Tuesday, March 8, 2016

University of the Toilers of the East

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 29. The peripatetic travels of Ho Ch Minh.
In Indochina the French had ruthlessly suppressed every manifestation of anti-colonial sentiment, from mutinous troops via rebellious peasants to striking schoolboys, but there was one implacable opponent who eluded them for three decades: Ho Chi Minh. This was the final iteration of multiple aliases Ho would use. Nguyen Tat Thanh (He Who Will Succeed) was born in about 1890 to a farmer’s son who had joined the mandarin elite, achieving the equivalent of a doctorate. Whether because of pride or temperament, Ho’s father refused to work directly for the puppet emperor who ruled supposedly autonomous Annam, working instead as a rural teacher and then as a magistrate. In 1910 in a drunken rage he caned the wrong person to death and was dismissed from office. He died poor in Saigon.

The future Ho was a bright boy who shed the long hair that marked him out as a country bumpkin at school. He realized early on that a mastery of Western culture – including its revolutionary tradition – was the way to defeat Western imperialism. By his late teens Thanh was involved in anti-French demonstrations, which resulted in expulsion from his French school. Already marked out by the colonial police, he eventually embarked for France, as ‘Ba’, an assistant cook and stoker on a small liner bound for Marseilles. A truly remarkable odyssey had begun.

When Ho arrived in Marseilles in July 1911, he noted that ‘the French in France are better and more polite than in Indochina’. In caf├ęs waiters called him ‘Monsieur’. He applied without success for a scholarship to attend the Colonial School. After he had opted for the merchant marine his movements were necessarily opaque; but, wherever he ventured ashore, he moved in political circles as Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot).

In July 1923 he slipped his French police shadows through the rear exit of a Parisian cinema and boarded a train to Hamburg and on to Russia by ship as the Chinese merchant ‘Chen Vang’. In Moscow he enrolled in the University of the Toilers of the East, which was informally known as the Stalin School since it was under his Commissariat of Nationalities. By July 1923 Ho was deemed important enough to move into the Lux Hotel, albeit into a small room with a bed infested with bugs. In January 1924 his face and fingers were damaged after queuing for hours in deep winter to view Lenin’s body. After impressing his Comintern comrades at the Fifth Congress in 1924, speaking of the need to strike imperialism in the colonies from which it drew its resources, he persuaded his superiors to send him to Canton to organize exiled Vietnamese revolutionaries.
University of the Toilers of the East - I really miss the linguistic felicity of the old Soviet Union. Heh.

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