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Practicing and promoting democracy in the 30 years of renovation
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The Regulations on democratic elections at the 12th Party Congress uphold the principle of democratic centralism. Photo: VNA

Awareness on democratic and socialist democracy in the renovation process of Viet Nam

Theories on democracy account for an important part of Marxism-Leninism theories. According to K.Marx and F.Engels, the evolution from slave owners’ democracy to bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy (socialist democracy) was a historical progress. They objectively assessed that though the bourgeois democracy had limitations, and shortcomings, it was a progress compared with the feudal dictatorial regime. At the same time, they pointed out the class nature of the bourgeois democracy which was democracy for the minority exploiters who were dictatorial to the majority of working people. According to K.Marx and F.Engels, in the first stage of the socialist revolution, the proletariat should become the ruling class to "seize democracy." Only by taking over the state power could the proletariat build and promote socialist democracy, and fulfil its historic mission to turn the people, first of all the working people, into the owner of the society, and the supreme and only subject of all powers. The thought of K.Marx and F.Engels bespoke the democratic nature of the working class and working people’s new society.

Inheriting and developing ideas of K.Marx and F.Engels on democracy, V.I. Lenin clarified the dialectical path of democratic transition: “From dictatorship to bourgeois democracy; from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy; from proletarian democracy to no more democracy”(1).

As a form of state, democracy came into being, existed and disappeared along with the birth, existence and disappearance of the state. V.I Lenin wrote: “Of course, democracy is a form of state and will disappears when the state exists no more, but this can happen only when socialism claims complete victory and is strengthened in the transition to complete communism.”(2) Of course we understand democracy as a political category will disappear, but as a value it will still exist even if the state does not exist any more.

Like F.Engels, V.I. Lenin especially stressed the class nature of democracy. V.I. Lenin required the Marxists never to forget without asking that for which class that democracy was. V.I. Lenin stated that one of the criteria to differentiate the proletarian democracy with earlier democracies: “The proletarian democracy is the regime dominated by the majority over the minority, in the interests of the majority ....”(3)

V.I. Lenin emphasized the need to combine the struggle for democracy with the victory of socialism. According to him, on the one hand, only through the struggle for a new democratic regime could subjective and objective prerequisites for the victory of the proletarian revolution ripe, on the other hand, socialism could not maintain its victory, if democracy was not fully exercised. Thus democracy is an intrinsic and inherent characteristic and nature of socialism.

As a culmination of the entire evolution history of democracy, socialist democracy is the crystallization of the entire democratic values achieved in the history and the emergence of new democratic qualitative values. Here, democracy becomes the common value of society, penetrating in all areas, and all relations of social life, and covering all angles of human existence, creating ample conditions for the release of all the creative capacity of human beings. So V.I. Lenin asserted that Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy. Socialist democracy is the democracy for the mass of working people, and for the benefit of the majority. It does not eliminate class struggle, resolutely fights acts against democratic standards and violation of true democratic values of the people. Therefore, in the socialist democracy, democracy and dictatorship are not separated; democracy is closely associated with law, order and discipline.

Inheriting and developing ideas on democratic of Marxism-Leninism, Ho Chi Minh advanced a unique concept of democracy through brief expressions: “People are masters,” “People exercise their mastery,” “People are the root,” “Our country is a democratic country,” “Democracy is the master key.” Affirming people as masters of society, Ho Chi Minh stated: “Power and force rest with the people,” and more importantly, Ho Chi Minh also confirmed to make the people enjoy their mastery in reality. From “People are masters” to “People exercise their mastery” is a qualitative step forward of democracy. According to Ho Chi Minh, people should be supported to exercise their right to mastery in enabling conditions, and know how to use that right. To do so, people’s capacity should be build. That capacity neither is readily available nor falls from the sky, or “granted,” but on the one hand, the Party and State must create appropriate mechanisms, policies, and legislation, on the other hand, people should strive to train themselves, learn about democracy, raise the level of knowledge on democracy, democratic practices and possess the acumen to practice democracy. Only by so doing can people exercise true right to democracy, and avoid general and nominal democracy.

According to Ho Chi Minh, to have democratic rights practiced, those rights should be institutionalized into Constitution, laws and implemented by the corresponding institutions of the State. Here, neither democracy and law, democracy and discipline eliminate nor nullify each other, on the contrary, they come in a dialectical unity, and are conditions and prerequisite for the development of each other. In fact, both anarchy and dictatorship are contrary to the nature of democratic socialism. There will be no democracy without law, order and discipline.

During the renovation period, the Party has made important strides in theoretical awareness on democracy and practice of democracy. Significant achievements have been made in democratization of social life, making socialist democracy a driving force of renovation and national development.

Democracy in the areas of economy, politics, culture, society

Viet Nam is in the period socialist-oriented development, thus socialist democracy is gradually being formed and built up and has not yet reached maturity. But after 30 years of reform, fundamental democracy progress has been made.

On achievements

1. Democracy in economy

Economic democracy is the basis for democracy in other areas. In the years of renovation, the lines on building and developing the socialist-oriented market economy have opened up the geographical areas for practicing and promoting democracy. The Party has advocated developing the socialist-oriented market economy with different forms of ownership, economic sectors, business organization and distribution. Economic sectors operating under the law are important components of the economy which are equal before the law, and embark on long-term development, cooperation and healthy competition. Institutionalizing these lines, the State has promulgated the Constitution and many laws in economy to create a legal corridor for the operation of the economy and for production and business, such as the Law on Investment, The Law on Bidding, the Law on Cooperative, the Law on Enterprise, the Law on Land, the Law on Bankruptcy. Thus, people have the right to free enterprise, right to ownership in production, and property and the right to do what the law does not prohibit. People also have the right to participate in the process of building lines and making policies for socio-economic development of the Party and the State, participate and supervise economic activities of the state apparatus and the state-owned enterprises and cooperatives. Laborers have the right to equally enjoy economic achievements of the country. The spirit of democracy, openness and transparency in economic activity have been increasingly evident. Proactiveness, creativity in production and trade have been promoted. The State has taken care of generation of employment for people, and paid attention to deep-lying, remote and disadvantaged areas to improve the quality of life and eradicate hunger and reduce poverty.

2. Democracy in Politics

In the years of renovation, outstanding progress has been made in democracy in the political domain. We have renovated organization and mode of operation of the political system, and promoted socialist democracy. We have been renewing and rectifying the Party building, renewing the Party's leadership and thus improving democracy in the Party. The number of nominees has been higher than the list of elected candidates, and regulations on hearing within the Party is promulgated. The regulation on the operation of leading bodies at all levels has helped the Party to orderly and better exercise its leadership in a democratic manner. The participation of grassroots party organizations and party members in the planning, implementation of guidelines and policies of the Party has been increased and effective. Much progress has been made to heighten democracy within the Party. These steps have had strong impacts on promoting democracy in the society.

We have continued building and completing the rule of law socialist state of the people, by the people and for the people. The 1992 Constitution, and the 2013 Constitution were promulgated with amendments and supplements relating to human rights, civil rights, and the right to mastery of the people. Important legal documents have been promulgated relating to the organization and operation of the organs of state power, socio-political organizations, economic components; many civil rights and human rights have been specified and institutionalized. The National Assembly’s activities have been increasingly democratic; question and answer sessions have been strengthened at sessions of the National Assembly and National Assembly Standing Committee, Council of Ethnic Minorities and National Assembly’s Committees; Votes of confidence of the titles elected or approved by the National Assembly or the People's Councils have been collected; People made suggestions to amend the 1992 Constitution; Elections to the National Assembly and the People's Councils have been improved with higher number of nominees for elections; People have contributed more opinions on the draft laws and policies of the Party and State.

The judiciary and procuracy have been renovated towards promoting citizens’ democracy, strengthening the role of lawyers and litigation in court to restrict injustice.

National administration has been reformed in all four aspects: administrative institutions, organizational apparatus, public employees and public finance in order to reduce inconvenience to the people.

The Viet Nam Fatherland Front and other socio-political organizations have gradually renewed their content and method of operation, promoting their role of oversight and criticism, representing and protecting the rights and legitimate interests of the people, taking care of the interests of members, membership, exercising democracy and building a healthy society. Along with the diversification of methods to rally the masses, we also have diversified functions of these organizations. A series of social organizations, social-professional organizations have been established, meeting diverse needs on rallying people by sex, age, occupation, education, region and spiritual belief. Recently the Politburo issued the “Regulation on supervision and social criticism of the Fatherland Front and social-political organizations” and the “Regulations on the Fatherland Front, socio-political organizations and people’s participation to provide comments and opinions on Party and administration building.

Forms of democracy exercise (direct democracy and representative democracy) have been gradually perfected. The Regulations on democracy at grassroots levels and the Ordinance on democracy in communes, wards and towns have been implemented by all walks of life, breathing life to democracy at grassroots levels.

3. Democracy in culture and society

The State guarantees people's fundamental rights, such as right to information, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of creativity, the right to comment on Party and administration building, the right to discussion and vote on important issues in the construction of cultural life in residential areas. People have the right to discuss and monitor the projects on social security, hunger eradication and poverty reduction and support due to natural disasters. To create a legal framework for promoting democracy in cultural and social fields, the State has enacted laws, such as the Law on the Press, the Law on Publication, the Law on Intellectual Property, the Law on Social Insurance, the Law on Health Insurance, the Ordinance on Preferential Treatment of People with meritorious services to the revolution, thereby helping promote the people’s mastery in cultural, spiritual and social activities, enable them to enjoy the fruits of national culture, and the quintessence of mankind’s culture. Progress has been made in scientific theory, thus scientists exercise the right to freedom of thought, debate, discussion, bring into play their creativity, criticism and contribute their opinions to guidelines and policies of the Party and State, and Central and local socio-economic projects and programs.

In summary, over the past 30 years of renovation, achievements made in building socialist democracy in our country are very important, contributing to motivating the renovation, and national construction and defense. True to the assessment of the 11th Party congress: “Progress has been made in socialist democracy”; “Democracy within the Party, in the social organization has been expanded and improved; and the people’s right to mastery has been promoted. The protection of rights and legitimate interests of citizens and handling of violations of the law have been attached importance to.”(4)

On limitations and weaknesses

- Awareness of democracy of part of cadres and Party members and people is still limited. Some people completely agree that the current democracy is consistent with the socialist democracy in its full sense. Some follow illusions to achieve a high level of democracy while subjective and objective prerequisites have not been ripen. As they do not understand the nature of capitalist democracy, some people take for granted that it is the ultimate value that socialism must follow. Others have separated, or even opposed democracy and discipline, democracy and law. The principle of democratic centralism within the Party and the State have been misinterpreted by some people, changing it into bureaucratic centralism or anarchical democracy.

- The administrative reform has fallen short of expectation; administrative procedures have caused troubles for organizations and citizens. Bureaucracy in administrative apparatus has hampered management of socio-economic processes and promotion of the people's mastery.

- Methods of organization and organization of the Fatherland Front and mass socio-political organizations have yet got out of bureaucracy, not yet associated with people of all strata and grassroots levels; officials of various socio-political organizations have been working as “civil servants” in “administrative environment”.

- The people’s right to mastery in some places, in some areas has been violated. Democracy exercise is nominal. Excessive democracy and extreme democracy as well as arbitrariness have still occurred in some places and aspects. There are manifestations of nominal representative democracy and direct democracy which result in their low role.

- Democracy within the Party has not been fully implemented, democracy is still nominal. The lack of democracy within the Party often goes with dictatorship, arbitrariness and even patriarchal leadership and management. In contrast, in some cases, democracy does not go hand in hand with order and discipline; deeds do not match words; more said than done; and the Party resolutions and State's laws have not been strictly adhered to. There are many violations in the implementation of collective leadership and individual responsibility. Responsibilities of the Party heads and organizations and administrations have been unclear and strictly implemented. This has led to the “claiming of success and shifting of responsibility to others.” Individuals claims successes and blames the collective for mistakes.

The cause of the limitations and shortcomings: there are both objective and subjective causes.

- Democracy as a political issue is determined by the economic development level. The current low level of Viet Nam’s economy with a primitive and incomplete market economy will restrict the development of democracy in society.

- Viet Nam’s bypass of the capitalist regime to advance to socialism also means bypassing bourgeois democracy. Thus, people have not been conscious of and capable of exercising democracy. As they have not gone through bourgeois democratic school, having no democracy culture to the necessary extent, no law-abiding habits in a state ruled by law, they likely fall into extremes.

- The socialist rule of law State of the people, by the people and for the people has been gradually built; the legal system has been incomplete, not synchronized and inconsistent. Viet Nam still lacks many mechanisms, regulations and institutions to enforce democracy, and implementation of the people's mastery.

- Democracy is associated with people’s knowledge, but the knowledge standard and level of the people are still low.

- The impacts of the market economy market and international integration; hostile forces have taken advantage of democracy, human rights, our mistakes and shortcomings to sabotage our Party, State and the socialist regime.

- Several Party committees at all levels and state organizations, cadres and Party members have not set example on democracy in society.

Issues and solutions


- Continue the research to clarify in theory and practice the model of organization and operation of the political system, the mechanism of “Party leadership and State management, the people’s mastery,” and mechanism to exercise democracy in that model.

- Further research to clarify in theory and practice how to promote real democracy towards people, maintain the Party leadership, make it clean and strong; cadres and party members refrain from degradation, and staying aloof of people on the condition that there is a unique ruling party without political and multiparty pluralism.

The flip side of the one-party state is subjectivism, self-satisfaction, arrogance, privilege, bureaucracy, and alienation from people. To prevent and overcome these problems, it is necessary to rely on the people to build the Party, “relying on the people to correct policy,” and “rectify staff” (Ho Chi Minh), and establish mechanisms for people to supervise the Party, cadres, and Party members. All issues relating to lines and policy of the Party should be discussed within the Party and the entire people before the Party decides. The Party is clarity, morality, civilization and the Party’s interests conform to people’s interests. So, it is only good for the Party to do so.

- Research to continue to renovate the content and methods of the Party leadership. To promote democracy, the Party is required to lead through democratic methods and on the basis of democracy.

To achieve democracy within the Party, it is essential to be fully aware of and strictly implement the principle of democratic centralism. All members are entitled to discuss, debate and decide on all affairs of the party, from the specific work of grassroots party organizations to major issues such as building the Party Platform and lines. Party members have the right to debate, expressing their opinions and may reserve their comments to the highest levels of leadership; The Party encourages discussions and debates with different opinions, even contradictory to reach consensus. Once collective resolutions are reached, they must be respected; all party members have to say and following resolutions; all party committees should listen to the opinions of subordinates and party members, be able to select and synthesize their initiatives and experience. Practicing self-criticism and criticism regularly and seriously is indispensable for democracy in the Party. In the spirit of democracy within the Party, self-criticism and criticism should be done with understanding, sympathy and mutually open, and comradeship assistance.

- Research to develop and promote self-management model in the community at grassroots level (village or hamlet or population groups), operating according to customary law and regulations which are not contrary to law; attach great importance to the role of prestigious village elders and chiefs.

- Research to promote the role of socialist-oriented civil society organizations in building a truly democratic society, limiting the negative effects of the market economy and complementing the state governance. In Viet Nam now, understandings on the “civil society” are substantially different. Some misunderstand the concept. Some hostile and political opportunist forces at home and abroad have attempted to take advantage of civil society to sabotage our regime. It is necessary to examine deeply the issue of civil society to, on one hand, reach consensus for internal awareness, and to refute erroneous and hostile stance; on the other hand, harness appropriate factors to promote democracy, and national development.

Some solutions

First, build democracy regulations in the Party. Although the Party Statute is established it does not cover all contents of democracy within the Party. Continue to promote self-renewal and self-rectification in the Party; the Party must be an example on democracy in the organization and its activities. Build and perfect mechanism to ensure democracy within the Party and in society, such as people’s supervision and control towards the Party, institutionalization of the Party's rights and responsibilities in society, and institutionalization of relations between the Party and socio-political institutions.

Second, further promote democracy in personnel work, improve election work.

- Complete mechanisms for democratic elections. The number of candidates must be higher than the list of to-be-elected candidates to Party committees, Standing Committee, secretary, deputy secretary, the National Assembly and People's Councils.

Encourage virtuous and talented candidates to stand for election; Party organizations need to overcome narrow-mindedness. Standing for election must be encouraged. High standards must be adhered to when preparing the structure of delegates in leading bodies of the Party and the State.

Expand people’s democratic rights at the grassroots level; apply direct election of chairmen of the People's Committees at the commune (ward), village, and hamlet level. The Commission of Control must be elected by corresponding Party congresses instead by executive committees as at present; Party secretary and gradually the Standing Committees will also be elected by the congresses of the same levels.

- Implement democracy in assessment of cadres. Build a democratic process on performance assessment of cadres.

Third, build and complete mechanism for people's supervision and control of the Party and State. For example, what content people can monitor; they report to whom, in what form, and how the feedback mechanisms operates.

Fourth, continue to improve the quality of the forms of exercising democracy (direct democracy and representative democracy).

Fifth, improve quality and effectiveness of oversight and criticism of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front and mass organizations.

Sixth, research, formulate and promulgate the law on referendum, the law on demonstrations, the law on associations and the law on access to information in order to create a legal basis for resolving people’s pressing problems.

Seventh, implement Regulation of the Political Bureau, 11th Tenure on 25 April 2015, "On democracy in the study of political theory in the party and state bodies" to ensure the rights and obligations of organizations and individuals to be creative, independently thinking and making proposals, collect opinions, apply and use research results in the researches on political theory in line with current legislation.



(1) V.I. Lenin: Complete Works, The Progress Publishing House, Moscow, Vol.33, p.206

(2) V.I. Lenin: Complete Works, Ibid, Vol.27, p.327

(3) V.I. Lenin: Complete Works, Ibid, Vol.32, pp.164, 597-598

(4) Documents of the 11th Party Congress. The National Political Publishing House, The Truth, Ha Noi, 2011, p.158

This article was published Communist Review, No 880 (February 2016)

Prof. Le Huu Nghia, PhDVice Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council