VIET NAM: The Origins of Revolution by

VIET NAM: The Origins of Revolution

Email this review


A scholarly, very significant outline of the effects of French rule and Japanese occupation, plus an elaborate history of the Viet Minh's struggle, up through 1946. The author is a young, properly polylingual American. Apart from his concern with military particulars, the book is structured by an ulterior goal: improving ""our understanding of revolution."" A wonderful array of metaphors and euphemisms may give some readers an illusion of detachment. Others will translate (e.g.) ""questions of political legitimacy in an unstable, slowly modernizing country like Vietnam, the sharing of political power by urban elites with peasant villagers, the political bases of guerrilla war"" as (e.g.) ""How can native ruling groups control the people's post-colonial strivings when revolutionaries have a non-terroristic hold?"" McAlster goes well beyond conventional simplicities like the poverty-causes-revolt view. But his thesis--that revolutionary leaders are members of the elite frustrated by a too-small share of the pie--is overstated, even granting its egoistic premise. To explain the Viet Minh's capacity to ""forge"" the peasants, he uses the same ethnocentric concepts of ""rewarding performance by upward mobility"" and ""access to the rewards of political power""; it begins to sound like British trade-unionists joining the Labour Party. For all his data, McAlster has over-abstracted from a truly unique revolutionary development. Taken separately; his data and his thesis (which derives from a theory of Daniel Lerner's) will be seriously regarded. But they do not satisfy the author's hopes for a counter-revolutionary strategy to replace feckless counter-insurgency tactics.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1969
Publisher: Knopf