[Marxism] Socialist Vietnam?

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at theplanet.net.au
Mon Apr 3 22:21:02 MDT 2006

----- Original Message -----
From: "Alan Bradley" <alanb1000 at yahoo.com>
To: <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>

> > Counterpunch, April 3, 2006
> > Vietnam Diary, Part One
> > "What Socialism?"
> Amazing. One of the most pointless pieces of tourism ever.
These were my sentiments exactly Alan, and even more amazing that this
piece of travel journalism is posing as politics.

Tony Lawless is dead right that "initial impressions of a country are
almost always wrong -- or at least terribly fuzzy and overgeneralized?"
I spent nearly five years in Vietnam, on and off, since 2000, and I
still think I'm far from being as knowledgeable as I'd like to be on the
country. A bit of tourism will simly not do to decide the question of
"socialist Vietnam?" as the moderator curiously headed the post.

Curious because, firstly, the Vietnamese Communist Party makes no such
extravagantly non-Marxist claim that an underdeveloped country with a
GDP per capita of $500 a year could be "socialist". They would naturally
be amused by that question and I guess try either to take the piss,
change the subject, or reply as they expect a foreigner, especially
American, would like to hear. The VCP claims to run a mixed market
economy but to have a "socialist orientation" in both the way they run
it and in their goals they are allegedly heading towards. Whether such
an orientation exists in practice or whether it is just cover for
continued VCP rule without substance certainly is a valid issue of
debate, but, yes, they would think it was a stupid question if you asked
them whether their country was 'socialist" sitting next to some
industrial park packed with foreign invested companies.

Curious, secondly, because there is nothing Landau says that sheds any
light on that question. Well, he reveals the existence of these foreign
companies. Yes a poor and underdeveloped country needs both a domestic
private sector and foreign investment alongside a still very dominant
state-owned economic sector. You need capital to develop, to emerge from
poverty, to emerge from some of the 3rd world chaos he describes
regarding the transport for example. Obviously, the absolute amount of
capital available to a poor country of $500 a year GDP p.c. is limited -
if you stick with that, well I suppose you could be North Korea or
Hohaite Albania. Comrade always need to keep in mind that what seemed
possible when a USSR existed no longer does.

Obviously, that creates a different problem, and how and to what extent
the VCP, or the CCP, can hold against these enormous pressures of the
capitalist-dominated world market is a huge question, which they discuss
al the time. But just pointing the Cannon plant in the industrial zone
oustide Hanoi as Landau does doesn't tell us much. It will not tell you
that in late 2003 and early 2004 there were a series of strikes by
workers there, who had the full backing of the VCP-led Vietnam General
Confedeation of Labour (VGCL) and its campaigning nespaper, Lao Dong,
Vietnam's most widely read daily, which campaigned for the workers.
Ultimately, like pretty much every strike I witnessed over 5 years
(approximately 100 per year), the workers won. I won't claim I know
about every one, or thhat there may be cases I'm not aware of where
workers lost, but these are my observations. The backing of the VGCL and
Lao Dong is hardly insignificant, given they are run by the same party
that runs the state in the "party-state".

The there is routine stuff like "one young woman, studying linguistics
emphasized that "that period of our history (ie, the war) is over. We
like Americans." Over the first four days in Hanoi, I sensed no
anti-Americanism. Indeed, people assured me that the war is remembered
in museums and history books."

Revolutionary romanticism with a tinge of orientalism. Hope I'm not
being too harsh on Landau, who perhaps didn't mean it that way, and
perhaps did not think his travel journalism was the definitive statement
on VN socialism, but it is after all a 'counterpunch' article.

The war is over, isn't it? It did end 30 years ago, didn't, it? Before
the birth of the majority of VN's current population, isn't that right?
The war killed millions of people and crippled millions of others. The
sadness in the hearts of the generations that lived through it is beyond
imagination. Revolutionaries in the west ought to cut today's Vietnamese
a little slack if they don't want to dwell on the enormous tragedy that
struck the lives of everyine for decades, and if they want their
children to look forward rather than dwell on the past. It is good that
Landau did not encounter "anti-Americanism" because in its crude form it
does not exist, the VNese are too political for that. Even during the
war they were told by their leaders, continually, that the enemy was the
US government and not the US people, whose mass anti-war demonstrations
are shown in museums throughout the country, particularly the Ho Chi
Minh museum in Hanoi.

However, his impressions even on this are remarkably superficial. Tony
Lawless says "the TV showed images from the victory of the NLF most
nights of the week." Yes it does, most nights of the week all the time
in ffact Tony. So much so that the youth are bored out of their brains
with it. This is actually a problem. What's on TV tonight? Oh, the war
again. Fortunately there is other stuff on TV now, some reasonably good,
other simple rubbish like Korean soaps and 'how to become a millionaire'
quizzes (a million dong is about $US66, about a monthly wage)(and even
then the prevailing culture means the first thing the winner has to do
is to donate a significant proportion to some government-fostered
campaign against poverty, for Agent Orange victims, etc).

But you actually have to stick around before the Vietnemese, including
many of the young bored by war movies, will tell you what they really
think of the US, because culturally VNese are so polite they simply
wouldn't dream of confronting a fresh traveller with their real thoughts
on his/her government, till they know them much better. And so I guess
you've got little choice but to take my word for it. Most Vietnamese are
simply appalled by America's role in the world, and in fact when the
Iraq invasion began they spontaneously poured out of workplaces and into
the streets. Then there were demos around the country, and in Hanoi they
kept up a vigil outside the US embassy for a week.

The reaction to September 11 was almost bizarre, as Vietnamese first
went out of their way to say how sorry they were to foreigners they
knew, to the point of seeming to want to apologise as if they ahd
something to do with it, while in their own conversations in Vietnamese
they were often quite harsh, the most common comment being "now the
Americans know what it feels like to be bombed." Sometimes you felt you
had to be the one to remind them that this was a mass murder of
civilians, but this was unnecessary -  they immediately agrred and said
of course its horrible and they were not justifying it at all, but they
simply could not help drawing a number of obvious political points from
it (and they hardly needed the patronising of some westerner to tell
them that). But anyone but the most political westerner listening to
their own conversations could have been a little unnerved, so much for
"we love America" and the stuff they tell tourists.

As to the moderator's question "socialist Vietnam" I have made my own
efforts to look at thhis question and I'd be very happy to hear comments
and criticisms of these. For example, in Links No. 27 Jan-April 2005.
Socialism and the market-China and Vietnam compared

The comparison and contrast with China shows that the Chinese CP has
taken its country much further along the path to capitalist restoration
that has the Vietnamese CP (and comrades should get out of the
geographic essentialism of seeing the two countries as necessarily doing
the same). Obviously comrades can draw their own conclusions on whether
this means they are both still 'workers states', or both have restored
capitalism, or that only China has and VN hasn't, which is basically my
view. The fact that China has gone further doesn't necessarily prove
comrades like Feldman and Lippman wrong who believe about China much as
I believe about VN, but it clearly shows there is a difference.

Also, the recent mass strikes in VN I deal with in Green Left:
VIETNAM: Workers fight foreign bosses and win

and maybe comrades will also be interested in my description of where
Vietnam is after 30 years since liberation:

VIETNAM: 30 years after victory: Towards capitalism or socialism?


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