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Ho Chi Minh: A Biography

by Pierre Brocheux. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007, hardcover $35.

Pierre Brocheux’s interpretive overview of Ho Chi Minh’s career utilizes newly available French archives and expanded Vietnamese sources to validate some of the earlier characterizations dating back to Jean Lacouture’s biography in 1967. This is a perspective of Ho as a nationalist and socialist who initially became attracted to Marxism-Leninism because of its anticolonial stand more than the compelling nature of its theory.

Brocheux argues that Ho was not a dogmatic ideologue but a philosopher-teacher whose synthesis of Confucian ethics, Marxist anticapitalism and even Western ideas of equality and fraternity transformed him into a lodestone for the aspirations of the Vietnamese people. In this light, Ho’s historical importance emerges as much from his exemplary life, which “struck an emotional and sentimental chord” in a diverse people, as it does from his considerable skills as a revolutionary.

Brocheux, however, raises more questions than he answers regarding Ho’s responsibility for the land reform and reeducation programs in the 1950s, which created much human misery in the name of ideological purity. He concludes that what Ho helped to put in place—a revolutionary doctrine that bred “antagonisms and violence”—was not what he intended.

Toward the end of his book, Brocheux admits that reality and myth can never be entirely untangled in the recreation of Ho’s political life, and that the mythical is infused with a duality. For the image of “Uncle Ho” was in part a self-directed political maneuver and in part a construction by his successors to replace the less resonant catechisms of Party orthodoxy.


Originally published in the October 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here