Thursday, September 29, 2011


Communism in Vietnam developed in the context of Vietnam's anti-colonial struggle against France, the growing Sino-Soviet ideological and military conflict, and Vietnam's localization of foreign influences.
The political memorial billboard at Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City in 1996. (STEPHENG. DONALDSON PHOTOGRAPHY) The political memorial billboard at Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City in 1996. (STEPHENG. DONALDSON PHOTOGRAPHY)

Communism was adopted in Vietnam as an anti-colonial solution. Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969), founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party and father of Vietnam's independence, noted that it was patriotism rather than communism that led him the ideas of Lenin. This approach remained valid into the 1950s during Vietnam's war with France and into the 1960s and 1970s during Vietnam's war with the United States. Although Leninism was often cited in Vietnamese Communist writings, the Communist system that developed in Vietnam was mainly shaped by Stalinism and Maoism. The Vietnamese Communist movement adhered to the Moscow line in the 1930s, adopted the Maoist model of guerrilla warfare in the late 1930s, and executed Stalin's suggestion of, and the Maoist model of, land reform in the 1950s. The government in Hanoi vacillated between Moscow and Beijing in the 1960s, culminating in an internal conflict that is called the "revisionist" incident. Hanoi clashed with Beijing between 1979 and 1991 over Cambodia and moved closer to the Soviet bloc.
Tensions in Vietnamese Communism
Throughout the history of the Communist period, however, there was not only conflict between the Stalinist and Maoist models of socialist development but also between Communism as a foreign ideology and Vietnamese political tradition, three salient elements of which were patriotism, Confucianism, and village culture. This conflict with Vietnamese political tradition can be seen in several examples: (1) Ho Chi Minh's conflict with the Moscow-led Comintern in 1930, when he named the Communist party he founded the Vietnamese Communist Party instead of the Indochinese Communist Party (though the name was later changed); (2) his drafting a political thesis that did not advocate the Moscow line of class struggle; (3) the founding of a united front organization known as the Vietnam Independence League, or Viet Minh, that incorporated every sector of society; (4) the dissolution of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1945 after the revolution; (5) the public apology for the mishandling of land reform in the mid-1950s; and (6) the absence of the use of brutal force as a means to develop socialism or to deal with political opponents.
Confucianism and Communism
Ho Chi Minh relied on Confucian concepts and terms in introducing, recasting, and propagating Communist ideological concepts, making the latter more compatible with Vietnam's Confucian-based tradition. Presented in Confucian terms, Ho's revolutionary ethics consisted of the five principles of nhan (humanity), nghia (duty), tri (knowledge), dung (courage), and liem (integrity). Selected elements of village culture were incorporated into the new socialist discourse. One aspect of village culture selected was the image of the peasant family as a stable social unit engaged in agricultural activities. Internal family relations were marked by equality, reciprocity, and mutual sacrifice, and family work was characterized by equal distribution of responsibilities. These aspects of family relations were extended to govern relationships among friends and in society at large.
The Development of Vietnamese Communism
The Vietnamese Communist movement was founded in 1930 by Ho, then known as Nguyen Ai Quoc. Since then, the movement has assumed several names: the Vietnamese Communist Party (February–October 1930), the Indochinese Communist Party (1930–1945), the Vietnam Worker Party (1951–1976), and the Communist Party of Vietnam (1976–present). The revolution that broke out in August 1945 can be considered a war for independence. It was not until the years 1949–1950 that the war became a socialist revolution. This development unfolded in the context of intensified military conflict with France in the 1940s and 1950s, the crystallization of the Cold War in the 1940s and 1950s, and the victory of the Communists in China's civil war in 1949. Politically, signs of a socialist revolution were seen through the revival of the Indochinese Communist Party under the name Vietnam Worker Party in 1951 and a rise of absolute party control over the state apparatus. Economically, socialist development can be seen in the land reform of 1954–1956, in the collectivization of agriculture and nationalization of domestic industries beginning in the late 1950s, and in the imposition of central planning in the 1960s. In the intellectual realm, Maoist practices of ideological rectification were imported into Vietnam in 1949–1950, and the period between 1953 and 1956 was one in which peasant-based political and economic ethics penetrated the content of every type of writing. This intellectual trend led to conflicts between the party-state and intellectuals known as the Nhan Van Giai Pham Affairs in the mid-1950s.
Communism in South Vietnam
Until 1975, Communism developed only in Vietnam north of the seventeenth parallel, in the area known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. Communism was imposed on the South only after reunification in 1975. The Hanoi regime moved to collectivize agriculture, nationalize industries, and control wholesale and retail trade. In the south, agricultural collectivization did not succeed because by the mid-1970s the distribution of land ownership had already become fairly egalitarian; the Hanoi government's agricultural collectivization turned out to be an attack on the interests of the middle-income and rich peasants who had benefited from the land distribution policy of the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam in the 1960s. The government's move to nationalize industries and control retail and wholesale trade disrupted production and supply in the south. Severe economic crises resulted and led to the practice of "fence breaking," whereby production units spontaneously violated rules and regulations. The party-state responded by endorsing policies to reform the socialist system.
The reform process can be divided into two phases. The first phase lasted from 1979 to 1985, when reforms were carried out within the framework of central planning. Measures adopted included the endorsement of the concept of a multisectoral economy in 1979 and subsequent reform policies in the areas of foreign trade, agriculture, industry, and the pricing system in the early 1980s. The second phase lasted from 1986 to 1989. In 1986, the Sixth Party Congress endorsed a policy of reform known as doi moi (renewal), calling for abolition of the central planning system. Major policies put forth during this period included the promulgation of a law dealing with foreign investment in 1987, the call for withdrawal of troops from Cambodia in 1987, the decollectivization of agriculture in 1988, and abolition of the two-price system in 1989.
Vietnamese Communism's contribution to the process of national liberation and its localized nature helped legitimize the authority of the Vietnamese Communist Party in the face of the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the challenge to Communism in China between 1989 and 1991.
Further Reading
Dang Phong and Melanie Beresford. (1998) Authority Relations and Economic Decision Making in Vietnam. Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS.
Duiker, William. (2000) Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
Fforde, Adam. (1998) The Agrarian Question in North Vietnam, 1974–1979. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
——, and Stefan de Vylder. (1996) From Plan to Market: The Economic Transition in Vietnam. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Huynh Kim Khanh. (1982) Vietnamese Communism, 1925– 1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Vasavakul, Thaveeporn. (1995) "Vietnam: The Changing Model of Legitimation" In Political Legitimation in Southeast Asia: The Quest for Moral Authority, edited by Muthiah Alagappa. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 257–271.
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