Vietnam Reunification, an Example for Irish Unity and an International Friend

By Aidrean Ó Gallchobhair

Terence MacSwiney memorial statue, Cork City.

With Covid-19 Vietnam made the headlines for having contained the virus. The country has around 1,000 cases and only 35 Covid related deaths. However pandemic aside Vietnam has an interesting history of national liberation that most of us know, they fought the French, the Japanese, US and domestic pro imperial forces. Many Irish Republicans are well aware of Ho Chi Minh’s remarks on Terrance MacSwiney and the Irish people: “A nation that has such citizens will never surrender”. IRA volunteers in Long Kesh Studied the Guerrilla tactics that led to the reunification of Vietnam, Sinn Féin invited delegates to several Ard Fheis and of course several motions were voted in favour of giving international solidarity to Vietnam in the 1980s. 

In the debate around Irish unity we compare it to German reunification. German reunification was successful for the economy growing, however working class Germans (especially in the East) didn’t feel that growth. In fact the social gains of the German Democratic Republic were gutted. Privatisation of housing, services and public enterprises, workers and women’s rights were undone. The republican movement being on the left shouldn’t be celebrating radical social achievements being undone. We should however be looking to Vietnam, a country like Ireland that was oppressed by colonialism and partitioned. A country that’s anti colonial struggle resulted in reunification and a socialist republic with social gains made. There are two points of this article. The first is to look at a successful model of a nation’s reunification and point how this has relevance to us here, I also intend to highlight the reasons why we as Irish Republicans must continue international solidarity to Vietnam. 

Ho Chi Minh memorial, La Habana, Cuba

A country built from the ashes

One of the arguments against Irish unity in the south is it’s “unaffordable”. That argument is clearly built on a myth due to the failure of neoliberal policies in healthcare, housing, low wages and their creation of poverty. That argument can be easily deconstructed by a rational outlook. Yet if people are still in doubt of Irish unity being affordable let’s look at Vietnam’s experience. Vietnam won their reunification via a revolutionary war, however it still came at a very heavy price. Between 1945 and 1975 over 7 million Vietnamese lost their lives. During the war US troops and their air force destroyed 15,000 villages in the South, that was two thirds of all villages in the South. In the north all 6 of its industrial cities were destroyed, 4,000-5,800 agricultural communes had been destroyed. So as you could imagine the country was virtually destroyed by the imperialist war. Yet over the next 45 years the Vietnamese people rebuilt their homeland from the ruins. 

The economy was generating 3,896 million in 1975 and it has grown to 369.494 billion as of 2021. It has been proven to be one of the only economies to have grown during the Covid crisis. The economy of Vietnam has grown and continues to grow, they have managed to not only rebuild from being a war torn country but also successfully turned Vietnam to a modern society. 

A sovereign nation is a sovereign people

The wealth a country generates means nothing if it is not controlled by the people or is used for the interests of the people. The economic growth in Vietnam has not been a scenario where a small capitalist class or US imperialists have received the Benefit. Vietnam developed a planned socialist economy since it was partly liberated in 1954 until 1986. In ‘86 the country moved towards a socialist market economy and away from a planned economy. The reforms saw the allowance of small private enterprises, some Foreign Direct Investment and integrating the public sector to the global markets. Despite opening up the vast majority of the Vietnamese economy remained either in public ownership or cooperative ownership. It is encouraged by the government for citizens to join or establish cooperative enterprises especially in terms of agriculture, transportation and small scale industries. 

Public services such as healthcare, education, housing, electricity and internet in Vietnam are cheap. Cheap services, the establishment of a  people centered economy and other socialist programs has seen poverty reduced by 70% over 30 years (5% down from 75%). In the 90s only 14% of people had electricity, today over 99% of the population have running electricity. There have been a huge number of American veterans who’ve decided to live in Vietnam due to the unaffordable living in the US and the benefits of cheap living due to socialism in Vietnam. Life expectancy is 75 years of age, which is higher than Cambodia and Laos. In Vietnam there were 15.9 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 26.6 in Cambodia. Vietnam was one of the first countries to ratify Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1982. The government and activists have led campaign over the last 10 years to try and reduce gender inequality, whether that’s by empowering women, education against sexism and trying to narrow the pay gap. By 2025 Vietnam hopes to see women holding leading roles in over 60% of both public office and the public sector. 

In Vietnam they have pushed for empowerment of ethnic minorities and creating solidarity with people of all ethnicities. What is often the belief about countries like Vietnam is that because the Communist party is the sole party therefore it is a dictatorship. Vietnam may only have one party but it has an empowered grassroots who work alongside the government and lower level elected officials to implement the popular social programs in their communities. The local communities also consult with the government on the issues that affect them and may put pressure if something is not implemented. Around 99% of registered voters have participated in the last election showing that the majority of people in Vietnam support the ongoing revolutionary process. Around 5 million people are members of the communist party, with the woman’s union having 13 million, 10 million belong to the trade unions. The line in Vietnam is the “the Party leads, the State manages and the people are the masters.”

Vietnam, like Cuba, has high environmental sustainable development. The methods of agriculture such as the cooperative and small farmers see much more sustainable methods being used. Reliance on local products by local producers has been proven the world over to be the model to go to in terms of sustainability. There was an increase in the forest coverage from 27.8% in 1990 to 41% in 2020. It is the most successful country in ASEAN when it comes to development of green electricity methods, the methods include wind, solar and hydro. The development of straws from grass is becoming popular instead of the use of plastic, communal green spaces is also popular in Vietnam. 

It is clear to see Vietnam has proven to be a successful model of reunification that still continues to make advancements in developing a progressive nation for all it’s people. We can learn from Vietnam in terms of the progress made in health, education, a socialist economy and environmental sustainability. Their handling of Covid 19 was inspirational and shows how in Ireland neoliberalism has failed to look after citizens. As Irish Republicans we must extend the hand of solidarity to a country who has successfully achieved national liberation and building a nation free from exploitation and inequality. Of course it’s not a perfect country but it is a nation in the global south who faced colonial exploitation and destruction from war. Vietnam has proven to be a shining example of what freedom means as has its neighbours such as China and Laos or our friends in Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela. When Ireland is reunited and has a republican government it is our duty to stand with the liberated nations of the world and includes our brothers and sisters in Vietnam. 

“Nothing is more precious than Independence and Liberty.” – Ho Chi Minh

Aidrean Ó Gallchobhair is a member of Ógra Shinn Féin. Originally published in Glór na nÓg. For more writing by young republicans visit: