Vietnam reviews course of socialist construction

The 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) concluded on January 19. Over eight days, the congress reviewed its past decisions and performance and set the course to lead the people in building Vietnam into an industrialised nation.

In a statement of fraternal greetings to the congress, Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, praised Vietnam’s socio-economic achievements after almost 25 years of renewal: “Regardless of many challenges due to the world context such as the global financial crisis, climate changes and conflicts in the world, after almost a quarter of a century of implementing renewal, Vietnam continues to strengthen its political system and the national great unity bloc as well as firmly keeping its independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and socialist system”. He emphasised that Vietnam has creatively applied Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh’s thought to conduct the renewal.

Market-oriented reforms

Low productive forces resulting from almost a century of colonial exploitation and 30 years of devastating French and US imperialist war meant that a fully centralised, planned economy consisting only of a state sector was not working. People were extremely poor, inflation was rampant, and there was insufficient wealth to support health care, education and other social services. To raise Vietnam’s productive forces the CPV’s Sixth Congress in 1986 initiated market-oriented reforms, known as doi moi (renewal), which allowed for private ownership of some enterprises engaged in commodity production and introduced market elements in the distribution of goods and services. The economy is still state managed, and the majority of production is still state-owned.

The CPV describes doi moi as the development of a socialist-oriented market economy, a new economic model intended to be a transitional phase in the development of a full socialist economy, with the goal of improving productive forces and developing a firm material base for the foundation of socialism. The CPV has always considered doi moi a precondition for socialist construction - not for capitalism. Doi moi has enabled Vietnam to adapt socialism to its concrete conditions.

According to World Bank figures, Vietnam’s gross domestic product per capita (measured in current US dollars) has grown from $239 in 1985 to $1155 in 2010. The government has ensured that this growth benefits the people. Vietnam has made impressive progress, reducing the poverty rate from 70% in 1990 to 22% in 2005. On February 6 the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs reported that the poverty rate had fallen to 9.45% in 2010.

Despite this growth, Vietnam is still quite poor. Australia’s GDP per capita is nearly 50 times more at US$54,869, and even Cuba has a four times greater GDP per capita of $5000. Two areas where the CPV has prioritised limited financial resources are health and education.

Health care

The Ministry of Health is the national authority for the provision of health services. Provincial and district health authorities and commune people’s committee are responsible for the development and implementation of health strategies. Since doi moi, Vietnam’s centralised model has become more decentralised. The ministry is responsible for developing national strategies and programs as well as for the functioning (budget and staffing allocation) of national institutions. The central level also plays a supervisory role for the national institutions and the provinces.

Provincial people’s committees are responsible for staffing, budgeting and policy and planning, maternal and child health, family planning and control of communicable diseases (tuberculosis, leprosy, trachoma). Management at the two lower levels is by the district and commune people’s committees. At the district level, similar preventive services are offered. In addition, mobile units exist for delivery of health care in remote areas. Health care delivered by the commune health station is focused on hygiene, vaccinations, antenatal care, midwifery and health education.

Vietnam’s health network has developed extensively from main cities to rural areas: 100% of communes and 90% of hamlets and communal subdivisions have health workers. The last few years brought an increase in both the quantity and quality of doctors, pharmacists, nurses and preventive health workers. Since 2008, Project 1816 has helped improve medical examinations and treatment in rural and remote hospitals and clinics by rotating hundreds of doctors each year from hospitals in major cities to rural hospitals and clinics. With the doctors come new training and equipment for rural staff. Project 1816 has helped reduce by 30% the number of patients who have to move to higher level hospitals.

The World Bank web site states: “Vietnam has achieved levels in basic health indicators that are remarkably better than other developing countries with similar or even higher per capita incomes. Much of this achievement has been the result of widespread practices of promoting social solidarity and a relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth and income.” According to a February 16 article on the CPV web site, the health sector this year plans to develop more services in remote areas, renew the financial management mechanism of hospitals; develop traditional medicine and gradually build green, clean and beautiful environments at hospitals.

Education and revolution

Education has always been at the heart of the Vietnamese Revolution and is seen as the most important aspect for building a socialist society. After the August Revolution in 1945, President Ho Chi Minh postulated that education would create the continuity of the revolution, because, with the elevation of the people’s intellectual standards, they would know their interests and obligations, and have new knowledge to participate in the construction of an independent and socialist Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh stressed that there have been no other factors more important than education in the success of other countries. “Education will create ‘raw materials’ not available in nature, such as engineers, specialists and savants … Education will make decisive contributions to render the Vietnamese country beautiful, and enable the Vietnamese people to step onto the glorious monument to be well-matched with powers in the five continents. Education creates personality and perfects the man (person) step by step.”

In the wake of the August Revolution, and after the victory in the war of resistance against the French in 1954, the new revolutionary government was faced with an illiteracy rate of over 85%. According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam, only about 6% of the population is illiterate today. The country has also made remarkable progress in primary education, with the rate of children entering primary schools reaching 97%; 88.5% of pupils complete five-year primary education, of whom more than 90% continue their education.

Free primary and secondary schooling

Primary and secondary education is provided by the government through 13,355 basic and 1157 secondary schools and is free to all. Primary education begins at age 6 (grade 1) and continues to age 10/11 (grade 5). Secondary education starts at age 11 (grade 6) and continues to age 17 (grade 12). In some areas, schools cannot accommodate all of the children at once, so students attend in shifts at different times of the day. The school week runs from Monday to Saturday. All children are encouraged to finish secondary school. In addition to general secondary schools, Vietnam also has just under 300 secondary vocational schools which allow specialisation in such fields as industry, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, economics, teacher training, medicine, gymnastics and sports and culture and arts.

College or university education normally begins at 18 years of age. There are currently 110 public higher education institutions in Vietnam, including 23 colleges and 27 universities (including five state universities: Hanoi National University, Ho Chi Minh City National University, the University of Hue, the University of Thai Nguyen, the University of Da Lat). Numerous semi-public and private universities and colleges have also been established. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s centre for science and technology, now has 14 such institutions, accounting for around 30% of the total. The students attending these schools make up approximately 18% of the number of university students nationwide.

Since doi moi, secondary vocational and tertiary education are no longer free, but there is stiff competition through examination for the limited number of places, and a number of scholarships are available for gifted students.

While doi moi has introduced some inequity through “user pays” systems for essential social services, this has always been alleviated as much as possible at every level. As the productive forces grow, more is available to improve people’s lives. Without doi moi, millions of people would have been condemned to poverty and disease. If it had ignored the objective reality of Vietnam, the government would have brought about what the French, US and allies like Australia could not achieve by 30 years of brutal war - the defeat of socialism in Vietnam. Instead the CPV and the people continue to build a stronger base for socialism in Vietnam and by example a stronger base for socialism internationally in the 21st century.