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Erik Mueggler’s observation serves as the point of departure for this chapter . My focus, however, is somewhat different. It concerns the methods the first generation of Communist Party members and, later, the land reform cadres working at their behest used to radicalize themselves and others before the socialist state was firmly established in the greater Red River Delta.1 Both of them faced the same dilemma: how to achieve consciousness of one’s class position when the category, while crucial to mobilizing others to participate in purposeful and meaningful acts of revolutionary violence, was very poorly understood.2 Despite concerted efforts to overcome this problem, class remained only partially legible during the periods under discussion—the late 1920s and early 1950s. It did so for two related reasons. The first concerned the difficulty of translating Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist terminology into idiomatic Vietnamese, especially where no equivalent terms existed. The second involved the challenge of creating a standardized model with step-bystep instructions that people could follow to convert subalterns into agents of radical change. Both efforts failed. The category of class remained opaque, and violence, especially during the land reforms (1953–56), was indiscriminant rather than carefully targeted. Ironically, these failures helped the Communist Party succeed in becoming a “fundamental force” in rural areas, often 31 1 Call-and-Response Dialogues Struggling to Convert Mistrust into Trust The state, experienced as a loose agglomeration of agencies, procedures, and ideologies, but imagined as a unified force, becomes a constitutive condition of profoundly intimate processes. The state is not merely a collection of bureaucratic practices that impinge on people’s lives from the outside, but is already active within, as one of the fundamental forces that make people into social beings. — E r i k Mue g g l e r well in advance of the state, but the manner in which the party’s representatives did so undermined the ability of the state to exert centralized administrative control in the countryside for many years afterward. My argument, summarized here, is as follows. I begin with a conversation I had with a colleague while on a site visit to inspect a poverty reduction program. The conversation alerted me to these complexities, including the curious fact that Vietnamese policy makers, academics, and development workers believe that class can no longer be used to analyze socioeconomic differentiation in the present and the forms of exploitation that contribute to it. Next, to explain why the category of class has all but disappeared from official discourse, I return to the moment it first appeared. My genealogy begins in the late 1920s when communist activists, many of whom came from elite backgrounds, first attempted to transform themselves into proletarians. They believed that by doing so they would become more effective mobilizers able to incite workers to engage in strikes and other kinds of revolutionary action against French-controlled businesses. I present a rare surviving example of the call-and-response dialogues, an oral form of documentation, used at the time to make workers conscious of their class position, which they saw as a prerequisite to such action. The campaign, however, was unsuccessful. During the 1930s and 1940s, party theorists sought to raise the “intellectual standards” (dân trí) of its members by creating neologisms that more closely approximated the foundational concepts found in the collected works of Marx, Lenin, and others. But by the early 1950s, Maoist models had moved to the fore. Land reform cadres participating in the initial waves of class struggle during 1953 and 1954 participated in intense “study sessions” (học tập) both before and afterward to learn from one another’s experiences. Officials working for the Central Land Reform Committee compiled the reports these cadres submitted into small training manuals. The volumes included copies of the latest governing documents related to the land reforms, but much of the content concerned the procedures these cadres used to identify, radicalize, and support subaltern peasants willing to serve as the vanguard for class struggle in their villages. The Central Land Reform Committee distributed the training manuals to its cadres so they could study them and emulate the advice they contained—much of which focused on the difficulties they encountered in the field and the methods they devised to overcome them. A case study follows. It provides a detailed account of how a land reform cadre used call-and-response dialogues along with other “legibility devices” to help a subaltern “convert” himself into...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299295936
Related ISBN
9780299295943
MARC Record
OCLC
864900303
Pages
300
Launched on MUSE
2014-03-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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