My thoughts during bedridden days

Le Hieu Đang

Translated by Nam Viet

After more than 45 years of fighting in the ranks of the Communist Party of Vietnam, with 45-year-old membership, the bitter and harsh experiencesthat myself and many of my friends underwent in the patriotic student movement before 1975 have urged me to write down my thoughts in order to "settle up" and to “reckon” everything with what I have done, the periods of time that I have undergone, the wrongs and the rights that I have experienced.

While in hospital, I read “The stories in my career” by Tran Van Thuy, other stories and novels written by the army’s writers like Nguyen Khai, Nguyen Minh Chau, Le Luu, Tran Dan. Also via TV, I followed events such as the official visit to the U.S. of President Truong Tan Sang, the visits to Korea and Myanmar of the National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung. All of those have also urged me to write down these lines.

The mentioned writers have shown me more of the tragedy of human beings in the so-called socialism that was ever built in North Vietnam, a society where there is no respect for individuals, human beings and human rights.

I also think a lot about the recent abroad trips of the nation’s leaders: When President Truong Tan Sang paid an official visit to the U.S., there were no highest saluting protocols offered by the host country for a head of state. I also observed the trips to South Korea and Myanmar of National Assembly chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung. If comparing those trips to similar ones to China, we will see that the reception atmosphere at host countries is completely different. Whether or not the leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam, with a necessary self-respect, have been enlightened by that? Obviously, we could not expect much more positive things from the Americans because to be fair, they cannot be “wide open” to their guests whose stance has always been unclear and inconsistent.

Having considered and thought about all the sharing and sentiments from family and friends, in and outside Vietnam, I have come to the conclusion that I will continue the road that my friends, teammates and I have chosen which is to continue the struggle for the ideals that we perceived when we were still young and for a just, free and democratic society where people live together fairly and honestly. From day to day, I understand more deeply that the word "LIBERATION" does not have the meaning as it is often used today in Vietnam. Instead, it means humans are totally emancipated and enjoy freedom, regardless that the governing people are white or colored. I have also bitterly learnt that the ruling systems like the ones in Vietnam and China are among the most tragic ones.

If the word “liberation” is properly understood, I totally agree with the comments by many journalists, writers, scholars in the North, including HuyDucwith his recent book named “The Winners”. In certain aspects, especially individual emancipation, respect for human rights, freedom in thinking, debates, respect for laws, trade and business management…, it was the South Vietnam who “liberated” the North Vietnam.

For the above reasons, I would like to make a “settlement”with the communist party of Vietnam and with my own life, in my capacity as a party member as well as a citizen of Vietnam, on the following basic points, transparently and fairly, to engage in a new struggle.

1. Why I followed the resistance movement and joined the communist party of Vietnam?

In the past century, Marxism, socialism, communism enchanted several intellectuals, writers and artists in many countries, especially in France, the cradle of social and democratic trends. Notably, it was the era of outstanding names such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, etc. with the desire to build a society on the foundation of liberty, equality and fraternity. Marxism, socialism, communism allured and enchanted generations of not only Western intellectuals but also Vietnamese ones with the well-known names such as Van Cao, XuanDieu, HuyCan, Nguyen DinhThi, ToHoai, ThanhTinh, The Lu or abroad names like Tran DucThao, Nguyen ManhTuong.

Actually, they responded to the call for national resistance by Ho Chi Minh and joined the resistance forces in the jungles while most of themknew very little about Marxism. They even knew nothing about socialism or what it would lead to. But they strongly hoped that after the war, a society with democracy, social progress, freedom, happiness would be built, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the 1946 Constitution that Ho Chi Minh had solemnly committed to the nation from the historic Ba Dinh square.

It was the patriotism and the national self-respect that had driven people to take part in the August Revolution and join the resistance forces. My friends and myself were also motivated by such sentiments: patriotism;anti-aggression will;determination to regaining independence and freedom for the nation, to build democracy and a better society in which workers, peasants, labors…would enjoy a prosperous and happy life.

The way I joined the communist party was also very simple: In 1966, Nguyen Ngoc Phuong (also known as Ba Triet) who was my direct supervisor made an appointment to meet with me at a temple in Tran QuocToanstreet(now February 3rd street). Seriously, he said "Comrade Bac Son (my alias at that time), from now on, you are a member of the People's Revolutionary Party (other name of the Vietnam Workers' Party in the South at that time). I should have given you the whole charter and regulations of the party for you to study but you are a member who has been openly active in the committee of the Student Association of Saigon University and the Faculty of Law. So now I just need to tell you a few things in the charter for your information”. It was an admission without taking an oath and ceremony.

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong who was my senior in the first period of time, had been brought up in a wealthy family. His sister was comedian BaoQuoc’s wife. In fact, via a number of activists in Hue, he already knew that I had participatedin the student movement and had been detained in a local prison for nearly a year with Ly ThienSanh (doctor, now resettled in Australia) because ThuaThien-Hue authorities then believed I was a member of the People's Revolutionary Youth Union in the South.

On this occasion, I would like to mention one of unforgettable memories: my father and Ly ThienSanh’s mother were very anxious then because the Baccalaureate exams were approaching while we were still in prison. Regardless of the outcome, they submitted an application to the authorities for the two of us to be out of jail temporarily in order to attend the exams. Surprisingly and fortunately, the ThuaThien-Hue authorities approved the application. Close to exam dates, my father sent some books on philosophy to prison for mebecause I was studying philosophy. Fortunately, by that time, I had read a lot of philosophy books by Professors Nguyen Van Trung and Tran Van Toan and magazines “Creative”, “Modern Time” by writers Thanh TamTuyen, Mai Thao, poets Nguyen Sa, ToThuy Yen, etc., including a book on Nietzsche by Nguyen DinhThi, so I passedthe exams easily with high grades. So did Ly ThienSanh.

I remember those days when my dad came to the jail to pick me up, he went through the An Cuufield under the cold weather. I cannot forget the images of my father. Now that he has long gone, but I will never forget him. I deeply owe him my gratitude for raising me. I also regret so much for the worries that he had to suffer because of me. I am not sure that under the current regime in Vietnam where the authorities always claim about its “superiority” over capitalism, has any prisoner ever been allowed to leave the jail temporarily to take part in exams like the story I told above?

During that time, when the prison management allowed inmates to have musical and artistic activities, I often sang “The love to the homeland" with lyrics by Phan LacTuyenand music by Dan Tho, a captain in the army then. The family of the warden stood on the walls surrounding the prison watching our performance. We were thrilled and motivated by that audience and among them, a girl appeared to like my song very much. Ly ThienSanh joked to me that "she falls in love with you".

Later, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong was arrested and died in prison in 1973. Last year, on the occasion of his death’s anniversary, I told this story: after each regular meeting, he often asked me to sing “Dim moon by the stream” by Le Mong Nguyen. I then asked him: "You are the secretary of the communist party’s cell, why do you like such mawkish songs"? He smiled sadly and said: "Ultimately, we are fightingfor humans. Those excellent songs are about human beings and about human sentiments, so how come we don’t like them”.

Deep in my mind, I admiredhim so much. That’s why in his death’s anniversary, I sang that song again, just to commemorate him. After that, Ms. Cao ThiQueHuongseemed unhappy. Shecriticized me arguing that Nguyen Ngoc Phuong could not be that mawkish. Well, I smiled sadly and keptquiet.

That was why and how I joined the resistance movement and the communist party....

2. On the issues of pluralism and multi-party mechanism

In the period from 1975 to 1983, I was a lecturer of philosophy and scientific socialism at theparty’sschool Nguyen Van Cu under the Saigon-GiaDinh party committee. Based on the methodology and the theory of Marxism-Leninism, as far as I understand, a fundamental point is thatsuperstructure is reflected by infrastructure (in terms of social and economic bases…).

In a very long period of time, the State and the communist party of Vietnam imposed centrally planned economic management policies over the whole nation which went against all the natural laws and which were entirely copies of the economic models of the former Soviet Union and communist China. The country’s economy became moribund and the people suffered from serious hunger problem. The infamous capitalism rehabilitation campaigns X1, X2 shattered many families and caused the waves of people fleeing the country (boat people) among them a lot lost their lives in the sea. One of them was Tran TrieuLuat’s family. Luat was a reporter who joined the resistance forces with me and died on October 11, 1968 at the base of the Central Committee propaganda department along with Thao Nguyen Tran Quang Long, a poet, after a fierce bombing by the U.S. army. All of those are dire consequences of the communist doctrine on “proletarian dictatorship” in the conservative and dogmatic thinking of the party’s leaders. Those things were truly crimes and could not be forgiven.

Having heard the groaning of the people, thoseleaders who still shared thoughts and sympathy with the people had realized the mistakes in economic management andhad to adopt an economic reform that accepted a multi sector economy,including the private sector. Then, once the infrastructure that has various economic sectors in the society has been established, there will be different groups with different interests. Inevitably, those groups of population will need to organizethemselves to protect their rights and interests, legally and legitimately. That is natural and obvious. Therefore, political pluralism and multi-party mechanism are of necessity. Thus, the article 4 of the Constitution goes against the movement and evolution of practice. It hinders the country's development. If the communist party accepts multi-party mechanism, it would gain for itself some “antibody” and helps create, also for itself, a chance to escape the bureaucracy and corruption that have decayed the current system. I hope that there will be perspicacious leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam who dare to take up this challenge: Other parties and oppositions will compete equally with the Communist Party of Vietnam in legitimate elections, under the monitoring of international observers, like what has been going on in Cambodia.

I personally challenge anybody in the Politburo, the Secretariat, the Party's Propaganda Committee headed by Mr. DinhThe Huynh who is the heads of both propaganda committee and the Central Theoretical Council, to debate with us, openly and transparently, in official forums where they cannot use dirty tricks as they have been using so far.

As a matter of fact, in the South and the North Vietnam, political trends towards a republican democracy have been established, namely represented by a 7-point proposal and the draft 2013 Constitution advocated by a group of prestigious intellectuals and scholars such as writer Nguyen Ngoc, professors Hoang Tuy, ChuHao, Tuong Lai, Pham DuyHien; the former assistantsto the party’s secretary general andto the prime minister or former ambassadors Tran Duc Nguyen, Viet Phuong, Nguyen Trung, etc; the well-known economists like Le Dang Doanh, Pham Chi Lan; journalists, intellectuals and social activists like Ho Ngoc Nhuan, Nguyen DinhDau, Lu Phuong, KhaLuongNgai, Nguyen Quoc Thai; and the prestigious former "leaders " of student movements in Saigon and the South before 1975 as Huynh Tan Mam, Le CongGiau, Tran Van Long, Huynh Kim Bau , Ha Dinh Nguyen, Cao Lap and numerous others who though having stable and wealthy life but do not want to just enjoy peace of mind in the comforts of life and still accept risks for self and family, to engage in the new struggle for the ideals that they have been pursuing since they were still young, the ideals that are being betrayed and the promisesearlier made in the resistance movement that are being broken. Besides, there is a generation of young enthusiastic people who have an ardent love for the country such as bloggers, students who are active in the universities or other organizations.

Plus, in reality, I know that several party members want to quit the party, or are no longer active. So why don’t we, hundreds of party members, declare collectively our separation from the communist party and forma new party, for instance, the Social Democratic Party, like parties that in fact, had previously existed until a forced dissolution as constrained by the communist party.

Why don’t we do this as the situation is ripe? No pluralism and no multi party are only the policy of the communist party and there are no legal documents that prohibit this. In principle, we are entitled to do anythingthat is not forbidden by laws. It is our legitimate civil right.

We should not delay or ponder upon this anymore. This will strengthen our civil society so that no power could stop it. This is how we can break down the weakest segment of this totalitarian and dictatorial state. This state dares to imprison all of us? We must struggle under this guideline: transparently, peacefully, non- violently. We oppose all the actionswhich are violent and provocative. Poet Nguyen Duyonce wrote, broadly: in any war, people are always the losers. It’s now time to act. Do not hesitateanymore.

3. National independence is being challenged

Even though many things remain unresolved and not reconciled, Vietnam has in fact reunited. But howabout our country’s independence?After the countless sacrifice, now before making any important decision, the communist party and State of Vietnam have to glance sneakily at the neighboring Chinese who have always been conspiring to swallow our country, whoin 1979 invaded our border provinces and massacred our people, in an military offensive that Deng Hsiao Ping pertly called “to teach Vietnam a lesson”.

Historically, our ancestorsgave them many harsh lessons like Chi Lang, Bach Dang Giang, Dong Da etc. Whether or not the Xi Jinping’sgang still remembers those lessons? It seems that the leaders of the communist party and the State of Vietnam have yet to realize the strength of the Vietnamese people so that those leaders still behave too "gently" towards China, a big country but its leaders are "tricky mean minded men" who always talk sounding about "four- good-point” and “sixteen-golden-word" while in fact threaten, chase, attack cruelly innocent Vietnam fishermen or despicablyjeopardize our petroleum exploration activity in Vietnam’s territorial waters.

Yet the reaction from the leaders of Vietnam has been too feeble: only some protest via repeated dull statements by the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry. It is so bad that when major incidents occur, under normal diplomatic protocols, the Vietnam authorities should have summoned China’s ambassador to the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to criticize and to hand deliver official opposition documents. Instead, they dare not to do so, just send such documents to the embassy. So what does the word “Independence” mean? Of course, we do not rely on one country to act against other country, but the current international trend is very favorablefor us to link with other democratic countries to fight against the Chinese expansionism, namely their illegal and groundless claims over the East Sea.

I am glad to hear Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s address at the Shangri-La conference against imposition and power politicsand the inhumane treatment towards Vietnamese fishermen. In response to the question from a Chinese major general, the Prime Minister did not name that country but said everybody knows that country. At an international forum, this is apparently a blow to the Beijing expansionists. I am even happier to hear that this is the personal opinion of the Prime Minister but not necessarily the direction of the Politburo. That’s why Ha Dinh Nguyen, in an article on this issue, has hailed Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung upto 5 times.

4. On the issues of democracy, freedom and happiness.

By nature, this is the policy about the people and democracy that the communist party launched previously in the war of resistance and before 1975. These are the issues about humans.

+ Regarding democracy. This issue is apparent. A real democracy can be reached by an institutional change from a totalitarian and dictatorial state into a republic with separation of powers or the triaspolitica principle: legislature, executive and judiciary. An independent justice will be able to fight effectively against corruption. A constituent national assembly is needed to draft and ratify a new constitution. Then via democratic elections, alegislative national assembly will be elected according to the principle that scholarJeane Kirkpatrick summarized: "…elections must be competitive, periodical, popular, and by secret ballot…”. If the communist party wins those free and fair elections, it would convincingly become the ruling party, of the people, by the people and for the people.

I think for a long time to come, the communist party still remains a political force that no other political force could compete. The communist party leaders must be self-confident about that. Gradually, the oppositionparties mayplay the role of “antibodies” in a healthy society. If there is no oppositions in the society and the "totalitarian party" regime remains, then social evils like corruption, abuse of power, fierce fights between various groups having various interests that are tearing up the countryand mafias that manipulate country politically and economically… will push the country which is already in serious illness into an incurable situation.

+ One of the differences between humans and other creatures is that in human society, there is a clear conception offreedom. Freedom is an attribute of humanity. Without freedom, humans are only a flock of sheep (as described by Professor Ngo BaoChau). Without freedom, there will be no true science, literature, art, journalism ... That’s why in the country’s 1946 Constitution, provisions on freedom of humans were stipulated. It is a matter of human rights. Ironically, the current totalitarian regime in Vietnam has betrayed and deprived of all basic rights from its citizens, ignored the universal declaration of human rightsand repeatedly argued a cheap rhetoric that each country has its own context and its own human rights problems in order to cover up their nature of anti-democracy and anti-evolution. They intentionally evade the fact that humanity has come to the definition of fundamental and universal rights after undergoing struggles over many generations.

Writer Nguyen Khai wrote: "While reading On Liberty by Stuart Mill, I have been enlightened on many issues". That book inspired him so much in writing a famous essay “On way to find the ego that has been lost”. Nguyen Khaireviewed what he had experienced profoundly with a gentle writing tone but very convincing. This book has shown and analyzed the nature of the current political regime but nobody in the gang of “critic/informant” dared to criticize (Critic/informant is a new termrecently introduced by writer Pham Xuan Nguyen, Chairman of the Hanoi association of writers in referring to a guy named Nguyen Van Luuand some others in their attacking collectively an essay by writer NhaThuyen about a group of radical and young writers named “Open Mouth”).

Why the communist party leaders do not think about this question: Under the French rule previously, press, literature and arts had developed to a level a lot higher than what we have now, in a regime that vice president Nguyen Thi Doan once said “...more freedom ten thousand times...". Her statement is obviously so obscure, unthoughtful and ironical. Also at the time under French rule, press and literature blossomed out : papers like GiaDinh, Women’s New Literature, Nam Phong …; writers like Pham Quynh, Nguyen Van Vinh, PhanKhoi…; poets like XuanDieu, Huy Can, The Lu, CheLanVien, LuuTrong Lu and many other well-known poets whose immortal poemswere learnt by heart by readers. A long list of talented novelists and writers should also be mentioned like NhatLinh, Khai Hung, Lam Thach, Hoang Dao, Nguyen Tuan, Hoai, LanKhaiThanhTinh, Nguyen Hong… I still remember "I go to school" written by ThanhTinhin his “Hometown” collection. "Every year, in late autumn, leaves fall on the road and silver clouds are above the sky. My soul is full of memories of the day we begin a new school year. I can never forget the bright feeling that blossomed in my heart, like fresh flowers smile in the clear sky. I have never written down those notes on paper, because then I did not know how to note those feelings properly and now I do not remember all of them. But every time when I see the little children timidly hiding under their mothers’ hat on way to school for the first time, my heart throbs jubilantly. In that morning, a foggy and chilly one, my mother affectionately held my hands and we walked on the long and narrow village road. This road is too familiar to me, but today I have a very strange feeling. Around me, everything seems to have changed because a big change is taking place in my mind: Today Igo to school”. Similarly, we had big names in music too: Van Cao, Dang The Phong, Pham Duy, Doan Chuan, TuLinh Doan Man, Le Thuong, Nguyen Van Thuong ... Yet, under the socialist regime in the North Vietnam, all those big names could not produce any significant works when they had to live in the stifling totalitarianism that strangled democracy and freedom.

Right after 1975, the excited atmosphere in early days of the country reunion inspired musician Van Cao to compose "The first spring" in waltz melody. Compassionately, he naively believed that "From now on, people love people, people take care of people ...". Unfortunately, this song was prohibited in the following years but he could not speak about his disappointment until a few years later when he met with Trinh Cong Son and others musicians in the South. The sad picture of family separation, people fleeing the country, ill treatment, imprisonment that one friend of his is victim made him so upset and continue drinking. Probably his only consolation is that when he went to the South, to Saigon, he heard that his songs like "The first spring", "Thienthai", "Stream of dreams", "Truong Chi"…were sung widely.

Another issue is that the communist party must return to history and our ancestors what belong to history and our ancestors. The renaming of streets from Tran QuyCap to Vo Van Tan, from PhanDinhPhungto Nguyen DinhChieuetc. are unthoughtful, if not stupid that trampledon history and insulted the non-communist great patriots who had sacrificed in the struggle for national liberation like Can Vuongand Duy Tan movements.

In the field of press, why the date of birth of “The youth”, a newspaper of communist organizations, was chosen as “Vietnam Press Day”? In my opinion, the date of April 15 which isthe date of the first issue of “GiaDinhBao” in 1865 should be chosen. From next year on, we, a number of journalists will celebrate April 15 as the Vietnam Press Day. The communist party and its organizations could make up their day on June 21 as “the Revolutionary Press Day”. It does not matter. They do theirs. We do ours. That's it.

In so-called the North Vietnam socialist, when the peace restored, a group of well-known artistspioneered mostly by those poets and writers in the army such as Tran Dan, PhungQuan, Hoang Cam, activated a well-known movement called “Nhan Van Giai Pham”. All of them were those who directly combatted and witnessed the scene of carnage in the war, so they were determined to continue fighting for a free and democratic society and for social progress. They were able to gathermany intellectuals, writers and artists demanding freedom in artist activity and demanding no political intervention into those activities.

The totalitarian and dictatorial state then realized that this was a threat to the regime. Therefore, the activists of that movement were mercilessly and brutally cracked down, arrested, imprisoned.

+ After the war, the communist party became unreasonably arrogant. The communists always want to be praised. Slogans like "Long live the glorious communist partyof Vietnam” is everywhere. Even in the city hall, the office of a publicly elected body like the City Council, there were no words about country or fatherland. Instead, there was only a huge banner "Long live the glorious communist party of Vietnam" which is very objectionable . Some deputies, both communist and non-communist, felt uncomfortable but dared not say. In a general meeting, I said “This is office of a publicly elected body that represents the people. However, I do not see anything about the country and the people. I only see slogans praising the communist party. Why’s that? The communist party is only a part of the people. We have to put the nation and the people first. Therefore I request to change the mentioned banner. Almost everybody was silent. But after that meeting, the word “communist party” was replaced by the country’s name.


I mentioned the above experience to prove that in this regime there is no room for honest people but only for those who lie and avoid fighting for truth. Now is the time for us to break that fear to follow an extremely important guideline of revolutionary PhanChau Trinh: Open people’s mind, promote people’s spirit and strive for people’s prosperity.

Finally, I consider that this writing is solely for the purpose of reckoning and settling up everything between my life and the communist party of Vietnam, with hope that the party’s leaders will be enlightened then choose a just and true road for the nation. It is obvious that Marxism-Leninism and socialism have proved to be very obsolete, irrelevant and in fact, had collapsed and shattered right in the former Soviet Union which used to be the stronghold of those theories. The currently trends in the world are for civil rights, well beings, democracy, freedom, social progress and environmental protection. It also means that ahead of us is a fierce fight for the people, against the reactionary forces.

To be honest, I am not very confident but still hope that some leaders of the party and state will soon realize the importance of the mentioned issues then put the interests of the country and the people first, and find a reasonable solution, not for the survival of the party and the regime that goes against the development trend of humanity in the present time.

I think that it is our duty and responsibility to decisively fight for a society that is just, democratic, for social progress, in order to implement the ideals and aspiration of many previous generations striving for a peaceful, independent, civilized and prosperous Vietnam. Once the civil society has grown up and become mature, its strength will be able hold back and restrain the dictatorial tendencies of a totalitarian state. Our immediate target is to promote people’s spirit so that the people will no longer be afraid of brutal force, arrest, imprisonment. Then the further steps of "open people’s mind” and “strive for people's prosperity” will follow.

This writing is also to openly share what’s deep in my mind with friends, teammates, intellectuals, artists, young people, students … to reconfirm one thing: with the self-respect and the pride as being citizens of a country that has a very sound history, we must act. Please do not debate with each other on those issues that are not worth to debate. The aspiration of the Vietnamese people, as a part of the humanity, has always been a better society that is for the goods and against the bads. For a very long time, our people have wrongly had illusion about the socialism by Stalinist model under the guidance of the communist party.

One of the core issues is that previously, under unfavorable conditions, we did not have enough information to be able to perceive properly some vital issues of the country. Now that the situation in our country and in the world has changed dramatically, we must reconsider all the views and stance. We must readjust our perception and engage ourselves into the new struggle. Do not waste our time to deal with things belonging to the past that only weaken the strength of our national unity. Let our children evaluate history. As for us now, just act, act and act.


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Nguyễn Huệ Chi - Phạm Toàn - Nguyễn Thế Hùng

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Nguyễn Huệ Chi [trước] - Phạm Xuân Yêm [nay]

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