Vietnam's Communist Revolution: The Power and Limits of Ideology.

AuthorThu, Huong Le
PositionBook review

Vietnam's Communist Revolution: The Power and Limits of Ideology. By Tuong Vu. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Softcover: 337pp.

What drove the North Vietnamese leadership to fight the most powerful country in the world, the United States? Did their leaders understand what they were up against and what the costs to the nation would be? While Tuong Vu's book is not about the "Vietnam War" per se, it is this puzzle that drove him to explore Vietnam's communist revolution--a rare case of a revolution that succeeded and which has stood the test of time.

Vu takes readers on a journey through the history of Vietnamese communism: from the introduction of communist ideas in the 1920s and 1930s, through to the gradual ideological integration with the Soviet bloc in the 1950s. As the author notes, "Communism was completely alien to Vietnam" (p. 59)--an obvious statement perhaps, but a powerful reminder that Vietnam's leaders prioritized self-determination before communism's global revolutionary mission (p. 12). In short, as an ideology, patriotism trumped communism. In the early twentieth century, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was born "out of the most progressive elements of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party" (p. 71). It is a striking contradiction with the conservative thinking of the Party today.

According to Vu, "Marxist-Leninism built on nationalist frustrations when it entered Vietnam" (p. 16). And because MarxistLeninist theory did not oppose nationalism, when Vietnam's nationalist leaders became communists they were not required to renounce their nationalist sentiments. In return, they gained international brotherhood with fellow communists (p. 17). It is this relationship with other socialist movements that determined Vietnam's foreign policy, and arguably fate, in the following decades. The role of ideology became the leading force for the Vietnamese to stand up to the United States and China, making them believe in the seemingly impossible. After the war, ideology played a central role in the governance of the country: 1) it legitimized Party rule of the state and the economy; 2) it supported the VCP's internal legitimacy and; 3) it linked externally to the solidarity with the transnational network of communist and worker movements.

Throughout the book, Vu demonstrates how the North Vietnamese bought into the mission of internationalism, and how the pride of revolutionary success became the central driver of the country's...

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