Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 2 February 2007

The consequence of living in a 'socialist paradise'

Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh has criticised the 'morals' of some party members, because they show too much 'individualism' which is here used as code to describe the climate of graft and corruption which has been the subject of recent revelations in the local press. This worthy apparatchick opines:

"Improving revolutionary morals must go along with giving up individualism."

- the repressive nature of a 'socialist' regime, as encapsulated in this official exhortation, indicates clearly why such social systems are never particularly successful over the longer term, for they run counter to the natural instincts of human beings wherever they are which is to favour, generally speaking, family and friends over others. In a repressive system such as operates in Vietnam, and formerly operated in much of the communist world, the only outlet for such natural instincts is a lifetime of disobedience to official dictates, usually in minor ways that have become the 'way things are done' in such societies where petty officials expect small favours for performing their duties on behalf of the citizen, specially because their own wages are usually derisory, even if supplemented by special privileges (very low cost, but ghastly, accommodation and various benefits in kind), but in reality very little with which to take part in the cash economy (you know, to acquire those little 'luxuries' such as a refigerator or shoes and clothes, or even if they are lucky a television).

In any socialist country I have ever lived in (such as Vietnam or even France during the period it flirted with socialism in Mitterand's early years as President) or visited (China, the former USSR, East Germany, etc) the lives of locals were constrained by such factors. Official dogma is that loosening the screws on the pressure cooker that is such a society will result in complete anarchy and rampant corruption, a fear that is perhaps to a certain extent justified (just look at Russia) until people get used to the way a more free system operates and crucially until a legal and justice system is put in place which commands the general respect of most citizens most of the time. One of the functions of a sound legal and justice system is to put in place rules which will to some extent limit the freedom of the individual and his/her more selfish instincts whilst still permitting a climate of entrepreneurship to flourish, benefitting everyone in the long run. None of this exists in Vietnam or in any socialist system where the whole attitude of the average citizen is to have as little to do with the hierarchy and officialdom of the ruling Party as they can.

Unfortunately the good Ong Manh does not show even the faintest glimmer of understanding the real problems facing a society such as his Party (for the moment) governs, so his ability to see potential solutions is suspect. He no doubt sees his main function as being to maintain the primacy of the Communist Party; in my view this is not a solution, it is the major problem, even if the ideal for such a society as Vietnam and perhaps many in East Asia with their joint histories of Confucianism and Buddhism is rather more 'collectivist' and less 'individualist' than we are familiar with in Westerm countries. That it can be done there successfully is shown by such countries as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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