Do Muoi

Do Muoi (born 1917) was made prime minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in June 1988, capping a 35-year career in the state bureaucracy. As prime minister he became increasingly identified with the forces of conservatism at the highest level of leadership. In 1991 he became secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

In what was called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's (SRV) biggest leadership shake-up in five years, Do Muoi was elected the Communist Party's General Secretary replacing Nguyen Van Linh, 75, in 1991. The election on June 27, 1991 replaced seven of the 12 men in the ruling Politburo and a similar personnel housecleaning took place in the party Central Committee. Like Linh, Do Muoi advocated reforming the marketplace without fundamentally altering the political system. Party officials made clear that Linh was retiring because of poor health and was not being ousted. Do Muoi told journalists at the time, "our party and our people will follow the way of socialism, of Ho Chi Minh, as the sole correct way.

Do Muoi had been the prime minister since 1988. Until then, he had maintained a somewhat low public profile, confining his activity either to technical administration of economic programs, such as increasing commercial trade, or as a trouble shooter dealing with some crisis condition. His constituency within Vietnam's Leninist political system was drawn from the state bureaucracy and from the middle cadres corps.

However, Do Moui is blamed for what was deemed one of the greatest tragedies in Vietnam; the "Destruction of Capitalism". On March 23, 1978, Do Moui sent 60,000 youth groups throughout Vietnam to close down the businesses. An estimated 35,000 businesses were closed in just one day. Thousands of business owners committed sucide and thus began the exodus out of Vietnam by boat. By US estimations, since then, over 2 million Vietnamese became 'boat-people" and about 400,000 perished at sea.

Do Muoi's earlier service had been chiefly in the economic sector. In the early years, the late 1950s, this stood him well and enhanced his reputation as a manager and problem solver. After the Vietnam War, in the last half of the 1970s, however, he became deeply involved in the unsuccessful amalgamation of the two economies, North and South. As deputy prime minister with the title Director of Socialist Transformation of Private Industry in Southern Vietnam (March 1975) he was in effect the czar who jammed together the socialist and capitalist economic systems. His detractors later asserted that he, more than any other individual Vietnamese, was responsible for the country's postwar economic failure. His defenders argued that he simply shared the blame equally with other top leaders. Even his severest critics, however, always treated Do Muoi with respect, regarding him as an incorruptible disciplinarian who faithfully held high the banner of Communist Party idealism, one who properly was widely feared by the corrupt, the incompetent, and the slack.

Do Muoi was born in Dong My village (Thanh Tri district) on the outskirts of Hanoi on February 2, 1917, into what his official biography terms a "poor for many generations" family. He appears to have had little if any formal education—his official biography makes no reference at all to schooling—and quite probably he had less than five years in school. During World War II he was imprisoned by the French in Chi Hoa prison, Hanoi. Here he was thrown in with famed Vietnamese political prisoners, probably his chief educational experience as colonial prisons were the "university" for most Asian revolutionaries.

According to his official biography, Do Muoi became politically active at the age of 14 when he joined the antifascist Popular Front. His occupation at the time was as a house painter. He joined the Indochinese Communist Party in 1939, was sentenced to ten years in prison by the French in 1941, and escaped (or was released) in 1945.

He joined the Viet Minh in its war against the French and began service in Ha Dong province. During this war he held a succession of provincial level posts, achieving the equivalent rank of brigadier general as the People's Army of Vietnam's top political commissar. He was in command of the occupation of Haiphong at war's end.

Do Muoi's first post in the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam government was vice minister of commerce (1956), and there followed a series of assignments, chiefly in the domestic trade sector. He was politically inactive, out of the public eye, from February 1961 to November 1967. Western intelligence attributed this to poor health, not an entirely satisfactory explanation.

In 1969 he was assigned to the building and construction sectors. He was the Vietnamese liaison official with the USSR team that built Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi and with the Cuban team that built Hanoi's Thanh Loi hotel. He became vice premier in December 1969, a Central Committee member and Politburo alternate-member in March 1982, and a full Politburo member and Central Committee secretary in 1986; he was elected to the National Assembly in 1980. In the 1980s he was identified with the Council of Ministers (vice chairman in 1981), with one of his chief administrative tasks the supervision of the purge of incompetent and corrupt party cadres, part of the party's broader effort to restore its lost luster and reputation. In 1991 he was elevated to secretary-general of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

Do Muoi's public image was avuncular, as a serious, dedicated, honest government official. He carried the appearance of solid orthodoxy, one committed both to the orthodox Marxism-Leninism and to the pre-modern Vietnamese traditionalism. He seemed to regard Marxism-Leninism as a logical extension of the centuries-old Vietnamese value system. His public statements were in straightforward language unadorned by literary style or subtlety of thought. His doctrinal orations were punctuated by moral exhortation and in substance chiefly were restatements of party lines and state slogans. His economic philosophy, judged by his many speeches on economic problems, was what could be termed original Stalinism—that is, he believed in primary concentration on heavy industry, large-sized agricultural production units, highly centralized planning, use of moral exhortation more than individual incentive as chief motivating force, and a minimal role for the market in economic activity.

Although a little-known figure abroad, Do Muoi traveled extensively in Vietnam, probably was more tireless in stumping the boondocks than any other Hanoi leader. He also traveled extensively abroad, but almost entirely to socialist countries in search of economic aid.

Little is known about his personal life. At some point he was married, as it is reported that his wife died late in 1992. What her name was, when they were married, or if they had any children has not been disclosed. In July of 1996, Do Muoi's term as general secretary was extended. He declared, according to the New York Times, "I belong to the party and the people. The party and the people tell me what to do."


Further Reading on Do Muoi

There is little published information on Do Muoi. See his biography in the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs 1989, edited by Richard Staar (1990); "Hanoi Assembly Elects a New Prime Minister" in the New York Times (June 28, 1988); "A Premier Candidate" in Far Eastern Economic Review (June 23, 1988); and "Vietnam Picks a Disciplinarian as Premier" in the Washington Post (June 23, 1988).His recent political activities are recorded in the LA Times] Albright Outlines U.S. Terms for Closer Ties With Vietnam on June 28, 1997, Vietnam's Premier Becomes Party Chief; Communists: Do Muoi advocates market reform without greatly altering the political system on June 28, 1991; SOUTHEAST ASIA; New Blood, Same Policy Likely at Vietnamese Party Congress on May 17, 1991. Many of his speeches and political activities are broadcast on Radio Free Asia.