Nguyễn An Ninh (September 5, 1900 – August 14, 1943) was a radical Vietnamese political journalist and publicist in French colonial Cochinchina (southern Vietnam). An independent and charismatic figure, Nguyen An Ninh was able to conciliate between different anti-colonial factions including, for a period in the 1930s, between the Communist Party of Nguyen Ai Quoc ("Ho Chi Minh", then in exile) and its left, Trotskyist, opposition. Nguyen An Ninh died in the French penal colony of Pulo Condore, age 42. He is recognised by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as a Revolutionary Martyr.

Early political celebrity

Nguyễn An Ninh was born on September 5, 1900 in Cholon, Saigon, Cochinchina (a direct rule colony incorporated with four protectorates in the French Indochinese Union). His father Nguyen An Khuong, "a middling landowner, who preferred to think of himself as a country scholar", was a supporter of the Duy Tân hội or Đông Du (Association for Modernization, 1904-1912) reform movement. Nguyen An Ninh received a French education. In 1918, this took him to Paris. He graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in Law age 20.   While in Paris, Nguyễn An Ninh joined the ''Groupe des Patriotes Annamites'' (The Group of Vietnamese Patriots) that included Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Van Trưong, Nguyen Thế Truyen and the future Ho Chi Minh (then under the name Nguyen Tat Thanh). Together the "Five Dragons" (''Ngu Long'') indicted French colonial policy in the socialist press (an indictment that, on a return to France in 1923, Nguyễn An Ninh developed and published as ''La France en Indochine''). In 1919 the group tried to present delegates to the Versailles Peace conference with an eight-point programme for colonial self-determination. Within months of a final return from France, Nguyễn An Ninh was arrested in a suppression of ''La Cloche Fêlée.'' As the editor-in-chief, reporter, type-setter and even street seller, he had been producing the paper intermittently in Saigon since December 1923. Its appeals had drawn thousands of young workers and students to protest debt peonage and deportations, and to demand freedom of press, education and assembly. Nguyễn An Ninh's arrest on March 21, 1926 coincided with the return from France of Bui Quang Chieu, the leader of the moderate-nationalist Constitutionalist Party. Crowds accompanying Chieu through the streets of Saigon chanted "Free Nguyễn An Ninh". It was also the day news was received of the death of Phan Chau Trinh. One of the Five Dragons, Phan Chau Trinh was a celebrated political convict. The result. on April 4, was an unprecedented demonstration against the government. Seventy thousand paraded with Phan Chau Trinh's cortege. When Nguyễn An Ninh's 18-month sentence was announced on April 24, 1926 students and school children in Saigon and the region deserted their classes en masse. More than a thousand of them were expelled.

''La Cloche Fêlée'' and the "Nguyen An Ninh Secret Society"

Nguyễn An Ninh published ''La Cloche Fêlée'' (the title from the poem by Baudelaire, The Cracked Bell) as a "Journal for the Propagation of French Ideas." He exhorted young people to "leave the homes of your fathers." Only then could they hope to share off the "suffocating ignorance" in which they were trapped by obscurantism. "Our oppression comes from France, but so," he assured them, "does the spirit of liberation". Nguyễn An Ninh published his own translation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ''The Social Contract'' under the title ''The Ideal of Annamese Youth'' (''Cao-vọng cúa bọn thanh niên An-Nam. Dân uóc'').' Nguyễn An Ninh's was not an assimilationist. He published his paper in French only because of the government's print restrictions on Vietnamese, and it was with regular pleas to his readers to translate for their "brothers" Rather, following the path of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and of Congress leader Mohandas Gandhi in India, he saw himself as employing the ideals of the Enlightenment to both reappraise and reawaken the indigenous culture. This was not a task he believed could be entrusted to the narrow urban and literate classes alone. In 1929 more than a hundred peasants and day labourers were convicted in Saigon for membership of "Nguyễn An Ninh Secret Society" (otherwise known as ''Thanh niên Cao vọng Đảng'', the Youth Salvation Party). According to the Sûreté it had been an insurrectionist conspiracy that promised the initiated "some kind of agrarian socialism." The Trotskyist militant and later chronicler of the times Ngo Van concluded that the "Society" was largely a figment of "denunciations and torture-induced confessions." Early in 1928, Nguyễn An Ninh, his head shaved like a Buddhist monk, had begun travelling by bicycle from village to village. It is not clear what exactly he intended. Some of this comrades may have tried to organise in his wake. Other underground groups may have used the name of Nguyễn An Ninh as a "rallying symbol." Nguyen An Ninh had been joined in the countryside by Phan Văn Hùm. In a serialised and widely circulated account of their shared experience of Saigon's ''Maison Centrale'', the "Colonial Bastille," Phan Văn Hùm eulogised his friend as a man who, forsaking government offers of land and position, had struck "terror into the hearts of corrupt, servile sycophants" and shaken "the corner of the southern sky" Other Vietnamese sources have Nguyễn An Ninh returning to his mission the countryside after his release in 1931. He is accompanied by Nguyễn Văn Trân, a young Communist Party member he had known from Paris, and it is with the understanding that his Society is not a political party, but rather a mass movement from which there could, and should, be recruitment to the Communist Party. Ninh, according to these sources, declined to join the party himself only because he believed himself of greater service to the movement as a non-party "patriotic intellectual". When years later, in 1936, Ngo Van encountered Nguyễn An Ninh again in Saigon's ''Maison Central'' and asked him about his "agrarian programme," Ngo Van recalls that Nguyễn An Ninh "raised his eyes ver the prison wallstoward the tamarind trees and began to sing ''Auprès de ma blonde'' traditional French ballad "In my father's garden . . . All the birds in the world come to build their nests". He later thrust into Ngo Van's hands Céline's "explosive" ''Voyage au bout de la nuit'' (Journey to the End of the Night)

''La Lutte'' and the Democratic Front

Between 1930 and the end of 1932 the colonial authorities responded to widespread rural and labour unrest with dragnet arrests. More than 12,000 political prisoners were taken, of whom 7,000 were sent to the penal colonies. The French shattered the structure of every anti-colonial faction including (at a time when most their leading cadres were already in prison or, with Ho chi Minh, abroad) the Indochinese Communist Party (PCI). Gathering around the independent figure of Nguyễn An Ninh, several of surviving representatives decided to bury their differences and together oppose the government in the Saigon municipal elections of April-May 1933. The group, which included Nguyễn Văn Tạo of the PCI, the Trotskyist Tạ Thu Thâu, the anarchist Trinh Hung Ngau, and the independent nationalist Tran Van Thach, put forward a common "Workers's List" (''So lao dong'') and briefly published the paper ''La Lutte'' (The Struggle) to rally support for it. In spite of the restricted franchise, two of this Struggle group were elected (although denied their seats). Ngo Van identifies Nguyễn An Ninh as having been "the real linchpin." At the largest of the hustings he was elected to chair by acclaim. In 1934 Nguyễn An Ninh helped revive the ''La Lutte'' collaboration. Ninh and the ''Lutteurs'' "focused squarely on the plight of the urban poor, the workers and peasant labourers." However, from 1936 the lengthening shadow of the Moscow Trials (obliging the Party loyalists to denounce their Trotskyist colleagues as "twin brothers of fascism"), and the failure of the Communist Party-supported Popular Front government in France to deliver on promises of colonial reform, ensured a split. Tạ Thu Thâu and Nguyễn Văn Tạo came together for the last time in the April 1937 city council elections, both being elected. In the wake of renewed labour unrest, with Tạ Thu Thâu and Nguyen Van Tao, Nguyễn An Ninh's was soon back in prison. When released early in 1939, but still under house arrest, he was persuaded to let his name go forward with Nguyễn Văn Tạo, and other Party cadres, as a Democratic Front candidate in the April 1939 1939 Cochinchina Colonial Council elections Together with the Constitutionalist slate, his list was defeated by the now wholly Trotskyist ''lutteurs''. The ''La Lutte'' Workers and Peasants platform was revolutionary (radical land redistribution and workers' control) but in a restricted income-tax payer election the key was the Trotskyists' opposition to the French Indochina defence levy that the Communist Party, in the spirit of Franco-Soviet accord, had felt obliged to support.

Final incarceration and death

When on August 23, 1939 Franco-Soviet relations were finally sundered by the Hitler-Stalin Pact and war followed two weeks later, "sedition" of every stripe and faction was repressed. Nguyễn An Ninh was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 10 years exile. Nguyen An Ninh died in the Côn Đảo island prison, Poulo Condore, on August 14, 1943. It is possible that his jailers had decided his fate. They may have regarded him as a figure the Japanese occupiers would seek to use politically. Thirty-seven years after his death, on August 1, 1980, the Vietnamese Socialist Republic posthumously conferred upon Nguyễn An Ninh the title “Revolutionary Martyr.”Da Anh, ''Nguyễn An Ninh - a patriotic lawyer'' In what is now Ho Chi Minh City Nguyễn An Ninh is memorialised in the Nguyễn An Ninh High school and in Nguyễn An Ninh Street, a central thoroughfare familiar to the city's growing number of foreign visitors.


See also

* La Lutte *Ngo Van *Nguyen An Ninh *Phan Văn Hùm *Tạ Thu Thâu {{DEFAULTSORT:Nguyen, An Ning Category:Vietnamese activists Category:1900 births Category:1943 deaths Category:Vietnamese nationalists Category:Vietnamese revolutionaries Category:Vietnamese writers Category:People from Ho Chi Minh City