Laos, past and present

It is one of the least known nations of the world. Yet American imperialism once played their dirty war there. We speak of the Indochinese nation of Laos. This country was part of French Indochina from 1887 until 1954. Today the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is ruled by old men of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Called a ”communist” nation by the western media, Laos has in fact abandoned Stalinist economics since the late 1980’s. Even the communist symbols on the national emblem were removed in 1991!

The first nation build in Laos was the Kingdom of Lan Xang. Somdetch Brhat-Anya Fa Ladhuraniya Sri Sadhana Kanayudha Maharaja Brhat Rajadharana Sri Chudhana Negara (Fa Ngum), became the first monarch of what would become the Laotian country. King Fa Ngum ruled from 1353 until 1372, he was succeeded by Samsenethai his son. The Kingdom of Lan Xang existed for 353 years, before it was split up in rival kingdoms. By 1707, there were three Laotian kingdoms: The Kingdom of Luang Phrabang, the Kingdom of Vientiane, the Principality of Phuan and the Kingdom of Champasak!

Thai monarchs controlled most of Laos around 1893, but the Rattanakosin Kingdom (Thailand) was weak and the Laotian kingdoms were more or less independent. The French imperialists knew that Thai control was weak and they decided to take the Laotian kingdoms. Thailand (called Siam at  that time) was too weak to stand up against the French imperialist forces, Laos was turned into a French protectorate. The Laotian monarchs were told to bow to their European masters, which they all did in order to keep their thrones!

French Indochina was now made up of these nations:

  • The Laotian kingdoms
  • Dai Viet (Vietnam) under the Nguyễn dynasty
  • The Kingdom of Cambodia

Although Indochina was still ruled by monarchs, the true power lay with the French colonial administration. For 50 years, the racist French proclaimed that they were the superior race and the Asian people were often denounced as ”weak” and ”little”. Catholicism was introduced as a new religion, which was able to gain a lot of followers in Vietnam. Laotians remained conservative and stayed with Theravada Buddhism. Today over 66% of the population of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is Buddhist, while only 1,5% is Christian!

In 1940, France was overrun by Nazi Germany. The mighty French were easily defeated in battle. Indochina came under control of the Vichy regime, a pro-Nazi collaborator government. The Japanese however had their eyes on the colony and on 22 September 1940, imperialist Japanese invaded the north of Vietnam. South Indochina was not invaded until June 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet-Union. Japan then moved into the south and finished their conquest!

With the full collapse of French colonial rule, there was now time for resistance to Japanese imperialism. In the 1930’s the communist movement in Indochina were split between the supporters of Joseph Stalin and those of Leon Trotsky. Stalin’s supporters were united in the Indochinese Communist Party. The party issued a ten point program in 1930:

  • To overthrow French imperialism and Vietnamese feudalism and reactionary bourgeoisie;
  • To make Indochina completely independent;
  • To establish a worker-peasant-soldier government;
  • To confiscate the banks and other enterprises belonging to the imperialists and put them under the control of the worker-peasant-soldier government;
  • To confiscate all the plantations and property belonging to the imperialists and the Vietnamese reactionary bourgeoisie and distribute them to the poor peasants;
  • To implement the 8-hour working day;
  • To abolish the forced buying of government bonds, the poll-tax and all unjust taxes hitting the poor;
  • To bring democratic freedoms to the masses;
  • To dispense education to all the people;
  • To realize equality between man and woman.

The colonial government did not liked these ideas and banned the ICP. At the same time the supporters of Trotsky organized themselves in the Indochinese Bolshevik-Leninist Group. However by 1932 the group split and a section formed the October Group (GO). A year later the newspaper ”La Lutte” (The Struggle) was founded. This was a unique cooperation between the Stalinist ICP and Trotskyist GO. In other parts of the world, it would be impossible for a communist party to work with those critical to Joseph Stalin’s rule. With the rise of the popular fronts however, the cooperation ended. The October Group refused to join the ICP led popular front in Indochina, as it would have had to withhold its criticisms of the stalinists!

Stalinist leader Ho Chi Minh founded the League for the Independence of Vietnam in 1941. Three years later in Saigon, the anti-Stalinist communists re-founded the October Group as the International Communist League. With the surrender of Japan in September 1945, Indochina fell apart. Vietnam declared itself independent as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In Cambodia the local monarchy survived, but in Laos a nationalist movement known as the Lao Issara took control in Vientiane!

Founded by prince Phetsarath Ratanavongsa, the Lao Issara rejected French colonialism and wanted the Kingdom of Laos to be independent. After the Japanese lost the war in September 1945, the Lao Issara took the opportunity and established an independent Laotian government. But after 74 years of French dominion, the Laotians were unable to suddenly govern themselves. Also the Lao Issara government lacked support among the rural tribes and was urban based. Another reason why they were unable to keep the French out was their inability to effectively run a government. After only seven months, the French armies returned to reestablish their colony. The deal between Ho Chi Minh and the French colonialists in 1946, also meant that the Viet Minh would not help the Lao Issara!

With the restoration of the pro-French monarchy, the Lao Issara tried to remain active. But they soon split between supporters of prince Souphanouvong and those who wanted to accept French domination over Laos. Souphanouvong formed the New Lao Issara, soon renamed Pathet Lao or Lao Nation. This new Pathet Lao took the banner of the Lao Issara and adopted marxism-leninism (stalinism) as liberation ideology next to their Laotian nationalism. Like the Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh, communism was never the true goal of Souphanouvong. He used the ideals of Marx and Lenin to gain support from both Moscow and Beijing for his struggle against the pro-French (and later pro-American) Laotian monarchy!

The political wing of the Pathet Lao became the Lao People’s Party, which took the name Lao People’s Revolutionary Party in 1972. With the French withdrawn in 1954, the Kingdom of Laos became fully independent, but soon embraced a new imperialist master: The United States of America. Like South Vietnam and Cambodia, the Laotian monarchy asked for American aid. In 1957, the monarchists and stalinists briefly joined together in a coalition government. But after only two years the fighting resumed as the monarchists demanded that the Pathet Lao broke off their contacts with the North Vietnamese!

In the 1960’s, the Laotians were fighting under the banner of the North Vietnamese, who trained and armed them. The USA feared that one day, the Pathet Lao would be strong enough to defeat the Royal Lao Army in open battle. So, the CIA started a secret war in Laos by arming ethnic Hmong fighters to fight the stalinists. These Hmong were paid and trained by the CIA and Thai special forces. Around 1965, the Lao royal government had little control outside Vientiane. American and Thai trained troops were controlling the north and east, while Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces controlled the south. With the removal of American troops from South Vietnam, a peace treaty was signed in 1972. Although a new coalition government would be formed, it lasted only three years. As the Republic of Vietnam collapsed on 30 April 1975, Pathet Lao forces with aid from North Vietnam went on the offensive and captured Vientiane on 23 August!

Souphanouvong did not abolished the monarchy right away. The Kingdom of Laos survived for another four months as the former prince tried to win over elements of the bourgeoisie. After this failed, Souphanouvong abandoned his bourgeois-democratic mask and established a Stalinist single party state. The new Lao People’s Democratic Republic allowed Vietnamese forces to stay as ”military advisers”. Also Hanoi demanded that Vientiane cutoff all diplomatic and economic relations with nations such as Thailand and Cambodia, were the anti-Vietnamese Pol Pot had taken power. Souphanouvong was installed as first President of the Lao PDR and remained head of state until August 1991, when he officially retired!

The Hmong who joined the CIA were abandoned as the Kingdom of Laos fell in August 1975. American trainers left them to face the wrath of the Laotians. As die-hard nationalists, the Pathet Lao saw the Hmong people as ”enemies” and started a brutal campaign to punish this ethnic group. This we call collective punishment, a form of retaliation whereby a suspected perpetrator’s family members, friends, acquaintances, sect, neighbors or entire ethnic group is targeted. The Laotians killed many Hmong, some were guilty and others not. Whole families were massacred if a husband or son had joined the CIA commando’s. Some Hmong choose to keep their American weapons and wage a guerrilla war against the Lao PDR to this day!

11 years after the birth of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Political Bureau of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party understood that they were not moving the nation forward. Limited economic growth was caused by international isolation and bureaucratic management of the economy. Stalinist totalitarianism also alienated many idealists and the educated Laotians had all left the country. President Souphanouvong agreed that reforms were needed to keep themselves in power. Like their Vietnamese allies, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party started to abandon Stalinist economics. By 1989 it was clear the Laos was abandoning its planned economy in favor of a market economy. Revolutionary socialist rhetoric disappeared as the party and state privatized more and more enterprises and means of production!

The Stalinist world finally collapsed on 25 December 1991 with the lowering of the Soviet red banner from the Kremlin. By now all European ”people’s republics” had returned to capitalism and in China, capitalist reforms were speeding up. Vietnam and the USA were talking about ending the trade embargo and Laos could not stay behind. Their sealed their betrayal of Marxism by silently removing the red star with the hammer and sickle from the national emblem, in the same year the USSR collapsed. A national temple can now be seen on the Laotian emblem!

25 years later, Laos is not making much progress. Unlike in China and Vietnam, world capitalism has interests in the small Asian nation. Some domestic capitalists have grown wealthy and powerful. But the average Laotian worker is not winning anything. Meanwhile the leadership of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is growing old. The current president is at age 78 and was already vice president for 10 years under the previous leader, who turned 80 this year!

Laotian workers meanwhile have no political freedoms and can only watch, as their ”revolutionary” leaders shake hands with capitalist exploiters. Marx and Lenin have no meaning anymore and few Laotians understand the true ideology of the red banner with hammer and sickle. They only know it as; ”the party’s flag”. For revolutionary socialists, the struggle for genuine socialism can only come out of the Laotian working class. They need to rise up and demand political freedoms. A big problem is the passive nature of the people as many seem to accept the inequality that (state)capitalism has created. The only visible opposition against the Lao PDR comes from outside. Anticommunist groups of Laotian exiles living in the USA, who call for the downfall of ”Laotian communism” as they call it!

Today the LPRP is more a nationalist party, promoting Laotian nationalism and patriotism. Marx and Lenin can only be seen during party congresses, but it would not be surprising if any Laotian would know who they are. Laos tries to find its place in a world controlled by capitalist greed and exploitation of the working class. The Stalinist caste is trying to become part of this world instead of fighting it. They also made their nation a member of capitalist organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who promote right-wing economics!

Revolutionary Socialist Media would advice the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party to abandon the facade. They should follow the example of the social democratic; Mongolian People’s (Revolutionary) Party who dropped the word; ”revolutionary” from its name in 2010. Another party who also removed the word; ”revolutionary” is the former Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party. Today this ex-Stalinist party is called the Cambodian People’s Party, the ruling nationalist-monarchist party of Cambodia. The LPRP has no right to call itself a revolutionary socialist party, since it has abandoned and betrayed the ideals of Marx and Lenin. History will remember them as the Laotian stalinists who (like their Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts) betrayed their workers to international capitalism!

 

2016, changing of the presidency. The 80 year old president makes room for his 78 year old vice president to become the new party and state boss!

The 80 year old president (left) makes room for his 78 year old vice president (right), to become the new party and state boss in 2016!

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