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Ngo Van, Vietnamese Revolutionary book event

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Event Type:
Ken Knabb
Location Details:
Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library
6501 Telegraph Ave. (at 65th St.)
Oakland, CA 94609

Ken Knabb will be reading and discussing:

Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary

By Ngo Van, Edited by Ken Knabb and Hélène Fleury

“History is written by the victors.” The most radical revolts are not only physically crushed, they are falsified, trivialized, and buried under a constant barrage of superficial and ephemeral bits of “information,” to the point that most people do not even know they happened. Ngo Van’s In the Crossfire is among the most illuminating revelations of this repressed and hidden history. It is also a very moving human document: dramatic political events are interwoven with intimate personal concerns, just as they always are in reality.

The two-stage Vietnam war against French and then American occupation (1945–1975) is still fairly well known; but almost no one knows anything about the long and complex struggles that preceded it. Van’s account gives us a sense of the political climate and the players that set the stage for the war—nationalists and Buddhists, Trotkyists and Stalinists, as well as spontaneous popular revolts that often bypassed them all. These proved to be some of the most broad-based and persevering revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.

Ngo Van took part in these movements as a young man in Saigon; attending clandestine meetings; establishing underground networks; disseminating radical publications; organizing strikes and protests; taking part in insurrections and partisan warfare; being jailed and tortured by the French; and being one of the few survivors of the murderous campaign of the Stalinists, who systematically liquidated the Trotskyists and all the other oppositional movements in the aftermath of World War II.

Constantly harassed by the French colonial police in Saigon and risking assassination by the Stalinists if he ventured into the countryside, Van emigrated to France in 1948. His encounters with anarchists, councilists and libertarian Marxists reaffirmed the most radical aspects of his previous experiences while verifying his increasing suspicions that there were significant problems with Trotskyism as well as Stalinism. From that point on, Van carried out his activities as an independent radical.

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. Co-edited by Van’s close friend and collaborator, Hélène Fleury, and acclaimed situationist author and translator Ken Knabb, the book includes 70 color and black and white illustrations, reproducing many of Van’s paintings as well as numerous documentary photographs. In the Crossfire belongs on the shelf of every serious scholar of Vietnamese history, and is sure to be a compelling read for anyone interested in the revolutionary history of the twentieth century and beyond.

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.

“The future of human societies depends on our capacity to wrest the past from the cold grip of the present masters. Voices have been lost. We must try to bring them back to life; to rediscover the living traces of the relay of rebellion that traverses time; to restore them and to pass them on.”

—Ngo Van, from the preface

Added to the calendar on Thu, Oct 14, 2010 2:00PM
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