Three Communists

Often reprinted in Laos and Vietnam was the image above – that of Laotian Communist leader Kaysone Phomvihane with Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary. The photo was never reprinted in its entirely in Laos and Vietnam – both still nominally communist – to include the third person present during that 1966 meeting: Pol Pot, the head of the Communist Party of Cambodia.

It was as if both countries were ashamed of their former relationships with Pol Pot.

The image above was the stamp from 2002, celebrating 40th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos and Vietnam — tellingly the cigarette from Ho’s hand had been excised too.


In February 8th, 1966, when the photo was taken, Ho Chi Minh was 77-year old. His health, which was never robust, was failing and he had slowly turned over many of his ruling responsibilities to other party grandees. Ho, son of a minor palace mandarin, had been the boss of the Communist Party of Vietnam for over 35 years. His singular achievement: running it without a major purge. Between its formation in 1945 and 1967 (when a member died), the Party’s Politburo was ran by the same eleven men.

Something that could not be said of ruling elites in China or Soviet Union – nor in neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

The 1966 meeting was a fraught and pivotal moment. The communist parties in Laos and Cambodia were still struggling to mobilize and the Vietnam War was in a stalemate. Ho had a little over than two years to live, but the communist movements would endure a bitter decade to finally prevail. In 1975, with the American support for the war in Indochina flagging, Pathet Lao in Laos, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and North Vietnam would all emerge victorious.

This was the moment that the western powers had feared throughout the 1950s and the 1960s – that Communism in Vietnam would lead to domino effect first in Laos and Cambodia, and then spread to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. But soon, Vietnam would invade Cambodia and China would invade Vietnam – allaying the fears about a monolithic communist bloc taking over South East Asia.



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69 thoughts on “Three Communists

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