[Marxism] In Hard Times, Open Dissent and Repression Rise in Vietnam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 24 08:21:17 MDT 2013

(The most depressing thing about this article is that the 77 year old 
"Marxist scholar" blames an insufficient reliance on free market for the 
nation's woes.)

NY Times April 23, 2013
In Hard Times, Open Dissent and Repression Rise in Vietnam

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — His bookshelves are filled with the 
collected works of Marx, Engels and Ho Chi Minh, the hallmarks of a 
loyal career in the Communist Party, but Nguyen Phuoc Tuong, 77, says he 
is no longer a believer. A former adviser to two prime ministers, Mr. 
Tuong, like so many people in Vietnam today, is speaking out forcefully 
against the government.

“Our system now is the totalitarian rule of one party,” he said in an 
interview at his apartment on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. “I come 
from within the system — I understand all its flaws, all its 
shortcomings, all its degradation,” he said. “If the system is not 
fixed, it will collapse on its own.”

The party that triumphed over American-backed South Vietnamese forces in 
1975 is facing rising anger over a slumping economy and is rived by 
disputes pitting traditionalists who want to maintain the country’s 
guiding socialist principles and a monopoly on power against those 
calling for a more pluralist system and the full embrace of capitalism.

Perhaps most important, the party is struggling to reckon with a society 
that is better informed and more critical because of news and opinion 
that spread through the Internet, circumventing the state-controlled 
news media.

Since unifying the country 38 years ago, the Communist Party has been 
tested by conflicts with China and Cambodia, financial crises and 
internal rifts. The difference today, according to Carlyle A. Thayer, 
one of the leading foreign scholars of Vietnam, is that criticism of the 
leadership “has exploded across the society.”

In an otherwise authoritarian environment, divisions in the party have 
actually helped encourage free speech because factions are eager to 
tarnish one another, Dr. Thayer said.

“There’s a contradiction in Vietnam,” he said. “Dissent is flourishing, 
but at the same time, so is repression.”

As dissident voices have multiplied among Vietnam’s 92 million people, 
the government has tried to crack down. Courts have sentenced numerous 
bloggers, journalists and activists to prison, yet criticism, especially 
online, continues seemingly unabated. The government blocks certain 
Internet sites, but many Vietnamese use software or Web sites to 
maneuver around the censorship.

“Many more people are trying to express themselves than before, 
criticizing the government,” said Truong Huy San, an author, journalist 
and well-known blogger. “And what they are saying is much more severe.”

Mr. San, who is on a fellowship at Harvard, is the author of “The 
Winning Side,” perhaps the first critical, comprehensive history of 
Vietnam since 1975 by someone inside the country. Widely read in 
Vietnam, the two-volume work, written under the pen name Huy Duc, was 
printed without a permit from the government and describes such acts as 
the purges of disloyal party members and the seizure of south Vietnamese 
business owners’ assets.

For casual visitors to Vietnam, surface evidence of economic progress 
may make it hard to understand the deep pessimism that many express in 
the country. Millions of people who a decade ago had only bicycles now 
speed around on motor scooters past factories and office towers.

The economy blossomed in the 1990s after reforms gave birth to Vietnam’s 
awkward mix of a market economy closely chaperoned by the Communist 
Party. Even now, the Vietnamese economy is still projected to grow at 
about 4 percent to 5 percent this year, thanks in part to strong exports 
of rice, coffee and other agricultural products.

But the real estate market is frozen by overcapacity, banks are saddled 
with bad loans, newspapers are running articles about rising 
unemployment, and the country is ranked among some of the world’s most 
corrupt by Transparency International, a global corruption monitor. (The 
country ranks 123rd on a list of 176, in which those with low numbers 
are the least corrupt.)

Vietnamese business people complain of overbearing government 
regulations imposed by a party that believes it can be the vanguard of 
capitalist enterprises.

And many say that Vietnam is directionless, despite its seemingly 
irrepressible industriousness and youthful population.

“In my 21 years here I’ve never seen this level of disenchantment with 
the system among the intelligentsia and entrepreneurs,” said Peter R. 
Ryder, the chief executive of Indochina Capital, an investment company 
in Vietnam. “There’s very meaningful debate within the business 
community and within the party — people who are superconcerned about the 
direction that the country is going.”

At the Spring Economic Forum, a conference held in early April that is 
organized by the economic committee of the National Assembly, 
participants “were fighting to have a chance at the microphone,” 
according to Le Dang Doanh, a leading economist who attended the forum, 
which he described as “stormy.”

He said there was widespread criticism that although the economy needed 
profound restructuring, “almost nothing has been implemented.”

“It’s a crisis of trust,” Mr. Doanh said. “Better times have been 
promised every year, but people don’t see it.”

At the center of the political storm is Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, 
who has been in power since 2006. Mr. Dung’s brash style and ambitious 
program for the economy initially won him supporters because he broke 
from the mold of the stodgy party apparatchik.

But he alienated many party members by dismantling an advisory board 
that had been a leading force behind the reform program (and that board 
included Mr. Tuong, the Marxist scholar, among many other senior party 

More important, Mr. Dung’s trademark policy, his forceful push to build 
up state-run companies along the lines of South Korea’s private 
conglomerates, backfired.

Run by executives with close ties to the Communist Party hierarchy, the 
enterprises expanded into many businesses they were unqualified to 
manage, economists say, and speculated in the stock market and in real 
estate. Two of the largest state enterprises nearly collapsed and remain 
close to insolvency.

Mr. Tuong, the Marxist scholar, says the tensions in the Communist Party 
have been heightened by the troubles with the economy.

In February, he helped write an open letter to the party’s general 
secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, urging changes to the country’s 
Constitution that would “ensure that real power belongs to the people.” 
He has yet to receive a response.

Mr. Tuong says he has been eager to promote change since his days as 
adviser to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who helped overhaul the economy 
in the 1990s.

But today he feels the pressure of time. He has cancer, though it 
appears to be in remission, and he talks about the disease as a sort of 
intellectual liberation spurring him to tell what he now views as the truth.

“In a nutshell, Marx is a great thinker,” he said. “But if we never had 
Marx it would have been even better.”

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