Vietnam: From National Liberation to Trans-Pacific Vassal
October 18, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" -
In 1975 the people of
Vietnam successfully ended one of the longest and bloodiest
anti-colonial wars in world-history – defeating the US, the world’s
biggest imperial power, after 20 years of struggle.
Barely forty years
later the Vietnamese regime signed off on the US-Japanese dominated
Trans-Pacific Free Trade
Agreement (TPFTA), which essentially converted Vietnam into a
Vietnam has gone
full circle: From a neo-colony ruled by puppet dictators backed by
an American occupation army involving 500,000 troops from 1955-1975,
to its current ‘Communist’ rulers who have turned-over its markets,
industries, ports, resources and labor to the 500 largest Western
and Asian multi-national corporations.
Contrasting Historical Moments: 1975 and 2015
In 1975, the revolutionary government closed all
US military bases and expelled all US military personnel. Today the
Vietnam ‘vassal regime’ allows US naval visits and signs
military agreements to tighten the imperialist military encirclement
In 1975, the revolutionary leaders promised to end
imperial exploitation of plantation and factory labor; today the
vassal rulers offer the imperial states cheap labor, at wages less
than half that paid to Chinese workers to ‘entice’ multi-nationals.
In 1975, the government intervened in favor of
workers, taking over plantations and factories; today the vassal
state savagely represses striking workers and outlaws
In 1975, the revolutionary government declared its
solidarity with workers’ and peasants’ struggles around the world;
today the vassals declare their unconditional support of
all of the major imperial organizations – from the World Trade
Organization to the Trans-Pacific Treaty organization.
What explains this total reversal of politics and
allegiances? What accounts for the transformation from
revolutionary vanguard to submissive vassal of imperial powers?
What factors led to the degeneration and decay of a revolutionary
movement of millions and the ascendancy of a corrupt and servile
political and socio-economic elite? Why did this counter-revolution
occur without any major mass popular upheaval?
Stages and Circumstances of Vietnam’s Degeneration
Liberated Vietnam facing Military Siege
Internal and external events and forces played a
major role in undermining the promise of social transformation
proclaimed by the Vietnamese revolutionaries.
Beginning with the US destruction of the economy
and Washington’s subsequent refusal to pay reparations and
vindictive policy of post-war boycott and sanctions, the Vietnamese
faced monumental tasks with few financial resources.
The US ground and air war
infrastructure and productive enterprises of the country. Napalm
and chemical warfare (Agent Orange) devastated villages and
poisoned the rice
fields, water and soil. Millions of cluster bombs maimed scores of
thousands of peasants.
secretly supported the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian terror regime, in
its war on liberated Vietnam. This further damaged Vietnam’s
shattered economy and diverted scarce resources needed for peacetime
reconstruction to military operations.
China launched a border war on Vietnam’s northern frontier,
increasing the burden on the depleted resources of the Vietnamese
Vietnamese revolutionary government, during the first decade of its
existence, struggled to make the transition from a war to a peace
scarcity of resources, skilled manpower and revenues, and under
stress to protect its borders, the Vietnamese government attempted
to ‘socialize’ the economy with few personnel and limited external
support from the Soviet Union and its allies.
concentrated, political militants and loyalists took command,
although many lacked experience or expertise in economic
development. Economic recovery was understandably dictated by
political and military priorities. Politics was in command –
trained orthodox economists were in retreat. The choice was
‘red’ over ‘expert’.
of deprivation and sacrifice, many cadres sought and obtained access
to scarce resources. A privileged elite emerged, especially in South
Vietnam, where the US military occupation had spawned a huge
black-market economy, and a large stratum of wealthy ‘middlemen’ who
acted as ‘brokers’ with wealthy overseas Chinese businesspeople,
especially in Hong Kong and beyond.
Vietnamese defeated the Pol Pot terrorist regime at a heavy cost and
backed a friendly client regime.
China began its transition to capitalism and showed no interest in
providing aid or investment to hasten Vietnam’s socialist
reconstruction. By the mid 1980’s, with the ascendance of
Gorbachev, Russia cut off its economic assistance to Vietnamese
state enterprises, denigrated socialist planning and backed ‘market
External ‘Allies’ Promote Internal Enemies
In sum, Vietnam’s external allies were moving in a
direction, which favored
Vietnamese technocrats and ‘capitalist holdovers’ from the
colonial and neo-colonial period.
The ‘new rich’, including privileged sectors of
the revolutionary regime, took advantage of the ‘shortage of capital
flows’ and the years of shortages and sacrifices to
advocate an ‘opening
to the market’ and to promote the entry of foreign capital. This
was accompanied by the privatization of public enterprises (dubbed
‘joint ventures’) and ‘incentives’ (high profits) to
manufacturers, especially from Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.
Internal Factions and the Victory of the Capitalist Technocrats
By the late 1980’s, four tendencies competed for
influence in the Communist Party:
(1) A revolutionary
faction, including some of the historic leaders of the Liberation
(2) A centrist or
reformist faction of privileged officials who sought to protect and
promote state enterprises – a source of their own enrichment. They
supported the “partnership” with foreign private capital
supposedly as a supplement
to the so-called “socialist sector”’
(3) A third faction of
technocrats, who favored the gradual conversion to a private
capitalist economy, except in some ill-defined ‘strategic
(4) A fourth faction,
composed of Western
educated and connected economists, who sought and secured
submission to overseas capitalist and international financial
institutions. They joined forces with the technocrats and
privileged, corrupt Party elite and became the eventual rulers of
Counter-revolutionary ‘Unholy’ Alliance
In the course
of the following decade, an
alliance of technocrats, corrupt and enriched officials (with
their families), who had become business partners, and
pre-revolutionary elites took control of the economy. By the middle
of the 1990’s, Vietnam could no longer ‘balance’ between the USSR
and China on the one-hand and Western capitalists on the other. The
USSR had disappeared. Russia was in chaos. China was in headlong
pursuit of capitalist growth at any cost, through any means,
especially via the privatization of major enterprises and stripping
workers of all labor and welfare rights.
revolutionaries were ‘retired’ or relegated to the historical museum
as respected but impotent figureheads. They were trotted out on
special ‘national’ occasions.
Party CEOs fought rearguard struggles trying to retain lucrative
fiefdoms in public enterprises, but lacked any strategic allies
abroad or internally. They had immobilized the working class and
had themselves embraced the privileges of power, luxury and
corruption – (with few notable exceptions).
By the turn
of the millennium, the technocrats and capitalist ideologues had
taken full command of economic decision-making. They embraced the
politics and economics of ‘globalization’ and the insertion
of Vietnam into the World Trade Organization (WTO). They cited
Vietnam’s rapid growth, lauding its abundant disciplined, cheap
labor, kept in line by the centralized Party. Communist Party
leaders exhibited all the features of the authoritarian
personality: arrogant and abusive to the workers under them,
submissive and servile to the foreign investors above them.
The Party had become the instrument for repressing
outbreaks of industrial strikes, rural protests and public
Many of the corrupt officials embraced the ‘free
market’ to legitimate their corrupt appropriation of public
goods and the laundering of illicit earning.
The ideology “getting rich is good”
pervaded the top and middle echelons of the Party, which was ‘Communist’
in name only.
The party-state lost its legitimacy along with its
revolutionary legacy. The former colonial enemies, Japan, the US
and their allies were eagerly courted as the Vietnamese elite’s new
‘partners’ and mentors for the upwardly mobile technocrats and
economists who served them.
signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), US imperialism
easily secured in luxury conference rooms what they had failed to
achieve in twenty years on the battlefield: Total access to all of
Vietnam’s major economic sectors, a captive labor force without
rights or protection and a ruling elite willing to serve as an
accomplice to its militarist policy of encircling China.
Imperial Dominance by Invitation
political-economic conquest of Vietnam was accomplished by the
invitation and complicity of the Vietnamese ruling Communist Party
and not by the force
of arms, not by a
puppet ruler or a bought and bound ‘Generalissimo’.
beneficiaries of its vassalage are the Vietnamese collaborators,
intermediaries, importers, exporters and labor contractors, who
receive legal and illicit commissions for selling out the nation’s
wealth. This includes a small army of ‘service operators’, embedded
in IT start-ups, Chinese-Vietnamese business associates of Hong Kong
sweatshop manufacturers, new university graduates turned business
consultants and public officials who ‘sign-off’ on tax
exemptions,and fabricate compliance with labor and environmental
protection laws. These are the ones who grow rich in the new
As the major US, Japanese and overseas Chinese
corporations take control of Vietnam’s manufacturing, banking,
retail and wholesale sectors and local and overseas trade,
small-scale local businesspeople will go bankrupt. State enterprise
will be sold or closed. Small farmers and peasants will a lose
access to credit while cheap imported rice will flood the market
and bankrupt local farmers.
Vietnamese workers and peasants, once heralded as
the vanguard of the liberation struggle, will be savagely exploited
by the Communist –
capitalist ‘partnership’. They are now among the
poorest of the poor in all of Asia.
The ascendancy of a pro-imperialist collaborator
elite in Vietnam was not
inevitable; it was a relatively gradual process, in which the
environment gradually eroded the will and capacity of Vietnam’s
heroic and historic leaders to combine the revolutionary
reconstruction with popular democratic institutions following the
defeat of the US military. In a repeat of the Imperial Roman
scorched and salted earth policy, the US took revenge for its
humiliating defeat by leaving a devastated country, refusing
reparations and imposing vindictive economic sanctions on the
Vietnamese people and nation. The demise of the USSR and China’s
turn to capitalism forced
Vietnam to look for alternative sources of external finance.
these harsh external conditions, difficult internal problems
complicated the transition: Vietnam’s revolutionary leaders, who
were magnificent and victorious strategists of politico-military
struggle, were mediocre economic strategists. They turned to the
pre-revolutionary Chinese-Vietnamese business elite, linked to Hong
Kong, Taiwan, and mainland business families, to navigate the
educated post-revolutionary generation was drawn heavily from
privileged families, especially from Saigon; they inexorably
adapted and imposed their neo-liberal ideology on the regime.
of corrupt repressive
statist officials to the traditional privileged clans and
classes brought the new
post-revolutionary educated technocrats to power.
authoritarian Party elite ensured the de-radicalization of the
workers and peasants, the
exclusion and repression of leftwing activists and the
unhindered application of neo-liberal, pro-imperial economic
experience provides us with several important historical lessons:
lesson is the importance of
democratizing and socializing production, distribution and
culture following national liberation to check against the
post-revolutionary seizure of power by Party and military leaders
and to limit the advance of the old privileged classes.
educated classes must serve the interests of the revolutionary
masses, and admission to institutes of higher education should favor
the sons and daughters of the working class, not the children of the
traditional comprador elite.
students should be integrated into democratic class organization to
further and deepen their links to the past and present revolutionary
resources should be concentrated on economic and social programs
that improve the lives of wage and salaried workers and local
producers. The presence of private, local and foreign investors
should be rigorously controlled via time- bound agreements.
administration and decision-making in cooperative, self-managed and
local enterprises should be decentralized.
education should be based on egalitarian ethics. Anti-corruption,
disciplinary committees, elected by workers, peasants, employees,
accountants, consumers and environmentalists should be established
throughout the economy.
State expenditures on social and private
consumption should be balanced with emphasis on
health, education and leisure facilities.
Solidarity and support for on-going liberation
struggles around the world should be the rule. Social practice in
everyday life should be combined with individual and collective
learning of technical, historical, social and literary subjects,
which enrich and deepen understanding of the revolutionary roots of
The state should combat the tendency of organized
local ethnic groups to serve as agents loyal to foreign regimes.
Material and symbolic rewards for excellence should be combined and
lifetime accomplishments recognized. Those guilty of illicit
economic and social activities, especially those related to nepotism
or kin/clan enrichment, should be marginalized and punished.
The post-liberation defeat and reversal of
Vietnam’s revolutionary gains was
Negative lessons should be
studied and serve as
guidelines for future revolutions. There are grounds to
believe that the Vietnamese revolutionary legacy is not dead. The
revolutionary grandparents in ‘retirement’ can and will
transmit their vision and experience of an alternative class
struggle to their grandchildren, who are going to suffer savage
exploitation, dispossession and de-nationalization following
Vietnam’s entry into the imperialist Transpacific Partnership
Leaders, who have grown rich from the TPP, will
face anger and revolt by the Vietnamese masses who are destined to
pay heavily for their leaders’ sell-out.
leaders have embraced the aggressive US-Japanese militarist policy
against China; this betrayal of the people’s struggle will have
long-lasting negative consequences.
external and domestic developments will converge – hopefully, this
time ushering in a new phase of revolutionary change.
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of
Sociology at Binghamton University, New York.