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Wednesday, 05 July 2017 16:19
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Marxism - Leninism never goes out of date

(LLCT) - Recently, some Western researchers and Vietnamese Party members have stated that Marxism and Leninism are outdated. They claim that in this day and age, we cannot build a good new society with prosperous people and a strong, democratic, equal and civilized nation based on those outdated theories.  We must consider several questions: Is Marxism - Leninism outdated in its theories applying to scientific significance and practical social goals? If the answer is yes, what are the reasons and foundations? If the answer is no, why can it be?

Those claiming that Marxism - Leninism is outdated base their opinions on the following four reasons. First, Marxism - Leninism was born in the economic and social situation of the 19th and early 20th centuries, making it unsuitable to fit the contemporary situation. Second, realistic socialism was built on the theories of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and V.I. Lenin in the former Soviet Union and collapsed Eastern European countries. The collapse proves that their theories were faulty. Third, socio-economic situations in capitalist countries are much better than those in socialist countries, which proves that capitalism is preeminent. And last, a number of socialist countries - including Vietnam - have made mistakes, exposing how faulty and outdated socialist theories are.

This article will discuss and respond to these reasons.

Regarding the first reason, it is true that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ theories were born in the mid-nineteenth century when conflict within capitalism was heating up and capitalism was exploiting the working class. K. Marx and F. Engels formed their thoughts from the theories of former researchers. They integrated many factors related to the theoretical development of mankind, including classic British political economy, classic German philosophy, and British utopian socialism. Adam Smith’s and David Ricardo’s labour theory of value, Hegel’s dialectic approaches, Feuerbach’s humane materialism, and the progressive society ideas of French theorists like Saint Simon and Fourier contributed to Marx and Engels’ theory. During their studies, Marx and Engels made the historical discovery of the law of movement in human society. This law describes the dialectic relationship between production relations and productive forces. The law allowed Marx and Engels to make the indispensable predictions that human society would convert to communism after a transitional period of socialism.

V.I. Lenin continued to develop Marx and Engels’ ideas throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, under the new context that capitalism changed into imperialism. Lenin made great philosophical, economic-political contributions to Marx and Engels’ ideas. Noticeably, Lenin developed a theory about the potential victory of the proletariat revolution in a separated capitalist country, built a theory about a new Marxist party, led a socialist revolution to victory, and applied Marx’s theory to explain and resolve a series of problems in building socialism in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

In the mid-twentieth century, Ho Chi Minh creatively applied Marxism - Leninism to Vietnamese realities to beat imperial countries and win national independence. He protected each sacred piece of land and led the Vietnamese revolution from victory to victory.

However it is understood, Marxism - Leninism is undeniably still the scienceof the common law of movement and the development of nature, society, thinking, and production; as well as the struggle of the proletariat and working class against oppression, exploitation in pursuit of freedom and happiness, and of socialist revolution and the development of communism. When the theory was born, the fathers of Marxism - Leninism criticized capitalism and pointed out its oppressive nature. Most sociologists - regardless of their political alignment - admit that this criticism was thoughtful and correctly reflected the contemporary society. Based on their criticism of capitalism, their observations of historical law and human society, and their empathy toward the misery of the working people under capitalistic oppression and exploitation, Marx and Engels predicted a future society that would replace capitalism.  

Moreover, modern capitalism’s successes do not refute Marxism - Leninism, which proves the credibility of the theories. The rapid development of productive forces boosted by the science - technology revolution not only increases the potentiality of capitalism but also promotes the socialization of productive forces, which can change the scope and quality of ownership, management, production operation, and distribution of goods. Globalization - which initially originated from capitalist economies - is proof that capitalism grows out of the border of each country. Capitalist oppression also stems from its mother countries. In essence, this oppression is similar to the colonization of imperialist countries in the past but it is disguised under a showy and dainty cover. It enters poor countries through main doors and exploits workers through established law.   

The richer they are, the more aggressive the capitalist countries become. They look for ways to appropriate natural resources and force poor countries to submit to them for their own benefits. The Iraq war, for example, forced a peaceful country into a bloody decade-long war without a solution until now. The United States declared war on Iraq - an independent country thousands of miles away - out of fear that Iraq was storing weapons of mass destruction. The whole country had been ransacked since the operation “Desert Storm”, but no weapons of such kind were found. In reality, the US itself is storing a vast amount of nuclear weapons. The peaceful country of Libya was also thrown into chaos after the USA and their Western allies interfered and overthrew the government of Mohamed Gaddafi. Although the President of the US and the Prime Minister of Britain apologized for their actions, these apologies were meaningless, as Iraq and Libya were devastated - thousands were killed and millions more were living in terrible conditions(1). Additionally, thousands of young Americans died meaninglessly in Iraq or the Middle East. Surely none of them were relatives of capitalists or bank owners. So what is the reason for the Iraq war if not oil or other capitalist benefits? A series of Western-mobilized colour revolutions in Libya, Syria, and Egypt are following the same form and purpose - and lead to the same consequences - as the Iraq war. 

From a humane perspective, socialism is the ultimate goal of all conscientious working people who want to live in peace. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed utopian socialism into a science by looking at it from a historical law of movement and seeing it as an indispensable social movement involving the economic and materialistic factors formed by capitalism. Therefore, socialism is logical and appropriate both in terms of scientific methodology and humane purposes.

Seeing their ideas purely as theory, the fathers of Marxism - Leninism never predicted anything about socialism or future society to make their theoretical points metaphysical and rigid. In Principles of Communism, Friedrich Engels discussed a range of theoretical problems directly related to scientific socialism such as the working class, the communist party, the relationship between the working class and communist parties, the abolition of capitalist private ownership and establishment of public ownership of production materials, the relationship between the working class and the nation and the world, and the necessary means for a socialist revolution. F. Engels was very objective in explaining the transition from utopian to scientific socialism. He also required communists to “further research socialism and all of its connections as a science.”

Throughout their many works, K. Marx and F. Engels emphasized the importance of using awareness, evaluation, and summary to supplement and develop theory, especially socialist and communist theory. In the Foreword to the 1872 Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Chapter II”(2). The historical factor was also used to solve the relationship between theory and reality. The New economic policywas a proof for this view. V.I. Lenin had a practical view of socialism which was either forgotten or misunderstood. His theory was: “use both hands to take the best ideas from other countries - Soviet government + Prussian railway order + American technique and organization of trusts + American public education, etc. = socialism”(3). Lenin’s century-old statement is still an applicable theoretical value today, especially in the era of globalization.

So how could Marxism - Leninism be outdated? It is still relevant. Those trying to negate it are making a serious mistake by deliberately ignoring its scientific and humane nature and by distorting it for political purposes to promote capitalism and those benefiting from capitalism. The only outdated aspect of Marxism - Leninism is our failure to thoroughly research and correctly apply the theories to solve the problems that arise from the process of building socialism.

Second, is the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe proof that Marxist - Leninist socialism is mistaken and obsolete? Did socialism collapse because of erroneous theories?

Realistic socialism introduced great positive change in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe and other locations. It improved the lives of many people. It created unimaginable material and spiritual forces big enough to mobilize human and material power and beat capitalist allies in World War I and fascist forces in World War II. It also encouraged the struggle for freedom, democracy and national liberation through the example of socialist countries. A great number of oppressed countries won independence and freedom with the influence and help of socialist countries under the Soviet Union. Socialism and the fight of working people all over the world forced capitalist and imperial powers to acknowledge colonists’ freedom, independence and ability to carry out social reforms to improve their living conditions. Socialism is strong and realistic enough to make any capitalist strategist tremble with fear and envision the irreversible end of capitalism. Henry Kissinger and Brzezinski’s bitter admissions during the 1960s and 1970s are still present in their books and articles. 

The collapse of realistic socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is obviously a painful lesson not only for communists but also for progressive mankind. This collapse was a consequence of conservatism and avoiding reality. Communists in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were too slow in gaining awareness, reforming policies, and coming up with solutions to the problems arising within the construction and development of their countries.  These mistakes were caused by a lack of awareness of basic principles of dialectics and specific historical attitudes in Marxism - Leninism. Political forces were so self-opinionated and prejudiced that they ignored Lenin’s valuable proposed method of “using both hands to take the best ideas from other countries” to construct and develop socialism.

On the other hand, the collapse of realistic socialism in the Soviet Union and Easter Europe was only the collapse of a specific model of socialism. It was absolutely not the collapse of an entire scientific theory or the beautiful future that mankind aspires to reach. Moreover, many countries in Europe - especially in the North - were inspired by socialism during the construction and development of their countries and call themselves welfare socialist countries. What is more, some countries, including Vietnam - which are still persistent in their construction of socialism, are gaining historic achievements.

These examples prove that the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and other countries does not mean that Marxist - Leninist socialism is erroneous or outdated. The predomination of capitalism is an illusion. In reality, capitalism is currently facing serious challenges. The conflict of benefits, which is part of the nature of capitalism, causes indispensable separation among the so-called strong allies. Britain’s “Brexit” phenomenon was an early and indispensable symptom of inner conflict caused by a lack of socialist elements in Western Europe. Even excluding outside threats, capitalism’s conflict of benefits breaks the loose relationships of capitalist forces. The terrorist attacks in the centre of Europe do not only threaten security but also create instability for capitalism. On France’s Independence Night, terrorists attacked the city of Nice, killing 80 people. A similar attack in Berlin, Germany on December 18, 2016 killed 12 people and injured nearly 50. These events signal a great danger to European security and are the direct consequences of mistaken and mercenary capitalistic policies used to deal with poor countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

Third, does the economic development and more advanced science and technology of developed capitalist countries prove the pre-eminence of capitalism? Developed capitalist countries have undeniably gained great economic, scientific and technological achievements, greatly improved the life of their people. But the question is, what came before these achievements, and what will follow?

In the first place, where do these achievements come from? Capitalism has a centuries-long history of development filled with the blood and tears of the working class all over the world. Terry Eagleton, a British scholar, confessed that “Modern capitalist nations are the fruit of a history of slavery, genocide, violence, and exploitation”(4). We can see the effects of capitalism on mankind by looking at the history of the US, the UK, France, Germany and Spain. European capitalists broke the thousand-year peaceful life of American Indians, invaded their land with swords, guns, and torture. In the book Late Victorian Holocausts, American writerMike Davis wrote that tens of millions of people in India, Africa, China, Brazil, Korea, Russia, and elsewhere died of hunger, drought, and disease in the late 19th century under invaded colonialism. And of course, not all citizens of rich capitalist countries are living good lives.

Vietnamese had to live misery lives under the rule of French colonists for 80 years long. Many Vietnamese people died in factories, mines, roads and stations. Revolutions led by Nguyen Trung Truc, Phan Dinh Phung, Hoang Hoa Tham, and uprisings like Yen Bai and Soviet Nghe Tinh were bloodily crashed. Over two million people died of hunger in 1945. French capitalists exploited the Vietnamese people, pillaging gold, coal, iron, copper to enrich their own country. For the next 20 years, Americans replaced French to dominate Vietnam. The offenses of capitalist America can be seen through hellish prisons in Con Dao and Phu Quoc; the massacres in Thai Binh (Binh Dinh) in 1966, Binh Hoa (Quang Ngai) in 1966, and My Lai (Quang Ngai) in 1968; and the B52 bombing of Kham Thien Street, Bach Mai hospital (Hanoi). It would seem that these heart-breaking historical events would be enough for future generations to understand the nature of capitalism. But strangely, there are people who have just come outside the country border lavishly praise capitalist countries and their showy cities. They ignore the fact that these cities have undergone hundreds of years of development, and have received contributions from many generations of workers and exploited goods from colonized countries.   

Constructing socialism is a very difficult task requiring scientific research, time, manpower, material resources, appropriate leadership, and other conditions. According to K. Marx, socialism can only succeed in highly developed countries. Socialism is indispensable because social production relations change and often cannot exist under highly developed capitalist productive forces. The Soviet Union and Easter European socialist countries were all low- or medium-developed capitalist countries, and their time spent building socialism was too short. The Soviet Union was founded and began building socialism in 1921, right after the end of a civil war. After only 20 years, Soviet Union experienced a great defence war costing it manpower and material resources. Over 20 million were killed and many cities and villages from the Polish border to the west of Moscow were levelled. By 1945, the Soviet Union had had 30 years to construct their country peacefully but still face the arms race started by the US and their allies. Similarly, Eastern European socialist countries only had 30 years to construct socialism. They still managed to achieve great things, however, some of which exceeded those of the US and Western capitalist countries. In addition to establishing further equality, and improving housing, education and culture, the Soviet Union also led the world in the space exploration. At its prime, the Democratic Republic of Germany led the world in ensuring the best conditions for children. Moreover, the Soviet Union and East European socialist countries became a political opponent of Western capitalist countries. People in Western capitalist countries and colonized countries looked up to socialist countries, empathizing with their struggles for independence, democracy and welfare. Capitalist forces considered socialist countries as a hostile enemy that needed to be eliminated at any cost. Even now, 25 years after the war, Western capitalism continues to inflict punishment against Russia.

Vietnam began the construction of a socialist country after a destructive 30-year war, followed by the Southwest and Northern border wars. In reality, Vietnam has only enjoyed peace since 1989. The country was built from nothing, as everything previously gained in time of peace had been completely destroyed. The consequences of the war were severe, with tens of thousands of wounded or sick soldiers and helpless children. The fields were full of leftover bombs and mines. The nation’s achievements in just the past 30 years are unexpected and respectable. We cannot compare what Vietnam gained with those of capitalist countries who have had longer histories of development regardless of the working class’s misery. The unprecedented construction of a new society is never easy. It has to follow a progression of steps, and cannot be completed within a short time.

Obviously, it is inaccurate to looked at the achievements of developed capitalist countries and proclaim that capitalism is superior to socialism. Only through a fair and thorough evaluation can we understand the origin of capitalist wealth and socialism’s contributions to the development of mankind and progressive society.

Fourth, do the mistakes, difficulties, and suppressed awareness involved in constructing a socialist society originate from Marxism - Leninism? 

Vietnam did not conceal its mistakes and struggles throughout its constructions of a socialist society. At the 12th Party Congress, the Party Central Committee’s Political report stated that “economic growth is slower that of the previous five years; the set goals have not been met; and productivity, quality, effectiveness, and competitive ability are all low... Officials’ degradation of political thought, morality, and lifestyle, as well as corruption and wastefulness, has not been kept in check... Socialist democracy and national strength and solidarity have not been brought into full play. Laws and regulations are not strict enough...”(5). The Party admitted that these issues were partly caused by objective reasons but mostly due to subjective ones. These include limitations within evaluation, prediction, theory research, reality summarizing, leadership, and the management of executive committees and governments.     

Mistakes, difficulties and limitations in the construction process are unavoidable. The construction of socialism is difficult and complicated. It requires scientific research, time, resources, and many other conditions. We began constructing socialism on the foundation of an underdeveloped agricultural economy badly damaged from a brutal 30-year war. The greatest setbacks are not caused by a lack of material resources but instead from the thoughts and actions affected by agricultural production. Vietnam does not have the experience or the support of socialist countries like before. It also has many enemies trying to spy on us or sabotage us. Despite these realities, the achievements Vietnam gained during the reform are extremely important. It has maintained a growth rate of over 6.5% during our 30 years of implementing reform policies. Vietnam has increased the GDP per capita from USD 80 to over US$2,100. Overall quality of life has improved. These achievements are undeniable, and have been admitted by many organizations, individuals, and Western scholars.   

To reach these accomplishments, the Vietnamese Party and State have been very brave in adjusting their awareness and powerfully innovating economic-social policies. Vietnam transitioned from a subsidized economy based completely on public ownership to a multi-sector commodity economy, and later to a socialism-oriented market economy. Vietnam has also changed from a proletarian dictatorship to a legitimate socialistic state. From a blockaded and embargoed position only in relation with other socialist states, Vietnam has integrated with the world and established the diplomatic links with 185 out of the 193 countries and territories who are member of the United Nations. Of this total, two are special comprehensive partners, 15 are strategic partners, 11 are comprehensive partners, and two are area-specific strategic partners.  

 These statistics prove that the Vietnamese Party and State are not too conservative or prejudiced to change their awareness and renovate their socialist policies, or that Marxism - Leninism should be blamed for the difficulties and mistakes that occurred in the process of building and developing the country.

In short, the mistakes of the people who negate Marxism - Leninism are reflected directly within the criticisms. They either misunderstand the nature of the theory or they deliberately distort it with their prejudice and political aim of replacing socialist thinking, policies and goals with another theory and another social model. This purpose only benefits a certain group of people, and that group does not include the majority of people or the whole nation.

Recognizing Marxism - Leninism’s mistakes and distortions not only protects the theory’s science and humanity, but also warns communists to be careful with their own understanding. Acknowledging shortcomings encourages them to adopt realistic attitudes based in history when applying Marxism - Leninism to policies and plans for the country’s construction and development.


(1) In an April 10, 2016 interview with Fox News, American President Barack Obama admitted that the worst mistake in his presidency was not preparing a long-term plan for Libya after overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, which caused chaos in the country. In 2015, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also admitted his mistake and apologized for bringing troops to the Iraq war.

(2) K. Marx and F. Engels: Complete Works, vol. 18, National Politics Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.128.

(3) V.I. Lenin: Complete Works, vol. 30, Progress Publisher, Moscow, 1977, p.684.

(4) Terry Eagleton: Why Marx Was Right?(Vietnamese translation) Politics-Administration Publishing House, Hanoi, 2012, p.40.

(5) CPV: Document of the 12th National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, 2016, pp.60-61

Prof, Dr. Ta Ngoc Tan

Vice President in Charge

Central Theoretical Council

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