In This Review

Renovating Politics in Contemporary Vietnam
Renovating Politics in Contemporary Vietnam
By Zachary Abuza
Lynne Rienner, 2001, 271 pp

When Hanoi introduced economic reform in 1986, there were high hopes that Vietnam might follow China in opening up and achieving spectacular economic growth. But in 1997 its economy stalled, and the country went back into isolation. Abuza traces in detail the shifts in Vietnam's foreign and economic policies, seeking to explain why it remains so poor despite abundant natural resources and high literacy rates. The problem, he argues, comes down to political culture. The Communist Party remains a select elite that fanatically monopolizes political power and prevents the growth of civil society. Any hope for change will thus have to come from dissidents within the party. The author then traces the efforts of various party dissidents from the 1950s to the present. The postcolonial debates about democracy were followed by attempts by former members of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam to establish a more liberal society after unification in 1975. But at each turn, the communists' fear of instability made them repress dissent; the resulting political stagnation paralyzed economic growth. The Vietnamese leadership, without the experience of a demoralizing Cultural Revolution, still insists on absolute conformity.