People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 22

May 30, 2010


Ho Chi Minh City: Witnessing history

The epic anti-imperialist struggle of Vietnam


Sitaram Yechury



MY first visit to Ho Chi Minh city, former Saigon on May 14 was very eventful and memorable. Exactly 35 years and two weeks earlier, as students of JNU we had decided to send some representatives to the North Vietnamese embassy to confirm the BBC announcement that Saigon had fallen – liberated. This ended up with almost the whole of JNU marching to the embassy on that May Day in 1975. The sense of jubilation was accompanied by a sense of disquiet and disbelief on the accuracy of the BBC announcement because those were the days without cellphones or the internet. The only way to confirm was to hear it from the horse’s mouth. That the Vietnamese did eventually triumph over the mighty US imperialism was excelerative and charged the progressive forces the world over. There was a spontaneous outburst of anti-imperialist, anti-US slogans with 'Amor naam tumar naam Vietnam, Vietnam', naturally dominating. Only when the embassy staff confirmed the news that the celebrations begin. What a May Day it was!


Standing on the terrace of the then South Vietnam's presidential palace built by the US for its puppet regime – now a museum and an event centre, called the unification palace – one could visualise the liberation army, tanks advance towards the palace down the main boulevard – named today after the then Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Le Duan. Parked behind me is the US helicopter – ready since that day to carry the fleeing president. Foreseeing such an eventuality the president however was wiser having fled a week earlier.


The last flight from the Republic of South Vietnam was the helicopter carrying the fleeing US Ambassador that took off from the US embassy’s roof, hours before Saigon was liberated.


Floods of emotions and memories are bound to overwhelm anyone who grew up in the 60's and 70's - the heady days of  'amor naam, tumar naam Vietnam, Vietnam ; Ho ho Ho Chi Minh, we shall fight, we shall win. Vietnamese comrades accompanying me and the guide at the place were all born after 1975 – well after. There nevertheless was an immense sense of pride and patriotism. ‘We defeated the mighty US imperialism, having defeated the French and Japanese earlier’. However, the sense of living the times is obviously very difficult from being inspired and moved by those times.


How did the Vietnamese manage such a stupendous victory? Over 60,000 US troops killed and over 3 lakh physically damaged for life – despite Agent Orange, Napalm and huge quantities of vastly superior armaments. US imperialism pounded Vietnam with five times the number of bombs that were used in the Second World War. One important aspect of this multifaceted war – guerrilla war – I could see when I visited the famous Cu Chi tunnel, some 70 kilometeres from then Saigon.


A four storeyed labyrinth of tunnels, of nearly 700 kilometeres in length, were built over 20 years, in the nights, under the very nose of occupying US army. The Vietnamese simply disappeared after successful guerrilla ambushes. The perplexed US used Napalm to raze the forests and Agent Orange to kill and maim humans and to hopefully try and make the area – strategically located to control Saigon – uninhabitable. But being underground, the Vietnamese could escape lethal damage from both arial bombing and noxious chemical weapons. In fact they used unexploded US bombs and grenades to kill US troops in their bobby traps. Conscious of the fact that traces of underground cooking would expose this underground settlement, they made the fumes pass through three layers of foliage stored in connected compartments before releasing it under tree roots. These were sprayed with pepper and chilli powder to ward off US sniffer dogs from locating them!


The entrances to the tunnels were impossible for me today to identify! They are so narrow – many meters before enlarging into larger spaces – that it was very difficult for me to navigate. I, however did navigate some sections on three separate locations. Obviously they were so designed for the Vietnamese physique and to prevent the burly Americans any mobility in the tunnels. Even if the US soldiers managed to locate and enter one part of the tunnel, that would be blocked off. The US troops were then reduced to trapped sitting ducks.


The two hours spent exploring the tunnels was indeed exhilarating. It is impossible to navigate these tunnels all alone as it is virtually a bhool bhulayya. On the soil burnt and charred with Napalm and Agent Orange now stands a forest of thick foliage. Healthy and vibrant, Vietnamese have truly recovered and bouncing today.


This was confirmed in the discussions with Ms Huynh Thi Nhan, Central Committee member and Deputy Head of Ho Chi Minh City Party committee, who hosted a welcome banquet. She was a militant of the Viet Cong. The discussions showed a similarity of problems and challenges between Ho Chi Minh city and Kolkata. Ho Chi Minh city is twice the size of Hanoi and a buzzling industrial centre. My visit to the Binh Duong Economic and Industrial Zone showed that in collaboration with Singapore, this area is steadily advancing with high technology production units. Vietnam aims to reach the status of an industrialised country by 2020. The discussions also showed that  the earlier universal state support in areas like education and health is now replaced by a principle that those who can afford should be charged. Like in other socialist countries the reform process is leading to widening economic inequalities. However the Communist Party of Vietnam and the government are acutely conscious and taking measures to ameliorate the situation. Vietnam today ranks among the top five countries in poverty reduction. From being a chronic rice importer, Vietnam is now the second largest rice exporter.


Our solidarity with Vietnam, is today centred around the efforts of the CPV and Vietnamese people to build a prosperous, socialist Vietnam. This is the only way that the much delayed benefits of socialism by bloody imperialist interventions can be consolidated along with the gains of the heroic victories against three imperialist powers.