Ho Chi Minh - the man
In order to understand Ho Chi Minh's work, let us make our acquaintance with Ho Chi Minh the man I had the opportunity to live near for many years, through many stages of the Vietnamese revolution, from the day of the training class preparing for the founding of the Party in Canton to those last days before he passed away.
I began to get to know Ho Chi Minh through a photo when undertaking my last year of junior secondary education in a Hue school. That day I saw a photo of a young man wearing a felt hat as was common in Europe then. The man in the photo was wonderfully attractive. The photo was handed from one person to another and everybody knew he was Ngnyen Ai Quoc, well-known for his activities in France.
This was an important event in my life, the first time, I came into contact with Ho Chi Minh. Later events helped me gain a deeper understanding about that first encounter.
Two years later, when I was undertaking the last year of senior secondary education in a Hanoi school, most of the students went on strike to mourn Phan Chu Trinh, and so did I. After leaving school I made contact with those looking for patriotic students seeking to save their country through revolution. I was then led, together with scores or people, most of them students, from Hanoi, Nam Dinh and many other provinces through Lang Son on the border to Canton- at that time a centre of democratic revolution in China.
Arriving in Canton in the autumn of l926, I attended a class taught and run by Nguyen Ai Quoc- alias Comrade Vuong - together with other Vietnamese revolutionaries. At the first classroom meeting, I immediately recognised him as Nguyen Ai Quoc thanks to the photo I had seen in Hue.
What is worth stressing here is that the most cherished memory for me - the meetings with Ho Chi Minh all the more impressed on the memory, heart and mind the image of a man who always remained the same person although later on we would go through so many changes and upheavals in our country and the world.
Of course, those changes also brought changes in ourselves. I would like to emphasise that the then Ho Chi Minh was the same man until his last days, with the same bearing, a man whose first appearance showed he was very simple: very kind, wonderfully charismatic to those around him and making a deep impression on them, experiences they often recount.
The second time I met Ho Chi Minh was in Kunming about mid-1940, this time with Comrade Vo Nguyen Giap. I immediately recognised him as he did me. He remarked that had not changed.
Some time later, we crossed the border into Cao Bang. From then on till Ho Chi Minh's last days I worked beside him, except for the first two years of the resistance war against French aggression when I was sent south to Trung Bo.
Witnessing Ho Chi Minh's actions and sharing his life over a long period, I gradually came to under- stand Ho Chi Minh the man.
A nation, a time, a cause united and gave birth to and crystallised in a man, such was Ho Chi Minh's nature and stature.
Usually when a man knows he is an important person, he is not always natural and upright. That was not true of Ho Chi Minh. Throughout his life he was always upright in all deeds, great and small.
Ho Chi Minh was an outstanding man who seemed larger than life. Nevertheless, when meeting him, everybody felt he was familiar, generous and natural, not in the least distant. This impresses foreign guests especially.
He combined elements of things of something Vietnamese, revolutionary, communist and humanist. All that come together in him and elevated him to his historic mission.
First of all, I would like to speak of Ho Chi Minh's views on man's life. This was Communism's view of man and the world, about which the founders of Marxism-Leninism spoke at length in many works and in many forms. I believe there is no need to recall this comment. What I would like to stress is that during all the lime I spent beside him, worked with him and learned from him, I realised even more clearly today when I look back that Ho Chi Minh was the personification of the Communist outlook on man and the world in his life and activities and in all circumstances of his truly rich life.
I still remember our chats about life, revolutionary work, man and the future of mankind. He often said, "In general, in whatever place, whether in our own country, or elsewhere. In the world, he who lives in society carries the long-standing influence of the ruling class and naturally seeks fame and self-interest. It is not the same with us. Our mission is to reform this world and eventually achieve the aims of communism".
Regarding this mission, what he told me many times fitted in with the last goals of communism that Marx described precisely: "When and only when wealth flows abundantly can mankind write the words : 'To work according to one's abilities and to enjoy according to one's needs and 'The development of each man's freedom is the condition for the development of every man's freedom".
Ho Chi Minh was a man or unshakable belief in the future of the nation mankind and socialism. This consistency enabled him to deal with countless changes in a stormy world.
He was a man who consistently aimed throughout his life for national independence and socialism. His concentration on this goal manifested itself in his political activities and permeated his everyday life. The aura around Ho Chi Minh which made one feel pure and elevated was public-spiritedness, and care for the people, the country and for ideals. Both in works he initiated and those he was compelled to undertake, he succeeded in keeping to this goal. The measures might vary, the paths might be devious and tortuous, but the goal was always one and the same.
Concentrating on his chosen goal Ho Chi Minh was steadfast in struggling with all enemies and difficulties, and imparted this staunchness to the entire Party and the whole nation.
His consistent goal and steadfast will manifested itself in practical activities. All his words and deeds were practical and concrete : He did what he said, did more than he said, sometimes did without saying and his thought manifested itself in actions. He was always practical in order to be really effective, daring to think and do extraordinarily great work without illusion or rashness.
Ho Chi Minh was a man dynamic and versatile in his reactions and perceptive and serene in his mind and style. The more dangerous and difficult the circumstance became, the calmer and more perceptive he was. The correct solution usually came in a natural reaction as from revolutionary intuition. A dynamism and versatility in reaction coupled with perceptiveness and serenity in mind, an ease and freedom in style.
Ho Chi Minh was utterly different from the wise men of the past, regarding worldly things as ephemeral and trifling. Ho Chi Minh lived a worldly life and concerned himself with everything pertaining to man as Marx declared. His easy style was that of a man aware of the laws of history, belonging to the people and believing in them, knowing what he wanted and where he was going, avoiding obstacles, conquering his enemies, quiet like a mountain, moving like a sea, grasping the art of the possible and ceaselessly expanding the limits of the possible.
As he wrote in his Testament, Ho Chi Minh had nothing to regret when leaving this world. A man living in harmony with the people, history, and himself throughout his life, always serene and easy as befitted an intellectual fighter who was a master of circumstance, with his responsibility fulfilled and his conscience clear.
He was the embodiment of humanism in its fullest sense: affectionate, courteous, confident, knowing how to ask from men and encourage them, with regard to the Vietnamese people and the peoples or the world to the toiling people and to every man.
From working underground to leading a State, he cared for every comrade's ideas, work and life, each citizen's food, clothing, life, study and entertainment. He forgot no one but himself from old friends to new acquaintances. Throughout his life be encouraged good men and good deeds, enthusiastically welcomed good news, recommended good behaviour in meetings and related to foreign friends the achievements of the Vietnamese people in the war of resistance and in building their country. This supreme happiness pervaded his whole life.
The personification of urbanity, Ho Chi Minh was affable, expansive and generous. Those who approached him were gladdened. Living near him for many long years, I did not see him outwardly angry at comrades. This amazes me even when I recall it now. As for myself, I would like to mention a shortcoming of mine which I have still remembered after many decades. Despite that, he simply said, "You�ve spoiled the work." One must be truly considerate and generous to behave with such humanism. This attitude was a lesson that impressed me deeply.
His humanism manifested itself in his attitude toward every man, caring first of all for those in the toughest fighting positions, sharing the grief of the bereft, trying to compensate for such losses, generous toward those who made mistakes and genuinely repented. His words and deeds fulfilled toilers' expectations fired the enthusiasm in intellectuals, convinced waverers and doubters, inspired pioneers and the young, befriended his assistants, and valued every personality.
Affection and courtesy make huge demands on man. Ho Chi Minh puts forth strict requirements for all work, and kept order and discipline in order to extend everybody’s capabilities so that everybody contributed his best to the nation and developed his personality fully.
His humanism was not only about living for other people and about man throughout his life, in no way to bring man what the latter desired but also to arouse in man pride and confidence and revolutionary will, so that man could achieve this by himself. Every Vietnamese person felt he was a member of the family. Although living far and wide and having no opportunity during their lives to meet him, everybody felt he was beside them, and knew quite clearly what he was doing and thinking. The Vietnamese people's love for him was equal to his love for them, a deep and shining love.
While deeply attached to his nation, Ho Chi Minh also expressed his warm feelings toward all nations of the world, consistently supporting all patriotic and revolutionary struggles everywhere concerning himself closely with foreign friends, and demonstrating his concern about every man's plight through sympathetic and practical actions. He personified the spirit of the words: "All lands are under one roof, all proletarians are brothers" and the ideal "Man is a friend to man." Like the Vietnamese nation, the whole of man- kind repaid him with a special love.
Ho Chi Minh was a living image of revolutionary virtue. He demonstrated public-spiritedness, industry, thrift, integrity, rightness, kindness, intelligence and courage with a new content which he set to the entire Party and the whole people. His particular trait was modesty and simplicity, a sincere and natural modesty and the simplicity of a man who was always himself. The higher his position, the greater his prestige, the more modest and simple he was. Before every body and more than everybody, every day, in every action, he did exactly as he urged every revolutionary cadre to do- to be faithfully and devotedly the servant of the people. Despite his supreme position in the Party and State and his very high prestige, he continued to live like an ordinary Party member and toiler, respecting the masses and abiding by the collective will, listening to his followers and the people around him when preparing important policy or writing a newspaper article.
His everyday life and every action demonstrated organisation and the collective spirits. And in every deed, he required widespread unity among the collective, thus mobilising the limitless strength of the people's solidarity.
Something worthy of pride for the Communist Party of Vietnam and nation was that in a country where the leader was so loved and trusted by all the people there was no cult or personality and its attendant evils. This was both a quality of Ho Chi Minh and a characteristic of the Vietnamese nation. Always the same man. Ho Chi Minh passed the test of glory, power, age, and time, and shone with man's nobility.
Ho Chi Minh was a strategist, leader, organiser and at the same time a man of culture, a journalist, and talented poet. He began and contributed greatly to the modernisation of the Vietnamese language and wording. Throughout his life, he used the pen to wage war on the cultural front in the mass media, with a style using variety and many nuances, the main feature of which was its simplicity-a popular mode of thought and expression that was easy to understand, evoked responses in man's heart, great ideas, and encouraged good deeds with simple words rich in imagery and expressing great thoughts in simple terms.
Much has been written about his style of speaking and writing. I will not repeat these but it should be stressed that we have not yet learnt his wonderful style. In an essay or speech, he took care with every sentence and every word and with the subject matter as it might have been matter of great importance. For instance, when a comrade wrote in a document about our war of resistance against ¦S aggression: "The enemy will certainly be defeated, we will certainly win". Uncle immediately reacted: "You must say, 'We will certainly win, the enemy will certainly be defeated.' " And he explained: " We have to win for the enemy to be defeated." This demonstrated his unshakable faith in his own beliefs and an iron will to fight and to win.
He told me in confidence that he was not keen on writing verse and could not spare much time for poetry but when circumstances permitted and inspired him, he did write beautiful and inspiring poems. His collection of poems " Prison Diary " is in many aspects a treasury of observation on life, man and arts, the richness of which can still be much appreciated.
Ho Chi Minh the poet did not only reveal himself through poetry. A poetic spirit imbued with life and sentiment, with a Vietnamese and oriental flavour, emanated from his works and life. This theoretician and man of action was always poetic, now impassionate, now serene, always simplicity itself in his odes, epics and lyrics - as with poetry itself.
Ho Chi Minh was a great cultural personality for the Vietnamese nation and mankind, in the fullest sense of a man of culture. In him, a great cultural personality mingled with the great poet, bringing into full play the traditions of a cultural nation.
Ho Chi Minh was a great cultural personality because his life and works were fine examples of an outlook on man and the world, which reflected a humanism in tune with the age-old dream of the Vietnamese nation and of others oppressing mankind's greatest thoughts and feelings.
UNESCO's decision to commemorate Ho Chi Minh's centenary of birth throughout the world shows an excellent understanding of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese nation, for all the Vietnamese people this is a source of pride and encouragement to carry on his work.
Having talked about his revolutionary, Vietnamese communist, and humanist spirit. I would like not to talk about his life.
About the environment, in which he lived I remember the many years he lived in the Pac Bo cave. In order to describe it, there can be no better way than recalling some of his verses:
At the brook in the morning and in the grotto at night
I usually eat maize soup and bamboo shoots.
Translate the Party's History on a stone slate
Revolutionary life is truly luxurious.
Speaking of maize soup. I would like to relate a little-known story. Before returning to Cao Bang, there was a time when he and ourselves had to live across the border among people who only ate maize soup. He had a good deal of money then-two rolls of bank-notes, like two dictionaries which he entrusted to me and which I had to keep in large pockets in my under-wear. Nevertheless, we had to eat maize porridge to stay our hunger. Later on, particularly in his last years he ate with me. Once he said, "When one can eat there is nothing to eat. When one has something to eat one cannot eat." Then he had no appetite and ate very little.
Turning back to his environment, his two lifelong companions were man and nature. To give an example of his significant and beautiful living environment, I recall the house standing on poles which many people in our country and the world have visited over many years. Here, as in Pac Bo, Ho Chi Minh lived with man and nature. This was not only an environment, but a way of life which brings considerable joy but which today's civilisation is destroying with its giant cities and fully-equipped high-rise buildings full of unnecessary objects, and its tremendously polluted environment which is destroying nature and harming man. Recalling Ho Chi Minh's environment, I would like to quote two lines by Nguyen Cong Tru:
A boat loaded with wind and moon,
A seemingly unexhausted store.
These verses, dating from over one hundred years ago, express Ho Chi Minh's living environment and way of life, voicing the aspiration and trend of a genuinely civilised life style.
About Ho Chi Minh's daily life, here I have nothing new to say as his life was interwoven with work, revolution, struggle and man. However, I recall something that is rarely mentioned. Whether al home or abroad, Ho Chi Minh never took holidays. Everyday he kept to a strict timetable. He possibly rested when meeting pioneers, children and especially our Southern compatriots and fighters during the war of resistance against US aggression, or when watching a film on Saturday nights in the Presidential Palace with children of fellow-workers. Sometimes he received foreign guests or ambassadors from fraternal countries during these film-shows.
I would like very much to relate here the details of his meals. Spartan meals so many people could not imagine them. However, what impressed me was that during meals, he told us to eat up dish and leave an untouched one. I recall this in order to demonstrate his kind heart, his respect for those who prepared the meal and furthermore for those who prepared the ingredients of the meal.
About Ho Chi Minh's life and man, I would like to say something in the concluding part of this chapter. A few months before he passed away, he was very tired but told us of his devout wish to go South. This time, we explained to him that his health could not bear it and that the war was turning to our advantage, so that when the South was liberated he would then be able to visit our southern compatriots and fighters. His reply was most unexpected: "It is now when our southern fellow-countrymen are fighting and making sacrifices that it is most meaningful to go South." Also at that time, he reminded us of what was to be done to improve our northern compatriots' lives. We then stressed what he recommended: "To work and to produce so as to get a good result, hence to improve our living standard." That did not answer his request as we can now clearly see. He requested something practical and timely. This was too difficult. Of course he knew that, and his longing gnawed at his heart during his last months.
Ho Chi Minh was a man who lived a life which consistently aimed for lofty ideals set from the start and was a man of ideals and these ideals materialised in him. This was a man of history and a history maker.
Living near him and reviewing his life and his works, great and small, I can see clearly that Ho Chi Minh was a model communist. Hence I hit upon a thought: a fine communist makes communism fine and vice versa.
Ho Chi Minh was such a man.
Pham Van Dong
Ho Chi Minh Thought Will Light Our Path Forever
(The Gioi Publishers)
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