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Historical Dictionary

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INDOCHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY (ICP)

The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) played the leading role in the war of national liberation against the French between 1945 and 1954 and in the establishment of a single-party communist state during the conflict, above the 17th parallel from 1954, and in all of Vietnam from 1975.

Ho Chi Minh played a vital role in grafting communism to Vietnamese nationalism, to borrow Huynh Kim Khanh’s analogy, in the late 1920s. This began when Ho Chi Minh created the Revolutionary Youth League in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1925 before fusing it with other self-proclaimed communist parties inside Vietnam to create the Vietnamese Communist Party in Hong Kong in February 1930, with the help of the Comintern and the Chinese Communist Party. However, younger Vietnamese communists such as Tran Phu contested Ho’s ideological mettle. Tran criticized Ho’s narrow nationalism and weak internationalism. Upon the request of the Comintern, the party changed its name from the Vietnamese to the Indochinese Communist Party in late 1930. In 1931, the Comintern recognized the ICP as an official section of the Soviet-led communist movement.

Ho Chi Minh returned to the scene as war broke out across the globe in the late 1930s. In May 1941, he played a pivotal role in getting the Viet Minh off the ground during the 8th Plenum of the ICP’s Central Committee, even though he was not general secretary of the party. Indeed, the party had suffered greatly inside Vietnam, first in the early 1930s when the French crushed communist-backed peasant revolts in central Vietnam and again in Cochinchina when the French smashed a communist-led uprising in 1940. This colonial repression effectively shifted the center of gravity of Vietnamese communism to the north, with the establishment of a core group of communists working under the leadership of Truong Chinh in the Red River delta. A second group emerged along the Sino-Vietnamese border with the return of Ho Chi Minh to southern China. Both groups worked to build up national front organizations. For a period of four years, while most communist cadres were still locked up in colonial prisons, these two groups positioned the ICP-led Viet Minh to take power at the propitious moment.

Following the Japanese overthrow of the French in March 1945, the release of dozens of communists strengthened the party ranks. In August, however, while the main communist leaders were gathered at Tan Trao to prepare for an uprising to converge with the coming Allied invasion, the Japanese suddenly capitulated in the wake of the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This prevented the communists from leading the August Revolution as directly as its leaders would later claim. Rather the party rode a groundswell of famine-driven discontent to power, with local, second-rank communists acting as the main organizers, as David Marr has shown. Even after 1945, the ICP was never as omnipresent as its official historians and anti-communist detractors would have us believe. The party was particularly weak in southern Vietnam, due to the failed communist uprising of 1940, division among party factions, and serious competition from non-communist nationalist, religious, and patriotic bandit groups – the Hoa Hao, Cao Dai and Binh Xuyen. Indeed, until around 1951, the ICP had to create a number of different nationalist alliances and front associations, take control of the army and security forces, and eliminate rival parties before it could truly claim to direct the state and society. Even then, the party’s hold on the state was never “total”, nor was its control of Vietnamese territory.

International pressures also complicated the party’s operation. In a move designed to allay American, Chinese, and oppositional anti-communism, the communist leadership in the north went so far as to declare publicly the dissolution of the Indochinese Communist Party. In reality, the party never truly disbanded, preferring to operate from behind the scenes. The dissolution of the party nonetheless raised doubts among the French, Chinese, and especially Soviet communists as to the ideological commitment of the ICP in general and the ideological mettle of Ho Chi Minh in particular. In 1949 and early 1950, Tran Ngoc Danh, the younger brother of Tran Phu, reiterated his brother’s earlier criticism of Ho Chi Minh’s narrow nationalist deviationism. Chinese communists, not least of all Mao Zedong, backed Ho Chi Minh against his detractors in the communist world. And the ICP returned in force from 1950, thanks to the Sino-Soviet diplomatic recognition of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the arrival of Chinese military, technical, economic, and ideological aid.

In order to demonstrate its fidelity to the international movement, the ICP changed its name to become the Vietnamese Workers’ Party (VWP) and agreed to begin the communization of the state, the army, and society in areas under DRV control. In 1953, the VWP officially began implementing land reform in order to mobilize the society for the war, break the traditional social structures in the countryside, prepare the economy for communist transformation, and allay international communist fears that the ICP was not sufficiently communist. The party’s name was changed back to “Vietnam”, on the grounds that the revolutionary tide was more advanced in the eastern part of former French Indochina and in light of the simultaneous French decision to transform colonial Indochina into three associated states – Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. However, like the French, this did not mean that Vietnamese communists abandoned their Indochinese tack. From 1950, the Vietnamese communists helped their allies in Laos and Cambodia to create “resistance governments”, proto-communist parties, and national fronts in order to take on the French Associated States of Indochina. The Indochinese internationalist model imposed in 1930 remained valid throughout the entire Indochina War. For Vietnamese communists, communism was both nationalist and internationalist. See also ASSOCIATED STATES OF INDOCHINA; CAMBODIAN RESISTANCE GOVERNMENT; CIVIL WAR; COMMITTEE OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS; GREATER VIETNAMESE NATIONALIST PARTY; INDOCHINESE FEDERATION; JOSEPH STALIN; LAO RESISTANCE GOVERNMENT; MAO ZEDONG; PARTY CADRES COMMITTEE; PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA; RECTIFICATION.