The Party’s theoretical awareness of the role of culture in the revolution, renovation, and development throughout Vietnam’s history

Assoc Prof, Dr. NGUYEN THE KY
Chairman of the Central Council for Theory and Criticism of Literature and Art, former member of the Party Central Committee, former General Director of Voice of Vietnam
Tuesday, May 24, 2022 11:20

Communist Review - Looking back over the past 91 years, since the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) was born on February 3, 1930, the Party's conception on culture, cultural and human development has been gradually improved in a scientific, revolutionary, and humane manner. This conception is supported by the people as they are all aimed at the people's happiness.

People in Ly Hoc commune, Vinh Bao district, Hai Phong city offered General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong a statue of Duke Trinh (Nguyen Binh Khiem) _Photo: VNA

Since its establishment and during the revolutionary period, the CPV has attached special importance to culture, especially the relationship between culture and the nation, the revolution, the world, and renovation and development. In 1943, by applying Marxism and the guidelines of the Party and leader Nguyen Ai Quoc, Truong Chinh, General Secretary of the Party, wrote the Outline on Vietnamese Culture (also known as the 1943 Outline on Culture). For the first time, the CPV has introduced a Platform on culture in which the content, nature, organization and development orientation of a cultural revolution can only be associated with the national liberation revolution and a cultural revolution can be realized when the political revolution has succeeded. The Outline on Vietnamese Culture (in 1943) defined that Vietnamese culture (consisting of ideology, learning, and arts) “will be liberated by the democratic revolution and freed from shackles and could catch up with the world's neo-democratic culture”(1); it affirmed three principles: “nationalize”; “popularize”; “make scientific”; the cultural revolution is a common cause of the whole people under the Party leadership; It also confirmed that the new Vietnamese culture is “national in form and neo-democratic in subject matter”(2).

Around the same time, the notebook of poems composed by President Ho Chi Minh in the prison of Chiang Kai-shek's government in Guangxi, China, was later collected into "The Prison Diary" (1942 - 1943). On the last page, he wrote about culture: “For survival as well as the purpose of life, mankind created and invented language, writing, morality, and law, science, religion, literature, art, tools for daily living like clothing, food, shelter, and methods of use. All those creations and inventions constitute culture. Culture is the combination of all modes of living that mankind has created to meet human needs for survival”(3).

After the successful August Revolution in 1945, at the first session of the Government Council (September 3, 1945), President Ho Chi Minh laid out six urgent tasks for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in which there are 3 urgent cultural tasks: the first mission is to end hunger and illiteracy; the second one is to teach spirituality for the people; the third one is to exercise the freedom of religion.

The cultural revolution gradually took shape and was clearly expressed in the letter on “Vietnamese cultural tasks in the national liberation and construction” of General Secretary Truong Chinh addressed to President Ho Chi Minh on November 16, 1946. In the chaos of the State's missions against hunger, illiteracy, and foreign invaders, under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh, the first National Conference on Culture was held on November 24, 1946, at Hanoi Opera House. As planned, the Conference worked for 3 days. However, due to the tense situation in Hai Phong and the risk of an earlier war in Hanoi, it closed immediately after an urgent working day. The conference received more than 200 outstanding cultural activists nationwide. In his opening speech, President Ho Chi Minh affirmed: “Vietnam's new culture must take the people's and nation's happiness as the basis, learn the good things of foreign cultures, create a Vietnamese culture so that the new culture must solve the evils of corruption, laziness, and wastefulness and everyone has the ideal of self-reliance and independence”(4). He affirmed: “Culture should be a torch to light up nation’s way forward”(5). The report of the National Committee for Cultural Advocacy highlighted the achievements obtained and called for solidarity, and set out the tasks to build Vietnamese culture in the new situation. Deputies of the Conference have elected 15 full members and 5 alternate members of the National Committee for Culture. The great success of the Conference laid an important foundation for a new culture in Vietnam.

In March 1947, President Ho Chi Minh wrote a work entitled “New Life” explaining clearly the practical issues in the cultural guidelines and policies of the Party and State of Vietnam.

Always during the hard battles against the French colonialists, the Party and President Ho Chi Minh led the organization of the second National Conference on Culture from July 16 to 20, 1948 in Viet Bac. In his letter to the participants of the Conference, President Ho Chi Minh emphasized: “In the great cause of our nation's resistance to national construction, culture plays a crucial role... Our culturalists must produce meritorious works to praise the present national resistance and eternalize the great and the glorious moments of national liberation cause to the next generations”(6).

On July 18, 1948, General Secretary Truong Chinh presented an important report at the Conference entitled “Marxism and Vietnamese culture”. The report systematized, concretized, and developed the conceptions, principles, and mottos of the Outline on Vietnamese Culture of the Party (1943) which is considered the Platform on Culture of the Party during the war and national construction. It mentioned six main tasks related to culture: 1- Determining the relationship between culture and the revolution for national liberation; 2- Building a new democratic culture of Vietnam with national, scientific, and popular characteristics with a focus on nation and democracy; 3- Actively eliminating illiteracy, establishing universities and high schools, reforming learning in a new spirit, and eliminating indoctrination teaching; 4- Re-educating the people, promoting new lifestyle; 5- Promoting positive aspects of national culture as well as stopping social evil and remnants of colonial and reactionary ideology, learning the good things from the world culture; 6- Forming a new group of intellectuals who actively contributed to the resistance war and national revolution.

Three days after the second National Conference on Culture, the National Conference on Art was held from 23 to July 25, 1948. More than 80 artists representing literature, theater, music, architecture, and fine arts from all corners of the national resistance attended the conference. At this important event, the Arts Association of Vietnam was established, a good continuation of the Cultural Association for National Liberation established in 1943.

From 1950 onwards, the model of building cultural resistance was adjusted, although the form of “national conference on culture” was no longer used, the guidelines, conceptions, goals, and tasks of culture and arts continued to be supplemented and developed in the Party's resolutions and directives and the State's policies and laws. In his letter to artists on the occasion of a painting exhibition (1951), President Ho Chi Minh clearly stated: “Culture and arts are also a front. You are soldiers on that front”(7). He explicitly affirmed the leading role of culture in national liberation. Culture, together with the political, economic, and military fields, must form powerful fronts during the nation's long-term resistance. “Culture, arts and other sectors cannot stand outside but must be integrated in economic and political fields”(8).

The document of the Third Party Congress (September 1960) clearly pointed out the ways to build a socialist and nationalist culture. On the path towards socialism, the Party identified culture and ideology as a revolution that must be led in line with the revolution of production relations and the scientific and technical revolution. The way to carry out the cultural and ideological revolution, to build a socialist culture with national, scientific, and popular characteristics has been developed and supplemented in the early years toward socialism.

The 4th National Congress (December 1976) determined that it was necessary to create a new man, a new culture, and fight against reactionary and toxic ideas and cultural products. The 5th National Congress (March 1982) clearly stated that the new culture we build is a socialist and nationalist culture with partisanship and popularity that is deeply imbued with patriotism and proletarian internationalism. The 5th Party Congress also deeply presented the concept of the “New Socialist Man” and introduced the motto “The State and the people co-create culture”.

The great victory of the Vietnamese people in the two resistance wars against the French colonialists and the American imperialists, and the war for national defense resulted from the sound political and military tactics and also from the patriotism and the noble spiritual values of the Vietnamese people and culture.

Besides the mentioned great achievements of the past few decades, the leadership and cultural practices also revealed weaknesses. In this period, the goals and content of the ideological and cultural revolution were regulated by the revolution of relations of production that aimed to radically abolish private property and exploitation as quickly as possible, to move the socialist relations of production one step ahead, and separate them from the actual development level of the productive forces. The war and a centrally planned economy, bureaucracy, subsidies, and egalitarianism have constrained the development of culture and education as well as the creativity of artists, thus hindering national growth.

After the liberation of the South and the reunification of the country, the Communist Party of Vietnam and the State of Vietnam struggled to find a way to renew the country, especially to renovate economic thinking. The 6th National Party Congress (1986) explicitly affirmed this point of view. By renovating the way of thinking in economy and politics, our Party established a theoretical and practical basis for cultural reform.  Between 1986 and 1994, the Party paid more attention to culture and arts.  The Platform for National Construction in the transitional period towards socialism, adopted at the 7th National Congress (June 1991), defined that “The culture which we are building is an advanced one deeply imbued with national identity”(9). This is one of the six basic features of the socialist regime in Vietnam.

Thus, by the time of the Political Platform (1991), awareness of building and developing an advanced culture imbued with national identity which was both a striving goal and an important task during the transition to socialism was more noticeable. The transition to socialism has been more clearly stated. The conception of building an advanced culture imbued with national identity continues to be supplemented and comprehensively developed in different documents of the Party.

For the first time, the Resolution of the Fourth Plenum of the  Central Committee (7th Tenure) on “Some cultural and artistic tasks in the coming years” introduced the concept: “Culture is the spiritual foundation of a society, a driving force for socio-economic development, and at the same time a goal of socialism”(10). It affirmed: “The culture that our Party leads the whole people to build is an advanced culture imbued with national identity”(11).

The Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee (8th tenure) issued a Resolution on “Building and developing an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity(12). These are not only the guidelines and policies of the Party on culture but also cultural theoretical thinking in the new revolutionary period.

From the concept of the culture that consists of ideology, learning, arts (Outline on Vietnamese Culture in 1943) to the more open thinking of culture including ideology, morality, lifestyle, science, education - training, mass communication, literature, arts, religion, beliefs..., from a new culture with the guidelines of nationalization, popularization, and science; from the policy by that nationalism is the form, neo-democracy is the content (1943) to building a “socialist and nationalist culture with partisanship and popularity” (1982), the concept of culture has been developed to a new step when it is to affirm that Vietnam's culture is imbued with the national, modern and humane spirit (Constitution of 1992), that we should build and develop an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity (5th Central Resolution, 5th Tenure, 1998), an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity, absorbing the quintessence of the mankind’s culture (Constitution 2013). From the concept that “The cultural revolution must be completed in order to complete the social reform” (1943), “the ideological and cultural revolution is the driving force (4th Congress), it has changed to “Culture is the spiritual foundation of the society. It is both a goal and a driving force for socio-economic growth” (Resolution of the 5th Central Committee, 8th Tenure, 1998)... From three principles of cultural renovation: nationalization, massification, scientification (1943) to the implementation of the socialist revolution in ideology and culture, the Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh's thought held a dominant position in the social spiritual life to inherit and promote the quintessence of all ethnic groups in the country. “We should absorb the quintessence of the humanity’s culture, build a democratic and civilized society for the true benefit and dignity of human beings with an increasing level of knowledge, morality, physical strength and aesthetics”,...(13).

Thus, the Resolution of the 5th Party Central Committee, 8th Tenure, has supplemented and comprehensively developed the way of building and developing Vietnamese culture in line with the country's reality in the new period and the world’s tendency in the concept of culture, position and role of culture in development as well as the goals, tasks and basic solutions to build and develop an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity.

By affirming that culture is the spiritual foundation of society, the 9th Party Congress (April 2001) requested that “It is essential to expand and improve the effectiveness of the campaign “All people unite to build cultural life”, “Building a civilized lifestyle and family”... so that culture could penetrate each individual or family’s mind and the new values of Vietnamese people could be enhanced. It is crucial to promote cultural values in all economic, political, social and daily activities of inhabitants”(14). In order to promote literature and arts, the Politburo issued Resolution No. 23 NQ/TW dated June 16, 2008, on “Continuing to build and develop literature and arts in the new era”. It precisely stated: “It is required to renovate and encourage the diversity of literature and arts in terms of topics, content, forms methods of composition, creation, experiences to improve the comprehensive quality of national literature and arts”.

The 10th Party Congress (April 2006) pointed out that “It is necessary to continue to develop deeply and improve the quality of an advanced culture imbued with national identity, establish a close-knit bond with socio-economic growth so that culture penetrates all areas of social life”. The basic spirit of the Resolution of the 5th Party Central Committee, 8th Tenure, was reaffirmed in the Documents of the 10th and 11th National Congresses of the Party, especially, in the Platform for national construction in the period of transition to socialism (Added and developed in 2011): Building an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity, improving people's living standards, achieving social progress and justice. In its orientation, our Party affirms that it is compulsory to build an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national identity with well- rounded development, unity in diversity, and deeply imbued with the spirit of humanity, democracy, progress so that culture is closely linked with the entire social life and serves as a solid spiritual foundation, an important endogenous force for development.

After 15 years of implementing the Resolution of the 5th Central Committee, 8th Tenure, the national cause of cultural construction and development has made positive changes and achieved enormous significant results. However, amidst rapid and complex changes in human life in the market economy and a globalized world, cultural activities also revealed weaknesses: the reform of Party's leadership and the State governance is not up on par; negative effects of the market economy on cultural life have not been fully taken into account. Although in principle, we consider “Culture is both a goal and a driving force for socio-economic development”, in fact, in thinking and acting, many organizations and individuals still give more priorities to economic benefits than cultural values. As a result, culture is narrowed in scope and “administralized”, it is no longer a comprehensive concept of material and spiritual values. Stemming from nearly 30 years of renovation and development, the 9th Plenum of the Central Committee of the 11th Tenure issued Resolution No. 33-NQ/TW, dated June 9, 2014, on “Building and developing Vietnamese culture and people towards national sustainable development”. This has shown the progress in the Party's theoretical thinking and awareness of the position and role of culture, especially the human factor, in determining direction, motivation and characteristics in building and promoting cultural values and strength of Vietnamese people. It has also indicated that the ulterior conceptions have inherited from the previous ones and the theoretical quintessence of the world on culture in the spirit of nenovation of the Party. The 12th and 13th Party Congresses continued to supplement and perfect the Party's guidelines on the development of Vietnamese culture and people towards national sustainable growth.

The Resolution of the 12th Party Congress advocated “building a well- rounded development of Vietnamese culture and people, towards truth - goodness - beauty, imbued with the spirit of the nation, humanity, democracy, and science. Building the Vietnamese people for comprehensive development must become an objective of the development strategy. Therefore, it is necessary to build cultural and human value system in the period of industrialization, modernization, and international integration(15).

At the end of the 12th Tenure, the Politburo issued Conclusion No. 76-KL/TW dated 4-6-2020 on “Continuing to implement Resolution No. 33-NQ/TW of the 11th Central Committee on building and developing Vietnamese culture and people to meet the requirements of national sustainable development”, in which major orientations have been identified: Building and developing culture and people is an important and regular task of the whole political system. Culture is the soul of the nation, a solid spiritual foundation of the society, an important endogenous force for national sustainable development and solid defense of the Fatherland, for the sake of a rich people and a strong country, democracy, justice, and civilization.

These  goals and tasks stated have been reaffirmed and enhanced in the Resolution of the 13th Party Congress: “Due consideration should be given to studying and building the national value system, cultural value system and human standards while preserving and developing the Vietnamese family value system in the new context. Adequate attention should be paid to the education, training and protection of children and adolescents. Teaching patriotism, national pride, national traditions and history, and a sense of social responsibility for all walks of life, especially young people”(16). The Resolution of the 13th Party Congress emphasized that “it is essential to comprehensively renovate the content and leadership of the Party, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the State's management of culture”(17).

On the occasion of the 131st birthday of President Ho Chi Minh (May 19, 1890 - May 19, 2021), Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Party Central Committee made an important article: “Some theoretical and practical issues on socialism and the path to socialism in Vietnam”, in which he advocated that “We need a society in which development is truly for the people and not for profit to exploit and trample on human dignity. Economic progress should go hand in hand with social justice and not with the rise in inequality and exclusion. We need a society of compassion, solidarity, mutual assistance towards progressive and humane values and not a society of unfair competition where “big fish eat small fish” for the benefits of certain individuals and groups. We need to ensure eco- friendly sustainable development to preserve a healthy living environment for current and future generations. We must not overexploit natural resources and destroy environment… Are those good aspirations the true values ​​of socialism and also the goal and the path that President Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Party and people have chosen and are persistently pursuing”(18).

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong affirmed: “We consider culture as the spiritual foundation of society, the endogenous strength, the driving force for national development and defense; The cultural development in harmony with economic growth and progress, and social justice becomes a fundamental orientation torwards socialism in Vietnam. The culture that we are building is an advanced culture imbued with national identity, a unified culture in diversity, a culture based on progressive and humanistic values; Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh's thought play a leading role in spiritual life. It is a culture that inherits and promotes the good traditional values ​​of all ethnic groups, and the quintessence of human culture. We strive to build a civilized and healthy society for the sake of genuine interests and human dignity, with an increasing level of knowledge, morality, physical strength, lifestyle and aesthetics. We advocate that people hold a central position in the development strategy; cultural development and human progress is both the goal and the driving force of the renovation; education, science and technology are the leading national policy; environmental protection is one of the vital issues, a criterion for sustainable development; a happy family constitutes a vital cell of society, gender equality is the criterion of progress and civilization”(19).

Looking back on the past stages, it is noticeable that the creativity of the Party in theoretical framework on culture is associated with the revolutionary cause of national liberation, construction and defense. The theoretical and cultural values ​​of the renovation period need to be fully understood to “light the way for the nation to go” and serve as a solid spiritual foundation for renovation and development.


(1), (2) Complete Party Document, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2000, vol. 7, p. 318, 320

(3) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, vol. 3, p. 458

(4) Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, Ho Chi Minh Institute and Party leaders: Ho Chi Minh’s biographical Chronicle, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2016, vol. 3, p. 321

(5) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, ibid, vol. 1, p. XXV

(6) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, ibid, vol. 5, p. 577

 (7), (8) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, ibid, vol. 7, p. 246

(9) The Complete Party Document, ibid, vol. 52, p. 134

(10), (11) Complete Party Document, ibid, vol. 52, pp. 513, 516

(12), (13) See: Documents of the Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee, (8th tenure), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998

(14) Document of the Party Congress in the renewal period (6th, 7th, 8th, 9th National Congress), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2019, p. 998 - 999

(15) Document of the 12th National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, pp. 126 - 127

(16), (17) Documents of the 13th National Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, vol. I, p. 143, 146

(18), (19) Nguyen Phu Trong: “Some theoretical and practical issues about socialism and the path to socialism in Vietnam”, Communist Review No. 966, May 2021, pp. 5 - 6, 7

This article was published in the Communist Review No. 978 (November 2021)