Can the Vietnamese communists, who wrote the book on guerrilla warfare, be undermined themselves by a guerrilla resistance in their own country? Truong Nhu Tang, the leader of the Paris-based Vietnamese Committee for National Salvation, says the answer is yes. A founding member of Vietnam's National Liberation Front and minister of justice in the Provisional Revolutionary Government until 1976, Mr. Truong escaped from Vietnam at the end of 1979. His reason for doing so, he said, was that the revolutionary ideals to which he had dedicated his life had been betrayed.
Mr. Truong says that although the majority of Vietnamese believed in the Communist Party in 1975, today they do not. "If you tell people every year for six years that food is short because of bad harvests; if you promise people peace but then start wars with neighboring countries; if you talk about feedom but put more and more people in concentration camps, then eventually the people realize that you are liars."
Once on close terms with Communist Party secretary Le Duan and other top Vietnamese leaders, Mr. Truong now says he is convinced that there is no way to reform what he calls the "barbarous Vietnamese system." Only a "second revolution" can succeed in freeing the country from Soviet domination and internal dictatorship, he maintains.
Truong has vowed to initiate organized, armed guerrilla activity in Vietnam within a year. He anticipates initially setting up training bases inside Khmer Rouge-held areas of Cambodia, and, from there, infiltrating his men into the jungle and mountain areas of Vietnam. He is also counting heavily on Chinese support, which he says was pledged to him by Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang during a visit to China last year.
Having spent eight years fighting the Americans from National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) base areas in southern Vietnam, Truong knows the ins and outs of guerrilla warfare. He has few illusions about inflicting military defeat on the Vietnamese armed forces, which mobilize more than 1 million men. But he does say that once a guerrilla group actually exists on the ground, it will gradually attract enough support to seriously alter the balance of forces in the country.
Truong can count several events in recent months to support his assessment that Vietnamese rebels "are ready to fight."
* Two religious sects -- the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao -- have reportedly increased their armed attacks on government buildings and military convoys. In the city of Tay Ninh near the Cambodian border, the Cao Dai recently claimed responsibility for killing nine soldiers with an explosive device.
* In the central highlands, the FULRO (United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races), has reportedly grown to a discipline force of several thousand mountain tribesmen, receiving arms from China via the Khmer Rouge. A refugee who recently arrived in France and formerly lived near the town of Dalat says, "The government tries to pretend that the FULRO doesn't exist. But no Vietnamese official will drive through the central highlands at night. Too many jeeps have been blown up."
* Battlefield losses in Cambodia have been high, causing many young Vietnamese to become become draft dodgers. Last August a youth set himself on fire in front of the National Assembly after writing a message in his own blood denouncing the war in Cambodia. By some estimates, at least 4,000 deserters from the Vietnamese Army are either in Thai refugee camps, or are being held by one of the Cambodian guerrilla groups.
* Refugees and foreign journalists report having seen in circulation mimeographed copies of speeches by Hoang Van Hoan, a founding member of the Vietnamese Communist Party and longtime associate of Ho Chi Minh, who fled to China two years ago and denounced the Le Duan faction of the party.
* In a "quiet purge," only half of the country's 1.5 million Communist Party members have had their cards renewed after a review was begun in 1979. Many of those without cards are reportedly embittered toward the current leadership.
Whether these incidents of rebellion, protest, and discontent can be woven together into a viably insurgency is not yet clear. A number of recent visitors have observed that many of the discontented seem more interested in leaving the country as refugees than in joining a rebellion. Still, by many accounts -- even recent speeches by Vietnamese leaders themselves -- the country faces serious economic strains and deep problems in its relationships with the Soviet Union, China, Laos, and Cambodia.