The term Pathet Lao (land of Lao) is generally used to describe the communist movement of Laos that began in 1945 and continued until 1975, when Laos became communist. It was one of three groups active in the politics of Laos, the other two being the Royal Lao Government (RLG) and the neutralists.
Laos became a French protectorate in 1893. During World War II, the Japanese took control of Laos and declared it independent from French colonial rule on March 9, 1945. After Japan’s surrender, an independent Lao Issara (Free Laos) government was proclaimed on September 1, joined by the Pathet Lao, with its strong nationalist leanings.
There was a Lao committee section in the Indochinese Communist Party, and the separate existence of the Lao communist movement was established in 1945. The leader of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanuvong, had met the Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in 1945 and gained control of central Laos with the help of Vietnamese troops.
The prince had nurtured the communist movement and was prepared to fight against the French, who had seized the capital city, Vientiane, in 1946. Laos was soon engulfed in the First Indochina War, and the Pathet Lao fought along with the Vietminh and the Khmer Rouge. The granting of limited independence on July 19, 1949, by the French was not accepted by the communists.
However, Souvanna Phouma joined the new French-sponsored government in February 1950, where Souphanouvong proclaimed the parallel government of Pathet Lao along with its political organ, Neo Lao Issara (Lao Free Front).
The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954, ended its colonial rule in Indochina. The Pathet Lao was recognized as a political party with control over Phong Saly and Sam Neua Provinces and began to consolidate its position.
In December 1959 the military-dominated government of Phoumi Nosavan arrested the Pathet Lao members of the National Assembly, although Souphanouvong escaped. Laos was plunged into civil war. North Vietnam supported the Pathet Lao by sending arms, ammunitions, and troops.
The U.S. government included Laos in its containment strategy defense against North Vietnam and China. Another attempt was made to bring peace to Laos with the Geneva Accords of 1962. But the attempt failed, and Laos was soon embroiled in the Vietnam War.
A three-pronged coalition between the Pathet Lao, the royal government, and the neutralists did not last long, and the United States and Hanoi stepped up economic and military assistance to their respective allies.
War in Laos became a sideshow in the Vietnam War, marked by heavy civilian death toll. The Pathet Lao military advance captured more territory and by 1972 controlled four-fifths of the land and half the population of Laos.
Finally, the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements on Vietnam in 1973 led to accelerated negotiations in Laos. An agreement on Restoring Peace and Achieving National Concord on Laos was signed in the same year. With the United States out of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese conquered the south in 1975.
After the fall of South Vietnam, the Pathet Lao assumed effective control of Laos, and the coalition government in Laos was dissolved. On December 2, 1975, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) was formed with Souphanouvong as president.