Lê Duẩn (April 7, 1907 – July 10, 1986) was a Vietnamese communist leader. He became North Vietnam's acting party chief in late 1956. By 1958, he was the country's top policy maker, although nominally number two behind figurehead Hồ Chí Minh. He officially became the top leader when Hồ died in 1969. He led a unified Vietnam from 1975 until his death in 1986. He was a driving force during the Vietnam War (1958-75).
Lê Duẩn was introduced to communism while a railroad worker during the 1920s. He was a founding member of the Indochinese Communist Party. Lê Duẩn served on the North Vietnamese Central Committee under Hồ and directed the formation of an underground communist organization in South Vietnam. Beginning in 1946, he was Secretary of Cochinchina Party Committee (later Secretary of COSVN 1951-1954). In 1956, Lê Duẩn wrote a thesis called "The Road to the South", which called for war with the United States to achieve reunification. The communist leadership discussed this plan at a meeting in December 1956, and accepted it contingent on reform of the army and international support.
Throughout 1956, the party had been split by factional rivalry between party boss Trường Chinh and President Hồ, who was supported by Võ Nguyên Giáp. This rivalry focused on the issue of land reform in North Vietnam. As Lê Duẩn was identified with neither of these factions, neither objected when he began performing the duties of first secretary (head of the communist party) on behalf of Hồ in late 1956. At the May Day parade in 1957, Trường Chinh was still seated as No. 2 leader. But Lê Duẩn was gradually able to place supporters, notably Lê Ðức Thọ, in top positions and outmaneuver his rivals. He visited Moscow in November 1957 and received a green light for his war plans regarding the South.
In December 1957, Hồ told the 13th Plenary Session of a "dual revolution," implying that Lê Duẩn's efforts to promote insurgency in the South were just as important as Trường Chinh's internal reforms. In early 1958, Lê Duẩn met with southern communist leaders and explained the shift in policy to them; An upsurge in violence followed. On May Day 1958, Lê Duẩn was, for the first time, seated as the number two leader, thus displacing Trường Chinh. The North Vietnamese leadership formally approved a "people's war" in March 1959. Lê Duẩn officially became first secretary in 1960. Lê Duẩn was able to use the Sino-Soviet split and the Vietnam War to extract aid from both Moscow and Beijing with no strings attached. Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin made extensive commitments, including modern anti-aircraft missiles, during meetings with Lê Duẩn in Hanoi in February 1965.
After Hồ's death in 1969, Lê Duẩn assumed formal leadership of North Vietnam's government. After the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, Lê Duẩn became leader of a unified Vietnamese state. After becoming leader, Lê Duẩn instituted a purge of South Vietnamese American allies, with up to 400,000 people consigned to prison camps. He approved a Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia late in 1978 to overthrow the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge government of that country. This caused a disruption in relations between Vietnam and China, and Vietnam responded by deporting ethnic Chinese residents of the country and cultivating a closer alliance with the Soviet Union. China launch an invasion of Vietnam in February 1979, known as the Sino-Vietnamese War. In 1979, Duẩn was awarded Lenin Peace Prize.
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