Democracy: A View From Vietnam:

Democratization as the Second Liberation

By Nguyen Tran Bat
Hanoi, Vietnam

"...We can regard human emancipation as a revolution. And this second revolution is far more difficult to implement than the first. In the past, the existence of foreign invaders was very tangible and it was possible to unite and expel them. On the contrary, human emancipation, though being a fundamental change in awareness and social structure, is intangible"

The Legacies of an Incomplete Liberation

In the first place, national liberation movements are not necessarily led or compelled by a unique political force or trend. The ultimate goal of national liberation movements is straightforward and simple: to expel the imperialists and liberate their nations. The liberation of a nation means that those liberated have the right and ability to establish their own states without the dependence upon or under the direct control of colonialism. In other words, national liberation entails bringing nations out from under the influences or enslavement of colonialism.

The result of national liberation movements is national independence, but the national liberation is not enough to unify the national community. In the fight against colonialism, we just focused on its common aspects and therefore saw it as a homogenous movement. But once independence was reached, national states emerged with different political structures and qualities, and with different attached societies.

We should assert that the liberation of nations from the direct enslavement of colonialism and the expulsion of the imperialists is a great achievement. The national liberation movement was a world-shaking revolution which radically changed political quality throughout the world. It is a great cultural and political achievement and forms one of the key aspects of the world's political development. Liberation has created a new state of social perception, as political predecessors such as Ho Chi Minh and Gandhi brought their nations freedom and the capacity to develop economically.

Regrettably, much economic development remains to be accomplished. Deadlocked in finding the right development policies, most (Third World) nations have failed to find ways out of the vicious circle of poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, and disease, while existing in a situation of polluted environments and civil wars. In fact, such disadvantages have existed for centuries, but in the modern context they have become more serious and severe. There was a time when several Third World nations relied on the Soviet system as a political example and considered it to be a perfect model. But in the end the Soviet economic system turned out to be only a bright mirage rather than a model for genuine development. Soviet society contained too many unnatural factors, and therefore finally collapsed despite having noble objectives. The disintegration of the Soviet Union shattered the dreams of many, but it left a lesson: development cannot be realized simply through subjective wishes or beautiful dreams. Development must be based upon scientific tenets which enable a balanced relationship between human development and the development of material resources.

The societies of the Third World have acute problems that require credible solutions -- not irresponsible demagogic ideologies. By continuing to blame external factors such as globalization, multi-national companies, natural calamities, or the so-called “neocolonialism”, underdeveloped countries will remain in backwardness and will remain in poverty, both materially and spirituality. In the case of Vietnam, in order to develop we must examine ourselves in order to determine the causes of our ailments and then devise solutions. Wealth and prosperity exist in various forms and shapes, but poverty has but one. Developing nations all have a chronic disease: domestically, it is the lack of democracy within society; and internationally it is the lack of open cooperation and the lack of ability to cooperate with the outside world.

Then what is the method, the know-how that helps create national development after political liberation? This is a task to be shouldered by the generation after the liberators. Elder revolutionists have fulfilled their tasks in creating freedom for our nation. And we, their successors, should in turn develop this freedom, and more importantly, distribute it to each individual and transform it into a greater freedom belonging to every person with a goal of expanding our national capacity in terms of development. If the development conundrum is not answered, the national liberation revolution will eternally remain incomplete.

Freedom as the Incubator for Creativity

In comparing economic history with political history, we can see a correlation: where politics remain underdeveloped, economic development also remains low -- if we do not consider the economic development level only in the view of national income. Let us analyze this correlation.

In our opinion, this correlation is not coincidental. Its core lies in the creation of an environment which fosters the free creativity of the people. Slow economic development is caused by slowly developing politics, i.e. the slow evolution of the environment required for the development of human creativity and innovation.

In philosophical terms, the development of the human race is ultimately the development of each individual, i.e. an evolution which eventually allows each person to be fully emancipated. Of course, historically this process has several stages. While national liberation is a milestone, it is but one of several phases of the entire liberation process. This fact is important because people must live in communities -- and in turn the communities must exist within nations -- and prior to the liberation of the colonial nations, many colonies existed without political representation. Liberation has brought about a progressive outcome: each nation has its own representative, that is, the voice of each nation is heard and recognized. While the process lays important premises for a human emancipation, in actuality it is not a human emancipation at all. National liberation leaders struggled for independence from imperialists, or in their words, their quest was to separate their nations from imperialists in order to settle their own domestic issues. Thus, the recent liberating revolution was for the liberation of several individuals rather than for that of the entire people. With the end of the national liberation movement, the vast majority of ordinary people are drawn into a new fold of enthrallment, which are the ties created by the national culture and the compatriot politicians.

If only stopping at the satisfaction of having achieved the independence of our nation -- a nation as a package of resemblance -- we will not be able to raise the once-colonized countries out of poverty. Several studies and analyses of development experiences in Southeast Asia have indicated that the countries that have achieved a certain success in development were almost always not former colonies. As such, if people of a nation have experienced neither slavery nor freedom, their capacity for creativity and innovation are better even while operating under a less developed political environment. In other words, there is a political relation between political monopoly and colonialism.

Human history is an on-going process towards a better awareness of freedom. Marxist philosophy is not important in the sense that it divides the society into classes, nor great because of its in-depth analysis into the structure of the capitalistic economic system and society. Rather, Marxist philosophy is of great importance because it succeeded in awaking the perception of human values within the proletariat -- a class which encompasses the vast majority of the population. Marxism provided tools for proletarians which enabled them to become aware of themselves, particularly their strengths. Without proletarian revolutions (whether successful or not), there would not be the so-called democratic socialism or humanitarian capitalism at present. This is the way in which human beings adjust behaviors, in other words, only after having been threatened by proletarian revolutions did capitalists and employers as a whole recognize reactionary or inhuman facets in the manner of their rule and control.

Clashes within the political sphere will themselves result in changes within the sphere of freedom as well as the civil sphere. Without the free and civil space, there will not be the so-called political progress. The "space" in question can be regarded as the material, formative, legal and political manifestation of political progress. Human beings cannot create or innovate without having both freedom and willingness. Freedom is the necessary environment for any form of creativity, from culture and the arts, to science, technology and even to the manner in which people live. A person cannot truly be himself or herself without freedom, and without this form of emancipation there can be no human creation. Of course, saying this may imply that freedom is something tangible, but in reality freedom is a state of mind. On the other hand, the lack of freedom can be defined: it is the existence of factors hindering human spiritual and creative development.

The Second Liberation and its Premise

The liberation of nations from the enslavement of imperialism resulted in the establishment of new political states. And when domestic political issues began to dominate, another form of state came into existence -- the national state. Each nation has its own complicated order and structure. The evolution of states’ forms will eventually lead to the higher level democratic or people’s state. The democratic state is a target, a guideline, and above all a representation of progress. Therefore, even staunchly non-democratic politicians call their states democratic. The three forms of states, from the political state to the national and then to the democratic are difficult stages of transition in the evolution of nations. The national liberation revolution creates self-determination, which takes the form of political states. Domestic politicians become rulers and they draw on their experience from their time under colonial rule. Politicians who do not go overseas have only their colonial experiences to draw from. That was why President Ho Chi Minh traveled to France, China and many other nations and places to compare and study, and as a result he became a well-experienced politician.

It is proposed by some that democracy is a luxury unaffordable for developing countries, that these countries should first concentrate on their economic development and then turn to democracy. I see this as a fallacy. In reality, by first overcoming the economic stagnation caused by the lack of economic freedom, the economy can improve, at least to some degree, of its own accord. Development in the absence of democracy is impossible. Economic development, in the first place, entails human development. And human development requires political freedom, i.e. liberating the society from political ties. Political freedom does not equate to the school of liberal politics.  True political freedom means no politics at all. In other words, rather than opting for liberal politics, we must emancipate the people from politics in general because, after all, there is no truly independent politics. Total freedom does not exist in any form of politics. But humanity is able to gain political freedom. People drift among different political ideologies. Thus the democracy we perceive at the moment means freedom for every political inclination. And once freedom in this regard is achieved, different political inclinations may become viable alternatives and form the basic mode to liberate humanity from politics.

We can regard human emancipation as a revolution. And, in the case of Vietnam, this second revolution is far more difficult to implement than the first. In the past, the existence of foreign invaders was very tangible, and it was possible to unite to expel them. On the contrary, human emancipation, though being a fundamental change in awareness and social structure, is intangible. Furthermore, conditions of this evolution are not universal because the political stagnation of different countries takes different cultural, political, ethnic, and economic forms.

As mentioned above, we can see that a popular and basic condition of the second liberation is ownership. Human beings must be in a position to have ownership. When an individual owns something, he or she will seek to retain it. Here, an awareness of civil rights is the basic premise. In this regard, there should be a distinction between awareness of civil rights and the rights themselves. An individual may not have actual civil rights, but he or she must be conscious that such civil rights exist in order for the first premise to be formed. And humankind should be aware of what they need.  Therefore, humanity should be liberated from minimized ownership so that they can perceive their rights. They should be clear about what they need, to the effect that they seek and dream of the fulfillment of their needs. In terms of freedom, an important aspect is that each individual must be well informed of what he or she possesses, and thus strives to retain, and what he or she still needs to obtain. On the path of seeking necessities while retaining what one has, one will awaken to one's values, and well as one's good luck and bad luck. When an individual has the need to ascertain -- in effect, to inventory -- what he or she possesses, both good and bad, it is likely that the individual has begun the process of developing a perception of values, and this perception of values is the pre-condition of a state's democratization. It is obvious that after emerging from colonialism, states such as Vietnam with a public-based ideology or religion find it more difficult to democratize their societies. This is simply because states without public-based culture are not culturally bound. And states without public-based politics do not suffer from political ties.

Coming back to the matter of ownership, hereunder I wish to mention the lowest level of ownership, i.e. the ownership of an individual's personal belongings as opposed to ownership of production materials. I do not want to magnify the role of production materials. In today's world the ownership of production materials is less important than it was a century ago. Nowadays, the ownership of production capacity can be obtained via stock ownership and through joint stock companies; thus individuals should pay more attention to the concept of freedom of ownership as it pertains to them personally as opposed to the ownership of production capacity. Real estate is approaching the end of its role as a place for the production of material, and is becoming more a place for the creation of spiritual zones where people may do what they want.


The aforementioned analyses may be brief but they allow us to assert that the Third World’s potentials are real and the opportunities to realize these potentials are real as well. What matters most are the patterns selected for the development of nations. The most important and straightforward mission of the intelligentsia is to determine the causes of current state of economic backwardness, and then devise a way out of it. The causes of under-development of the Third World, in our opinion, lie in political backwardness, which has constrained human creativity during the second half of the 20th century. Globalization and fierce competition are posing challenges for the developing countries. A nation can develop and compete successfully only when it manages to mobilize all of its resource -- particularly its human resources -- into development. To this end, human beings are to be emancipated. Democratization and human emancipation form the only key -- and the all-purpose one. For developing countries, this key is within reach. Democratization and human emancipation will determine the Third World’s future, and ultimately the future of the entire human race.

BWW Society member Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat graduated from Hanoi Construction University in 1972 with a degree in Construction Engineering; in 1995 he earned his LL.B. degree from Law Faculty of Hanoi University.

From 1963 until 1975, Mr. Bat served in the army as soldier and Construction Engineer. After 1975 he held positions at the Institute for Transport Science Research, the State Committee for Capital Construction, the National Office on Inventions under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and from 1987-89 he served as Deputy Director of the Bureau for Promotion and Development of Industrial Properties Activities.

Presently Mr. Bat is Chairman and General Director of the Investconsult Investment Consultancy and Technology Transfer Company, under the National Center for Scientific Research; he previously held the position of General Director. As Chairman of Investconsult, the firm is now one of Vietnam's leading private consulting groups, specializing in law and IP. The firm has four offices in Vietnam, totaling a full time staff of 220 providing consulting services to foreign businesses and investors, ranging from policy advice, legal advice, project advice and post-license services to public relations and intellectual properties services. Mr. Bat has recently established the first private research institute in Vietnam, the Investconsult Development Research Institute, which covers three levels of research: business and services development, Vietnam development, and global development issues. Mr. Bat is also the founder of Vietnam's first consulting service corporation, which since 1987 has assisted more than one-thousand foreign businesses and corporations with their investments in Vietnam; his client list includes numerous Fortune 500 corporations. The consulting group has also been commissioned by WB, IFC, ADB, UNDP, NGOs and foreign embassies to implement donor-funded projects in a wide range of assistance and developmental programs. Additionally, since 1986 Mr. Bat has been involved in the design and construction of major bridges and roads in Vietnam.

Mr. Bat is a member of the Executive Board of the Club for Enterprises with Foreign Investment Capital and is a member of the Australian Economic Development Committee, the Board of Directors of Beta Mekong Fund Ltd., the Vietnam Engineering Consultants Association, and the Nam Dinh Bar Association; he is the Director of International Affairs of Hanoi Lawyers' Association and Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Industrial Property Association. Mr. Bat is a well-known speaker at many important forums and seminars concerning Vietnamese development issues at home and abroad. In his free time, he enjoys studying foreign cultures, religion, philosophy, reading and economics.  Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat will be a Featured Speaker at the 2003 International Congress of the BWW Society/IAPGS, which will be held August 3-7, 2003 in Xi'an, China; for details see:

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