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Ho Chi Minh Thought on power control

(LLCT) - From the very early stage, Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the first Democratic Republic in Southeast Asia, understood that power always tends to corrupt. Therefore, he had put considerable efforts into finding ways to control the power of administrators. In Vietnam, power control has recently “emerged” as a matter of urgency. The whole political system, headed by the Communist Party, should learn from Ho Chi Minh Thought and experience to achieve power control. 

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Keyword: power control, Ho Chi Minh Thought on power control

1. Ho Chi Minh Thought on power control

Ho Chi Minh was always worried about the corruption of cadres and Party members when they held power. In his Letter to Comrades in My Home Province on September 17, 1945, he warned that although the government was newly established, “many have been corrupted and arbitrarily used public power to benefit themselves. Some have even misused the rule of law to take revenge, making people afraid of the Government and Party”(1). In How to Earn People’s Trust (October 12, 1945), he also stated: “I have learned that for many People’s Committees, the number of complaints outnumber praises”(2). He pointed out the six “diseases” of authorities at all levels (misuse of law, arbitrariness, corruption, personal enrichment, dissension, arrogance)(3) as expressions of power abuse. If not promptly dealt with, these diseases would result in a dangerous situation where people, the “original owner” of power, are deprived of their rights while those appointed by the people are corrupted by power. In Correcting the Working Style, after pointing out the wrongness of “revolutionary mandarins”, Ho Chi Minh therefore wrote one separate section under the title of “Leadership and control”(4) to imply that leadership means to control but the leaders must also be put in check. Even though at that time he did not use the term “power abuse” but similar words were employed to express the degeneration and corruption of cadres in power. In his opinion, “those working in the government all hold power whether great or little”(5) so power control was in fact the control of the use of power to ensure power was used correctly to serve the people. With the acuteness of an outstanding politician, Ho Chi Minh determined the following measures to prevent the abuse of power among cadres and party members:

Firstly, controlling power by educating cadres and Party members about revolutionary morality to control themselves.

As power is not a concrete matter to be quantified, controlling it is very difficult. Power control therefore includes the meaning of self control. Cadres and party members must have good morality at their “root” and understand the origin of power they hold in possession. Ho Chi Minh always persisted in educating cadres and party members about revolutionary morality and the thought “for the people, not for personal benefit”. He stated clearly: “Ours is a democratic country, all benefits are for the people, all powers are of the people”(6), hence the power of the Party and State is delegated by the people. He reminded cadres that: In our regime, the President is only “a soldier taking order from the people to the frontline”, therefore they should not “become revolutionary-mandarins”. Ho Chi Minh viewed moral education for cadres as a means to help them fight against corruption internally. Upon demanding “Our Party is moral and civilized”, he wanted to bring to the Party a kind of “soft power” - power of culture, Party culture, culture of power use.

Secondly, controlling power by strict adherence to the Party’s principles and discipline. The power of a true revolutionary Party is linked with principles and discipline. Ho Chi Minh promoted democracy within the Party because he considered that democracy brings ideas, enthusiasm and unity; democracy leads to transparency and openness - important conditions for power control. Promoting democracy within the Party will become the foundation for democracy in society so that people “can speak out” and realize their rights to control. He considered self-criticism and criticism as a routine similar to “daily washing up so that the Party will not get any disease and stay strong”(7). When the Party is healthy and its cadres are strong, power control will become an easier task.

Ho Chi Minh understood the significance of Party discipline. In his view, Party discipline does not only ensure unity like “many become one in the fight”(8) but also timely eliminates “bad elements in the Party”(9) and the corrupted to ensure the health of the Party. He stated: “The Party has a strict discipline, and every cadre must adhere to it”(10). In other words, the Party’s strict discipline is the “magical circlet” to warn cadres and Party members of corruption and the “justice sword” to eliminate the “cancer cells” in the organization. Therefore, it is the most effective means for power control.

Thirdly, controlling power by promoting the laws of the Government. When the Party holds power, the positions of power in the State apparatus are mostly held by Party cadres. In this case, besides the Party discipline, cadres should be controlled by the legal system and public regulations. He said: “The law is people’s rule to prevent harmful actions and protect the common interest of the majority”(11). Understanding the importance of law in power control, Ho Chi Minh tried to develop a legal system with the guiding principle of “equality before the law”. The law, however robust and adequate, is only of value when it is carried out strictly and equally as required by Ho Chi Minh: “The law must punish all those corrupted regardless of their status and position”(12). He announced the national order of “capital punishment” for 10 crimes, one of which is corruption - a crime only those in authority can cause. As the humanitarian value of law lies in the deterrence and punishment, the rule of law is indispensable to power control.

Fourthly, controlling power by inspection and examination. Ho Chi Minh found that “skillful” inspection and examination help leaders control the practices in reality and identify “subordinate officials who are irresponsible and act harmful to the people”(13) to timely address the issue. Ho Chi Minh demanded not only top-down inspection (i.e. leaders inspect subordinate officials) but also bottom-up inspection (i.e. “people and subordinate cadres inspect leaders’ mistakes”(14). It is a reasonable policy as leaders hold more power and have bigger workload so it is easier for them to be corrupted and make mistakes. To direct inspection and examination, Ho Chi Minh determined various measures such as conducting regular and sudden field inspection instead of paper reporting, relying on people’s “eyes and ears” and most importantly choosing inspectors of integrity. If inspectors are not courageous or lack morality, they cannot control power and instead are corrupted by power. Inspection based on the people is a core element of Ho Chi Minh’s thought on power control and inspection in particular.

Fifthly, controlling power by promoting people’s control. Ho Chi Minh affirmed that “the people are the owner of the administration. They vote for the delegates to represent themselves in running that administration”(15). Therefore, the people are the most important stakeholder in power control. They control power by selecting and voting for the worthiest individuals to represent them in governance. This is very significant because the question “whom power given to and held by” shall determine how and for which purpose the power is used. After voting for their delegates, the people must continue to control power through monitoring, making a contribution, criticizing and denouncing any violations. Ho Chi Minh used to say: “The government wants the people to support, monitor, control and criticize so that it can fulfill its role as the loyal servant of the people”(16). The people can also control power by removing the delegates from office if they are unable to carry out their responsibilities. Ho Chi Minh stated: “If the government do harms to the people, the latter have the right to abolish the former”(17). Another direct way for people to control power is through their vote on referendum about the State’s important decisions.

Sixthly, controlling power by promoting the media’s monitoring role. Ho Chi Minh always highlighted the journalists’ responsibility as “journalists are also revolutionary soldiers with pen and paper as their weapon”(18). In the fight against internal enemies, journalists as the soldiers in the field of culture and ideology must “help people understand: corruption, bureaucracy and wastefulness are crimes”(19). The media as the “fourth power” must disclose violations and put pressure on the corrupted, “to surround them with criticism and isolation so that no one can make light of their crimes”(20).

2. Utilization of Ho Chi Minh Thought on power control in present time

Firstly, continuing education about revolutionary morality and self-control for cadres, party members and leaders.

Ho Chi Minh once said, “to become a good cadre requires a spirit of self-criticism”(21). Under this spirit, education about morality, self-respect and integrity for cadres and party members is very important. They must be by all means made to understand the rule of “high water pushes the boat afloat”, which means the whole people’s interest includes each cadre’s self-interest. On the other hand, if officials abuse power to exploit the people, “when discovered, he would be punished, lose all his dignity and illegal possession”(22). Learning Directive No.05 of the 12th Politburo should be the principle to strengthen morality within the Party. Learning Ho Chi Minh Thought, morality and lifestyle must become a need and an opportunity for everyone to “look at oneself” to improve their self-control.

Secondly, further promoting the control of cadres through the Party’s principles and discipline.

As the majority of those holding power in our country are Party cadres, the Party’s principles and discipline must be employed to control them. Power can be controlled by promoting democracy within the Party through question-and-answer to ensure transparency. In the age of information, transparency becomes very important since it exposes the bad and the ugly while at the same time honours the good. In contrast, the lack of transparency will make people suspicious and discourage good people in the fight against corruption, abuse of power and Party infighting.

Now more than ever should the Party carry out the principle of self-criticism and criticism because “revolutionary individuals and organizations need to embrace self-criticism and criticism like people needing to breathe”(23). However, at present, “self-criticism and criticism are very weak”(24). To address this, the attitude to self-criticism and criticism should be considered as an important criterion in the evaluation of Party cadres and organizations. All expressions of “silence is gold”, making use of criticism to “unseat” others or to flatter the superior are wrongful and need to be strictly dealt with.

The enforcement of Party discipline is of special importance today as the Resolution of the 4th Party Central Committee (12nd term) affirms “inspection, monitoring and discipline have not been effective enough to deter, prevent and push back corruption”. However, it should be clearly pointed out that: Strengthening Party discipline does not mean disciplining as many as possible but rather awaking them to their sense of duty. To deter officials from violation, the enforcement of discipline must be carried out strictly; the higher one’s position is the more strictly their violation is punished.

The rules on authority and responsibility of leaders, especially those at strategic level under the Central management should be developed at the early stage. The 8th Plenum of the 12th Party Central Committee has recently approved the “Regulation on the responsibility of cadres and Party members to set an example, first and foremost members of the Politburo, Secretariat and Central Committee”. This regulation must be used to classify cadres. Although setting an example is a “classic” method of education, its content should be constantly renovated. At present, high-level cadres must set an example in “caging” their own power and fighting against others’ abuse of power; absolutely never “using illegal means to run for office” and voluntarily resigning when unable to fulfill their role or having low trust. They should also set an example in receiving material benefits because it can easily be used as a precedent to increase the burden on people.

Thirdly, strengthening the law-governed regime and legal deterrence.

It is vital to develop transparent and open regimes and regulations based on “the rule of law” so that anyone in any position cannot “abuse” their power. The authority, functions and responsibilities of all public agencies and officials must be disclosed so that they are accountable to the people for their work.

To follow Ho Chi Minh’s advice of “cadres being the root of work”, it is time their management was renovated. As power abuse is the “Pandora box” of all kinds of corruption, the management of cadres, including appointment, training and rotation, is open, transparent and democratic to avoid being violated. The voting process must be transformed with more cadres outside the Party being nominated so that worthy delegates of people are selected. The running and testing for leadership should be carried out in a healthy competitive environment. The mid-term vote of confidence is also an important “channel” for evaluation to improve the management of cadres. 

In particular, to ensure cadres “dare not” abuse power, it is essential to improve the deterrence function of law. Those who have been “blinded” by power have very low self-respect and integrity. Therefore, without strong enforcement, it would be difficult to achieve the goal of anti-corruption. The legal system, especially regarding anti-corruption such as the Law on anti-corruption, Law on Practice of Thrift, Customs Laws, Penal Code, must be improved. It would be necessary to adopt the Law on Property Inventory because dubious property is the most obvious evidence of corruption. Property transparency would therefore be “the effective shield” against corruption. In addition, the enforcement must be strictly carried out with “no prohibition and avoidance” so that there is no “safety zone” for corrupted officials.

The fight against corruption must be further promoted as a means to control power. No cases of corruption would be allowed to “be made light of and forgotten”. The new task at present is to take back the illegal property from corrupt officials for the people and to strengthen anti-corruption within anti-corruption agencies.

The development of an e-Government and online public services should be accelerated in an open and transparent manner to streamline the bureaucracy and reduce bribery and embezzlement.

Fourthly, promoting the role of the people and media in controlling and monitoring officials.

To follow Ho Chi Minh’s words on the role of the people, “allowing people to criticize officials and listening to their opinion in appointment will ensure fairness and impartial judgment”(25), in addition to their existing rights (e.g. voting, monitoring, contributing opinions, filing complaints), it is necessary to take opinions of the local people before appointing a cadre from that locality. Moreover, people’s access to information should be facilitated. The Law on Information Access, which is on effect since July 01, 2018, should avoid the abuse of “top secret” classified information to prevent people’s legitimate right to access. There should be mechanisms to ensure grassroots democracy and protect whistleblowers.

The dismissal of delegates is another way for people to control power, thus the need for a Law on Dismissal of Delegates with a clear procedure. People’s direct ownership of power should be facilitated through referendum.

Newspapers, with the power of media, must contribute to uncovering cases of corruption and putting pressure on the corrupted as well as on judicial agencies to ensure that the judgment is carried out swiftly and comprehensively. On the other hand, as newspapers are “the fourth power”, they would also be easily corrupted if they are not controlled. Therefore, newspapers should at the same time fight against corruption within their own field.


l Endnotes:

(1), (2), (3), (21) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, vol. 4, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2000, pp.20, 51, 65-66, 28.

(4), (5), (7), (14), (17), (22), (25), (26) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid., vol.5, pp.325, 122, 279, 328, 75, 123, 336.

(6), (8), (12) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.6, pp.232, 17, 127.

(9), (10), (15), (19) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.8, pp.289, 276, 263, 139.

(11), (16) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, p.9, tr.259, 81.

(13) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.15, p.224.

(18) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.13, p.466.

(20) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.12, p.469.

(23) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, ibid, vol.7, p.114.

(24) Nguyen Phu Trong: Determination to make qualitative changes in Party building and rectification, National Defense Journal, vol 3/2012, p.8.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Tran Thi Minh Tuyet

Academy of Journalism and Communication

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