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Can Lao

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In the Republic of Viet Nam, the Can Lao was an organization controlled by Ngo Dinh Nhu, in support of the presidency of his brother, Ngo Dinh Diem. As it was a semisecret movement, but to which one virtually had to belong in order to progress under the Diem government, it was not a political party in the Western sense. Somewhat ironically, given Diem's fervent opposition to Communism, its function was much closer to that of most governing Communist parties, to which one was invited rather than freely joined.

Like some of the others, it had, with shades of George Orwell, various levels of "inner party" and "outer party". The Can Lao proper, explicitly organized by Ngo, was the Party, with an inner party made up of people with family or other personal bonds to Diem. There was an outer party, officially started by Diem, variously called the National Revolutionary Movement (NRM), "Blue Shirts", or "Revolutionary Youth Movement", under Ngo. [1]

Officially Diem's political party, the NRM, formed in 1954, claimed to grown from 10,000 members in 1955 to 1,500,000 in 1959, and formed Diem's majority in the national assembly. The Party claims to have originated in "clandestine struggle for the revolution of national independence and human emancipation" at the time Diem left the Bao Dai colonial government in 1933, but 1954 is better documented. [2].

Organs of control

The Can Lao sought to detect the corrupt or disloyal citizen, and had powers of arrest and trial against "disloyal" citizens.[2] There was also a party-centric military component, the Quan Uy Can Lao or "Military Committee of the Can Lao", often a prerequisite for military career progression.[3] A National Revolutionary Civil Servants League, Lien Doan Cong Chuc Mang Quoc Gia, had an equivalent role in civil government. [2]


It was rooted in the philosophy of personalism, originated by the French Catholic theorist, Emmanuel Mounier.
"Personalism sought to balance the competing needs of the individual, society and the state, so as to avoid the excesses of Marxism on the one hand and liberalism on the other...the people needed to be protected from Communist and Fascist dictatorship, the disintegration of the family, selfish individualism, and unrestrained capitalism. [4]

While it was European and Catholic, there were similarities to Confucianism, institutionalizing the system of authority. Nhu and Diem recognized that it was impossible for Vietnam to return to a colonial Confucianism; it appeared to be, to them, a true synthesis of what would be good for their nation. Diem, if not Nhu, did have a sense of responsibility for the people, but he simply did not think in Western democratic terms.

It probably drew inspiration from the Kuomintang. He also formed a mass movement, called the Blue Shirts, that was used in some of the ways Hitler had used the Brown Shirts, or Sturmabteilung to form public opinion and deference to authority.[5]

After Diem

A continuing demand of activist Buddhists, such as Tri Quang, was to oust all Can Lao members from the government. [6], countering it with membership in "committees of national salvation." While the Can Lao essentially disappeared with Diem, its former members were most likely to follow Nguyen Van Thieu.


  1. Office of Current Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency; annotations by McGeorge Bundy (August 28, 1963), "Cast of Characters in South Vietnam,", in Prados, John, JFK and the Diem Coup, vol. George Washington University National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 101, OCI 2703/63
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 , Volume 1, Chapter 5, "Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960", Section 2, pp. 283-314, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1
  3. Tran Van Dinh, "Views On South Vietnam's Armies", Collegiate Press Service
  4. Moyar, Mark (2006), Triumph Forsaken, Cambridge University Press, p. 273
  5. Sheehan, Neil. (1988), A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New Random House, pp. 178-179
  6. "Politician from the Pagoda", Time, April 22, 1966