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TuongVu-Party and Party System in Communist Vietnam

TuongVu-Party and Party System in Communist Vietnam

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TuongVu-Party and Party System in Communist Vietnam
TuongVu-Party and Party System in Communist Vietnam

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Published by: dinh son my on Jan 23, 2014
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Party and Party System in Communist Vietnam
Tuong Vu, University of Oregon
Vietnam is under the rule of a well-established communist party which has been in power since 1954 (in northern Vietnam) and since 1975 (in the entire country). Communist single-party systems pose two main conceptual issues for comparativists. The first issue is whether to treat these systems as a stand-alone category, or whether to accept them as a subtype in a continuum ranging from no-party to multiparty systems. For one, communist regimes allow no competitive elections. For another, there are critical differences between cohesive communist systems on the one hand, and unstable authoritarian regimes ruled by single political parties on the other. The second conceptual difficulty with communist systems involves the high degree of overlapping  between the ruling communist party and the state apparatus. Many observers of communist countries favor the use of “party-state” as a singular organization, but others disagree. This paper is divided into three parts. In the first part, I will argue that there is merit in calling communist systems either single-party systems or single-party dictatorships. Neither concept is perfect; their appropriate uses depend on context. I will also contend that it is more useful to separate the party from the state. In the second section, I will examine the evolution of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the party systems in which it has operated.
 Essentially the VCP
as a party
 has undergone four phases in its history: expansion (1945-1948), institutionalization (1948-1960), de-institutionalization (1963-1985), and limited re-institutionalization (1986-present). By contrast, Vietnam’s
 party system
 has experienced three  periods: factionalism (1945-1946), institutionalization of the single-party system (1948-1980), and de-institutionalization (1980 to present). In the final part of the paper, I will examine the causes of the shifts in the party system from factionalism to institutionalization in the second  period, and from institutionalization to de-institutionalization in the present period. Understanding these shifts is crucial if one is to speculate about the future of Vietnamese  politics, which currently displays conflicting signs of both decay and resilience.
 From 1955 to 1975, the communists controlled only half of Vietnam. In the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), there were periods in which multiple parties were allowed. This paper focuses only on North Vietnam during this  period of civil war.
Conceptual Issues
Parties and Party Systems Mainwaring and Scully follow Sartori and define “parties” as “any political group that  presents at elections, and is capable of placing through elections, candidates for public office.”
 Unlike Sartori, their definition of parties excludes vanguard revolutionary groups that do not compete in elections yet still call themselves parties. For this reason, Cuba is not included in their study of party systems in Latin America. Based on their definition of parties, Mainwaring and Scully define “party systems” as “the set of patterned interactions in the competition among  parties,” which excludes single-party systems.
 The two authors are not alone in treating single-party systems as a special category. In a review of the literature on the decay and breakdown of communist single-party systems, Kalyvas criticizes the study of parties and party systems since the 1960s for subsuming single-party systems as a subtype under a comprehensive party system typology, together with dominant  party, two-party, and multiparty systems.
 According to Kalyvas, such a typology has been  justified on two grounds. First, parties in single-party dictatorships perform many functions that are similar to parties in democratic systems. These parties also recruit and present candidates for  public office. Some authors argue that these parties more or less aggregate social interests. Second, as Duverger argues, “there is no fundamental difference in structure between single  parties and the parties of democratic regimes.”
 Essentially they are modern organizations and  bureaucracies. Despite these shared characteristics between single-party systems and other systems, Kalyvas disagrees with those who put them all under one typology.
 Such a comprehensive typology adds little to our understanding of how single-party systems work, and obscures a fundamental difference between the two kinds of systems, which is competition in democratic systems and the lack of it in authoritarian systems. Kalyvas is not entirely consistent, however. On the one hand, he suggests that “one-party systems” is a misnomer; a better term
 Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully, “Introduction,” in Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America, eds. Mainwaring and Scully (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 2.
 Mainwaring and Scully, “Introduction,” 4.
 Stathis Kalyvas, “The Decay and Breakdown of Communist One-Party Systems,”
 Annual Review of Political Science
 2 (1999), 323-43.
 Cited in Kalyvas, ibid., 326.
 Ibid., 327.
should be “one-party dictatorships.” On the other, he chooses to use the term “one-party systems” in his essay anyway, “in a generic way” and “to avoid further confusion.”
Table 1 Political Regimes Democratic Authoritarian/Totalitarian Political Organizations “Party Systems”* “Party-State Systems”*
Multiparty Two- party Dominant-  party (Japan) Dominant  party (S’pore) Single- party Military Personalistic*These terms are from Sartori (1976, 283) In contrast with Kalyvas, I argue that neither “single-party systems” nor “single-party dictatorships” is perfect.
 There are two levels of analysis involved here: at one level are political regimes, and at the other are political organizations within each regime. As Table 1 suggests, “single-party dictatorships” is most useful when these dictatorships are compared to other kinds of dictatorships such as dominant-party, military, personal, or religious dictatorships. The  problem with “single-party dictatorships” is the conflation of two levels of analysis. When we  juxtapose single-party dictatorships with “multi-party systems,” the two are not on the same level of analysis. In addition, “single-party systems” can be useful if the goal of comparison is to identify or compare the functions of parties in single-party dictatorships and those of parties in multi-party democracies. The line separating “dominant-party systems” under democratic and authoritarian regimes is also a fine line, suggesting that elections are not sufficient to distinguish democratic and authoritarian regimes and that Mainwaring and Scully’s definition of parties  based on elections may be too vague. I propose to define “party systems” as
the structures of  political competition mainly but not exclusively through political parties
. Following Sartori, I define “single-party systems” as
systems in authoritarian or totalitarian regimes in which power
 Ibid., 325.
 Sartori proposes the term “party-state systems” as the counterpart of “party systems” for noncompetitive political regimes, but this term becomes unwieldy if we need to speak of “single party-state system” to distinguish it with “military party-state system,” for example. See Giovanni Sartori,
Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for  Analysis
 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 283.

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