The path to socialism and continued reform of theory on socialist construction in Vietnam – 30 years of renewal under review

The reality in Vietnam over the past 85 years, particularly 30 years of implementing the renewal towards socialism under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, has persuasively shown that Marxism-Leninism only mapped out the general characteristics of a future socialism. It failed to map out a detailed path to socialism for nations, including Vietnam, a relatively backward nation in the East.

Goal and model of Vietnam’s socialist path

The search for, exploration of, and mapping out of a socialist path is always difficult, but for Vietnam, it is much more difficult because the country itself has to find the way out with regard to its own specific conditions.

Reviewing Vietnam’s socialist path over the past 30 years of renewal, a number of prominent characteristics are clear:

The goal of a socialist path:

To develop pragmatically, dialectically and unanimously from building an “independent, unified, democratic, free and prosperous Vietnam” towards Socialism through a “rich people, strong country, fair, democratic and civilized society” to a “Rich people, strong, democratic and civilized country”.

Model of socialist path:

Politically: Reforming the theoretical and practical perception of the Party’s leadership of the revolution towards a ruling Party holding a pivotal position in the renewal process, under the condition of a socialist law-governed State of the people, by the people and for the people, developing the socialist-oriented market economy, international integration; reforming the organization, apparatus and operational mode of the State from the administrative structure, focusing on building a socialist law-governed State of the people, by the people and for the people; building and developing a national political system…

Economically: Fully shifting a concentrated, bureaucratic, subsidized and close economy into a market socialist-oriented economy with international integration. This is an overall economic model, a key task of the whole transitional process towards socialism, and a pillar of the renewal process.

Socially: From developing Vietnamese society based on strong solidarity between the working class, the peasant class and intellectuals with the working class being the core force towards harmonious, firm and sustainable development on the basis of national solidarity.

Diplomatically: From wishing to and then befriending all countries in the world to proactively integrating into the world; from international economic integration to proactive international integration

Characteristics of Vietnam’s socialist path

Major characteristics are as follows:

1- The socialist path in Vietnam is a path of social development, which is a shortcut, dialectical, short-term, historical, specific and in line with the law

In the history of the modern world, the shortcut development path has been implemented by many nations. But Vietnam’s version is unique and different from other socialist countries. In its brief political platform (February 1930) the Communist Party of Vietnam made clear its intention of conducting a bourgeois civil rights revolution and land revolution to advance towards socialism; in its Political Thesis dated October 1930, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s stated goal was to: Conduct the bourgeois civil rights revolution led by the working class, advance on a proletarian revolutionary path, skip the period of Capitalism and advance to socialism. In the 2nd National Congress (February 1951), the Communist Party of Vietnam reiterated: The Vietnamese revolution’s development process is a process from a colonized, semi-feudal society through a period as a democratic society towards a socialist society… In its Platform on national construction from the transitional period to socialism (1991, supplements and amendments in 2011), the Communist Party of Vietnam repeated: Vietnam is advancing towards socialism without passing through a capitalist phase from a colonized, semi-feudal society with low productive forces. It is worth noting that through 6 Congresses since the 6th Congress, the Communist Party of Vietnam, with its spirit of renewal, dialectically dealt with the shortened period of development and historical-natural development. In any historical period, the Communist Party of Vietnam never accepts the development of capitalism in Vietnam; i.e. “skipping” capitalism is interpreted as “skipping” a capitalist political regime, instead of “skipping” the achievements of human civilization created or used by capitalism (the developmental level of productive forces, science and technology and state and social governance…). It is the dialectics of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s “skipping” method. However, the party is cautious about the risk of voluntarism and unlawful “shortcut development” which may contradict the historical-natural development process.

2- The socialist path in Vietnam stems from Vietnam’s reality and contains Vietnamese characteristics on the basis of the country’s independent development of Marxism-Leninist thought

Reality shows that the party has creative ideas and is successful whenever it maintains and promotes self-origination and self-determination in earnest. In any historical circumstances, we never diverge from Marxist-Leninist principles and Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts, never derail socialism or deny the old ways, and respecting, preserving and celebrating previous achievements without denying everything. This means “strictly implementing principles and taking steps suited to the country’s real situation…”

Generally, Vietnam’s development path to socialism respects the historical-natural development process and strongly upholds inner and outer strengths. On this path, the Communist Party of Vietnam bears in mind that “in the current international situation, national characteristics and the specific conditions of each country are becoming more important in policy making for every communist party and workers’ party… For example, the Vietnamese nation should set out its own methods and measures”. Therefore, the path to socialism should encompass many parts and each part includes many small transitional steps and any guidelines and policies should take into account each step‘s specific tasks.

At the 11th Congress on the basis of socialist orientation, the country’s real strength and the era’s trends, the Communist Party of Vietnam accumulated and enriched the connotation of socialism, mapped out plans suitable to the roadmap and pace of advancing to socialism under the motto self-originating, era-matching, non-subjectiveness, non-illusion and non-anxiety. “This demonstrates that Vietnam clearly defined the path of socialism renovation that should be passed through”(2).

3- The socialist path in Vietnam is a part and concrete manifestation of today’s inevitable development trend – the transition from capitalism to socialism

It can be said that human evolution is inevitably advancing towards socialism. Comrade A.Bri (Germany) said: We believe that the socialist option is not outdated and inevitable. As comrade F. Teixeira (Portugal) affirmed: “…Because the socialist path is a legacy that inspires anybody who is fighting for national and social liberation”. The socialist path, as chosen and mapped out by the Communist Party and people of Vietnam, is aimed at nothing, but this noble goal, and matches the inevitability of human evolution. This is “strings attached” between Vietnam and the progressive world’s struggle; and “the fact that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s pursuance of the socialist-oriented path in the wake of the Europe’s socialist collapse creates optimism and confidence”(3).

Over the past 85 years of leading the Vietnamese revolution, including 30 years of renewal, the Communist Party of Vietnam has constantly sought to define more clearly, concretely and correctly the path to socialism in Vietnam: “The path to socialism in Vietnam is defined more clearly”; supplemented and fine-tuned in a suitable and effective manner… This has “helped the Vietnamese revolution to escape from the era’s storms, as a US daily said, and recorded great historical achievements, steered the country into a period of strengthened industrialization and modernization, and proactive international integration. Vietnam has broken the siege of embargo, overcome socio-economic crises and established diplomatic ties with more than 170 countries and territories. “This is paving the way for a socialist, prosperous and modern Vietnam”, confirming the great and dynamic potential of socialism under the renewal conditions: providing an example and precious lesson to less developed countries in choosing the path to prosperity……”(4). Generally speaking, similarities between socialist goals and the path to socialism is a demand and decides the developmental trend of socialism in Vietnam.

Continued theoretical and practical studies on Vietnam’s socialism and socialist path

In a series of theoretical-practical urgent issues, there are two major points: first, the continuation of reform from a traditional awareness of capitalism to an updated awareness; and second, amending the awareness of socialism from theory to reality.

1- Continue to reform awareness of contemporary capitalism from the perspective of its “temporary greatness and inevitability”

We are living a turning-point period full of challenges regarding shortcuts and short-term developments facing the world. This turning-point shows that the decades-long contemplation on modern capitalism has proved to be unsuitable. Its simple assessment as understood in the early 20th century has caused great despair. So, it requires full and clear studies of the reasons why capitalism remains vital. We seem to forget K. Marx’s view and his advice: When viewing a capitalist society, it’s necessary to “understand its temporary greatness and inevitability”. Later on, V.I. Lenin delivered a similar warning because he never considered its crisis as stagnation: “It’s a mistake if we consider the trend to deterioration removes the rapid development of capitalism… Generally, capitalism develops much rapidly than previously”(5). Lenin strongly criticized those who limit themselves because they only see capitalism versus capitalism, do not want and do not apply its achievements in building a new society.

Left-wing dogmatism rigidly separates capitalism and socialism and only sees their opposite aspects. Meanwhile, “communism is something that develops from capitalism”. This is the logic of integrity and interdependence between different social forms in a modern world. Of-course, this doesn’t mean that this interdependence will end all struggles; contrarily, the struggles will be more complex, diverse, multi-level and aggressive. Therefore, the studies of interactions between socio-economic forms, their movements, struggles and their development under the framework of the world’s integrity and unity are becoming an issue of fundamental methodological significance in the ongoing studies of socialism.

While establishing views on early 19th century socialism, it’s necessary to reflect not only on the opposite aspects, but also on the indispensable relations and dialectical inheritance between socio-economic forms. This has become increasingly suitable to historical reality because of the opposite aspects of dialectical contradictions which are included in both interexclusion and interpenetration. Socialism and capitalism interrelate and their factors shape the contemporary world, but these socio-economic forms are both interexclusive and interpenetrative. Because the society mentioned here is not a communist society developed on its own basis, but is the society which has just been born from a capitalist society in all aspects of economics, aesthetics and spirit, and still bears the flaws of the society from which it is was born, as K. Marx put it. During the formation and development of a socialist society, it’s impossible to undervalue the self-conscious combination of their opposite aspects in a dialectical way.

Many consider this argument as “strange” and “absurd”. But they were issues that K. Marx and F. Engels did not mention fully and thoroughly, because until then “no book had touched upon capitalism under the communist regime. Even Marx did not write a word on these issues and he died without leaving a clear word or a definite instruction on them. That’s why we now have to find a way out for ourselves”(6). However, K. Marx provided us with a greater understanding as he analyzed “capitalist society and capitalist progresses”. Socialism can only be successfully if the best achievements of human beings are accumulated and developed. This is the dialectical development of socialism. This is also our responsibility and our demand for development in today’s international integration.

  1. Continue to develop Vietnam’s socialist path

If the studies of the law on interactions between socio-economic forms, their movements and development under the framework of the relatively perfect whole of the world should be the first fundamental issue, another important aspect is to concentrate on clarifying socialism in terms of theoretical and practical aspects. After nearly a century, we still do not yet know, and cannot tell, what socialism will look like when it reaches its perfect form because we have not had any clear interpretation of socialism.

The development of scientific socialism itself was an open and revolutionary science, particularly in the early 21st century, when the rise and fall of socialism spread widely and in many ways, challenging its existence, as scholars failed to work out a complete model of a socialist society, and only outlined some of its typical characteristics. As a result, the innovative path of socialism has widened to all countries and nations at various levels. Pursuing the socialist path while identifying the new form and quality of socialism requires us to “be fully aware of the undeniable truth that Marxists should pay attention to a vibrant life, to accurate truth of reality, instead of sticking to yesterday’s theory,…only mapping out fundamental, general aspects, and being about to almost understand to the complexity of life”(7). Moreover, the reality of socialist development in Europe, the East and Latin America… has raised many new issues that contemporary Marxist scholars fail to recognize. So, loyalty and creativity are a vital lesson and a test of gold for Marxists on the path to liberate, search, realize and develop scientific socialism.

All these will lead to the following 5 major positions:

First: the construction of socialism is a long historical and complicated process which may experience temporary failures. This should be emphasized to overcome pessimism, unfounded optimism or dogmatism in studies and practical activities. It took capitalism nearly a hundred years to take shape and develop as it is now. Can socialism, a higher-level social form than capitalism, carry out its tasks over the course of dozens of years? Of course not. We are witnessing capitalist globalization, why don’t we raise the issue of socialist globalization in the future? It Is not an illusory idea, the horizons of revolutionary creativity and science are opening wider than ever before.

For us, the endurance and complexity of socialist construction lie in its basic goals. These characteristics are governed by a series of other aspects, in that the starting point of our country (and other countries) moves towards socialism is low, maybe even too low, so that it may take more than a decade to correct any mistakes. The lessons on illusion or dogmatism are always valuable, not to mention the need to “try”, “do again and again”, and to cross hundreds of “small bridges” and thousands of intermediary, transitional steps. President Ho Chi Minh said “socialism needs measures in addition to directions and has “goals” and “method”… Here, the connection between the inevitable and the possible is hotly debated.

Second, it becomes more urgent to continue studying and clarifying the common and the personal, the popular and the specific in socialist construction. Specifically, the issue of unity and diversity has attracted particular attention from researchers and organizers of socialist construction.

This means it’s necessary to boost the independent and creative development of Marxism-Leninism in each country. Socialist countries have common goals, but the paths through which these countries reach these goals are not necessarily similar, because each path should match the historical, economic and social conditions of each country. That’s our motto of action.

We used to underline unity and undervalue diversification. In addition to standardizing orientation-related common laws, it’s important to mention and establish concrete “countenance” and “uniqueness” with qualitative understanding, quantitativeness and the shape of reality. Today, we do not and cannot know how many suppressed nations will need real subdivision to contribute to the diverse forms of a democratic regime and of a transitional step to socialism”(8). Because “the class struggle in the East is different from the West…”, “we can go other ways to advance to socialism” as President Ho Chi Minh said. But what does it look like? Does the Vietnam socialist model with its 6 specific characteristics (in 1991) and 8 specific characteristics (in 2011) fully match reality? What needs supplementing when the country and the world are changing? What will the path and roadmap be like and what are the steps and pace on that path? These are large but, fundamental questions that must be addressed.

Third, one of the most important premises to turn socialism from an ideal into reality is to develop a dynamic and modern economy and establish a suitable political entity. This is an immediate goal of socialism. In this aspect, both theory and reality urgently require the settlement of a series of problems: What is a socialist-oriented market economy? How to fine-tune it? How to operate it? How does the State manage it? What is the form of the Party’s leadership under these conditions? What does a socialist state governed by law look like? How to organize and operate it? What about economic independence, the preservation of national cultural identity and international integration? What are our perceptions of universal values and how do we use capitalist values in the service of socialism?

In perceiving socialism, if we only stick to a method of placing socialism and capitalism in contrast, it will be a great failure, or at least we dry up socialism, isolate ourselves and finally fall into metaphysics or mechanistic thinking. This means we cannot see a fully worked-out form of socialism only by understanding socialism and capitalism in terms of contrasts, or by learning quotations from classical works or the reality of socialist construction over the past decades. It’s important to apply dialectical materialism to studies on the basis of our country’s specific historical conditions, and the current era’s developments, to understand the typical features and models of socialism, and to find a viable system of solutions for socialist construction and national defense.

Nowadays, with the booming scientific technological revolution and as the development of knowledge-based economies and globalization has drastically changed the world, developing socialist theory has become an urgent task.

Fourth, people should be at the center of socialist construction. This is the cause of the most central and highest developments in the 21st century. People are the subject, momentum and centre of socialism, therefore what are necessary and sufficient conditions to make sure that the people will successfully fulfill their roles? This is the goal, nature and absolute competitive advantage of socialism: everything from the people, by the people, for the people and belongs to the people. Generally, in Vietnamese socialism, development should have the people at the center, for the people and towards the people; instead of people placing development at the center as some perceive and behave. In other words anthropology, whose central character is the people, should be central to theory and the realistic development of socialism. That’s the decisive factor.

Fifth, the issue of strong and sustainable development. This is the inevitable socialist development trend at present and for the future. In a broader sense, it is the establishment of a culture of socialist sustainable development. How have the three pillars of the current renewal process upheld their strengths? Is the situation all it should be? What are the new issues that need to be supplemented and fine-tuned? We can mention four or five pillars of theory on renewal after 30 years, and the vision until 2045 when Vietnam marks the 100th Independence Day under the socialist flag; what are the issues that need to supplemented to realize the goal of a socialist-oriented industrialized, modern country by the middle of the 21st century?(9). And what other questions lie around this issue? There’s a perfect whole consisting of the 5 pillars of the renewal process: Socialist-oriented market economy – Law-governed socialist State of the people, by the people, for the people – Building the Party to historical levels – Building a sustainable natural ecological environment on the foundation of national unity and international integration. Is the strategic goal, comprised of the 9 factors – a Rich people, strong country, democracy, fairness, civilization, harmonious, strong, and sustainable development – keeping pace with the modern era?

Generally, all these efforts continue to steer the path towards building a socialist society and a fully-realized form of socialism under the overall motto: Independence – Democracy – Modernity – and Socialism.



(1) General Vo Nguyen Giap (chief author): Ho Chi Minh’s thought and Vietnam’s revolutionary path, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1997, p.97

(2) Congratulatory message to the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1996, p.17

(3) Nhan Dan (People’s Daily), July 2nd 1996 edition, p.5

(4) “Voices of international friends and comrades at the 9th Congress”, Communist Review, 9th edition (May 2001), p.57

(5) V. I. Lenin: Complete works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1980, vol. 27, p. 356

(6) V. I. Lenin: quoted, vol. 45, p. 101

(7) V. I. Lenin: quoted, vol. 31, p. 162 – 163

(8) V. I. Lenin: quoted, vol. 30, p. 160

(9) This issue was mentioned in “About “pillars” of Vietnam’s renewal and construction of socialism – 30 years in review”, Communist Review, edition 858 (April 2014)

Nhi Le

Source: Tạp chí Cộng sản điện tử, ngày 9/8/2016


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