I was reading some Ho Chi Minh the other day, from a book called The Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh, and came to the conclusion that communist writing – the style of communist dispatch writing (in general) – is so very good! and worth emulating.
Ho Chi Minh – first of all – is not very well represented in the history books. How could you believe you had a full perspective on the American Civil War without reading anything by Jefferson Davis or taking a peek at the Confederate States Constitution? Nobody takes the Vietnamese communists seriously. You never hear the story of US-Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese, or communist revolutionaries. That narrative is totally unavailable to most Americans. Reading Ho Chi Minh’s own calls to arms, his own debates with leaders from the Third International, and his own assessments of international capitalism and colonialism, is extremely valuable.
You would probably think from watching the History Channel or American films that Ho Chi Minh’s writing would reflect an aggressive ethnic nationalism or racist ideology. (This is common for some right-wing commentators, who say leftist revolutionaries like the Zapatistas are ethnic nationalists on par with Zionists or Nazis.) But Ho Chi Minh is not even particularly anti-French. He does not denigate Americans as the Americans did the Vietnamese, calling them “gooks”. In one article he even warns the Vietnamese that “Bolshevism” in the colonial countries could lead to ethnic nationalism, which is an improper understanding of Leninism. In 1923 he wrote that oppression “hits all races,” and in another essay he says to his French-speaking comrades that, “If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?”
There’s also great lessons you can learn from reading old communists. What makes Ho Chi Minh’s writing style great is not his prose. He wasn’t writing for educated Frenchmen, although he did study in France. Ho Chi Minh’s writings were understandable and precise. (One IWW unionist told me that if your writings cannot be understood by the workers in your shop, then you’re doing something wrong: you’re probably writing for academia or someone else, not for the purposes of organizing.)
I wouldn’t be incorrect if I said Ho Chi Minh’s style of writing is a lot like Lenin’s. Ho Chi Minh calls himself a Leninist, and obviously learned oration and writing from him. But unlike Lenin, Ho Chi Minh never wrote any books. Nothing Ho Chi Minh writes seems to be longer than 12 paragraphs. He was a paragraphist to the bone. For many Vietnamese peasants this was probably easier to read, easier to understand, and easier to digest. When you look at any socialist newspaper today a lot of it is just fluff, fluff, fluff.
Every once in a while, too, Ho Chi Minh does something stereotypically communist. He articulates a problem and gives an immediate solution, almost as if he did not need to think about it at all. The solution is obvious and predictable. For example, one tract ends like this:
Faced with these difficulties, what must the Party do?
Intensify propaganda to overcome them.
As if anything could be so simple!
But that’s the beauty of it. Propaganda is usually a pretty good solution. If the Americans are leafleting cities with propaganda telling them to defect and open the way for capitalism, then your response should be to reassert the viability of communism and its power over capitalism. If the bourgeoisie is using divide & conquer tactics to split the working classes apart, then counter-propaganda can unify them. Just saying “propaganda” as a solution is so general and simple, and leaves the individual to rethink the details. What kind of propaganda? What kind of message? These are all secondary questions.
I think I will start telling my friends that the solution to all of their problems is to intensify propaganda. Having trouble getting your housemates to clean up after themselves? Intensify propaganda. Having trouble losing weight? Just intensify propaganda. Having trouble impressing potential employers? Intensify propaganda. Don’t know what to do when you graduate? Propaganda. Already I started telling them this and they find it very attractive.
It’s like having a motto, or a game plan: “intensify propaganda.”
Whether we are communists, anarchists, socialists, etc. we have a deficit of good propaganda right now. Faced with that difficulty, the only thing we can do is intensify it. Capitalism, when faced with any difficulty short of a militant uprising, also believes the solution is to intensify propaganda to overcome troublemakers. Propaganda is pretty much the answer to anything. In short, sometimes the best solutions are the ones you can say in two words or less. I am all for simple solutions, and I think that’s what any good communicator – not just communist ones – have done best.