Social justice has been a major topic of interest among scholars and politicians since the dawn of human civilizations. Its principles were formulated and contested within diverse schools of thoughts, more recently by excellent Marxist philosophers and social critics, such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels or, Ho Chi Minh. Their inspiring and mobilizing critique of the gross injustices perpetrated by rich capitalists against exploited workers in the 19th and 20th centuries remain constitutive for us today as we reflect on the principles of Social Justice in human societies. We see that wherever social justice is effectively implemented, it tends to develop and grow. Social justice is one of the important factors in ensuring the community and nation to make progress.
Building on the foundations of ancient philosophers' social justice ideas, philosophers later developed Social Justice in more detail. They provided the basic principles to solve practical problems with the desire to build a good society, ensuring equality for everyone and establishing principles for the implementation of social justice that would counter the existing inequities in practice. These ideas flourished primarily among the proponents of Marxism. An outstanding student of the Marxism, Ho Chi Minh inherited its principles concerning social justice, combined them with Eastern culture, indigenous customs and the Vietnamese practical situation in his time in order to create a particularly nuanced approach on social justice implementation in Vietnam.
According to Ho Chi Minh, the role of social justice was very important. The implementation of social justice must first be fair in terms of its distribution. Borrowing from the ancient philosophers’ ideas about justice, Ho Chi Minh expressed his opinions to the Government Council in late 1966 on the implementation of distributive justice, He reminded that: “No fear of shortage only fear of injustice; No fear of poverty, only afraid of people’s unrest” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011e:224]. He did not consider fear to the be biggest problem for it could be ameliorated. The scariest thing for him was that justice would be not implemented, which would greatly affect people's aspirations. Poverty itself was not as frightening as the disappointment of people. Ho Chi Minh understood Vietnamese people profoundly, he knew that people could cope with poverty and deprivation of a country still being ravaged by war, but if justice were not enforced, people would not be satisfied. “The people are very sympathetic to the situation of lack of goods, they only will complain about the unfair distribution” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011e:681]. Injustice would destabilize people’s contribution and destroy people’s fervor.
In Ho’s view, implementing Justice in distribution with the principle of work (i.e. how much one has deserved) had a significant influence on people’s activities. It would eliminate various forms of privilege for individuals or groups. It would not care for people’s social status; people are treated equally by the law. Thanks to justice, the relationship between the rights and the obligations, between the dedication and the enjoyment, between rights and responsibilities were satisfactorily resolved. People would then really do and enjoy the right things the law did not prohibit. It meant true democracy was being implemented. It could be said that democracy and justice always go hand in hand, complementing and develop together. Perhaps that is the reason why Ho Chi Minh has paid great attention to fair distribution.
Therefore, the implementation of social justice in distribution is Ho Chi Minh’s primary concern. This is the most prominent issue in ensuring social justice. How to distribute available resources so that people can see it is fair justice. According to Ho Chi Minh, the distribution in work would ensure a minimum justice.
Implementing the principle of distribution by work, “work a lot, enjoy a lot; work little, enjoy a little; do nothing, do not enjoy it. The elderly or disabled people will be supported by the State.” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011b:404]. In Ho Chi Minh's principle about distribution, he emphasized that: “There should be no situation of the good, the poor, the hard, the easy, the same merits. That is egalitarianism that must be avoided.” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011d:216]. Egalitarianism affects the interests of every person. It makes the benefit of those who work hard and work much not be guaranteed and respected. The phenomenon of having some individuals who are still able to work but they refused to work, yet they still try to enjoy the material wealth of the society as participants, will create negative reactions, depressive psychology, discouraging the industrious people from their devotion to work. Egalitarianism is the driving engine behind complaining, laziness, greed, dredging ... people's dissatisfaction, loss of solidarity, affecting the revolutionary cause, even to the point of affecting the survival of the country.
President Ho Chi Minh's policy of social justice shows profound humanity. He reminded each member of Communist party to “take great care of people's lives, attempt to develop production and thrifty practices, and distribute equally, step by step improving the life, food, accommodation, study opportunities and providing healthcare and entertainment to people; pay special attention to war-ravaged areas, orphans, frail elderly people and families of martyrs, war invalids, soldiers, young volunteers” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011e:596]
The effect of that policy had a significant influence on the social community. It encouraged people to work towards the social development of the society. This policy also cultivated mutual love and respect among people, enhanced the solidarity of people to each other, created stronger connections between generations, intensified sharing between people who did not have the opportunity to contribute to the society and those who have devoted their lives wholeheartedly to the nation. People's faith in the State improved. Because of this, Vietnam could defeat France and the United States of America.
A very interesting feature in all of this is Ho Chi Minh’s placing great importance to the equality of benefits and a just distribution of opportunities in economic activities. Ho Chi Minh had planned that the Government had to ensure fair relationships between the employer and employees. He had determined: “capitalists cannot be perpetrators of exploitation. But the Government prohibits them from exploiting workers too much. The government must protect the rights of workers. At the same time, for the long-term sake, the workers also let the owner get a reasonable amount of benefits, not asking for excess. Then both owners and workers are automatically self-motivated, increasing production getting benefits for both sides” [ Ho Chi Minh, 2011a: 267]. This is essentially a concretization of social justice. If the Government did not allow capitalists to enjoy some reasonable benefits, or if the workers’ rights were not protected, production could hardly grow well. Ho Chi Minh understood that the justice of benefits would motivate people to actively engage in labor and to do their best.
In addition, Ho also maintained the policy about keeping justice on benefits between state and private economy (“công tư đều lợi”).
Ho Chi Minh’s ultimate desire was to somehow make the country be independent, the people have freedom, and all people have enough food and clothes and be educated. He understood that when the conflict of interests between state and private economy was resolved fairly, his wishes come true. Therefore, Ho Chi Minh’s analysis in this regard is worth noting: “fairness needs to be established between the interests of the public (state) and private economy. Public economy belongs to State. It is the foundation and guideline of the new democratic economy. So we must strive to develop it and people will support it. Therefore, persons who sabotage it, steal public goods, commit tax fraud, must be punished strictly by law; The private economy is ethnic capital economy and the economy of farmers, artisans, and the people of free economic activities. It is also a necessary force for the construction of the country's economy. So the government needs to help them grow” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011a:267].
In addition, Ho emphasized the vital role of private capital economy: “in the private capital economy, they [i.e. entrepreneurs] exploit workers, but they are an important factor that contributes to the development of economy” [Ho Chi Minh, 2011a: 266]. Ho Chi Minh advocates fair treatment to all economic sectors. All economic sectors are free to do business and enjoy benefit fairly. One of the measures to ensure social justice for all economic sectors is the implementation of democracy in the economy.
Unfortunately, for a long time, Vietnam followed the Soviet economic model, ignoring this policy of Ho Chi Minh. The country was in a serious crisis until 1986. The Communist Party of Vietnam was aware of existing problems and implemented necessary innovations. The private economy has since returned and made significant contributions to the Vietnamese economic wellbeing so far.
Realizing the important role of ensuring justice between personal interests and public interests, Ho paid great attention to the piecework regime, an effective way to ensure fairness in labor and enjoyment. Moreover, he emphasized the people’s taking part in the Government’s work; the Government must be under the supervision of the people. People must have relevant information on what, where, when and how the Government conducts its duties. Before the government implements its policies they must be discussed and evaluated by the people and experts in the given area.
Above all, in order to enforce justice effectively, firstly, democracy must function well in our country. As Ho asserted, “Surely, everything would fail without democracy" [Ho Chi Minh, 2011c:317].
We can say that Ho Chi Minh's idea of ensuring social justice that creates a progressive and developed society is an eternally valuable and meaningful idea. Whenever Vietnam was aware and carried out Ho’s insights on this matter, we saw significant improvement taking place. The history of applying Ho’s thought in our socio-political reality has proved its correctness.
For more than thirty years of implementing Doi Moi, with the development of the economy under the socialist-oriented market mechanism, it has brought a new situation when it comes to ensuring social justice for the people. Economic sectors are free to exist and conduct their activities. It is the encouragement and appreciation of the private sector that can be traced back to Ho Chi Minh’s original thought and which has contributed to the economic development, bringing Vietnam's economy to much better condition. We can legitimately say that due to this Vietnam is out of poverty in the present. People are free to choose their businesses, pursue their careers, and enjoy their rights.
It is clear that Ho Chi Minh's ideas on social justice continue to be vastly meaningful today. They contribute to the orientation and the forming of the plan and guidelines of the Vietnamese Communist Party and Government in the right way. They help to keep the proper ideological orientation of the Vietnamese people. They strengthen the will of the people to protect the democracy and equality of all citizens. Ho’s thoughts raise the awareness of a wide range of people. They will also be the key to solve some of the difficult issues that are limiting our efforts in the implementation of social justice in Vietnam today. As we have seen, when Vietnam applied Ho Chi Minh's thought on the implementation of social justice well, the Vietnamese society prospered.
However, the reality of implementing social justice in Vietnam still has many struggles to go through. For example, the situation of salary increase in the administrative and non-business agencies regularly every three years reduces the enthusiasm for labor. Or, there have been preferential policies for families of war invalids and martyrs, but we should ask how the State has compensated for their loss and whether it was worthy of what they and their loved ones have lost. In fact they have rights to receive more than that.
Moreover, the Government's personal income tax policy, that is one of the measures to make social equality more secure and the gap between rich and poor to diminish. However, the fact shows it was not fair when the guy who lost the job could not get good enough money from the unemployed subsidy agency even he paid income tax completely before. In addition, we do not want to mention the complicated administrative procedures that makes the people afraid of asking to receive unemployment benefits. Recently, unemployment insurance has been improved, but we need to ask how many people have got money from unemployment insurance. Beside that, there are problems of fraud in examinations in the northern provinces of Vietnam (Son La, Hoa Binh, Lang Son, Ha Giang) [N.V. Hai; 2019]; there is also the issue of improper official appointment [Thanh Tuan:2018]; the unreasonable cases when officials could build luxury villas or palaces while receiving only “normal” official salary [Chan Luan: 2019]. It is showing that there is still a sizeable corruption even at the top levels of government and that social justice is not implemented well enough; etc. The causes of these limitations are many. However, we can legitimately argue that one of the reasons for this situation is that Ho Chi Minh's thought has not bee implemented correctly and totally.
In general, Ho Chi Minh’s thought on social Justice continues to carry significance for Vietnam today. His image in most Vietnamese people’s eyes is still that of a great teacher of our nation in many areas of life.
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Author: Dr. Do Thi Kim Hoa, Institute of Philosophy at the Vietnam Academy of Social Science