communist

Heroes & Villains - Ho Chi Minh - Part 1

The past century of global politics is a complex story of weird, creepy, unhealthy friendships, unlikely alliances, and shifting loyalties. 

Few people represent the truth of this claim quite as effectively as the North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was a liberator, a subjugator, a terrorist, a savior, a visionary, a censor, a philosopher, and a barbarian.

Above all else, and I write this somewhat grudgingly, Ho Chi Minh was a winner.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Nguyen Sinh Cung was born in Vietnam in 1890. At the time, Vietnam was not a sovereign nation, but rather existed as a component of what was called "French Indo-China". Vietnam was governed by an Emperor, whose government was backed by the French. Though an emperor in title, this regent was little more than an extension of French rule.

That Thanh's father, Nguyen Sinh Sac, was a member of the emperor's court. However, Sinh Sac was not a proponent of French colonialism, and would end up being dismissed for his displeasure with their rule.

When Sinh Cung turned 10, his father, in accordance with confucian naming tradition, re-named his son Nguyen That Thanh (Which apparently means "Accomplished")

 That Thanh's older sister, Nguyễn Thị Thanh (Also called Bạch Liên), was a clerk for the French-vietnamese military. From this position, she facilitated the smuggling of supplies to various anti-french forces within Vietnam. She was sentenced to life imprisonment when caught. There is little information available regarding her after this event. However, based on how totally fair and reasonable colonial governments were, I'm sure she was fine. (I'm guessing she died in prison under less-than-ethical circumstances)

At school, That Thanh learned French. This conflicted with his blossoming nationalist views, but he also felt that knowing French would turn out useful when resisting the colonial government. He also participated in a rally against the colonial taxes of the very poor (He should have brought this up in the 60's. Americans would have appreciated the resemblance). While this could have put his academic carreer at risk, it did not.

After a brief stint as a teacher in Pan Thiet, That Thanh joined the kitchen staff of a French steam-ship. The steamer arrived in France in 1911, at which time he tried unsuccessfully to enroll in a French university.

This rejection turned out to be a blessing, as That Thanh's continued work in the shipping industry gave him a chance to see the world. Also, for those of you noting the year, it meant he was given a chance to avoid the gigantic fucking horrifying war that France was about to be in the literal middle of.

That Thanh got a chance to see America in 1912, when his ship arrived in New York. His stay was brief, however, and by 1913, he was living in Britain, hopping from town to town and doing odd jobs.

At the end of the Great War, Ho Chi Minh participated in an effort to bring the issue of Vietnamese independence to the Versailles peace talks. This appeal was ignored, and Vietnam continued under French rule for the next 28 years. That Thanh's political views became more and more Nationalist, and his committment to communist doctrine strengthened in turn.

In 1920, he began using the name Nguyen Ai Quoc, meaning "Nguyen the Patriot".

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

In 1923, Ai Quoc traveled to Moscow to enroll in a Soviet University, as well as become involved in the "Comintern", which was an organization dedicated to the proliferation of the international communist movement.. After two years of university, he became a teacher in Canton, China, where he spent another two years educating not only the locals, but also displaced Vietnamese youth.

At this point in our narrative, I think its becoming clear that once he had left Vietnam, Nguyen Ai Quoc never got too comfortable in any single place. I think that throughout his extensive travels, he never lost sight of what his end-game was. He was going to forge some connections with the international communist community, and then he was going to return to Vietnam and start some serious shit with the Colonial French.

Ai Quoc developed an appreciation for Lenin, who had become a messianic figurehead of Communism. He believed that Lenin was someone who truly understood and elucidated the struggle of the working class versus the arbitrary elite.  Perhaps that's a fair assessment. However, to quote Nietzsche:

"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you."

Were the abyss to glance at Lenin's legacy, it would blink.

In the late 20's, Ai Quoc was on the move again. He passed through Europe, moving south, skirting Africa, and finally ending up in Thailand. From Thailand, he moved back through China, then to Hong Kong, where in 1931 he was arrested by British authorities after participating in a convention that united two Communist Vietnamese organizations into a single entity.

As part of some hazy political maneuvering, the British announced Nguyen Ai Quoc's death at the time of his arrest, then quietly released him in 1933. This may or may not have been a decision influenced by French political pressure. The reason for this deception is dubious at best.

In my next installment, I will discuss Ai Quoc's return to the Soviet Union and mainland China, then his involvement in wicked-awesome resistance against the Imperial Japanese during World War II. Most importantly, I will discuss him finally amassing enough Experience Points to evolve into Ho Chi Minh, "Bringer of Enlightenment."

Sources

Trueman, C N. “Ho Chi Minh.” History Learning Site, History Learning Site, 27 Mar. 2015, www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam-war/ho-chi-minh/.

--

“Who Is Ho Chi Minh? Everything You Need to Know.” Ho Chi Minh Biography, The Famous People, 17 Sept. 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/ho-chi-minh-46.php.

--

Martinez, Carlos. “Fifty Years on the Frontline: the Revolutionary Contributions of Ho Chi Minh.” Invent the Future, Invent the Future, 19 May 2015, www.invent-the-future.org/2015/05/fifty-years-on-the-frontline-the-revolutionary-contributions-of-ho-chi-minh/.

I'm obligated to note that "Invent the Future" has a very pro-communist bias. That being said, this bias, while distinct, does not diminish the quality of their articles. I believe it is important to reach out to and try to understand people I consider ideological opponents. Thus, I have seen fit to consult Invent the Future's article on Ho Chi Minh to gain a better understanding of his legacy in the eyes of someone who fully supports what he represented.

Heroes & Villains - Nikita Khrushchev

You know, when I started planning this series of posts, I didn't mean to go hurling myself straight at the Soviet Union. And yet here we are. I start the series with a badass Soviet marksman lady, and now I'm moving right on to a hardass Soviet premier guy. Nikita Khrushchev.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Khrushchev was born in 1894 in Kalinovka, near the Ukraine border. This may or may not explain why he was one of, like, two Russian leaders who even vaguely gave a shit about the Ukrainian people.

After spending his teens as a coal miner, Khrushchev got involved with the communists in 1918, just in time to be involved in the Russian civil war. His first wife, sadly, succumbed to typhus at this time, meaning he had two children to look after alone while fighting for the Bolsheviks. Soon, Khrushchev was rising through the ranks of the party. Let that be a lesson to us all. It's a short leap from being cursed to serve The Man and being The Man. One day, you're mining coal and raising your kids and the next, you're lining up revisionist sympathizers and shooting them in the head (and they might not even deserve it this time).

So, depending on how you look at it, he got in with the wrong crowd, or got dragged into the wrong crowd. He was in the wrong crowd, in any event.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev came into the confidence of Joseph Stalin. This was a very precarious position. On the one hand, the great and powerful leader of the USSR recognized and valued his skills as a leader and member of the party. On the other hand, being close to Joseph Stalin was a great way to disappear from the space/time continuum, so efficient was he at disposing of those who fell out of favor.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

Compounding on the complexity and peril of Khrushchev's life, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa in late June, 1941. This was the beginning of the Ostfront of World War II, or, as the Soviets would later call it, the Great Patriotic War. Khrushchev was involved in coordination and planning during the Battle of Stalingrad, which meant he had one of the most important and least fulfilling tasks of the war. During this time, he made good friends with Georgy Zhukov. Rumor has it that Khrushchev accidentally became involved in the then-secret plans for Operation Uranus (A push to encircle and eliminate German units in late 1942) when proposing a counteroffensive of his own.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

The Soviet Union's troubles, sadly, did not end with the war. They stopped the Nazis at the cost of putting Eastern Europe under the control of Stalin. The Allies saved the world, but the price for doing so was to split the world in half. In March of 1953, all of creation breathed a thorough, but tentative sigh of relief as Joseph Stalin was declared dead. There are some theories that Stalin was poisoned, but that is the topic of another article. No doubt calling on his experience crushing fascists, Khrushchev crushed a brief coup attempt and was appointed the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev's ability to hold the Union together and consolidate it into a true world Superpower surprised the West. The United States did not anticipate such organization and power to come from Stalin's legacy. Meanwhile, that same year, dissidents in an Asian nation called Vietnam began a communist uprising against French occupation. The soviets began lending increasing amounts of support to this movement. The United States, in turn, lent increasing levels of support to the residing government, hoping to halt the advance of communist power and doctrine.

In February of 1956, Khrushchev called a secret meeting of the soviet 20th Congress. In this session, he shocked the Communist community by decrying the legacy of Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev drew upon recent discussion of the dangers of "cults of individualism" within the party. From this, he highlighted that Stalin himself had fostered a powerful cult of personality around himself. With the power granted by this social status, Stalin had engaged in evil, destructive acts that were contrary to the purposes of the Communist party.

Khrushchev's speech began a process of de-Stalinization. Stalin's crimes were made apparent, and his infallible demi-god image was erased. Countless prisoners of the infamous gulags were released, and draconian laws restricting expression and speech were loosened. Of course, the Communist party still asserted absolute dominance of the Soviet Union.

Despite rising tensions between the USSR and the USA, Khrushchev did his part to reach out and became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev's relationship with Eisenhower was irreparably damaged in 1960. A Lockheed U-2 Spyplane was downed over Russia. The pilot, Gary Powers, along with equipment and photographs from the plane were recovered.

Eisenhower claimed the plane was an off-course weather surveyor. The Soviets didn't like that, and produced evidence that Powers was alive and in custody, along with equipment from the downed plane which was inappropriate for weather forecasting, but very good at photographing nuclear assets.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

The united states would somewhat rebuild Khrushchev's trust after the transition to the Kennedy presidency. But things would never really be okay between the East and West. Especially not with escalating warfare in Vietnam, with each superpower backing their respective interests.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

Closer to US soil, in 1961, American operatives utterly failed to ruin the rising Communist government in Cuba. In the wake of that failure rose Fidel Castro. Castro was a mangy, cigar smoking pile of evil, and also super cool and possibly invulnerable to the puny weapons of man. He and Khrushchev had an understanding.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

In 1962, American spy planes were once again photographing suspicious Communist activity (all communist activity is suspicious). Their findings were more alarming this time. Soviet freighters were moving cargo to their Cuban allies. This cargo was quickly determined to be nuclear warheads and launch equipment.

In response, the US went on full alert, since someone was moving nukes right off their coast. Cuba was blockaded, and the entire world hit the dirt, prepared for everyone in possession of nuclear weapons to start using them.

Fortunately, neither the United States nor the USSR actually wanted a nuclear war.

Khrushchev and Kennedy talked it out. The US made some minor concessions over in Europe, and Khrushchev withdrew the nuclear weapons from Cuba. The World avoided nuclear war, but to this day, most people agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis was too damn close.

Between 1963 and 1964, Khrushchev's control over the Soviet government began to diminish. When US President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Khrushchev lost a friend and a connection to the West that he could rely on. At the same time, his attempts to revise domestic agricultural policies failed, resulting in shortages and dissent.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Poised to take control was an old guard Soviet, cut from the cloth of Stalin. His name was Leonid Brezhnev, and he had the support of the military, which was enough to fill the gaps in Khrushchev's waning political power. Khrushchev stepped down in October of 1964, and Brezhnev took control.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Brezhnev's power and militaristic leaning rolled back many elements of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policies. He also continued the escalation in Vietnam, leading to a full-on war between the Communist backed NVA and the US backed South Vietnam, a war that would last another decade.

As for Khrushchev, I think history is still deciding where he sits in the spectrum of heroism and villainy. He participated in a government that was often cruel and oppressive. When he came to control that government, he tried, with limited success, to undo the damage. He reached out to his ideological enemies in the west, and the west reached back, for a brief moment, anyways.

As for my assessment, I'll just say this: Nikita Khrushchev was not a bad man, but he *was* a good Communist.

 

Main sources for this article were as follows:
"Nikita Khrushchev." Biography.com. Biography.com, n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/nikita-khrushchev-9364384>.
Khrushchev, Nikita. "Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U." Marxists.org. Marxists.org, n.d. Web. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm>.