Communist Party of Indochina

Communist Party of Indochina
Communist Party of Indochina

The Communist Party of Vietnam was formally founded on February 3, 1930, in Hong Kong by a group of Vietnamese exiles. Its first members included Nguyen Ai Quoc (later better known as Ho Chi Minh). At the urging of the Comintern, the group changed the name to the Communist Party of Indochina (CPI). Despite its name, all of the initial members were Vietnamese.

There was political controversy over the name Communist Party of Indochina. The choice of Indochina, which recognized a French-imposed political unit, was anathema to many Vietnamese nationalists. This led many Cambodian nationalists to see it as an attempt by the Vietnamese to try to dominate Cambodia and preserve the French political unit of Indochina after independence. It was not until the late 1940s that any Cambodians or Laotians would join.

With the start of the worldwide Great Depression there was a precipitous decline in the demand for rubber, and French plantations, largely located in southern and central Vietnam, responded by lowering wages or laying off workers.

This led to disputes and riots on these plantations, followed by strikes in factories throughout Cochin China (southern Vietnam). The newly formed Communist Party of Indochina saw an opportunity to agitate against French rule and encouraged the peasants, who in the summer and the fall of 1930 started taking over their villages and establishing "soviets," in which the villagers took over property from unpopular landlords and reduced rents and taxes, cutting off links with provincial governments.

This rebellion became known as the NgheTinh Soviet revolt because of the location of the main protests. The revolt was ruthlessly crushed by the French in the spring of 1931, and the CPI regional network was destroyed. Indeed, the headquarters of the Standing Committee of the party in Saigon was raided during a meeting in April 1931.

Although the revolt was disastrous in the short term, it did bring the Communist leadership the realization that they needed to be better organized for the eventual confrontation with the French. A Second Plenum had been held just before the April 1931 arrests, and soon afterward the party had been admitted into the Communist International (Comintern). Ho Chi Minh and the surviving leadership, all in exile, realized that any attempt to eject the French could no longer rely solely on a peasant revolt.

Ho Chi Minh addresses the Third National Party Congress (September 1960)
Ho Chi Minh addresses the Third National Party Congress (September 1960)

In 1936 the Popular Front government was formed in France, and from then until 1938 the CPI was able to organize again. One of the first actions of the new socialist government in France was to order the release of political prisoners in Indochina, among whom were many CPI members. The party also used this period to gain extra members and became the major political group for those opposed to French rule.

The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 and France's subsequent declaration of war on the Germans gave French authorities in Indochina an extra reason to crack down on the CPI and isolate it from the people. The Sixth Plenum of the CPI, held in November 1939, called for an armed uprising.

France's surrender to the Germans in 1940 destroyed the belief in the invincibility of the French army among Vietnamese. Soon afterward the Japanese were able to move their soldiers into Vietnam. This again caused the CPI to debate its approach to ending French rule. Some wanted to use the Japanese presence to agitate against the French.

However, Ho Chi Minh urged caution. In 1941 the central committee of the CPI held a meeting at Pac Bo and declared the formation of the League for the Independence of Vietnam, a grouping that became known as the Vietminh Front.

With the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941, Ho Chi Minh sought to establish a friendly relationship with the United States, going as far as meeting General Claire Lee Chennault in March 1945. In that month the Japanese took control of Indochina, rounding up the French and throwing them in jail. On August 13–15, 1945, the CPI finally decided that the time for a national insurrection had come.

Japan's surrender on August 14 sealed the matter, and a general uprising in Hanoi took place on August 19, followed by a takeover of the imperial capital, Hue, four days later, and a seizing of much of Saigon two days after that. Although with British help the French were able to regain control of Saigon and later Hanoi, much of the countryside was in the hands of the CPI.

However, Ho Chi Minh realized that in the forthcoming conflict the CPI would be a liability, as the United States was becoming more anticommunist. As a result, on November 11, 1945, the CPI announced that it was dissolving itself and being replaced with the Indochinese Marxist Study Society.

This was an attempt to portray the Vietminh as more nationalist than communist, and the communist movement became the Vietnamese Workers' Party. This had the effect of allowing the eventual formation of separate Cambodian and Laotian Communist Parties.