colonialism. It is an outlook that guided him to the end of his days.

In 1917, Ho Chi Minh moved from England to France to immerse himself in the Vietnamese patriotic movement abroad. Paris was becoming a focal point of anti-colonial agitation amongst various exile communities, the Vietnamese being one of the most numerous. He was active with the French workers movement as well.

It was the time of the first inter-imperialist world war, a slaughter on a scale never before experienced, which was brought to an end by the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. These events had a profound influence on him. He followed developments in the young Soviet Russia, including the founding of the Communist International in Moscow in 1919 which was formed under the leadership of Lenin to assist the working class in all countries achieve their emancipation.

In 1919, on behalf of the Group of Vietnamese Patriots Living in France, Ho Chi Minh presented “A Petition of the Annamese People” at the Versailles Conference where the imperialist victors of the First World War were meeting to divide the world amongst themselves.[1] The eight-point petition demanded recognition of the Vietnamese people’s rights including amnesty for political prisoners, freedom of assembly and association, equality before the law, rule of law not rule by decree and for direct political representation of the Vietnamese people in the French National Assembly.

The petition was ignored by the imperialist victors, who were preoccupied with re-dividing the world, the spoils of war and the colonies of the vanquished. Still it had a great impact in rousing public opinion at home and abroad and especially amongst the French working class. French police agents hunted Ho Chi Minh, in vain.

It was in July 1920 that Ho Chi Minh was introduced to Lenin’s Theses on the National and Colonial Questions which was first published in June 1920. Ho Chi Minh wrote about this experience in 1967, shortly before his death. He recalled, “There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally, I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness, and confidence it instilled in me! I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted aloud as if addressing large crowds: ‘Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need, this is the path to our liberation!’”

Lenin’s Theses on the National and Colonial Questions shone a harsh light of reality on the sophistries about “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” Lenin argued out and demonstrated that for bourgeois democracy, by its very nature, the problem of equality in general, and national equality in particular, remained a formality, an abstraction. It could not be otherwise as there is no equality between exploiters and exploited, between oppressor nations and oppressed.

Ho Chi Minh was inspired by Lenin’s call that the workers in the “advanced countries” must actively support the colonial peoples fighting for their freedom as a duty, as part of their own struggle for political power and emancipation.

The entire policy of the Communist International on the national and the colonial questions rested on a closer union of the proletarians and working people of all nations and countries in joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landowners and exploiters as the condition for the abolition of national oppression and inequality.

Ho Chi Minh addresses the founding meeting of the Communist Party of France, December 1920.

Ho Chi Minh subsequently became a founding member of the Communist Party of France in 1920 and immersed himself in revolutionary activity. He said, “Step by step during the course of the struggle, by studying Marxism-Leninism while engaging in practical activities, I gradually understood that only socialism and communism could liberate the oppressed nations and the working people from slavery throughout the world.”

Ho Chi Minh saw the struggle of colonized people and the struggle of the workers in the “mother countries” as one fight and recognized the necessity for each to support the other. In 1921 he wrote: “When hundreds of millions of ruthlessly oppressed people of Asia awake to abolish the brazen exploitation of the greedy colonialists, they will form a powerful force, which while struggling to annihilate imperialism, will help their Western brothers in their cause of complete emancipation.”

Ho Chi Minh was relentless in his support for the struggles of the colonized people in Vietnam and elsewhere. In 1922 he founded the newspaper Le Paria (The Outsider) to serve that aim.

In 1923 he attended the Fifth Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow. At the Congress Ho Chi Minh took every opportunity to inform the delegates of the social and political conditions in Vietnam. He also soundly criticized the conciliators in the French and other European communist parties for failing to do their duty in support the toilers in the colonies.

Ho Chi Minh in Moscow, 1924

Ho Chi Minh stayed on in Moscow following the Fifth Congress to work with the Communist International. Lenin’s untimely death in January 1924 profoundly saddened Ho Chi Minh. He considered V.I. Lenin to be a mentor and role model.

In 1924 he was deployed by the Communist International to Canton, China where he worked diligently to implement the Leninist outlook for organizing revolution in the colonized countries. He organized a Party training school for patriotic Vietnamese youth to become Marxist-Leninist organizers. He taught that the most immediate aim of the Vietnamese people’s struggle was national liberation and that the strategic aim was socialism. He wrote the textbook used by the training school The Revolutionary Path which placed first rate emphasis on the ideological training of the students to strengthen their resolve and harden them for the battles ahead.

The French colonial authorities sentenced Ho Chi Minh to death in absentia in October 1929 for the crime of inciting rebellion.

In February 1930, Ho Chi Minh presided over the founding of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) in Hong Kong. For a time it was renamed the Indochinese Communist Party, but the Communist Party of Vietnam celebrates February 3, 1930 as the date of its founding. He then issued an appeal to the Vietnamese people to join the Party, to implement its program to liberate their country and determine their own future themselves.

Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam on February 8, 1941, after 30 years of revolutionary activity abroad. He founded the Vietnam Independence League, the Viet Minh, and led a guerilla war to defeat the Japanese occupiers as well as the French colonists who had capitulated to the Japanese in 1940.

Ho Chi Minh reads the Proclamation of Independence, alongside other members of the Viet Minh Provisional Government, Hanoi, September 2, 1945.

The Vietnamese people rose in August 1945 and took political power after the Japanese were defeated. Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence at Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi on September 2. General elections to the National Assembly quickly followed on January 6, 1946. Ho Chi Minh was elected President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In March the National Assembly adopted the First Constitution for Independent Vietnam, which was written under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

The French however unleashed a war to recolonize Vietnam, assisted by the British and U.S. imperialists. The war lasted nine years until their defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Ho Chi Minh was often at the front, right where the fighting was taking place, encouraging and leading the people.

Ho Chi Minh and the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam plan the Dien Bien Phu campaign at Viet Minh headquarters in Viet Bac, 1953.

Ho Chi Minh spends his birthday with the troops in Dien Bien Phu, May 19, 1954.

Vietnam was partitioned by the Geneva Peace Conference of 1954, following the defeat of the French. It was to be temporary, pending countrywide elections in 1956. This was agreed to by the Vietnamese negotiators, in the interests of a peaceful solution. The U.S. refused to sign the Geneva Accord. Canada served on the International Commission for Supervision and Control-Vietnam which was created by the Geneva Peace Conference to oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement. History has revealed that Canada acted as an agent of the U.S.

By 1956, based on intelligence acquired by Canadian participation in the International Commission, U.S. imperialism knew that its puppets in the south were going to lose, so it ensured the elections were not held. Instead it attempted to lay claim to Vietnam. A series of anti-communist puppet regimes were installed in the south, which carried out a campaign of terror against the people.

Faced with this aggression by the U.S., Ho Chi Minh consolidated the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as the base from which to fight to reunify the country. In the south the National Liberation Front was formed to spearhead the resistance.

The U.S. launched a full scale war on the North in 1964 after fabricating the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. The U.S. resorted to carpet bombing, chemical warfare and barbarous atrocities such as the Mỹ Lai Massacre — but the U.S. was not able to conquer the Vietnamese people. Led by Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam, the people in the north and south drove out the U.S. imperialists and reunified their country.

President Ho Chi Minh did not live to see Vietnam’s reunification but he was certain of victory because the cause of the Vietnamese people was just. In his final testament to the Vietnamese people on his 79th birthday on May 19, 1969, five months before he passed away and six years before the final victory of the Vietnamese people over U.S. imperialism, Ho Chi Minh wrote:

“Thanks to the close unity and dedication to the working class, the people and the Homeland, our Party has been able, since its founding, to unite, to organize and lead our people from success to success in a resolute struggle.

“No matter what difficulties and hardships lie ahead, our people are sure of total victory. The U.S. imperialists will certainly have to quit. Our homeland will certainly be reunified. Our countrymen in the south and the north will be reunified under the same roof. We, a small nation, will have earned the signal honour of defeating, through heroic struggle, two big imperialists — the French and the American — and making a contribution to the world’s national liberation movement.

“Our rivers, our mountains, our people will always be. The American aggressors defeated, we will build a country ten times more beautiful.”

There is much, much more that could be said about the life and work of Ho Chi Minh but by his own words it is this legacy of building the communist party from which all the achievements of Vietnam as well as the greatness of his ideals, his love of humanity, his passion for the flowering of the human spirit shine forth.

Posters issued on the 45th anniversary of Vietnam’s National Reunification and defeat of U.S. imperialism pay tribute to Ho Chi Minh’s leadership.

As a man of science and culture Ho Chi Minh was guided by the most advanced theory derived from the experience of the international working class and people. The Vietnamese, with a proud history of struggle against oppression and for their sovereignty and independence, stand second to none. They faced the most barbaric oppression and exploitation under French colonialism. Patriots were killed, incarcerated or exiled when they organized in the anti-colonial anti-imperialist struggle to overthrow the French. The resistance was heroic but not successful because it lacked competent leadership and revolutionary theory based on the conditions of Vietnam to guide it.

Ho Chi Minh’s summation of the struggle of the Vietnamese and other colonized peoples led to the conclusion that without a communist party with a Marxist-Leninist theory and outlook to guide the movement, the Vietnamese people would continue to face great difficulty in crowning their anti-colonial struggle with victory.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam today remains steadfast to the teachings, leadership and legacy of Ho Chi Minh. Under the seasoned and tested leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the country has successfully dealt with the external challenges in the world, the rivalry of big powers, the crisis in the imperialist system of states, the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications of the digital, scientific and technological revolution and so much more. Vietnam has taken its place in the world as a highly respected nation which is a force for peace, freedom and democracy at home and internationally.

This is the legacy of Ho Chi Minh, the legendary leader of the Vietnamese people and father of modern Vietnam; a great man of science and culture, a man of enlightenment who is celebrated for the greatness of his ideals; a communist revolutionary second to none

Long Live the Life and Work of Ho Chi Minh!


1. Since the liberation of Vietnam and its reunification, the official name of Việt Nam is the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam. It was called Annam by the Chinese in the seventh century. During the colonial period, it was made the Protectorate of Annam in 1887 as a part of “French Indochina.” Two other Vietnamese regions, Cochinchina (Nam Kỳ) in the south and Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ) in the North, were also units of French Indochina. The Nguyễn Dynasty still nominally ruled Annam, with a puppet emperor residing in Huế. The region had a dual system of French and Vietnamese administration.

(With files from “Ho Chi Minh, A Life” by William J Duiker; “Ho Chi Minh, Unexplored Humanism and the Development of Vietnam,” by Dai Trang Nguyen, PhD; “Ho Chi Minh Selected Works on Peace, Democracy and Gender Equality” by Dai Trang Nguyen, PhD; plus Wikipedia and other on line sources.

Published version of remarks delivered at the Canada-Vietnam Friendship Society’s Webinar celebrating the 131st anniversary of the birth of Ho Chi Minh, May 15, 2021.

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