August Revolution

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The uprising in capital Hanoi on August 19, 1945.

The August Revolution (Vietnamese: Cách mạng tháng Tám), also known as the August General Uprising (Vietnamese: Tổng Khởi nghĩa tháng Tám), was a revolution launched by the Việt Minh (English: League for the Independence of Vietnam) against French colonial rule in Vietnam, on August 14, 1945.

Within two weeks, forces under the Việt Minh had seized control of most rural villages and cities throughout the North, Center and South Vietnam, including Hanoi, where President Hồ Chí Minh announced the formation of the Provisional Democratic Republic, Huế, Saigon, exception in townships Móng Cái, Vĩnh Yên, Hà Giang, Lào Cai, Lai Châu.[1] However, according to Vietnamese document, Việt Minh, in fact, seized control of Vietnam.[2] On September 2, 1945, Ho declared Vietnamese Independence. The August Revolution created a uniform government for the entire country.

Historical Background

French Colonialism

French colonial rule

Before the Japanese arrived, French colonialism in Vietnam had already lasted 87 years (1858–1945). By 1897 the French had created the Federation of Indochina, an artificial unit linking a Vietnam now broken for convenience into three separately ruled territories (Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China) with newly acquired Cambodia and Laos.[3] To justify their imperial domination, French claimed that it was their responsibility to help undeveloped regions in Asia become civilized. Without French intervention, these places would remain backward, uncivilized and impoverished. However, in reality, French imperialism was driven by the demand for resources, raw materials and cheap labor.[citation needed]

It is generally agreed that French colonial rule was politically repressive and economically exploitative.[citation needed] Since the French occupation of Vietnam, thousands of poorly armed Vietnamese, as they always had, reacted to foreign control with various rebellions. One of the famous rebellions called Cần Vương movement(English: Aid-the-King), which was a large-scale Vietnamese insurgency between 1885 and 1889 against French colonial rule. In 1917, an eclectic band of political prisoners, common criminals and mutinous prison guards seized the Thai Nguyen Penitentiary, the largest penal institution in northern Tonkin.[4] The extraordinary regional and social diverse of its force makes the Thai Nguyen uprising a compelling prequel to the modern nationalist movements of the 1930s. Although all these rebellions finally failed, the rebels remained a powerful symbol of resistance for generations.[citation needed]

Development of nationalist movements

During the colonial period, the French did transform Vietnamese society. Education and national industry were promoted which had the unintended effect of stimulating the development of nationalist movements.

In the north, the anticolonial nationalist movement was dominated by Communism since Hồ Chí Minh created the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in 1925. On February 3, 1930, a special conference was held in Hong Kong under the chairmanship of Hồ Chí Minh. Out of this conference the "Vietnamese Communist Party" was born. In October, following a Comintern directive, this name was changed to "Indochinese Communist Party" or in short, I.C.P. Until the Party was officially disbanded by Hồ Chí Minh in November 1945, it held a leading position in the Vietnamese anti-colonial revolution.[5]

In the south, the anticolonial nationalist movement is more complicated than the north. The Cao Đài was the first of southern Vietnam’s three most influential politico-religious organizations to emerge in the colonial era. Officially founded by colonial civil servant Ngô Văn Chiêu in 1926, it would grow to be the largest of the region’s politically oriented religious entities, and in many ways the most powerful. More than a decade later, in 1939,Prophet Huynh Phu So introduced another politico-religious organization into southern Vietnam’s anticolonial milieu by founding the Hòa Hảo. By performing alleged miracle cures, preaching, and carrying out acts of extreme charity for the poor, by the end of 1939, Prophet Huynh Phu So had already attracted tens of thousands of adherents to the new Hòa Hảo organization. The third politico-religious organization called Bình Xuyên, can be traced back to the early 1920s. But Bình Xuyên didn’t become a truly organized political force until the end of the Second World War. All three of these organizations consisted of major anticolonial powers in southern Vietnam.[6]

World War II and the Japanese occupation

The Japanese occupation and the March 9, 1945, Coup

Before 1945, French and Japanese had uneasily ruled Vietnam together for over four years.

In September 1940, just months after France capitulated to Germany, Japanese troops took advantage of French weakness to station troops in northern Vietnam on the purpose of cutting off the supply route to the southern flank of the China Theater. From 1940 to March 1945, the French retained their administrative responsibilities, police duties, and even their colonial army, in exchange for allowing Japanese troops and material to pass through Indochina. By 1943,however, there were signs that the Japanese might lose the war. The United States began the island-hopping sweep through the South Pacific. A sea-borne Allied landing in Indochina, and an overland attack from China, became real threats to the Japanese. In addition, an upsurge of Gaullist sentiment in Indochina after Charles de Gaulle returned to Paris at the head of the French Provisional Government in September 1944 added to Japanese concerns.[7]

In the evening of March 9, 1945, the Japanese forces attacked the French in every center and removed the French from administrative control of Indochina. In less that twenty-four hours, the major part of the French armed forces throughout Indochina was put out of combat. The entire French colonial system, which had been existence for almost 87 years, came tumbling down. Practically all French civil and military leaders were made prisoners, including Admiral Decoux.[8]

After the Japanese removed the French from administrative control in Indochina, they made no attempt to impose their own direct control of the civilian administration. Primarily concerned with the defense of Vietnam against an Allied invasion, the Japanese were not interested in Vietnamese politics. However, they also understood the desirability of a certain degree of administrative continuity. It was to their advantage to install a Vietnamese government that would acquiesce in the Japanese military presence. With this in mind, the Japanese persuaded the Vietnamese emperor, Bảo Đại, to cooperate with Japan and to declare Vietnam independent of France. On March 11, 1945, Bảo Đại did just that by abrogating the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate of 1883. Vietnam’s new “independence,” however, rested on the government’s willingness to cooperate with Japan and accept the Japanese military presence.[9]

An opportunity for Vietnamese nationalists

From March until August 1945, Vietnam enjoyed what was called a “fake independence”. In the aftermath of the coup the Japanese most definitely wanted to minimize internal change in Indochina[10]----changes which would have adversely affected their military objectives. The Trần Trọng Kim Cabinet, from all evidence available, was only a government in name and ruled over no state in fact. The affairs of Indochinese were still in the hands of the Japanese.

If the March 9 coup was a disaster for the French, it was an opportunity for Vietnamese nationalists. In fact, it marked a turning point in the Vietnamese revolution. Freed from French repression, which had continued unabated in the early phase of the Japanese occupation, Vietnamese revolutionaries had much greater freedom of movement.

In May 1941, Hồ Chí Minh formed the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), or Việt Minh for short, at the Eighth Plenum of the Indochinese Communist Party at Pac Bo in northern Vietnam. Việt Minh encouraged the creation of “national salvation associations” and adopted guerrilla warfare as the cornerstone of its revolutionary strategy. After the Coup, the Japanese were content to control the large cities and leave the countryside to the Vietnamese, the Việt Minh in particular took advantage of this situation to strengthen their power. During the five months of the Japanese interlude, to prepare for the anticipated popular insurrection, the Việt Minh carried out propaganda activities and organizational work in the Vietnamese countryside.

However, the Việt Minh was not the only political organization to anticipate an opportunity. In fact, after the brief storm of bullets of March 9,political parties, groups and associations were formed throughout Vietnam.[11] In the south, because of the weak status of the communist movement, the Việt Minh failed to take the leadership of the movements during the preparation for insurrection. Several politico-religious organizations mentioned above expanded their power rapidly. In early summer 1945, Hòa Hảo leaders opened talks with the heads of other southern nationalist groups in the south, including the Cao Đài, the Trotskyites, to fight for and defend an independent Vietnam when the war drew to a close.[12]

The blasting fuse: devastating famine

The famine of 1944-1945 was another issue of utmost importance during the Japanese interlude. The famine resulted from both man-made and natural disaster. During the war, the Japanese had forced many rice farmers to grow other crops. As a result, rice production decreased, especially in the north, where crops had often been supplemented in the past by shipments from the south. Now, however, Japanese troops consumed the surplus from the south or converted it to fuel for military vehicles. Terrible flooding in the spring of 1945 added to the misery. Starving peasants flocked to the cities or died passively in the countryside.[13][14]This devastation contributed to the crisis of authority in the country. Neither the French nor the Japanese took effective measures to alleviate the famine, and Kim’s government could do nothing without Japanese consent. The misery and anger combined to foster a new interest in politics, especially among the younger generation, which the Viet Minh turned to its advantage.

During the famine, the Việt Minh conducted raids on Japanese granaries and the rice storage facilities of Vietnamese landlords. In the long run this action won the Việt Minh increased popular support. It highlighted the impotency of Kim’s government and intensified popular feelings against the French and Japanese. The Việt Minh succeeded in creating People’s Revolutionary Committees all over the north. These committees were to take over local administration when the Việt Minh launched the general insurrection.[15]

The August Revolution

Revolution in the north

File:Hanoi,Vietnam Liberation Army Vo Nguyen Giap reviewed the troops, August 26th, 1945.jpg
Commander of the Vietnam Liberation Army Võ Nguyên Giáp reviewed the troops for the first time in Hanoi on August 26th, 1945 after seizing power. (Photo: Archive)

When the Japanese surrendered on August 15, the Việt Minh immediately launched the insurrection which they had already prepared for a long time. 'People’s Revolutionary Committees' across the countryside took over administrative positions, often acting on their own initiative, while in the cities the Japanese stood by as the Vietnamese took control.[16] On the morning of August 19 the Việt Minh took control of Hanoi, seizing the northern Vietnam in the next few days. Tran Trong Kim’s government had resigned earlier, on August 13, yielding to Hồ Chí Minh’s new Vietnamese Provisional Government. Hồ Chí Minh offered Bao Dai a position as supreme advisor. Hồ Chí Minh declared independence for the newly established Democratic Republic of Vietnam, headquartered in Hanoi, on September 2, 1945.

Revolution in the south

However, when the people celebrated their victory in the north, the Việt Minh faced various problems in the southern part of the country. The south was politically more diverse than the north, and the Việt Minh had been unable to establish the same degree of control there as they had achieved in the north. There were serious divisions in the independence movement in the south, where the Việt Minh, Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo, Trotskyites and other nationalist groups competed for control.[17] On August 25,the Communists established a Provisional Executive Committee with Tran Van Giau at its head. The committee took over public administration in Saigon, but followed Allied orders that the Japanese maintain law and order until Allied troops arrived.[18]


The Allies occupation and consolidation of Việt Minh

Just as Hồ Chí Minh and the Việt Minh had begun to extend DRV control to all of Vietnam, the attention of his new government was shifting from internal matters to the arrival of Allied troops. At the Potsdam conference in July 1945,the Allies divided Indochina into two zones at the sixteenth parallel, attaching the southern zone to the Southeast Asia command and leaving the northern part to Chiang Kai-shek’s China, to accept the surrender of the Japanese.

The occupation period proved to be a great challenge for Ho Chi Minh and the I.C.P. When British forces from the Southeast Asia Command arrived in Saigon on September 13, they also brought with them a detachment of French troops. Thanks to the acquiescence of British occupation forces in the south, and French were able to move rapidly to reassert control over the southern half of the country, where its economic interest were strongest, DRV authority was weakest, and colonial forces were most deeply entrenched.[19]

However, in the north, occupation period became critical opportunity for the Việt Minh to consolidate and triumph over domestic rivals. On August 20, Chiang Kai-shek gave orders for the Chinese First Front Army, under the command of General Lu Han of Yunnan, to cross into Vietnam to accept the surrender of the Japanese 38th Army. The Chinese, unlike the British in the south, refused to prepare the way for an immediate French return and in order to maintain order in Hanoi and keep the city functioning, they allowed the Vietnamese Provisional Government to remain in control.With this “breathing space”, Hồ Chí Minh was able to maneuver against and eventually eliminate his domestic rivals, thus strengthening Việt Minh control over northern Vietnamese politics.

The March 6 Franco-Vietnamese Accord

As southern Vietnam’s disunited resistance forces struggled to push back French advances, Hồ Chí Minh and the DRV started to negotiate with France in hopes of preserving national independence while avoiding war.[20] In March 1946, the two sides reached a preliterate accord. Instead of obtaining French recognition of Vietnamese "independence", Hồ Chí Minh agreed to his government being weakly identified as a "free state" within the Indochinese Federation under the French Union. For their part, the French agreed to two provisions they had no intention of honoring. French troops came to north of the sixteenth parallel were limited to fifteen thousand men for a period of five years, and a referendum was to be held on the issue of unifying the Vietnamese regions. This agreement entangled the French and Vietnamese in joint military operations and fruitless negotiations for several months.

However, the status of southern Vietnam remained the sticking point. The March accord, which called for a referendum to determine whether the south would rejoin the rest of the country or remain a separate French territory, left the fate of former Cochin China in flux.

The First Indochina War

The preliminary accord was but the first step toward an intended overall and lasting agreement. Southern Vietnam’s future political status had to be negotiated. From June to September 1946, Hồ Chí Minh met with French representatives in Vietnam and France to discuss this and other issues. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the signing of the March 6 accord, relations began to deteriorate. Negotiations first at Dalat and later at Fontainebleau broke down over the issue of the fate of southern Vietnam. As talking failed to bring results, both sides began to prepare for a military solution. Provocations by both French and Vietnamese troops led to the outbreak of full-scale guerrilla war on December 19, 1946. Nearly one year after the August Revolution, Vietnam and France were at war.[21]


  1. William 1983, p. 39.
  3. Craig 2009, p. 104.
  4. Peter 2000, p. 57.
  5. Huynh 1971, p. 770.
  6. Jessica 2013, p. 15-17.
  7. Peter 2001, p. 47.
  8. Huynh 1971, p. 764.
  9. Peter 2001, p. 49.
  10. Huynh 1971, p. 765.
  11. Huynh 1971, p. 767.
  12. Jessica 2013, p. 23-27.
  13. David 1995, p. 126-127.
  14. Stein 2010, p. 292-293.
  15. Stein 2010, p. 312-315,321-322.
  16. Peter 2001, p. 52.
  17. William 1981, p. 113.
  18. Peter 2001, p. 80.
  19. Jessica 2013, p. 30-31.
  20. Jessica 2013, p. 31.
  21. Peter 2001, p. 170.

Works cited

See also

External links