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Historical Dictionary

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TRƯỜNG CHINH (ĐẶNG XUÂN KHU, THÂN, QUYẾT, PHƯƠNG, QUA NINH, SÓNG HỒNG, 1907–1988)

The acting general secretary of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) until 1951, when the Vietnamese Worker’s Party officially made him head of the Party. Born in Nam Dinh province in upper central Vietnam, Truong Chinh took up radical politics in the late 1920s. In 1927, he joined the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Party and became a member of the ICP upon its official creation in 1930. He worked in the Propaganda Campaign Committee for the Party’s Central Committee. He was arrested in late 1930, sentenced to 12 years of prison, and shipped off to the Son La colonial prison in late 1931. In late 1936, thanks to the liberal policies of the Popular Front government, he regained his freedom and resumed his communist activities in the Hanoi area. He wrote assiduously in Notre Voix and Le Travail. He joined the Party’s Territorial Committee for Tonkin (Xu Uy Bac Ky) and represented the northern committee in the Indochinese Democratic Front. In 1938, he co-authored a famed treatise on the “Peasant Question” (Van de dan cay) with Vo Nguyen Giap.

In 1940, with World War II now underway, Truong Chinh went underground in charge of the Tonkin committee. As one of the rare ranking communists still free, he assumed de facto leadership of the Party during a meeting held in November 1940 (later called the “Central Committee’s 7th plenum”). Over the next year, in his function as head of the regional Party committee for Tonkin, Truong Chinh developed underground Party networks in the Red River Delta and Hanoi and linked up with the Viet Minh movement (over which Ho Chi Minh presided) in May 1941 on the Sino-Vietnamese border.

During the Central Committee’s 8th plenum, Truong Chinh was elected to the Executive Committee. However, it is unclear whether this plenum elected him officially the general secretary of the ICP. It would be more accurate to describe him as the acting head of the Party until a proper congress could officially elect a new general secretary (this occurred officially in 1951). In any case, during World War II, Truong Chinh served as editor of the Party paper Co Giai Phong; consolidated his position within the Tonkin Territorial Committee; and headed the ICP’s board for political propaganda and ideological education. He also worked on the cultural front as general secretary of the Association for the Promotion of Quoc Ngu (Hoi Truyen Ba Quoc Ngu) and as the author of the seminal 1943 outline for the development of a new Vietnamese culture (De Cuong Van Hoa), both nationalist and internationalist.

In 1943, the French condemned Truong Chinh to death in absentia for his various activities. Working from “Secure Zones” (An Toan Khu) outside of Hanoi, he presided over preparations for taking power once the favorable moment arrived. This meant closely monitoring French and Japanese military and political developments in Hanoi. It also meant secretly penetrating and mobilizing intellectuals, workers, and colonial and European soldiers. Truong Chinh oversaw the construction of a secret network of party cells and activists ready to act when the time came. To this end, he collaborated closely with Hoang Van Thu, Hoang Quoc Viet, Le Duc Tho, Tran Dang Ninh, and Tran Quoc Hoan among others. The Party’s center of gravity effectively shifted during World War II from the south to the north and into the Red River Delta outside Hanoi. Disguised, Truong Chinh met secretly in Hanoi with the French socialist leader, Louis Caput in late 1944, as well as with the European leftists in the Foreign Legion, Erwin Börchers and Ernst Frey, and Gaullists such as Seyberlich and Auriol (General Mordant’s representative to this secret meeting).

Three days after the Japanese coup de force of 9 March 1945, Truong Chinh issued a new directive calling on all the people of Indochina to oppose the Japanese, but not the French on the condition that the latter did not oppose Vietnamese independence aspirations. Truong Chinh returned officially to Hanoi on 19 August 1945 to consolidate the Viet Minh’s takeover of the city and to make preparations for the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He collaborated closely with Ho Chi Minh upon the latter’s return to Hanoi shortly thereafter. Until the dissolution of the Indochinese Communist Party in November 1945, Truong Chinh continued to run the Party’s paper, Co Giai Phong, and its successor Su That. Following the outbreak of war on 19 December 1946, he retreated with the government and the Party to bases in the Viet Bac region and continued to serve as the acting head of the Party. He was a fervent Maoist and vigorously applied Chinese land reform in Vietnam from 1953. He headed the ICP’s Special Committee for Land Reform, together with Hoang Quoc Viet, Le Van Luong, and Ho Viet Thang. In 1956, Truong Chinh lost his position as General Secretary of the Party because of errors committed during the land reform.