Revolutionary Witness

Revolutionary Witness


The other day, I began reading a book entitled, “In The Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary” by Ngo Van and just after the first two chapters I was blown away by what I had just read. click to buy

Ngo Van was born in a peasant village in Vietnam in 1912. As a young man he moved to Saigon and became involved in underground struggles against the French colonial regime. In the aftermath of World War II, as most of his comrades were being murdered by Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Party, Van escaped to France, where he became a factory worker, a painter, and a historical scholar. Following his retirement in 1978, he devoted the remainder of his life to researching and writing a series of books on the history of modern Vietnam. He died in 2005 at the age of 92.

In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary is an English translation of Ngo Van’s fascinating and gripping autobiography, originally published in two volumes in France in 2000 and 2005. This book is the story of those other movements and revolts, caught in the crossfire between the French and the Stalinists, told by one of the few survivors.

The purpose of this post is not to sell and review this book, but to introduce you to a man whose life is full of inspiration and to show a part of history that has been hidden from text books. This is the history of the struggle for liberation and as the book points out to unveil moments of this hidden history, the sublime moments when people break through the bounds of the ‘possible’ and strive to create a life worthy of their deepest dreams and aspirations.

Ngo Van left his village at the age of 14 to work in a metal working factory in Saigon. Five years later, he joined the Vietnamese Trotskyist movement in 1932 at the age of 19 and became involved in the demonstrations and strikes against French rule. In the book, he points out at the time Trotskyist movement was often more popular than the rival Stalinist movement under Ho Chi Minh. The Vietnamese Trotskyists expressed more consistently radical perspectives. He continued to say that the situation was somewhat the same to what was going on in Spain at the time where both radical popular movements were fighting against foreign and reactionary forces while being stabbed in the back by the Stalinists. He mentions the only difference was that in Spain the popular movement was predominantly anarchists, whereas anarchism was virtually unknown in Vietnam.

Ngo Van writings are worth the time because not only do you get information about a time of history that you can not hear about anywhere else but you also can follow an individual on his own personal journey and struggles. His journey is not a pretty one due to the nature of the oppressive ruling class and his early years of being tortured until near death for trying to organize a General Strike.

If you are interested and would like to download (for free) a collection of Ngo Van’s works you can do that here. Once I find free English translations I will post those here as well.

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About author

Jason Bayless

Jason Bayless is a life-long activist and is currently working at The Pachamama Alliance. When he is not working he spends, working with Center for Farmworker Families and spending his time recording shows, writing blogs, collecting 3D movies, and playing VR games.

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