Thanks to Darrion Nguyen for this interview. Check out the NonLa Collective on Twitter @NonLaCollective.
What is the historical memory of the American imperialist invasion of Vietnam in Vietnamese memory? How is the liberation war discussed in schools for example?
The historical memory of the resistance war against American imperialism is still present for the majority of Vietnamese today. It manifests in many different forms:
1) History Classes: It is literally the biggest section in the book about modern Vietnamese history and US imperialism and crimes are called out explicitly there.
2) Historical Location: The independent palace (where the last President of South Vietnam was captured), the war remnant museum (where American war crimes are shown) and Cu Chi tunnel are among the most famous tourist locations in Vietnam.
3) Public Events: Unification Day (April 30th) marks the win against U.S. capitalists, and is the biggest holiday in Vietnam (together with Independence Day on September 2nd and May Day).
4) Agent Orange: Most of the Vietnamese public is aware of and condemns the US forces for their use of chemical warfare which leads (still today) to millions of birth defects.
5) General: Most Vietnamese people are proud that we won against all the superpowers and achieved our reunification. However, due to diplomatic reasons, it is clear that the message against US imperialism is not maintained anymore in the media (it is also Western-influenced nowadays) and other print channels.
What is life like in Vietnam today? What are the ongoing discussions about socialism like?
The target of Vietnam socialism as defined by the Party can be summarized in this official slogan: “rich people, strong country, a democratic, equal, civilized society”. The Party, state, and people aim to increase the people’s prosperity (through a poverty reduction program, opening up the economy, new rural initiatives, etc) while maintaining social welfare and equality suitable to current economic development (subsidized healthcare and education, a pension fund, emergency relief fund, price stabilization, etc). This is done through the socialist-oriented market economy (Kinh tế thị trường theo định hướng xã hội chủ nghĩa), an innovative ideological breakthrough achieved by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Democracy is promoted by involving the people, encapsulated by the slogan “people know, people discuss, people do, people check, people enjoy”. The National Assembly (voted in by all the people) is the supreme power (not the CPV itself) but the leading is done by the CPV to ensure we are going toward socialism.
(See the best summary of socialism in the Vietnamese context and our goals in Gen Sec article here: https://en.nhandan.org.vn/politics/item/9924202-some-theoretical-and-practical-issues-on-socialism-and-the-path-towards-socialism-in-vietnam.html… See Luna video here for our voting process (which is pretty democratic and forbids any money/ad involvement) https://youtu.be/ggoolrSJxgY)
What is the legacy of foundational figures like Ho Chi Minh?
Ho Chi Minh is highly revered across the nation. He is considered the father of the nation and is everywhere (on money, in classrooms, and some even worship him at home, etc). His thought (encapsulated through his life activities, writing, and also his students like Vo Nguyen Giap) is considered the application of Marxism-Leninism in Vietnamese conditions and is the official ideology of the CPV. Disrespecting Ho Chi Minh is the easiest way to get you kicked out of the country by normal people.
Why is it necessary to continue to oppose American imperialism? How does the example of Vietnam's victory over imperialism inspire the world?
American imperialists NEVER ceased their interventionist policy to topple our socialist government. After the war, they enforced an embargo, and supported Pol Pot to isolate and destroy Vietnam. After normalization, they changed their strategy and used separatist movements (Montagnards in the Central Highland, Hmong in the mountainous areas, Cham/Khmer in the Mekong Delta), attempting to create color revolutions by triggering anti-China sentiment (such as the oil rig issue in 2014, special economic zone “protest” in 2018, etc), or supporting outright terrorist organizations (Viet Tan) to destabilize, topple our government or at least destroy our relationship with China and force us to their sphere of influence. All of this was the prototype of what is currently happening in China (Hongkong, Tibet, etc). CPV is aware and is actively combating it without making it a reason for US intervention in the form of “human rights and democracy”. The Vietnamese victory against US imperialism and the ongoing victory against its various attempts to destroy us is a shining example to other countries that it is possible for a small country to be truly independent, unified, and moving toward socialism.
What are some of the lasting theoretical contributions of HCM thought? What texts should interested readers explore?
Ho Chi Minh did not write many “theoretical texts”, as he focused on writing what is necessary and as easy to understand as possible. His thought is studied through his various writing and his life activities. For the interested reader, I would recommend waiting for a compilation of some of his texts (and other revolutionaries in Vietnam) which will come out soon.
Can you tell us more about the necessity of national liberation being combined with Marxism and why this is the only way to combat imperialism?
National independence in association with socialism is the cornerstone of Ho Chi Minh thought, and both concepts have a dialectical relationship with each other.
What does that mean?
Ho Chi Minh concludes that true national independence can only be achieved by aiming toward socialism, and socialism can only be built by being truly independent. It manifests differently depending on the situation, but any left or right deviation will lead to great error and destroy the revolution. For example: even though HCM is a communist, he wants a more unified front to struggle for independence (Viet Minh). This front includes non-Communist elements but is pro-independence. It does not mean unity with the outright enemy (big landowner and capitalist); it is done to maximize the strength of the movement. Moreover, the leading party is always the CPV, to ensure the goal is always to go toward socialism. It is not a linear, 2 step process, but depending on the immediate enemy at the time, the focus will be different. An example: during the War against US Imperialism, the North was going toward a socialist revolution, while the South was going through a people’s democratic revolution to achieve independence and unification (hence the NLF had many non-communist factions as well). A left deviation will call for the exclusion of the majority of the population (like the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, etc) and a right deviation will call for more diverse leadership to incorporate the bourgeoisie into the leadership.
Why is this the only way?
Imperialism has transformed from outright colonialism to neo-colonialism, where a comprador bourgeoisie class is used to control the population so the international capitalists can keep exploiting the country. As a result, the country is not truly independent, and socialism cannot be built because the policy is controlled by the international capitalist. Hence, no true national independence means no socialism (look at African countries which are still under French control on financial matters). On the other hand, national liberation led by the capitalist class will only stop at incomplete revolution (capitalist revolution) and the ruling class will still cooperate with the global one and no true independence can be achieved (see India). That’s why in 1946, when France demanded an ultimatum for Vietnam to give up our weapons, we declared a resistance against them even though we did not want war. It was the same in 1960 against the US. And once we commit ourselves to war, we must not stop until we achieve our final aim (although the strategy may change; we may fight or negotiate, etc).
Joseph Mullen interviewing Darrion Nguyen