Le was born "Phan Dinh Khai" in the Nam Ha province of Vietnam.
In 1930, Le helped found the Indochinese Communist Party. French colonial forces imprisoned him from 1930 to 1936 and again from 1939 to 1944. In 1945, he joined the Viet Minh, the Communist-affiliated independence movement, and was their highest-ranking official in the south of Vietnam during the war for independence (which ended in 1954). He then joined the Politburo of the Vietnam Workers' Party, now the Communist Party of Vietnam. During this time, the Communists held only North Vietnam; Le led the Communist insurgents in South Vietnam until their victory in 1975.
The United States joined this Vietnam War during the 1960s, but Le and United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a cease-fire in 1973, for which he and Kissinger were jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. Le, however, refused to accept the prize, on the grounds that his country was not yet at peace; fighting continued without the United States until the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Le led the first Vietnamese forces in their invasion of Cambodia in 1978. He then left the military, but remained in the Politburo until 1986. Le died in Hanoi on October 13, 1990.