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Wednesday, 19 June 2013 13:46
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The relationship between culture and economics

After all, humans are the most precious natural resource and asset. The Vietnamese man is the quintessence of Vietnamese culture, thus the process of building the culture of Vietnam is also the implementation of the human strategy, building and developing of human resources – the most important endogenous strength for development.

Hung King worship credence has been recognizeed as World Heritage by UNESCO


Photo: Department of cunture, sport and tourism

Culture is all the values created by humans in the course of history through their labor in both fields: Material and spiritual production. President Ho Chi Minh said: “For the reason of existence as well as the purpose of life, humankind created and invented language, scripts, ethics, law, science, religion, literature, art, as well as tools for daily activities related to clothing, food, housing, and their methods of use. All such kinds of creation and invention are culture.“(1)

Thoroughly grasping his instructions, the Resolution of the 5th plenum of the 8th Party Central Committee defined culture as “the spiritual foundation of society.”

Social life has two sides: material and spiritual. If the economy is the material foundation of social life, then culture is its spiritual foundation. This scientific generalization shows all the magnitude and depth of culture, which has led to many theoretical aspects as well as practical conclusions of paramount importance. Society stands with two legs on two “foundations”; lacking either of them, it can’t stand firm.

Being the “spiritual foundation of society,” culture is both the goal and the driving force of economic development. The Resolution of the 5th Party Central Committee Plenum states that, “Attending to culture is to attending to the strengthening of the spiritual foundation of society. Attending of a progressive and healthy spiritual foundation and of appropriate attention to resolving the relationship between economic development and social progress and justice, there will be no chance for sustainable socio-economic development. Economic building and development should be directed towards the cultural goals and comprehensive development of humans in an equitable and civilized society.“(2)

The Party’s Platform adopted at its 11th Congress expenses the views on building a Vietnamese culture as a development strategy. It reads, “We should build an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity, comprehensive development, unity in diversity, and deeply permeated with humaneness, democracy, and progress; make it be cohesively attached to and pervade the entire social life, become a solid spiritual foundation and an important endogenous strength for development.“(3)

People around the world have been discussing a lot the theories of development, and more and more favor the view that the target of development should be to improve the quality of human life and to ensure a harmony between material life and spiritual life, between high living standards and good pattern of life, not only for a selected few, but for the vast majority of people, for the whole society, not only for today but also for tomorrow.

To attain that target, it is essential to reach a high level of economic, technical and technological development. But this would not be enough, and it will be wrong to understand that economic development is associated with achieving economic growth at any cost, even at the cost of social, cultural and human dignity tradeoffs. Such understanding and such action is completely alien to our socialist ideals. Even some progressive Western scholars have also come to realize that economic improvements increase the standard of living but sometimes disturb people’s lives and the environment. Increased wealth does not always mean better family life, marriage, lifestyle, labor, etc. Technical advances contribute to making life comfortable, but sometimes cause many serious social disorders. Such cases show growth and not development, or even “counter-development”.

Therefore, we should grasp the basic guidelines: taking care of culture is to take care of the construction and strengthening of the spiritual foundation of society. Lack of a progressive and healthy spiritual foundation, there will be no sustainable socio-economic  development, and even a society that has an abundant material base would not be able to avoid the risk of recession and degeneration. Economic building and development should be directed to cultural targets and the goal of achieving an equitable and civilized society where humans have chances for comprehensive development.

Culture is not only the target but also the driving force of economic development. Today, the source of wealth not only includes natural resources, capital, and technology, but the most increasingly important and decisive factor is human resources and their creative potentialities. Such potentialities are to be found in the culture, intellect, virtues, mind, personality, lifestyle, will, energy, talent and expertise of each individual and the community. Eventually, the most precious resource and the most valuable asset are humans, culture, high-quality workforce, and the in the knowledge-based economy, in the socialist industrialization and modernization of the country.

Not a few countries rich in natural  resources but remain very poor, whereas some countries with very poor natural resources have become very wealthy economies because they attach much importance on raising the human intellectual standard, nurturing the mettle of their people, training human resources, fostering talents, or  in other words, highlighting the culture.  

After all, the most precious natural resource and asset is humans. The Vietnamese people are the quintessence of their culture, so the process of building Vietnamese culture is also the implementation of the human strategy, building and promoting of human resources - the most important endogenous strength for development. This is the central chain in the cause of building a spiritual foundation and a socialist cultural potential for our country. Economic growth of paramount importance to the nation due to our very low starting point. In a stagnant economy with low living standards, culture can never be properly attended to. But social development means not only economic growth but also the development of culture, social justice, healthy lifestyle and solid and high societal spiritual foundation.

To assess the actual situation of our cultural life of today is not a simple task. Some people are too pessimistic, holding that, while the economic life has been going up since the start of the renewal policy, in Vietnam, the spiritual life has shown its worst ever decline. On the contrary, some are too optimistic, holding that everything is fine, and that the negative phenomena are inevitable and insignificant. In fact, the picture is not of one color, either dark or light.

First of all, we should assert that Vietnam’s cultural and social life has made to date a  significant advance compared with the case under the previous regime. It is easy to see that the socio-economic dynamics and the activeness of the citizens are aroused and promoted in replacement of the psychology of passiveness, dependence and reliance on subsidy, which was popular in the outdated regime. The atmosphere of democracy and openness is more felt in society. The people’s intellectual standards have been gradually raised, and individual capacity and fort are encouraged, and highly regarded. These new salient features are reflected in an inspirational and abundant variety of activities in the fields of politics, economics, daily life, the press, publishing, radio, television, education and culture, and art. In the richness and diversity of life and cultural activities, Marxism - Leninism and Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts have been creatively applied and developed as the ideological foundation and the compass to ensure social development in the right direction for the sake of national independence and freedom and people’s happiness. The market economy and the adoption of a door-opening policy have revived the economy and social activities, boosted exchanges of people, goods, and cultural products with other countries, helping to expand our people’s horizon of understanding and knowledge of the four corners of the earth. The dark side of the market economy and the door-opening policy - despite their violent impacts - cannot prevent our people from maintaining and promoting their fine traditions; this is most evident from the big celebrations in commemoration of the national origins, the revolution and the wars of resistance, and national heroes and other drives such as hunger elimination and poverty alleviation, in token of gratitude to meritorious people, helping the unfortunate; etc.

Certainly, the picture is not totally bright and it will be a big mistake to see only its light colors. We need to see all its “dark patches” and the causes of their emergence. Maybe, the most important of those causes is that we have not well anticipated the negative impacts from the dark side of the market economy and have not done a good job in preventing, combating and overcoming them. Those include such phenomena as: moral degradation, especially corruption, bribery, smuggling, trade fraud, purchase of degrees and good marks in education, trading in positions; the attacks from defrauding, individualism, consumerism lifestyle, the power of money and pragmatism. Those include also vacillation, skepticism, declining faith, and ideals fading recorded in a section of Party members and cadres, including a number of middle and senior officials. Those are many upsetting phenomena that previously would never happen in family relationships, in teacher - student relationships, friendships, and that upset a number of fine standard values ​​and lifestyles. A part of the population, including young people, pupils and students, know too little about the national history, the traditional values​​developed by history and the revolution; yet they have revived unselected ancient traditions, and at the same time nurture a xenophile mindset which sometimes turns blind,  absurd, weird and deprived of the national roots. The dark side also includes the social evils that tend to be increasing the fervor for material needs and base desires, the amoral way of life challenging both public opinion and the law, which are driving some people to commit crimes. All these phenomena are polluting the socio-cultural environment, causing a big discontent among the people, eroding the spiritual foundation of society, creating fertile ground for the intrusion of hazardous cultural products from the outside.

Certainly, we can’t blame the market economy or only its dark side for all such corruptive practices. Lack of capability to control the market economy and sometimes leaving it in spontaneous development - that is the subjective cause on our side. So, we should conduct some special reviews of the shifts in the system of cultural values ​​recorded since Vietnam adopted the market economy, in order to see what progress has been made; what used to be good and now has turned worse due to the dark side of this economic model. We should itemize and make a thorough analysis of the raised issues, starting the review from young people, pupils, students, workers, peasants, party members to cadres at all levels of authority. At the same time,  it is necessary to conduct a theoretical research closely linked to the actual state of the relationship between the market economy and culture, between cultural values ​​and market values. We need to clarify the following matters: Can we marketize culture? Can we commercialize culture? In such fields as literature, art, journalism, publishing, education, cinema, entertainment, etc, there should be articles and writings profoundly criticizing the dark side of the market economy and fighting against the tendency of commercialization of culture.

Today, globalization has become an objective trend, first of all in the economic sector, which subsequently causes strong impacts on all aspects of life of all nations. Globalization enables nations and peoples to get closer together, understand one another, complement one another, and enrich and support one another. Vietnam definitely needs to try to grasp this trend, seeing it as a great opportunity; we should try to make full use of all the advantageous conditions created by this process, especially material, technical, scientific and high-tech capabilities, experiences and updated knowledge necessary for the cause of intensified industrialization and modernization. However, we should realize that globalization is currently led by capitalism, and it is a process full of complicated contradictions. From the perspective of culture, globalization has opened up a great potential for global cultural exchange, adding more impetus to the course of innovation and modernization of national culture. Nations are enabled to be engaged in mutual learning and mutual understanding, making “the fruits of the spiritual activities of a nation become the shared property of all nations. National unilateralism and one-sidedness has no more chance to exist; and rich, diversified national and local cultures are blossoming into a world culture “(4). But, on the other hand, the complex development in culture associated with the global market, which is now, in essence, the capitalist market, are posing enormous challenges to developing countries.

The impact of pragmatism and “consumerist culture” is leading to the risk of homogenization of cultures and lifestyles, alien habits and forms of entertainment. Transnational capitalist monopoly firms are trying to propagate and advertise their global products that can modify the traditional pattern of life and culture of a nation in the direction of being “Westernized“ and “Americanized“. Facing this situation, even the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament once exclaimed: Culture is not an ordinary commodity. The real danger behind this is the America-style attitudes towards culture as a regular commodity. We must fight against the increasing “commercialization” of human activities, and prevent the American entertainment industry, which has already achieved efficiency right on the US market, from the likelihood of dominating all the creative spaces of other cultures. (5)

It can be said that, beside its positive aspects, globalization is posing challenges to national cultures, even putting them at the risk of becoming depraved when they lack independent and autonomous identity. The process of capitalist globalization, if applied to culture, in essence means cultural imperialism; it makes the Western values​​ world-wide dominant, it threatens to eliminate cultural differences between countries, nations, and regions; it will impoverish richly colored cultural mosaic of humankind; run the risk of homogenization of values and traditions, which may lead to erasing national consciousness, and exhausting the creativity of cultures.

In the context of open-door policy and world integration, Vietnam has more chances to access the quintessence of humankind cultures to enrich its national culture and quickly build an advanced and modern culture with national independence and socialism as its main content. We cannot in the name of protecting the national cultural identity to shut down the doors, isolate ourselves and limit our integration and cultural exchange with the outside world. But, if we have an inferiority complex, xenophile attitudes, or lose our vigilance, or lack mettle, we will lose our own, and will be dominated or may be “assimilated”.

Carrying out national industrialization and modernization in the context of globalization, we are facing many challenges in many fields, both in ideology and culture, and from both inside and outside. For the ideological and cultural “contra-currents” from big centers of the world always exert impacts on our ideological, cultural and social life. Reactionary thoughts and depraved cultural publications, waves of crime, violence and drugs are penetrating into Vietnam from foreign countries, coupled with the “peaceful evolution” scheme of hostile forces, the ideological, moral and lifestyle degeneration of a part of cadres and party members, thus contributing to the spread of social evils in the country in recent years; If not resolutely and effectively checked, these will pose a risk of weakening the country’s spiritual foundation, threatening even the existence of the regime with the so-called “velvet revolution”.

Lessons from developing countries show that, with the opening-door policies that focus on the economy, traditional culture may be easily underestimated. The abuse of cultural products from the outside may lead to depravation, way-out imitations, and the destruction of cultural values ​​that serve as the spiritual foundation of society, widening the gulf between economic growth and cultural development. There is a well grounded remark that a lost economy can be recovered, but a lost culture will definitely not.

Given the requirements for national modernization in the process of door-opening, integration and exchange with foreign countries, we should know how to inherit and promote our traditional cultural values ​​while struggle against the infiltration of harmful cultures, xenophile trends, weird imitations, and loss of national roots. Meanwhile, we should try to acquire the quintessence of humankind culture to form an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity and keeping abreast of the time.


Former Politburo Member,

Ex-Secretary of the Party Central Committee,

Former Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council


Furthe reading:

(1) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, vol.3, National Politics Publishing House, Hanoi, p.431.

(2) The Communist Party of Vietnam: Documents of the 5th Plenum of the 8th Party Central Committee, National Politics Publishing House, Hanoi, p.55.


(3) The Communist Party of Vietnam: Documents of the 11th National Congress, National Politics Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 75-76.
(4) K. Marx and F. Engels: Completed Works, National Politics Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, vol.4, p.602.
(5) Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of the Republic of France: Globalization, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2000, p.50.


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