Vietnam: Miscarriage of the Revolution

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5. Socialist Construction and the Class Struggle
The revisionist tendencies that existed in the Vietnam Workers’ Party throughout its history came to full bloom after the defeat of the U.S. and the reunification of the country. They were concentrated in its line on socialist construction and the class struggle under socialism. To some extent the outlook and line which the Vietnamese leaders are now openly applying to their version of socialist construction was obscured, at least for a time, by certain necessities they faced in the struggle against the U.S. However, countless examples can be cited to show that before and during the war, their view of how to proceed with the development of the economy was essentially bourgeois and revisionist. Typical is the speech delivered by Le Duan at the Second National Congress of the Vietnam Federation of Trade Unions in 1961:
“In the last analysis, the wealth accumulated comes from productive labor. With our manual labor, backward technique and low productivity we cannot accumulate and concentrate big funds for socialist industrialization. For that reason, we have now no other way than relying ourselves on the peoples’ revolutionary movement, and on the enthusiastic efforts of the entire people in working to increase productivity through improvement of organization of labor and of technique, making full use of the possibilities existing in production, at the same time efforts must be made to practice strict economy, resolutely to fight waste and corruption, to make use of manpower, materials and finance in the most rational way so as to be able to concentrate the necessary funds for socialist industrialization. Only by accumulating capital can we gradually endow the national economy with new technique and replace the backward manual labor by modern mechanization having a high productivity which will enable us to make bigger accumulations for the acceleration of the industrialization of our country.”78 (our emphasis)
The most striking thing about this quote is that even when the author speaks of the need to mobilize the masses, he says this is because of Vietnam’s current “backward technique and low productivity.” Just as was the case with their mobilization of the masses for the military struggle, mobilizing people was not seen by the Vietnamese leaders as an essential requirement, but as something that had to be done because of the conditions, almost a necessary evil (“we now have no other way”!). And in talking about relying on the revolutionary movement he does not mention politically unleashing the initiative of the masses or relying on their conscious activism. Rather he emphasizes increasing productivity through “improvement of organization of labor and of technique.” With this kind of line in command, the accumulation Le Duan speaks of can only take place on a capitalist basis.
Fifteen years later, in his Political Report for the Central Committee to the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Le Duan made the same point:
“In the final analysis, the decisive factor for the success of the process of advancing to large-scale socialist production is the constant increase of social labour productivity, economic efficiency and the quality of production.79
The terminology is somewhat changed, but the essence is not much different from what can be found in any National Association of Manufacturers manual on increasing labor productivity.
With this kind of view, the “enthusiastic efforts of the entire people” to raise productivity become just another factor in developing production—like a lump of coal, a draught animal or a well-oiled piece of machinery. If this is the view of the role of the masses in the process of production (and it is), it is not hard to see the role the masses will be allotted in the actual running of society as a whole.
How do the Vietnamese leaders see getting from their current level of small-scale production to their vision of socialism, i.e. large scale industrialized production? The answer lies in planning and in giving full play to the law of value. As Le Duan puts it:
“Large-scale socialist production can only take shape through conscious and planned construction. Therefore the plan is the main instrument to manage and direct the process of advancing from small-scale production to large-scale socialist production.... what we must first of all care for and attach importance to is the use-value of the products.... we must use every means available to create an ever bigger volume of use-values with ever higher quality. In particular, we must work out efficient plans in all fields on the basis of which to mobilize our most valuable and abundant asset at present which is the work force, and to organize the whole country into a construction site.... On the other hand, we must attach importance to value and the law of value which still exist objectively in socialist society; we must make flexible use of the law of value and many other economic levers to strengthen economic and financial management, encourage labour and promote the increase of labour productivity, reduce the consumption of labour, materials and equipment per unit of product, and ensure the production of the most use-values with the lowest expenditures. In this spirit, we must make proper use of the market, prices, wages and credit to improve the quality of the plan, better serve the working out and implementation of the plan, and in proper measure to complement the plan.”80
Again, we see the classic eclecticism of the Vietnamese leaders in practice. Le Duan recognizes the two-fold nature of commodities—of having use-value and exchange-value—and even gives lip service to the production of use-value being principal in building a socialist economy. But nowhere does he point out that use-value and exchange-value comprise a contradiction inherent in the nature of a commodity, which carries within it the seeds of classes, exploitation and capitalism as Marx so brilliantly analyzes in Capital. He does not say that commodity production itself, and the law of value which is inherent in it, are bourgeois categories which must be steadily restricted and eventually eliminated to advance to communism. Rather, Le Duan presents a picture of socialist planning based on the needs of society (the production of use-value) existing harmoniously with the commodity production and the law of value. Of course he speaks of planning, but the question of planning on what basis must be asked.
Nowhere is to be found anything about restricting the area of operation of the law of value and the other remnants of capitalist society that continue to exist after the system of ownership has been changed. Instead, along with the constant re-emphasis that “we must attach importance to the organization and management of labour” is the refrain that “wages must be closely connected with labour productivity and have a stimulating effect on production and technical progress in conformity with the characteristics of each branch of trade.”81 In fact, what receives emphasis is just the opposite:
“At present we should strive to improve the wages system in order to reflect more fully the principle of distribution according to labour, viz., more work, more pay, less work, less pay, no pay for those who can but do not work; jobs which require high technical skill, heavy or unwholesome jobs, and work in regions where natural conditions are difficult must be duly remunerated.”82
In the course of the struggle to build the socialist system as a transition to communism and to prevent capitalist restoration, Mao, while making clear that the principle of distribution under socialism was “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” made clear where the untrammeled bowing to this principle would lead:
“In a word, China is a socialist country. Before liberation she was much the same as a capitalist country. Even now she practices an eight-grade wage system, distribution according to work and exchange through money, and in all this differs very little from the old society.... Our country at present practices a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat such things can only be restricted. Therefore if people like Lin Piao come to power, it will be quite easy for them to rig up the capitalist system...”83
The difference in Vietnam was that people like Lin Piao were in power.
Like Teng Hsiao-ping and the other capitalist roaders in China, the Vietnamese leaders also give particular emphasis to the role of the central bank and other financial institutions in promoting and evaluating the efficiency and productivity of labor:
“Besides, the financial and banking services must through their activities strengthen their control and supervision over the various branches, regions and production units.”84
But while underscoring the need to “bring into play the law of value” (as if it didn’t happen spontaneously), “practice cost accounting and use the levers of prices, profit, wages and credit,” Le Duan cautions that “we should not view profits and losses with the petty mind of the small individual producer.” No, it is necessary to think big, to view things like a growing, ambitious, big bourgeois:
“In our present conditions, the greatest profit lies in expanding production, multiplying branches and trades, increasing the quantity of products, and raising labour productivity in each branch and in the whole of our national economy. Only on that basis [!] can we speak of profits and reconcile profit- making with the socialist nature of our economy.”85
The Vietnamese leaders have found themselves in a dilemma. They recognize the backwardness of the economic forces and want to do something about it. But like a bourgeoisie anywhere, they don’t see the creative power of the working class and the masses as fundamental to the only road forward for the development of society on a new basis. Instead they see the development of technology and modern industry as the fundamental way out, and the unrestricted implementation of capitalist methods and principles (in the form of state ownership) as the best means of achieving their goals. But this, despite all their fine phrases, can only lead to new exploitation of the masses, and in Vietnam’s condition of underdevelopment, to dependency and subjugation to imperialism.
Their view on the centrality of technology, as opposed to the transformation of the relations of production and the role of the masses of people, is seen in their often repeated concept of the “three revolutions”: “the revolution in relations of production, the scientific and technological revolution, and the ideological and cultural revolution, of which the scientific and technological revolution is the kingpin.”86 Believe it or not, this formulation of the “three revolutions”—including the singling out of the technological revolution as the key link-was decided upon as early as 1970, before the end of the war with the U.S. and when to talk of anything other than the seizure of nationwide political power as being central was the height of absurdity (and revisionism). The relationship between their view of the task of building and modernizing the economic base and revolutionizing the superstructure, and what they see as waging the “class struggle” to prevent the emergence and dominance of the forces of capitalism, is brought out particularly sharply when Le Duan defines this triple revolution in relation to the dictatorship of the proletariat:
“… we in the North have invested the people’s democratic State with the historic role of the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to move the North forward to a transition to socialism through the simultaneous accomplishment of a triple revolution: revolution in production relations, technical revolution, and ideological and cultural revolution, with the technical revolution as the keystone.”87
The path now being followed by the Vietnamese is the well-worn rut made by the revisionists in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and they are running down it in the company of the new rulers in China. In the Soviet Union in the ’20s and ’30s there were those, like Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who argued that it was impossible to move to socialist construction because the country was still economically and technologically too backward. The later Soviet revisionists, led by Khrushchev, and their followers, including the Vietnamese, add a twist to this “theory of the productive forces,” arguing that the main task under socialism is the development of the productive forces, science and technology. Coupled with their theory of the dying out of the class struggle under socialism, what this means is that the path to building socialist society and moving to communism equals the development of large scale “socialist” industry. The Vietnamese are quite as open about all this, stating that socialist industrialization is the central task of the whole period of “transition to socialism.”88 (It is important to note that when the Vietnamese talk about revolution in the relations of production, the questions of ownership and the relations between people in the productive process or in distribution receive lip service at best.)
To bolster their line, the Vietnamese leaders are fond of quoting Lenin’s statement that “communism equals Soviet power plus electrification.” For the revisionists, “Soviet power” means public ownership of the means of production. This particular formulation of Lenin’s is at best one-sided and incomplete and reveals the circumstances in which it was said—when socialist construction in the USSR was only beginning. But in the hands of these fellows it becomes a formula for capitalist development.
But what about the class struggle? If “socialist” industrialization is the central task, what happens to the struggle to carry through the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat? The Vietnamese formulation of their central task is very similar to that of Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao and other revisionists, that the principal contradiction in China was “between the advanced socialist system and the backward productive forces.” According to the Chinese revisionists, once socialist relations had been in the main established through the elimination of private ownership of the means of production, the key thing was not the class struggle but concentrating on raising the level of technological and economic development of the country. (The same argument was made by Hua Kuo-feng at the recent Fifth National People’s Congress meeting in China.) In opposition to this, as early as 1957, Mao stated that even after the establishment of socialist ownership,
“Class struggle is by no means over. The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the class struggle between the various political forces, and the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the ideological field will still be protracted and tortuous and at times even very sharp. The proletariat seeks to transform the world according to its own world outlook, and so does the bourgeoisie. In this respect, the question of which will win out, socialism or capitalism, is not really settled yet.”89
Mao’s famous rejoinder to Teng Hsiao-ping in 1975 would read as well directed against the Vietnamese leadership and their “three revolutions”: “What! ‘Take the three directives as the key link!’… Class struggle is the key link and everything else hinges on it.”
The Vietnamese pay lip service to this question: “The dictatorship of the proletariat in any country has to solve this question: ‘Which wins?—capitalism or socialism?’” They make a distinction, however, between the task of the dictatorship of the proletariat in developed capitalist countries and in underdeveloped, agricultural countries like their own:
“In developed capitalist countries the bourgeoisie is a big foe; capitalism consists of a system of production relations covering all fields of the national economy and a colossal superstructure at the service of that regime of oppression and exploitation. That is why after the seizure of power and the setting up of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and other reactionary forces continues with unabated fierceness in various forms, ‘bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative’, in order to build socialism.... In countries advancing to socialism without passing through the stage of capitalist development [like Vietnam—Revolution], one has to abolish the capitalist economic sector and all other forms of exploitation, stem the trend of small production towards spontaneous capitalist development, smash all attempts by hostile elements to raise their heads, ensure order and security and strengthen the national defense potential... However, class struggle is not confined to these tasks. To gain a radical victory over the bourgeoisie and other reactionary forces, to build socialism and communism successfully ... the expropriation of the exploiting classes cannot by itself create a material and technical basis for socialism, nor can the suppression of counter-revolutionary forces in itself ensure success for socialism. The basic problem here is to convert small individual production into large-scale socialist production and build almost from scratch the whole material and technical basis, the economic foundation and the superstructure of a socialist country by simultaneously carrying out a triple revolution...”90
And of course the most important revolution is in science and technology. What other point is Le Duan making here except that, while in developed capitalist countries it might be necessary to wage protracted class struggle, particularly in the superstructure, in countries like Vietnam the content of the class struggle and the task of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to do away with private ownership of the means of production and move from small scale to large-scale, industrialized production?
As for the enemy in the class struggle, and the target of the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, this is described almost exclusively in terms of external elements, “imperialism and the reactionary and bellicose forces.” In the south, for example, the exploiting classes who still remained intact, the poison of the enslaving culture and the social evils caused by the U.S. neo-colonialists, along with the influence of openly bourgeois ideology still rampant after the U.S. withdrawal are targeted. But in terms of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois elements constantly regenerated in the course of and within the revolution and socialist construction, that is dismissed by saying that since the material basis for it is small-scale production, it is something that will be eliminated in the transformation into large-scale industrialized production. At most one should be on guard against the petty-producer mentality.
Once again their view of the role of the party is illustrative of their bourgeois outlook. The party, says Le Duan, has at its disposal the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, an extremely powerful instrument for suppressing all opposition from hostile forces, but “and this is the most important aspect—for mobilizing and organizing the people for socialist construction and participation in the management of all spheres of social life.”91 Once more the party’s role is described principally as organizational. And wherein lies the strength of the party? In its political and ideological line? No.
“Indeed the strength and fighting capacity of a party in power lies in the efficiency and vigour of the State apparatus under its leadership. Being the brains of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the party cannot slacken its leadership over government organs… To increase the Party’s organizational ability, one must first of all raise its capacity to lead and utilize the machinery of the State, with all its specialized, professional and technical agencies for directing economic and cultural construction and meeting the people’s needs in conformity with the Party’s line and policies.”92
And what qualities are most essential for a party member?
“… the best organizer, one with a mastery of the science and art of organization, is one who goes about his organizational work in a flexible way and responds to new happenings with timely changes in his own system of organization and mode of action.”93
And what is it that the party lacks most? “Knowledge in economics, science and technique, and organizational and managerial abilities.”94 It is no wonder they could not see that the main danger can come from within the party itself!
In all their talk of organization, technique, rapid industrialization, etc., the Vietnamese party does manage to come up with a few key formulations about the masses as the masters and rulers of society.
“To hold firmly to proletarian dictatorship means to firmly grasp the Party line, strengthen the leadership of the working class, exercise and enhance the right to collective mastery of the working people…”95
But what exactly is the content and what are the forms of this collective mastery? According to Le Duan’s Political Report to the Fourth Congress it means several things. Politically it means “firm defense of socialism and the firm defense of the socialist motherland along with socialist construction ... [It] involves both duties and rights ... [such as] the citizen’s rights and individual freedom ... [and] duty to work, the duty to defend the motherland, the duty to respect and defend socialist property, respect the rules of collective life, etc.” Economically collective mastery “… includes collective mastery of the main means of production of society, [i.e., public ownership], collective mastery over the organization and management of production and in the domain of distribution.”96 This rather vague formulation is given a bit more concreteness when the Political Report later goes on to emphasize that:
“We must select and promote outstanding working people to managerial positions, give attention to their training and fostering in economics, science, techniques and managerial work.”97
This Report greatly downplays the whole concept of revolutionizing the relations of production, and instead sees the promotion of individuals from the working people into managerial and professional positions as somehow ensuring the “collective mastery” of the working people. Actually, it’s much more a formula for a new elite. With this kind of line it is not surprising at all the hostility exhibited by the Vietnamese leadership toward the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966.
During the long course of the Vietnamese revolution the revolutionary line represented and developed by Mao Tsetung certainly had some impact in the Vietnam Workers’ Party, but it never held dominant sway. But while opportunism and the necessities of the war against the French and the U.S. imperialists forced them to tip their hats to Mao, it was with the revisionist elements in the Chinese party that the Vietnamese leadership had the closest unity.
In an interview in the Manchester Guardian two years ago, Hoang Tung, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Vietnam and editor of the Party daily newspaper Nham Dan, provided a glaring self-exposure of the line held among VWP leaders toward the Cultural Revolution:
“After 1967-68 and the Cultural Revolution, we no longer looked on the Chinese leaders who succeeded one another in the long power struggle as socialists. The period of 1949-1966 saw the victory of communism. Since then it’s been something else entirely. The Chinese Communist Party was destroyed along with the dictatorship of the proletariat. And 1966 marked the beginning of the decay of socialism ... Non-socialists have eliminated the outstanding militants. Those who fought against Mao after 1966 were in general the best of the lot.”98
And the line of the Vietnamese party leaves no doubt why they looked at the Cultural Revolution with such hostility. Here was the revolutionary proletariat in China engaged in a life or death struggle, deepening and broadening its dictatorship over the bourgeoisie and making an earth-shaking and historic breakthrough for the international working class. Here were revolutionaries under Mao’s leadership developing, as Mao said, the form and method to wage mass revolutionary struggle against the return to the enslavement of the masses by the chains of capital, and leading the masses to push society forward, closer to the goal of the complete destruction of the system of exploitation of man by man.
But for the Vietnamese leaders this sight was terrifying. It was a complete repudiation, not only of their revisionist line on building “socialism,” but their whole outlook of wanting to use the revolutionary struggle of the masses to come to power, and then demand that the revolution cease and the people get back to work. The Cultural Revolution stood as a direct threat to their own position of developing as a new class of exploiters in Vietnam. If today the Vietnamese rulers are locked in battle with some of the same revisionists they earlier supported (such as Teng), it is only over conflicting bourgeois interests. The “best of the lot” that fought against Mao were truly their class brothers.
The similarities between the formulations and goals of the revolution put forward by the Vietnamese leadership and the Chinese revisionists are remarkable, if not surprising. In both cases the role of the party is seen as principally organization, in both cases the emphasis is on managerial efficiency and technique, in both cases the concept of “grasp revolution, promote production” is reduced to “promote production” and the role of the masses to promoters of production. The forms of working class rule are bastardized to mean putting selected workers in positions of management and the operation of the capitalist law of value is given full play as the regulator and stimulator of production. Not surprisingly, both set similar timetables for their bourgeois dreams of turning their countries into modern, industrialized nations. According to the Vietnamese “It is our aim that the process of taking the economy of our country from small production to large-scale socialist production shall be largely completed within about twenty years.”99
But not only is the formulation that “it is of decisive importance to carry out socialist industrialization, the central task of the whole period of transition to socialism” thoroughly revisionist, it will only lead to binding the Vietnamese people in new chains of neocolonialism. It will lead to distortion and dislocation of the economy and further dependence on imperialism. This can be seen from just looking at the initial implementation of the Five-Year Plan announced at the Fourth Party Congress.
The realization of the plan is admittedly largely dependent on grants and loans from other countries, principally the Soviet bloc. It would be logical to assume, given Le Duan’s definition of the relation between industry and agriculture, and the dire conditions of agricultural production after the war, that a great deal of emphasis would be placed on the development of agriculture, particularly food crops. But heavy industry was not only seen as the key link in the development of the economy overall and in the long run, it was to receive the main emphasis right away. This would mean rapid expansion of imports of heavy machinery and technology from the Soviets and Eastern Europe—and anywhere else they could get it—and Soviet bloc aid under the Five-Year Plan, slated to be more than three billion dollars, mostly in long-term loans, is earmarked for industry.”100 In order to pay for these imports, the Vietnamese began to orient production toward export goods to the Soviet bloc, mainly coal, fruit and vegetables, and cash crops like cotton, coffee and rubber. An editorial in the August 1978 issue of the party newspaper, Nham Dan attempted to put the best face on this by expressing the hope that the relationship with COMECON “will help in better exploitation of natural resources” and “speed up socialist industrialization.”101
But at the same time, bending to the Soviets’ “international division of labor” line for the exploitation of its satellites, the editorial spoke of Vietnam’s “obligations for international cooperation and distribution of work.”102 The quotas for the COMECON countries are set, of course, by the Soviet Union. This was not the first time the Vietnamese leadership had bowed to the Soviet conception of “international division of labor.” In 1973 Le Duan asserted that “At present, when productive forces have grown beyond national boundaries, social labour should be distributed not only within the framework of individual nations but also to a certain extent on an international scale.”103 But as events have shown, the Vietnamese also intend to be on the receiving side of the benefits of this theory. Like the Soviets, they are not adverse to applying pressure, military when necessary, to enforce this division of labor on weaker countries. A rice surplus sent back from occupied Kampuchea will certainly help alleviate the food crunch at home.
Undoubtedly, however, Vietnam’s mobilization for war on Kampuchea and the cost of trying to fight its way out of the quagmire it has become enmeshed in there, along with the mobilization against China’s continued threat of future invasion, has wreaked havoc with all their grand schemes and dubious proposals for economic development, driving Vietnam further into hock to the Soviet Union.
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