The NLF and the Tet Offensive
For over two decades, historians have debated the outcome and significance of the Tet Offensive.1 Most conclude that the Communists incurred heavy losses and that Tet represented a "military defeat for the enemy."2 Others argue that Tet was a costly victory for the United States and the Saigon government because the Communists came away with an "overwhelming psychological and hence political victory."3 Political and diplomatic historians have studied the impact of the Communist attacks on decision making in Washington.4 Vietnamese writers such as Tran Van Tra believe that Tet changed the character and nature of the southern revolution forever.5 In all these studies, the Tet Offensive is the catalyst for events that follow.
This study examines the Tet Offensive as the end product of longstanding internal divisions within the Lao Dong, Vietnam's Communist party. After years of bitter disputes over war tactics and negotiating strategy, northern and southern Communists temporarily put their differences aside for the revolution's "great leap forward."6 Although divisions within the party would resurface shortly after Tet, the offensive can be seen as the culmination of months of skillful negotiations between the Lao Dong's Political Bureau and the southern Communists who comprised the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF). Northern party leaders convinced southern Communists that the Political Bureau would be more attentive to southern needs and that the South would play a significant role in the new strategy line planned for 1968. As a result, the intraparty conflict was resolved on the eve of the Tet Offensive and relations between northern and southern Communists were at their best.
Differences within the Lao Dong had surfaced as early as Vietnam's 1954 partition at the seventeenth parallel, but grew especially intense with U.S.