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Notes on the Revolution  /  September 9, 2019

Vietnam and Cuba: Two heroic peoples

By Charles McKelvey

September 2 was the seventy-fourth anniversary of the independence of Vietnam. On September 2, 1945, the leader of the Vietnamese Revolution, Ho Chi Minh, read the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam before some 500,000 citizens in the city of Hanoi. It marked the beginning of a long struggle against French colonialism and U.S. military aggression, culminating in the establishment of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

This September 2 did not go unnoticed in Cuba. Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Council of State and Ministers, sent messages of congratulations.

There are parallels between the Vietnamese and Cuban struggles of national liberation. Both were led by leaders with exceptional capacities to understand national and international dynamics, and who mastered the art of politics, enabling them to politically unify the struggle.

Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro were both formed in the tradition of anti-colonial nationalism. Ho Chi Minh began his political life as a teacher and activist in the movement in opposition to French colonialism, forged in the early twentieth century by Western educated Vietnamese intellectuals with social roots in the traditional intellectual class of Confucian scholars. For his part, Fidel was profoundly influenced by the works of the Cuban writer, poet, and diplomat José Martí, who organized the Cuban war of independence of 1895.

Both Ho Chi Minh and Fidel experienced a subsequent evolution in consciousness as a result of study of Marxism-Leninism. Ho encountered socialism in Paris in 1919, and subsequently studied in the Soviet Union. Fidel, as a university student, read on his own the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, available to him in the library of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro forged a creative synthesis of Marxist-Leninist thought and anti-colonial nationalism. They arrived to understandings that departed from the classic Marxist-Leninist doctrines. Especially important here was the concept of the revolutionary subject. Karl Marx had conceived of the working class as the vanguard of the revolutionary movement. Ho Chi Minh, however, adapted the concept to the conditions of Vietnam. He led a vanguard party composed mostly of intellectuals and peasants, peasants who were learning to do intellectual work and who were becoming agricultural workers, and intellectuals who were learning to do manual labor. For his part, Fidel called the entire people to revolution, a people composed of agricultural workers, industrial workers, tenant farmers, the unemployed, small business persons, educators, and professionals.

Both Ho and Fidel had a pragmatic approach to socialism that reflected the priorities of the colonized. Believing that the most fundamental of all rights is the right to development, they adopted flexible economic policies, finding space for private capital, under the direction and regulation by the state, emphasizing the economic development of the nation.

Another parallel between Vietnam and Cuba is that both payed a high price for their revolutionary commitment to their sovereignty. U.S. military intervention in Vietnam left approximately 4 million Vietnamese dead, nearly half of whom were civilians. Nine thousand villages and towns and millions of productive acres were bombed, along with cities, bridges, dikes, reservoirs, railroads, roads, factories, bridges, hospitals, and schools. Cuba, on the other hand, has endured an economic, commercial, and financial blockade for more than half a century. In 1959 and 1960, Fidel proposed a plan for the economic development of the nation based on increased U.S. purchases of Cuban sugar and investments by Cuban industrialists. But the USA stopped purchases of Cuban sugar, and the Cuban industrialists abandoned the country to participate in the counterrevolution, under U.S. direction. The costs of the blockade to the Cuban people, in terms of lost possibilities for the economic development of the nation, cannot be calculated. Cuba and Vietnam are sister heroic peoples who affirmed in practice that no sacrifice is too great when it comes to defending national sovereignty and dignity.

Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh left a legacy of teachings that continue to guide the evolution of their nations. In fact, the future of humanity depends on the peoples of the world taking seriously the teachings of these two most outstanding leaders of the Third World revolutions of the twentieth century. Fidel and Ho are the prophets of our time. They are like the prophets of ancient Israel, who denounced kings in defense of social justice for the poor. The speeches and writings of Fidel and Ho constitute sacred texts, which, like the words written in the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran, we must study, to prepare ourselves for living for a world more just, democratic, and sustainable.

This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples .



Edited by Ed Newman
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