Trade unionist and member of the Communist Party of Ireland, Kerry Fleck, argues that Vietnam’s socialist model has been key to its world leading response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Vietnamese are best known to the world as the people who, not content with driving out French colonial forces, repelling a Chinese invasion, and militarily defeating the full force of US imperialism, went on to give the Khmer Rouge a well-deserved shellacking in Cambodia, today appear to be again on the path to victory.
This time the aggressor is Coronavirus which at the time of writing has tragically resulted in the deaths of 210,193 worldwide. Meanwhile Vietnam, with a population of 95 million, has seen zero Covid-19 related deaths. As of 28th April they have had 270 confirmed cased, 222 patients recovered and have gone 12 consecutive days with no new infections. There is no doubt that this experience stands in stark contrast to the experience of many wealthy nations who have been ravaged by the virus with deaths skyrocketing into the tens of thousands. How is a country with significantly limited resources being so successful at protecting itself?
On the anniversary of the Tet Offensive and the annual new year celebrations the Vietnamese government declared a war on Coronavirus, ‘Fighting this epidemic, means fighting the enemy’ was the line taken by Vietnamese leader, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Remarkably, this was before they even had one confirmed case. In the same position the UK government chose not to act, allowing the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead, creating a Petri dish of 250,000 people, an act that can only be reasonably considered criminal negligence.
In the meantime, the Vietnamese met with World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control officials on 16th January, 7 days before they had their first confirmed case on 23rd January. The government then acted rapidly closing schools, suspending flights and quarantining those entering the country.
They then mobilized the entire state apparatus including the health care system, public services, and military while implementing a mass public education campaign. There can be no doubt that these swift actions are what have allowed Vietnam to stand out as an almost unique example in terms of world responses.
Vietnam has full employment and a public health care system that is considered the envy of East Asia. Since 2002, while the rest of the world economy was in a staggering decline and imposing austerity measures on working class people, the Vietnamese government lifted 45 million people out of poverty. It managed this despite having a fraction of the GDP of western economies such as UK, France, Italy and the US.
Unlike these ‘advanced’ western economies the Vietnamese economy, based on a socialist model, is a planned and regulated economy, geared towards providing for the needs of its people, and not towards creating obscene profits for a few. The structure of their economy provides for a more equal distribution of the country’s wealth and in the current context of a pandemic allowed the country to react en masse to defend against it.
Importantly the socialist approach in Vietnam means that there was a will to react, a determination to save lives to put the people first and not hesitate for the sake of profit margins.
Further and not content with having fended of Coronavirus on their own shores the Morning Star reports that the Vietnamese have also mobilized their considerable manufacturing capacity making 450,000 face masks in just ten days which were shipped to the US. The same followed to France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. Meanwhile the UK seems to be continually stumbling about either unable or unwilling to provide even their frontline staff with adequate PPE. This week the GMB Union have had to offer to step in and fill that gap announcing their intention to partner with PPE Exchange to acquire PPE for their members.
All countries who are struggling to manage this pandemic should be looking to places like Vietnam to learn from their experience. Despite its obvious successes the Vietnam experience, in the main, is not making an appearance in mainstream media. It seems likely that the ideological blinkers of those still steadfastly wedded to free market economics means they are unable to consider acting in the interests of people rather than profits. We cannot allow this to be the case, we cannot afford to permit the people and policies which crashed the world economy in 2007 to have their interests protected ahead of ordinary people. Day and daily we are being presented with reasons we need to reshape our economy into one that is here to protect and provide for everyone in society. It’s time we consider all alternatives and look at progressive examples from across the world they are, arguably, in abundance.
This is the rational and responsible thing to do.
Another world is not only possible it is in front of us. System change is no longer only the rallying cry of socialists and communists, it’s a humanitarian necessity. There can be no going back, and no one left behind.
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This article was first featured on Needs of the Hour, a blog ran by the Communist Party of Ireland in the North of Ireland.
- Peter Lazenby, The Morning Star, 27thApril 2020