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Thứ Tư, 3 tháng 8, 2011

"I am working for a little communist society"
That line finally came through as I drifted along the burning road an early afternoon, lost in my nameless messy thoughts. It is not a shock, but still, there is something quite strange about it. I am actually living that out, Marx's description of the most accomplished form of human collective organization. Communism, I am experiencing you for real.

Imagine this. A group of young master graduates from the London School of Economics, major in either International Development or Economics, go to Vietnam to actualize their ideas in a project which supposedly greatly benefits the local people, get nothing out of it except basic living cost, and intend to return the successful social enterprise they build up to local hands after 3 years. How do you interpret their motivation?

I have heard 3 explanations. First one, they themselves say the job is rewarding, they are young so they want to get hands-on experience, and this project is like their first baby. Second one, my aunt, who seems skeptical of everything good and free, says they are trying to cheat, launder money under the guise of charity, or hide themselves from some crime committed in their home countries. Last one, my uncle, who has been to LSE and is 100% positive these guys are rich kids, says they are using the 3 years to build their social intelligence, to prove themselves to their rich parents, and after Vietnam, they will return home to resume the highest positions in big global companies owned by their families.

Motivation aside, the way this place functions is: except for me, the only Vietnamese in the whole team, who has a contract and a salary, everything one else's living expense is covered by the common fund. All the money each team member earns go directly to this fund, whether it is individual income from English teaching or tour fee paid by guests to the whole team, and then they keep track of everything each spends, as little as 3000 VND for motorbike parking or food, phone, fuel, utility, anything. And all this earning and spending is made available for the whole team to read through Dropbox.

They all live in the same house. Even though there is division of labour, i.e marketing people, fieldwork people, external affairs and internal affairs people, as well as different titles, the organization is so small that everyone can participate in the job of everyone else, and contribute according to their interest and capacity. The way that it works is at the beginning of the week, they have one meeting to update on everyone's progress, and talk about new tasks. Although there is a general sense of what job goes to whom, most of the time it is overlap, and if someone is away, any of the team member can take up his/her job. Well, to a certain extent, of course, I won't be able to hold a meeting with the UN or other important people, etc.

So there it goes: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". If you are a big guy and you eat more than a petite lady, it is ok to spend more on food than she does, as long as you make it transparent for the whole group to see. All work for the common goal of advancing the organization, and it in turn serves to sustain them. Collective means of production (e.g. three motorbikes they share), money earned are not distributed to individuals and all profit goes to re-investment for the organization. No private property whatsoever, besides laptops and personal stuffs.

And equality. The highest man sits and eats with the lowest. There is official ranking, but no real hierarchy. Every opinion is listened. Every voice is respected. Of course some worth more attention than others, but you are free to contribute your opinions. No one says things against others or hide things for their own interest. Division of labour means doing what you are best at, not you are more valuable than others, because each and everyone is essential for the welfare of the whole.

Isn't it a bit of irony here, a little communist society lived out by a group of young foreigners (probably without the intention) in the midst of a self-acclaimed socialist country?

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