BOOK REVIEW Huynh Kim Khanh’s Vietnamese Communism 1925-1945 (1982)

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Huynh Kim Khanh. Vietnamese Communism 1925-1945. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1982.

Huynh Kim Khanh traces the development of the Indochinese Communist Party 1925-1945 and assesses the reasons for communism’s success in 1945. Khanh argues that the history of the Vietnamese communist movement was the successful grafting of Leninist proletarian internationalism onto anti-imperialist Vietnamese patriotism. This narrative of Vietnamese Communism emphasizes the local and global aspects of the Vietnamese Communists movement hinging on Vietnamese patriotism and revolutionary internationalism. (For example, Khanh demonstrates how Thanh Nien modernized the patriotic idea of cách mệnh, the rebellion against the mandate and political authority, to a modern and Marxist-Leninist idea of cách mạng, revolution.) Rather than a genuine class struggle, Khanh argues that the communist movement was a fusion of anti-colonial, anti-fedual movements by a colonized and predominantly agrarian society. Khanh argues that key to this process were the roles of the colonial situation, deep seated Vietnamese patriotism across elite-peasantry and geographic lines, and an unshakable commitment to international communism by revolutionaries. Thus Khanh uses the lens of ‘patriotism’ (an inward, kinship oriented sentiment shared by Vietnamese of all social classes) rather than nationalism, a political expression he characterizes as elite driven and based on a nation’s perceived legitimate rights.

Khanh begins his study by describing the 1925-1926 as a turning point in political life from the older generation of anti-colonial literati to revolutionary patriot youth (urban, petit-bourgeois, intellectual workers, comparatively more militant). In Khanh’s description of the introduction of Communism to Vietnam, he reaffirms the role of “revolutionary genius” Ho Chi Minh to graft Leninist ideology and Bolshevik revolutionary methods onto the youth movements of the 1920s, notably the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association (Thanh Nien). This argument situates the Vietnamees revolution as a national movement to overthrow French colonialism. The rest of the book traces the tension between revolutionary patriots and proletarian internationalists. Khanh documents how the revolutionary patriotism of the VNQDD (more traditional anticolonial, elite nationalism, diverse social strata) was destroyed in 1930s. Khanh emphasizes the importance of international connections of the Vietnamese communist movement, and the influence of international communism as a self-contained ideology and program for social change. Khanh emphasizes how the ICP’s orientation towards proletarian internationalism and the Comintern (and HCM’s detention in Moscow), and ideological confusion also isolated the organization from Vietnamese patriotism in the 1930s. For Khanh, the Second World War was a major turning point for Vietnamese Communism as a return of patriotic and national liberation. This period includes the resurgence of ho Chi Minh (1941-1945), the importance of the national question, and the involvement of the masses through the Viet Minh.

A few controversial arguments that Khanh makes include the following: on the arrival of French colonialism Vietnamese were unified into a centralized administration and mono-ethnic society (ethnic unity of We-Vietnamese and patriotism); the Nghe Tinh Soviet movement in 1930-1931 was operated by Ho Chi Minh on behalf of the comintern (HCM’s role in Nghe Tinh Soviet).

Using internal Communist party documents, archives, and problematic Hanoi socialist histories, Khanh’s book often mirrors the praising-tone of standard Hanoi narratives of the party. For example, Khanh describes the new generation of radical patriots and their influence, “For the next fifty years these ‘prodigal sons’ st the tone and orientation of Vietnamese politics. Their appeals were listened to, their orders were taken seriously, and their actions had the support of the nation.” (53) Khanh also reveres the international communism and Marxism-Leninism in chapter 2 “Party of the New Type”: “Marxism-Leninism was a new faith for Vietnamese petit-bourgeois intellectuals of the late 1920s and 1930s, as it was for many intellectuals of the West. As a secular faith replacing outdated supernatural religion, it explained the course of world history and it gave hope for the future.” (100) Furthermore, Khanh idealizes Vietnamese anti-colonial patriotism: “The success of the August Revolution belongs, in the firs place, to the indomitable spirit of the Vietnamese people, who reject domination by foreign imperialism and struggle determinedly for their national independence.” (327)

Although the overall argument of Vietnamese Communism reflects a simplistic teleology of Communist victory, this monograph provides important details regarding ICP organization and translations of revolutionaries’ trials. Furthermore, this volume also reflects the historiography of English-language post-war attempts to understand US defeat.

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