Ho Chi Minh was more than just a great revolutionary and politician. He was a poet, writer, and thinker. From his early days in the French Socialist Party, he began to try and apply Marxism and Leninism to the conditions of Vietnam and Asia as a whole. Much of his ideas are similar to those of his contemporaries like Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. His personal beliefs also contradicted the line of the Soviet Union which was a point of contention at certain times. The ideas of Ho Chi Minh would be “solidified” by the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1991. They would call this Ho Chi Minh Thought. It must be mentioned that by this point in the history of Vietnam, the Communist Party had succumbed to revisionism and ceased to be a true workers party. They have also twisted Ho Chi Minh’s ideas and added certain aspects to justify the capitalist restoration in Vietnam. Despite this, much of what the CPV has done to organize Ho Chi Minh’s many writings and ideas allow for greater study of him. We will look at both interpretations of Ho Chi Minh’s ideas. However, we will be primarily looking at Ho Chi Minh Thought as Ho Chi Minh said it; going mainly from his writings and speeches.
When looking at the ideas of Ho Chi Minh, the first thing most people observe is that there is little in the way of writing compared to other socialist leaders. Ho Chi Minh was a prolific writer but, a lot of what he wrote was not concerned with the world of deep theory but rather, with the world of practice and revolutionary applicability. This is because Ho Chi Minh was concerned with his works being popular reading in order to reach a broad audience of the Vietnamese people. In his 1927 book “Revolutionary Path”, Ho Chi Minh states the basic principle of his writing style:
“This book is written in succinct, understandable and easy-to-remember way. There must be people saying that it is a kind of shortened writing. Indeed, I use simple way to write. I just wish that when my compatriots read this book, they will contemplate, then wake up and rise together for a revolution. The content and the hope of this book lie in one word: Revolution! Revolution!! Revolution!!!”.
While this method of writing is not unique to him, many revolutionary leaders practised a similar writing style, Ho Chi Minh is unique in that he only ever wrote in simplistic terms. This is not bad, the conditions in Vietnam required much of what was written to be easily understood. However, in the modern day, the simplistic language of Ho Chi Minh makes it somewhat difficult to study and distinguish between what he actually meant from the modern CPV revisionist interpretations. Even with the blurry picture Ho Chi Minh left, it is possible to piece together the basic tenets of Ho Chi Minh Thought.
Put simply, Ho Chi Minh Thought is a collection of ideas and strategies based upon the writings, speeches, and attitudes of Ho Chi Minh. This definition answers very little but, is sometimes the most one will find when researching. A more precise definition often found is that Ho Chi Minh Thought is the creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the Vietnamese context by Ho Chi Minh. This definition is almost equally unsatisfying. These definitions are most often found in resources from the modern Communist Party of Vietnam and are purposefully vague. To find out what Ho Chi Minh’s ideas are specifically, one must look at his writing. His writing is the best way to try and grasp an idea of what his general beliefs were. Ho Chi Minh believed firmly in the principles of national self-determination and anti-imperialism. In his writings, he puts great emphasis on national unity and strength in order to bolster a revolutionary nationalist movement. Ho Chi Minh agreed with most Marxists that socialism could not be built under the boot of imperialism and that if a nation was colonized; it must first liberate itself. Ho Chi Minh put this into practice with the Viet Minh, which was a coalition of revolutionary Vietnamese nationalists. The Viet Minh would drive out the French and liberate Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh believed that in this coalition, the Communist Party must have hegemony in order to facilitate socialist construction and progress towards communism. This coalition also had to be a popular mass movement. If the movement was unpopular, nothing would get done. In the context of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh believed in the revolutionary primacy of both the workers and the peasantry in the liberation of the nation. He also believed they were the most important in the construction of socialism. Ho Chi Minh often advocated that in the liberation struggle against colonialism, the revolutionary classes must cooperate with the semi-revolutionary intellectual class. This is a similar concept to Mao’s New Democracy.
Ho Chi Minh’s ideas were inspired by a combination of Marxist-Leninist ideas, Vietnamese culture, and the ideas of the French Revolution. Despite France being the colonizer of his country, Ho Chi Minh held the French Revolution in high regard and stood by it. This is probably due to his time in France and the traditions of the French Left in upholding the French Revolution. Even with many inspirations, Ho Chi Minh was primarily a Marxist-Leninist. He wrote an essay entitled “The Path Which Led Me to Leninism” in 1960 for the occasion of Lenin’s birthday. In this, he describes what made him a believer in Marxism-Leninism and his reason was that Lenin stood with the colonial people of the world. From this, he began to read and understand Marx and Lenin. This origin story is key in understanding much of Ho Chi Minh’s ideas. A lot of what Ho Chi Minh wrote stems from a revolutionary nationalist perspective but, that is not to say Ho was not an internationalist as well. Ho Chi Minh believed in solidarity between all peoples of the world and encouraged international cooperation and peace. He even believed in reconciliation with those he fought against. Of the Americans Ho Chi Minh said famously:
” Everything depends on the Americans. If they want to make war for 20 years then we shall make war for 20 years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards.”
Ho Chi Minh was a lover of peace primarily and was always open to peace and reconciliation between peoples. Despite his contempt for the American government, he never blamed the American people and often spoke positively of the anti-war movement in the United States during the Vietnam War. Ho Chi Minh was an admirer of the ideas of the Enlightenment of the 1700s. This is evident from his upholding of the ideas of the French Revolution but, it also came out in an unexpected and somewhat ironic way. When the Viet Minh launched the August Revolution in 1945 and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Declaration of Independence contained these lines:
“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.”
Those are undeniable truths.”
This statement shows both Ho Chi Minh’s admiration of enlightenment ideas and it also points out the hypocrisy of the United States and France in their policies. Ho Chi Minh was above all a lover of freedom and democracy, key aspects of Marxism.
The ideas of Ho Chi Minh are numerous and often hard to pin down exactly. What is provided here is a brief overview of those ideas, their influences, and Ho Chi Minh’s political development. By no means is this meant to be comprehensive or definitive on everything he wrote, said, and thought. I highly encourage all of you to read his works and articles about his works. The Ho Chi Minh Internet Archive is the best place to start to find most of his writings and was key in helping me research this. Think what you want of Ho Chi Minh and present-day Vietnam, there is no doubt that he was important in the development of revolutionary and anti-imperialist tactics. His actions, ideas, and words live on to this day.
“The Vietnamese people deeply love independence, freedom and peace. But in the face of United States aggression, they have risen up, united as one man.”