VIETNAMESE COMMUNIST PARTY AND POLITICS IN VIETNAM

POLITICS IN VIETNAM

Vietnam has opened its economy, but politically the Communist Party does not tolerate challenge to its one-party rule.

Vietnam's political culture has been determined by a number of factors of which communism is but the latest. The country's political tradition is one of applying borrowed ideas to indigenous conditions. In many ways, Marxism-Leninism simply represents a new language in which to express old but consistent cultural orientations and inclinations. Vietnam's political processes, therefore, incorporate as much from the national mythology as from the pragmatic concerns engendered by current issues. Vietnam's political culture represents the steadfast survival of what is Vietnamese in the face of a long history of outside influence; integration of historical political ideals with an imported communist organizational model has created a communist identity that is no less Vietnamese. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

The Vietnamese Communist Party has been characterized by the stability of its leadership. According to Vietnam observer Douglas Pike, Hanoi's leadership was "forged of a constant forty-year association" in which individuals shared "the same common experience, the same development, the same social trauma." Because of their small number, Political Bureau members were able to arrive at agreement more easily than larger forums and hence were able to deal more effectively with day-to-day decisions. As individuals, they tended to take on a large number of diverse party and government functions, thus keeping the administrative apparatus small and highly personalized. Decisions tended to be made in a collegial fashion with alliances changing on different issues. Where factions existed, they were differentiated along lines separating those favoring Moscow from those preferring Beijing or along lines distinguishing ideological hardliners and purists from reformists and economic pragmatists. *

Today, government-initiated change in Vietnam is often slow and incremental. In regards to decisions and policy making caution has been a guiding principal. One former Viet Cong fighter told the New York Times, "Fighting the war was easy...to fight is easier than to manage. You cannot go too quickly. If you go too quickly something can go wrong. Most of the new blood coming in is still over 50 years old, even though the new leadership tends to be better educated and more worldly that the old war heroes who used to run the nation. Global Post reported: "Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, for example, who defeated the French in 1954, wrote three public letters lambasting plans for a bauxite mine in the Central Highlands. Though this proved a major rallying point for opponents of the mine, it also highlighted the divide between the old guard and the new generation interested in modernization and industrialization. Despite protestations, the mining went ahead "

Reuters reported: "At street-level there is little interest in politics, and even less knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. The party has cloaked itself in safety ever since it forced its way into power across then North Vietnam in 1954, and the south of the country after 1975. Schoolchildren learn about revolutionary achievements, victories over foreign invaders and acts of heroism. Party sources say accounts of some national heroes — some are still taught today — were fabricated to serve party propaganda. [Source: Reuters, September 5, 1999]

Chinese Influence on the Politics in Vietnam

The major influences on Vietnamese political culture were of Chinese origin. Vietnam's political institutions were forged by 1,000 years of Chinese rule (111 B.C. to A.D. 939). The ancient Chinese system, based on Confucianism, established a political center surrounded by loyal subjects. The Confucians stressed the importance of the village, endowing it with autonomy but clearly defining its relationship to the center. Those who ruled did so with the "mandate of heaven." Although they were not themselves considered divine, they ruled by divine right by reason of their virtue, which was manifested in moral righteousness and compassion for the welfare of the people. A monarch possessing these traits received the unconditional loyalty of his subjects. Selection of bureaucratic officials was on the basis of civil service examinations rather than heredity, and government institutions were viewed simply as conduits for the superior wisdom of the rulers. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Vietnamese adopted this political system rather than one belonging to their Southeast Asian neighbors, whose rulers were identified as gods. Nevertheless, Vietnamese interpretations of the system differed from those of the Chinese both in the degree of loyalty extended to a ruler and in the nature of the relationship between the institutions of government and the men who ruled. In Vietnam, loyalty to a monarch was conditional upon his success in defending national territory. A history of Chinese domination had sensitized the Vietnamese to the importance of retaining their territorial integrity. In China, territorial control did not arouse the same degree of fervor. *

Confucianism and Vietnamese Politics

In interpreting the role of government institutions, Vietnamese beliefs also conflicted with Confucian theory. Whereas the Confucians held that institutions were necessarily subordinate to the virtuous ruler, Vietnamese practice held the opposite to be true. Institutions were endowed with a certain innate authority over the individual, a trait manifested in the Vietnamese penchant for creating complex and redundant institutions. Despite Confucian influence, Vietnamese practice demonstrated a faith in administrative structures and in legalist approaches to political problems that was distinctly Vietnamese, not Confucianist. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Nevertheless, Confucian traits were still discernible in Vietnam in the mid-1980s. To begin with, many of the first- generation communist leaders came from scholar-official backgrounds and were well-versed in the traditional requisites of "talent and virtue" (tai duc) necessary for leadership. Ho Chi Minh's father was a Confucian scholar, and Vo Nguyen Giap and the brothers Le Duc Tho and Mai Chi Tho were from scholarly families. They cultivated an image of being incorruptible and effective administrators as well as moral leaders. The relationship between the government and the governed was also deliberately structured to parallel the Confucian system. Like the Confucians, leaders of the highly centralized Vietnamese ccommunist government stressed the importance of the village and clearly defined its relationship to the center. *

In this link between ruler and subjects, the Confucian and communist systems appeared to co-exist more readily among the disciplined peasants of the North than among their reputedly fractious brethren in the South, where the influence of India and France outweighed that of China. Searching for reasons to explain the phenomenon, some observers have suggested that the greater difficulty encountered in transforming Vietnam's southern provinces into a communist society stemmed, in part, from this region's having been the least Sinicized. In addition, Southeast Asian influences in South Vietnam, such as Theravada Buddhism, had created a cultural climate in which relations with a distant center of authority were a norm. Moreover, the South's political systems had tended to isolate the center, in both symbolic and physical terms, from the majority of the people, who had no clear means of access to their government. The South had also been the first to fall to the French, who had extended their influence there by establishing colonial rule. In the North, however, the French had maintained only a protectorate and had allowed a measure of self-government. As a result, French influence in the North was less than in the South and represented a smaller obstacle to the imposition of communism. *

Influence of Marxist-Leninism, Maoism and the Soviet Model on Vietnam

The influence of modern China, and particularly the doctrines of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, on Vietnamese political culture is a more complicated issue. Vietnamese leaders, including Ho Chi Minh, spent time in China, but they had formed their impressions of communism in Paris and Moscow and through Moscow-directed Comintern connections. The success of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, however, inspired the Vietnamese communists to continue their own revolution. It also enabled them to do so by introducing the People's Republic of China as a critical source of material support. The Second National Party Congress, held in 1951, reflected renewed determination to push ahead with party objectives, including reconstruction of the society to achieve communist aims and land reform. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Soviet model, as well, can be discerned in Vietnamese political practice. In the areas of legal procedure, bureaucratic practice, and industrial management, the Vietnamese system more closely resembles the Soviet system than the Chinese. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, VCP leaders were attracted particularly by advances made in Soviet economic development. In the majority of cases, however, Vietnamese policies and institutions, rather than adhering strictly to either Chinese or Soviet models, have tended to be essentially Vietnamese responses to Vietnamese problems. *

Communist ideology, particularly as manipulated by the Vietnamese leadership, has also helped to shape Vietnam's political culture. The country's communist leaders have been adept at stressing the continuity of Marxist-Leninist doctrine with Vietnamese history. The VCP successfully identified communism with the historical goals of Vietnamese nationalism and achieved leadership of Vietnam's independence struggle by accommodating the aspirations of a number of ethnic, religious, and political groups. The party has presented the myths and realities of the past in a manner that suggests that they led naturally to the present. In his writings, Ho Chi Minh used classical Vietnamese literary allusions to convey a sense of mystique about the past, and he cultivated the classical Vietnamese image of a leader who reflected uy tin (credibility), a charismatic quality combining elements of compassion, asceticism, and correct demeanor, which legitimized a leader's claim to authority. The communist regime additionally promoted the importance of archaeology, popular literature, and cultural treasures in order to emphasize its ties to Vietnam's classical traditions. VCP historiography views the French colonial period (1858-1954) as more an interruption than a part of Vietnamese history. *

Despite the care taken to preserve Vietnamese identity, the party has hesitated to deviate from Marxist-Leninist doctrine even when its application resulted in failure. The planned rapid and total transformation of the South to communism in the 1970s failed because it was almost entirely ideologically inspired and did not sufficiently anticipate the scale of economic and social resistance that such a plan would encounter in the South. This failure paralleled the failure to collectivize the North rapidly in the 1950s. In both cases, however, the party maintained that the predominantly ideological programs had been instituted to attain nationalist goals and that nationalism had not been exploited for the purpose of furthering communism. *

Marxism, Socialism and Maoism

Socialism is a political system based on the concept that businesses and industries better serve the people if they are owned and operated by the workers and state. The idea sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, when gross inequalities and hardships caused by private ownership, were plain for all to see. In the 18th and 19th centuries a number of "utopian" philosophers offered idealist views of the world based on socialism. The word "socialism" first appeared in a cooperative journal in 1827.

Socialists viewed the profit motive as something inherently evil and selfish; and saw capitalists as evil people who would do anything to keep the wages of workers low so they could enrich themselves and live comfortably while workers suffered and lived in poverty. Socialists were generally regarded as reformers who made socialist reforms within the frameworks of existing governments, preferably democratic ones.

Communism is an extreme form in Socialism in which workers seize control of the government by revolution, and create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" in which there is no private property and the state (and thus the people) own everything. Workers and farmers are organized into communes or communal work units, hence the tern "Communism."

Beijing describes its ideology as communist, but its underpinnings are very different from Moscow-style Leninism or Stalinism. The new Chinese version of the Communist Manifesto reads "the world will be for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs. Ah! Come! People of every land, how can you not be roused?" not the traditional: "proletariats have nothing to lose but their chains. They have the world to win. Working men of all countries unite"

Maoism is a variant of Marxism, derived from the literature of Mao Zedong and is widely applied as the political and military guiding ideology in the Communist Party of China (CPC). Maoism is basically Marxism--which mostly addressed urban revolution--adapted to agrarian societies, with peasant farmers being the discriminated underclass rather than factory workers. Unlike the Russian Communists, who initially ignored rural peasants and believed that revolution was spread through the cities by workers in short dramatic bursts of activity, Mao believed that engaging Chinese peasants in a long war was the key to the success of his revolution.

Relations with Southeast Asia and Vietnam Politics

Traditional adversarial relationships with neighboring states have also helped define Vietnam's political culture. The country's long-standing rifts with Cambodia and China, which developed into open conflicts in 1978 and 1979 respectively, suggest the need to view contemporary relationships in historical perspective. Hanoi's attitude regarding its relations with these two neighbors is grounded as much in accustomed patterns of interchange as in current concerns for national security. It is also firmly based in the Vietnamese tradition of resistance to foreign rule, which has been a theme of great appeal to Vietnamese patriots since the time of Chinese domination. The founding members of the VCP were the dissenting elite of a colonized country. They were attracted to Marxism- Leninism not only for its social theories but also because of the Leninist response to colonial subjugation. Ho himself was reported to have been more concerned with the problem of French imperialism than with that of class struggle. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Vietnam's agrarian economy also contributed to its political culture. As an agricultural people, the Vietnamese lacked an urban industrial proletariat to carry out their revolution. Leadership, therefore, necessarily passed into the hands of scholar-official intellectuals and peasants. *

Vietnam's political culture, in turn, has contributed to its comparative isolation from non-communist states. This isolation is partially a result of the ideology that has created self- imposed political barriers with the West, but it is also the result of the collective mentality of the nation's leadership, which views itself as set apart from communist as well as noncommunist nations. This view stems from years of preoccupation with the struggle for independence and the reunification of the country. Such an ethnocentric focus on domestic affairs resulted in a provincial outlook that continued in the late 1980sand was reinforced by the lack of international experience of many of Vietnam's leaders whose foreign travel was limited to official visits to other communist states. In addition, Vietnam's military victories over reputedly superior military forces, including those of France, the United States, and, in 1979, China, have created a sense of arrogance that a wider world view would not justify. *

Political Apathy in Vietnam

Young Vietnamese are not very interested in politics. Yong urban men in particular often are more passionate about European soccer or Western rock’ n’ roll than they are about the Communist Party or democracy. One 26-year-old man told AP, "My five-year plan is seeing one of the Beatles before they die." Another young man said, "Politics comes about sixth or seventh out of ten for me after having money, a social life, sport, family and a good salary."

Kate McGeown of the BBC reported: "Talk of political change does not seem to be on most young people's agendas. While a few brave dissidents do protest about human rights and political freedoms, their actions are clamped down on by the authorities and the majority of Vietnamese appear unmoved by their concerns. "Nobody really cares much about politics," said 30-year-old Alan Alan, who own a chain of shops. "Of course we hope the government will support us in what we do, but day-to-day politics is not something we think about really." [Source: Kate McGeown, BBC, November 27, 2006]

Many young Vietnamese view the Vietnamese Communist Party as irrelevant but still they are uninterested in joining it or taking any action against it. John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: "Anecdotally, enthusiasm for party membership and activities, including a recently ended four-year campaign to study and learn from Ho Chi Minh's "moral example" is waning. A new generation of younger, globally savvy Vietnamese prefer rock concerts to communist youth union meetings, and are more likely to be found thumbing SMS messages to friends than memorising fiery passages from Ho Chi Minh's speeches. Sixty percent of Vietnam's 90 million people are under the age of 35. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, January 17, 2011]

Negligible Pro-Democracy Movement in Vietnam

There has not really been any significant big pro-democracy movement in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975. The one that existed before the war was more active in the south protesting against the American-backed South Vietnam regime, which was far from democratic. People in Vietnam can do what they want as long a they don’t challenge authority. Both urban and rural Vietnamese—in both the north and the south—don’t seem to care that much about choosing their leaders as long as they have some opportunities to make money and advance their lives. When asked about how they feel about their government, many Vietnamese say it is stable and leave it at that.

Analysts say that the government has to make political and economic reforms if it wants to stave off unrest. The most active pro-democracy activity seems to be taking place on blogs and on the Internet. The biggest street demonstrations have been anti-Chinese protests. According to Associated Press: "The government does not allow freedom of expression or a free media, but has been struggling against dissent being propagated over the internet. The Communist party fears that public criticism or even honest discussion about its failings could lead to social instability and ultimately loss of power. It labels democracy and free speech activists as "terrorists". [Source: Associated Press, September 13, 2012]

David Lamb wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "The party that has given its people economic and social freedom has not yielded on political freedom. Ultimate authority still rests with the Communist Party's Politburo in Hanoi. Its 15 members are not accountable to anyone but themselves, and criticizing their decisions would be considered a serious crime. No one expects significant political reform to come soon. In fact, ask a member of the postwar generation if he or she wants more democracy, with a multiparty system and media without state controls, and the response usually echoes that of 20-year-old student Pham Nguyen Hai, 20: "I feel we have enough freedom. We know what we can do." [Source: David Lamb, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2005 +++]

"Like Hai, young Vietnamese seem in no more of a hurry to reform the political structure than the Communist Party is to relinquish power -- as long as the leadership continues to deliver stability, opportunity and higher living standards. "Looking back on our early revolutionary history, it was Communists who led the successful campaign to reunite the country," said Hoan Dung, 78, a retired North Vietnamese general. "I don't see the reason for multiple parties. I don't think Vietnam needs an opposition, because the Communist Party has done it right." +++

Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “However, the clarion call for more democracy is steadily growing inside the country. In April, hundreds of Vietnamese signed two appeals, the "Appeal for Freedom of Political Association" and "The Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam", which broadly called on the Communist Party's 10th National Congress to loosen its grip on power and allow for more democratic participation. The public nature of the petition was unprecedented during the Communist Party's 30-year rule. A group of Vietnamese exiles, meanwhile, has established an underground movement of bloggers and citizen journalists inside the country known as the Free Journalists Association of Vietnam (FJAV), which gathers and disseminates news over the Internet that is censored inside the country. The group is now trying to use legal means to establish an independent online news publication based inside Vietnam with help from the US's National Endowment for Democracy. Predictably, the government has detained and interrogated many of the activists, who notably included former senior Communist Party officials, who signed the April petition and has barred at least one member of the FJAV from traveling abroad to attend an international conference focused on freedom of expression issues. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006]

See Human Rights, The Internet, Dissidents

Protests and Demonstrations in Vietnam

According to the U.S. Department of State: The law limits freedom of assembly, and the government restricted and monitored all forms of public protest or gathering. Law and regulation require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities may issue or deny arbitrarily. In practice only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit demonstrations that could be seen to have a political purpose. The government also restricted the right of several unregistered religious groups to gather in worship. [Source: 2011 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State; 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Report, May 24, 2012 ***]

There are few demonstrations in Vietnam because people that participate in such activities are often arrested and thrown in jail. In 1997, hundreds of villagers were arrested and the town of Dong Hung (10 kilometers south of Hanoi) was closed off to journalists after a series of protests over corruption and the unequal distribution of wealth.

See Montagnards

See Anti-Chinese Protests

Vietnamese Communist Party

Vietnam is a one-party state. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has a monopoly on power. It has about 3 million invitation-only members and controls all aspects and all levels of government. According to the Vietnamese constitutions it is "the sole force leading the state and society and the main factor determining all successes of the Vietnamese revolution." Most important job in the government—and in business too—are held by members of the VCP.

The structure of Vietnamese Communist Party has historically mirrored China’s. However the VCP has introduced competitive elections within the party for its party chief (some insiders think this may be a harbinger for China). In 1998, the party changed its slogan from "liberate the people and work collectively to rebuild the country" to "welfare, property, equality so that people can enjoy themselves."

The VCP’s role is primary in all state activities, overriding that of the government, which functions merely to implement party policies. The party maintains control by filling key positions in all government agencies with party leaders or the most trusted party cadres and by controlling all mass organizations. Citizens belong to mass organizations appropriate to their status, such as the quasi-governmental Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Vietnam General Confederation of Trade Unions, or the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League. Party cadres leading such organizations educate and mobilize the masses through regular study sessions to implement party policies. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Lack of Opposition Parties in Vietnam

The most active political opposition to the Hanoi regime comes from church groups and groups based outside of Vietnam. Groups such as 8406 Bloc; Democratic Party of Vietnam or DPV; People's Democratic Party Vietnam or PDP-VN; Alliance for Democracy advocate democracy but are not recognized by the government.

Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: "Vietnam's Communist rulers want to send a zero-tolerance message to advocates of a multiparty system by putting several political activists on trial. The Communist Party of Vietnam is the only legal political party in Vietnam and the defendants face criminal charges for forming political groups and anti-government propaganda. "The security authorities have moved to prevent any activity that would detract from these elections," said Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales in Canberra. Longtime Vietnam-watcher Thayer said that despite "measurable improvement" for tolerance of political criticism, there were "three no's -- no political pluralism, no multiparty system and no political opposition". [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, May 6, 2007 |>|]

A Hanoi government spokesman rejected accusations by Western human rights groups of a crackdown on dissidents this year and said the six people in the dock at three separate trials on May 10, May 11 and May 15 have broken the law. Two lawyers -- part of a new generation of largely Internet-based activists with supporters overseas -- have been cited by prosecutors for possessing documents "intended to incite acts of sabotage of the upcoming National Assembly election". |>|

"The United States and several European countries have called for the release of lawyers Nguyen Van Dai, 38, Le Thi Cong Nhan, 28, and others. Dai founded the outlawed Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam and Nhan is a spokeswoman for the outlawed Progressive Party. They were arrested on March 6 and go on trial in Hanoi People's Court on Friday on charges of "spreading propaganda against the State of Vietnam", a criminal offence under article 88 of the penal code." |>|

"Outspoken Catholic priest Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison. Ly and some of the other defendants facing trial this month are members of "Bloc 8406", named after the April 8, 2006 date it revealed itself with a "Manifesto for Freedom and Democracy". Diplomats and analysts describe the bloc as the closest Vietnam comes to having a dissident movement because it is nationwide and has attracted professionals, teachers and lawyers. Amnesty International and other groups have recorded more than 20 arrests since November, when Hanoi hosted an Asia-Pacific summit, won approval to join the World Trade Organization and was removed from a U.S. religious rights blacklist. Farm worker organizers, lawyers, writers and religious people are among those detained. |>|

"Hanoi rejects accusations it cynically cracked down on the tiny dissident community after winning international praise and recognition last year. "No one in Vietnam is arrested due to their political views or religion; only those who violate our country's laws, and in turn we process them in line with our laws," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Dung said in a statement. Vietnam's average annual per capita income is about $720, although years of economic reforms by the Communist government have improved the standard of living for many. |>|

Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party)

Viet Tan, or the Vietnam Reform Party, is a banned, pro-democracy party with members inside Vietnam. Hanoi considers Viet Tan a terrorist organization, but the U.S. says it is a group peacefully expressing its political views. Its leader are based in the United States. "Vietnam will not realize its full potential until all of its citizens have equal voice and opportunity," Viet Tan has said. "Vietnam's future must be decided by all of its citizens, not an unelected political elite." Hoàng Co+ Minh (1935-1987) was the first chairman of the Viet Tân. He was elected on September 10, 1982, when Viet Tan was founded long the Thai-Lao border. He was considered, among the expatriate Vietnamese, the leader of the anti-communist resistance against the Vietnamese government. He died in August 1987, while attempting to enter Vietnam.

The Vietnam Reform Party is banned in Vietnam. Hanoi considers the U.S.-based group of pro-democracy dissidents, with members abroad and within the country, a terrorist organization, but the U.S. has found no evidence to suggest that. Vietnam does not tolerate any form of challenge to its one-party rule and has jailed several Viet Tan members.

"I think corruption is really widespread in this system," said Hong Vu, an Australian member of Viet Tan, who passed out T-shirts and hats in Hanoi during a rare event calling for Vietnam to defend its right to sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, which China and several other countries also claim. "There is no controlled system to monitor transparency." [Source: Associated Press, October 11, 2010]

Early History of the Vietnamese Communist Party

Although party congresses are rare events in Vietnam, they provide a record of the party's history and direction and tend to reflect accurately the important issues of their time. In February 1930 in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh presided over the founding congress of the VCP. At the direction of the Communist International ( Comintern), the party's name was changed shortly afterwards to the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The designated First National Party Congress following the party's founding was held secretly in Macao in 1935, coincidentally with the convocation in Moscow of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. [Source: Library of Congress *]

At the Seventh Congress, the Comintern modified its "united front" strategy for world revolution chiefly to protect the Soviet Union from the rise of fascism. Member parties were instructed to join in popular fronts with noncommunist parties to preserve world socialism in the face of fascism's new threat. Although the Vietnamese party subsequently adopted the strategy, the timing of the two meetings dictated that the Vietnamese in Macao wait until after their meeting for directions from Moscow. Consequently, the resolutions enunciated at the ICP's first congress turned out to be only provisional because they stressed the older and narrower concept of the united front that divided the world into imperialist and socialist camps but failed to account for fascism. Under the new strategy, the ICP considered all nationalist parties in Indochina as potential allies. *

The Second National Party Congress was held in 1951 in Tuyen Quang, a former province in the Viet Bac, a remote region of the North Vietnamese highlands controlled by the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War (also known as the Viet Minh War). It reestablished the ICP, which had been officially dissolved in 1945 to obscure the party's communist affiliation, and renamed it the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam). Nine years later in Hanoi, the Third National Party Congress formalized the tasks required to construct a socialist society in the North and carrying out a revolution in the South. *

See History

Vietnamese Communist Party After the Vietnam War

The Fourth National Party Congress, which convened in December 1976, was the first such congress held after the country's reunification. Reflecting the party's sense of rebirth, the congress changed the party's name from the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet) to the Vietnam Communist Party. This congress was significant for disclosing the party's plans for a unified Vietnam and for initiating the party's most widespread leadership changes up to that time. The delegates adopted a new party Statute, replacing one that had been ratified in 1960 when the country was divided. The new Statute was directed at the country as a whole but focused on the application of Marxist-Leninist principles in the South, stating that the party's goal was to "realize socialism and communism in Vietnam." It further described the VCP as the "vanguard, organized combat staff, and highest organization" of the Vietnamese working class, and a "united bloc of will and action" structured on the principle of democratic centralism. Democratic centralism is a fundamental organizational principle of the party, and, according to the 1976 Statute, it mandates not only the "activity and creativity" of all party organizations but also "guarantees the party's unity of will and action." As a result of unification, the Central Committee expanded from 77 to 133 members, the 11-member Political Bureau of the Central Committee grew to 17, including 3 alternate or candidate members, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee increased from 7 to 9. More than half of the members of the Central Committee were first-time appointees, many of whom came from the southern provinces. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Membership in the party doubled from 760,000 in 1966 to 1,553,500 in 1976, representing 3.1 percent of the total population. Comparable figures for China (4.2 percent) and the Soviet Union (6.9 percent) in 1986 suggest that the 1976 proportion of party membership to total population in Vietnam was small. Nevertheless, the doubling of the party's size in the space of a decade was cause for concern to Vietnam's leaders, who feared that a decline in the party's selection standards had resulted in increased inefficiency and corruption. They believed that quantity had been substituted for quality and resolved to stress quality in the future. In an effort to purify the party, growth over the next decade was deliberately checked. Membership in 1986 was close to 2 million, only about 3.3 percent of the population. According to Hanoi's estimates, nearly 10 percent, or 200,000 party members, were expelled for alleged inefficiency, corruption, or other failures between 1976 and 1986. *

Turning to the economy, the Fourth National Party Congress transferred the party's emphasis on heavy industry, initiated at the Third National Party Congress, to light industry, fishing, forestry, and agriculture. It directed attention to the Second Five-Year Plan, which was already a year old. The Fourth National Party Congress also introduced a number of economic objectives, including establishment on a national scale of a new system of economic management, better use of prices to regulate supply and demand, budgets to implement economic development programs, tax policy to control sources of income, and banks to supply capital for production. Finally, differences over the role of the military surfaced at the congress, dividing party pragmatists, who saw the army as a supplement to the labor force, from the more doctrinaire theoreticians, who saw the military as a fighting force, the primary mission of which would be obstructed by economic tasks. *

Political Dynamics in Vietnam in the 1970s and 80s

The accounts of Hoang Van Hoan, a former Political Bureau member who fled to Beijing in 1978, and of Truong Nhu Tang, former justice minister of the NLF verified the existence in the early 1970s of factions identified by their loyalty to either Moscow or Beijing. They asserted that the proSoviet direction taken following Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969, and particularly after the Fourth National Party Congress in 1977, was the result of the party's having progressively come under the influence of a small pro-Soviet clique led by Party Secretary Le Duan and high-ranking Political Bureau member Le Duc Tho, and including Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, and Pham Hung. Until Le Duan's death, these five represented a core policy-making element within the Political Bureau. Whether or not a similar core of decision makers existed in the Political Bureau of the mid-1980s, under Party Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, was not clear. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Differences within the Political Bureau in the mid-1980s, however, appeared focused on the country's economic problems. The line was drawn between reformists, who were willing to institute changes that included a free market system in order to stimulate Vietnam's ailing economy, and ideologues, who feared the effect such reforms would have on party control and the ideological purity of the society. The leadership changes that occurred in late 1986 and early 1987 as a result of the Sixth National Party Congress suggested that the reformers might have won concessions in favor of moderate economic reform. The scale of the infighting reportedly was small, however, and the changes that were made probably were undertaken on the basis of a consensus reached between the hardliners and the reformers. Nevertheless, the results demonstrated that Vietnam's leaders increasingly had come to the realization that rebuilding the country's war-torn economy was as difficult an undertaking as conquering the Saigon government. *

Vietnamese Communist Party As It Moves Towards Reform

The Fifth National Party Congress, held in March 1982, confirmed Vietnam's alignment with the Soviet Union but revealed a breach in party unity and indecision on economic policy. An unprecedented six members of the Political Bureau were retired, including Vo Nguyen Giap, defense minister and former chief military strategist in the wars against France and the United States, and Nguyen Van Linh, future party general secretary who later returned to the Political Bureau in June 1985. The six who departed, however, were from the middle ranks of the Political Bureau. The topmost leaders--from General Secretary Le Duan to fifth-ranked member Le Duc Tho--remained in their posts. Thirty- four full members and twelve alternate members of the Central Committee also were dropped. The new Central Committee was increased from 133 members and 32 alternate members to 152 members and 36 alternate members. Party strength had grown to 1.7 million. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Sixth National Party Congress, held in December 1986, was characterized by candid evaluations of the party and more leadership changes. There was an extraordinary outpouring of self-criticism over the party's failure to improve the economy. A new commitment was made to revive the economy but in a more moderate manner. The policy of the Sixth National Party Congress thus attempted to balance the positions of radicals, who urged a quicker transition to socialism through collectivization, and moderates, who urged increased reliance on free-market forces. Three of the country's top leaders voluntarily retired from their party positions: VCP General Secretary and President Truong Chinh, aged seventy-nine; second-ranked Political Bureau member and Premier Pham Van Dong, aged seventy-nine; and party theoretician and fourth-ranked Political Bureau member (without government portfolio) Le Duc Tho, aged seventy-five. Afterwards, they took up positions as advisers, with unspecified powers, to the Central Committee. Chinh and Dong retained their government posts until the new National Assembly met in June 1987. Their simultaneous retirement was unusual in that leaders of Communist nations tend either to die in office or to be purged, but it paved the way for younger, better educated leaders to rise to the top. *

Nguyen Van Linh, an economic pragmatist, was named party general secretary. The new Political Bureau had 14 members, and the new Central Committee was expanded to 173, including 124 full members and 49 alternate members. In continuing the trend to purify party ranks by replacing old members, the Sixth Party Congress replaced approximately one-third of the Central Committee members with thirty-eight new full members and forty- three new alternate members. It expanded the Secretariat from ten members to thirteen, only three of whom had previously served. *

Modern Vietnamese Communism

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, “In fact, the survival of Communist rule in the face of Vietnam’s rampant capitalism is partly explained by the Vietnamese Communist Party’s nationalist credentials, now that it has governed the country during wars against the French, Americans, and Chinese. Moreover, like Tito in Yugoslavia and Enver Hoxha in Albania, Ho Chi Minh was a home-grown leader, not one imposed on the country by an invading army. The Vietnamese Communists have played up the similarities between “Ho Chi Minh Thought” and Confucianism, with their respect for family and authority. “Nationalism builds out from Confucianism,” Le Chi Dzung, of the Foreign Ministry, says. Neil Jamieson, the author of Understanding Vietnam (1993), writes about “that common Vietnamese quality of ‘absolutism,’’’ an assumption of “some underlying, determinative moral order in the world.” This characteristic, in turn, is related to the idea of chinh nghia, which might be loosely translated as one’s social obligation to one’s family and larger solidarity group.” [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

“Yet another reason Communism persists here is that its very substance is slipping away. Vietnamese are in a situation similar to that of Chinese: they are governed by a Communist Party that has all but given up Communism, and have accepted an implicit social contract under which they agree not to protest too loudly as long as the party guarantees higher income levels. Indeed, Vietnam’s rulers cannot ultimately be estranged from those of China, for they have both embarked on the same experiment: delivering capitalist riches to a country ruled by the Communist Party. <*>

“In a quarter century, Vietnam has gone from using ration books to enjoying one of the largest rice surpluses in the world. It recently graduated, in statistical terms, to a lower-middle-income country, with a per capita GDP of $1,100. Instead of a single, all-powerful, but largely ineffective leader whose picture is plastered over billboards, as has been the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries, Vietnam’s faceless triumvirate—the party chairman, the state president, and the prime minister—has delivered an average of 7 percent annual growth in GDP over the past decade. Even in the teeth of the Great Recession in 2009, the local economy grew by 5.5 percent. “This is one of the most impressive records of poverty alleviation in world history,” a Western diplomat says. “They have gone from bicycles to motorcycles.” That, to the Vietnamese, may be democracy. And even if it isn’t, one can say that the autocracies of Vietnam and China have not robbed people of their dignity the way those of the Middle East have. “The leaders of the Middle East stay in office too long and have maintained states of emergency for decades,” a former high-ranking Vietnamese political leader tells me. “That is not the case here. But the problems of corruption, huge income gaps, and high youth unemployment, we share with countries of the Middle East.” <*>

“What spooks the Vietnamese Communist Party is less the specter of the Arab Spring than that of the student uprising in China in 1989, when inflation was almost as high in China as it has been in Vietnam until recently, and corruption and nepotism were perceived by the population to be beyond control—again, the case with Vietnam today. And yet, party officials also worry that political reform might take them down the path of pre-1975 South Vietnam, whose weak, faction-ridden governments led to that state’s collapse; or that of late-19th- and early-20th-century China, with its feeble central authority that led to foreign domination. Vietnamese officials openly admire Singapore, a predominantly single-party company state that emanates discipline and clean government—something that eludes Vietnam’s corruption-riddled regime. <*>

In the meantime, Vietnam’s Communist leaders will continue to rely on their Prussianness, their capitalist economic policies, and their tight political control to maintain their state’s independence from China. They know that, unlike the countries of the Arab Spring, their nation faces an authentic outside adversary, however ideologically akin, whose threatening proximity helps to temper popular aspirations for greater political freedom. But like India’s leaders, Vietnam’s are wary of any formal treaty arrangement with the United States. In fact, if the necessity of a defense treaty with the United States ever arose, it would indicate that the security situation in the South China Sea region had become more unstable. In any case, the fate of Vietnam, and its ability not to be Finlandized by China, will say as much about the American capacity to project power in the Pacific and around the world in the 21st century as Vietnam’s fate did in the 20th.” <*>

As Vietnam Booms, Communist Party Struggles to Keep up

At the 11th Party Congress in January 2011, the VCP selected a new policy-making Central Committee with younger faces and discussed admitting entrepreneurs, young people, women, ethnic minorities and scientists into the party and bureaucracy. John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: "Vietnam's ruling Communists are replenishing their aging ranks with younger, better-educated policymakers and entrepreneurs as the 81-year-old party founded by Marxist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh struggles to stay relevant...The measures are a recognition that Vietnam's leadership needs a makeover to revitalise itself as the economy slips out of direct state control and fewer leaders carry strong revolutionary credentials. With its leadership dominated by grey-haired bureaucrats, the party faces a challenge to attract talent. Gone are the days when membership was the sole path out of poverty.[Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, January 17, 2011 <>]

"In the past, nine out of 10 university graduates would go into the bureaucracy and want to join the party. Now, it's the reverse. Nine out of 10 want to go into the private sector," said Le Dang Doanh, a former official and government advisor. For today's youth, he said, "there's no need now to join the party". Still, for those in government agencies and state-owned enterprises, not belonging to the party can put a glass ceiling on careers. Privately, some people admit to joining because they have no real choice. <>

Party membership can also be valuable in a country where connections are key to conducting business, and bureaucratic red tape is one of the biggest obstacles to success."If you are career-minded and/or business-minded it makes sense. Others will stay away, not wanting the hassle and the endless meetings," said Martin Gainsborough, a Vietnam specialist at the University of Bristol.

At Vietnam's 10th Party Congress, in 2006, the rules were changed to give party members permission to engage in private business -- something many were already doing. But conservatives rejected allowing established businessmen to join. "I think some would be interested," said Phung Anh Tuan, a lawyer and board member of the Young Businesspeople Association of Ho Chi Minh City. It would depend for many on what role businessmen would be allowed to play, he added.In a hole-the-wall sporting goods shop in Hanoi, salesman Vu Ngoc Duong, 20, does not see much point in joining. "I haven't felt the need yet," he said.

10th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 2006, See History.

11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 2011, See History.

Young Vietnamese More Interested in K-Pop Than the VCP

John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: "At Hanoi's Foreign Language University, 19-year-old Nguyen Hong Ngoc says she and her 11 roomates never talk about joining the party. "I want to be an interpreter for a private business, maybe in tourism," says Ngoc, whose major is English translation.Khuong Nhu Quynh shares that view, as she applies to universities in the United States and Singapore, where she hopes to study business administration. "Opportunities for promotion are better in the private sector. Salaries are better, too," she said. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, January 17, 2011 <>]

The site of tens of thousands screaming teenagers at a South Korean boy band concert last year in Hanoi, for example, stunned a communist party member, according to venture capitalist Henry Nguyen who attended the concert with the cadre. "He was just like 'This is incredible. I've never seen this side of Vietnam'," Nguyen recounted. "And he just kind of made this off-hand comment like 'We need to invite these guys to the youth union meetings because nobody shows up anymore'." Such examples are now common in fast-changing Vietnam, stoking concerns over the party's future as the economy emerges from the ruins of decades of war and central planning into regional exporting dynamo with a rapidly growing middle class. <>

Politics Within the Vietnamese Communist Party

Reuters reported: "By keeping a lid on organized opposition Hanoi has maintained political stability, but critics say this has meant a retreat to hardline rule, with the party tolerating little dissent and constantly on the lookout for perceived threats. The party says it is the choice of the "entire Vietnamese people'' and dissent could cause social chaos and undermine sacrifices made to end foreign interference in the country. [Source: Reuters, September 5, 1999 ==]

"In the arcane world of Vietnamese politics the party wields absolute power and is accountable only to itself, But a senior diplomat in Hanoi said selective truth and secrecy served a purpose. "Who wants accountability, that's what follows transparency. Power rests in following the line, swallowing it and not questioning it,'' he said. The party member said internecine struggles, slur campaigns and clashes of vested interests had caused trust within the elite to ebb. ==

"Leaden Marxist and revolutionary rhetoric has become irrelevant as around 60 percent of the population are too young to remember the Vietnam War. Analysts say people, including many party members, are now more interested in cash than politics. "The Vietnam Communist Party is a dinosaur living in an age where it should be extinct. The criticism campaign...(is designed for) the prolongation of one-party rule,'' said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert. Analysts said the party might be pinning too many hopes on the criticism campaign as a cure-all. With the advent of email and the Internet, dissenting voices -- from both inside and outside the party -- are making themselves heard. A group of retired military and party veterans have rallied behind elderly General Tran Do to urge the party to examine itself and be prepared to democratise and drop socialism if that was what was needed to ensure economic growth. ==

"A political officer at a foreign embassy in Hanoi said a slowing economy coupled with ideological struggles over the introduction of a market economy, as well as conflicting vested interests, threatened the party's ability to rule. "Right now they have no strong leaders and there is a paralysis for some key decision making, especially when it comes to personnel and urgent economic reforms,'' he said. "They have to lighten up, take a step back and develop good governance through nurturing open dialogue with all sections of society. Only then can they have legitimacy.'' ==

Vietnamese Government Elite

Describing the background and lifestyle of a high-level Communist Party official, Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Mai Chi Tho, An’s former boss, emerged after the war as one of Vietnam’s most powerful figures, serving as regional Party committee head, governing South Vietnam, and as Minister of the Interior. At Tho’s villa in central Saigon—the former Swiss Embassy—I am ushered into a sumptuous reception room on the ground floor, which is filled with mahogany furniture and sculptures carved from rocks gathered at Vietnam’s famous revolutionary sites. Dominating the far end of the room is an altar covered with flowers, bowls of fruit, and four hand-tinted photographs of Mai Chi Tho’s parents and his two famous brothers: Dinh Duc Thien, the two-star general who helped build the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Le Duc Tho, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who snookered Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Accords. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"Mai Chi Tho is standing at the altar, holding a lighted bundle of incense in his hand and bowing in front of his father’s picture. Today is his father’s death day, not a time, customarily, for receiving strangers, but Tho knows that my stay in the country is short. He places the incense on the altar and comes to shake my hand. Dressed in gray slacks and a purple shirt, he is an imposing, white-haired man with a direct gaze. Bigger than most Vietnamese, Tho had to have an extra-large tunnel made for himself during the ten years that he spent living underground at Cu Chi. ////

"Schooled in all the best prisons in Vietnam, including what was later known as the Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain spent five years, and Poulo Condore, the Devil’s Island where, Tho says, two-thirds of his fellow-inmates died before he was released in 1945, General Tho is a war-hardened opponent, who today is an affable host offering his American visitor tea and fruit. "It was really hard work, but we had to do it," he says of his effort to raise the money that sent An to America in 1957. "The Party had very little money, but we thought the effort was worth it—An was the first person we sent to America—to learn the culture of the people who were taking over from the French to become our enemy. ////

Political Struggles Within the Vietnamese Communist Party

Huw Watkin wrote in the South China Morning Post, "The capital was vibrant with the red and gold of Vietnamese flags yesterday for the 110th anniversary of the birth of Ho Chi Minh, but the occasion highlighted divisions in the Communist Party over the pace of reforms. Communist Party Secretary-General Le Kha Phieu used the anniversary to lash out at corruption and self-interest in the ruling party, which he said continued to threaten stability and social cohesion. "A serious review would show that the party-building and rejuvenation drive has not produced very high results thus far, with many long-standing problems among party committees at different levels remaining unsolved," he said in a speech reproduced in numerous mass-circulation state-controlled newspapers. "Some party members, including those in high positions, have not been sincere . . . about self-criticism and [analysis] on the correctness of [their] political convictions." He added that "individualism" had emerged and expanded to a "worrying" level. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, May 20, 2000 <:>]

"Diplomats said the Secretary-General's speech - and a recent series of statements by other leaders urging accelerated reform and a loosening of the party's control of Vietnam's administration - indicated an intensifying behind-the-scenes struggle between reformers and conservatives ahead of next year's party congress. "The next congress is crucial as it will chart the course for Vietnam for the next five years," one foreign diplomat said. "The signals suggest a growing awareness among some sections of the party that Vietnam is at a crossroads economically, socially and politically, and there is a feeling that if the congress doesn't get it right, then Vietnam could be headed toward some very difficult times." <:>

In 1999, Reuters reported: "Four months after launching a big campaign to weed out corrupt and degraded cadres, the ruling Vietnam Communist Party has gone rather quiet. There have been few details of its heralded criticism/self criticism campaign in the state-controlled press, and there are no signs in the streets to suggest anything out of the ordinary. But all party members are undergoing criticism in a bid to strengthen the party. Analysts said the party was facing its greatest challenge since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. [Source: Reuters, September 5, 1999 ==]

Some party members are cynical about the criticism campaign."The results so far are zero point zero zero percent (of party members are corrupt),'' said one veteran party member. "They are all clean.'' The party acknowledges graft is a problem, but analysts say the criticism campaign could be divisive and most corrupt cadres were likely to escape censure. "(Criticism) is an old Leninist technique which scared the hell out of everyone involved in the 1950s, but gradually became ritualised, and now would be mocked by many party members,'' said David Marr, a professor at the Pacific and Asian History Department at the Australian National University. Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, expected several thousand party members would be dismissed but said attempts to punish all corrupt cadres were unlikely as the party believed in rectification as an article of faith. "Errant cadres can be brought to confess their misdeeds, repent and return to party service even more dedicated to the party and its ideals,'' he said.

Communist Party’s Tight Grip on Power

Martin Petty of Reuters wrote: “The CPV-dominated National Assembly approved amendments to a 1992 constitution that, despite a public consultation campaign, entrench the party's grip on power at a time when discontent simmers over its handling of land disputes, corruption and an economy suffocated by toxic debt amassed by state-run firms. Draconian cyber laws were tightened further, when the government announced a 100 million dong ($4,740) fine for anyone who criticizes it on social media.[Source: Martin Petty, Reuters, November 28, 2013]

Stanley Karnow wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "Officials routinely favor wives and other relatives with contracts for supplies, that, by no coincidence, are purchased by party and government bureaus. The son-in-law of one top figure, for example, has the franchise to import the computers used by the party and government."

One woman told the New York Times, "People who work in the government can do anything they want. They don’t have any rules. They have their own rules They can change them anytime...Some of them have five or six children. They run large stores or work in government companies or joint ventures. They grow more rich and powerful as time goes on." A businessman told the New York Times, "The Communists control the big companies...The Communist party people, the government officials are the rich ones. They get rich from bribes and state trading companies." Often times people from the south or members of families that had anything to do with the Americans or the South Vietnamese government are penalized for these contacts.

Bill Hayton of the BBC News wrote: "The head of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party has criticised the lack of morals among many of the party's members. Speaking at a specially convened meeting, General Secretary Nong Duc Manh said some members showed too much individualism. The meeting follows a series of graft scandals, which have damaged the party's reputation over the past year. Mr Manh told party members that a slipping of moral standards could paralyse the party. He advised them to follow the example of their country's founder, Ho Chi Minh. [Source: Bill Hayton, BBC News, February 2, 2007 ~^~]

"Manh pointed a finger at those who he said were letting the party down. "Improving revolutionary morals must go along with giving up individualism," he said. This campaign follows a series of revelations in the local media about corruption scandals and poor administration, and comes as Vietnam begins the process of choosing a new National Assembly. Mr Manh promised to build socialism in what he called the Vietnamese way - believed to be the first time the party has used such wording - an echo of a similar phrase used by Chinese Communists. His speech comes at a time of deep internal discussion within the Party about its future structure and role, something which could have significant consequences for the way the country is governed. "~^~

Apparatchiks Speak Out Against Totalitarianism in Vietnam

Martin Petty of Reuters wrote: “ The Vietnam of today wasn't what Le Hieu Dang had hoped for when he joined the Communist Party 40 years ago to liberate and rebuild a country reeling from decades of war and French and U.S. occupation. The socialist system of the late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh has been corrupted, he says, by a shift to a market economy tightly controlled by one political party that has given rise to a culture of graft and vested interests. "I fought in the war for a better society, a fair life for people. But after the war, the country has worsened, the workers are poor, the farmers have lost their land," Dang told Reuters. "It's unacceptable. We have a political monopoly and a dictatorship running this country." [Source: Martin Petty, Reuters, November 28, 2013]

Opinions like this might be normal in many countries. But in Vietnam, where politics is taboo, free speech is stifled and the image of unity in the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) sacrosanct, analysts say the significance of comrades speaking out publicly cannot be understated. Dang is vehemently against the amendments in November 2013 that tighten the party’s grip on power, and not alone in his views, which are of the kind that have landed dozens of people in jail as part of a crackdown on bloggers.

What has jolted the party is that the loudest voices calling for a more pluralist system are coming not from the general public, but from within its own ranks, an open act of mutiny not seen since the CPV took power of a reunified Vietnam in 1975, after the communists' triumph over U.S. forces. "Vietnam has entered a new phase. The existence of rivalries within the party is already known, but it's now more transparent in a way never seen in the past," said Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at City University in Hong Kong. "The rise of this group and its advice will influence the tenor of party discussion. What's clear is this is a period of uncertainty and competition."

Many of the party's open critics took part in the wars to liberate Vietnam from Western powers in the 1950s, '60s and '70s and have become new revolutionaries of sorts, confronting issues that most Vietnamese are afraid to discuss. Nguyen Quang A was once part of an advisory think-tank which disbanded itself after the government introduced laws that limited the scope of its work five years ago. It included former CPV members, diplomats, businessmen and academics. But they stay in touch at monthly meetings to debate social, economic and political issues, some of which they address in commentaries posted online.

"We want to create an environment to facilitate the emergence of other political forces and put forward a process to transition from dictatorship to democracy," he told Reuters. "We hope some of our members can play a bridging role to make the party listen to us. It takes time, but we have to pressure them to change and convince people not to be afraid."

Dang and his CPV allies are going a step further. They plan to remain in the party so they can drum up support from disenchanted members to set up an opposition party to scrutinize the CPV's policies and keep it in check. Despite their fierce rhetoric, they insist the plan to set up the Social Democratic Party is not an attempt to overthrow the ruling party but an attempt to create a more liberal coexistence between parties that would benefit the country.

Ho Ngoc Nhuan, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City branch of the Fatherland Front, the CPV's umbrella group that manages big organizations under Marxist-Leninist principles, said the feedback campaign and constitution amendments were a "tragic comedy" that showed the party was out of touch with the people. It was time, he said, to shake up Vietnamese politics. "We face many problems in Vietnam, big crises, so how can we solve it with one all-powerful party? We have to get their attention, so we're calling comrades in the party to join us so we can break this chain," Nhuan said, admitting that it was proving difficult to convince them. "The new generation can't explain socialism to us anymore. They're called the Communist Party, but they no longer believe in their own ideology."

Apparatchiks Involved in Drafting a Reformist Constitution

Martin Petty of Reuters wrote: “ The Vietnam of today wasn't what Le Hieu Dang had hoped for when he joined the Communist Party 40 years ago to liberate and rebuild a country reeling from decades of war and French and U.S. occupation. The socialist system of the late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh has been corrupted, he says, by a shift to a market economy tightly controlled by one political party that has given rise to a culture of graft and vested interests. "I fought in the war for a better society, a fair life for people. But after the war, the country has worsened, the workers are poor, the farmers have lost their land," Dang told Reuters. "It's unacceptable. We have a political monopoly and a dictatorship running this country." [Source: Martin Petty, Reuters, November 28, 2013]

Dang and 71 others, among them intellectuals, bloggers and current and former CPV apparatchiks, drafted their own version of the constitution, in response to a routine public feedback campaign ostensibly aimed at placating people and boosting the party's dwindling legitimacy. Their draft was posted online and 15,000 people signed an accompanying petition calling for the scrapping of Article 4, which enshrines the CPV's political monopoly.

But lawmakers did the opposite and redrafted the article to expand the CPV's leadership role and the military's duty to protect it. In a summary of 26 million public opinions on the draft, a commission of the National Assembly said the majority of Vietnamese supported one-party rule. "Theoretically, democracy is not synonymous with pluralism," the commission said in a report in May. "No one can affirm that multiple political parties are better than one party."

Not a single lawmaker rejected the new draft, which expanded Article 4 to state the party is "the vanguard of the Vietnamese workers, people and nation". A draft of the amendments, published weeks ago, outraged opponents. The initial 72 democracy advocates were joined by others and 165 of them, including retired government officials, published a statement on the Internet two weeks ago warning lawmakers to reject the amendments. They said if National Assembly members passed the amendments, they would be complicit in a "crime against the country and its people" and would "only push the country deeper into crisis and deadlock".

Vietnam Elects Younger Parliament

In May 2007, Reuters reported: “Vietnamese elected a younger, inexperienced National Assembly but fewer non-members of the ruling Communist Party than five years before. A total of 493 deputies were elected for the next five-year term of parliament, seven short of the overall target, officials said. In Vietnam's often opaque one-party system, all of the 875 candidates who ran were approved by the Communist Party or the Fatherland Front, an umbrella group of mass organisations. "It was very important to select high-calibre candidates, taking into account their qualifications and the structure of the National Assembly," said Bui Ngoc Thanh, general-secretary of the electoral committee. [Source: Reuters, May 29, 2007]

Of the 493 deputies who tallied the required number of votes to take a seat in the assembly, 345 were first-time candidates, officials said. They said overall, the deputies were younger than the legislature that passed scores of laws in the past few years to enable the impoverished country of 85 million to enter the World Trade Organisation in January. Out of 150 non-Party candidates, 43 won seats, slightly down on the number elected in 2002. Only one so-called independent or "self-nominated" candidate won a seat, one less than five years ago.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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