The Myth of the Wilsonian Moment: Ho Chi Minh’s Embrace of the Communist International in 1919-1920

HCM-Wilson

The Myth of the Wilsonian Moment: Ho Chi Minh’s Embrace of the Communist International in 1919-1920, Sources & Methods [Woodrow Wilson Center], 17 June 2019, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/the-myth-the-wilsonian-moment.

Was Woodrow Wilson responsible for Hồ Chí Minh’s embrace of communist internationalism? Since the 1960s, some historians have hinted as much.

Others argue forcefully for a “Wilsonian Moment” during the Versailles peace conference in late 1919 and early 1920, and suggest that Hồ preferred the American president’s concept of self-determination above all others. Only after authoring a petition to Wilson and suffering his indifference would French activists in the metropole radicalize Hồ, according to many authors, which spurred his embrace of Vladimir Lenin and communism in 1921.

Most recently, Erez Manela and Fredrik Logevall have advanced this theory in their respective international histories The Wilsonian Moment and Embers of War. Ken Burns also featured a version of this story in his documentary The Vietnam War.

To the contrary, newly digitized archival sources at France’s colonial archive and national library reveal that Hồ Chí Minh made his own moment during the Versailles conference. Far from passive or deferential, Hồ was himself an agent of radicalization. As Versailles concluded, he was already at work convincing French socialists to join Lenin’s Third International.

Indeed, there is no record of Hồ invoking Wilson in his speeches or writings at this time. This is not so surprising. After all, Wilson’s ideas would not have satisfied Hồ’s concern for national and class liberation.

Hồ’s Petition

In the summer of 1919, the French police became aware that Hồ Chí Minh …

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