The Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (Vietnamese: [vìət naːm kwə́wk zən ɗa᷉ːŋ]; Chinese: 越南國民黨; Vietnamese Nationalist Party), abbreviated VNQDĐ or Việt Quốc, was a nationalist and moderate socialist political party that sought independence from French colonial rule in Vietnam during the early 20th century. Its origins lie in the mid-1920s, when a group of young Hanoi-based intellectuals began publishing revolutionary material. In 1927, after the publishing house failed because of French harassment and censorship, the VNQDD was formed under the leadership of Nguyễn Thái Học. Modelling itself on the Republic of China's Kuomintang (the same 3 characters in chữ Hán: 國民黨) the VNQDD gained a following among northerners, particularly teachers and intellectuals. The party, which was less successful among peasants and industrial workers, was organised in small clandestine cells.
From 1928, the VNQDD attracted attention through its assassinations of French officials and Vietnamese collaborators. A turning point came in February 1929 with the Bazin assassination, the killing of a French labour recruiter widely despised by local Vietnamese people. Although the perpetrators' precise affiliation was unclear, the French colonial authorities held the VNQDD responsible. Between 300 and 400 of the party's approximately 1,500 members were detained in the resulting crackdown. Many of the leaders were arrested, but Học managed to escape.
In late 1929, the party was weakened by an internal split. Under increasing French pressure, the VNQDD leadership switched tack, replacing a strategy of isolated clandestine attacks against individuals with a plan to expel the French in a single blow with a large-scale popular uprising. After stockpiling home-made weapons, the VNQDD launched the Yên Bái mutiny on February 10, 1930 with the aim of sparking a widespread revolt. VNQDD forces combined with disaffected Vietnamese troops, who mutinied against the French colonial army. The mutiny was quickly put down, with heavy French retribution. Học and other leading figures were captured and executed and the VNQDD never regained its political strength in the country.
Some remaining factions sought peaceful means of struggle, while other groups fled across the border to Kuomintang bases in the Yunnan province of China, where they received arms and training. During the 1930s, the party was eclipsed by Ho Chi Minh's Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). Vietnam was occupied by Japan during World War II and, in the chaos that followed the Japanese surrender in 1945, the VNQDD and the ICP briefly joined forces in the fight for Vietnamese independence. However, after a falling out, Ho purged the VNQDD, leaving his communist-dominated Viet Minh unchallenged as the foremost anti-colonial militant organisation. As a part of the post-war settlement that ended the First Indochina War, Vietnam was partitioned into two zones. The remnants of the VNQDD fled to the capitalist south, where they remained until the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule. Today, the party survives only among overseas Vietnamese.
French involvement in Vietnam started in the late 18th century when the Catholic priest Pigneau de Behaine assisted Nguyễn Ánh, to found the Nguyễn Dynasty by recruiting French volunteers. In return, Nguyen Anh, who took the reign name Gia Long allowed Catholic missionaries to operate in Vietnam. However, relations became strained under Gia Long's successor Minh Mạng as missionaries sought to incite revolts in an attempt to enthrone a Catholic. This prompted anti-Christian edicts, and in 1858, a French invasion of Vietnam was mounted, ostensibly to protect Catholicism, but in reality for colonial purposes. The French steadily made gains and completed the colonisation of Vietnam in 1883. Armed revolts against colonial rule occurred regularly, most notably through the Cần Vương movement of the late-1880s. In the early-20th century, the 1916 southern revolts and the Thái Nguyên uprising were notable disruptions to the French administration.
In late 1925, a small group of young Hanoi-based intellectuals, led by a teacher named Pham Tuan Tai and his brother Pham Tuan Lam, started the Nam Dong Thu Xa (Southeast Asia Publishing House). They aimed to promote violent revolution as a means of gaining independence for Vietnam from French colonisation, and published books and brochures about Sun Yat-sen and the Chinese Revolution of 1911, as well as opening a free school to teach quoc ngu (Romanised Vietnamese script) to the working class. The group soon attracted the support of other progressive young northerners, including students and teachers led by Nguyễn Thái Học. Học was an alumnus of Hanoi's Commercial School, who had been stripped of a scholarship because of his mediocre academic performance.
Harassment and censorship imposed by the French colonial authorities led to the commercial failure of the Nam Dong Thu Xa. By the autumn of 1927, the group's priorities turned towards more direct political action, in a bid to appeal to more radical elements in the north. Membership grew to around 200, distributed among 18 cells in 14 provinces across northern and central Vietnam.
The Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD) was formed at a meeting in Hanoi on December 25, 1927, with Nguyễn Thái Học as the party's first leader. It was Vietnam's first home-grown revolutionary party, established three years before the Indochinese Communist Party. The party advocated socialism, but at the outset there was considerable debate over its other fundamental objectives. Many wanted it to promote worldwide revolution, rather than limiting itself to campaigning for an independent Vietnamese republic; but there were fears that this would lead to accusations of communism, putting off potential Vietnamese supporters who yearned above all for independence. In a bid for moderation, the final statement was a compromise that read:
The aim and general line of the party is to make a national revolution, to use military force to overthrow the feudal colonial system, to set up a democratic republic of Vietnam. At the same time we will help all oppressed nationalities in the work of struggling to achieve independence, in particular such neighboring countries as Laos and Cambodia.
Although the VNQDD modelled itself on Sun Yat-sen's Chinese Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang or KMT, later led by Chiang Kai-shek), even down to copying the "Nationalist Party" designation, it had no direct relationship with its Chinese counterpart and in fact did not gain much attention outside Vietnam until the Yên Bái mutiny in 1930. Like the KMT, it was a clandestine organisation held together with tight discipline. Its basic unit was the cell, above which there were several levels of administration, including provincial, regional and central committees. Also like the KMT, the VNQDD's revolutionary strategy envisaged a military takeover, followed by a period of political training for the population before a constitutional government could take control.
Most party members were teachers, employees of the French colonial government or non-commissioned officers in the colonial army. The VNQDD campaigned mainly among these facets of society—there were few workers or peasants in its ranks. The party's popularity was based on a groundswell of anti-French feeling in northern Vietnam in the 1920s; many writers had assailed society for glorifying military actions against China, Champa, Siam and Cambodia, Vietnam's historical rivals, while neglecting to oppose French colonialism. The VNQDD admitted many female members, which was quite revolutionary for the time. It set about seeking alliances with other nationalist factions in Vietnam. In a meeting on July 4, 1928, the Central Committee appealed for unity among the Vietnamese revolutionary movements, sending delegates to meet with other organisations struggling for independence. The preliminary contacts did not yield any concrete alliances. The VNQDD also assailed the Vietnamese communists of Ho Chi Minh for betraying the leading nationalist of the time—Phan Bội Châu—to the French in return for a financial reward. Ho had done this to eliminate other nationalist rivals. The VNQDD would later be on the receiving end of another of Ho's manoeuvres.
Financial problems compounded the VNQDD's difficulties. Money was needed to set up a commercial enterprise, a cover for the revolutionaries to meet and plot, and for raising funds. For this purpose, a hotel-restaurant named the Vietnam Hotel was opened in September 1928. The French colonial authorities were aware of the real purpose of the business, and put it under surveillance without taking further preliminary action. The first notable reorganisation of the VNQDD was in December, when Nguyen Khac Nhu replaced Hoc as chairman. Three proto-governmental organs were created, to form the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government. The records of the French secret service estimated that by early 1929, the VNQDD consisted of approximately 1,500 members in 120 cells, mostly in areas around the Red River Delta. The intelligence reported that most members were students, minor merchants or low-level bureaucrats in the French administration. The report stated that there were landlords and wealthy peasants among the members, but that few were of scholar-gentry (mandarin) rank. According to the historian Cecil B. Currey, "The VNQDD's lower-class origins made it, in many ways, closer to the labouring poor than were the Communists, many of whom…[were] from established middle-class families."
Beginning in 1928, the VNQDD attracted substantial Vietnamese support, provoking increased attention from the French colonial administration. This came after a VNQDD death squad killed several French officials and Vietnamese collaborators who had a reputation for cruelty towards the Vietnamese populace.
The assassination of Hanoi-based French labour recruiter Hervé Bazin on February 9, 1929, was a turning point that marked the beginning of the VNQDD's decline. A graduate of the École Coloniale in Paris, Bazin directed the recruitment of Vietnamese labourers to work on colonial plantations. Recruiting techniques often included beating or coercion, because the foremen who did the recruiting received a commission for each enlisted worker. On the plantations, living conditions were poor and the remuneration was low, leading to widespread indignation. In response, Vietnamese hatred of Bazin led to thoughts of an assassination. A group of workers approached the VNQDD with a proposal to kill Bazin. Học felt that assassinations were pointless because they would only prompt a crackdown by the French Sûreté, thereby weakening the party. He felt that it was better to strengthen the party until the time was ripe to overthrow the French, viewing Bazin as a mere twig on the tree of the colonial apparatus.
Turned down by the VNQDD leadership, one of the assassination's proponents—it is unclear whether or not he was a party member—created his own plot. With an accomplice, he shot and killed Bazin on February 9, 1929, as the Frenchman left his mistress's house. The French attributed the attack to the VNQDD and reacted by apprehending all the party members they could find: between three and four hundred men were rounded up, including 36 government clerks, 13 French government officials, 36 schoolteachers, 39 merchants, 37 landowners and 40 military personnel. The subsequent trials resulted in 78 men being convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging between five and twenty years. The arrests severely depleted the VNQDD leadership: most of the Central Committee were captured, though Học and Nhu were among the few who escaped from a raid on their hideout at the Vietnam Hotel.
In 1929, the VNQDD split when a faction led by Nguyen The Nghiep began to disobey party orders and was therefore expelled from the Central Committee. Some sources claim that Nghiep had formed a breakaway party and had begun secret contacts with French authorities.
Perturbed by those who betrayed fellow members to the French and the problems this behaviour caused, Học convened a meeting to tighten regulations in mid-1929 at the village of Lac Dao, along the Gia Lam–Haiphong railway. This was also the occasion for a shift in strategy: Học argued for a general uprising, citing rising discontent among Vietnamese soldiers in the colonial army. More moderate party leaders believed this move to be premature, and cautioned against it, but Học's stature meant he prevailed in shifting the party's orientation towards violent struggle. One of the arguments presented for large-scale violence was that the French response to the Bazin assassination meant that the party's strength could decline in the long term. The plan was to provoke a series of uprisings at military posts around the Red River Delta in early 1930, where VNQDD forces would join Vietnamese soldiers in an attack on the two major northern cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The leaders agreed to restrict their uprisings to Tonkin, because the party was weak elsewhere.
For the remainder of 1929, the party prepared for the revolt. They located and manufactured weapons, storing them in hidden depots. The preparation was hindered by French police, particularly the seizure of arms caches.
At around 01:30 on Monday, February 10, 1930, approximately 40 troops belonging to the 2nd Battalion of the Fourth Régiment de Tirailleurs Tonkinois stationed at Yên Bái, reinforced by around 60 civilian members of the VNQDD, attacked their 29 French officers and warrant officers. The rebels had intended to split into three groups: the first group was to infiltrate the infantry, kill French NCOs in their beds and raise support among Vietnamese troops; the second, supported by the VNQDD civilians, was to break into the post headquarters; and the third group would enter the officers' quarters. The French were caught off guard; five were killed and three seriously wounded. The mutineers isolated a few more French officers from their men, even managing to raise the VNQDD flag above one of the buildings. About two hours later, however, it became apparent that the badly coordinated uprising had failed, and the remaining 550 Vietnamese soldiers helped quell the rebellion rather than participate in it. The insurrectionists had failed to liquidate the Garde indigène town post and could not convince the frightened townspeople to join them in a general revolt. At 07:30, a French Indochinese counterattack scattered the mutineers; two hours later, order was re-established in Yên Bái.
That same evening, two further insurrectionary attempts failed in the Sơn Dương sector. A raid on the Garde indigène post in Hưng Hóa was repelled by the Vietnamese guards, who appeared to have been tipped off. In the nearby town of Kinh Khe, VNQDD members killed the instructor Nguyen Quang Kinh and one of his wives. After destroying the Garde indigène post in Lâm Thao, the VNQDD briefly seized control of the district seat. At sunrise, a new Garde indigène unit arrived and inflicted heavy losses on the insurgents, mortally wounding Nhu. Aware of the events in the upper delta region, Pho Duc Chinh fled and abandoned a planned attack on the Sơn Tây garrison, but he was captured a few days later by French authorities.
On February 10, a VNQDD member injured a policeman at a Hanoi checkpoint; at night, Arts students threw bombs at government buildings, which they regarded as part of the repressive power of the colonial state. On the night of February 15–16, Học and his remaining forces seized the nearby villages of Phu Duc and Vĩnh Bảo, in Thái Bình and Hải Dương provinces respectively, for a few hours. In the second village, the VNQDD killed the local mandarin of the French colonial government, Tri Huyen. On February 16, French warplanes responded by bombarding the VNQDD's last base at Co Am village; on the same day, Tonkin's Resident Superior René Robin dispatched 200 Gardes indigènes, eight French commanders and two Sûreté inspectors. A few further violent incidents occurred until February 22, when Governor-General Pierre Pasquier declared that the insurrection had been defeated. Học and his lieutenants, Chinh and Nguyen Thanh Loi, were apprehended.
A series of trials were held to prosecute those arrested during the uprising. The largest number of death penalties was handed down by the first Criminal Commission, which convened at Yen Bay. Among the 87 people found guilty at Yen Bay, 46 were servicemen. Some argued in their own defence that they had been "surprised and forced to take part in the insurrection". Of the 87 convicted, 39 were sentenced to death, five to deportation, 33 to life sentences of forced labour, nine to 20 years imprisonment, and one to five years of forced labour. Of those condemned to death, 24 were civilians and 15 were servicemen. Presidential pardons reduced the number of death penalties from 39 to 13. Học and Chinh were among the 13 who were executed on June 17, 1930. The condemned men cried "Viet Nam!" as the guillotine fell. Học wrote a final plea to the French, in a letter that claimed that he had always wanted to cooperate with French authorities, but that their intransigence had forced him to revolt. Học contended that France could only stay in Indochina if they dropped their "brutal" policies, and became more amiable towards the Vietnamese. The VNQDD leader called for universal education, training in commerce and industry, and an end to the corrupt practices of the French-installed mandarins.
Following Yen Bay, the VNQDD became more diffuse, with many factions effectively acting virtually autonomously of one another. Le Huu Canh—who had tried to stall the failed mutiny—attempted to reunite what remained of the party under the banner of peaceful reform. Other factions, however, remained faithful to Học's legacy, recreating the movement in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. A failed assassination attempt on Governor-General Pasquier led to French crackdowns in 1931 and 1932. The survivors escaped to Yunnan in southern China, where some of Nghiep's supporters were still active. The Yunnan VNQDD was in fact a section of the Chinese Kuomintang, who protected its members from the Chinese government while funds were raised by robbery and extortion along the Sino-Vietnamese border. This eventually led to a Chinese government crackdown, but VNQDD members continued to train at the Yunnan Military School; some enlisted in the nationalist Chinese army while others learned to manufacture weapons and munitions in the Yunnan arsenal.
Nghiep was briefly jailed by Yunnan authorities, but continued to run the party from his cell. Upon his release in 1933, Nghiep consolidated the party with similar groups in the area, including some followers of Phan Bội Châu who had formed a Canton-based organisation with similar aims in 1925. Chau's group had formed in opposition to the communist tendencies of Ho Chi Minh's Revolutionary Youth League. However, Ho betrayed Chau to eliminate a potential rival and to pocket a reward. With nationalist Chinese aid, Chau's followers had set up a League of Oppressed Oriental Peoples, a Pan-Asian group that ended in failure. In 1932 the League made the point of declaring a "Provisional Indochinese Government" at Canton. In July 1933, Chau's group was integrated into Nghiep's Yunnan organisation. In 1935, Nghiep surrendered to the French consulate in Shanghai. The remainder of the VNQDD was paralysed by infighting and began losing political relevance, with only moderate activity until the outbreak of World War II and Japan's invasion of French Indochina in 1940. They attempted to organise workers along the Yunnan railway, threatening occasional border assaults, with little success.
The VNQDD was gradually overshadowed as the leading Vietnamese independence organisation by Ho's Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). In 1940, Ho arrived in Yunnan, which was a hotbed of both ICP and VNQDD activity. He initiated collaboration between the ICP and other nationalists such as the VNQDD. At the time, World War II had broken out and Japan had conquered most of eastern China and replaced the French in Vietnam. Ho moved east to the neighbouring province of Guangxi, where Chinese military leaders had been attempting to organise Vietnamese nationalists against the Japanese. The VNQDD had been active in Guangxi and some of their members had joined the KMT army. Under the umbrella of KMT activities, a broad alliance of nationalists emerged. With Ho at the forefront, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Vietnamese Independence League, usually known as the Viet Minh) was formed and based in the town of Chinghsi. The pro-VNQDD nationalist Ho Ngoc Lam, a KMT army officer and former disciple of Phan Boi Chau, was named as the deputy of Phạm Văn Đồng, later to be Ho's Prime Minister. The front was later broadened and renamed the Viet Nam Giai Phong Dong Minh (Vietnam Liberation League). It was an uneasy situation, as another VNQDD leader, Truong Boi Cong, a graduate of a KMT military academy, wanted to challenge the communists for pre-eminence, while Vũ Hồng Khanh led a virulently anti-communist VNQDD faction. The Viet Nam Revolutionary League was a union of various Vietnamese nationalist groups, run by the pro Chinese VNQDD. Chinese KMT General Zhang Fakui created the league to further Chinese influence in Indochina, against the French and Japanese. Its stated goal was for unity with China under the Three Principles of the People, created by KMT founder Dr. Sun and opposition to Vietnamese and French Imperialists. The Revolutionary League was controlled by Nguyen Hai Than, who was born in China and could not speak Vietnamese. General Zhang shrewdly blocked the Communists of Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh from entering the league, as his main goal was Chinese influence in Indochina. The KMT utilized these Vietnamese nationalists during World War II against Japanese forces. At one stage, the communists made an appeal for other Vietnamese anti-colonialists to join forces, but condemned Khanh as an "opportunist" and "fake revolutionary" in their letter. The cooperation in the border area lasted for only a few months before VNQDD officials complained to the local KMT officials that the communists, led by Dong and Võ Nguyên Giáp, were attempting to dominate the league. This prompted the local authorities to shut down the front's activities.
In March 1945, the VNQDD received a boost, when Imperial Japan, which had occupied Vietnam since 1941, deposed the French administration, and installed the Empire of Vietnam, a puppet regime. This resulted in the release of some anti-French activists, including VNQDD members.
On August 15, 1945, Japanese surrendered to Republic of China in Vietnam. General Lu Han (盧漢) was the representative of the Nationalist Army. The government of Republic of China favored VNQDD over Viet Minh which led to Ho's reliance on the rebel Chinese communist.
Ho's Viet Minh seized power and set up a provisional government in the wake of Japan's withdrawal from Vietnam. This move violated a prior agreement between the member parties of the Viet Nam Cach Mang Dong Minh Hoi (Vietnamese Revolutionary League), which included the VNQDD as well as the Vietminh, and Ho was pressured to broaden his government's appeal by including the VNQDD (now led by Nguyễn Tường Tam). The Vietminh announced that they would abolish the mandarin governance system and hold national elections with universal suffrage in two hold. The VNQDD objected to this, fearing that the communists would perpetrate electoral fraud.
After the seizure of power, hundreds of VNQDD members returned from China, only to be killed at the border by the Vietminh. Nevertheless, the VNQDD arrived in northern Vietnam with arms and supplies from the KMT, in addition to its prestige as a Vietnamese nationalist organisation. Nationalist China backed the VNQDD in the hope of gaining more influence over its southern neighbour. Ho tried to broaden his support in order to strengthen himself, in addition to decreasing Chinese and French power. He hoped that by co-opting VNQDD members, he could shut out the KMT. The communists had no intention of sharing power with anyone in the long term and regarded the move as purely a strategic exercise. Giap, the Vietminh's military chief, called the VNQDD a "group of reactionaries plotting to rely on Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang and their rifle barrels to snatch a few crumbs". The VNQDD dominated the main control lines between northern Vietnam and China near Lào Cai. They funded their operations from the tribute that they levied from the local populace. Once the majority of the non-communist nationalists had returned to Vietnam, the VNQDD banded with them to form an anti-Vietminh alliance. The VNQDD and the Dai Viet Quoc Dan Dang (DVQDD, Nationalist Party of Greater Vietnam) started their own military academy at Yên Bái to train their own military recruits. Armed confrontations between the Vietminh and the nationalists occurred regularly in major northern cities. The VNQDD were aided by the KMT, who were in northern Vietnam as the result of an international agreement to stabilise the country. The KMT often disarmed local Vietminh bands.
The VNQDD then established their national headquarters in Hanoi, and began to publish newspapers, expounding their policies and explaining their ideology. The OSS agent Archimedes Patti, who was based in Kunming and northern Vietnam, reported that the VNQDD were "hopelessly disoriented politically" and felt that they had no idea of how to run a government. He speculated that the VNQDD were driven by "desires for personal power and economic gain". Giap accused them of being "bandits". Military and newspaper attacks between the groups occurred regularly, but a power-sharing agreement was put in place until the elections occurred in order to end the attacks and strengthen national unity to further the goal of independence. The communists also allowed the VNQDD to continue printing material.
However, the agreement was ineffective in the meantime. The VNQDD kidnapped Giap and the Propaganda Minister Tran Huy Lieu and held them for three weeks until Ho agreed to remove Giáp and Lieu from the cabinet. As a result, the VNQDD's Vũ Hồng Khanh became defence minister, with Giap as his deputy. What the VNQDD and other non-communist nationalists thought to be an equitable power-sharing agreement turned out to be a ruse. Every non-communist minister had a communist deputy, and if the former refused to approve a decree, the Vietminh official would do so. Many ministers were excluded from knowing the details of their portfolio; Khanh was forbidden to see any military statistics and some were forbidden to attend cabinet meetings. In one case, the Minister of Social Works became a factory worker because he was forced to remain politically idle. Meanwhile, Giáp was able to stymie the activities of VNQDD officials of higher rank in the coalition government. Aside from shutting down the ability of the VNQDD officials to disseminate information, he often ordered his men to start riots and street brawls at public VNQDD events.
Ho scheduled elections for December 23, but he made a deal with the VNQDD and the Dong Minh Hoi, which assured them of 50 and 20 seats in the new national assembly respectively, regardless of the poll results. This only temporarily placated the VNQDD, which continued its skirmishes against the Vietminh. Eventually, Chinese pressure on the VNQDD and the Dong Minh Hoi saw them accept a coalition government, in which Tam served as foreign minister. For the communists' part, they accused the KMT of intimidating them into sharing power with the VNQDD, and claimed that VNQDD soldiers had tried to attack polling stations. The VNQDD claimed that the communists had engaged in vote fraud and intimidation, citing Vietminh claims that they had received tallies in excess of 80% in areas controlled by French troops.
The Ho–Sainteny agreement, signed on March 6, 1946, saw the return of French colonial forces to Vietnam, replacing the Chinese nationalists who were supposed to be maintaining order. The VNQDD were now without their main supporters. As a result, the VNQDD were further attacked by the French, who often encircled VNQDD strongholds, enabling Viet Minh attacks. Giáp's army hunted down VNQDD troops and cleared them from the Red River Delta, seizing arms and arresting party members, who were falsely charged with crimes ranging from counterfeiting to unlawful arms possession. The Viet Minh massacred thousands of VNQDD members and other nationalists in a large scale purge. Most of the survivors fled to China or French-controlled areas in Vietnam. After driving the VNQDD out of their Hanoi headquarters on On Nhu Hau Street, Giáp ordered his agents to construct an underground torture chamber on the premises. They then planted exhumed and badly decomposed bodies in the chamber, and accused the VNQDD of gruesome murders, although most of the dead were VNQDD members who had been killed by Giáp's men. The communists made a public spectacle of the scene in an attempt to discredit the VNQDD, but the truth eventually came out and the "On Nhu Hau Street affair" lowered their public image.
When the National Assembly reconvened in Hanoi on October 28, only 30 of the 50 VNQDD seats were filled. Of the 37 VNQDD and Dong Minh Hoi members who turned up, only 20 remained by the end of the session. By the end of the year, Tam had resigned as foreign minister and fled to China, and only one of the three original VNQDD cabinet members was still in office. In any case, the VNQDD never had any power, despite their numerical presence. Upon the opening of the National Assembly, the communist majority voted to vest power in an executive committee almost entirely consisting of communists; the legislature met only once a year. In any case, the façade of a legislature was dispensed with as the First Indochina War went into full flight. A small group of VNQDD fighters escaped Giáp's assault and retreated to a mountainous enclave along the Sino-Vietnamese border, where they declared themselves to be the government of Vietnam, with little effect.
After Vietnam gained independence in 1954, the Geneva Accords partitioned the country into a communist north and an anti-communist south, but stipulated that there were to be 300 days of free passage between the two zones. During Operation Passage to Freedom, most VNQDD members migrated to the south.
The VNQDD was deeply divided after years of communist pressure, lacked strong leadership and no longer had a coherent military presence, although they had a large presence in central Vietnam. The party's disarray was only exacerbated by the actions of autocratic President Ngô Đình Diệm, who imprisoned many of its members. Diem's administration was a "dictatorship by Catholics—A new kind of fascism", according to the title of a VNQDD pamphlet published in July 1955. The VNQDD tried to revolt against Diem in 1955 in central Vietnam. During the transition period after Geneva, the VNQDD sought to set up a new military academy in central Vietnam, but they were crushed by Ngô Đình Cẩn, who ran the region for his elder brother Diệm, dismantled and jailed VNQDD members and leaders.
Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam felt that Diệm discriminated against them because of their political leanings. Diệm used the secret Catholic Cần Lao Party to keep control of the army and stifle attempts by VNQDD members to rise through the ranks.
During the Diệm era, the VNQDD were implicated in two failed coup attempts. In November 1960, a paratrooper revolt failed after the mutineers agreed to negotiate, allowing time for loyalists to relieve the president. Many of the officers involved had links to or were members of the VNQDD, and fled the country after the coup collapsed. In 1963, VNQDD leaders Tam and Vũ Hồng Khanh were among those arrested for their involvement in the plot; Tam committed suicide before the case started, and Khanh was jailed. In February 1962, two Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots, Nguyễn Văn Cừ—son of a prominent VNQDD leader—and Phạm Phú Quốc, bombarded the Independence Palace in a bid to kill the president and his family, but their targets escaped unharmed. Diem was eventually deposed in a military coup and killed in November 1963. While the generals that led the coup were not members of the VNQDD, they sought to cultivate ARVN officers who were part of the VNQDD because of their antipathy towards Diem.
Many VNQDD members were part of the ARVN, which sought to prevent South Vietnam from being overrun by communists during the Vietnam War, and they were known for being more anti-communist than most of their compatriots.
After the fall of Diệm and the execution of Cẩn in May 1964, the VNQDD became more active in their strongholds in central Vietnam. Nevertheless, there was no coherent national leadership and groups at district and provincial level tended to operate autonomously. By 1965, their members had managed to infiltrate and take over the Peoples Action Teams (PATs), irregular paramilitary counter-insurgency forces organised by Australian Army advisers to fight the communists, and used them for their own purposes. In December, one VNQDD member had managed to turn his PAT colleagues towards the nationalist agenda, and the local party leadership in Quảng Nam approached the Australians in an attempt to have the 1000-man PAT outfit formally allied to the VNQDD. The overture was rejected. The politicisation of paramilitary units worked both ways; some province chiefs used the anti-communist forces to assassinate political opponents, including VNQDD members.
In 1966, the Buddhist Uprising erupted in central Vietnam, in which some Buddhist leaders fomented civil unrest against the war, hoping to end foreign involvement in Vietnam and end the conflict through a peace deal with the communists. The VNQDD remained implacably opposed to any coexistence with the communists. Members of the VNQDD made alliances with Catholics, collected arms, and engaged in pro-war street clashes with the Buddhists, forcing elements of the ARVN to intervene to stop them.
On April 19, clashes erupted in Quảng Ngãi Province between the Buddhists and the VNQDD, prompting the local ARVN commander Tôn Thất Đính to forcibly restrain the two groups. Three days later the VNQDD accused the Buddhists of attacking their premises in Hội An and Da Nang, while US officials reported that the VNQDD were making plans to assassinate leading Buddhists, such as the activist monk Thích Trí Quang.
The VNQDD contested their national elections of 1967, the first elections since the fall of Diem, which were rigged—Diem and his people invariably gained more than 95% of the vote and sometimes exceeded the number of registered voters. The campaign was disorganised due to a lack of infrastructure and some VNQDD candidates were not formally sanctioned by any hierarchy. The VNQDD focused on the districts in I Corps in central Vietnam where they were thought to be strong. There were 60 seats in the senate, and the six victorious tickets would see all ten of their members elected. The VNQDD entered eight tickets in the senate election, and while they totalled 15% of the national vote between them, the most of any grouping, it was diluted between the groupings; none of the tickets and thus none of the candidates were elected. This contrasted with one Catholic alliance with three tickets that won only 8% of the vote, but had all 30 candidates elected. They won nine seats in the lower house, a small minority presence, all from districts in central Vietnam, where they tended to poll between 20 and 40% in various areas. The VNQDD members made several loose alliances with Hòa Hảo members of the lower house.
During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the communists attacked and seized control of the central city of Huế for a month. During this time, they executed around 3,000–6,000 people that they had taken prisoner, out of a total population of 140,000. The communists had compiled a list of "reactionaries" to be liquidated before their assault. Known for their virulent anti-communism, VNQDD members appeared to have been disproportionately targeted in the massacre.
After the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, the remnants of the VNQDD were again targeted by the victorious communists. As Vietnam is a single-party state led by the Vietnamese Communist Party, the VNQDD is illegal. Some VNQDD members fled to the West, where they continued their political activities. The VNQDD remains respected among some sections of the overseas Vietnamese community as Vietnam's leading anti-communist organisation.