Government Policy

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.

Becoming 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 suitability.

Marxist-Leninism 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.

Before independence
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.

The post-independence era
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.

As 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!

Moving 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.

The long-term vision
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.

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