[Marxism] The development of capitalism in Vietnam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 4 20:09:52 MDT 2006

Socialist Register 1994
By Gerard Greenfield

Only a generation ago, Vietnam's social revolution played a critical role 
in the revival of the Western Left. Protest movements in every major city 
in the West not only offered international solidarity but expressed a 
rekindling of interest in socialist ideas and a renewed capacity for mass 
political action. It is an important and unfortunate symptom of the 
generality of the crisis of the Left today that Vietnamese intellectuals, 
like many of their counterparts in the West, are abandoning the socialist 
project. Most are doing so not through disillusionment or the (re)discovery 
of alternative intellectual paradigms alone, but because a commitment to 
socialism denies access to the material rewards of alignment with, or a 
non-antagonistic stance towards, the interests of the state and capital. 
Ultimately this retreat provides the ideological basis for the exercise of 
state power against the working class in the interests of the new 
bourgeoisie emerging from within the ranks of incumbent state enterprise 
managers and the most powerful segments of the party-state bureaucracy. 
Dismantling the socialist project is central to the agenda of the new 
policy orthodoxy in Vietnam.

The removal of Ho Chi Minh's portrait from the roof of the State Bank for 
"structural reasons" - architectural, not social - coincides with the 
removal of statues from parks and other public places, apparently because 
"prostitutes and drug addicts were leaning on them". They were not torn 
down by crowds celebrating the collapse of Communist regimes and the 
(somewhat brief) advent of democracy as in Eastern Europe. But a change is 
taking place: an ideological transformation in which the ruling political 
class is consolidating itself in a new social order. The dominant discourse 
has not abandoned Ho Chi Minh, but reinterprets his intentions: more a 
nationalist than a communist. In the same way that the search for the tomb 
of Genghis Khan can be interpreted as a search for a nationalist identity 
by the communists-turned-nationalists in Mongolia, there is here the 
restoration of old identities, repetition, and ultimately reinterpretation. 
This involves a re-mystification of the nationalist revolutionary and hence 
the removal of the Stalinist iconography. The recent discovery of Ho Chi 
Minh's will at least establishes the pretext for the removal of th 
mausoleum, given that he had asked to be cremated. And since Ho (V Minh 
isn't around to say, as Deng in China, "To get rich is glorious!", the' are 
saying it for him: Uncle Ho had sought national liberation for th purpose 
of building national wealth. Socialism becomes peripheral, subor-dinate to 
this national wealth.

This renewal of national consciousness is central to the ideological 
transformation taking place as the Vietnamese people face the development 
of capitalism under a single-party authoritarian regime. Vietnam's leading 
economic advisor, Le Dang Doanh, a proponent of the "Taiwanese model" 
stated unequivocally, "The Vietnamese people are nationalistic. Wheii 
they're told something's in the national interest, they'll do it."1 
Inherent in this national interest is the legitimation of the rise of 
military-owned fractions of capital, and a group of powerful state 
conglomerates that will differ little from the bureaucratic bourgeoisie 
which prospered under the authoritarian-capitalist regime in the South 
before 1975.2

The mobilizing basis of the present reform process is precisely to replace 
class consciousness with a new economic nationalism. The adoption of the 
Asian NICs as the model for Vietnam's development is premised on the view 
expressed by Vietnamese intellectuals and policy-makers that state-led 
industrialization was based on a partnership between the proletariat and 
bourgeoisie in the interests of the nation-state. Ironically the statist 
analyses of East Asian development undertaken by analytical Marxists and 
the progressive Left in the West now inform an agenda where the crushing of 
working class struggle and repression of the labour movement is implicit in 
this model for growth. The trade union leadership itself has adopted the 
Singaporean model of trade unionism: business unionism and peaceful 
co-existence with an authoritarian-capitalist regime - a strategy by which 
they seek the political marginalisation of the working class.

There is a strong belief amongst the Western Left that the reform agenda is 
being thrashed out in debates over the merits of capitalism and socialism. 
Despite the zeal with which political economists and political scientists 
in Vietnam and abroad have described this 'public debate' it simply does 
not exist. When two hundred peasants arrived in Hanoi from Ha Bac province 
to protest against the theft of rice and land by local party officials, 
they were dispersed by police and within an hour had fled or been 
arrested.3 It is the same problem we have with 'human rights': people seem 
to have different conceptions of who the humans are. Those who describe 
this public debate appear to be referring to the Vietnamese intelligentsia 
and state officials as the 'public'. But even when one of Vietnam's leading 
social scientists, Hoang Chi Bao, published a monograph earlier this year 
which attempted to outline the crisis of "real socialism" and criticize the 
neglect of the present social crisis by policy-makers, it was banned under 
the new press laws and he was forced to write a statement of self-criticism.

Unfortunately, the remnants of the Vietnamese Left who are committed 
democratic socialism are confronted by a newly pragmatic Western Left 11 
too ready to accept the term 'market economy' or even 'market a jalism' as 
a euphemism for disguising the transition to capitalism. Many on the Left 
exhibit a fascination with entrepreneurial forces, the lifestyles of the 
new rich and the machinations of business in the new Vietnam. It is assumed 
that workers are benefitting from higher wages and the availability of more 
consumer goods, and that the peasantry are responding to incentives free of 
the constraints of cooperatives, as indicated by thriving rural markets. 
Massive increases in exports of food are cited by intellectuals and 
policy-makers alike as the great pay-off for years of market reform. 
Western observers - including those on the Left - talk in terms of the 
responsiveness to market incentives, the restoration of farmers' interests 
in output and profit, and the economic democracy embodied in agricultural 
reform. Yet the National Institute for Nutrition has pointed out the costs 
involved to these same beneficiaries of reform. Record rice exports by 
state trading companies have coincided with 2.5 million people going hungry 
each year, and over 6 million people suffer from an inadequate calorie intake.4

The health and education programmes freely available to the mass of the 
people regardless of the distribution of property and income is often 
considered as evidence of the ongoing commitment to social equality in 
Vietnam today. In fact, while free health and education was certainly a 
very important element in Vietnam's socialist project, it no longer exists 
outside a handful of foreign NGO programmes. Of the state-run primary and 
secondary schools that remain open - and the number is rapidly declining - 
informal fees have reduced class attendance of the children of workers and 
peasants to a four-hour week and of the 600,000 that graduate from primary 
school every year as many as half cannot afford to go on to secondary 
school. Even then public classes are hollowed out and real learning only 
begins after classes for the few whose parents can afford private tuition 
fees. This coincides with increased exploitation of child-labour, with the 
number of children working full-time in their millions.5 Compulsory tuition 
fees introduced earlier this year have put tertiary education beyond the 
reach of the majority of those who finish secondary school.6 Faced with 
these fees, students of poor families are forced to quit or to work. 
Students from the provinces prostitute themselves in dormitories of 
colleges to pay their fees. This privatization of social welfare has also 
spread throughout the health system, with informal fees charged for the 
staff's time, beds, medication, and even the right to visit patients. 
Finally, the number of unemployed has reached seven million, and, far from 
receiving welfare payments, the unemployed have to pay to register as being 
unemployed or buy their way into a private sector job.7 Where money has 
been allocated to create jobs most of it has been misallocated or stolen by 
state officials.8

Melanie Beresford has articulated a view predominant amongst the Western 
Left and Vietnamese policy-makers concerning the decline of social welfare:

"Some Western critics have complained that the introduction of market 
reforms in Vietnam and elsewhere has led to the abandonment of social 
welfare programs. What is abundantly clear, however, is that it is not the 
market reforms that are responsible, but the severe fiscal crisis of the 
Vietnamese state, brought about by the massive budget deficits required to 
maintain an inefficient public sector. Maintenance of health, education and 
welfare systems, the past achievements of which the Vietnamese are 
justifiably proud, will therefore be dependent upon continued reform of the 
state sector enterprises."9

There can be no doubt that the fiscal crisis of the state is important in 
this respect. But the reform of state sector enterprises has intensified 
rather than resolved this crisis. It is characterized by the private 
appropriation of public resources on a massive scale, where the state acts 
as the instrument of this appropriation. The dismantling of the 
"bureaucratic centralism and subsidy system" has concentrated power in the 
hands of incumbent state enterprise managers and the most powerful segments 
of the party-state bureaucracy, including the military. The theft of state 
assets and the sacking of the state budget by those with political power 
and connections is the outcome of the unrestrained search for profit and 
the accumulation of private wealth under the liberalizing effect of market 
reforms and is a far greater leakage of wealth from the state budget than 
the system of state sector subsidies.10

full: http://www.marxmail.org/vietnam.htm

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