Land reform in North Vietnam
Land reform in North Vietnam (Vietnamese: Cải cách ruộng đất tại miền Bắc Việt Nam) can be understood as an agrarian reform in northern Vietnam throughout different periods, but in many cases it only refers to the one within the government of Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the 1950s. The reform was one of the most important economic and political programs launched by the Viet Minh government during the years 1953–1956.
The project of land reform in North Vietnam was a product of the interplay of complex internal and external factors. On 9 March 1945, several years after occupation in Indochina, Japan instigated a military coup, overthrew the French administration in Indochina and established a puppet indigenous government headed by Tran Trong Kim. However, five months later, Japan unconditionally surrendered. Taking the political vacuum, Viet Minh seized power by launching a nationwide revolution, and founded the DRV in Hanoi on September 2.
Soon after that, Vietnam saw an influx of foreign power. The Kuomintang Chinese armies accepted the surrender of Japan in Vietnam North of the 16th parallel, with the British in the south. Both of them negotiated and facilitated the French return. After negotiations between the Viet Minh and the French broke down, the war between them started from late 1946 until 1954; this is called the First Indochina war (1946–1954).
In the whole of the 1940s, the Viet Minh fought solely against the French army. In terms of military capability, the Viet Minh was in a position of clear-cut disadvantage; this did not change until the establishment and involvement of the People's Republic of China
During this period of time, the DRV government was dominated by the Viet Minh who were popular among the indigenous political force; its domestic policy was to unite all possible forces for a resistance war. It also embraced peasants, workers, students and some merchants and intellectuals. On 11 November 1945, the ICP declared its dissolution, aiming at downplaying the role of communist ideology by dissolving and forcing the ICP underground in order to garner more support from the masses.
In October 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) established the People's Republic of China by winning its political rivalry with the KMT, which had a major impact on the political landscape of the region in general and Vietnam in particular.
From the CCP's perspective, the Chinese revolutionary model was intended to be exported to the Asian countries, Vietnam included. Moreover, the increasing influence in its southern periphery was also for national defense and security. From the perspective of the DRV, communist China was a good ally who shared the same ideology and similar approaches to complete communist revolution. They were glad to conduct a binary revolution at the same time: externally anti-colonialism and internally anti-feudalism. Thus Ho Chi Minh pled proactively for Chinese aid After establishing formal diplomatic relations with the PRC in early 1950, Luo Guibo became the first Chinese ambassador to the DRV, and Chinese aid also flooded into the DRV, the most significant of which was the Chinese advisory group, which was later sent to North Vietnam in the same year.
Basically, Chinese advisory groups had a double mission. The most important one was to provide advice on military affairs. After winning victories in a series of military campaigns with considerable help from August 1950 onward, the DRV not only gradually turned around the war situation but also expanded its controlled areas. This conducive environment facilitated the DRV to carry out its land reform plan.
As a government dominated by the communists, land reform was an integral part of its revolution. After its first trial failed in the 1930s, Vietnamese communists never had a real chance to carry it out, even during a long time after the foundation of the DRV. For the sake of war, communist slogans were even diminished. Instead, they needed support from landowners and landlords. However, Chinese assistance outweighed domestic support from feudal classes and communism was re-emphasized. The Indochinese party was divided along national lines and the Vietnamese Worker's party (VWP) was officially formed in early 1951. Simultaneously, land reform was put on its agenda. More comprehensive and stricter land policies were formulated, and class struggle was emphasized as inseparable from the military struggle for the first time.
On the other hand, the French and American-sponsored Quoc Gia Viet Nam (the State of Vietnam) emerged and was recognized by western powers. Particularly after the Bao Dai interval, the DRV faced a competent rival regime which contested its monopolistic representation of the Vietnamese people. In this situation, Truong Chinh in his report to the party Congress in 1951 pointed out that as soon as the Bao Dai regime was set up, the landlord class aligned itself with the State of Vietnam.
Excepting international and domestic political factors, as Bernard B. Fall pointed out, land reform was also necessary for economic reasons. 90 percent of the population lived by agriculture, but the problem was the enormous population pressure put upon the relatively small fertile areas. In the Red River delta, 9 million people were crowded into an area of 5790 square miles. The majority of population under the DRV were peasants but did not have land to till, which was an unjust situation.
After the end of WWII in Indochina, people suffered a lot from famine and lack of sufficient food due to continuous conflict. Improving their welfare would consolidate the Viet Minh's regime by garnering more support. Collective ownership as a palliative to landlessness has been a century-old practice throughout Vietnam and as for individuals, they were deprived of rice fields and had to turn to support from communal land.
In Vietnam, there is a saying called “Phép Vua Thua Lệ Làng”, literally meaning that the emperor is secondary to village customs and implicitly indicating that national rule at the village level was giving way to autonomous rule by village itself. This was also true for the DRV government; their influence at the grass roots level was relatively weak. Land reform served as a good way to cement its power at the grass roots level.
Land reform in North Vietnam was a grand project. At the beginning, it was a relatively mild campaign; later on, it was radicalized and caused serious effects. When the top leaders notices the side effects, they tried to rectify the caused errors.
Pre-1953 communist land policy in DRV
Social revolution is part of revolution led by the Communist Party. However, for a long time, the regime failed to grasp the essential tasks of Vietnamese national democratic revolution and placed too much emphasis on unity with landlords in the interest of national resistance, and did not pay much attention to the peasant and land issues. What they did was to adopt a middle way: landlords agreed to decrease the land rent and the peasants still needed to pay rent but with a lower rate. The land rent reduction was formulated in July 1949.
Also, all pre-1953 policy had failed in breaking through the landlord's economic and political power and in serving the interests of the peasants. According to VWP's mouthpiece Nhan Dan, even landlords were allowed to join the party, which somehow dominated the party chapters in many areas. DRV gradually abandoned its former policy toward landlords and peasants. From 14 to 23 November 1953, VWP organized a national conference, in this meeting, anti-feudalism was put much emphasis on. The most important change was that a new approach was adopted, which was mass mobilization for class struggle.
Land reform constituted two successive campaigns: land rent reduction campaign (1953–1954) and land reform campaign proper (1954–1956). The first campaign included eights waves and the second had five waves. According to Hoang Van Chi who was a former member of DRV and fled to South Vietnam in the mid-1950s, these two campaigns had but one purpose, namely the liquidation of the landowning class and the subsequent establishment of a proletarian dictatorship in the countryside. The only notable difference between them was the degree of violence and the nature of the wealth confiscated.
Land Rent Reduction Campaign
After being trained by Chinese, through the local party-cell, Vietnamese cadres were sent to the village and lived with a few landless peasants. They practiced the “Three Together System”, namely, worked together, ate together and lived together. By doing so for two to three months, they had amassed much information of the peasants and that village, and also arouse awareness of social class by posing questions to the peasants like why they were poor.
After this survey by professionally trained cadres, the reduction campaign officially began, and there were six successive stages. The first stage was to classify population during which peasants were categorized according to their possession, this was followed by classification of landlords. Theoretically speaking, there were three classes of landlords: traitorous; ordinary; resistance and “democratic personalities”. Those landlords, if found not comply with rent reduction decree, would be arrested. In this case, they had to pay back the excess land rent within time limit, this is the third stage of extortion of money and valuables. The fourth stage is crime revelation, the peasants were made to attend a special course and taught how to publicly reveal crimes of landlords, and they would have a role of denouncing crimes in the front of a number of people in the fifth stage, but the problem was that they denounced for appearing faithful and obedient to the party, so they may denounce as much as they can rather than considered the reality.
On 12 April 1953, a special people's tribunal court, composed of peasants who knew nothing about law, was formed according to decree 150/SL. Sentences varied from the death penalty to years’ hard labor, for this point, the most well-known case was Nguyen Thi Nam, a patriotic landlord who joined the resistance war against the French but was sentenced to death.
The label of landlord is dangerous. According to Hoang's memoir, as soon as a man was defined as landlord, he and his family were isolated from their fellow human beings and nobody was permitted to talk to them or even have any contact with them. This policy of isolation even caused a number of deaths.
Land Reform Campaign Proper
In the year of 1953, a series of decrees and laws on land reform were released. VWP central committee assessed the possibility of moving on to the last phase of land revolution: redistribution of agricultural land, which was followed by the most crucial land reform law publicized on 19 December 1953, which can be regarded as the platform for land reform. Very soon after the law was passed in national congress, the experimental wave of land reform took place between December 1953 and March 1954 in Thai Nguyen province. This experiment was fruitful according to the official, and a Central Land Reform Committee was established on 15 March 1954 which was headed by Pham Van Dong.
Land reform then expanded to larger areas by five waves (see the table below).
|Five Phases||Period||Numbers of xa covered||Location|
|Phase 1||25 May 1954 – 20 September 1954||53||Thai Nguyen (47 xa); Thanh Hoa (6 xa)|
|Phase 2||23 October 1954 – 15 January 1955||210||Thai Nguyen (22 xa); Phu Tho (100 xa); Bac Giang (22 xa); Thanh Hoa (66 xa)|
|Phase 3||18 February 1955 – 20 June 1955||466||Phu Tho (106 xa); Bac Giang (100 xa); Vinh Phuc (65 xa);
Son Tay (22 xa); Thanh Hoa (115 xa); Nghe An (74 xa)
|Phase 4||27 June 1955 – 31 December 1955||859||Phu Tho (17 xa); Bac Giang (16 xa); Vinh Phuc (111 xa);
Bac Ninh (60 xa); Son Tay (71 xa); Ha Nam (98 xa);
Ninh Binh (47 xa); Thanh Hoa (207 xa); Nghe An (5 xa); Ha Tinh (227 xa)
|Phase 5||25 December 1955 – 30 July 1956||1657||Bac Ninh(86 xa); Ninh Binh(45 xa); Ha Dong(163 xa); Nam Dinh(171 xa);
Thanh Hoa (19 xa); Nghe An(250 xa); Ha Tinh (6 xa); Quang Binh (118 xa);
Vinh Linh(21 xa); Hai Duong(217 xa); Hung Yen(149 xa); Thai Binh (249 xa);
Kien An(85 xa); Ha Noi (47 xa); Hai Phong (9 xa); Hong Quang(40 xa)
Compared to the prior campaign, land reform campaign proper was carried out more violently and in larger areas especially after the Geneva Conference because the VWP leaders realized that the Geneva Agreement was impossible to be implemented; and feared that Diem's “March North” may start a fire at its backyard. Five times the number of landlords than the first campaign was fixed by the party, thus it provoked increased internal conflict. According to Hoang, the DRV authorities never stated the number of dispossessed landlords in any of their official publications. Expropriation was occasional during the first campaign but it was universally practiced during the second. As soon as the confiscation ceremony was over, an exhibition of the confiscated personal belongings of the landlord was organized, and in doing so, class awareness was intentionally provoked by illustrating the sharp contrast in living standards between peasants and landlords. However, this is not the end, the next big question was the apportionment of land and other properties. Normal practice should distribute them among peasants, however, it lacked accurate information.
Due to the traditionally close connection between China and Vietnam in general, and the enormous tie between Chinese and Vietnamese communists since 1949 in particular, right from the early 1950s onward, communist China's influence over DRV increased dramatically. There were three kinds of Chinese advisory groups in North Vietnam providing assistance in the aspect of military, politics and logistics. Chinese military advisory group was headed firstly by Wei Guoqing (July 1950 – May 1951) providing directly consultation to the top commander of DRV. Chinese political advisory group was headed by Luo Guibo. Land reform was part of political issue, and Luo played a big role in it. Under political advisory group, a financial team was established in early 1951 to help North Vietnam formulate regulations on how to collect tax and rice.
Since 1953, for facilitating mass mobilization and rent reduction campaign, more than 100 North Vietnamese cadres was sent to China to participate training class. Later on in spring 1953, a particular institution exclusively in charge of helping DRV to conduct land reform was called the Land Reform and Party Consolidation Section which was headed by Zhang Dequn. According to his memoir, more land reform specialists of Chinese cadres was responsible for training. Similar to Chinese experience, social organizations such as peasant, youth, and women's league were established. Cadres were trained to practice Vietnamese version of Chinese “three together system” (三共, san gong) while peasants were mobilized and encouraged to “pour out grievances suffering from landlords and French collaborators” (诉苦, su ku).
For the case of North Vietnam, some soldier was also affected due to their family background, and among the army, there were some degree of dissatisfaction. Considering this and from Chinese experience, Chinese advisors proposed to carry out a land reform education campaign among DRV's army. In February 1953, Luo Guibo sent a report to the Chinese leadership proposing a political consolidation campaign (整军, zheng jun) in order to make them aware of class distinction. In December 1953, the third National Congress passed land reform law which put forward route of land reform: step by step wipe out feudal system by relying on poor peasants, uniting middle and rich peasants.
The Chinese pattern of land reform in DRV was successful in meeting the need of the poor peasants for land and thus increased the prestige of the new Communist authorities. However, it also produced significant negative consequences for the party due to that Mao's pattern of land reform emphasized the excessive class struggle and repression. This was an important reason for the later Vietnamese criticism of the Chinese model.
Executions and imprisonment of persons classified as "landlords" or enemies of the state were contemplated from the beginning of the land reform program. A Politburo document dated 4 May 1953 said that executions were "fixed in principle at the ratio of one per one thousand people of the total population." That ratio would indicate that communist Vietnam contemplated the execution of about 15,000 "reactionaries and evil landlords" in carrying out the program. On July 9, 1953, the first landlord executed was the woman Nguyễn Thị Năm, who had in fact been an active supporter of the Vietnamese Communist resistance.
The scale of the ensuing repression has proved difficult and controversial to quantify, with estimates of the number of executions ranging from 800 to 200,000. Testimony from North Vietnamese witnesses suggested a ratio of one execution for every 160 village residents, which extrapolated nationwide would indicate nearly 100,000 executions. Because the campaign was concentrated mainly in the Red River Delta area, a lower estimate of 50,000 executions became widely accepted by scholars at the time. A Saigon communique put the figure at 32,000 executions (12,000 party members and 20,000 others), based on the testimony of an ex-party member involved in the campaign. However, declassified documents from the Vietnamese and Hungarian archives indicate that the number of executions was much lower than reported at the time, although likely greater than 13,500. Economist Vo Nhan Tri reported uncovering a document in the central party archives which put the number of wrongful executions at 15,000. From discussions with party cadres, Vo Nhan Tri concluded that the overall number of deaths was considerably higher than this figure. According to the Vietnam Institute for Economics, 172,008 individuals were designated as landlords and rich peasants, of whom 71.66% were mistakenly categorized. Although it is impossible to know how many of them were executed, this suggests that the scale of errors committed "was undeniably dramatic."
"Rectification of errors"Edit
As soon as the reform was completed by 1956 and the so-called peasants’ authority well-established in the villages, the party quite unexpectedly admitted to having made many serious mistakes during the reform when the “masses” had been “given a free hand”. VWP developed a campaign called "Rectification of Errors" from January 1957 till mid-1957. This campaign was divided into three phases. The first phase was a crash operation to survey the damage done and release from prison incorrectly classified peasants and falsely accused cadres. The second phase, more deliberate and the real heart of the campaign, was divided into two steps. Step I was the re-classification of peasants, and step II was the restitution of property erroneously expropriated or else making suitable compensation. The third phase of the mistakes correction was to be a review, inventory and concentrated re-indoctrination of local personnel.
As one of the most important events of DRV in the 1950s, as well as the first radical political campaigns of Vietnamese communists as an exclusive power-holder, this program has produced much controversial effect on North Vietnamese society, the government itself, as well as relations between peasants and the DRV regime.
The reform also reached very considerable ends in terms of economic and social transformation. Economically speaking, collective ownership prevailed and the rural population was more or less equal. From the perspective of social transformation, it radically changed the traditional pattern of village: formerly, the landlords played a leading role in the village affairs but now they were eliminated and replaced by peasants. However, partly due to the land reform and other radical campaigns, nearly one million North Vietnamese moved to the South.
Because of the use of violence and excessive emphasis over class struggle, land reform in the 1950s caused much negative impact. For this reason, it is still a sensitive topic even today. It also constitutes a considerable part of oversea Vietnamese political dissents criticizing today's communist party of Vietnam and its dependence on China.
The aims of the reform were military, economic, political and social, the most important of which, until the decisive victory at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, was the military objective. Ho Chi Minh once listed in 1956 achievements of land reform, nearly ten million peasants had received land; tens of thousands of new cadres had been trained in the countryside. The organization of the Party, the administration and peasants’ associations in the communes have been readjusted.
The Viet Minh regime gained its control over the grass village and its ability to influence and mobilize the mass was consolidated. Land reform is an agrarian project but also a political campaign. Through mass mobilization and classification, anti-revolutionary and reactionary enemies were suppressed economically and politically.
This had a nearly profound impact for wars in the latter years. One, this paved the way for the socialist construction in the North, which could provide southern communists with logistical support. Two, the reform can be regarded as a preparatory step for a large-scale war. The regime opened the door to enlightenment by completely altering the existing patterns of production; but also provided the masses with an ideology which would modify their attitude to work even before the economic conditions were fundamentally changed.
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- The law is called 233/SL. This document can be found at the official website of Vietnamese government. See: http://www.chinhphu.vn/portal/page/portal/chinhphu/hethongvanban?class_id=1&mode=detail&document_id=1104.
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- The law is called 197/SL. This document can be found at the official website of Vietnamese government. See: http://moj.gov.vn/vbpq/Lists/Vn%20bn%20php%20lut/View_Detail.aspx?ItemID=1106.
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Vu Tuong: There is no reason to expect, and no evidence that I have seen to demonstrate, that the actual executions were less than planned; in fact the executions perhaps exceeded the plan if we consider two following factors. First, this decree was issued in 1953 for the rent and interest reduction campaign that preceded the far more radical land redistribution and party rectification campaigns (or waves) that followed during 1954–1956. Second, the decree was meant to apply to free areas (under the control of the Viet Minh government), not to the areas under French control that would be liberated in 1954–1955 and that would experience a far more violent struggle. Thus the number of 13,500 executed people seems to be a low-end estimate of the real number. This is corroborated by Edwin Moise in his recent paper "Land Reform in North Vietnam, 1953–1956" presented at the 18th Annual Conference on SE Asian Studies, Center for SE Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley (February 2001). In this paper Moise (7–9) modified his earlier estimate in his 1983 book (which was 5,000) and accepted an estimate close to 15,000 executions. Moise made the case based on Hungarian reports provided by Balazs, but the document I cited above offers more direct evidence for his revised estimate. This document also suggests that the total number should be adjusted up some more, taking into consideration the later radical phase of the campaign, the unauthorized killings at the local level, and the suicides following arrest and torture (the central government bore less direct responsibility for these cases, however).CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
- Szalontai, Balazs (November 2005). "Political and Economic Crisis in North Vietnam, 1955–56". Cold War History. 5 (4): 395–426. doi:10.1080/14682740500284630.
- Vu, Tuong (2010). Paths to Development in Asia: South Korea, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. Cambridge University Press. p. 103. ISBN 9781139489010.
Clearly Vietnamese socialism followed a moderate path relative to China. ... Yet the Vietnamese 'land reform' campaign ... testified that Vietnamese communists could be as radical and murderous as their comrades elsewhere.
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- Nguyen Ngoc-luu. Peasants, Party and Revolution the Politics of Agrarian Transformation in Northern Vietnam 1930–1975, p. 333
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- The History of the Vietnamese Economy (2005), Vol. 2, edited by Dang Phong of the Institute of Economy, Vietnamese Institute of Social Sciences.
- Gittinger, J. Price, "Communist Land Policy in Viet Nam", Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 29, No. 8, 1957, p. 118