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Ho Chi Minh’s conception on moral degradation from the perspective of party culture

(LLCT) - Ho Chi Minh defined morality as an integral part of culture. In his later writings, Ho Chi Minh even considered revolutionary morality to be the nucleus of new society culture, forming the spiritual foundation of society and of a ruling revolutionary Party.

1. Revolutionary morality - an integral part of Party culture

During his imprisonment in Chiang Kai-shek’s jail in August 1943, Ho Chi Minh made the observation on culture: “To enrich life, and for survival itself, humans have created and upheld systems of language, script, morality, law, science, religion, art, clothing, food and housing. Those elements create culture. Culture is the synthesis of lifestyle methods and manifestation developed by humans to adapt to the demands of survival”(1[1]).

Ho Chi Minh defined morality as an integral part of culture. In his later writings, Ho Chi Minh even considered revolutionary morality to be the nucleus of new society culture, forming the spiritual foundation of society and of a ruling revolutionary Party.

Later on, following this same line of thought, Ho Chi Minh affirmed that the Party held an indispensable leadership role in the Vietnamese Revolution, which was affirmed by party members’ outstanding morality. A society that develops its culture can develop its ethics, and vice versa. A society’s moral status forms a basis for culture. This is also true for political organizations like the Communist Party.

Ho Chi Minh’s understanding of the Party divides Party ethics into two categories - macro and micro.

Macro-level Party ethics

“Macro” is not really the accurate word to use in this explanation, as “macros” are built upon “micros.” Nonetheless, this phrase can describe the morality displayed by the entire Party, encompassing each party member’s voices and actions. First, it is clear that the Party is publicly pursuing freedom and happiness for all people, a stark contrast to the situation suffered under feudal and colonial regimes. On the road to revolution, all of the Party’s policies, guidelines and actions will move steadily toward this goal and this code of ethics. Previous moral policies include reducing land rents, reducing taxes, and agricultural tax exemptions for farmers. In the midst of nationwide poverty and economic crisis, the Party introduced a collection of morally significant reformative policies that showed the Communist Party’s dedication to their people - hunger eradication, poverty reduction, ethnic policy, public health care, care for those in remote areas, and the creation of community culture. Some of these policies were large-scale, affecting the entire country. Others were small, relating to a limited group of people such as prisoners, criminal, or those who had rendered merits to the revolution. In light of Ho Chi Minh’s theories, some circumstances require evaluation.

- The Communist Party of Vietnam, like most other Communist Parties, forms its policies with an ultimate goal of promoting morality (generally called revolutionary humanism or proletarian humanism). It is unarguable. However, under several specific conditions, implementation does not meet the requirements for morality. For example, when imperialists invaded Vietnam, the Party’s decision to launch an armed resistance was right and fit the revolutionary cause’s spirit of ethics. The Party was aware that this would result in great sacrifice and loss, but their efforts to promote peace and avoid bloodshed were being destroyed by anti-humanitarian forces. We had to go to war to reject a life of slavery, which is the highest manifestation of non-humanity and immorality. The Party will come across such harsh circumstances on the path towards the final goal. They will have to sacrifice individual components for the whole, and sacrifice the temporary for the eternal. Without sacrifice there will be no benefit. The Party must accept this and choose the difficult road with wisdom and heart. By incorporating these elements, the Party can select the most beneficial and ethical solutions for the country. Certainly, the Party will not always make the correct choices, but they must be willing to take responsibility and face judgement for their actions.

There are also cases that begin with humane and moral motives, but due to inadequate awareness and theory, their implementation results in immorality. Land reform, organization rectification and cooperativization are several example of this. We must mention cases where poor quality and the serious lack of knowledge in those implementing policies tainted the humanity of policy. These can be remedied if the Party forms a thorough, active and anti-bureaucratic operating system. It should base its system first on people’s interests, and publicly and transparently acknowledge their errors and make efforts to amend them. The Party’s acknowledgements and efforts to overcome mistakes can boost citizens’ loyalty to their Government.

Micro-level Party ethics

“Micro level” ethics are those displayed by each individual party member. Ho Chi Minh affirmed the public’s impartial and objective honor according to traditional thinking: “Party members go first and the masses follow suit”. People believe in the Party because they believe in the familiar party members who live next to them. There is a dialectical relations between the Party’s honor and prestige and the image of party members to the public.

- First, we must find an accurate perception of this issue. The Party is a unified organization, a cohesive block of people who lead the Revolution in the name of unity. When proclaiming their views, the Party represents the entire country. The people’s opinion of a particular party policy also means they are contributing to the whole Party. Of course, by using dialogue, party members can come to represent the Party. However, this is possible at a limited level; on the other hand, the people do not require each party member to precisely represent the Party speech. But morality is different. The Party is a collection of individual members. No party member can separate their name from their status, and they must display this through their actions and behavior. Each member’s morality is a component of the Party’s image. No one can claim to be a party member regarding political matters, but behave like everyone else in his daily life and his morality is not relevant to his morality of the Party, neither the Party takes responsibility for him. This is sophistry and is logically unsuitable. The masses assess the Party’s morality based on the morality they observe in each party member, particularly the ones they know personally. The state of the Party’s morality - whether growing or declining - is determined by the morality of individual party members. Like it or not, the morality they display represents the Party is morality at large.

- The Communist Party is a ruling party, therefore most key positions across the Government are held by party members. Meanwhile, as the economy has transitioned from subsidy-based to market-based, many individuals have developed a mercenary mindset, which has been accompanied by a number of evils, including corruption. More than ever, party members must be conscious of their moral responsibility, fighting against temptation and protecting their image, which reflects the image of the Party. The higher position a party member holds, the bigger moral responsibility he has. There is a paradox currently plaguing the Government in which many people - including party members, - talk about the moral degradation of society without mentioning their own individual responsibility. At this time, party members must represent the Party’s moral prestige, the people’s interests, and the Revolution’s final goal. They must monitor their own moral responsibility, and restore the Party’s moral prestige - an indispensable condition for the Party to effectively lead the people.

- The current social situation and revolutionary cause requires a high level of morality from communist party members. During previous revolutionary periods, there were exemplary people across localities and fields, including many party members. The common people learned morality through observation, not by studying moral theory, and these party members set strong examples to learn from. Today, however, we are witnessing a very different situation. “Bad examples” of morally spoiled individuals including several members of the Communist Party, are spreading throughout the society. The negative impacts of this phenomenon are huge, and can upset moral standards, cause chaos and reverse the value system that we have worked so hard to build. Despite the fact that the press and mass media have mentioned good examples, this is still outweighed by coverage of negative manifestations like crimes and social evils. Not surprisingly, this kind of news makes citizens skeptical and pessimistic. They need to see positive examples again. Such good examples provide evidence of moral prestige far more effectively than any lengthy theory.

Thanks to the continuous training of party members, the Party has been able to create an uninterrupted flow of culture. Each member has a duty to preserve and spread this moral culture.

2. Individualism - the ultimate manisfestation of the Party’s cultural degradation

Ho Chi Minh held a firm and unchanging view of individualism. In the work Promoting revolutionary ethics, sweeping individualism, he describes the elements that make up individualism - the antithesis of revolutionary morality and a retrograde idea within communist morality.

- The nature of individualism: Individualism is the appreciation and prioritization of personal interests. People who believe in individualism consider only their own interests first in every circumstance. They want everybody to work for them but are not willing to work for others. Individualism promotes the “mine” and belittles the “ours,” rejecting the aspect of community that forms the foundation of human existence, society and personal needs. Individualism destroys the human relationships that are an intrinsic manifestation of all true cultures.

- Manifestations of individualism: Individualism deteriorates the most fundamental human relationships through embezzlement, degeneration, wastefulness, extravagance, greed, profiteering, authoritarianism, narcissism, dictatorships, bureaucracy, monopoly, selfishness, discrimination, jealousy, and misanthropy.

- Consequences of individualism: Individualism negatively impacts all economic, political and moral aspects. It harms the Revolution’s interests; causes separation and conflict within people and the Party; defiles the regime’s inherent superiority; and undermines trust in the Party.

Thus, individualism overturns social values and humanity, and distorts the values that the Revolution worked so hard to cultivate and nurture. Individualism’s degradation of political ideology, ethics and lifestyle is the degradation of personal culture.

3. Enhancing revolutionary morality, fighting the degradation of ethics - how to build, defend and develop Party culture

- The Party has an objective need to enhance revolutionary morality and fight against ethical degradation

For the Party to survive and grow, it must build, protect and develop its leadership culture. This process requires two unified dialectial sides. Goals of the process include enhancing the Party’s combativeness and leadership capacity; strengthening intellectual potential; increasing the Party’s capacity to solve complicated and unprecedented problems created by the revolutionary process; preserving the Party’s prestige; consolidating citizen’s belief in the Party; and continuing the Party’s legacy of maintaining and spreading the sustainable values established during the Vietnamese Revolution.

- Solutions for enhancing revolutionary morality and preventing the moral degradation of the Party and party organizations

+ Educational solutions: Strengthening the Party’s knowledge of communist ideals, guidelines and policies as well as each member’s duties;

+ Practicing criticism and self-criticism within the Party;

+ Encouraging the masses to criticize the Party and supervise Party members’ self-improvement and attempts to overcome negativity and degradation;

+ Strictly monitoring Party cells’ periodic meetings;

+ Enforcing stringent inspections.

- Methods for cadres and party members to enhance revolutionary morality and fight against moral degradation

+ Awareness: The first and foremost goal must be to determine the Party’s interests. In addition, conduct persistent and patient self-improvement training, and learn to live in community.

+ Nurturing collective ideology, solidarity, organization, discipline, empathy, and a lifestyle imbued with affection and gratitude.

+ Reach out to the people; respect and promote the people’s mastery.

+ Study in order to improve knowledge and the ability to work.

Each cadre and party member must acknowledge the solutions for enhancing revolutionary ethics and fighting against moral degradation. This will lead to a greater sense of humanity by creating connection through common values - truth, goodness and beauty. It will also enhance relationships and establish a communist society in which the development of one person contributes to the development of everyone. All people will live moral lives free of individualism, and society will achieve a greater sense of humanity and culture.

Ho Chi Minh’s opposition to moral degradation within the Party raises many practical issues that can be applied in carrying out the Resolution of the 4th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (12th tenure), particularly repelling the political, moral and lifestyle degradation among a significant percentage of the Party, including high-ranking leaders.


(1) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, vol. 3, p. 458.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Pham Ngoc Anh

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics


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