Vietnamese Communism:  A Blight Upon Humanity

By Sidney Tran

           There is a prevailing view that the Vietnam War could have been avoided in some circles because those who subscribe to that view regard Ho Chi Minh and his comrades as the sole and only legitimate voice for all Vietnamese regardless of whether he is a Buddhist, Catholic, Montagnard, Kinh, Hoa, landowner, peasant, Northerner or Southerner.  Therefore, the conflict could have been avoided, according to the proponents of this line, if only the U.S. and South Vietnam facilitated and accommodated Ho Chi Minh and his cohorts to rule a unified Vietnam.  This view illustrates the proponents’ lack of breath and depth of knowledge about Vietnam’s modern history and political development.  It is an idea sprinkled with simplicity, cliché, and shallowness.  The tragedy that befell Vietnam in modern history was not only limited to Vietnam but also affected the entire region of Indochina.  It was a tragedy that had its genesis in the doctrine of communism, specifically the Marxist-Leninist variety.  The doctrine had already been implemented in parts of Eurasia, the only difference between the tragedies was the Indochina version the corpses had a Southeast Asian face.  The catastrophe was a creation of human hands unlike the natural kind that exist in nature.  The policies, which were set in motion, were devised by the human mind.  This catastrophe not only affected the immediate area of Indochina but also affected the surrounding region in the form of the aftereffects of the tragedy.  Thus, the tragedy that befell this region was based solely on the action of human beings.  So, what is the legacy of Vietnamese Communism?

            In order to analyze this legacy, one has to look at the personality who gave inspiration to this movement.  The personification and embodiment of Vietnamese Communism is Ho Chi Minh.  To some, he is considered to be a grandfatherly figure known as Uncle Ho while others consider him to be the inspirational figure of a monstrous machinery of repression.  Whatever characterization a person might choose to believe in his legacy for Indochina is undeniable.  I will focus my analysis on the question of Ho’s nationalist first, communist second question.  I will address this question because this view is widely held in the West.  Especially, among the political left who looks at Ho as a romantic figure who seeks to destroy the injustices suffered by the Vietnamese people. The Webster dictionary defines a nationalist as “one who advocates national unity and independence”.  In my view, there is a limit to Ho’s nationalism.  He used the nationalist sentiment only to further his own political end.  The goal for his movement or cause is the attainment of power in Vietnam.  In my view, a nationalist is someone who not only believes in national unity but also for the common good of the nation and her people.  A nationalist is someone who respects the conventions, traditions, and moral values of his nation.  In addition, I consider a true nationalist to be a person who believes in the common good for all people in his nation regardless of differences in class, ethnicity, or religion.  According to this definition, a nationalist will set aside his own personal political ideology in order to serve the greater good of the national interest for the country.  In essence, a nationalist believes that the national good outweighs the narrow interest of any political ideology.  Sadly, Ho’s version of communism does not respect the mores of Viet nationhood and people.  His doctrinaire communism was more important than and not subservient to the cultural values of the Vietnamese people.  Ho’s communists were more than willing to sell out or eliminate non-communist rivals for power.  The use of political terror was justified by Ho’s communists.  Therefore, the spilling of Vietnamese blood for the sake of power is the legacy.  The mantra for Vietnamese Communism could be described as power for the sake of power.  This simple truism is true today as it was back in 1945 in Ba Dinh square.  The Communist Party of Vietnam is beyond reproach.  It has no limitations to its existence.  When a political party or ideology sets itself above any authority or institution for the nation, it does not serve the national interest for the country.  It only serves its own self-interest.  This is a point I want to convey to the proponents of Ho’s nationalist line.  I cannot help but ask this simple question, what national unity and common good does Vietnamese Communism has bequeath for posterity?  Regrettably, Vietnamese Communism is a divisive force among Vietnamese whether in Vietnam or overseas.  This is a fact that future generations of Vietnamese will have to sort out.  

            This divisiveness was mainly a product of Hanoi’s exercise of power once it was employed throughout the whole country.  With power comes the responsibility of power.  It is an age-old discussion that that has not changed much since the beginning of civilization to today’s time.  The responsibility of power means that the holder of power should strive to balance between the exercise of power and the restraint of power.  The holder of power has to be cognizant to the fact that in certain conditions, it is wiser to restrain and refrain from using power than to unleash that power upon a society.  Since the state has a monopoly on force, it can be destructive if there is no limitation to the state’s authority.  The Communist Party of Vietnam is the current holder of power in Vietnam.  Tragically, this fact has been a detriment to the Vietnamese people because the balance between the exercise of power and restraint of power has never been realized nor observed.  Aristotle believed that a ruler who rules best is the one who rules for the common good of the polis.  If the Communists were to rule based on the interest of the nation instead of the party, then according to Aristotle, the country or the polis would benefit from competent and informed leadership.  But of course this was not the case.  Herein is the problem since the rulers of Vietnam does not feel restrain morally nor lawfully in the exercise of power the balancing of power is out of balance.  The consequences for this imbalance have been a legacy of abuse that has enslaved millions.  

            The main tragedy about Vietnamese Communism is that the ideas that were imposed on the nation were never debated, never studied, and never vetted by the people of Vietnam.  The misery, the wars, the death camps, the refugees, and the poverty were all the results of a group of ideologues that were intolerant to rational thinking.  They felt their idea of how a society should be organized was the only way.  When a group takes such an inflexible position, it can mean one thing, disaster.  This has been proven time and time again throughout history.  Rule by dictatorship is not a foundation for lasting harmony and stability.  It will eventually end because of the emptiness and shallowness of its foundation.  It only survives through fear and intimidation.  Vietnamese Communism is not based on the virtue of its ideas but rather by the effectiveness and maintenance of its coercion.  Unfortunately, this model for how a society should be organized in Vietnam has been disastrous.  It does not conform, nor is it compatible, to the reality of Vietnamese society.  Present day Vietnam still clings to the outdated, anachronistic ideals of Marxism-Leninism.  Additionally, CPV still espouses Ho Chi Minh Thought as the guiding light for a just society without offering proof the validity of that claim.  It is even written in the constitution: Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thought are the “lodestar” for the nation.  When a political leadership justifies its rule by unrealistic pronouncements instead of legitimate ideas, it loses the respect of its people.  The cold reality of Vietnamese Communism is that the general public does not truly care.  Like the general public in any other country, the public is simply too busy to notice.  The underpinnings of a socialist Vietnam is heading towards irrelevancy.           

            Most Western commentators have the mistaken belief that Vietnamese Communism was the only nationalist voice in Vietnam.  The Vietnamese Communists were more than willing to play on such notion in order to rally support for their own agenda.  The reality was that not all Vietnamese were willing participants in Hanoi’s war.  There was a notable group of poets and writers called the “humanist literature movement” who deplored the slaughter that was about to ensue at the behest of Hanoi’s ideologues.  There is a sentiment among these intellectuals that the U.S. was lured into a broader war in order to justify the war as “a foreign invasion, not the coldly calculated, ideologically motivated grab for the south that it was.  Many in the north would have opposed a war waged solely against fellow Vietnamese”.  Hoang Cam, one of the leaders of the “humanist literature movement”, lamented, “we were killing blood brothers”.  “That was the biggest tragedy of our revolution”.  This view was also echoed by the subsequent generation of writers like Duong Thu Huong and Bao Ninh.  Huong noted that as the war progressed, she noticed that the war prisoners that were being sent up north were all South Vietnamese.  It wasn’t a war to repel a foreign invader that Hanoi claimed it to be.  Bao Ninh who served in a NVA unit and later recorded this experience in the novel, the Sorrow of War.  He recalled that his unit saw action against only South Vietnamese units not American.  But to the eyes of the world, the war was portrayed not as a fratricidal war among members of the same family but the overly simplistic notion of an imperialistic war waged against all Vietnamese. 

            The Vietnamese Communists like all good Marxist-Leninists everywhere believed that they could start from scratch a new man that can be molded into their idealized image.  In the process of doing so they have to destroy old thinking and old ways.  This is the very essence of the contradiction that the proponents of communist-nationalist line of thinking.  The Vietnamese Communists have never given any deference to the consciousness of Viet history or nationhood before the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam now known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  The 1945 declaration of independence never acknowledged the historical lineage of the Vietnamese people.  It is a form of cultural vandalism.  Nationalists, on the other hand, embrace the heritage of the past in all of its totality.  A nation cannot cut off all ties to the past without losing its soul.  In a newfound godless society with no moral restraint, the Communists became the embodiment of God with their own set of morals.  In fact, the Vietnamese Communists did just that by using political terrorism, jailing and killing of opponents, confiscating of property, and depriving political prisoners of food and medical care.  They debase themselves as human beings by forgetting the ethical teachings of a humane Viet civilization from their ancestors.  Everything was justified under this foreign doctrine of Marxist-Leninism, which became their only moral compass in this new society.  It is as if they forgot who they are and where they came from.  They have betrayed everything that has sustained the Viet civilization for 2,000 years.                     

            There is a notion among some Western commentators that view Ho Chi Minh’s communists as the legitimate rulers of Vietnam.  In order to analyze the question of political legitimacy, one has to define the term as it pertains to popular rule.  Political legitimacy contains several elements including vision, competency, and consent.  In the study of management, legitimacy is defined as, “the extent to which one’s authority is accepted on the grounds of competence, vision or other qualities”.  Legitimacy is needed in the management of large organization in order to get things done.  In the political arena, this definition can also be applied since the management of a nation requires deft skills similar to a business organization, which must factor in the interests of various groups.  Communists in Vietnam came to power by using totalitarian means and tactics.  The question of legitimacy was irrelevant to their thinking.  They did not seek the consent of the masses in order to rule since they already control the monopoly of force.  It is simply rule by the crudest form of social control, the idea that might makes right.  By that rational, one can hardly say that Ho’s heirs are the legitimate voice for the will of the people.  On the issue of competency and vision, this aspect has been well documented. Communist mismanagement in the past has placed Vietnam in the unenviable position as one of the most corrupt, least developed countries in Asia.While the vision that the CPV offers to the nation continues to be the same old, tired line of Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thought.  This is hardly an inspiring vision  as Vietnam heads into the Information Age where knowledge is a key component for success in a highly competitive world.  The vision that Ho’s Communists still worship as the guiding light is as shallow and meaningless as the foundation it was built upon. 

            The end of Cold War was the demarcation point for the struggle between an order based on civilization and an order based on totalitarianism.  The trajectory for man’s continuing evolution seems to point to a humanistic model of liberal democracy as the most efficient form of governance.  A society with a firm foundation based on humane ethical reasoning and moral teachings like the United States is still standing while a society without a firm foundation such as the Soviet Union based on the discipline of fear has vanquished.  The Roman statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, “A kingdom founded on injustice never lasts”.  Wise men have always known such matter by studying the condition of the past and applying the lessons to today’s time.  In present day Vietnam, this is a continuing struggle.  At stake is nonetheless than for the soul of a nation.  The physical entity of a free democratic Vietnam may have died but the ideals from which it was founded are still alive.  In the end, ideals are self-sustaining.  Worthy ideals are elements of a strong foundation for nationhood.  Time will tell if the ideals become the seed for a rebirth of a free Vietnam.  It would be prudent for Vietnam present rulers to apply some of the wisdom of the past and promote men of learning and virtues.  The lesson of the inscription at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi is as true today as it was in Vietnam in 1442.  The “virtuous and talented men are state-sustaining elements: the strength and prosperity of a state depend on its stable vitality, and it becomes weaker as such vitality fails.  That is why all the saint-emperors and clear-sighted kings did not fail to promote men of talent and the employment of literature”


Crossette, Barbara. What the Poets Thought: Antiwar Sentiment in North Vietnam, World Policy Journal, Spring 2003 (P. 70).

Ibid (P. 71).

Laudon, Kenneth C. and Jane P. Laudon, Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm, 9th Ed., Pearson Education Inc. (Upper Saddle River, NJ) (P.560).

Crossette, Barbara. What the Poets Thought: Antiwar Sentiment in North Vietnam. World Policy Journal, Spring 2003. (P. 75-76).

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