Eric Jennings argues that 1940-1944 Vichy policies contributed to the decolonization of the French colonies Indochina, Madagascar, and Guadeloupe. Jennings argues that the Marshal Philippe Petain’s Vichy regime 1) further hardened authoritarian colonial policies and 2) contributed to nationalist themes of authenticity, tradition and folklore. In other words, the Vichy regime in Indochina introduced an explicitly enlightened authoritarian federalist approach and emphasized local nationalistic ideas of tradition, patriarchy, and youth discipline. Jennings assertsthat these changes fed into anti-colonial nationalist liberation sentiment and values of nationalism.
David Marr closely analyzes the history, motivations, and key local and international actors of the August national insurrection or “August Revolution/ Cách Mạng Tháng Tám” in 1945. Marr argues that the August Revolution involved 1) international actors (French, Japanese, Chinese, Americans, British) and 2) the 1945 events were spontaneous without direct control from a centralized Vietnamese Communist “Party” in Hanoi. Rather, the success of the Viet Minh and Communist Party was due to localized action throughout Vietnam. Marr demonstrates that up to 1945, the Viet Minh as an “amorphous movement, possessing its own momentum and trajectory, rather than a functioning political organization.” This disaggregated aspect of the Viet Minh was seen in the diverse insurrections outside of Hanoi (Haiphong, Red River Detal, Northern Hills, Hue, Saigon) under the banner of the Viet Minh. Marr concludes his study with the declaration of Vietnamese independence by HCM.
Each chapter focuses on a set of different historical actors, starts with the Japanese coup of French Vichy Indochina on March 9, 1945, moves back to 1940-1944 for historical context, and carries through to end of July 1945. The strength of this book is the close analysis of Vietnamese language sources and party publications to sketch out Vietnamese daily life under Vichy France (Chapter 2: The Vietnamese Deal with Two Masters), the broad based development of the Viet Minh throughout the country (Chapter 3: The Indochinese Communist Party and the Viet Minh), and the day by day on the ground account of Japanese capitulation and August insurrection (Chapter 6: The Opportune Moment.) In comparison to the the international perspectives in Tonnesson’s The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, HCM, and De Gaulle in a World at War 1991, Marr contributes a Vietnamese and localized perspective of the August insurrection. The strength of this book is the particularities of political events of the August Insurrection. But Marr does make a vague generalization of the psychological characteristic of the insurrection as a youth based readiness, “a willingness to behave unorthodoxly, to speak differently, to ignore taboos, to refuse to worry about one’s personal futures or safety.” (472)
Picking up from his (1995) book Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, David Marr examines the period between the August Revolution and the outbreak of full-scale war between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in December 1946. Marr analyzes the building of the early DRV state, its domestic and international politics, and the mobilization of the population for war. Through thematic chapters and a focus on different organizations, Viet Minh groups, and newspaper culture, Marr attempts to move away from an ICP centered narrative where the ICP led the August Revolution and consolidated the revolution towards a resistance war with victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. From the density of research, sub-arguments, and historical actors, one key argument in the text was that the DRV established a level of state capacity (central and local governments, the National Assembly, education and justice ministries, and mass mobilizing organizations) rather than functioned as a state apparatus of the communists and ICP. For example, Marr demonstrates how the early operations of the DRV government concerned the establishment of centrally controlled ministries and institutions (justice, education, post), a modern army, and international diplomatic relations. Marr’s close analysis of the DRV highlights the challenges to centralization such as economic scarcity, international legitimacy, internal opposition, and ICP attempts to control the state.
He uses never before examined documents such as the Gouvernement de fait (de facto government) French captured documents of the early DRV state. Some critiques that Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution encounters is the over-emphasis on Hanoi rather than provincial reactions to the DRV and the unevenness of the ‘archipelago state’ to exert power over the countryside and south (McHale), and the role of Ho Chi Minh and his relationship to other ICP leaders (Tuong Vu).
H-Diplo Roundtable Review
Volume XV, No. 36 (2014)
3 June 2014
Marr, David. “Beyond High Politics: State Formation in Northern Vietnam, 1945-1946.” In Naissance D’un État-Parti: Le Viêt Nam Depuis 1945/The Birth of a Party State: Vietnam since 1945. Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2004.
Rather than focusing on ‘high politics’ of strategic planning, external affairs, and military preparations, David Marr analyzes the DRV administration of northern Vietnam through control of food, property, taxes, and donations. By analyzing the ‘on the ground’ state strategies, David Marr demonstrates how the early DRV state attempted to exercise a level of ‘state capacity’ of administration, province committees, and economic management. Marr highlights that the DRV maintained certain colonial institutions, taxes, and procedures, but also introduced an unprecedented system of people’s committees in the regional and village level.