Publication Party / Movement History - South Asia Ho Chi Minh on Independence and Freedom

The unity between national and human rights

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Nguyen Trong Phuc,

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September 2019

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Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh), 1920
Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh), 1920

Nguyen Ai Quoc attached great importance to the right to independence of colonized peoples including Vietnamese. He was deeply aware of Lenin’s point of view on the role of colonial revolutions and the right to independence of colonized peoples. Addressing the 22nd meeting of the 5th Congress of the Communist International on 1 July 1924, he pointed out:

“According to Lenin, for the revolution in the West to succeed, it must be closely connected with anti-imperialist liberation movements in colonized and enslaved countries. National issues are merely part of the general issue related to the proletariat revolution and proletariat dictatorship”

During his journey for national salvation, Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh) visited a large number of countries and continents to learn from them and help his compatriots on return. In France, in early 1917, he joined the French Social Party, which marked the beginning of his political career. On 18 June 1919, on behalf of Vietnamese patriots, he sent his eight-point demand to the conference in Versailles for winning countries in the world war, claiming its rights to freedom, democracy and equality. In late December 1920, Nguyen Ai Quoc attended the 18th congress of the French Social Party in Tours and voted for the foundation of the French Communist Party on 30 December. In explanation for his support to the Third International and the Communist Party, Nguyen Ai Quoc said it was because the Third International was concerned about the liberation of colonies and the rights of colonized peoples. “Freedom for my compatriots, independence for my country, these are all that I want and all that I understand”.[1] In his mind, national and human rights were expressed in two concepts, independence and freedom.

Nguyen Ai Quoc attached great importance to the right to independence of colonized peoples including Vietnamese. He was deeply aware of Lenin’s point of view on the role of colonial revolutions and the right to independence of colonized peoples. Addressing the 22nd meeting of the 5th Congress of the Communist International on July 1, 1924, he pointed out, “According to Lenin, for the revolution in the West to succeed, it must be closely connected with anti-imperialist liberation movements in colonized and enslaved countries. National issues are merely part of the general issue related to the proletariat revolution and proletariat dictatorship”.[2]

At the 5th Congress of the Communist International (July 1924), Nguyen Ai Quoc mentioned a fact: while the bourgeoisie in colonialist countries had done everything to “suppress people in their enslaved countries”, Communist parties in capitalist and colonialist countries had done nothing or “very little for colonized countries”.[3] In the 1920s, Nguyen Ai Quoc emerged as a leader and pioneer in the fight for the right to independence and the right to live righteously of people in colonized countries including Vietnam. He emphasized the responsibility of the Communist International and Communist parties for the cause of liberating colonized peoples, one which was mentioned in Lenin’s political platform of July 1920 and was approved by the Communist International. Nguyen Ai Quoc also described movements in colonized countries, “In many colonized countries, they have risen up several times, but every time they did so they were submerged in a bloodbath. If peasants are still under negative circumstances, it is because they lack organization or leadership. The Communist International needs to provide leaders for them and show them the way to revolution and liberation”.[4]

Nguyen Ai Quoc shouldered the historic responsibility of leading Vietnam’s struggle for the right to independence and the right to life. His mission won the support and trust of many patriotic Vietnamese including famous ones, such as Phan Chau Trinh and Phan Boi Chau. Beginning with communication, organization and personnel training, in Guangzhou (China), in 1925, he founded Vietnam Association of Revolution and Youth, the predecessor of the Communist Party of Vietnam. On 21 June 1925 he launched the Youth newspaper to carry out communication works and organize the masses into patriotic movements. Between 1925 and 1927, he opened training courses and trained a large number of people leading those movements. The revolutionary path was clear: connecting the liberation of the nation and gaining of independence with the liberation of society, pursuit of freedom and happiness for people and advance to socialism. This was a profound, comprehensive, radical revolution. He pointed out, “Once we have devoted ourselves to the revolution, we should do it properly. This means that when the revolution is successful, we should hand over power to the masses rather than give it to a few people. Only by doing so can we avoid multiple sacrifices and can people become happy”.[5]

In the spring of 1930, Nguyen Ai Quoc founded the Communist Party of Vietnam. In its first Political Platform, the Party aimed to overthrow French colonialists and local feudalists and make Vietnam completely independent. Other objectives included exercising workers’ basic rights, abandoning taxes, allocating farmland for peasants, working eight hours a day, practicing freedom of association, achieving gender equality, and providing universal education. On 28 January 1941 Nguyen Ai Quoc returned to Vietnam and worked with the Central Party Committee to lead the revolution for national liberation. The 8thconference of the Central Party Committee (May 1941) chaired by Ho Chi Minh in Khuoi Nam, Ha Quang, Cao Bang developed guidelines and emphasized national liberation. The conference gave top priority to national rights and interests and was determined to gain complete independence. The Viet Minh Program, which consisted of ten major policies, identified fundamental rights of Vietnamese in political, economic, cultural and social terms and specific rights and interests of different walks of life. As for workers, “There will be eight-hour working days. Minimum salary will be stipulated. Equal work will receive equal pay”. As for peasants, “Every peasant will have access to farmland. Land taxes will be reduced. Relief will be provided for peasants in case of crop failure”. Tuition fees would be exempted. “Women will be equal to men in economic, political, cultural and social terms. The elderly and people with disabilities would be taken care of. So would children. These were the rights and interests the revolution would offer people. Because of their clear, fundamental, practical objectives for the sake of the interests of the nation and people, the Party and Ho Chi Minh managed to unite the whole nation and gained glorious victory in the August Revolution of 1945.

On 2 September 1945 in Hanoi, on behalf of the provisional government, Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In the declaration, he mentioned human rights, which were pointed out in the 1776 Independence Declaration of the United States and the 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of France. These rights included the right to live, the right to freedom, the right to pursue happiness, and equality of interests. Ho Chi Minh elevated human rights to national ones when he confirmed, “All peoples in the world are created equal. Any people have the right to live, the right to be happy, and the right to be free”.[6]

Ho Chi Minh believed that the allied countries which had accepted principles of equal peoples “cannot help recognizing Vietnamese people’s right to independence”. (Principles of equal peoples were approved at a conference of 51 countries in San Francisco, the United States, on 26 June 1945, in the United Nations Charter.) He affirmed Vietnam’s right to independence in both legal and practical terms. He said, “A nation which has dared to resist the French for more than 80 years, a nation which has dared to side with the Allies against fascists for the last few years, that nation must be free! That nation must be independent!”

“Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence. And in fact, it has become a free and independent country. The entire Vietnamese population is determined to use all of its spirit, forces, lives and assets to maintain those freedom and independence rights”.[7]

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which was founded and led by Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam, has been always loyal to the noble objectives: independence, freedom and happiness, which are also fundamental national and human rights. Independence was the aspiration and sacred right of Vietnamese people. Only when genuine independence was achieved could fundamental human rights be exercised. And only when human rights were ensured and completely exercised could the nation’s right to independence become solid and meaningful. Here, the bottom line was how to solve correctly the relationship between people and the nation, a fundamental and sustainable relationship of the Vietnamese history. The right to independence was sacred. Ho Chi Minh emphasized, “But if the country is independent but people are not happy or free, then independence is meaningless”.[8]

As soon as the country became independent, foreign forces returned in an attempt to abolish the right to independence and the fledgling democratic republic. Ho Chi Minh and the Party led the entire people through an arduous struggle for genuine, sustainable independence. That struggle would only become powerful when the desire for independence, patriotism and national solidarity were fully promoted and when people’s rights to freedom, democracy and life and their genuine interests were protected.

In the first meeting of the provisional government on 3 September 1945, President Ho Chi Minh set six urgent tasks for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. These tasks included combating hunger so everyone could live; fighting ignorance and eradicating illiteracy because “an ignorant people is a weak one”; practicing immediately freedom and democracy; organizing a popular vote-based general election to elect the National Assembly and “We must have a democratic constitution”; abolishing the poll tax and other unreasonable taxes; and practicing freedom of religious belief and solidarity between religious and non-religious people. The colonialists had corrupted Vietnamese with their bad habits such as laziness, deception and misappropriation, among others. “Our urgent task is to reeducate our people. We must make our people a brave, patriotic, hard-working one who deserves an independent Vietnam”.[9]

President Ho Chi Minh personally led the drafting of the Constitution, which would confirm the right to independence and human rights in Vietnam. The 1946 Constitution pointed out:

“Vietnam is a unified country. Its northern, central and southern regions cannot be divided”. (Article 2)

“All Vietnamese citizens are equal in all areas, political, economic, cultural”. (Article 6)

All citizens were equal before the law. “Women are equal to men in all respects”. (Article 9). Vietnamese citizens have the freedoms of speech, publication, organization and association, religious belief, residence, and travel within and outside of the country. (Article 10) Private ownership is stipulated in Article 12: “Senior citizens or disabled people who cannot work shall be helped. Children shall be nurtured and educated”. (Article 14) “Ethnic minority people shall be provided with assistance in all aspects so they can soon catch up with the general standard”. (Article 8) Tuition-free, compulsory education would be enforced. Ethnic minority people would be allowed to learn in their languages. Poor pupils would receive the government’s help. “Private schools shall be allowed and must follow the state curriculum”. (Article 15) Foreigners who fought for freedom and democracy and had to seek shelter would be allowed to reside in Vietnam.[10] These were very fundamental and progressive human and civil rights. Human rights stipulated in the first Constitution of the independent Vietnam drafted by Ho Chi Minh absolutely conformed to the United Nations’ World Declaration on Human Rights of 10 December 1948.

The Preliminary Agreement of 6 March 1946 signed in Hanoi by representatives of the Vietnamese and French governments stated,

“The French government recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a free country with its own government, parliament, army and finance and as an element of the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. On the merger of the three regions, the French government is committed to acknowledging the merger, but people are the ones who make the final decision”.[11] Although Vietnam was not recognized as completely independent, this was an important step forward in legal terms, which could be used as a basis for the struggle for complete independence and unification.

In early 1950, the Soviet Union, China and people’s democratic countries recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and established diplomatic relations with it. This was a huge victory, political and diplomatic, for the Party. As the resistance culminated in the historic Dien Bien Phu Victory, France and other powers signed the Geneva Agreements on 21 July 1954 recognizing the independence and territorial integrity of Vietnam.

“The conference announces that in the case of Vietnam, the resolution of political issues must be based on respect for independence, unity and territorial integrity and must allow the Vietnamese people to enjoy fundamental freedoms guaranteed by democratic organizations founded after the free general election and secret ballot”.[12]

The Geneva Agreements required a general election on 20 July 1956 to unify the country. The Americans had replaced the French in the South, implementing a neo-colonialist regime there. They set up a lackey government led by Ngo Dinh Diem, sabotaged the Geneva Agreements, refused to hold the general election, aimed to divide Vietnam permanently, and suppressed revolutionary and patriotic movements and unification desire among people in South Vietnam. Given their desire for independence and unification and the leadership of the Party, people in the South put up persevering and brave resistance. The US increasingly escalated the war, sabotaging Vietnam’s independence and freedom.

By invading Vietnam, the US sabotaged its independence and unity and violated its fundamental national rights as well as Vietnamese people’s human rights, especially the right to live. Millions of Vietnamese including patriotic revolutionaries, those who directly engaged in fighting, those who served the war, and civilians were killed in the war. Tens of thousands of people were detained and tortured by Americans and Saigon administration in prisons like Chi Hoa, Con Dao, Phu Quoc and many others. Nowhere else were human rights violated so brutally, deliberately and over such a long period of time as in these prisons between 1954 and 1975. These harsh realities awakened a sense of resistance among righteous Americans. On 2 July 1970, two American congressmen, Augustus Hawkins and William Anderson, were so brave to talk to the press about cruelties in “tiger cages” in Con Dao, which they described as “the most brutal treatment of humans that we’ve never seen before”.

Although Vietnam gained independence in the August Revolution of 1945 led by the Communist Party and Ho Chi Minh, it had to carry on fighting for another 30 years against the most powerful colonialists and imperialists before it became really independent and unified with the Great Spring Victory of 1975, which culminated in the historical Ho Chi Minh Campaign on 30 April 1975. The Paris Agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam was signed between Vietnam and the United States on 27 January 1973. Article 1 of the Agreement stated,

“The United States and all other countries respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam”.[13]

Ho Chi Minh spent his lifetime fighting for Vietnam’s stable independence. To him, national independence was sacred, but it must lead to people’s freedom and happiness. National rights meant independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. They paved the way for autonomy and development so the country could “match powers in the five continents”. They allowed the country to live in peace, democracy, freedom and amity and make friends with all world countries. During his entire lifetime, Ho Chi Minh pursued well-being, schooling, healthcare and decent housing for people, care for children and the elderly, and help for the disabled. According to him, human rights in political, economic, cultural and social terms must be emphasized and improved. In his mind and action, national and human rights coincided. They were reflected in the points of view, guidelines, policies and laws which he wished to adopt. Without genuine, stable independence, it would be impossible to exercise human rights. Increasingly better exercise of people’s fundamental, practical rights would ensure genuine independence and affirm its value.

Grasping Ho Chi Minh’s ideas, the Party, State and people are intensifying the renovation cause for the goal of “a rich population and a strong, democratic, equitable, advanced country”. The 2013 Constitution confirms the nation’s right to independence in Article 1: “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an independent, sovereign, unified country with territorial integrity including land, islands, waters and skies”. Given the nature of the socialist rule of law of people, for people and by people, the Constitution stipulates human rights and citizens’ fundamental rights and duties in all of Chapter 2, from Article 14 to Article 49.

The Party and State give top priority to national interests and take care of people’s lives in all aspects and “protect the law, justice, human rights, citizens’ rights, the socialist regime, the State’s interests and the legitimate rights and interests of State bodies, organizations and individuals”.[14] The Party’s 12th Congress emphasized central tasks including “resolutely and patiently fight for the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the homeland; maintaining the peaceful, stable environment for national development; ensuring national security and preserving social order and safety; expanding and deepening international relations; making use of opportunities and overcoming challenges; effectively integrating into the international community in the new condition; and continuing to increase the country’s position and prestige on the international stage”.[15] The congress also stressed the need to “improve people’s material and spiritual lives; resolve pressing issues; intensify management for social development; increase social welfare; and reduce poverty in a sustainable manner”.[16] It called for a greater role of the human factor in all areas of society. These central tasks represent unity of national rights and interests and people’s rights, interests and duties.

Author: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Trong Phuc

Supervised by: Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, Editor in Chief: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vu Hoang Cong
Publication Permit No 41/GP-TTĐT on March 11, 2019
Head office: 135 Nguyen Phong Sac Str., Cau Giay Dist., Hanoi, Tel: 04. 62827510; Email: tcllct.hcma@gmail.com; Fax: 04. 62827490

Source: Ho Chi Minh’s thought of independence and freedom: The unity between national and human rights. In: Political Theory Vol. 11 - December 2016 – Research journal and scientific voice of Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

[1] Ho Chi Minh: A Biography, vol.1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1993, p. 94.

[2] Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 299

[3] Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 300

[4] Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 311

[5] Op. cit., vol. 2, p. 292

[6] Op. cit., vol. 4, p. 1

[7] Op. cit., vol. 4, p. 3

[8] Op. cit., vol. 4, p. 64

[9] Op. cit., vol. 4, p. 7

[10] The 1946 Constitution of Vietnam and Its Successor Constitutions, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998, p. 392

[11]  Op. cit., vol. 4, p. 583

[12] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Geneva Agreements - 50 Years’ Retrospect, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2008, p. 314

[13] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Diplomatic Front and the Paris Negotiations on Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, p. 481

[14] CPV: Documents of the 12th National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, pp. 178-179

[15] CPV: Documents of the 12th National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, pp. 218-219

[16] CPV: Documents of the 12th National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, p. 219