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Relationship between “rule by virtue” and “rule by law” in Ho Chi Minh Thought on building a law-ruled State in Vietnam

(LLCT) - Ho Chi Minh Thought on building a law-ruled state is the inheritance of national tradition and our forefathers’ experiences of building and managing state, the result of experience, study, survey of numerous revolutions in the world. At the same time, Ho Chi Minh creatively applied the view of Marxism-Leninism on the new style state to Vietnam’s reality. One of the outstanding features in his thought on building a law-ruled state is that he advocated the sound relationship between “rule by virtue” and “rule by law”.

Keywords: rule by virtue, rule by law, building a law-ruled state.

1. “Rule by virtue” is the root of building a law-ruled state

“Rule by virtue” in Ho Chi Minh Thought on building a law-governed state means a state led by a genuine and revolutionary Party with the people imbued with socialist morality who wholeheartedly serve the nation and people. “Rule by virtue” in Ho Chi Minh Thought also implies doing good deeds for people’s peace, setting examples, enhancing new moral education and training for officials, Party members, and the people. According to him, if morality is depraved, however much improvement the law might be, it is difficult to be implemented in reality. Law must express the core values of social morality and national morality standards.

In the new regime, the State apparatus is established under the principle that “all power belongs to the people”, making the working people the masters of society and original subject of power. Hence, as soon as the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh stated: “Ours is a democratic country. All the benefits are for the people. All the powers belong to the people. Renovation and construction are the responsibilities of the people. Resistance war and nation founding is the cause of the people. Government authorities, from the local to central level, are appointed by the people. Unions, from the central to communal level, are organized by the people. In short, the power and force all are in the people”(1). This is his consistent thought on the leading and directing of the Vietnamese revolution.

The politics built by Ho Chi Minh is moral politics. “Revolutionary morality” is the highest standard he sets. It is his belief that morality is to serve society, the people, and the emancipation of mankind. Ho Chi Minh’s moral and political thoughts are unified. The categories of the “rule by virtue” theory are perceived and developed by Ho Chi Minh with characteristics of the class, people, and struggle to become the categories of “revolutionary morality”. The content of Ho Chi Minh’s “revolutionary morality” is naturally different from the feudal morality. He affirmed: “... That morality is not conservative. It is new and great; it is not for an individual’s fame but for the general benefit of the Party, nation, and mankind. Like a river which will be dried without water source or a tree which will be withered without roots, a revolutionary must be moral. If he is immoral, he cannot lead the people, however talented he is”.

In his talk at the refresher course for the central-level military officials held in October 1947, Ho Chi Minh said: “To have revolutionary morality, the followings should be obtained: intelligence, trust, kindness, bravery, and uprightness”(2). He often mentioned the requirements for officials and Party members: “A revolutionary must have revolutionary morality. A genuine revolutionary should keep revolutionary morality. Revolutionary morality can be summarized as follows: Be aware of the right or wrong, maintain standpoint, be loyal to the nation, and be filial to the people. Whether an official grasps revolutionary morality or not much affect success or failure”(3).

Thus, Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary moral standards originated from “rule by virtue”, but he made proper application, creation, and supplements to the actual conditions and situations of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. Compared to Marxism-Leninism, Ho Chi Minh’s views on “revolutionary morality” and “rule by virtue” show his independent and creative thought with the inheritance and development on a scientific ground but full of humanistic and national spirit.

In his lifetime, Ho Chi Minh always persevered with the principle: action matching with word, and exemplification. Along with gradual construction of the socialist law-ruled state perfect in legislative, executive and judicial aspects, he devoted his life to the revolutionary cause, striving for self-improvement, moral self-perfection, and patiently educating officials and Party members, especially leaders and managers in the State apparatus. With revolutionary morality as the foundation, Party officials can accomplish their glorious mission and fulfill their duties to the nation and people.

Ho Chi Minh is a typical example of moral politics. His stature, thought, and intelligence persuaded such patriotic scholars as Huynh Thuc Khang, Phan Ke Toai, and numerous other intellectuals to trust the Party and follow its leadership.

The history of the Vietnamese revolution shows that Ho Chi Minh was very successful when he built new-style politics and morality for the democratic state. Marxism-Leninism, the materialistic view, and dialectic methodology provides the scientific ground for the moral and humanistic values of “rule by virtue”, so that it can come true in social life.

2. “Rule by law” is the standard norm to build a law-ruled state

In Ho Chi Minh Thought, a strongly effective law-governed state is the one organized and run within the Constitution and law. He believed that if the state managed society with law, it manifested democracy and progress, and it was the popular existence of modern society.

In 1919, in the Claims of the Annamite People sent to the Versailles Conference by Ho Chi Minh, there were 4 claims of jurisdiction out of 8. In the newspaper L’Humanité on 2 August 1919, he wrote: “On 18 June, the newspaper L’Humanité published the Claims of the Annamite People to the Peace Conference demanding amnesty for all the local political prisoners, a reform of legislation in Indochina, providing Vietnamese with the same juridical guarantees as the Europeans, freedom of press, opinion, association and assembly, right to education, and substitution of a system of laws for the system of decrees”(4).

Thus, building a state that manages society with law, a very special thought of Ho Chi Minh, was formed very early. It reflects the core content of the new democratic state, and it is the thorough principle in his state management operations.

After the success of the August Revolution, under the leadership of the Party and President Ho Chi Minh, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam replaced the feudal and colonial governments, as well as the feudal rule by virtue and colonial rule by law with “revolutionary morality” and the legal system of people’s democracy.

Under the law-abiding principle, just one day after gaining independence, at the first Governmental meeting of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on 3 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh proposed six urgent missions that need to be implemented immediately. They included the task of conducting a General election: “We must have a democratic Constitution. I suggest the Government organize a universal suffrage-based GENERAL ELECTION as soon as possible”(5).

Although Vietnam faced many internal and external difficulties, the general election was held just four months after national liberation. This was the quickest and soonest universal suffrage which helped the working class hold the power. The general election was the first step for the process of building a legal and constitutional state, expressing the brilliant thinking of President Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh made much effort in building law. At its second session in October 1946, the first National Assembly discussed and approved the first Constitution of Vietnam: the 1946 Constitution. Speaking at the closing plenary session, Ho Chi Minh affirmed: “Fourteen months after our national liberation, the first Constitution in our national history has been completed. It also makes a historical landmark as the first Constitution in this Oriental region... It stirred up a spirit of solidarity between Vietnamese ethnic groups and the upright and fair spirit among all walks of life. Our government should follow three policies: people’s welfare, people’s right, and nationality”(6).

When Northern Vietnam entered the transitional period to socialism, our country gained many significant achievements. Many stipulations in the 1946 Constitution had become no longer relevant, so Ho Chi Minh advocated that it should be amended, and a new Constitution promulgated in 1959. It was because when socio-economic conditions changed, law should be changed to ensure proper regulating of social relations which had been generated and formed.

In his 24 years working as State President, apart from the 1946 and 1959 Constitution, Ho Chi Minh instructed to build 16 acts and more than 1,300 by-law documents, including 243 ordinances on state organization. They contributed to form a state apparatus with various fundamental factors of a law-ruled state. These impressive figures indicate Ho Chi Minh’s interest in respecting law as well as the appreciation of the “rule by law” in building a law-ruled state. He requested that ours should be democratic, strict and practically effective law. The state should use law in social management. However, our law witnessed qualitative change with the characteristics of the working class. It was a kind of new law which was really democratic because it protected freedom and democratic rights of the working people.

The democratic rights of the people must be institutionalized with the Constitution and law; simultaneously, the legal system must ensure that people’s rights to freedom and democracy are respected in practice. Ho Chi Minh commented: “Ours is also the state for the majority of the people, it is to rule the reactionary minority and preserve the benefit of the people by democratizing people’s dictatorship”(7). “After the success of the August Revolution, we set up the new Government was, army, police, court, and law of the people to fight against the internal and external enemies, and preserve the interests of the people”(8).

As State President, Ho Chi Minh had Eight Commands of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam devised, which clearly stated: “All the people, regardless of class, faith, and profession, must maintain order and wholeheartedly support the people’s government, honestly cooperate with the people’s army, and follow the government’s law and the army’s order. The government and people’s army are responsible for working closely with the people and protecting their life and assets. The henchmen, spies, robbers, harassers, and saboteurs will be strictly punished”(9).

In his article “A Contribution to the History of the Question of the Dictatorship”, Lenin expressed his view that: “the scientific concept of ‘dictatorship’ means unlimited power, based on force, and not on law.” Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh was a law-abiding politician. He requested the state to build a scientific legal system for social management under which law is considered supreme, thus ensuring the power belongs to the people, and guaranteeing their right to mastery. Therefore, the State is also governed by law, and all the operations of its agencies, organizations and civil servants are required to abide by the Constitution and law. “Ours is a democratic country, i.e., it belongs to the people. Along with their right to mastery, they have to fulfill their citizen’s duties and keep their morality, which means to follow the law of the State...”(10). In general, in Ho Chi Minh Thought, “rule by law” is the standard for building a new, democratic, legal state.

3. The dialectical relation between “rule by virtue” and “rule by law”

By nature, “rule by virtue” and “rule by law” are two sides of an inseparable integral entity. The emphasis of either “rule by virtue” or “rule by law” in building a law-ruled state is one-sided and insufficient. Thus, Ho Chi Minh appreciated morality and moral education as well as the role and power of law. Law-abiding spirit is based on the moral standards and vice versa. He clearly understood that law should be based on morality. Ho Chi Minh’s method for “national governance” combines both “rule by law” and “rule by virtue”, in which the former means strictness and fairness and the latter mercy and reasonableness. They unify, supplement, and support, rather than exclude each other. The National Order, issued by Ho Chi Minh on 26 January 1946, clearly stated 10 things for reward and 10 things for punishment, informing the troops and people of what should be done and what should not. “Ten things for reward” include Article 2 (Who achieves military feat will be rewarded), Article 3 (Who sacrifices himself for the country will be rewarded), Article 5 (Who implements public affairs in a transparent and upright manner will be rewarded), Article 6 (Who does good deeds for the country and state and wins over the love from the people will be rewarded), and Article 9 (Who risks his life for public affairs will be rewarded). The “Ten things for punishment” include Article 1 (Who works with the enemy and betrays the country will be executed), Article 6 (Who lets soldiers do harm to the people will be executed), and Article 8 (Who steals public property will be executed)(11). Ho Chi Minh used “virtue” to correct bad habits and had clear regulations on reward and punishment. Only by doing so could we prevent the evil and promote the good of everybody to build a clean and strong society.

Ho Chi Minh urged the timely promulgation of law. Ordinance No. 26 dated 25 February 1946, declared vandalism a felony and the saboteur would be prosecuted, imprisoned, or executed. Ordinance No. 142 dated November 1946, stipulated the punishment for offering and taking bribes or embezzling public funds. Ordinance No. 223 dated 27 November, 1946, defined punishment for offering and taking bribes and embezzling public funds and public property. With his vision and intelligence, Ho Chi Minh found that it was easy to promulgate laws, but it was extremely difficult and complicated to put them into practice. Therefore, he set out democratic principles in public political activities to make the State’s activities open and transparent under the people’s supervision. He requested the “Organization of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam”: So as to successfully implement the revolutionary mission, our State should develop democratic right and public political activities of the people with a view to promoting their activeness and creativity, making Vietnamese citizens participate in managing the State’s affairs, building socialism, and fighting for national unification”(12).

Ho Chi Minh requested to make law stricter in parallel with promoting revolutionary morality education, highlighting exemplification of officials, Party members, and key officials in all sectors and at all levels. He required revolutionary officials to be ready to endure hardship and sacrifice, have determination to strive for the revolutionary cause, and prioritize revolutionary morality; like a river, which will dry up without water source, or a tree which will wither without roots, a revolutionary must be moral. If he is immoral, he cannot lead the people, despite his talent. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh introduced 23 standards for a revolutionary. In October 1947, he raised 12 standards of a genuine revolutionary Party in his work: “Improving Our Work Style”.

In order to ensure equality and democracy in recruiting State officials, President Ho Chi Minh signed Ordinance No. 76-SL dated 20 May 1950 on promulgating the regulation for civil servants of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He requested to build a pool of morally and competently qualified officials who should be absolutely loyal to the revolution, enthusiastic and proficient in work and skills and maintain a close relationship with people. Officials and civil servants must be responsible, determined, especially in difficult situations, and unaffected with different result. They must regularly make self-criticism and criticism, always have consciousness and action for the growth and transparency of our State and socialism.

For Ho Chi Minh, law is not used to punish but to protect people and their interests. The judiciary thought in organization and operation of the State apparatus through officials and civil servants is imbued with the humanistic, moral, affectionate spirit according to the Vietnamese traditional ethics. Therefore, the combination of “rule by virtue” and “rule by law” in state organization of Ho Chi Minh includes the philosophical connotation imbued with national identity, democracy and the value of the time. Ho Chi Minh’s successful combination of “rule by virtue” and “rule by law” manifests the creative and flexible application of Marxism-Leninism to the actual situation of Vietnam.

The lesson on the unified and dialectical combination of “rule by virtue” and “rule by law” in Ho Chi Minh Thought is the guideline and fundamental principle for us to build a strong law-ruled socialist state which should really become the state of the people, by the people, and for the people.



(1) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, vol.6, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.232.

(2) Op. cit., vol.5, p.259.

(3), (10) Op. cit, vol.9, p.354, 258.

(4) Op. cit., vol.1, p.10.

(5), (6), (11) Op. cit., vol.4, p.7, 491, 189-190.

(7), (8) Op. cit., vol.8, p.261, 262.

(9) Op. cit., vol.7. p.487.

(12) Op. cit., vol.12, p.374.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Xuan Trung

Institute of Ho Chi Minh and Party Leaders,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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