As a one-party state, Vietnam’s politics centres upon the
Vietnamese Communist Party that dominates the country through
an oligarchy. A Central Committee of about 125 senior Party
members meets twice a year and elects an executive body,
the Politburo, with powers to initiate policy and direct
the government. Provincial and local representatives of
its two million or so members meet at irregular intervals
at Party Congresses to discuss and ratify policy issues.
a Party member
Since its foundation by Ho Chi Minh in 1930, the Party structure
has been modelled upon the USSR, even down to the white
shirts and red kerchiefs of members of the school level
‘Young Pioneers’. The entry route to Party membership is
via the Pioneers, up to about fifteen years old, then the
Ho Chi Minh Youth Union followed by selection for Party
membership. Entry is by no means automatic: potential members
must undergo a lengthy induction course to assess their
in theory and practice
The official political stance of the Party is Marxist-Leninist.
Marxist-Leninism is studied theoretically as a compulsory
element of the curriculum both at school and further education
levels, and applied practically in the Ho Chi Minh Youth
Union in the form of collective enterprise and contributions
to civic welfare. Students, for example, gain experience
and kudos by working as volunteer teachers in poor rural
areas. The Youth Union is currently working on a large project
to replace the hundreds of rickety bamboo and rope ‘monkey
bridges’ that criss-cross the canals in the Mekong Delta.
However, today’s Party politics is far from the doctrinaire
polices of the past in Vietnam, and the present in countries
like North Korea. During decades of resistance and warfare,
the dominant aim of the party was victory over the French
and independence, leaving little time for theoretical political
discussion. Like a Western opposition party, it was in a
position to plan for the future in theory without worrying
about the constraints of putting it into practice.
Following Ho Chi Minh’s 1954 Independence Declaration and
the post-WWII partitioning of the country, the Party became
the government of North Vietnam, and set about introducing
Soviet-style central planning and collectivisation. The
US intervention and consequent re-opening of hostilities
slowed the application of the new model until victory in
1975 and re-unification allowed the Party to proceed with
full-scale ‘socialisation’ of the country.
in the USSR, doctrinaire communism failed to deliver its
promise. Initially, the Party re-doubled its efforts, leading
to a rewriting of the constitution in 1980 identifying the
country as ‘a proletarian dictatorship’. Disillusion soon
followed as the economy collapsed. The result was an internal
debate in the Party that led to the 1986 ‘doi moi’ open
market policy, the antitheses of the Soviet model. The subsequent
collapse of the USSR was ample justification for Viet Nam's
abrupt policy shift!
ahead with ‘doi moi’
Since then, the debate between the progressives and traditionalists
within the Party has continued. The implementation of ‘doi
moi’ is proceeding steadily: state companies are being exposed
to international competition or privatisation, subsidies
and protective tariffs are falling, and a significant private
sector is developing. Market mechanisms are now a feature
of health, welfare and education provision. To many observers,
it appears that Vietnam has repudiated the socialist vision
in all but name.
However, it is increasingly apparent that the Party regards
‘doi moi’ as a temporary vehicle, not as an end in itself.
It recognises that a truly socialist state can only be built
upon a sound economic foundation. The long-term aim of the
Party and that of the overwhelming majority of the population
is not to plunge headlong into capitalism, but to become
the first orthodox communist state to make the transition
to a modern socialist system of government without social
chaos, bloodshed or a revolution.