Three Against Imperialism
Three Against Imperialism tells a wonderful story about a handful of men who took on Imperialism and colonialism and won. They each started out with virtually nothing but the shirts on their backs and an idea between their ears. Each built impressive mass movements and forged revolutionary victories. For brevity, we confine our study to the Twentieth Century. However, this is just to provide a brief overview of how Imperialism has been defeated, that it is not invincible, and that we will never listen to those who think that this system is the best one and the only one and that it will not be succeeded by a better one in our lifetimes. That is a wrong headed view and this little piece will prove it.
Ernesto Che Guevara: Revolution!
Che began his illustrious career as an Argentine doctor. As a young medical student, Che’s travels thru Latin America transformed him when he witnessed the deep-set poverty of the struggling people in comparison to the opulence of the ruling classes. His experiences and observations during these trips led him to conclude that Latin America’s ingrained economic inequalities result from its servile relationship to monopoly capitalism, aka INTERNATIONAL FINANCE CAPITALISM, or Imperialism. Che also saw how neo-colonialism served Imperialism to the detriment of local and national development. Che came to think the only remedy was scientific socialism. This view prompted his involvement in Guatemalan social reforms under Presidente Jacobo Arbenz. The racist, reactionary CIA overthrow of Arbenz solidified Guevara’s radical ideology.
In Mexico, Che met Fidel Castro and joined his 26 of July Movement. In December 1956, Che was among twelve men who invaded Cuba, under Castro’s leadership. This was the size of the group who sparked a country-wide uprising which swept Cuba and ran the gussanos (“worms”)out of there. Che soon rose to prominence among the insurgents. He was promoted to Comandante, and played a pivotal role in the successful guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime. Following the Revolution, Che reviewed the appeals of convicted war criminals during revolutionary tribunals. Che also served as minister of industry and president of the national bank, before traversing the globe as a diplomat to meet an array of world leaders on behalf of Cuban socialism. Along with an acclaimed memoir about his motorcycle journey across South America, Che wrote prolifically. He composed a seminal manual on the theory and practice of guerilla warfare. Che left Cuba in 1965. He went to Africa in an unsuccessful attempt to support Patrice Lumumba in Congo-Kinshasa against an international coalition of Imperialists armies and paratroopers. In Bolivia, Che was captured with the help of the US Army Rangers and summarily executed. His severed hands were sent to the FBI for fingerprint verification of his death.
Che remains an admired, controversial, and significant historical figure. As a result of his death and romantic visage, along with his invocation to armed class struggle and his desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by “moral” rather than “material” incentives, Guevara evolved into a quintessential icon of leftist-inspired movements as well as a global merchandising sensation. He has been mostly venerated and occasionally reviled. Time magazine named him one of its 100 most influential people of the 20th century. The Alberto Korda photograph of him entitled Guerillero Heroica (red version above), was declared “the most famous photograph in the world.”
Amilcar Cabral: Return to the Source
Amílcar Lopes Cabral started his career as an agronomic engineer. Yet Cabral went on to lead African liberation movements in Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands. He led Guinea-Bissau’s independence movement. A Portuguese agent assassinated him in 1973 just months before Guinea-Bissau declared unilateral independence.
Cabral was born on September 12, 1924 in Bafatá, Portuguese Guinea. The son of Cape-Verdeans, his half-brother Luís Cabral would later become head of state of Guinea-Bissau. Amilcar was educated in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the colonial power that ruled over Portuguese Guinea at that time. While an agronomy student at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon, Amilcar Cabral founded student movements dedicated to African liberation.
Cabral returned to Africa in the 1950s, and busily set about forming independence movements on the continent. He became instrumental in the formation of the PAIGC or Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (Portuguese for African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde). He also worked to form a liberation party in Angola with Agostinho Neto, an associate he met and befriended in Portugal.
Beginning in 1962, Cabral led the PAIGC in a guerrilla movement which evolved into a military conflict against the Portuguese ruling authorities of Portuguese Guinea. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, the party won land gains, and Cabral was made the de facto leader of many parcels of land in Guinea-Bissau.
Even before the war for liberation began, Cabral set up training camps in neighboring Ghana with the permission of Kwame Nkrumah. Cabral trained his lieutenants. Through rigorous work he taught cadres to convince village chiefs to support the PAIGC and the independence movement before he trained anyone in military tactics. As the war progressed, Cabral learned that PAIGC cadres who successfully converted their tribes to the independence struggle ceased to help organize other tribes. So, cleverly, he instituted a rotation program where his trainees no longer went to their home villages.
As an agronomist, Cabral realized that his troops needed to live off the land alongside the larger populace. He taught his troops how to spread better farming techniques among the villagers, thus raising their productivity. During down time, PAIGC soldiers would till and plow the fields alongside the local population.
Cabral had the PAIGC implement a floating bazaar system which made staple goods available to the countryside at prices lower than that of colonial store owners. During the war, Cabral set up a roving hospital and triage station. Medicos gave medical care to wounded PAIGC’s soldiers and quality-of-life care to the larger populace, relying on medical supplies garnered from the USSR and Sweden. Bazaars and triage stations were at first stationary until they came under frequent attack from Portuguese forces.
In 1972, Cabral agitated to form a People’s Assembly in preparation for an independent Guinea-Bissau. At this time, the Portuguese enjoined the help of a “former” rival to bring Amilcar Cabral to meet the colonial authorities to sign a document stating the independence of Guinea-Bissau. But the rival assassinated him, assisted by Portuguese agents operating within the PAIGC. This assassination took place on 20 January 1973 in Conakry, Guinea. Cabral’s brother, Luís Cabral, became the leader of the Guinea-Bissau branch of the party and would eventually become President of Guinea-Bissau.
Ho Chi Minh: World’s Greatest Fighter
Ho Chi Minh shares May 19 with the birthday of Malcolm X. From early in his career Ho was a communist. He rose to become a statesman, and later became prime minister (1946–1955) and president (1946–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Ho led the Viet Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the communist-governed Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. He lost political power inside North Vietnam in the late 1950s, but remained as the highly visible figurehead president until his death. He was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, while the former capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in his honor.
From 1919–1923, while living in France, Ho Chí Minh embraced communism, through his friend Marcel Cachin (SFIO). Ho claimed to have arrived in Paris from London in 1917 but French police only have documents of his arrival in June 1919. Following World War I, under the name of Nguyen Ái Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot), he petitioned for recognition of the civil rights of the Vietnamese people in French Indochina to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Ho petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new, nationalist government. His request was ignored.
In 1921, during the Congress of Tours, France, Nguyen Ai Quoc became a founding member of the Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party) and spent much of his time in Moscow afterwards, becoming the Comintern’s Asia hand and the principal theorist on colonial warfare. It was at this time that Nguyen Ai Quoc took the name of “Ho Chí Minh”, a Vietnamese name combining a common Vietnamese surname (Ho) with a given name meaning “enlightened will” (Chí meaning “will” (or spirit), and Minh meaning “light”). During the Indochina War, the PCF would be involved with antiwar propaganda, sabotage and support for the revolutionary effort.
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In 1923, Ho left Paris for Moscow, where he was employed by the Comintern, and participated in the Fifth Comintern Congress in June 1924, before arriving in Canton (Guangzhou), China, in November 1924. During 1925-26 he organized “Youth Education Classes” and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. He left Canton again in April 1927 and returned to Moscow, spending some of the summer of 1927 recuperating from tuberculosis in the Crimea, before returning to Paris once more in November. He then returned to Asia by way of Brussels, Berlin, Switzerland, Italy, from where he took a ship to Bangkok in Thailand, where he arrived in July 1928. He remained in Thailand, staying in the Thai village of Nachok, until late 1929 when he moved on to Hong Kong, and Shanghai. In June 1931, he was arrested in Hong Kong and incarcerated by British police until his release in 1933. He then made his way back to the Soviet Union, where he spent several more years recovering from tuberculosis. In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with Chinese Communist armed forces.
In 1941, Ho returned to Vietnam to lead the Viet Minh independence movement. He oversaw many successful military actions against the Vichy French and Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II, supported closely but clandestinely by the United States Office of Strategic Services (the CIA precusor), and also against the French bid to reoccupy the country (1946-1954). He got jailed in China for many months by Chiang Kai-shek’s local authorities. Following his release in 1943, Ho returned to Vietnam. He was treated for malaria and dysentery by American OSS doctors.
After the Viet Minh organized the August Revolution (1945), Ho became Chair of the Provisional Government and issued a Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Tho he convinced the emperor to abdicate, his government was not recognized by any country. He repeatedly petitioned American President Harry Truman for support for Vietnamese independence, citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman never responded.
In a 1945 power struggle, the Viet Minh fought members of rival groups, such as the Constitutional Party and the Party for Independence. Purges of Trotskyists, the rival anti-Stalinist communists, have also been documented. On 2 September 1945, after Emperor Bao Dai’s abdication, Ho Chí Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence. With violence between rival Vietnamese factions and French forces spiraling, a British commander declared martial law. On 24 September, the Viet Minh leaders responded with a call for a general strike.
That month a force of 200,000 Chinese Nationalists arrived in Hanoi. Ho Chí Minh made arrangements with Kuomintang General Lu Han to dissolve the Communist Party and hold an election to yield a coalition government. When Chiang Kai-Shek later traded Chinese influence in Vietnam for French concessions in Shanghai, Ho Chí Minh had no choice but to sign an agreement with France on 6 March 1946, to recognize Vietnam as an autonomous state in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. The agreement soon broke down. The purpose of the agreement was to drive out the Chinese army from North Vietnam. Fighting broke out with the French soon after the Chinese left. Ho Chí Minh was almost captured by a group of French soldiers led by Jean-Etienne Valluy, but Ho escaped.
In February 1950, Ho met with Stalin and Mao in Moscow after the Soviet Union recognized his government. They all agreed that China would be responsible for backing the Viet Minh. Mao’s emissary to Moscow stated in August that China planned to train 60-70,000 Viet Minh in the near future. China’s support enabled Ho to escalate the fight against France.
According to a story told by Bernard Fall, after fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. The French negotiators arrived at the meeting site, a mud hut with a thatched roof. Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of Japanese weapons), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Ho replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war. (From Last Reflections on a War, Fall’s last book, published posthumously.)
In 1954, the critical defeat of French paratroopers at the Battle of Ðien Biên Phu forced France to surrender its huge colonial bloodsucking enterprise in Indochina. Ðien Biên Phu was the singlemost important battle of the modern colonial period. It proved once and for all that Imperialism could be defeated militarily.
The 1954 Geneva Accords, concluded between France and the Vietminh, provided that communist forces regroup in the North and non-communist forces regroup in the South. Ho’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam relocated to Hanoi and became the government of North Vietnam, a Communist-led single party state. The Geneva accords also provided for a national election to reunify the country in 1956, but this provision was rejected by South Vietnam and the United States. The U.S. suckered itself to oppose communism in Asia when it funded 80 percent of the failed French effort. After Geneva, the U.S. replaced France as South Vietnam’s racist colonial master and financial backer, exempting any treaty between the U.S. and South Vietnam.
The Geneva Accords proposed a 300-day period in which people might freely move between the two zones of a divided Vietnam. Some 900,000 or more Vietnamese left for the south, while a much smaller number migrated to the North. This was partly due to propaganda by the CIA mission that the Virgin Mary had moved South out of distaste for life under communism. During this interval Ho started a land reform.
At the end of 1956, Lê Duan was appointed acting party boss and began sending aid to the Vietcong insurgency in South Vietnam. This represented a loss of power by Ho, who is said to have preferred the more moderate Giáp for the position. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was built in 1959 to allow aid sent to the Vietcong to travel through Laos and Cambodia. Duan was named permanent party boss in 1960.
In late 1964, North Vietnamese combat troops were sent southwest into neutral Laos. During the mid to late 1960s, Lê Duan permitted 320,000 Chinese volunteers into northern North Vietnam to help build infrastructure for the country, thereby freeing a similar number of North Vietnamese forces to go south.
When U.S. combat troops begins arriving in South Vietnam to destabilize the country, fighting escalated. Widespread bombing of North Vietnam by the U.S. Air Force and Navy craterized the entire countryside, causing mosquito swarms and malarial epidemics. This was in addition to the direct damage caused by bombing. Ho remained in Hanoi for most of the duration of his final years, stubbornly refusing to negotiate with the Americans and demanded nothing but an unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops in South Vietnam. By July, 1967, Ho and most of the Politiboro of North Vietnam met in a high-level conference where they concluded that the war was not going well for them since the American military blunted every attempt by the Peoples Army of Vietnam to make gains, and inflicted heavy casualties.
But Ho and the rest his government knew that there were two weaknesses: there was still no disguising the continuing ineffectiveness of large portion of the South Vietnamese army, shielded by U.S. firepower, and that American public opinion increasingly opposed the war. With Ho’s permission, the North Vietnamese army and politicians executed the Tet Offensive as a gamble to take the South by surprise and defeat the U.S. military.
The Tet Offensive was a huge tactical failure. It resulted in the decimation of whole units of Viet Cong. Yet the end result was a moral victory that broke the U.S. will to fight and turned US public opinion against the government. This resulted in halting the bombing of North Vietnam, and opened negotiations with the racist US government.
By 1969, with negotiations still dragging on, Ho’s health began to deteriorate, which prevented him from participating in active politics. Yet, he continued to insist that his forces in South Vietnam continue fighting until all of Vietnam was reunited under his government, no matter how long it took, and he knew that time and politics were on his side. Ho Chi Minh did not live to see Vietnam defeat the United States of America, but his people carried his dream to final victory.