In yet another important move towards the institutionalization of the Hòa Hảo congregation, on September 21, 1946 Huỳnh Phú Sổ proclaimed the formation of the Social-Democratic Party, or Việt Nam Dân Chủ Xã Hội Đảng also known as Dân Xã. Hence, Hòa Hảo Buddhism outgrew the purely religious domain and expanded into the realm of contemporary politics.
According to the partys Declaration, “Vietnam has a right to be independent, and the Vietnamese people have a right to be equal with all other nations.” The declaration also said that the Vietnamese nation emerged from imperialist control, aiming at efficient political and economic development. Dân Xã was supposed to become a “democratic and revolutionary party, which advocated an economic model in line with the socialist principles including social security for the disabled.” On the other hand, the Social-Democratic Party disenfranchised class struggle because “after 80 years of colonial dependence the Vietnamese society had just one class of the oppressed, which was subject to capitalist and colonial exploitation.” Dân Xã pledged “to prevent the stronger class from exploiting the labor of the weaker class in order to allow everyone to benefit according to his abilities and labor.” The Social-Democratic Party Declaration also said that class struggle should have been avoided in the future, therefore, a “New Society should have been built to prevent any growth of exploiting classes, and nurture only productive classes...” Huỳnh Giáo Chủ. Sấm giảng thi thơ toàn bộ. Gíao Hội Phật Giáo Hòa Hảo, 1965. Santa Fe Spring, CA: Văn Phòng Phật Giáo Hòa Hảo Hải Ngoại, 1982, pp. 469-470.
The program of the Social-Democratic Party stressed the need to uphold peace, recognize the self-determination rights of all nations, and the fight for national liberation. The unified Vietnam was to become a "democratic republic." The program also denounced "colonialism and dictatorship in all forms." In the economic field, the Social-Democratic Party pledged to eradicate exploitation, respect property rights and guarantee the coexistence of various economic sectors: namely state-owned and private.
The Party stopped short of advocating the forcible redistribution of wealth. The Social-Democratic Party did not advocate the nationalization of large-scale plantations, promising to purchase these lands from original owners and to resell to peasants. The Social-Democratic Party also vowed to eradicate "opium smoking, gambling, prostitution, corruption, and culture of slaves." Ibid, pp. 471-474.
A few days before the official inauguration of the Social-Democratic Party, Huỳnh Phú Sổ summoned some of his trusted disciples and described his objectives. The leader of the Hòa Hảo Buddhists argued that since the Việt Minh was actively engaged in the political struggle, their congregation also needed a political arm in order to oppose the Communists. According to Huỳnh Phú Sổ, the creation of the Social-Democratic Party would have allowed him to ally with other nationalist politicians, notably those of different faiths.
According to Trần Văn Âns memoirs, in September 1946 Huỳnh Phú Sổ lived in Chợ Lớn and met up with his aides at the Băng Gia Tửu Lầu Chinese restaurant on Rue Marins, where initial discussions relative to the Social-Democratic Party took place. The actual decisions were made at the house of Nguyễn Văn Nhiều, an affluent Hòa Hảo follower in Chợ Lớn. As Nguyễn Bảo Toàn, Nguyễn Văn Sâm, and Trần Văn Ân drafted the partys declaration and program, Huỳnh Phú Sổ checked and approved the drafts. According to Trần Văn Ân, Nguyễn Văn Nhiều was subsequently apprehended by the Communists and killed. His body was reportedly hacked into several pieces and thrown into Saigon canals.
When the Social-Democratic Party was launched, Nguyễn Bảo Toàn became its general secretary, while the partys central committee included Huỳnh Phú Sổ, Nguyễn Văn Sâm (foreign affairs), Trần Văn Ân (political affairs), Lê Văn Thu (propaganda), as well as Lâm Văn Tết, Đỗ Phong Thuần, Dr. Trần Văn Tâm, and Lê Văn Thuận. It is noteworthy that Huỳnh Phú Sổ refrained from taking over the party and became a member of the partys central committee. The idea was to demonstrate that the Social-Democratic Party was a body separate from the Hòa Hảo congregation.
It has been argued that Huỳnh Phú Sổ wanted to build in the country, as a whole, the communitarian world, which had proved so viable in Hòa Hảo territory. The Hòa Hảo leader and the Social-Democratic Party also stated that they were bringing Buddhist religion into politics.
In late 1947, the Social-Democratic Party became a target of Communist terrorist action. On October 10 Nguyễn Văn Sâm was murdered in Chợ Lớn. In November 1947, Dr. Trần Văn Tâm was killed in Gia Định. In 1948 an extraordinary congress voted to halt all partys activities. Its media outlets – the Quần Chúng newspaper in Saigon, as well as Quần Chúng and Nợ Nước newspapers in the Mekong Delta - were discontinued so the Communists could not use them as sources to monitor the partys activities.
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