Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vietnam Declares Independence: September 2, 1945

After more than six decades of French rule, the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed by the Vietminh in 1945.

Vietnam lost her independence on August 25, 1883, after decades of resistance to Europeans, when the court at Hue recognized French protectorate in Tonkin and Annam in North and Central Vietnam respectively. The south, Cochin China was already under French sovereignty.

The French Impact

The French colonialists transformed many aspects in Vietnamese life. Extensive public works and road building was carried out. But the benefits of these developments did not reach the vast majority of the locals. Heavy taxing and usurious interest rated kept the rural population in constant debt. Even by 1940, the peasant population was more than 85% of the total.

Replacement of local village leaders by French trained Vietnamese officials removed the traditional village authority and the communal life style of the villages was also shattered. Introduction of French law which was administered by French judges, who were generally ignorant of local language and customs, was another death blow to the Vietnamese people.

Growth of Nationalism

Vietnamese people resisted the French after 1883, well into the 20th Century. A new chapter began with the growth of nationalist organizations. Some of these were Marxist oriented but the leading group, Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD-Vietnamese Nationalist Party) was not. In February 1930, an uprising by VNQDD was crushed by the French authorities. The decimation of these nationalists paved way for the Communists to fill the vacuum among the freedom fighters for a national organization.

The Communists were instrumental in forming the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam, commonly known as Viet Minh) a decade later. However, this group was an alliance of democrats, socialists, communists and other interested groups.

Japanese Intervention

In 1940, with France defeated and Vichy France in power, the Japanese were able to establish military bases in Northern Vietnam. Japan took complete control of Indochina on March 9, 1945, months after the liberation of France by the Allied forces. To the Viet Minh, the Japanese were just another invader, which was a fact epitomized by their slogan, “Neither the French, nor the Japanese as masters”.

August Revolution and Declaration of Independence

The same week the Japanese surrendered, the Viet Minh held a congress in Caobang, near the Chinese border, where a provisional government was formed. This government took control in Hanoi after some minor, scattered clashes with the Japanese troops and puppet militia on August 19. Soon the country was largely under the Viet Minh. The puppet ‘Emperor’ Bao Dai abdicated. Declaring his abdication in a remarkable document, it was stated that, “We cannot but regret the thought of our twenty years’ reign during which it was impossible for us to render any appreciable service to our country”. He ended by declaring, “Long live the independence of Vietnam! Long live the Democratic Republic!”

The government issued the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. It accused the French imperialists of depriving the Vietnamese of their liberties, imposing inhuman laws upon them, ruining the country’s resources, building more prisons than schools among other things. “They have drowned our revolution in blood”, it further stated. For these reasons, they broke off all ties to the French and stated that the leaders of the provisional government “…..solemnly declare to the world that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country-and in fact it is so already”.

Long Road to Peace

Almost simultaneously, the British arrived in Cochin China and started to ‘restore order’ for the interests of France. In doing so, they even got the assistance of the Japanese troops remaining in the country, just days after the British and Japanese had stopped shooting each other in Burma, not so far away from Vietnam. By the end of the year, French troops were able to arrive take their colonial lands once again. France tried to defeat the viet minh both militarily and politically, even bringing in Bao Dai back, coaxing him to form a puppet national government to counter the Democratic Republic. The Viet Minh fought on for 8 years until the French met their nemesis at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. But, it was to take more than two more decades for Vietnam to see peace in the country when it was re-unified under the communist rule in 1975.


Primary Source- Vietnam: History, Documents and Opinions on a Major World Crisis ed. Marvin E. Gettleman. Fawcett Publications Inc. USA (1965).

From the above source, the following excerpts were also referred

Jumper, Roy and Normand, Marjorie Weiner, Vietnam: The Historical Background

Isaacs, Harold, Independence for Vietnam?

Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Sep. 2, 1945.

Abdication of Bao Dai, Emperor of Annam August, 1945.

Image: "Vo Nguyen Giap (left), the military leader and Ho Chi Minh (right) the political leader of Vietnamese independence struggle." In Ha Noi (1945). From Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Death of Trotsky

After eleven years living in exile, Stalin's arch-rival met his death at the hands of an audacious Soviet agent whose identity remained a mystery for years.

Lev Davidovich Bronstien (Leon Trotsky) was born exactly 38 years before the October revolution on November 7, 1879. After playing a leading role in the 1905 revolution, he played a crucial role in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In the Soviet government, he was to become the arch-rival of Stalin and was out maneuvered by the latter in to insignificance within the communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the 1920s. Exiled from the USSR in 1929, he was pursued by Soviet agents around the world, until his death in 1940.

Exiled from the USSR

In 1928, Trotsky was exiled to Kazakhstan and a year later from the Soviet Union itself. He was never to return to the country where he once held immense power. For four years, he stayed at an island off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. Then he was offered asylum in France. After two years, he was no longer welcome in France. The next two years were spent in Norway and he was forced to leave that country also. His last destination was Mexico, where he was greeted warmly by the Mexican president. Trotsky settled in Coyoacan in Mexico City, first at the house of Diego Rivera and later in a heavily guarded compound which was near by.

During the exile, his battle with Stalin continued. He wrote The History of the Russian Revolution (1930) and The Revolution Betrayed (1936) and continued his criticism of Stalin in The Stalin School of Falsification (1937). This was the times of the notorious Moscow show trials, where Stalin eliminated all possible threats to his leadership in the USSR. Meanwhile, Soviet agents were in hot pursuit for Trotsky himself, assassinating his secretary in 1936 and possibly assassinating his son in 1937. But, the revolutionary himself was still out of their reach.

Assassination in Mexico

Then, on the 20th of August, 1940, Trotsky was attacked with an ice-axe by a man who identified himself as Jaques Mornard after the incident. Trotsky died the next day of his head wound.

Although he claimed to be a disillusioned Trotskyite, questioning revealed that he had deep Stalinist views. Also, his apparently flawless French had traces of Spanish accent. The identity of Mornard was not known for a decade until it was found by Dr. Alfonso Quiroz Cuaron, professor of criminology at the national University of Mexico, among the police archives in Madrid. Jaques Mornard was actually a Spanish communist and a NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) agent named Ramon Mercader. In 1989, the Soviet authorities finally confirmed the story of the assassination of Trotsky by the NKVD.

The Road to Mexico City

Ramon Mercader was recruited by a NKVD Colonel, Leonid Eitingon, who had a relationship with his hard-line communist mother, during the Spanish Civil War. Mercader’s fluency in Spanish, which is the spoken language of Mexico, was an added qualification for the clandestine operation.

In 1938, Mercader befriended Sylvia Ageloff, an American Trotskyte in Paris. The following year, under an assumed identity and a forged passport, a certain “Frank Jacson” followed Sylvia to the U.S.A. Then appearing to do business, he made to Mexico City. Ageloff joined him and through her, Mercador gained access to the Trotsky household.

The details of the inside of the house he supplied were essential for the attack undertaken in May 1940. About a score of gunmen, dressed in Mexican police uniforms, stormed in and shot at the bedroom of Trotsky. But he and his wife miraculously escaped. Although the people responsible for the attack were uncovered, Mercador’s role was not found.

Thereafter, Mercador was instructed to befriend Trotsky, posing as an admirer of his views. The fact that he went about the job just after a raid had been thwarted is an indication of his iron will and skills of deception.

The Assassination of Trotsky

On August 17, Mercador met Trotsky to discuss the outline of an article he was writing. They were alone in the latter’s study for eleven minutes. Three days later, Mercador returned, clad in a raincoat, which was surprising for a sunny day. Mrs. Trotsky inquired him about it and he told her “Yes. But you know, it won’t last long-it might rain.” What he could not tell her was that in one of its pockets, he had an ice-axe concealed, for a more sinister purpose.

According to the description of Mercador in his trial, once inside Trotsky’s study, he placed the raincoat in such a way as to be able to retrieve the ice-axe. Once Trotsky started reading his article, he took out the axe and hit Trotsky on his head with his eyes closed. The blow was not critical and Trotsky struggled with the assailant. Guards rushed in and nearly killed Mercador, but Trotsky himself prevented them, declaring that he was to made to answer questions. Rushed to the hospital, Trotsky died due to severe brain damage the next day. His assassin, Mercador, spent 20 years imprisoned in Mexico and then made his way to Cuba, where he died in 1978.


1. Levine, Isaac Don, Secrets of a Soviet Assassin. In Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection, Readers Digest (1965)

2. Volkogonov, Dmitri, Trotsky: a Deamon of the Revolution. In Sputnik, Digest of the Soviet Press (May 1989)

3. Vasetsky, Nikolai, Lev Trotsky: Personal and Political Profile. In Sputnik, Digest of the Soviet Press (April 1990)

4. Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow had Trotsky Slain NY Times Jan 4, 1989. Retrieved Aug 20, 2010.