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Semisecrecy of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party

Unlike other communist regimes, the LPRP has long maintained a semisecrecy about its mode of operation and the identity of its rank-and-file members. However, the LPRP follows the standard communist practice of planting party members within all principal institutions of society--in government, in mass organizations, and, formerly, in agricultural collectives. These individuals serve as leaders and transmit party policy. They also act as the eyes and ears of the central party organization. Although party members are admonished not to reveal themselves, it is not difficult for knowledgeable persons to pick out the party members in their organization. In each ministry, for example, the key power wielders are party members. All party members do not, of course, hold positions of authority. Some occupy the lower ranks, serving, for example, as messengers, drivers, and maintenance personnel.

By the late 1980s, some of the LPRP's semisecrecy had eroded. Party leadership lists, which, during revolutionary and early postrevolutionary days had been secret, were published. But a quasi-clandestine attitude remains among the party rank and file that can be explained by several factors. Clandestine behavior is an old habit that is not easily shed. Secrecy adds to the party's mystery, inspires anxiety and fear, and contributes to control. In view of its long history of revolutionary activity, party veterans fear infiltration and subversion. LPRP pronouncements during its first decade of rule frequently alluded to "CIA and Thaireactionary -inspired agents," and later, when relations with China grew tense, to the danger of "big power hegemonism." Moreover, party leaders appear to lack confidence in the quality of their membership, speaking from time to time about "bad elements" within the party.

The LPRP is relatively small compared with other incumbent parties. For example, the 40,000 members that the party claimed in 1985 represented 1.1 percent of the population (estimating 3.5 million inhabitants). In 1979 the Vietnamese Communist Party had 1.5 million members in a population of 53 million, or approximately 3 percent.

Data as of July 1994