Marr, David G. (2013). Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946). University of California Press.
Kindle Locations 10285-10901
The Role of Political Parties in the DRV
Histories of the 1925–1945 period in Vietnam tend to portray communist and noncommunist organizations as mortal enemies of each other. Much of this represents a reading backwards of 1945–1954 hatreds, betrayals, and killings, applying that stance to an earlier era when political activists of varying ideological persuasions possessed similar educational backgrounds, interacted routinely, and sometimes were related to each other by blood or marriage. Organizations with different platforms shared information (selectively), signed public statements together, and formed and dissolved tactical coalitions without rancor. During 1924–1927 in southern China, Vietnamese of diverse anticolonial persuasions interacted with each other as well as with Chinese, Koreans, and other nationals. In the 1930s, a number of left-wing and centrist organizations inside Indochina joined in the push for fundamental reforms of the colonial system. Most remarkable of all was the 1933–1937 political alliance in Cochinchina between Comintern adherents (“Stalinists”) and members of the Fourth International (“Trotskyists”) During 1941–1944 in southern China, the ICP, Vietnam Nationalist Party, and Vietnam Revolutionary League participated in the same anti-Japanese front groups, occasionally denouncing someone to their mutual Chinese sponsors, but not kidnapping or killing each other. It was the competition for recruits, donations, and Chinese patronage that increased tensions between émigré organizations, more than ideological differences.
The 9 March 1945 Japanese coup compelled Vietnamese organizations across the political spectrum to reassess their behavior and prospects. Those organizations that had been particularly close to the French ceased to function, and their leaders took as low a profile as possible. Those persons who had worked for the Japanese, or been given Japanese protection against French arrest, proceeded to go public, form organizations, initiate newspapers, convene meetings and test the parameters of Japanese indulgence. Those organizations committed to the Allied cause tried to prepare for a possible American amphibious landing in Indochina or a Chinese ground invasion from the north, meanwhile condemning groups who collaborated with the Japanese. All anticolonial organizations took advantage of considerable confusion within the Indochina Sûreté as the result of French personnel being interned. As indicated earlier, the level of political violence increased by July, yet political leaders and public intellectuals of different propensities continued to meet, swap rumors, and talk of patriotic coalitions. The remainder of this chapter takes a roughly chronological approach, discussing opposition groups in the order that the DRV or ICP moved against them. By August 1946, with the notable exception of the Catholic Church, opposition had been crushed, neutered, or forced into exile.
Đại Việt Parties: Immediate Suppression
In May 1945, members of several Japanese-associated Đại Việt parties crossed into China to meet with Vietnam Nationalist Party leaders. This led to formation of the Đại Việt Quốc Dân Đảng, a coalition aimed particularly at coordinating domestic and émigré operations in the event of Chinese invasion of Indochina. This proved to be a disastrous strategic choice for the Nationalist Party, not because it necessarily compromised the organization in the eyes of Chinese Nationalist patrons, but because the agreement left Nationalist Party leaders content to rely on Đại Việt capacities inside Vietnam rather than infiltrate their own personnel, as the ICP had been doing for some time already. When Japan unexpectedly surrendered in mid-August, armed Đại Việt groups in Hanoi, Haiphong, and Hải Dương had to act entirely on their own, without help from armed Nationalist Party units across the frontier in Guangxi and Yunnan, who were waiting for Chinese authorization to enter Indochina.
Trương Tử Anh, the most effective Đại Việt leader, marched a unit of 250 men into Hanoi on the evening of 17 August, just as some royal government officials were trying to stiffen the resolve of Civil Guard and Security Service units to block an impending takeover by Việt Minh adherents. However, none of these elements offered resistance on the morning of 19 August when Việt Minh-led crowds moved on government buildings. That evening in Hanoi, a crisis meeting of Đại Việt and local Nationalist Party members failed to agree on a plan to mount an immediate countercoup. With provincial reinforcements held up by flooding of the Red River, this proposition soon faded, and Đại Việt units withdrew east and west of Hanoi to await developments. It was in this context that the DRV interim government outlawed the Đại Việt Quốc Dân Đảng on 5 September, aware that it could not ban the Nationalist Party without offending the Chinese military, whose first troop units reached Hanoi on 9 September. The ICP was also mindful that French officials were portraying the Việt Minh as a creation of the Japanese, hence there was utility in continuing to expose and punish alleged lackeys of the Japanese, as a way of reaffirming Allied credentials.
During September and October 1945, various DRV or Việt Minh organizations probably killed or detained several hundred alleged Đại Việt members. On 1 September, an armed Việt Minh unit attacked a Đại Việt Duy Tân group in Ninh Bình province, killing eight, capturing eleven, and collecting three firearms. Additional Đại Việt suspects were arrested in Ninh Bình in subsequent weeks, duly investigated, and reported to be all released by the end of October. Tuyên Quang province committee reported several Đại Việt groups active in early September, but their presence was of no consequence compared to the difficulties of dealing with Chinese troops pouring into the province. Thái Bình reported that a Đại Việt Quốc Gia organization which had caused trouble for Việt Minh adherents before 19 August had now broken up. Nonetheless, Đại Việt members were among many alleged traitors captured locally, and in some cases killed without authorization. In Phú Thọ, twenty-four Đại Việt members were arrested, with only four still detained as of late October. Meanwhile, the local Đại Việt organization was said to have disbanded. In Hưng Yên, Nguyễn Thị Trang Nghiêm was arrested on 1 December for passing out reactionary leaflets in a restaurant, and deported seventeen days later. Her father and sister were members of the Đại Việt Quốc Gia Liên Minh.
Trương Tử Anh managed to sustain a clandestine Đại Việt network despite police pursuit, while consistently warning Nationalist Party leaders against negotiating any power-sharing deal with the ICP. Throughout 1946 the Công An continued to chase Đại Việt adherents. On 8 March, for example, the husband of Bùi Thị Dịu was taken away by a militia team without explanation; her subsequent district-level inquiries and petitions to Hanoi were ignored. In May, Dịu’s husband was charged with being an active Đại Việt Duy Tân cadre and his case conveyed to the Hanoi Military Court. Even those persons suspected of Đại Việt affiliations but released had to face intense suspicion, ostracism, and possible rearrest. On the other hand, a few former colonial employees who had been sacked by the French for membership in the Đại Việt Dân Chính proceeded to apply to the DRV for reemployment and were accepted. Thus, Nguyễn Huy Thành, who had been fired in 1942 for trying to indoctrinate his colleagues at the Phúc Yên Résidence, was restored to government employment in September 1946.
Largely due to skilful Việt Minh propaganda, the term “Đại Việt” became a metaphor for crass collaboration with the Japanese occupier, in contrast to heroic Việt Minh endeavors to liberate the country from these “dwarf” (lùn) fascist imperialists. Prior to 9 March 1945, however, few Vietnamese had close relations with Japanese forces, and if the Việt Minh struggled with anyone it was the French. After 9 March, Vietnamese across the entire political spectrum— including some Việt Minh adherents— came into nonviolent contact with Japanese military and civilian personnel. As for the Việt Minh claim to have fought the Japanese, this vastly inflated a few ambushes in the northern hills. To heighten the myth of the Liberation Army combating the Imperial Japanese Army, it helped to present a despicable domestic deviation marked Đại Việt.
Trotskyists: The ICP’s “Left Opposition”
Soon after Đại Việt parties were banned, alleged Trotskyists faced denunciation as enemies of the DRV. Third International (ICP) and Fourth International adherents had long accused each other of serving imperialist interests. The dispute remained largely confined to periodicals, leaflets, and oratory until August 1945 in Saigon, where it quickly escalated to public confrontations over power, how to deal with the Allies, and whether class struggle should be encouraged or not. Meetings to form a southern Vietnam revolutionary united front degenerated into slanging matches, followed by press recriminations that widened the impact and made compromise less likely. The Fourth International “Struggle” group (La Lutte) and the International Communist League condemned the Việt Minh for putting any faith in the Allied powers, who all remained profoundly imperialist, hence certain to try to quash an independent Vietnam rather than recognize its right to exist. The obvious strategy, according to both Trotskyist groups, was to arm the masses and attack the first British and French units to arrive in the south, rather than attempt to negotiate some compromise while ever more enemy troops poured in. When Trần Văn Giàu, ICP leader and chair of the Southern Provisional Administrative Committee, met a French representative, the Trotskyists accused him of betraying the revolution, following which he denounced them as enemy provocateurs. Even so, when the first planeload of British personnel flew into Tân Sơn Nhứt airport on 6 September, the Southern Committee selected four Struggle members to be the welcoming delegation— and they accepted. Three days later Giàu stepped aside in favor of a nonparty lawyer, Phạm Văn Bạch, and several Trotskyists were invited to join an enlarged Southern Committee.
On 7– 8 September in the Mekong delta, however, some Trotskyists had apparently joined with followers of the charismatic Hòa Hảo leader, Huỳnh Phú Sổ, in a bloody, unsuccessful attack on Việt Minh adherents in Cần Thơ town. Dương Bạch Mai (ICP), the Southern Committee’s head of security, began incarcerating Trotskyists in the infamous Maison central prison in Saigon, where British troops found them on the night of 22 September and turned them over to the French. British-French attacks of that night sparked the call by Trần Văn Giàu for total armed struggle against imperialists and collaborators, sounding remarkably like the Trotskyists one month earlier. Trotskyists fought alongside other groups, and opposed the British-inspired ceasefire that lasted from 3 to 9 October (see chapter 4). During the mid-October general retreat from Saigon, ICP squads systematically tracked down and detained Trotskyists, subsequently killing at least two dozen leaders. Phan Văn Hùm, one of the most respected southern political figures from the 1930s, was executed aboard a train north of Phan Thiết, and his body dumped in a river. Other Trotskyists found refuge with armed Hòa Hảo and secular nationalist groups in the Mekong delta. This ICP decision to wipe out an entire Marxist anticolonial cohort in the south shocked politically alert Vietnamese throughout the country, and has remained a source of condemnation to this day.
In northern Vietnam, Fourth International adherents had never been as influential as in the south. During the Pacific War, several Trotskyists remained active in the Hàn Thuyên publishing group in Hanoi, where diverse leftist intellectuals continued to deliberate the merits of “permanent revolution” versus a “two-stage revolution.” Some miners, stevedores, and textile workers continued to favor Trotskyist arguments about class struggle and proletarian control of worksites. In August 1945, workers at Cẩm Phả northeast of Haiphong formed committees to operate the coal mines, railroad line, and telegraph system, but made no Fourth International claims. Lương Đức Thiệp, Trotskyist sympathizer, continued to publish booklets on materialism and petit bourgeois individualism. The status of China in the global imperialist struggle had been part of lively debates between the Third International and the Fourth International in the 1930s, yet no Trotskyists stepped forward now in the north to call for immediate armed resistance to impending Nationalist Chinese occupation, unlike the comparable situation with the British in Saigon. Nonetheless, ICP and Việt Minh newspapers in the north put Trotskyists on their list of dangerous adversaries to be rooted out and neutralized (see chapter 8).
Trotskyists were never the object of a DRV proscription edict. Instead, provincial people’s committees were ordered to report regularly on any Trostskyists uncovered and dealt with. In early September, the Haiphong People’s Committee reported “immediate suppression” of unspecified Trotskyists in the city. In October, Hưng Yên province told of ferreting out “Trotskyist reactionaries” in possession of copies of Chiến Đấu (Combat) newspaper, yet only two persons were arrested. Under the mandatory reporting category of “reactionaries,” Quảng Yên affirmed vaguely that “a couple of fledgling Trotskyists have been awakened (giác ngộ).” In October, Nguyễn Công Tính was arrested in Hà Đông as a “Fourth International Communist” and turned over to the Thái Nguyên security service, who took him to a Bắc Kạn deportation camp. In April 1946, his mother petitioned to be told of his whereabouts and disposition, but Bắc Kạn had no record of his existence. Hải Dương province reported that a Trotskyist group had been “smashed.” Two men were arrested in Hanoi in December, accused of being Trotskyists and deported to Bắc Kạn. Six months later they petitioned for release, admitting to “previously possessing Communist Forth International tendencies” of a political but nonviolent nature, and promising no future opposition to the government.
Minutes of a late November 1946 meeting of DRV Communications and Propaganda Bureau cadres state that among Vietnamese returning from France to Hải Dương province there were “some extreme Trotskyists active but with insignificant results.” Other than that one report, 1946 official files contain nothing further on Trotskyism. Either the government no longer included Trotskyists on its hit list, or localities had no more alleged Trotskyists to report under the category of “reactionaries.” In the press the Trotskyists epithet continued to appear, most often as a warning to employees who complained publicly about the failure of wages to keep up with rampant inflation, or who dared to push for workers’ control over enterprises. Interestingly, the 1930s leader of the Octoberist Fourth International group, Hồ Hữu Tường, was appointed to the Hanoi University Board of Trustees in December 1945, taught social sciences in the Faculty of Letters, and worked with Việt Minh-affiliated intellectuals in preparing for a national cultural congress.
Vietnam Revolutionary League: Divide and Dismantle
During much of World War II, the Vietnam Revolutionary League (Việt Nam Cách Mệnh Đồng Minh Hội) had served as umbrella under which anticolonial organizations in southern China obtained recognition and support from General Zhang Fakui, commander of the Fourth Army Area (Guangxi-Guangdong). From about May 1945, however, Hồ Chí Minh had chosen to conduct Việt Minh operations across the border in northern Tonkin without reference to the Revolutionary League, much to the irritation of General Xiao Wen, General Zhang’s subordinate responsible for Indochina affairs. General Xiao proceeded to enhance the status of Nguyễn Hải Thần, a sixty-seven-year old emigré nationalist respected for his early association with the revered Phan Bội Châu (1867– 1940). Hundreds of émigré Vietnamese clustered around Thần in expectation that he would lead them across the frontier together with Fourth Army area forces to attack the Japanese. However, when Japan suddenly capitulated to the Allies in mid-August 1945, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in Chungking decided to assign the job of occupying northern Indochina to Yunnan General Lu Han, rather than General Zhang. General Lu had no reason to favor the Guangxi-based Revolutionary League over the Vietnam Nationalist Party or the Việt Minh, although he did accept General Xiao to his occupation staff.
By 20 August 1945, Revolutionary League units could be found with advance Chinese units crossing into Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn provinces. Indeed, one Revolutionary League unit popped up that day, eighty-five kilometers south of the frontier, in Tuyên Quang province. On 1 September, a substantial Revolutionary League group accompanying Chinese troops into the coastal town of Móng Cái announced a “National Provisional Government of Vietnam,” headed by Nguyễn Hải Thần. Twelve days later the Revolutionary League unit in Lạng Sơn informed Hanoi that its banner was recognized by the Chinese government and the Allies as “the flag of all Vietnamese revolutionary parties.” It even provided a drawing of the Revolutionary League flag: horizontal white and blue stripes in the upper left corner on a red field. As Chinese troops trudged in the direction of Hanoi and Haiphong, division commanders instructed Revolutionary League cadres to leave civil affairs teams at each town en route, which made it impossible for Thần to concentrate his forces for political effect. When Thần made it to Hanoi on 16 September, he had only a modest guard element and probably little idea of what to expect.
On 30 September, Nguyễn Hải Thần led a large Revolutionary League delegation to meet General Xiao Wen to try to discuss removal of the DRV provisional government and suppression of the ICP. According to a DRV police informant, Hsiao asked the Revolutionary League group sarcastically how many soldiers and firearms they possessed to accomplish the overthrow, and chided them for assuming that communists had to be eliminated rather than accepted as part of a national united front (Guomindang-CCP talks were then underway in Chongqing). Xiao’s deprecating remarks must have infuriated Thần, yet he was in no position to break with the Chinese. Thần was further embarrassed in late October when seven of his Revolutionary League subordinates signed with five Việt Minh members a “unity procedure” (Biện pháp đoàn kết), which upheld “common struggle against French aggression in order to defend the liberty and independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” One Revolutionary League endorser of the “unity procedure,” Trương Trung Phụng, was kidnapped by the Nationalist Party on 25 November, but released sixteen days later. Another Revolutionary League endorser, Đinh Trương Dương, accepted a DRV mission to travel to central Vietnam. However, several other League endorsers abrogated their involvement within days, and Thần publicly denounced the role of the ICP in the DRV. In Hanoi, a series of violent street clashes between Revolutionary League and Việt Minh adherents shocked the public and taxed the patience of Chinese commanders.
As General Xiao Wen stepped up pressure on all parties to form a government of national union, Hồ Chí Minh found it tactically expedient to cultivate Nguyễn Hải Thần at the expense of Nationalist Party leaders. Thần could harken back to his comradeship with Phan Bội Châu and cite his lifelong refusal to collaborate with the French colonialists. Chinese leaders from Generalissimo Chiang downward showed public respect for Thần, although Vietnamese sometimes mocked him for having lost the ability to speak his native language properly. Thần demonstrated little capacity to build a domestic power base, which made him a suitable vice president in Hồ’s eyes. Việt Minh activists played on divisions inside the Revolutionary League, much to the irritation of the Nationalist Party.
While Việt Minh, Nationalist Party, and Revolutionary League leaders shook hands and haggled over legal definitions, ministerial appointments, and joint pronouncements, a bitter struggle persisted between newspaper editors, recruiters, fundraisers, and armed enforcers. The DRV Ministry of Information and Propaganda planted in various newspapers fictitious letters to the editor that criticized Nguyễn Hải Thần for not contributing Revolutionary League personnel to fight in the south, and accused him of making deals with the French. Newspapers routinely accused opponents of rank extortion of vulnerable citizens. The DRV police repeatedly arrested Revolutionary League members for alleged shakedowns, especially of overseas Chinese. Việt Minh and Revolutionary League adherents tore down each other’s posters, made physical threats, and sometimes broke up opponents’ meetings. Bồ Xuân Luật, a Revolutionary League cadre who had parted company with Nguyễn Hải Thần, was encouraged by DRV leaders to start his own newspaper. Ten days later in downtown Hanoi, Luật was ambushed by two carloads of armed men, and was lucky to escape with only two bullet wounds. His Đồng Minh (Alliance) newspaper continued to publish until November 1946.
Revolutionary League units in towns from the Chinese border down to the Red River delta had no difficulty holding their positions, at least until Chinese forces began withdrawing starting in April 1946. Local teachers, civil servants, and police officers had to decide whether to show loyalty to the Revolutionary League, to attempt neutrality, or to withdraw from town. A late 1945 Hanoi Education Department report on four provinces stated that some school buildings had been occupied by Chinese troops, while other schools had discontinued classes due to “bothering” of teachers, students, and local citizens by Revolutionary League members. The Revolutionary League occasionally had to extend de facto recognition to DRV authorities, as when it requested government permission to purchase and transport twenty tons of salt.
As part of the tripartite accord reached 23 December 1945, Nguyễn Hải Thần was designated DRV vice president in a provisional coalition government duly announced to the public on 1 January 1946, five days before the national elections. Following on the 23 December agreement, twenty Revolutionary League members were made deputies to the National Assembly by executive order. They were not assigned to geographical locations as regular National Assembly candidates were. Several other Revolutionary League members chose to stand for election. Hồ Đắc Thành made sure that his personal details were published together with those of other candidates in Nam Định, and was duly elected to the National Assembly from that province. Bồ Xuân Luật won election from Hưng Yên province and soon was made DRV vice minister of agriculture. When the National Assembly convened at the Hanoi Opera House on 2 March 1946, Hồ Chí Minh had to inform deputies that Nguyễn Hải Thần was “unwell” and unable to attend. Nominating a government Cabinet to the Assembly, Hồ by prior arrangement proposed Thần as vice president and another Revolutionary League member, Trương Đình Tri, as minister of society (which would include health, welfare and labor), characterizing Dr. Tri as a “well-known specialist in the medical field.”
Hovering over everyone in the first days of March, however, were the critical, highly-charged negotiations between the DRV, France, and China. Revolutionary League members must have been shaken on hearing of the 28 February Sino-French agreement, by which Chungking accepted imminent French return to northern Indochina and withdrawal of Chinese forces. Hồ may have sought Nguyễn Hải Thần’s participation in discussions with the Chinese and French, and he certainly tried to gain Thần’s cosignature to the 6 March Preliminary Accord, but Thần was nowhere to be found, having already departed Hanoi several days prior.
Overshadowed by the Nationalist Party, and increasingly bedeviled by internal disputes, the Revolutionary League lost coherence during March 1946. Some members focused on defending towns north of Hanoi, others switched over to the Nationalist Party, and still others accepted de facto subordination to the Việt Minh. Some of the attacks on French soldiers in April, particularly those in Haiphong, may have been the work of Revolutionary League members. In late April, French forces exhumed twelve bodies from the basement of the former Revolutionary League headquarters in Hanoi, including two French nationals who had disappeared on 24 December 1945. Hoàng Cừ, a prominent journalist affiliated with the Revolutionary League, was arrested on charges of illegal transport of one hundred tons of salt and sentenced to ten years’ hard labor. The DRV negotiated with a Revolutionary League leader in Lạng Sơn, then drove him across the Chinese frontier in June, only to be compelled to share Lạng Sơn town with the French from 8 July. Revolutionary League adherents in Quảng Yên and Móng Cái appear to have withdrawn across the border in mid-June, along with departing Chinese troops. Hồ Đắc Thành, Revolutionary League deputy from Nam Định, was listed in late May as member of the ICP-inspired broader united front, the Vietnam National Alliance (Hội Liên Hiệp Quốc Dân Việt Nam). The Đồng Minh newspaper reported meetings of remaining Revolutionary League branches, and the participation of some League members in the second session of the National Assembly in late October. The police screened documents captured from the Revolutionary League and called in members for interrogation. Henceforth a few compliant League members would help government authorities to project a national front image, while others faced incarceration or flight.
Vietnam Nationalist Party: No Holds Barred
The Nationalist Party group led by Lê Khang that departed Hanoi immediately following Việt Minh seizure of power on 19 August 1945 made its way fifty kilometers northwest to the town of Vĩnh Yên. There the group was greeted by Đỗ Đình Đạo, energetic head of a local youth organization. Together they organized a demonstration of townsfolk that convinced members of the Vĩnh Yên Civil Guard post to join up. Lê Khang did not choose Vĩnh Yên randomly: it was positioned along the Lào Cai– Hanoi rail line that Chinese troops from Yunnan and Nationalist Party exiles would employ to enter Tonkin.
On 29 August, several thousand people from three adjacent rural districts approached Nationalist Party positions at Vĩnh Yên, waving Việt Minh flags and proposing to conduct a “solidarity” demonstration through the town. After being refused, the crowd nonetheless edged closer and some rifle-toting members opened fire. The Nationalists replied with automatic rifles, killing an unknown number, capturing about 150, and causing other panic-stricken demonstrators to drown in the nearby river. Most of the prisoners were released after listening to a Nationalist lecture and agreeing they had been duped into joining the march. In following weeks, opposing leaders exchanged letters concerning prisoner releases, the authority of individuals to parley, and proposals regarding joint local administration. A Việt Minh blockade of food to the town made life difficult. On 18 September a prominent Democratic Party member, Hoàng Văn Đức, arrived from Hanoi with DRV credentials to negotiate. Lê Khang decided instead to launch an attack on Phúc Yên that failed. DRV Liberation Army units then tried unsuccessfully to capture Vĩnh Yên, after which a de facto ceasefire held for several months. The Nationalists do not appear to have contested Việt Minh ascendancy in the countryside, except for occupying Tam Lộng plantation in Vĩnh Yên province. A substantial Việt Minh assault on Tam Lộng was repulsed in early December.
On the Chinese side of the frontier with Tonkin, Nationalist Party and Việt Minh activists alike proselytized among thirty-two hundred native members of French colonial units that had fled to Yunnan following the 9 March 1945 Japanese coup. Both sides had much more success among the two thousand or so Kinh soldiers than among the ethnic minority elements. In September, Nationalists struck a covert agreement with Captain Nguyễn Duy Viên, whereby his Kinh company of tirailleurs would come over to their side en masse at the appropriate moment. However, Nationalist cadres in Kunming suspected Captain Viên (known as Ba Viên for his three officer stripes) as a French double-agent, whose unit would be ordered to eliminate Nationalists after entering Tonkin. During the first week of November, Viên marched his company almost two hundred kilometers from Mengzi to the Hà Giang province seat, where Nationalists met him enthusiastically. Deserters from other colonial units gravitated to Hà Giang town as well, until Captain Viên could claim four hundred men under his command. However, the bad blood between Nationalist and Việt Minh activists was obvious to at least one ordinary citizen, who felt compelled to dispatch a letter to Hanoi pleading for a government plenipotentiary to come and convince everyone to focus on resisting the foreigner. After traveling to Hanoi and meeting Hồ Chí Minh, Viên returned to Hà Giang, began arresting Nationalists, and later executed some prisoners in the nearby hills. On Christmas Day, Viên’s unit was enrolled to the DRV National Guard. In April 1946, a Nationalist hit team located Viên in Hanoi, shooting him fatally as he left a restaurant.
ICP leaders judged that the Vietnam Nationalist Party posed a more substantial challenge to them than the Đại Việt parties, Trotkskyists, and the Revolutionary League put together. Despite ICP efforts to convince the public that current Nationalist Party leaders had betrayed the noble legacy of Nguyễn Thái Học and other martyrs of 1930, many citizens kept an open mind in late 1945. Besides the units accompanying Chinese forces down the Red River corridor in late September, active Nationalist cells existed in the Indochina Railway Company, the PTT, and at the Cité Universitaire in Hanoi. There were also Nationalist Party veterans recently released from prison, and Đại Việt members eager to affiliate. Nguyễn Tường Tam (Nhất Linh), Vietnam’s best known creative writer, editor, and publisher from the 1930s, had the potential to mount a Nationalist Party print media campaign to rival Việt Minh efforts.
In early September 1945, Vũ Hồng Khanh, head of the Nationalist Party organization based in Yunnan, tried unsuccessfully to gain a seat on a Chinese airplane flying into Hanoi, then was prevented by the Chinese commander at Lào Cai from traveling in by road. After his comrade Nghiêm Kế Tổ lobbied Guomindang contacts in Chongqing, Khanh finally arrived in Hanoi 20 October. In his absence a group more willing to identify with the DRV had created a Mobilization Committee to Reorganize the Vietnam Nationalist Party, which Khanh deliberately ignored. Nguyễn Tường Tam chose to remain in Kunming and Chongqing during all of late 1945, trying unsuccessfully to obtain further Chinese and American assistance. Tam’s media talents were sorely missed in Hanoi, although his close colleague Trần Khánh Giư (Khái Hưng) edited Việt Nam, the principal Nationalist Party newspaper.
First published on 15 November 1945, Việt Nam rapidly became the most effective paper opposing the ICP and Việt Minh. Splashed across page one of the first edition was a Nationalist Party declaration which harkened back to the heroic 1930 sacrifices of Nguyễn Thái Học and his comrades, accused Hồ Chí Minh of betraying the 1942–45 united front by taking power unilaterally in August, and claimed that the Nationalist Party could have overthrown the new regime but chose not to in deference to the higher national interest. The Việt Minh had then pursued a mistaken, ineffective policy, losing foreign friends because of its extremism, terrorizing other Vietnamese parties, failing to deal with desperate economic conditions, and passively accepting enemy invasion of the south. The immediate need, according to the Nationalist Party, was for all parties to set aside parochial concerns, form a legitimate government of national union, and mobilize the entire populace to escape slavery and achieve real independence. An article accompanying the declaration urged “revolutionary brothers” in the Việt Minh to acknowledge that their leaders had taken the country down a dangerous road and had used them for selfish, power-hungry purposes.
For the next six weeks Việt Nam editors never employed the name “Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” except sarcastically or in quotation marks, and they repeatedly rejected the Việt Minh flag and anthem as national symbols. They accused Hồ Chí Minh of being a dictator, referred to the “fascist Hồ Chí Minh gang,” and featured a number of disparaging cartoons of Hồ. However, Việt Nam’s prime target was the Tổng Bộ Việt Minh, which it routinely labeled fascist for allegedly spreading lies, extorting money, kidnapping opponents, and launching armed assaults on Nationalist Party bureaus. Việt Nam traded vitriolic attacks with Cứu Quốc (National Salvation), the Việt Minh’s leading daily. It had less to say about the DRV state, except for regularly condemning the Security Service and the Ministry of Information and Propaganda headed by Trần Huy Liệu.
Stories from the provinces soon increased in Việt Nam, particularly news that denounced the actions of local Việt Minh groups and people’s committees. Việt Nam complained often about local authorities seizing copies of its paper. From DRV archival records we know this happened routinely, and indeed individuals sometimes faced arrest for merely possessing a copy of Việt Nam. Nonetheless, copies of Việt Nam appeared to circulate widely, facilitated by Nationalist Party members or sympathizers inside the PTT and the Indochina Railroad.
Mutual distrust, even outright animosity, did not preclude Việt Minh and Nationalist Party representatives from meeting with each other to discuss differences and even put their names to tactical accords. What remains unclear is whether leaders on either side wanted to achieve a working coalition or were simply going through the motions to avoid Chinese retribution. Already on 29 September, Nguyễn Lương Bằng(Việt Minh) and Chu Bá Phượng (Nationalist Party) agreed to halt violent altercations, release detainees, and cease condemning each other in public. 164 On 19 November, Hồ Chí Minh, Vũ Hồng Khanh, and Nguyễn Hải Thần signed a list of “High Common Principles” intended to guide negotiations towards a “unanimous government” as well as achieve a single army, the ending of interparty struggles, and elimination of “French colonial cabals” that threatened Vietnam’s complete independence. On 24 November, the Nationalist Party convened a public meeting in front of its Hanoi headquarters at which speakers from both sides seemed to avoid the ad hominem recriminations found in opposing newspapers. At the end of this meeting, the same three leaders signed a brief memorandum in which the “two sides” promised to stop attacks on one another, to push for unity, and to support the armed resistance in the south.
Within days, however, Cứu Quốc editors were taking the 24 November joint memorandum to mean affirmation of an already existing government of national union, to which the Nationalist Party immediately took strong exception. Hồ Chí Minh also hardened his position, informing Nguyễn Hải Thần and Vũ Hồng Khanh publicly that unity was already achieved, national elections would proceed in three weeks, and there was no need for prior reshuffling of the government. The editors of Việt Nam now accused Hồ of lacking the qualities of a Confucian gentleman (quân tử), and, together with his communist comrades, employing “terrorist and dictatorial policies.”
With both sides refusing to budge, General Xiao Wen and other Chinese officers took a more direct role in deliberations. On 25 December, Hồ conceded formation of a new provisional government of national union prior to convening of the national assembly and accepted a two-week postponement of the elections. On the other side, Vũ Hồng Khanh and Nguyễn Hải Thần accepted Hồ as continuing provisional president, agreed to leave determination of the national flag and emblem (quốc huy) to the national assembly, and failed in their bid to gain immediate access to the national army’s command or general staff structure. The Nationalist Party was allocated fifty seats and the Revolutionary League twenty seats in the upcoming National Assembly, without members having to stand for election. Although outwardly a Việt Minh concession, this provision affirmed in many people’s minds the inability of the opposition to compete for support at the local level. In a clearcut sign of Chinese arbitration, the Chinese language text of the 23 December accord was declared legally binding. Clause 13 of the agreement was not published, probably because it referred to Chinese action in the event of violations. The text did not once mention the name of the country under discussion, since the Nationalist Party had yet to accept the designation “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”
The 23 December 1945 accord also specified a formula for ten ministerial appointments: two Việt Minh, two Democratic Party [also Việt Minh], two Nationalist Party, two Revolutionary League, and two nonparty. However, the Cabinet announced on 1 January 1946 contained fourteen ministers and two deputy ministers, an indication that bargaining was still underway and not likely to be resolved before the 6 January elections to the National Assembly. 169 Hồ Chí Minh was in no hurry to convene the 1 January 1946 Cabinet. The arrival from Chungking of Nguyễn Tường Tam and Nghiêm Kế Tổ on 20 January, both presumably well-informed on the progress of Sino-French negotiations, must have provoked intense discussion within the Nationalist Party about what to do in the event of Chinese troop withdrawals from northern Indochina. At Lai Châu in February, Nationalist Party and DRV National Guard units skirmished separately with the French, the former eventually retreating to Lào Cai, the latter to Sơn La. On 10 February in Hanoi, the Nationalist Party organized the first public commemoration of the 1930 Yên Bái uprising, with a large crowd attending. In Haiphong, however, the commemoration became divisive when some in the audience protested the absence of any red flag with yellow star.
Following the 23 December 1945 accord, central leaders on both sides had dispatched orders to lower echelons to halt physical and verbal attacks on opponents. Some recipients were perplexed. For example, the Hòa Bình province committee reported that ethnic Mường leaders who had been helping to break up Nationalist Party activities now once again expressed doubts about DRV administration. Others, increasingly mindful of the French military threat, supported an end to fratricide. Few were willing to discuss organizational mergers or combined operations, but for the moment each side stopped looking for a fight. Local Chinese commanders sometimes mediated. General Wang, based in Phú Thọ town, brought the two sides together to discuss joint administration, though the discussion was broken off by a shootout in the marketplace. Aggrieved townsfolk now petitioned President Hồ Chí Minh, complaining that both sides had taken many hostages, commerce had collapsed, and neither side was listening to town elders. General Wang apparently facilitated an uneasy truce, which somehow lasted four months.
From mid-February 1946, knowledge of the Sino-French negotiations, the threat of French invasion of the north, and talks between Hồ Chí Minh and Jean Sainteny all served to heighten political anxieties and rekindle verbal hostilities. One nonparty paper chastised both Việt Namand Cứu Quốc, saying that their attacks on each other exceeded the bounds of civility and ignored the fact that foreigners too were reading the press. An editorial titled “Who Is Reactionary?” condemned both the Nationalist Party and the Việt Minh for tossing the reactionary epithet around constantly, causing the public much anxiety and jeopardizing preparations to fight the French invaders. A new twist was added when a crowd showed up at Bảo Đại’s residence on 20 February, carrying imperial yellow flags and banners inscribed “Support President Vĩnh Thụy,” “Down with Pro-French Policy,” and “The Fatherland Is in Danger.” Three elders were allowed in to urge Bảo Đại to head the new government in place of Hồ Chí Minh. Chinese military police prevented DRV Security Service personnel from forcibly breaking up the crowd. The Việt Minh accused the Nationalist Party of organizing the demonstration.
Now realizing that French forces were coming to the north one way or another, Hồ Chí Minh moved to resolve disputes with the opposition over Cabinet appointments and convening of the National Assembly. He acceded to the Nationalist Party’s longstanding requirement that two of the most prominent communists, Võ Nguyên Giáp and Trần Huy Liệu, be excluded from the Cabinet. A joint conference met repeatedly to try to reach agreement on two questions: who among nonparty or neutral Vietnamese would take up the two key portfolios of defense and interior; and how would authority be shared over the National Guard? From the beginning, Phan Anh appeared the likely choice as defense minister, which is rather surprising given his brother’s Việt Minh affiliation. Perhaps Nationalist Party leaders, familiar with Phan Anh’s credentials as unflinching defense lawyer and energetic minister of youth in the brief Trần Trọng Kim Cabinet, hoped he would resist Việt Minh efforts to monopolize National Guard high command and general staff positions. If so, they soon would be disappointed.
The joint conference considered at least four persons for the interior portfolio: Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, widely respected editor and publisher in Huế; Trần Đình Nam, physician, writer, and minister of interior in the Trần Trọng Kim government; Ngô Đình Diệm, former mandarin and lay Catholic political leader; and Bùi Bằng Đoàn, former mandarin and current head of the DRV investigation commission. It seems that Diệm was set aside due to his well-known anticommunist sentiments, while Đoàn was seen as too close to the Việt Minh. As of 27 February, Nam appeared to be the consensus candidate. However, Hồ Chí Minh decided to apply all his powers of persuasion on Kháng, dispatching emissaries and telegrams to Huế, and refusing to take no for an answer. Kháng reluctantly accepted and was escorted urgently to Hanoi in time for opening of the National Assembly on 2 March. Given Kháng’s national reputation, no one could oppose his appointment once he was prepared to serve.
The question of authority over the National Guard was dealt with by formation of a nine-person Resistance Committee (Kháng Chiến Ủy Viên Hội) that apparently was meant to report to the National Assembly rather than to the president or Cabinet. Remarkably, the Nationalist Party accepted Võ Nguyên Giáp to chair this potentially powerful body, despite having denounced him vehemently for months. Vũ Hồng Khanh was made deputy chair of the Resistance Committee, although he could not have been optimistic about exercising much authority. Perhaps he hoped to insert some Nationalist Party cadres with Chinese Army experience within the General Staff of the National Guard, and to insure that his armed units remained intact if formally integrated to the National Guard. Acutely aware that French forces might arrive soon, and that the 28 February Sino-French agreement had thrown his relations with Chinese officials into question, Khanh was in no position to demand chairmanship of the Resistance Committee.
The two principal Nationalist Party leaders, Nguyễn Tường Tam and Vũ Hồng Khanh, appear to have been left out of the hectic trilateral negotiations of 3– 6 March 1946 between the DRV, France, and China. As foreign minister in the new DRV Cabinet, Tam should have been at Hồ’s side during key meetings with French and then Chinese officials, yet either Hồ chose to continue negotiating alone, or Tam knew enough about the terms not to want to be party to them. Tam was not present at the Cabinet meeting where Hồ secured agreement to the final text hammered out with Jean Sainteny. He did attend the formal signing ceremony on 6 March, yet still avoided putting his signature on the document. That onerous act fell to Khanh, presumably under Chinese pressure. Attending the Cabinet meeting in his capacity as deputy chair of the Resistance Committee, Khanh reluctantly agreed to sign the accord along with Hồ. Khanh even agreed to join Hồ and Võ Nguyên Giáp in addressing the perplexed crowd in front of the Hanoi Opera House on 7 March, where he said nothing to contradict the other two speakers (see chapter 4).
Many Nationalist Party members were furious at Vũ Hồng Khanh for signing the 6 March Franco-Vietnamese Accord together with Hồ Chí Minh. Students at the Nguyễn Thái Học cadre school in the Hanoi suburbs walked out of classes in protest, and accompanied their principal to party headquarters to interrogate Khanh. At an urgent meeting of the party’s central executive committee, some members called Khanh a dictator for taking such an important decision without prior deliberation. Away from Hanoi, some party branches moved to break with the central leadership and mount popular opposition to government collaboration with the foreign enemy. The central executive committee dispatched Lê Khang, one of its most respected members, to localities to try to explain the political circumstances and restore discipline.
In retrospect, early March 1946 was the last opportunity for the Nationalist Party to challenge the ICP and Việt Minh for leadership of the anti-French resistance. If Nguyễn Tường Tam and Vũ Hồng Khanh had used the 2 March opening of the National Assembly to denounce the Hồ Chí Minh– Sainteny negotiations and call for immediate armed struggle, the Franco-Vietnamese talks might have collapsed. If Hồ and Sainteny had still proceeded with the preliminary convention despite public Nationalist Party condemnation, the National Guard might have fractured, as there already was considerable internal opposition to conceding anything significant to the French. The one thing that prevented the Nationalist Party from taking this course of action was opposition from the Chinese occupation command, which was keen to avoid becoming embroiled in Franco-Vietnamese armed conflict, and was indeed pushing both Hồ and Sainteny towards a compromise. Tam and Khanh would have needed suddenly to risk their Chinese connections and, probably, face Chinese retaliation, while trying to put together and lead a new Vietnamese united front against the French. Instead, they chose to remain within the DRV government and look for opportunities down the road— which never came.
Immediately after signing the 6 March Accord, Hồ Chí Minh secured DRV Cabinet approval to dispatch an official delegation to Chongqing to reaffirm Sino-Vietnamese friendship and in particular gain a better view of how Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek expected relations to develop following the 28 February Sino-French agreement. Nghiêm Kế Tổ, a Nationalist Party member with extensive connections in China, and currently DRV deputy foreign minister under Nguyễn Tường Tam, was designated to head the delegation, accompanied by two Việt Minh members. The night before these three were due to depart, Hồ suddenly urged Supreme Advisor Vĩnh Thụy (Bảo Đại) to accompany them. Initially both Bảo Đại and Tổ opposed this idea, but following an urgent meeting with Tam and Vũ Hồng Khanh they changed their minds. On 18 March— the same day General Leclerc and his armored column arrived in Hanoi from Haiphong— the delegation plus Bảo Đại flew to Kunming on a Chinese plane. It seems clear that Hồ wanted to preclude General Leclerc trying to recruit Bảo Đại, while Nationalist Party leaders saw the possibility of Bảo Đại becoming part of an alternative Vietnamese government supported by China and perhaps the United States. Bảo Đại was granted an audience and banquet by Generalissimo Chiang, and remained in Chongqing when the DRV delegation returned to Hanoi on 13 April. Two months later he moved to Hong Kong as an ostensible tourist, living in unaccustomed spartan conditions until other Vietnamese exiles joined him in 1947.
Nguyễn Tường Tam took his job as DRV foreign minister seriously, even though Hồ Chí Minh continued to monopolize contacts with French officials and rely mostly on Hoàng Minh Giám for assistance. As we have seen, Tam headed the DRV delegation to Dalat for the first in-depth talks with the French. Although Võ Nguyên Giáp possessed de facto delegation leadership, Tam proved an able spokesperson, and helped to resolve several disputes over negotiating tactics within the delegation. Yet a few weeks later, Tam chose to flee to China rather than head the DRV negotiating delegation leaving Hanoi for Paris. Assuming that Tam’s remarks to the delegation in Dalat about solidarity in the face of French threats had been genuine, something must have changed his mind after returning to the capital. I suspect it was the 29 May circulation of a document foreshadowing establishment of a new Vietnam National Alliance, which put the Vietnam Nationalist Party under the same political umbrella as the Việt Minh. Tam was listed as a founding member of the new Alliance, but most likely the ICP instigators put his name down preemptively, and Tam decided that further attempts at coalition government were futile. On 31 May, newspapers announced that Tam was not going to Paris due to “extreme tiredness.” Rumors circulated that Tam had absconded with a large quantity of cash meant for delegation expenses in France. It seems highly unlikely, however, that Tam would have been given this particular responsibility.
Tightening the Screws
Meanwhile, suspicions and animosities festered between Việt Minh and Nationalist Party groups in provinces north of the capital. In April, a member of the Northern Region Committee traveled up the Hanoi– Lào Cai railway to sign “unity agreements” with Nationalist representatives at four provincial towns, aimed at forming mutually acceptable DRV administrative committees. The dense bureaucratic verbiage of these texts betrays underlying tensions and lack of trust, however. In early May, the Northern Committee cautioned the Bắc Giang provincial committee to be more flexible with Nationalist Party members, to “maintain an attitude of unity,” and to prepare contingency plans to “avoid unusual activities taking place.” During this period, Trần Đăng Ninh, ICP security chief, visited Vĩnh Yên under the pretext of discussing dike repairs and was detained by Vũ Hồng Khanh. Ninh and two comrades managed to flee or were allowed to escape, but their experience was used to argue for repressing the Nationalists. In mid-May, the Interior Ministry ordered all public servants currently working in seven province towns north and northwest of Hanoi to evacuate and join alternative committees being formed in new locations. Those who failed to evacuate would be regarded as having lost their status as government employees.
National Guard units patrolled more aggressively around Nationalist Party positions from early May. As Chinese troops withdrew up the railway towards Yunnan, local Việt Minh militia moved to isolate the Nationalist-held towns. During skirmishes around Phú Thọ on 20 May, Nationalists captured and executed a group of Việt Minh adherents, floating some of the bodies down the Red River by way of warning. From 18 June, the National Guard launched a sustained two-pronged attack on Phú Thọ and Việt Trì. Both sides employed machine guns and occasional mortar fire. Nationalists at Phú Thọ ran out of ammunition after four days and were forced to flee upriver. Vũ Hồng Khanh led the defense of Việt Trì with 350 men, including 120 cadets from the Yên Bái military school. After nine days of combat, hearing that Phú Thọ had fallen and comrades at Vĩnh Yên were negotiating terms with the enemy, Khanh and most of his men slipped out of Việt Trì at night and made their way northwest to Yên Bái. Throughout May and June, Việt Nam, the Nationalist Party organ in Hanoi, published increasingly plaintive calls for DRV National Guard members to stop attacking compatriots.
In stark contrast to Phú Thọ and Việt Trì, the Nationalist Party leader at Vĩnh Yên, Đỗ Đình Đạo, opened discussions with Việt Minh representatives in mid-June, and both sides found reason to sustain a ceasefire for two months. Đạo eventually agreed to establishment of a joint Vĩnh Yên administrative committee, and accepted terms for integration of his armed contingent within the National Guard. Huỳnh Thúc Kháng issued a unification decree in his capacity as acting DRV president. The political officer of Military Region 1 presided over a ceremony that formally accepted the “Nationalist Army” (Quốc Dân Quân) into the DRV National Guard. Nationalist units were then split up and dispatched to National Guard battalions elsewhere. Đạo and his deputy, Lê Thanh, moved to Hanoi.
In Hanoi at the end of June, Nationalist Party members debated whether to submit to Việt Minh hegemony, to flee towards the border, or try to mount a coup against the DRV central government. Trương Tử Anh, head of the clandestine Đại Việt group affiliated with the Nationalists, made the case for an uprising, possibly beginning with an attack on French soldiers to sow confusion. Also in late June, Võ Nguyên Giáp asked the acting French commander in Tonkin, Colonel Jean Crépin, what the French attitude would be in the event of the DRV escalating operations against the Nationalist Party and Revolutionary League. Crépin replied that French forces “would not interfere in such an internal affair.” As the National Guard had already been on the attack for several weeks in the northwest corridor, both Giáp and Crépin probably had Hanoi city in mind. When the French then mooted plans for a military parade around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, to take place on Bastille Day, 14 July, DRV security services worried this might make a tempting target for antigovernment elements. In the early hours of 12 July, the Công An raided one building and allegedly uncovered a plan signed by Trương Tử Anh to toss grenades into the black African contingent of the French Army’s Bastille Day parade, after which Đại Việt or French units would seize ICP and DRV leaders, and Anh would proclaim a new Vietnamese government. Lê Giản, the Công An head, took this document to Acting President Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, who allegedly put on his glasses, read several passages, banged his cane on the floor, and exclaimed, “Destroy them! Wipe out the entire gang! Traitors! Sons of bitches (Đồ chó má).” Lê Giản then located Giáp, who gave the order to attack Nationalist Party offices in both Hanoi and the provinces.
Beginning at seven in the morning on 12 July, the Công An, supported by Việt Minh militia, surrounded seven additional buildings in Hanoi. In several cases they were met with automatic weapons fire and proceeded to rain grenades down from surrounding roofs before the occupants surrendered. More than one hundred people were taken away, some never to be seen again. At a house on 7 Ôn Như Hầu Street, police ostensibly found one bound prisoner, a room containing implements of torture, and seven corpses poorly buried in the back yard. As word spread of the corpses, hundreds of people surged onto the premises without police objection— ogling the scene, crying out, or loudly condemning the perpetrators. The authorities briefed journalists, and soon all the raids were being summarized as the “Ôn Như Hầu Affair.” In distant Huế, a Việt Minh newspaper headlined: ‘Nest of Kidnappers, Extortionists, and Murderers Destroyed.” Hanoi’s Democratic Party paper, Độc Lập, splashed “Công An Locates and Captures Terrorist Nests” across the top, then asserted that police had acted on intelligence about a plot to oppose the government, conduct assassinations, sell out the country, and use extremist slogans to deceive the populace. Police had discovered a printing press, “rebellious leaflets,” counterfeit money, firearms, and some individuals being held for ransom. Culprits had been arrested and were being questioned. ```Probably under orders from the censors, the Nationalist Party was not named in these early articles.
The “Ôn Như Hầu Affair” has never been subjected to serious historical investigation. Lê Giản’s insider account leads one to ask if the Công An and some senior ICP leaders wanted to use evidence that Trương Tử Anh was plotting a coup as a pretext to assault and clean up the entire Nationalist Party, thus finessing further French discussions with domestic third parties and increasing ICP control over the government administration and the National Guard. The key document purportedly shown to Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, detailing the attack on the Bastille Day parade, is admitted by Lê Giản to be a “handwritten draft” by Trương Tử Anh, for use within his Đại Việt organization alone. Lê Giản offers no evidence of French collusion in a prospective 14 July coup, other than Sainteny’s continuing insistence on a military parade. If the French had decided to mount a coup (a move they had considered and deferred on numerous prior occasions), there is no reason they would have relied on Trương Tử Anh to provide the trigger, much less give him any chance to form a government. The Công An deliberately fudged demarcations between Anh’s Đại Việt clandestine organization and groups previously led by Vũ Hồng Khanh and Nguyễn Tường Tam when it targeted the Việt Nam newspaper office and other Nationalist Party venues. It is possible that Nationalist cadres had wind of trouble three days before, when the party’s central headquarters revealed that its official seal and one belonging to Khanh had been lost. “Concerned that someone will use them improperly, we declare them no longer valid,” the party announcement concluded. Following the Công An attacks and jailings, someone in authority tried to limit public condemnations of the Nationalist Party, so that for purposes of united front propaganda the party could be said to remain within the fold. However, the damage had been done and, except for a few figurehead individuals, every citizen in the DRV henceforth dreaded being identified with the Nationalist Party. “Việt Quốc” became synonymous with treason.
On 20 July, the Northern Committee— without once mentioning the Nationalist Party— informed all provinces that the police recently had uncovered serious criminal behavior, including extortion, kidnapping, and counterfeiting, which had to be investigated and prosecuted. The committee specifically instructed local authorities to stop arrests and detentions from degenerating into “terror” (khủng bố). Local administrative committees now had the green light to detain known or suspected Nationalist Party members, while being cautioned about witchhunts and summary punishments. From available sources it appears that thousands of persons were questioned in the following months, hundreds were imprisoned or sent to deportation camps, and several hundred others dismissed from the public service. Staff of the “political offices” in province-level Công An bureaus subjected suspects to harsh questioning, secured signed statements, and then made recommendations to the province administrative committee for release, trial, or deportation. In Sơn Tây, for example, police obtained a four-page statement from Dương Thể Tú, a twenty-year-old art student, who admitted to Nationalist Party membership and provided information on party activities in Việt Trì town, where he had served in the propaganda and training office. Tú acknowledged to interrogators that he had gone down the wrong path, pleaded forgiveness, and promised henceforth to support the government. Almost surely Tú was sent to a deportation camp.
Although Việt Nam ceased publication in late July 1946, its weekly counterpart, Chính Nghĩa tuần báo (Righteous Cause Weekly), continued to publish views very different from the now dominant Việt Minh press for another three months. It persisted with a serialized essay condemning communism and Soviet imperialism (also labeled “Red Fascism”), with only light cuts from the censor. Chính Nghĩa tuần báoalso criticized the DRV’s administrative committee system and the government’s failure to establish an independent judiciary. President Hồ Chí Minh’s diplomatic strategy was questioned. The mere existence of Chính Nghĩa tuần báo suggests that some DRV cabinet members were uncomfortable with the push by Trường Chinh to homogenize opinion under the new National Alliance (Liên Việt) banner. If so, this rearguard effort collapsed in late October, when editorials vanished from the paper, followed by all coverage of domestic affairs. Readers were left with snippets of foreign news, anodyne cultural comment, and short stories by Khái Hưng. By early December the neutering ofChính Nghĩa tuần báo was so complete that censors did not feel it necessary to remove a single line.
Between July and November 1946, an unknown number among the fifty Nationalist Party members of the DRV National Assembly were arrested. Amidst the 12 July police assaults, Assembly delegate Phan Kích Nam was accused of kidnapping and extortion and jailed immediately. Another delegate, Nguyễn đổng Lâm, was detained by the Hải Dương police, which proposed he be sent to a deportation camp for two years. The Hải Dương administrative committee agreed, arguing that “local authorities will have a very difficult time working if Mr. Lâm is left outside the law’s compass.” Lâm had participated in the Nationalist Party uprising of 1930, spent six years in a colonial prison, and only returned to political action in 1944. During late 1945 he had written for Việt Nam newspaper, then withdrew to his home village in Hải Dương in early 1946. Lâm’s case was sent to the Northern Region Inspectorate on 7 August, and thence to Nguyễn Văn Tố, nonparty chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee, who quickly replied that he could not support Lâm’s detention. Tố’s opinion was upheld unanimously by the full Standing Committee, which requested the inspectorate to order the Hải Dương police to release Lâm. On 21 August, the inspectorate did this, adding that if solid evidence of Lâm’s guilt materialized, permission of the Standing Committee could still be sought to rearrest Lâm.
There were many other arrests of Nationalist Party members of the National Assembly that do not appear to have come to the attention of Nguyễn Văn Tố and his Standing Committee. Nationalist Party delegates were also subject to ominous local harassment. Trình Như Tấu petitioned five different government offices after a militia band surrounded his house to demand restitution of a fictional typewriter, threatening violence if he did not comply. Tấu named four offenders and requested protection as a National Assembly member, but apparently received no reply. When the Assembly convened for the second time in late October, no more than a dozen of the fifty Nationalist Party members were present.
From late July 1946 to the end of the year, the majority of persons detained by the Công An for political reasons bore a Nationalist Party label, whether real or assumed. For example, four out of five persons deported by Hà Đông province in July were tagged as Nationalists. Scores of petitions were received in Hanoi from relatives of individuals arrested in Phú Thọ province on charges of Nationalist Party participation. Arrests extended as far as Quảng Nam province in central Vietnam, where an unknown number of alleged Nationalists were deported in September. Not all individuals accepted their detention meekly. Phạm Đức Tuyên, a Thái Bình Catholic, told police he was attracted by Nationalist Party assertions that Hồ Chí Minh was pro-French, and because taxes were too high. It was time to toss out the current government. For this he was recommended for deportation. The Công An reported to the Northern Committee that Phạm Văn Giàu, deported to a camp in Bắc Kạn, had continued to display a very reactionary attitude, getting others to join him in singing Nationalist Party songs, and claiming that former emperors Duy Tân and Bảo Đại had joined with Nguyễn Hải Thần and Nguyễn Tường Tam to form a legitimate Vietnamese government in Nanjing. Giàu was unaware that ex-emperor Duy Tân had perished in an airplane crash in Africa a year earlier, but his assertions about an alternative government in exile were merely premature. Meanwhile, the ICP nursed its own grievances, continuing to interrogate Nationalist Party prisoners about abductions of ICP cadres that had taken place in late 1945. On the morning of 19 December in Hanoi— only hours before hostilities exploded— a police report was forwarded to the Interior Ministry about efforts to ferret out information on the fate of several ICP members believed to have been killed by the Nationalists.
After withdrawing to Yên Bái at the end of June, Vũ Hồng Khanh soon realized that local food supplies could only sustain Nationalist Party military units, not the civilian cadres, students, family members, and sympathizers who were arriving from the Red River delta as well. Attempts at resupply from Lào Cai faltered due to Việt Minh destruction of the rail line. By November, Lào Cai itself was nearly surrounded by the National Guard and food was running short. Khanh ordered evacuation across the river to Yunnan— and the execution of two military academy instructors accused of trying to lead their students in the opposite direction, back towards the delta. In October 1947, when French paratroopers descended on Phú Thọ town, the DRV Công An allegedly killed more than one hundred Nationalist prisoners rather than risk them escaping or falling into the hands of the French.
From Hanoi Central Prison in November 1946, Nguyễn Tường Thụy, former general director of the PTT, sent a long petition to President Hồ asking for his intercession. Being a professional civil servant, Thụy said that he had deliberately eschewed joining the Nationalist Party along with his younger brother Nguyễn Tường Tam, nor had he discussed politics with him. Thụy professed deep respect for “Elder President,” adding that he had supervised production of the DRV’s very first postage stamp that bore Elder President’s image. Apparently Thụy had been arrested in relation to postage stamp proceeds donated to the Defense Fund and Famine Relief Association, but this was surely a pretext. In plaintive conclusion, Thụy promised that not only he, but his white-haired mother, his wife, and their ten children would forever be grateful for Elder President’s assistance. Thụy apparently received no response to his petition, and we don’t know what happened to him after 19 December.
Marr, David G. (2013-04-15). Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946) (Kindle Locations 10285-10901). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.