Rise to power (1925–1945)
The Communist Party traces its lineage back to 1925, when Hồ Chí Minh established the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League, commonly referred to as Thanh Niên. Thanh Niên sought to make use of patriotism in an effort to end the colonial occupation of the country by France. The group sought political and social objectives—national independence and the redistribution of land to working peasants. Thanh Niên was designed to prepare the ground for a revolutionary armed struggle against the French occupation.
In 1928 the headquarters of the Thanh Niên organization in Canton was forced underground by Chinese nationalists led by Kuomintang (KMT). This led to a national breakdown within the organization, which led indirectly to a split within Thanh Niên. On 17 June 1929, more than 20 delegates from cells throughout the Tonkin region held a conference in Hanoi, where they declared the dissolution of Thanh Nien and the establishment of a new organization called the Communist Party of Indochina (ICP). The other faction of Thanh Niên, based in the central and southern administrative districts of the country, renamed themselves the Communist Party of Annam in late 1929. The two organizations spent the rest of 1929 engaged in polemics against one another in an attempt to gain a position of hegemony over the radical Vietnamese liberation movement. A third Vietnamese Communist Party emerged around this time, called the League of Indochinese Communists (Vietnamese: Đông Dương Cộng sản Liên Đoàn), which was not connected with Thanh Niên. The League of Indochinese Communists had its roots in another national liberation group which had existed in parallel with Thanh Niên, and saw itself as a rival to the latter.
The two warring splinters of Thanh Niên joined with individual members of a third Marxist group called the Communist Party of Vietnam, founded by Hồ Chí Minh at a "Unification Conference" held in Hong Kong from 3–7 February 1930. At a later conference, the party was renamed the Indochinese Communist Party (Vietnamese: Đông Dương Cộng sản Đảng, often abbreviated to ICP). During its first five years of existence, the ICP attained a membership of about 1500 and had large contingent of sympathizers. Despite the group's small size, it exerted an influence in a turbulent Vietnamese social climate. Poor harvests in 1929 and 1930 and an onerous burden of debt served to radicalize many peasants. In the industrial city of Vinh, May Day demonstrations were organized by ICP activists, which gained critical mass when the families of the semi-peasant workers joined the demonstrations to express their dissatisfaction with the economic circumstances they faced.
As three May Day marches grew into mass rallies, French colonial authorities moved in to quash what they perceived to be dangerous peasant revolts. Government forces fired upon the assembled crowds, killing dozens of participants and inflaming the population. In response, local councils were organized in villages in an effort to govern themselves locally. Repression by the colonial authorities began in the fall 1931, and about 1300 people were eventually killed by the French and many more were imprisoned or deported as government authority was reasserted and the ICP was effectively wiped out in the region. General Secretary Tran Phu and many leaders of the Central Committee were arrested and killed. Lê Hồng Phong was assigned to Communist International to restore the movement. The party was restored in 1935, and Lê Hồng Phong was elected its General Secretary. In 1936, Hà Huy Tập was appointed General Secretary instead of Lê Hồng Phong, who returned to the country to restore the Central Committee.
The Second World War drastically weakened the grip of France on Indochina. The fall of France to Nazi Germany in June 1940 and the subsequent collaboration of Vichy France with the Axis powers of Germany and Japan served to delegitimize French claims of sovereignty. The European war made colonial governance from France impossible and Indochina was occupied by Japanese forces.
At the beginning of the war, the Indochinese Communist Party instructed its members to go into hiding in the countryside as an underground organization. Despite this, more than 2,000 members of the party, including many key leaders, were rounded up and arrested. Party activists were particularly hard hit in the southern region of Cochinchina, where the previously strong organization was wiped out by arrests and killings. After an uprising in Cochinchina in 1940, most of the Central Committee leaders, including Nguyen Van Cu (General Secretary) and Hà Huy Tập, were arrested and killed, and Lê Hồng Phong was deported to Côn Đảo and died later. A new party leadership, which included Trường Chinh, Phạm Văn Đồng, and Võ Nguyên Giáp emerged. Together with Ho Chi Minh, these would provide a unified leadership over the next four decades,
Party leader Hồ Chí Minh returned to Vietnam in February 1941 and established a military organization known as the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Vietnamese: Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội, commonly referred to as "Vietminh"). It was the most uncompromising fighting force against the Japanese occupation, and gained popular recognition and legitimacy in an environment that would develop into a political vacuum. Despite its position as the core of the Vietminh organization, the Indochinese Communist Party remained very small through the war years, with an estimated membership of between 2,000 and 3,000 in 1944.
War for independence (1945–1976)
Following the August Revolution (1945) organized by the Viet Minh, Hồ Chí Minh became Chairman of the Provisional Government (Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and issued a Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Although he convinced Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate, his government was not recognized by any country. He repeatedly petitioned American President Harry S. Truman for support for Vietnamese independence, citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman did not respond. After the successful takeover of Hanoi, Vietnam was taken over by Chinese nationalist forces and the French military. In response to this, the Communist Party was dissolved and in practice, the Vietminh became a member of a large struggle for independence. The organization was ostensibly dissolved, but its core was still functioning. According to the CIA, membership grew to about 400,000 members by 1950. In 1951, during the war for independence, the officially dissolved Communist Party was officially re-established and renamed the Workers Party of Vietnam (Vietnamese: Đảng lao động Việt Nam). The Indochinese War against French forces lasted until 1954 with the Vietnamese victory at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ.
At the second Party Congress it was decided that the Communist Party would be split into three; one party for each of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. However, in an official note it said that the "Vietnamese party reserves the right to supervise the activities of its brother parties in Cambodia and Laos." The Cambodian party, the Khmer People's Revolutionary Party, was established in April 1951, and the Lao party, the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, was formed four years later, on 22 March 1955. The third Party Congress, held in Hanoi in 1960, formalized the tasks of constructing socialism in what was by then North Vietnam, or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), and committed the party to the liberation of South Vietnam. In 1975, the Workers Party of North Vietnam was merged with the People's Revolutionary Party of South Vietnam. At the fourth Party Congress in 1976, it was named the Communist Party of Vietnam. The party explained that the name change was made in light of the "strengthened proletariat dictatorship, the development of the leadership of the working class [...] a worker-peasant alliance."
Ruling party (1976–present)
The fourth Party Congress comprised 1,008 delegates who represented 1,553,500 party members, an estimated three percent of the Vietnamese population. A new line for socialist construction was approved at the congress, the Second Five-Year Plan (1976–80) was approved and several amendments were made to the party's constitution. The party's new line emphasized building socialism domestically and supported socialist expansion internationally. The party's economic goal was to build a strong and prosperous socialist country in 20 years. The economic goals set for the Second Five-Year Plan failed to be implemented, and between the fourth and fifth Party Congresses, a heated debate about economic reform took place. The first was at the sixth Central Committee plenum of the fourth Party Congress in September 1979, but the most revealing one occurred at the 10th Central Committee plenum of the fourth Party Congress which lasted form 9 October to 3 November 1981. The plenum adopted a reformist line, but it was forced to moderate its position when several grass-root party chapters rebelled against its resolution. At the fifth Party Congress, held in March 1982, the General Secretary Lê Duẩn said the party had to strive to reach two goals; to construct socialism and to protect Vietnam from Chinese aggression, but priority was given to socialist construction. The party leadership acknowledged the failures of the Second Five-Year Plan, claiming that their failure to grasp the economic and social conditions aggravated the country's economic problems. The Third Five-Year Plan (1981–1985) emphasized the need to improve living conditions and the need for more industrial construction, but agriculture was given top priority. Other points were to improve the deficiencies in central planning, improve economic trade relations with the COMECON countries, Laos and Kampuchea.
Two flags—the flag of the Communist Party and the national flag of Vietnam—flying side by side
While Lê Duẩn continued to believe in the goals set in the Third Five-Year Plan, leading members within the Communist Party were losing their trust in the system. It was in this mood that the 1985 price reform was introduced—market prices were introduced, which led to a sudden increase in inflation. By 1985, it became apparent that the Third Five-Year Plan had failed miserably. Lê Duẩn died on 10 July 1986, a few months before the sixth Party Congress. A Politburo meeting held between 25 and 30 August 1986, paved the way for more radical reforms; the new reform movement was led by Trường Chinh. At the sixth Party Congress, Nguyễn Văn Linh was elected the new General Secretary – this was a victory for the party's old guard reformist wing. The new leadership elected at the Congress would later launch Đổi Mới and establish the framework for the socialist-oriented market economy. The economic reforms were initiated alongside a relaxation of state censorship and freedom of expression.
At the seventh Party Congress in which Nguyễn Văn Linh retired from politics, he reaffirmed the party's and country's commitment to socialism. Đỗ Mười succeeded Nguyễn Văn Linh as General Secretary, Võ Văn Kiệt, the leading reformist communist, was appointed prime minister and Lê Đức Anh, was appointed president. In 1994, four new members were appointed to the seventh Politburo, all of whom opposed radical reform. At the June 1997 Central Committee meeting, both Lê Đức Anh and Võ Văn Kiệt confirmed their resignation to the ninth National Assembly, which was dissolved in September 1997. Phan Văn Khải was approved as Võ Văn Kiệt's successor, and relatively unknown Trần Đức Lương succeeded Lê Đức Anh as president. At the fourth Central Committee plenum of the eighth Party Congress, Lê Khả Phiêu was elected General Secretary and Đỗ Mười, Lê Đức Anh and Võ Văn Kiệt officially resigned from politics and were elected Advisory Council of the Central Committee. Nông Đức Mạnh succeeded Lê Khả Phiêu in 2001 as general secretary. Nông Đức Mạnh held the top spot until the 11th National Congress (held in 2011) and was succeeded by Nguyễn Phú Trọng.