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Andy’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 21 Dec 2006

Location: Vientiane, Laos

MapLAND OF A MILLION ELEPHANTS
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Finally reached Laos, or Lan Xang, 'Land of a Million Elephants' to those of a poetic bent.

This is the first socialist/communist country i have ever visited. For an international politics grad this is geekily exciting. Even seeing the soviet flag (a yellow 'hammer and sickle' set against a red background) which still hangs from many buildings was interesting. As were the rain streaked and bleak concrete apartment blocks which looked straight out of an anti-communist propaganda campaign and dotted the capital.

The People's Democratic Republic of Lao came into being in 1975 after a two-decade long struggle by the Pathet Lao (Laotian communists) against French and American imperialism.
However, Laos is not really socialist. Neither was the USSR. Neither emerged from the ashes of capitalism's collapse as dictated by Marx's theory of historical materialism.

Laos can most properly be termed a deformed worker's state, a contradictory mix of base and superstructure, economics and politics. While the relations of production and ownership were arguably socialized, politics remained out of the grasp of the proletariat; power was marshalled by a bureacracy with familiar petty-bourgeoisie tendencies and which maintained its control through an oppressive dictatorship. That is until the 1980s.

Since then, like Vietnam and China the economics of state planning and central command have fallen out of favour. Private enterprise and foreign investment are the new darlings of economic theory in these countries. While, economically Laos is increasingly free, political power is still tightly controlled through a one party system in which dissent is outlawed. So, this was my first time in an overtly oppressive state. Will try and keep my mouth shut.