“The Path of Revolution in the South” Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1956, Le Duan was one of the top three leaders in the Vietnamese Communist Party and in North Vietnam. By the time he wrote this essay, it was clear that the election to unify North and South Vietnam was not going to occur. The essay had a two-fold purpose. While it was a call for a negotiated settlement, Le Duan clearly saw the reluctance of the South to negotiate and thus placed the blame for the impending conflict on South Vietnam and the United States (which was propping up the South Vietnamese government). Secondly, this was a call for support by the North Vietnamese leaders and people for the reunification of Vietnam, through an armed conflict if necessary. Although it was still a few years until large-scale military action between North and South Vietnam was undertaken, this document served as a foundation for the North's support of South Vietnamese insurgents as well as for the direct involvement of North Vietnamese forces.

Summary Overview

In 1956, Le Duan was one of the top three leaders in the Vietnamese Communist Party and in North Vietnam. By the time he wrote this essay, it was clear that the election to unify North and South Vietnam was not going to occur. The essay had a two-fold purpose. While it was a call for a negotiated settlement, Le Duan clearly saw the reluctance of the South to negotiate and thus placed the blame for the impending conflict on South Vietnam and the United States (which was propping up the South Vietnamese government). Secondly, this was a call for support by the North Vietnamese leaders and people for the reunification of Vietnam, through an armed conflict if necessary. Although it was still a few years until large-scale military action between North and South Vietnam was undertaken, this document served as a foundation for the North's support of South Vietnamese insurgents as well as for the direct involvement of North Vietnamese forces.

Defining Moment

World War II brought about the end of colonization in many parts of the world, including Vietnam. Just as most of the French government cooperated with the Germans after the fall of Paris in 1940, so too most of the French colonial officers in Vietnam cooperated with the Japanese when the latter arrived in September of that same year. Once an Allied victory became all but assured in Europe, French nationalism began to increase among its colonial officials. Thus, in March 1945, the Japanese incarcerated the French and set up a puppet Vietnamese government. The Viet Minh, communist forces that had fought the Japanese throughout the war, were able to gain control of northern Vietnam by August and declared an independent state there. France returned after the conclusion of World War II and tried to re-establish a colony, ultimately losing in 1954 when the Geneva Accords were signed. In that agreement, two temporary states were established, a communist one in the North and a pro-Western one in the South.

When the provisions of the Geneva Accords fell apart in 1956, the communist leaders in the North had to decide whether to accept a divided country for the foreseeable future or to develop a new plan for Vietnam's unification as a communist state. There were moderates who were satisfied with the status quo, and others who wanted to try a new round of negotiations. Le Duan was the leader of the faction that wanted to reunify the country as soon as possible and by whatever means necessary. His “Path of Revolution” essay set forth the justification for military action because, to him, it was clear that peaceful negotiations were not going to occur. Having served the Communist Party in the South, Le Duan was certain that he understood the situation and what would be needed. As he lobbied other members of the Communist Party's Central Committee, he presented the idea that aggressive military action was the only alternative to negotiation.

At the 1956 meeting of North Vietnam's Central Committee, the discussions resulted in a decision as to which direction the committee would move to unify the country. As no negotiations were imminent, the committee chose the direction advocated by Le Duan. Le Duan was so successful in presenting his case, in fact, that he was elevated to membership in the secretariat at that meeting. In 1957, Le Duan was assigned the task of developing a full plan for the military struggle with the South, which was implemented in 1959. Although Ho Chi Minh was technically in charge until his death in 1969, Le Duan was the political leader of the military campaign in South Vietnam until the end of the war in 1975.

Author Biography

Le Duan (1907/08–1986) was born in the southern part of Vietnam while it was part of French Indochina. Having received a basic education, he worked as a clerk for the railroad system. While in this job, he became acquainted with Marxism. In 1928, he joined the Revolutionary Youth League and, two years later, was a founding member of the Indochina Communist Party. Within a few more years, he was a member of the Central Committee. As a result of this group's anti-French actions, Le Duan was twice imprisoned. Released from prison in 1945, he became an assistant to the communist leader Ho Chi Minh, focusing on activities in the south. In 1956, he was elevated to membership in the Secretariat of the Communist Party, becoming first secretary in 1959 and then head of the Communist Party in 1960. While officially sharing power with Ho Chi Minh, until Ho's death in 1969, when Ho's health declined in the mid-1960s Le Duan was clearly the party leader. Until his own death, he was first among equals in the political collective leadership of Vietnam.

Historical Document

The situation forces bellicose states such as the U.S. and Britain to recognize that if they adventurously start a world war, they themselves will be the first to be destroyed, and thus the movement to demand peace in those imperialist countries is also developing strongly.

Recently, in the U.S. Presidential election, the present Republican administration, in order to buy the people's esteem, put forward the slogan “Peace and Prosperity,” which showed that even the people of an imperialist warlike country like the U.S. want peace.

The general situation shows us that the forces of peace and democracy in the world have tipped the balance toward the camp of peace and democracy. Therefore we can conclude that the world at present can maintain long-term peace.

On the other hand, however, we can also conclude that as long as the capitalist economy survives, it will always scheme to provoke war, and there will still remain the danger of war.

Based on the above the world situation, the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union produced two important judgments:

All conflicts in the world at present can be resolved by means of peaceful negotiations.

The revolutionary movement in many countries at present can develop peacefully.

Naturally in the countries in which the ruling class has a powerful military-police apparatus and is using fascist policies to repress the movement, the revolutionary parties in those countries must look clearly at their concrete situation to have the appropriate methods of struggle.

Based on the general situation and that judgment, we conclude that, if all conflicts can be resolved by means of peaceful negotiations, peace can be achieved.

Because the interest and aspiration of peaceful reunification of our country are the common interest and aspiration of all the people of the Northern and Southern zones, the people of the two zones did not have any reason to provoke war, nor to prolong the division of the country. On the contrary the people of the two zones are more and more determined to oppose the U.S.-Diem scheme of division and war provocation in order to create favorable conditions for negotiations between the two zones for peaceful unification of the country.

The present situation of division is created solely by the arbitrary U.S.-Diem regime, so the fundamental problem is how to smash the U.S.-Diem scheme of division and war-provocation.

As observed above, if they want to oppose the U.S-Diem regime, there is no other path for the people of the South but the path of revolution. What, then, is the line and struggle method of the revolutionary movement in the South? If the world situation can maintain peace due to a change in the relationship of forces in the world in favor of the camp of peace and democracy, the revolutionary movement can develop following a peaceful line, and the revolutionary movement in the South can also develop following a peaceful line.

First of all, we must determine what it means for a revolutionary movement to struggle according to a peaceful line. A revolutionary movement struggling according to a peaceful line takes the political forces of the people as the base rather than using people's armed forces to struggle with the existing government to achieve their revolutionary objective. A revolutionary movement struggling according to a peaceful line is also different from a reformist movement in that a reformist movement relies fundamentally on the law and constitution to struggle, while a revolutionary movement relies on the revolutionary political forces of the masses as the base. And another difference is that a revolutionary movement struggles for revolutionary objectives, while a reformist movement struggles for reformist goals. With an imperialist, feudalist, dictatorial, fascist government like the U.S.-Diem, is it possible for a peaceful political struggle line to achieve its objectives?

We must recognize that all accomplishments in every country are due to the people. That is a definite law: it cannot be otherwise. Therefore the line of the revolutionary movement must be in accord with the inclinations and aspirations of the people. Only in that way can a revolutionary movement be mobilized and succeed.

The ardent aspiration of the Southern people is to maintain peace and achieve national unification. We must clearly recognize this longing for peace: the revolutionary movement in the South can mobilize and advance to success on the basis of grasping the flag of peace, in harmony with popular feelings. On the contrary, U.S.-Diem is using fascist violence to provoke war, contrary to the will of the people and therefore must certainly be defeated.

Can the U.S.-Diem regime, by using a clumsy policy of fascist violence, create a strong force to oppose and destroy the revolutionary movement? Definitely not, because the U.S.-Diem regime has no political strength in the country worth mentioning to rely on. On the contrary, nearly all strata of the people oppose them. Therefore the U.S.-Diem government is not a strong government it is only a vile and brutal government. Its vile and brutal character means that it not only has no mass base in the country but is on the way to being isolated internationally. Its cruelty definitely cannot shake the revolutionary movement, and it cannot survive for long.

The proof is that in the past two years, everywhere in the countryside, the sound of the gunfire of U.S.-Diem repression never ceased; not a day went by when they did not kill patriots, but the revolutionary spirit is still firm, and the revolutionary base of the people still has not been shaken.

Once the entire people have become determined to protect the revolution, there is no cruel force that can shake it. But why has the revolutionary movement not yet developed strongly? This is also due to certain objective and subjective factors.

Objectively, we see that, after nine years of waging strong armed struggle, the people's movement generally speaking now has a temporarily peaceful character that is a factor in the change of the movement for violent forms of struggle to peaceful forms. It has the correct character of rebuilding to advance later.

With the cruel repression and exploitation of the U.S.-Diem, the people's revolutionary movement definitely will rise up. The people of the South have known the blood and fire of nine years of resistance war, but the cruelty of the U.S.-Diem cannot extinguish the struggle spirit of the people.

On the other hand, subjectively, we must admit that a large number of cadres, those have responsibility for guiding the revolutionary movement, because of the change in the method of struggle and the work situation from public to secret, have not yet firmly grasped the political line of the party, have not yet firmly grasped the method of political struggle, and have not yet followed correctly the mass line, and therefore have greatly reduced the movement's possibilities for development.

At present, therefore, the political struggle movement has not yet developed equally among the people, and a primary reason is that a number of cadres and masses are not yet aware that the strength of political forces of the people can defeat the cruelty, oppression and exploitation of the U.S.-Diem, and therefore they have a half-way attitude and don't believe in the strength of their political forces.

We must admit that any revolutionary movement has times when it falls and times when it rises; any revolutionary movement has times that are favorable for development and times that are unfavorable. The basic thing is that the cadres must see clearly the character of the movement's development to lead the mass struggle to the correct degree, and find a way for the vast determined masses to participate in the movement. If they are determined to struggle from the bottom to the top, no force can resist the determination of the great masses.

In the past two years, the political struggle movement in the countryside and in the cities, either by one form or another, has shown that the masses have much capacity for political struggle with the U.S.-Diem. In those struggles, if we grasp more firmly the struggle line and method, the movement can develop further, to the advantage of the revolution. The cruel policy of U.S.-Diem clearly cannot break the movement, or the people's will to struggle.

There are those who think that the U.S.-Diem's use of violence is now aimed fundamentally at killing the leaders of the revolutionary movement to destroy the Communist Party, and that if the Communist Party is worn away to the point that it doesn't have the capacity to lead the revolution, the political struggle movement of the masses cannot develop.

This judgment is incorrect. Those who lead the revolutionary movement are determined to mingle with the masses, to protect and serve the interest of the masses and to pursue correctly the mass line. Between the masses and communists there is no distinction any more. So how can the U.S.-Diem destroy the leaders of the revolutionary movement, since they cannot destroy the masses? Therefore they cannot annihilate the cadres leading the mass movement.

In fact more than twenty years ago, the French imperialists were determined to destroy the Communists to destroy the revolutionary movement for national liberation, but the movement triumphed. It wasn't the Communist but the French imperialist themselves and their feudal lackeys who were destroyed on our soil.

Now twenty years later, U.S.-Diem are determined to destroy the Communists in the South, but the movement is still firm, and Communists are still determined to fulfill their duty. And the revolutionary movement will definitely advance and destroy the imperialist, feudalist government. U.S.-Diem will be destroyed, just as the French imperialists and their feudal lackeys were destroyed.

We believe that: the peaceful line is appropriate not only to the general situation in the world but also to the situation within the country, both nation-wide and in the South. We believe that the will for peace and the peace forces of the people throughout the country have smashed the U.S.-Diem schemes of war provocation and division.

We believe that the will for peace and Southern people's democratic and peace forces will defeat the cruel, dictatorial and fascist policy of U.S.-Diem and will advance to smash the imperialist, feudalist U.S.-Diem government. Using love and righteousness to triumph over force is a tradition of the Vietnamese nation. The aspiration for peace is an aspiration of the world's people in general and in our own country, including the people of the South, so our struggle line cannot be separated from the peaceful line.

Only the peaceful struggle line can create strong political forces to defeat the scheme of war provocation and the cruel policy of U.S.-Diem. We are determined to carry out our line correctly, and later the development of the situation will permit us to do so.

Imperialism and feudalism are on the road to disappearance. The victory belongs to our people's glorious task of unification and independence, to our glorious Communism we must pledge our lives. We shall win.


Diem: Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam

two zones: a means of referring to a divided Vietnam (north and south) without implying the legitimacy of South Vietnam

Document Analysis

Le Duan issues a call for peace in this essay, while outlining the reasons that war is justified. He maintains that most people want peace, but he also claims that the people in both North and South Vietnam desire, even more so, to be unified. This attitude, according to Le Duan, was the result of the “imperialist warlike country” of the United States and the “fascist” government of Diem joining forces in the South. Thus, in a paradoxical way, Le Duan argues that the communists and others seeking peace must work to overthrow Diem at all costs in order to foster peace and unification. As he saw it, the time was ripe for revolution against these twin oppressors of the people (the Diem regime and his US backers).

When Le Duan circulated this essay among the party and governmental leaders of North Vietnam, he understood that a weariness regarding war had arisen owing to the long recent struggle against the French. He included material from the Communist Party's Twentieth Congress in the Soviet Union to demonstrate that he understood the rationale for not wanting immediately to push for change in South Vietnam, when one could perhaps gain the desired ends through political negotiations. However, from his perspective, the latter route was not likely to advance the goal of unifying the nation under communist rule. Thus, even though frequently he invokes the terms “peace” and “peaceful” in his essay, the central message is to unleash all “appropriate methods of struggle”—up to and including armed conflict—against the oppressors. The “imperialist, feudalist, dictatorial, fascist” regime of Diem, supported by the United States, would never allow a peaceful transition and unification.

Although the oppression Le Duan refers to was, at this time, directed mainly against Buddhist opposition elements in the south rather than against communist groups, the author is correct to note that the “masses” have not been included in the governing system of the south and therefore might be ready to follow a communist push for change. Time and again, Le Duan refers to the violence of the Diem regime. He seems certain that while violence might stop the actions of a few, it was not going to stop broader change, particularly when virtually the entire population desired it. As part of his work to move the leadership of the Communist Party to his position, Le Duan intentionally sets the peaceful communists in opposition to the violent Diem regime. He places the blame for his proposed policy of aggressive military response on the leaders of the South and on the United States. The “half-way attitude” by which Le Duan characterizes leaders of various cadres refers not only to those in the South, but also to too-moderate leaders in the North. Through emphasizing the so-called “peaceful struggle line,” the essayist attempts to justify “smashing” the Diem regime and obtaining the desired “unification and independence.”

Essential Themes

Although a communist from the inception of the party in Vietnam, Le Duan was often seen as a pragmatist who desired results rather than ideological purity. Thus, while he refers to the peaceful path toward change put forward by Soviet communist leaders, Le Duan desires quicker results. He looks beyond using solely “strong political forces” to destroy the violent Diem regime. He talks up the notion of peace, yet in seeking the desired ends, he advocates an aggressive military stance toward the enemy. Because Diem, in 1955, had used a questionable election to displace the emperor who was put in place by the Japanese in 1945, and because he also refused to allow nationwide elections for unification, Le Duan did not regard negotiation as an option. For him, rather, aggression was justified. His use of President Eisenhower's 1956 campaign slogan, “Peace and Prosperity,” demonstrates his belief that the desire for peace could eventually produce results beneficial to the people of Vietnam. While he incorrectly boasts that the conflict in Vietnam would destroy the United States, he is correct in his assessment that, in most nations, there is a point at which the people would rather realize peace than continue a conflict.

While his essay cannot be viewed as a blueprint for the North's reaching its desired goals, it is a call for the reactivation of the revolutionary struggle that had defeated the French. That message ultimately carried the day with the leaders of North Vietnam. In the next year, Le Duan was given the task of developing a plan for the political and military actions that would unfold in South Vietnam. The strategy began to be implemented in 1959, with the formation of the various oppositional organizations in the South in 1960. Although at first glance “The Path of Revolution in the South” might not seem relevant to the ensuing path of war, given that so much of its space is given over to pronouncements of peace, the essay proved key in pushing the people toward war. It also illustrates the approach that North Vietnam would take in its public pronouncements, picturing itself as desiring only peace and placing all the blame for the war squarely on the other side. Le Duan was able to win the necessary political support for the war in both North and South Vietnam, ultimately resulting in the communists' successfully reaching their goal of unifying the nation under their rule.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Ang, Cheng Guan. The Vietnam War From the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists' Perspective. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
  • Duiker, William. Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994. Print.
  • Le, Quynh. “Vietnam Ambivalent on Le Duan's Legacy.” BBC News. BBC, 14 Jul. 2006. Web. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5180354.stm>.
  • Nguyen, Lien-Hang T. Hanoi's War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. (The New Cold War History) Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print.
  • Tucker, Spencer C. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara: ABD-CLIO, 2011.
Categories: History