First of all, can I just say ‘fuck Vietnam’? Fuck Vietnam.
I realise that it is slightly unfair to tar an entire people for the actions of their rulers. (I suppose it’s like blaming the Russians and the Georgians for the invasion(s) of South Ossetia). It’s the kind of argument usually found in the right wing press glossing over the heinous foreign policy actions of some nominally democratic state.
As soon as something unilateral and clearly against the ‘greater good’ is perpetrated, if you listen hard enough you can hear the whispery sound of the fiscal right wingers at the news desks of the WSJ, the FT and the Economist rubbing their soft-skinned palms together in glee at the prospect of their views of the fallacy of government being vindicated:
“You did vote them in, you know!?”
It does disturb me though that so many Vietnamese had to get shot and maimed for an ethos sold out by the victors as soon as the smoke cleared.
(The Vietnamese model seems so much more of a striking example of authoritarian capitalism than that of China because the so-called ‘war in Vietnam’* was purportedly fought on exactly this principle, wasn’t it?)
Shouldn’t the people of north Vietnam at least be incensed out of their gourd(s) that the country is under a free market system now? Is nobody weeping openly over this once-proud Comintern poster boy flung into the sewers of liberalised macroeconomics, nose-to-tail with the evil US of States!?
Fuck Vietnam for selling their ideals straight out from underneath the people who bled for them.
I suppose beating the south and the Americans allowed the rulers of Vietnam to at least adopt capitalism on their own terms – rather like China has done, only with a great deal more bloodshed.
There is of course the ‘desperation’ argument. i.e. laid low by the ravages of war and crippled by the hangover of continuing western sanctions, Vietnam was desperate for something, anything to drag them out of the mire.
But just how ‘desperate’ ordinary Vietnamese can be regarded to be now, and desperate for what exactly (food, shelter or Gucci handbags), depends very much on your politics. ‘Desperate’ to me suggests people stabbing each other in the eyes for loose change. By that yardstick, unless they can work out a way of making literal gouging more than momentarily profitable, Vietnam is currently a very long way from desperate:
Despite recent currency and inflation headaches common to the rest of the globe, GDP growth hovers around 7/8%, less than 10% of the population lives on $1 a day or less, over a million people join the workforce every year, almost all children now enter lower secondary school and over 60% stay on to upper secondary level. Over 30% of Vietnamese are under 25—ensuring comrades in the most productive part of their careers will continue swelling the party’s coffers and helping to reduce the country’s hefty current account deficit for a long time to come.
This is not to say that poverty does not exist in Vietnam, just that looking forward they’re in a great position to get past it.
The take-up of ‘the American system’ has been pursued with such zeal in Vietnam that it resembles grand parody. The mores of commerce of some parts of the country are like a technicolour ‘Battleship Potempkin’ starring Mickey Mouse and directed by T. Boone Pickens.
Inexplicably, most of one recent nighttime train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Na Trang was occupied by a screening of a video of the AGM of leading Vietnamese beverage company, THP showing at high volume on the in-carriage overhead TVs.
The taped event included a correographed dance extravaganza featuring storm troopers, jabba the hut (sic) and a cast of beaming, virginal girls dressed as Princess Leia.
I’m positive no-one will have got in touch with Lucasfilm to licence the ‘Star Wars’ theme or to check the copyright on using the ‘scrolling tombstone’ device of expository text employed to deliver the firm’s guiding principles via the acronym, A.T.T.A.C.K.
At the climax of the night, owner and General Director, Dr. Tran Qui Thanh rode triumphantly into the convention hall on a horse wearing a stetson and a bolo tie and brandishing an immense broadsword.
His keynote address included the booming approbation to his employees that, “we are soldiers in an economic war”.
Imagine Steve Jobs addressing a bah mitzvah in a Pickelhaube and you’re halfway to how offensive this spectacle must have looked like to any dyed-in-the-wool communists on that train.
*A nine-year war which saw a payload of 260 million bombs dropped on Laos as well, for one – more than the total dropped worldwide during WWII.