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Theoretical development on the transition to socialism in Vietnam

(LLCT) - The main points of Marx’ and Engels’ theories of socialism include eradication of human exploitation, class and ethnic oppression, inequality by abolishing private ownership of productive materials, and establishing public ownership in order to bring about economic development and good lives for the people. The ten solutions they put forward in the Manifesto of the Communist Party published in February 1848 focused on fulfilling the objectives of socialism. They criticized reactionary socialist movements including feudalist, petite bourgeoisie, and capitalist socialism. This proved the need for a corrected perception of socialism as a scientific branch. F. Engels emphasized that if socialism was to become a science it had to be, first and foremost, based on realities(1).

K. Marx held that the shift from a capitalist society to a communist one was a revolutionary process or a transitional period. Inspired by Marx’ and Engels’ ideas,  Lenin, basing himself on world revolutions and the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century, introduced an important argument about socialist revolutions and the transition to socialism in countries. He said that “socialism could not be considered to be a ‘just-for-once’ cause but an era”(2). This is an era of tremendous transformations and profound political, economic, social and ideological changes. In his “Left-Wing” Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality published in May 1918, Lenin pointed out the major characteristics of the transitional period to socialism. He emphasized that during such period, different economic components had to be established, a market economy encouraged, productive forces multiplied and high productivity created. At the same time, the roles of classes and the form of class struggles had to be determined. The organizational and management roles of socialist states had to be emphasized. Such transitional periods had to undergo different stages or steps. Lenin stressed, “In the best situation, such a transitional period would take a few years. Given our policy, the period is divided into smaller stages. What is difficult and sophisticated about our assignment and policy is taking into account specific tasks of each of such stages”(3).

With the October Revolution in 1917, the Soviet Russia, and then the Soviet Union, socialism began to be translated into reality. Socialist revolutions occurred in many countries and gained important achievements. The Soviet Union and other socialist countries became undeniable structures as they showed how a new socio-economic form was taking shape and growing strong. With that given, capitalism and imperialism had to resort to invasive wars, the Cold War and “peaceful evolution” took place in order to put an end to socialism in ideological and political terms. It should be noted that many ruling communist parties were too subjective, voluntaristic or impatient while conducting socialist revolutions. They failed to have a full understanding of the characteristics and rules of the transition to socialism. As a result, they made erroneous policies or took wrong measures or steps. Ultimately, the socialist model in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries collapsed. Such was a painful and profound lesson in theoretical and politico-practical terms.

When Ho Chi Minh founded the Communist Party of Vietnam in February 1932, he set the Vietnamese revolution on the basis of strategic objectives of gaining national independence and advancing to socialism. Although the August Revolution in 1945 was successful, Vietnam had to fight another prolonged war against foreign invasion. That was why the objective of building socialism could not be achieved. In 1954, Northern Vietnam was liberated and entered the transitional period to socialism. In 1956, President Ho Chi Minh pointed out that socialism would make the country strong and ensure that people were rich, free, happy and had access to schooling, housing and healthcare. Children and elderly people had to be provided with care and the disadvantaged with assistance. He stressed the need to understand that Vietnam was advancing towards socialism as a colonized feudal country with a backward agricultural system and war devastation. He pointed out, “Given such circumstances, what method and form must we use to progress to socialism and at what rate should we do so? We must improve our understanding of Marxism - Leninism and use it to reflect on what our Party has done while producing an accurate analysis of our country’s characteristics. Only by doing so can we gradually understand the law of development regarding the Vietnamese revolution and lay down suitable guidelines and steps for a socialist revolution in our country”(4).

Ho Chi Minh emphasized the need for a unique way for the socialist revolution in Vietnam.                      

The 3rd Congress of the CPV in September 1960 laid down guidelines for the socialist revolution in the North and advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat. It called for simultaneous conduct of three revolutions in productive relations, science and technology, and ideology and culture, of which the scientific and technological revolution was the most important. The Party considered socialist industrialization as a central task throughout the transitional period. It aimed to achieve socialism in a fast yet steady manner. In 1970, because of the war and given better understanding of the country’s characteristics, the Party adjusted its perception and laid down the first steps for the transitional period. These included: accumulation of capital for industrialization, improvement of people’s lives, and achievement of large-scale socialist production. After the country was reunified on April 30, 1975, the Party’s 4th Congress in December 1976 laid down guidelines for the socialist revolution in the entire country. The Congress no longer stuck to the first steps in the hope that the country could complete the transitional period after a few five-year plans. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the country faced a socio-economic crisis. Therefore, it had to seek ways to innovate. The country needed theoretical thinking and adapted mechanisms and policies. It needed to re-interpret the characteristics and objective rules of the transitional period to socialism. The Party’s 5th Congress in March 1982 pointed out that the initial stage of the transitional period was aimed at preparing necessary conditions for industrialization. Its 6th Congress in December 1986 laid down guidelines for a comprehensive national renovation.  

Practical and theoretical perception of the transition to socialism in Vietnam before the renovation period, i.e. from 1954 to 1986, can be summarized as follows:

The people’s democratic government, a product of the national liberation revolution, had new functions and tasks including the historic task of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Its objectives included building socialism, defending the achievements of the revolution, maintaining national independence, uniting the political institution with the communist Party’s leadership, power and State’s management and administration, upholding people’s rights to mastership and establishing socialist democracy.

During this period, Vietnam tried to eradicate human exploitation and all forms of oppression or injustice. It established new socialist productive relations based on public ownership, including universal (or national) and collective ownership of productive materials.  It did not accept the existence of economic components which exercised private ownership of productive material. It aimed to develop a large-scale socialist economy.

It focused resources on building the physical and technical infrastructure of socialism and strengthening productive forces. Socialist industrialization was considered to be a central task throughout the transitional period. The scientific and technological revolution played a key role. Labor productivity was constantly improved.

The national economy was planned. Management mechanisms were established and perfected according to the State’s centralized planning and administrative decisions. The State would dominate all socio-economic activities and relations and exercise strict control of production, circulation and distribution of products alike. State subsidization took shape in both production and consumption.

A culture of a socialist and national character was nurtured. Education and training expanded for the sake of new socialist people. The education of communist ideologies and patriotism was promoted. People’s comprehensive development was facilitated. Their material and spiritual lives were taken care of.

Defense and security capabilities increased. The socialist Fatherland was safeguarded. Social order and safety was ensured. People were able to live peaceful lives. Proletarian and socialist internationalism was upheld. The country’s external relations expanded for the sake of international peace, friendship and cooperation.

The 6th Congress of the CPV in December 1986 introduced the guidelines for comprehensive national renovation based on innovation of theoretical thinking, improved awareness of the objective rules and steps of the transitional period to socialism and correction of its mistakes or shortcomings including subjectivism, voluntarism and impatience. An important lesson was that any renovation had to be based on the country’s actual situation and that objective rules had to be respected and abided by. The Party’s ability to perceive such rules and act according to them would ensure its sound leadership(5). The Congress was a breakthrough in the Party’s perception of socialism and the transition to socialism in Vietnam.

During its leadership and organization of the renovation cause, the CPV and State has attached importance to two major areas, practical organization and development of theoretical perception. It has paid attention to integration of these areas in every developmental step. It has been attentive to the renewal and perfection of mechanisms, policies and the legal system in order to ensure well-ordered and principled renovation and effective development in politics, economics, society, defense, security, foreign relations and international integration. Based on the rich realities of the renovation process and newly arising opportunities and challenges, the Party has emphasized the importance of reflection so as to further clarify theoretical issues including awareness of the transition to socialism in Vietnam.

By making use of internal and external resources and having a sense

of independence, self-reliance and international integration, the renovation cause has gained historic achievements over the last three decades. The country has escaped the regional and global crises or recessions. It has fulfilled the tasks set for the first stage of the transitional period, which is conducive to the stage of intensified industrialization and modernization. Vietnam is no longer a poor or underdeveloped country. Its political stability has been maintained and its socialist road stuck to. People’s living standards have improved in all aspects due to the fact that a correct balance between economic growth and social progress and equality has been achieved. Social policies have been well implemented and the human factor highly regarded. The country’s position in the inter-national arena has heightened.

As the State constantly reviewed its mechanisms, policies and laws, the CPV innovated its thinking and promoted research into Marxism - Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thought, especially theories of socialism and the transition to socialism, with their creative application. Such collaboration was affirmed when the Party’s 7th Congress in June 1991 adopted the Platform for national construction during the transition to socialism. For the first time, the Party’s Platform had pointed out the objectives of the socialist society in Vietnam, its six-feature model, and laid down concrete guidelines or procedures for the transitional period.

Realities have shown the special importance of theories and theoretical work. Every mistake or shortcoming originates from limited or poorly updated theoretical awareness, according to the Party’s 6th Congress. On 28 March 1992, the Politburo issued Resolution 01-NQ/TW on comprehensive guidelines for theoretical research. The Resolution emphasized the need to innovate and expand theoretical thinking and promote reflection of the past. Attention should be paid to studying the 70-year plus history of the building of real socialism. Lessons should be drawn from the collapse of the socialist model in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. It was necessary to conduct research into epochal issues, modern capitalism, changes in international relations and the new world order. Having studied theories of socialism, the Resolution pointed out, “We must continue to carry out in-depth research into why our country has opted for the road to socialism. We must discover trends, patterns, conflicts, motive force, forms and steps of such road. Also, we must make clear the nature and characteristics of the socialist model in Vietnam”(6).

As the renovation cause is underway, there has been a wide range of newly arising practical issues that need to be accounted for by theoretical means. Evaluation of such issues needs to be performed in order to further clarify existing theories. Such issues include development of economic components, forms of ownership of productive material, types of market; operation of a State-regulated market economy, objectives, scope and steps of national industrialization and moder-nization, establishment of the law-ruled State and perfection of the political system. Other issues are related to society, social policies, social security, defense, security, and strategies for national safeguard, external relations, international integration, culture, human development, the leadership and power of the communist Party in the building of socialism, promotion of people’s master-ships and building of socialist democracy.

Party congresses and Central Executive Committee conferences have evaluated theories based on the ongoing renovation. The 11th Congress of the CPV in January 2011 summarized the 20 years’ implementation of the 1991 Platform and adopted the amended Platform for national construction during the transition to socialism. The 11th Poliburo advocated reflection of the 30-year renovation in order to clarify theoretical and practical issues of the process. The Party, State, and people of Vietnam share the view that the renovation cause has further clarified issues related to socialism and the transition to socialism in the country.

Firstly, there was a more detailed description of the objectives, model and nature of the socialist system in Vietnam.

“The socialist society we are trying to achieve is one where the people are rich and the country is strong. It is one which is democratic, equitable and civilized and has a highly developed economy based on modern production and progressive and appropriate production relations. It is one with an advanced culture rich in national identity. It is where people’s well-being is ensured and their comprehensive development is facilitated. It is where different ethnic groups in the country are equal and united, treat each other with respect and help each other to develop. It is one with the socialist rule of law, by and for the people and led by the communist Party. It is one which has friendly and cooperative relations with world countries”(7).

The features mentioned above of the socialist system in Vietnam are also its objectives and nature, which are pointed out in Marxist-Leninist principles and Hồ Chí Minh Thought and which are suitable for the country’s particular characteristics and circumstances.

In order to fulfill the objectives and translate that socialist model into reality, the 2011 Platform set eight major tasks, 1) to intensify national industrialization and modernization while developing a knowledge-based economy and protecting natural resources and the environment, 2) to develop a socialist-oriented market economy, 3) build an advanced culture imbued with national identity, unleash people’s potential and improve their living standards, and achieve social progress and equity, 4) ensure national defense, security, as well as social order and safety, 5) implement an independent, self-reliant, peaceful, friendly, cooperative and developmental foreign policy, proactively and enthusiastically carry out international integration, 6) establish socialist democracy, practice national solidarity, intensify and expand the united national front, 7) establish the socialist law-ruled State of, by and for people, and 8) build the transparent and strong Party.

The Platform pointed out that while performing the tasks, it was necessary to attach special importance to the fundamental interrelationship between renovation, stability and development, between economic and political reform, between the market economy and

the socialist orientation, between development of the production force and establishment and gradual perfection of socialist production, between economic growth, cultural development and social progress and equity, between the establishment of socialism and protection of the socialist fatherland, between inde-pendence, self-reliance and international integration, and between the Party’s leadership, State’s management and people’s mastership. “The general objective of the transitional period in Vietnam is to basically establish the economic base of socialism including a suitable political, ideological and cultural superstructure so that Vietnam can become an increasingly prosperous and happy socialist country”(8).

Secondly, new light has been thrown into issues related to the transition to socialism in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese economy during the transition is a socialist-oriented market one. Different economic sectors including the State one, which plays the leading role, as well as collective, private, mixed and foreign invested ones co-exist, compete with each other and are equal under law. Ownership of productive material takes different forms including universal ownership where the State serves as the owner, and collective and private ownership. There is a range of type of market, goods, services, finance, money, labor, real estate, science and technology. Although the economy operates according to market me-chanisms, it is regulated by the State’s socio-economic development strategies.

Since the Party’s 6th Congress, the economy has been restructured. Investment structure has also changed. Strategic breakthroughs have been made, the socialist-oriented market institution perfected, high-quality human resources developed and modern infrastructure built, which aims to improve labor quality, efficiency and productivity, increase the competitiveness of the economy and ensure fast yet sustainable economic development.

Politically, the leadership and power of the CPV have been strengthened. The State’s management has become more effective and efficient. People’s mastership rights have been upheld and socialist democracy has been further promoted. All of these elements are considered to be the nature of the regime, objective of, and driving force behind the country’s development. The political system as a whole has been constantly improved or perfected in terms of its functions, tasks, apparatuses and personnel. The socialist law-ruled State has been established and continuously improved.

The Party’s 6th Congress emphasized that socialist construction “is a profound and radical revolutionary process where the old and the new fight each other in order to create substantial changes in all areas of the society. It must undergo a long transitional period with numerous developmental steps and forms of socio-economic organization”(9). It called for equity, solidarity, mutual respect and help among ethnic groups. The Vietnamese culture had to be advanced and infused with national identity while Vietnamese people had to conform to comprehensive and progressive norms.        

The transition to socialism in Vietnam, especially the ongoing renovation cause, proves that it is absolutely possible to skip capitalism and advance straight to socialism. Although the dominant role of capitalist production relations and superstructure can be dismissed, humankind has gained achievements in science and technology especially thanks to capitalism. These advances must be made use of in order to multiply produc-tion forces and develop a modern economy.

Changes in theoretical thinking and reflection of the reality have further clarified fundamental issues related to socialism and the road to socialism in Vietnam. However, it is necessary to conduct further research and more reflection with a view to justifying the scientific base of the socialist model as well as its content and practicality. The objectives of the stage beyond 2020 must be set when Vietnam has basically become a modern industrial nation. Socialist production relations must

be strengthened, the rich-poor gap narrowed and social policies for the benefit of people perfected. Socialist culture, morality, lifestyles and norms must be established in accordance with socialism in Vietnam and developmental trends of the times.



(1) K. Marx and F. Engels: Complete Works, vol. 19, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p. 293.   

(2) V. I. Lenin: Complete Works, vol. 26, Progress Publishing House, Moscow, 1980, p. 444.

(3) Op. cit., pp. 119-120.

(4) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol. 11, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 92.   

(5) CPV: Complete Documents of Party Congresses, vol. 47, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006, p. 363.   

(6) Op. cit., vol. 52, pp. 23-4.

(7), (8), (9) CPV: Documents of the 11th Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, pp. 70, 70, 71.


Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Trong Phuc


Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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