Economic challenges on Vietnam’s road to socialism

By Hamish Chitts

For the past 80 years, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has led the country to historic victories that showed not only Vietnam’s spirit of national unity and self-determination but also the CPV’s political strength, its ability to mobilise the people and its ongoing commitment to building socialism. Led by the CPV, the people of Vietnam defeated feudalism and imperialism, won national independence and decided to follow the path to socialism. They have overcome many challenges and face many more, because the struggle for socialism does not end with a revolution’s military defeat of the old order.

The CPV has identified the two most dangerous and difficult situations in its 80-year history. In the first, 1945-46, Vietnam was threatened by internal and external hostile forces, hunger, ignorance, and foreign invaders, but under the leadership of the party, headed by President Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam defended its young revolutionary government and national independence.

The second occurred in 1986. Still recovering from war, still with a significant peasant population, Vietnam did not have the productive forces capable of sustaining a fully centralised, planned economy consisting only of a state sector. Under the threat of starvation and disease, the CPV implemented doi moi, changes to Vietnam’s economy that allowed a minority of capitalist production and investment in order to raise the productive forces and stave off disaster.

Transitional stage
Socialism is a transitional stage between capitalism and the classless, stateless society of communism. To begin this transition, productive forces must be raised to a level even greater than that currently possessed by even the most advanced capitalist country. This will be possible only after removal of the dominance of capitalists on a global scale. But in countries where workers have the upper hand, where socialist governments are in power, the foundation for this transition can be laid. This is what Vietnam is doing.

The CPV decided on the change to doi moi after a careful study of Marxist economics and of history. Vietnam was not the first revolutionary socialist government faced with this problem. In 1921 the young Soviet government under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks faced a similar problem. Writing on the “tax in kind” (an early measure in what would become known as the New Economic Policy) on April 21, 1921, Lenin summed up the situation:

“The tax in kind is a transition from War Communism to a regular socialist exchange of products. The extreme ruin rendered more acute by the crop failure in 1920 has made this transition urgently necessary owing to the fact that it was impossible to restore large-scale industry rapidly. Hence, the first thing to do is to improve the condition of the peasants. The means are the tax in kind, the development of exchange between agriculture and industry, and the development of small industry.

“Exchange is freedom of trade; it is capitalism. It is useful to us inasmuch as it will help us overcome the dispersal of the small producer, and to a certain degree combat the evils of bureaucracy; to what extent this can be done will be determined by practical experience. The proletarian power is in no danger, as long as the proletariat firmly holds power in its hands, and has full control of transport and large-scale industry. The fight against profiteering must be transformed into a fight against stealing and the evasion of state supervision, accounting and control. By means of this control we shall direct the capitalism that is to a certain extent inevitable and necessary for us into the channels of state capitalism.

“The development of local initiative and independent action in encouraging exchange between agriculture and industry must be given the fullest scope at all costs. The practical experience gained must be studied; and this experience must be made as varied as possible. We must give assistance to small industry servicing peasant farming and helping to improve it. To some extent, this assistance may be given in the form of raw materials from the state stocks. It would be most criminal to leave these raw materials unprocessed.

“We must not be afraid of Communists ‘learning’ from bourgeois experts, including merchants, petty capitalist co-operators and capitalists, in the same way as we learned from the military experts, though in a different form. The results of the ‘learning’ must be tested only by practical experience and by doing things better than the bourgeois experts at your side; try in every way to secure an improvement in agriculture and industry, and to develop exchange between them. Do not grudge them the ‘tuition’ fee: none will be too high, provided we learn something.”

Risks
Even after two decades of impressive economic growth, if you compare gross domestic product per head of population, Vietnam is still 50 times poorer than Australia and even five times poorer than Cuba. There are downsides and negative impacts to doi moi. The gap between rich and poor has increased, and some of Vietnam’s workers are now exposed to the exploitation of their labour by foreign and domestic capitalists. The greatest risk from doi moi is that it has allowed capitalism to re-establish a foothold in Vietnam, where it has gained influence over a minority. But the CPV is well aware of this risk, its necessity and how to counter it. Through the consistent education in Marxism and Leninism and through the shining example of 80 years of struggle and sacrifice for socialism, the CPV provides a strong counter to this danger.

Vietnam’s example also teaches us another important lesson. You cannot judge the socialist nature of a state or its leadership purely on economic figures or indicators. You also have to consider whether workers are able to run the state for their benefit and for social justice. The entire society in Australia is geared toward the enrichment of a minority at the expense of workers. Any benefits we as workers receive in this country are either designed to buy social peace or to farm us as consumers and labour units. Vietnam is quite different.

On January 5 at a meeting of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour in Ho Chi Minh City, Truong Tan Sang, member of the Politburo of the Communist Party Central Committee, emphasised housing, especially for low-income earners, as a hot issue that unionists should take care of. He also urged trade unions at all levels to protect workers’ stable employment, reasonable incomes and social and medical insurance as well as negotiating with employers on building more day-care centres and entertainment facilities for workers. He said, “Efforts should be made to strengthen personnel training and expand the trade union networks at all levels as well as renovate performances in order to better protect working people’s rights”.

This is at a time when, due to the antagonisms of capitalist employment, strikes are on the increase and new unions are being formed to protect workers from capitalists. It’s impossible to imagine anyone from the Australian government calling for unions to organise better and take up more issues at any time, let alone during a period of heightened worker militancy

One thing prominent in Vietnamese media and reports are the efforts of all governing bodies and other associations, from the highest decision-making bodies of the CPV and National Assembly down to the people’s committees of Vietnam’s more than 10,000 communes, to address gender equality and equality for Vietnam’s remote ethnic minorities. Both women and ethnic minorities have enjoyed legal equality since 1945, but war, poverty and underdevelopment have prevented this from becoming a reality. The fact that the leadership devotes so much time and energy to these problems shows both an ability in self-criticism and a desire for change. It is a continual process: as Vietnam develops, more resources can be used to fight inequities. Improvements will continue to be made, but ultimately the material basis of inequality will remain while some capitalist relations exist.

For 80 years the CPV’s strength and example to socialists has been the rejection of dogma and the careful study and application of Marxism-Leninism for the particular conditions that they have faced. Vietnam’s living revolution not only provides interesting historical accounts but continues to challenge, inform and provide lessons for Marxists today. H