Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Vietnam’s Revolution in the Revolution


When the United States first entered the war in Vietnam in defense of colonial France, the conflict was already decades old.  Indeed, it may have been the most protracted anti-colonial struggle of the twentieth century.  France’s domination of the region they called Indochina had been challenged by a combination of popular resistance and armed force since at least the 1920s.  However, very little has been published in English about the period before the military conflict after World War Two.

The publication of the first part of Ngo Van’s memoirs In the Crossfire by AK Press changes that.  Originally published as Au pays de la Cloche Felee (The Cracked Bell), In the Crossfire is the story of Ngo Van and his compatriots in the earliest days of the Vietnamese revolution.  The French title is a nod to the poet Charles Baudelaire’s poem of the same name and reflects Van’s opinion of the movement he was part of.  This is the tale of the popular movement that organized labor strikes and student resistance to the French and their local indigenous government.

In the Crossfire is a tale of secret meetings, arrests and torture, bloody battles and stealthy travels through the Vietnamese countryside.  Its narrative includes the stories of peasant cadres influenced by Stalin and his thoughts and working class urbanites that preferred Trotsky.   Ngo Van writes about Vietminh compromises with the US secret service (OSS) in their common battle against the Japanese and the subsequent reneging by Washington on promises it made to secure that support.  All the while there is an ongoing struggle against the French colonial masters and their puppet governments in Saigon.  Revolutionary movements are rarely a monolithic beings.  Indeed, it is usually the struggles within those movements that ultimately shape the movement’s politics and success.  This struggle within is not always an easy one and, as Van makes clear, has its own share of conflicts and disappointments.

There is an international background to this tale:  the struggle within the international communist movement over the direction of revolutionary communism.  Often referred to in terms that acknowledge the two primary 20th century communist revolutionaries of the period after Lenin–Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin–this struggle was to erupt into a murderous conflict that forever changed not only the existing revolutionary states and struggles, but the face of communism itself.  As Ngo Van tells it, comrades who were once allies in their struggle against imperialism became mortal enemies and slogans that once encouraged internationalism were replaced with nationalist claptrap.  Trusted friends were no longer trusted and plans made were no longer dependable.  All of this because of different interpretations of the revolutionary doctrine of Lenin.  Like so many other narratives from leftists of this period, the battle for the international revolution is couched in terms that often seethe with a hatred that can only occur between former comrades in arms.  It is a hatred born of betrayal and inflamed by a threat greater than either of the resulting differences—the threat of imperialist counterrevolution.  To Ngo Van’s credit, this book focuses on the struggle between the Vietnamese and their colonizers.  It does not become bogged down in the battle that history characterizes as the struggle between Stalinism and Trotskyism.  By not doing so, it remains a narrative that is accessible to the reader who either doesn’t care about that struggle or prefers to remain neutral.

In the Crossfire is a story that is so many things: a tale of personal courage, despair and hope; a piece of political history that is both a document of revolution and betrayal.  Like so much of the struggle against colonialism, for every victory there seems to be a defeat.  Yet, history moves forward because, as Van makes clear, people make it move forward.

RON JACOBS is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. His most recent book, titled Tripping Through the American Night is published as an ebook.  He can be reached at:


Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future