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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Vietnamese Government - its organization and operation during anti-French war of resistance

Updated: 15:38’ - 22/03/2011

Vietnamese Government - its organization and operation during anti-French war of resistance

Pham Diem      
State and Law Research Institute


I. From the provisional government to the Resistance Coalition Government (1945-1946)

From the late 19th century, Vietnam became a French colony where by World War II the national liberation struggle movement had developed vigorously. In March 1946, the Japanese fascists ousted the French colonialists, having fully occupied Indochina, including Vietnam. In August 1945, World War II entered the final stage with the German, Italian, then  Japanese fascists’ unconditional surrender to the Allies, which created an extremely favorable opportunity for the movement of struggle for national independence in Vietnam.

On August 16, 1945, the National Congress was held in Tan Trao (Tuyen Quang), having elected the National Committee for Liberation of Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh as its president. That  Committee also acted as a provisional government.

The August 1945 Revolution succeeded, having abolished the Vietnamese monarchy which had existed for more than one thousand years as well as the century-old colonial regime and having given rise to a people’s democratic republic, that was the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Yet, such fledgling democratic state of Vietnam had to confront untold difficulties: the exhausted economy, the lingering famine and illiteracy with 95% of the population being unable to read and write as well as great dangers posed by hostile forces inside and outside the country with frenzied sabotage by domestic reactionaries, with the French colonialists’ return under the coverage of the British troops who entered South Vietnam in the name of the Allies to disarm the Japanese fascists and the swamp into the North by Chiang Kaisek troops also to disarm the Japanese, who, in fact, attempted to employ their Vietnamese stooges in two reactionary political parties-Viet Cach (Vietnam Revolutionary League) and Viet Quoc (Vietnam Nationalist Party) to overthrow the revolutionary administration in Vietnam. So, by then, the provisional government had to carry out simultaneously the following urgent and crucial tasks:

- Fighting the enemies inside and outside the country to defend the administration and national independence. This was the foremost and vital task.

- Building and perfecting the State apparatus system as well as legislation.

- Eliminating famine and illiteracy, stabilizing the social situation.

In order to fulfill these extremely difficult and heavy tasks, the provisional government had no other alternative but to mobilize the strength of the entire nation, as affirmed in the Independence Declaration of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam: The Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property to firmly safeguard their freedom and independence.

On August 27, 1945, at the proposal of President Ho Chi Minh, the National Committee for Liberation of Vietnam was restructured into the Provisional Govern-ment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with the participation of many democratic personalities, which represented the broad national unity front. So, the Provisional Government was not the one only of the Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh (Vietnam Independence League) as misunderstood by many people, and was also not the Government only comprising representatives of different political parties. It was actually an united national government which led the entire country pending the election of an official government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The then Provisional Government headed by President Ho Chi Minh was composed of the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Information and Propaganda, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of National Economy, the Ministry of Social Relief, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of National Education and two ministers without portfolio.

On September 2, 1945, the Provisional Government made its first public appearance and President Ho Chi Minh read the Independence Declaration, officially proclaiming the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

On September 3, 1945, the Provisional Government held its first meeting presided over by President Ho Chi Minh to discuss and set forth the following six urgent tasks:

- Launching the movement to step up agricultural production against famine and immediately raising a rice fund to help needy people.

- Launching an anti-illiteracy campaign.

- Holding the universal suffrage general election as soon as possible and drafting a democratic constitution.

- Launching an education campaign promoting diligence, thrift, moral integrity and righteousness in order to do away with bad habits and practices left behind by the old regime.

- Immediately abolishing poll tax, market dues, ferry tolls, and absolutely banning opium smoking.

- Supporting freedom of belief and unity between religious and non-religious people.

At the same time, the Government launched a “Gold Week”, having raised 370 kg of gold and 40 million Dong for the Defense Fund and 20 million Dong for the Independence Fund.

On September 8, 1945, the Government issued a decree to set up the Popular Education Bureau in charge of anti-illiteracy nationwide, and another decree to hold the parliamentary general election. On September 10, 1945, the Government issued a decision to nominate Ex-Emperor Bao Dai to be advisor to the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, thus clearly reflecting the Party’s and State’s policy of national unity.

The Government issued a decree to set up the Committee for Drafting the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 20, 1945,  another decree specifying the procedures for general election on October 17, 1945 and a decree prescribing the organization of local administration at all levels on November 22, 1945.

Regarding external activities, in September and October 1945, President Ho Chi Minh, in his capacity as President of the Provisional Government, sent messages to leaders of various countries, including US President Harry S.Truman, French President Charles De Gaulle, having asserted the legal status of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on international arena regarding its international relations as well as the settlement of matters related to Vietnam and the region, having reaffirmed Vietnam’s independence and sovereignty, and requesting those countries to respect this stark-clear truth.

In order to further broaden the national unity bloc, to avoid the confrontation with many enemy forces at a time and to stabilize the domestic situation and concentrate efforts against foreign invaders, the Provisional Government was restructured once again into the Provisional Coalition Government which involved a number of delegates of two reactionary political parties, Viet Quoc and Viet Cach, provided that this Government had to well organize the general election, unify the armed forces and resign after a new government was set up by the newly-elected Parliament. The Provisional Coalition Government, led by President Ho Chi Minh, had 14 ministries, some of which were held by representatives of those two reactionary political parties. On January 1, 1946, the Provisional Coalition Government took office, having pledged to resolutely lead the nation, to firmly maintain the national independence, to exercise the democratic rights, to overcome all difficulties and hardships.

Under President Ho Chi Minh’s wise leadership, with great determination to defend the nation’s independence and flexible tactics, the Government reached compromise with Chiang Kaisek force, mobilized human and material resources for the resistance war in South Vietnam, successfully organized the parliamentary general election, issued bank notes, mobilized the entire population to take part in productive labor, repelled famine, eradicated illiteracy, stabilized the social situation, thus taking the country out of the situation of “ thousand kilograms hanging on a hair.”

Following the January 6, 1946 general election, the newly elected Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam held its first session on March 2, 1946, having elected an official government, named the Resistance Coalition Government, in replacement of the Provisional Government, with its foremost tasks being to organize and direct the resistance war against foreign invaders for the defense of national independence.

II. Organization and operation of the Government during the anti-French resistance war (1946-1954)

The Resistance Coalition Government set up on March 2, 1946 by the Parliament was composed of the  President being  Ho Chi Minh, one vice-president and 10 ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Economy, Finance, Defense, Social Affairs and Health, Relief and Labor, Education, Justice, Communications and Public Works, and Agriculture, of whom some were men of Viet Quoc and Viet Cach parties. Such organizational structure of the Resistance Coalition Government reflected, on the one hand, the coalition among various political parties to ensure the national unity with a view to avoiding the confrontation with many enemies at a time, and, on the other hand, its simplicity suitable to war time. At its first meeting on March 4, 1946, the Resistance Coalition Government discussed and decided on domestic and external policies:

Internally, it decided:

- Various political parties must closely unite, showing their unanimity in words and actions in the best service of the country.

- The lives and property of Vietnamese citizens as well as overseas Vietnamese are fully guaranteed.

- The administration and army must be unified, the finance and economy must be centralized.

- All national forces shall be mobilized for the national salvation war and the entire population, particularly those performing public duties, must strictly observe the discipline.

Externally, the Government decided:

- For the Allied countries, especially China, Vietnam has always adopted the policy of amity.

- For small countries struggling to regain their independence, Vietnam has always sympathized with.

- For the French people, the Vietnamese people do not hate them but strongly protest against the colonial regime and are resolved to maintain their national independence. The Vietnamese government shall only negotiate with the French government on the principle of “national self-determination” of the Atlantic Charter.

The then foremost task of the Vietnamese people was to protect their national independence. With its clear-sighted strategic guidelines as well as wise and flexible tactics, the Resistance Coalition Government organized and brought into full play the integrated strength of the entire population, differentiated and isolated the enemies in order to direct the spearhead of the struggle at the principal and most dangerous enemy then, namely the French colonialists.

On March 6, 1946 in Hanoi, President Ho Chi Minh represented the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Government to sign with the French representatives the Preliminary Agreement. This was the first treaty signed with a foreign country by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with the following principal contents:

The French Government recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a free country having its own Government, Parliament, army and finance and belonging to the Indochinese Federation and the French Union.

Vietnam agrees to let French troops to enter North Vietnam in replacement of the Chiang Kaisek troops, and the French troops will station in Indochina for not more than five years.

The two sides shall cease fire in order to open official negotiations and their troops would stay where they are stationing.

With the Preliminary Agreement, Vietnam precluded an enemy, namely the Chiang Kaisek troops and frustrated the domestic reactionaries’ attempt to rely on Chiang Kaisek to topple the people’s administration, thereby being able to concentrate its forces on the principal and most dangerous enemy being the French colonialists and to avail itself of the détente to build up and prepare forces for the protracted resistance war. Inspite of the fact that the French broke their promise, the official negotiation between Vietnam and France was held on July 6, 1946 in Fontainebleau of France thanks to the resolute and persistent struggle of the Vietnamese Government for the strict observance of the Preliminary Agreement. However, the talks ended in failure as the French colonialists always nurtured their lust to reconquer Vietnam and reimpose their colonial yoke on the Vietnamese people. In order to make time preparing for the resistance war, President Ho Chi Minh in his then capacity as distinguished guest of the French Government, before leaving for home, signed with the French Government  the September 14, 1946 modus vivendi with one of the principal contents that both sides would refrain from all actions of conflicts and force, and negotiations would resume.

At its second session from October 28 to November 9, 1946, the Vietnamese Parliament elected new members of the Resistance Coalition Government under the first Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The newly set up Government, still led by President Ho Chi Minh, comprised the ministries of the Interior, Defense, Education, Finance, Communications and Public Works, Health, Labor, Justice, Agriculture, Relief and Economy and two porfolio ministers. Earlier, the ministers from Viet Quoc and Viet Cach Parties had deserted their posts by fleeing to China together with the Chiang Kaisek troops. The cabinet composition once again reflected the national coalition and unity as well as its simplicity.

Under the 1946 Constitution, the Government was the highest administrative agency of the whole country (Article 43). It was composed of the State President and Vice President(s) as well as the Cabinet. The Cabinet was composed of the Prime Minister, possibly Deputy Prime Minister(s), the ministers and vice ministers. So, the first Constitution of the country determined the relatively independent legal position of the Government in the State power structure, holding the executive power. The Government was characterized by an element of the government of a presidential republic, namely the State President headed the executive body, thus giving the Government the position of the executive body independent from the Parliament and not accountable to the Parliament. At the same time, the Government under the 1946 Constitution carried some elements of the government under a parliamentary republic, as the existence of the cabinet within the Government made the independence of the Government itself not absolute, and the cabinet had to be answerable to the Parliament which could make votes of confidence against ministers and the entire cabinet.

Concretely, under the 1946 Constitution, the State President had to be a parliamentarian and elected by the Parliament for a five-year term of office (Article 45). According to Article 47, the State President would choose the Prime Minister for voting at the Parliament and the Prime Minister would choose the cabinet members for voting at the Parliament. The State President was not only the Head of State but also the Head of the Government, having the following powers as prescribed in Article 49 of the Constitution:

- To represent the State.

- To exercise the power of general commander of the entire national army, appointing and dismissing army generals.

- To sign decisions on appointment of the Prime Minister and members of the Government.

- To preside over the Government Council’s meetings.

- To promulgate laws already passed by the Parliament.

- To award medals and honorable titles.

- To grant special reprieves.

- To sign treaties with foreign countries.

- To send Vietnamese representatives to foreign countries and receive diplomatic representatives of foreign countries.

- To declare wars or armistice.

According to Article 52, the Government had the following specific powers:

- To enforce laws and resolutions of the Parliament.

- To present bills before the Parliament.

-  To present draft ordinances and decrees before the Standing Board of the Parliament when the Parliament was in recess.

- To cancel orders and resolutions of the subordinate agencies, if necessary.

- To appoint or dismiss staff members of administrative or professional agencies.

- To enforce the law on mobilization and apply all necessary measures to defend the country.

- To make annual budget drafts.

The above-mentioned organizational structure and powers of the Government constituted a very typical feature of the 1946 Constitution, aiming, on the one hand, to enhance the national unity and coalition and, on the other hand, to firmly maintain the nature of the people’s democratic state.

Due to war conditions, the 1946 Constitution was not promulgated, but its spirits and contents were thoroughly reflected in the organization and operation of the Government throughout the war of resistance against the French colonialists.

In order to satisfy the requirements of organizing and directing the resistance war in a swift and effective manner, the Parliament, right at its first two sessions, vested the Government with many parliamentary powers: “The Resistance Coalition Government is tasked to effect the unification of national forces in the military, propaganda, administrative and judicial  aspects, to mobilize human and material resources of the country for the victory of the resistance war and the complete independence of the country.”

In face of the French colonialists’ bellicose schemes and actions, on December 19, 1946, President Ho Chi Minh called upon the entire population to wage the resistance war. In order to preserve forces, the Government and leading State bodies withdrew to Viet Bac Resistance Base.

In 1947, the Resistance Coalition Government was again restructured, with a number of democratic personalities and intellectuals being invited to hold Cabinet posts, aiming to achieve a broader coalition. On August 19, 1948 the government issued a decree on the establishment of the Defense Council composed of the State President and a number of important ministers such as Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Economy and the Minister of Finance. The Defense Council was tasked to assist the Government Council in studying plans for the protracted and allround war of resistance, to settle, on behalf of the Government, urgent issues of the resistance war. On February 12, 1950, the Government issued an order on general mobilization to materialize the motto: “All for the frontline and all for victories.”

With their defeat in Dien Bien Phu in July 1954, the French colonialists had to sign the Geneva Agreements on Indochina, having recognized the independence and sovereignty of Vietnam. The anti-French war of resistance was crowned with success.

Panoramically, the Vietnamese Government during the period or resistance war against the French colonialists was characterized by the following prominent features:

- It reflected the coalition and national unity, with a view to rallying all patriotic forces, avoiding the confrontation with many enemies at a time and focusing on the principal enemy.

- Its foremost task was to organize and direct the resistance war against foreign invaders for the national independence.

- The State powers were concentrated for the Government in order to suit the war situation and the organization as well as direction of the resistance war. The Government became the top executive body running the resistance war. It held not only the executive powers but also the judiciary powers and, to a certain extent, the legislative powers with the promulgation of a number of orders and decrees. The Government apparatus was light and neat, not rigid, which operated under the mechanism of high centralism and flexible direction.-



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