Political Front

Nguyen Huu Tho at early NLF meeting

Nguyen Huu Tho, early NLF meeting

     The National Liberation Front was "generated of itself out of the emotions, conscience, and aspirations of the Southern people.” The leading members of the political struggle, or the Dau Tranh Chinh Tri, decided to form a resistance movement for a multitude of reasons, including: their dissatisfaction with Diem regime, interfence with the natural development of their country by the United States, and to work toward unifying their country.

   

     Many members of the NLF were well educated and came from diverse backgrounds like pharmacists, teachers, bankers, and lawyers.  They all shared some common grievances and were likewise disappointed with the corruption within Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime and wanted an independent and democratic country. Nationalism, not communism, was often their main focus, though they were willing to work with communists to achieve their objectives. In 1958 the NLF unofficially formed, and one year later The NLF had nine main goals: First, bring a sense of unity to the different classes of people in South Vietnam, regardless of their position in society, political, or religious beliefs. Next, overthrow Diem's regime, and then achieve the withdrawal of American advisors as well as end American interference in the self-determination of Southern Vietnam. Fourth, defend the rights of the Vietnamese citizens, including democratic freedom and respect for private property. A fifth objective was to carry out land reform. Next, build an independent economy, and establish an education system that would protect Vietnamese culture and tradition. Finally, create a pluralistic national government, and unify the North and South without war. The National Liberation Front was not an inherently a total communist organization. When initially choosing a leader, one of their main goals was to elect an individual who was not a communist.[1] Clearly, communism and its spread across Asia failed to dominate their platform.

Nevertheless, Douglas Pike, a researcher who worked for the State Department was convinced that they were a communist organization that was masterminded by Ho Chi Minh and established to extend Hanoi’s control over Saigon.[2] Pike claims it was an “organizational steamroller” that “came crashing out of the jungle to crush the GVN(South Vietnamese government).”[3] Pike accurately assigned the origin of the NLF to between 1958 and 1960. He is convinced that such an organization could not have been conceived by anyone other than Ho Chi Minh: “[it was] an accomplishment of such skill, precision, and refinement that when one think of who the master planner must have been, only one name comes to mind: Ho Chi Minh.”[4] I think Troung proved that Pike’s assertion is false, the people responsible for its formation, he argues, did not come “crashing out the jungle” but rather they arrived from universities with advanced degrees, many with experience in organizing and running businesses. It’s entirely possible the organization formed organically, and a reason for its popularity and success was that the people who formed it knew and were known by the Vietnamese populace. Moreover, they all shared a distrust of Diem and the United States government. Pike even confesses that its initial formation dealt mostly with non-communists but that this was just to conceal its “communist identity.” In addition, the Lao Drong (Workers party) did not merge with the NLF even after it was officially formed, and many members of the NLF never joined the worker's party.[5]

Criticism aside, Douglas Pike does offer unique insight into the workings and organization of the NLF. It was formally organized by ten individuals representing different organizations and fifty others that attended on their own behalf. Other members at lower levels of the organization derived from diverse backgrounds as well, including: former Viet Minh, Cao Dai sects, minority groups like the Montagnards and ethnic Cambodians, idealized youth, and intellectuals unhappy with Diem’s regime. Pike describes the NLF as an armed movement whose main goal was to win over the population.[6] Truong confirms this, but he asserts that NLF members wanted to avoid direct military confrontation as they knew it would intensify American intervention.[7] During their first general meeting on December 19th 1959 they laid out their nine political objectives and adopted the iconic Red and Blue Vietcong flag, the star represented the struggle to unite the country.[8] After the meeting convened, Hanoi announced via national radio that the NLF had formed, which demonstrates members had communication with the North, however it does not necessarily imply that they were controlled by Hanoi.[9] Leadership roles within the NLF were decided by committee.[10] The NLF quickly became the largest political organization in South Vietnam and by 1960 had an administrative hierarchy linked throughout most of the country. The hierarchy consisted of: the NLF central committee which was tasked with much of the planning and organization. Under the central committee there were three interzone headquarters responsible for training and education. The interzone headquarters were further dispersed between seven zones which contained another thirty provincial committees responsible for military duties in each of their provinces. Finally, there were lower echelons of the party within towns, districts, and villages, they also carried out both the political and armed struggle, as well as continued to recruit the populace.[11]

[1] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 65-71 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[2] Douglas Pike Vietcong The Organization and Techniques of The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, 76. (The M.I.T. Press, 1966).

[3] Ibid. 76

[4] Douglas Pike Vietcong The Organization and Techniques of The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, 76. (The M.I.T. Press, 1966).

[5] Ibid. 78

[6]Ibid. 92

[7] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 73 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[8] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 73,78 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[9] Ibid. 80

[10] Ibid. 84

[11] Douglas Pike Vietcong The Organization and Techniques of The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, 110-113. (The M.I.T. Press, 1966).

Political Front