The following is an Interview with Two Vietnamese Commmunists conducted by a Socialist Republican activist.
First off I’d like to send on my warm greetings to my comrades in Vietnam who have agreed, under difficult conditions, to partake in these interviews. I appreciate that they have taken the time to provide us with the valuable lessons presented below. Within the Irish communist movement there is much interest in the affairs of our fellow communists abroad, and the unique perspectives which we can harvest from around the world with their help. New positions from which to look at things often challenge our pre-existing views. This is a healthy process. The more we broaden our horizons, the more we engage with and learn from communists abroad, the more capable we will be in our own political development at home.
Again I voice my gratitude and respect to these two comrades and for my valuable conversations with them. Understandably, they chose to answer together as a means to remain anonymous.
(1) Hello, first off, I would like to learn a little bit about the area you live in.
We live in southern Vietnam. The local history and culture is very complex. As you probably already know, after the Japanese were driven out of Vietnam, the American pigs sided with the French against us, and to give the Vietnamese people a false sense of autonomy, a puppet state was installed in the southern half. The culture here is based upon Chinese culture, language, folklore, architecture, etc. An example of Chinese culture being present here is in the Lunar New Years, the way it is celebrated, and a lot of architecture here is based upon Chinese culture. The vast majority of people here are Buddhists, and this religion was imported from China.
However, it will also suffice to point out that in the south resides the biggest population of Catholics numbering over 3 million. Catholicism was imported here from France during the colonial days, and there are many Catholic churches here in the South which were originally built by the French. In Ho Chi Minh City, there is the Notre Dame Cathedral which was of course built by the French while they were here. Another example is the pink “Tan Dinh” Church which was built 150 years ago by the French while they were here.
(2) Where do you see Vietnam in relation to the international stage right now? What is Vietnam’s relationship with modern imperialism?
In the international stage, Vietnam has practically sold itself out to foreign investors under the pretext of “modernization.” According to Vietnam Briefing, the FDI sector accounted for 72 percent of total export turnover and 63 percent of import turnover in 2020. Furthermore, in the first 11 months of 2020 in Vietnam, foreign investors invested $17billion into Vietnam. Although Vietnam says it is engaging in “proletarian internationalism,” it is instead engaging in complete cooperation with the comprador bourgeoisie and openly welcomes them to invest in Vietnam.
(3) Tell me a bit about the economy of Vietnam.
Although the Vietnamese government presents their economic system as “market socialism,” any true Marxist should understand that these two things are incompatible. Socialism is completely incompatible with a market economy. Furthermore, Vietnam has begun privatizing more and more despite what western leftists like to say. I’ll get into the following point a bit later, but up until 2020, independent trade unions were completely illegal, and labor organizers were arrested. The government did this as they wanted to encourage foreign investors to invest into Vietnam, and they feared that allowing independent unions would deter these investors. Not only can you not be called socialist if your economy is based on generalized commodity production, but even more so when you place the interests of foreign investors above that of the working class of your own country.
(4) Tell me a bit about the state of class relations in your country.
Class relations in Vietnamese society resemble class relations in capitalist society. While there is a thriving petty bourgeoisie in the urban areas, there exists an exploitative relation among the proletariat and bourgeoisie within Vietnam where surplus value is extracted on a massive scale. Many workers in Vietnam have expressed grievances towards having to work in foreign businesses which operate in Vietnam. It is estimated that the highest paid proletariat in Vietnam which works in a foreign owned industry makes only 50 cents per hour (half a dollar in USD). Furthermore, the 2020 minimum wage was only 1,600,000 VND which translates to roughly $68.
(5) Recently the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam was held. What are your thoughts on this party and its governance of Vietnam?
While the Vietnamese government has done good things such as fighting against corruption, the recent 13th congress in Vietnam has shown that Vietnam has no intentions to turn back towards socialism. The vast majority of their goals listed had to with “modernising the country,” yet very little attention was paid towards the building of socialism within Vietnam. Vietnam has constantly opened up their markets to foreign pigs, and the 13th congress only showed more desire to continue cooperating with foreign businesses and the bourgeoisie.
(6) What unique challenges do Marxists face politically in Vietnam?
The challenges we face here is any dissent whatsoever being crushed. If we were to protest anything whatsoever even from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, we would be accused of “abusing democratic rights to undermine the state.”
(7) Is it easy for Vietnamese people to openly criticise the government? How well are these criticisms received?
No, it is not easy to openly criticize the government. As we’ve already said, the vast majority of criticism is interpreted as an “abuse of democratic rights.” In 2006, labor organizers who were self-identified communists all were arrested, and their organization called the “United Workers and Farmers Organization of Vietnam” was entirely liquidated 2 months later.
(8) Foreign direct investment into Vietnam is at an all time high. Why, in your opinion, do foreign companies see Vietnam as such an attractive target for investment?
Foreign investors see Vietnam as such an attractive location for investment because of how much the CPV is willing to capitulate to their interests. Up until recently this year, independent unionising amongst the workers was completely illegal and thus they could not fight for their rights. This allowed the bourgeoisie to only pay the Vietnamese workers the bare minimum in order to allow them to survive another day.
(9) What are labor conditions like in Vietnam?
The labor conditions in Vietnam while good on paper are extremely poor in practice. Workers have constantly voiced their grievances and protested, however the Vietnamese government has capitulated to the interests of the imperialists’ pigs for far too long and have neglected the voices of the working class. In 2006, the United Workers and Farmers Organization of Vietnam was founded, however within two months, all of its founders were arrested on anti-state charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Up until 2020, independent union organizing has been entirely illegal under the pretext of it “deterring foreign investors.” Only recently have the working class gained the right of independent unionizing after engaging in many wildcat strikes that were believed would have harmed the country if continued repeatedly.
(10) Is there much poverty and/or wealth inequality in Vietnam? If so, is much being done to resolve this?
Yes, there is a lot of poverty in Vietnam. Recent estimates back from 2016 state that the poverty level in Vietnam was around 6%. The population of Vietnam is 100,000,000, so that 6% would be roughly 6,000,000 people. Higher estimates state that this number is within the 9-10,000,000 range. This isn’t that much better than capitalist countries like America which have poverty numbers of 30,000,000. Keep in mind that the population of America is three times higher than that of Vietnam.
(11) There are many allegations of “sweatshops” existing in Vietnam. Are these allegations true?
Yes, there are sweatshops which exist in Vietnam. About 15 minutes away from me* there is a sweatshop which produces camo beanies which are sold in the “Academy” store in America. As mentioned in an earlier answer, there were many workers who expressed grievances from working in these sweatshops, but up until recently their cries were ignored in favour of the interests of foreign pigs.
(12) What parallels would you draw between the Irish national struggle and Vietnamese national struggle?
The parallels we can draw between the Irish national struggle and the previous Vietnamese national struggle is that both countries were completely screwed over by imperialism and colonialism and that partition occurred as an attempt to save what little land could be saved. In the case of Vietnam, the southern half was a puppet government which served the French and American imperialists. Whilst the southern half seemed as if it were independent, it was not and was completely controlled by the West. In the case of Ireland, the northern half is still part of the UK, but there is practically no material difference between being actually ran by imperialists or having the imperialists set up a puppet government to serve them.
(13) Can you give a brief Marxist view of modern Vietnamese history?
For thousands of years, Vietnam was able to successfully resist foreign invaders such as that of feudal China, and even the Mongols who for their time were almost unrivalled. In 1885, France successfully won against China in the Sino-French War and shortly after took Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia with it and formed “French Indochina.” Shortly after France was conquered by the Nazis, this left the French in control of Vietnam in a weak position. The Japanese took advantage of this and took Vietnam under their control. The Japanese stayed in Vietnam for a further 5 years, and during this time, Comrade Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam to rally the Vietnamese people for national liberation. Applying what he learned in the Soviet Union and China, he formed the “Vietnam Independence League” (Vietminh). With the help of the Americans, the Vietnamese Communists lead by Ho fought against the Japanese, and once Japan was defeated in WWII, cleaning them out of Vietnam was an easy task as they were in a weakened state.
In 1946, the French came back to Vietnam to attempt to regain their colony, but after 8 years of war waged against the French colonialists, Vietnam officially defeated France in 1954, and France signed a ceasefire and officially withdrew from Vietnam. However, the battle for independence and freedom was not yet over. After the France withdrew, a puppet government was established in the South with the promise of democratic elections later on to reunite the country. However, the US knew that if these elections were carried out, the Vietnamese masses would choose communism and thus because of JFK’s theory of the domino effect, the US refused to allow democratic elections and took an active part in suppressing reunification of the country based on what the Vietnamese masses desired.
The US’ military intervention in Vietnam increased drastically after the Gulk of Tonkin incident which the US claims was an “unprovoked” attack on the USS Maddox and Turner of Joy ships. Despite those on the ship eventually coming clean to President Johnson and admitting that there were no attacks, Johnson opportunistically pushed forward with the war and eventually over 200,000 American troops were deployed onto Vietnam which officially marked the beginning of the war. The Vietnamese people applied Mao’s theory of protracted people’s war to the war against the US and successfully waged a struggle that lasted roughly 16 years. On April 30, 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam rolled tanks into the Presidential Palace of Southern Vietnam which officially ended the war.
The US pulled its troops out shortly after as they realized that going up against the guerrilla warfare of the Vietnamese communists in a land that they were unfamiliar with was completely futile. At this time, homesickness was also getting to the troops and their effectiveness was declining exponentially. The country was officially reunified under the CPV. However, the post war era was not one of everyone enjoying socialism. Since Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, Le Duan who was an ardent revisionist took his place in the party. In 1986, Le Duan’s revisionist clique lead by General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, who was elected shortly after Le Duan’s death 5 months prior, launched “Doi Moi” after the 6th Congress which translates to “Renovation.” These series of reforms were very similar to Deng’s China, and pretty quickly, full on capitalist restoration had occurred. Modern Vietnam as exists today still holds onto this capitalist restoration as we’ve explained in earlier parts of this interview.
(14) Irish communists are currently grappling with the problem of partition. In a post-partition environment, is there still hostility between those living North and South of the former border in Vietnam? How can one resolve these differences?
In the case of Vietnam, the vast majority of the country wished to reunify under communism. This was one of the reasons that the US would not allow the country to engage in fair elections as they knew very well that it would result in communist reunification. Because of this, there is not much hostility between those living in the North & the South. The only Vietnamese currently antagonistic to Vietnam are those within the Vietnamese Diaspora who fled Vietnam after reunification. These Vietnamese are nostalgic to the days of when there was a puppet government within the south. However, most of these live abroad and are despised by the Vietnamese masses currently living within Vietnam.
Overall, the Vietnamese people live in great solidarity and collectively love their fatherland. In the case of Ireland’s Protestant north section, which we admit we are not too well informed on at the moment, showing antagonism after reunification, the best ways to deal with these hostilities is to engage in education and always avoid commandism and bureaucratism. In China, there were often those who supported the Hungarian fascist rebellion and advocated similar means to overthrow the Communist Party of China. Mao pointed out that in such a case, we should never resort to coercive measures to rectify such erroneous lines. Instead, we must use persuasion and education to convince the masses of people. To quote Chairman Mao,
“The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the democratic method, the method of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education, and not by the method of coercion or repression. To be able to carry on their production and studies effectively and to lead their lives in peace and order, the people want their government and those in charge of production and of cultural and educational organizations to issue appropriate administrative regulations of an obligatory nature. It is common sense that without them the maintenance of public order would be impossible. Administrative regulations and the method of persuasion and education complement each other in resolving contradictions among the people. In fact, administrative regulations for the maintenance of public order must be accompanied by persuasion and education, for in many cases regulations alone will not work.”
(15) Your government claims that Vietnam is a socialist country. What would you say to those here in the West who hold the view that it is/isn’t?
As we have stated earlier, we do not believe modern Vietnam is socialist. Full on capitalist restoration has occurred, and in many cases as pointed out earlier, the ruling CPV has capitulated to the interests of the foreign bourgeoisie in suppressing the working class. What sort of country is socialist when the workers fear to speak out against abuses in factory? What sort of country is socialist when there are over 6 million people below the poverty line? What sort of country is socialist when for the longest time, the simplest form of working class organization, unionizing, was strictly regulated, and those who defied these regulations and rallied the working class were all arrested and their organizations liquidated under the pretext of “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state”?
Such a society has a resemblance closer to fascism than socialism. For western comrades who believe Vietnam is socialist, we ask that they conduct further investigation of the country before settling on such a position. Throw out your preconceived notions and look at our situation objectively. For those who hold the same position as us, please also conduct further investigation of my country in order to sharpen your critiques. Either way, we wish both types of comrades the best of luck in their future struggles.
(16) What final advice would you give to Irish comrades?
Our final advice to Irish comrades is to continually grow as a communist. By this we mean to avoid liberal mentality such as selfishness, hostility to comrades, gossiping, etc. For a good list of things to avoid, we suggest reading Mao’s work called “Combat Liberalism” which is a great guideline on things principled communists should avoid. Another thing I suggest is applying the strategy of unity – struggle – unity which is the best method of coming to correct conclusions in debate. Always enter into a struggle in unity with the intention of concluding it in unity. Be patient with comrades who hold onto incorrect lines and work with them in a way that avoids arrogance and commandism.
As humans, we are prone to adherence to incorrect views, and we must remember that this will happen to anyone. We know that we are reiterating, but we must always avoid liberalism. Never enter into a debate with the liberal mentality of embarrassing your opponent and to raise your appearance to that above the masses and above your comrades. As dialectical materialists, we understand that there is a unity of opposites and that struggle must be resolved in a way which produces fruit. Never be afraid to be wrong on a certain thing. If you are wrong on something or see someone engaging in erroneous behaviours, always be willing to self-criticize and criticize with the intent of unity.
As a final word in this section, remember to always be willing to make sacrifices for your freedom. Commit yourself fully to your struggle and remember that these sacrifices will contribute to achieving freedom. Always remember to connect with the broad masses of people and engage in patiently with them when struggling. As communists, we will face a hard road ahead of us, and we must never lose sight of the end goal. In order to achieve this goal, we must reiterate that we must wage the most painful struggle.
*This personal example has been provided by one comrade and does not apply to both.