Being one of the first soldiers of the worker movement and proletarian revolutionary movements in Vietnam Ton Duc Thang devoted all his life-span to the career of national democratic people revolution and socialist revolution. Being born and grown in An Giang, but Ton Duc Thang began his enthusiastic operations in Saigon – Cho Lon. At this very place, Ton Duc Thang put his deep marks in the patriotic operations of students, in the workers’ movements and in the operation of national liberation under the leadership of the Communist Party.
1. The mark of the first time leading the struggle at Ba Nghe School and Ba Son shipyard
Ton Duc Thang left his native land of An Giang to Sai Gon in 1906 to learn profession and to work. Two years later, Ton Duc Thang threw himself into operations. In 1909, Ton Duc Thang called students playing truant. In 1910, he continued to call workers of Saigon Service of Architecture and Housing to claim raise, protesting the unreasonable punishment of the managers. In 1912, the influence and the roles of Ton Duc Thang clearly expressed in the student strike of students in Ba Nghe School and the strike of Ba Son workers(1). These were the “red-address” closely relating to and forming the height of Ton Duc Thang since the first time to join the patriotic and revolutionary movements.
At Ba Nghe School, under the direction of Ton Duc Thang, the struggle against the harsh practice labour policy (forcing students to practise 10 hours a day, compensating the products in case of damage); and after that the student strike oppressing the suppression on students took place in many days and made big resound. To settle the situation, the French Government in Saigon ordered Ba Son workers to replace Ba Nghe students to opportunely complete the products. Also under the organization and direction of Ton Duc Thang, Ba Son workers insistently refused to replace the students. When the bosses imprisoned some workers, Ba Son workers immediately went on strike, asking them to set the arrested free, not to beat or hurt them… Combining with Ba Son workers, Ba Nghe students continued to accelerate the struggle, asking the discharge of the arrested students and adjust the practice policy. The combinative strength between Ba Son workers and Ba Nghe students made the victory: the Ba Son shipyard owners and the School-board of Ba Nghe had to satisfy the reasonable claims of workers and students.
We can consider the struggle in 1912 stated above the first mark of Ton Duc Thang in the students’ patriotic movements and Saigon – Cho Lon workers’ movements as the leader of such movements. It was a certainty that in order to hold and execute successfully the role of instructor and caller towards the strike of students and workers in 1912, Ton Duc Thang had made his role and influence from previous years in the force of patriotic students and workers, especially at Ba Nghe School and Ba Son shipyard. From these places, the influence spread to many other “red places” in the Central of Saigon and its vicinity.
To the year of 1915-1916, when becoming an official student of Ba Nghe School, Ton Duc Thang stately asserted the position and credit of a real leader. Newspaper Southern Torch
(issued 25 Jun 1930), when repeating the time when Ton Duc Thang was a student of Ba Nghe School, stated: “At that time, Thang was young and brave. Thang made rules for schoo and class order… Thanks to Thang’s strict rules, students of the mechanical school were in good order… Thang knew his duties so he always gave assistance to his younger brothers”
. As Professor Tran Van Giau’s saying: “Young Ton Duc Thang is such a man: gathering, being responsible, winning credit”(2)
Ton Duc Thang put his marks right on the first days to lead the struggle. It is from the very reality of the worker and patriotic movements, Ton Duc Thang put deeper marks by founding the first organization of Vietnamese workers in the region of Saigon – Cho Lon.
2. The mark to found the Secret Union and to lead the workers’ movement in Saigon – Cho Lon
After the Black Sea munity (20 April 1919), Ton Duc Thang left the French Naval Force, returning to Saigon. Accompanying this previous leader of workers and students movement were the percept and experience of organizing and operating of forms of union, society to protect interest for the working class. This was the time of strong development of Saigon – Cho Lon workers movements. In August 1920, the strike and demonstration of sailors on ships anchoring at Saigon Port, under the support of Saigon Post Officer Association and other classes of labourers, ebulliently took place and gained victory. Better than anybody else, Ton Duc Thang gained more profound conceptions about the strength of the body, the combination and solidarity in struggle of workers and labourers. This encouraged Ton Duc Thang to execute the foundation of an organization to gather, protect workers in living and in struggling. The establishment of Secret Union in Saigon, the first union of the country in 1920 and the leadership of the workers movements in the next years were impressive marks in the life of revolutionary operation of Ton Duc Thang, making Ton Duc Thang’s name become one of the most typical and special symbols in the history of the working class and the workers’ movements.
According to the senior revolutionist Duong Quang Dong, from 1920 to 1927, "most of Saigon’s firms or factories could found a union, or was propagandized about the communism, mostly labourers, workers and the poor”
. The writers of Ton Duc Thang – Biography said: “The first units of the Union were founded at Saigon Port, Ba Son Shipyard, FACI firm, Saigon Power Factory, Cho Quan Power Factory, and developing to many units in the city”.
In the secret conditions of operation, facing a lot of challenges and difficulties, Saigon Union kept its growth and development (to 1925, it had about 300 members). It was really the assistance body of the workers. It called, guided workers to struggle to protect their own interest. Particularly, the strike of Ba Son workers in August 1925 connected to the role of organization, leadership of Saigon Secret Union led by Ton Duc Thang has become the historical milestone and the glorious mark in the tradition of the working class and Vietnamese workers movements: marking the real conversion from spontaneity to self-awareness, from “the self-class” to the “for-oneself class”. The sense of class solidarity, the international proletarian spirit, the ability and level to organize the struggle of Vietnamese working class, shown through the strike at Ba Son, have shown that the workers’ movement has got the evolvement in quality. Once more, Ton Duc Thang perceived a new demand: “The workers at that time longed for a body leading them to widely struggle, attracting the mass to be revolutionists”(3)
. Therefore, the writer Dinh Xuan Lam and Pham Xanh was completely correct when they wrote that “the struggle of Ba Son workers has exceeded the leadership of a union body whose main functions are to struggle for the daily practical demand of the workers. By this struggle, we can see clearly that the workers wishing to reach a higher revolutionary body.”(4)
Therefore, Ton Duc Thang is both the founder of the first union in Vietnam revolution history and also the important contributor to push the working class and Vietnamese workers’ movements to a new stage: closely connecting to Marxism – Leninism and patriotic movements to expand its strength, heading to the target of national liberation and democracy. Ton Duc Thang himself has also developed from a leader in the patriotic movements of students, a leader of the workers’ movements which was in spontaneity, to a leading communist soldier, one of the forerunner founders of the Party in the South during the late 1920s of the 20th century.
3. The mark to found Vietnam Youth Revolution Society in the South and Saigon – Cho Lon
In June 1925, Nguyen Ai Quoc founded the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society and opened the course to train and instruct cadres at Quang Chau, (China) to accelerate the Marxism and Leninism to Vietnam, to actively prepare the idealistic and political premises, to prepare the existence of the Communist Party. Early 1927, in Saigon, Phan Trong Binh and Nguyen Van Loi, two members of the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society attended the first training course. They were also two of the five Communist members to be assigned to the South to found units. They have met Ton Duc Thang. As an unavoidable meeting between the patriotism, the worker essence in Ton Duc Thang with Marxism and Leninism, right after that, Ton Duc Thang was admitted to the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society. He and Phan Trong Binh selected person to send to Quang Chau to attend the training course of the Society. The writer of Ton Duc Thang – Biography said: “At the first time of founding revolutionary unit in the trend of proletarian in Saigon, disciples of Nguyen Ai Quoc have based on the Union of Ton Duc Thang to found and develop the organization… In other words, Saigon Union of the year 1926 and 1927 was the real unit of the constitution and development of the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society, not only in Saigon but also in the whole South”(5)
. With such a role, to the mid of 1927, when the South’s regional party headquarter of the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society was founded, Ton Duc Thang was appointed the Member of the Regional Executive Committee, then holding the Secretary of Saigon City Committee, (then merged with Cho Lon forming Saigon – Cho Lon City Committee).
Under the instruction and struggle organization of the South Regional Executive Committee and Saigon City Committee, in which there were a lot of Ton Duc Thang’s contribution, the worker movements in the South and Saigon – Cho Lon have reached to their peaks during 1928-1929. It accelerates the existence of communist units in all the country, directly in the South. Ton Duc Thang has made new mark: thanks to the active operations of Saigon Secret Union and the role and credit of Ton Duc Thang, the combination between Marxism and Leninism and patriotism in Saigon – Cho Lon and the South developed quickly and smoothly. “Ton Duc Thang was not only a pioneer in the workers’ movements, one of the founders of Vietnam working class’s union, He was also one of the senior communist who contributed in the operation for the Party Establishment.”(6).
The Secretary of the South Regional Executive Committee of the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society Phan Trong Binh stated: “Although Uncle Ton was arrested before the existence of the Vietnam Communist Party, He had contributed a significant portion for the preparation of the Party Establishment.”(7)
The case at Barbier street in 1929 and the Court of Assizes held on 25 June 1930 have closed the first operation stage in the life and career of Ton Duc Thang in Saigon – Cho Lon. During that time, Ton Duc Thang has put uncancellable marks in the illustrious struggle historical pages of young students, working labourers, the communist and other classes of people, not only in Saigon – Cho Lon but also nationwide.
In the books Ton Duc Thang – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity published
on the occasion of 115th birth-anniversary of the late President Ton Duc Thang, the leaders of Party and State have written about Uncle Ton with all love and respect. The late General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh stated: “I paid a lot of respect on Uncle Ton as well as on Uncle Ho”(8)
. General Secretary Nong Duc Manh emphasized: “Uncle Ton had lived all his life-span as a Communist soldier. Uncle’s invaluable devotion has set to our revolutionists an example of sacrifice, struggle, and bright ethics of a communist devoting for the Fatherland, for the People”.(9)
General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote: “Uncle Ton is a typical communist… Uncle Ton always lasts in our mind”10 . General Mai Chi Tho considered Uncle Ton an idol of my youth revolution time”(11).
To commemorate the 120th birth-anniversary of Uncle Ton, we all penetrate what the late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong stated on the mark of Ton Duc Thang: “The most precious thing in a man is the essence. The most precious heritage left to the People by Comrade Ton Duc Thang is the essence of Ton Duc Thang’s person, the synthesized product of the Southern generous quality, the Vietnamese resilient spirit and creativity, the pioneer of the working class, the revolution nature of a patriot, a communist, the humanity of a man. The essence of such human virtue is the love towards the country, the people, the compatriots, the comrades, the steadfast belief to the revolution’s victory, despite all miseries, difficulties, he devoted his heart to serve people with integrity, industriousness, thriftiness, uprightness, self-sacrifice, brilliant modesty and simple innocence. Such revolutionary quality can not be faded. From the youth to the old age, over a lot of challenges, it becomes more beautiful, more noble.”(12)
* Vice-Chancellor of University of Social Science & Humanity – HCMC National University.
(1) The time when two events happened have still been argued. We count 1912 pursuant to the work Ton Duc Thang – Biography, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2007.
(1,2) According to Dinh Xuan Lam, Pham Xanh, Uncle Ton with revolutionary movements in Saigon in the late 1920s of 20th century – in Ton Duc Thang, the typical communist, symbol of great solidarity, National Political Publishing House, ha Noi, 2003, page 319.
(5) According to Ton Duc Thang – Biography, stated, page 68.
(6) According to Ton Duc Thang – Biography, stated, page 71.
(7) Phan Trong Binh – Uncle Ton Duc Thang – in Ton Duc Thang – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 188.
(8) Nguyen Van Linh, The days living with Uncle Ton at Poulo Condor – in Ton Duc Thang – – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 29.
(9) Nong Duc Manh, The Fatherland’s eminent Son - in Ton Duc Thang – – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 31.
(10) Vo Nguyen Giap, We remember Uncle Ton for ever - in Ton Duc Thang – – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 32-33.
(11) Mai Chi Tho, Uncle Ton – an idol of my youth revolution time - in Ton Duc Thang – – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 50.
(12) Pham Van Dong, Uncle Ton, the immortal revolutionist - in Ton Duc Thang – – the typical communist, the symbol of great solidarity, stated, page 24.