THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (SRV) is governed through a highly centralized system dominated by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP--Viet Nam Cong San Dang). As the force controlling the system, the party exercises leadership in all matters. The government manages state affairs through a structure that parallels the party's apparatus, but it is incapable of acting without party direction. All key government positions are filled by party members.
Society is ruled by the party's ubiquitous presence, which is manifested in a network of party cadres at almost every level of social activity. All citizens are expected to be members of one or another of the mass organizations led by party cadres, and all managers and military officials are ultimately answerable to party representatives.
The VCP in the mid-1980s was in a state of transition and experimentation. It was a time when a number of party leaders, who had been contemporaries of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), were stepping down in favor of a younger generation of pragmatists and technocrats, and a time when the prolonged poor condition of the economy sparked discontent among grass-roots party organizations as well as open criticism of the party's domestic policy. The party's political ethos, which had once seemed to embody the traditional Vietnamese spirit of resistance to foreigners and which had known great success when the country was overwhelmingly dominated by war and the issues of national liberation and reunification, appeared to have changed after the fall of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in the spring of 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam in 1976. This ethos had been at the core of the VCP's rise to power during the struggles for independence and unification. To a large degree, the popularity of the communist movement remained tied to these causes; when victory over the South was achieved in 1975, it became apparent that some of the party's governing principles did not easily translate to peacetime conditions. In the absence of war, the ethos changed and the difference between what was communist and what was popular became increasingly noticeable.
Hanoi was apparently unprepared for the scale of its victory in the South, having anticipated that the path to complete power would require at the very least a transition period of shared power with the Southern communist infrastructure (the Provisional Revolutionary Government) and even elements of the incumbent order. Two separate governments in North and South Vietnam were planned until the surprisingly swift disintegration of the South Vietnamese government eliminated the need for a lengthy transition. Following the establishment of communist control in the South, the government immediately was placed under a Military Management Commission, directed by Senior Lieutenant General Tran Van Tra with the assistance of local People's Revolutionary Committees. At a reunification conference in November 1975, the Party's plans for uniting North and South were announced, and elections for a single National Assembly -- the highest state organ -- were held on April 26, 1976, the first anniversary of the Southern victory. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formally named at the first session of the Sixth National Assembly (the "Unification Assembly"), which met from June 24 to July 2, 1976.
After reunification, the focus of policy became more diffuse. Policy makers, absorbed with incorporating the South into the communist order as quickly as possible, were confronted with both dissension within the North's leadership and southern resistance to the proposed pace of change. The drive undertaken by party ideologues to eliminate all vestiges of capitalism and to collectivize the economy in the South was outlined in the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80) and announced at the Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976. The plan, the first after reunification, stressed the development of agriculture and light industry, but it set unattainable high goals. The government expected that all industry and agriculture in the South would be state-controlled by the end of 1979. According to Vietnamese sources, however, only 66 percent of cultivated land and 72 percent of peasant households in the South had been organized into collectivized production by early 1985, and socialist transformation in private industry had led to decreased production, increased production costs, and decreased product quality. Meanwhile, the country's leaders were finding it necessary to divert their attention to a number of other equally pressing issues. Besides addressing the many problems of the country's newly unified economy, they also had to work out postwar relations with Cambodia, China, and the Soviet Union. The Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was a watershed for party policy in the 1980s. The party's political mood was accurately reflected in the congress' candid acknowledgment of existing economic problems and in its seeming willingness to change in order to solve them. A new atmosphere of experimentation and reform, apparently reinforced by reforms initiated by the Soviet Union's new leadership, was introduced, setting the stage for a period of self-examination, the elimination of corrupt party officials, and new economic policies.
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