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The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) was officially dissolved in 1945 shortly after Vietnam gained its independence from France. The country’s freedom was short-lived, however. The First Indochina War began the following year and continued through 1954. The Viet Minh, a coalition of political groups, which the former leaders of the ICP dominated from behind the scenes, re-formed to coordinate the armed struggle to liberate the country once again. The need to maintain “unity” prompted the Organization, as the Communist Party was then known, to largely abandon the procedures it had previously used to vet applicants. Membership increased rapidly as a consequence —from approximately five thousand members in 1945 to more than half a million in 1952.1 The increase was not entirely welcome; it fed fears that a significant, but unknown, percentage of the new members were “counterrevolutionaries” secretly working to undermine the Communist Party as well as the war effort from within. No supporting evidence has ever been released to justify what came next: a massive purge targeting real and imagined “enemies” within the Communist Party. This category was a deliberately vague one, and it enabled some people to attack others who, because of their business interests, political affiliations, religious beliefs, and/or personal connections, made them vulnerable to such accusations. Denunciations quickly begat counter-denunciations, and tens of thousands of people confessed , often under great duress, to crimes they may or may not have committed against the revolution. Some of these individuals were expelled. Others underwent political reeducation. Still others endured beatings, torture, and imprisonment, often without trial.2 54 2 Field Reports Confusing the Exemplary with the Deviant The architects of the land reforms, which began the following year, concluded that a similar purge was needed at lower levels as well. This process of “reorganization” (chỉnh đốn tổ chức), as it was known, was the fifth and final step of the land reforms. The process profoundly altered local authority relations at the commune level and below by promoting subaltern peasants, the former “roots” and “beads,” into leadership positions in party cells, People’s Committees, and Leninist-style mass associations.3 Doing so had long-term effects on the ability of high-level officials to maintain enough legibility “to guide” local affairs. The “new” cadres (cán bộ mới), most of whom had no formal education, lacked the technical knowledge and administrative skills to carry out their assigned tasks. Their lack of qualifications contributed to bitter conflicts between the “old” cadres (cán bộ cũ), who managed to retain their positions and possessed the requisite qualifications, and the new ones who had come to power and did not.4 These conflicts became particularly acute between late 1956, when the Politburo ended the land reforms, and late 1959, whenthecollectivizationofagriculturalproductionofficiallybegan. Theyalso worsened mistrust in four ways, which I document in this chapter. First, “class hatred” did not disappear immediately after the land reforms. Instead, the process of reorganization generated further bitterness, envy, and mistrust, all of which limited the ability of new and old cadres alike to promote “class unity” following the land reforms. But the new cadres, because they frequently benefited most from the land reforms, found it especially difficult to mobilize people from different “class fractions” to participate in the emulation campaigns different ministries launched to meet the targets the First Three-Year Plan (1955–57) set for them. Second, the emulation campaigns placed heavy demands on the labor time and labor power of peasants, undermining their ability to produce enough food for their own consumption. Third, socioeconomic inequalities, including the very problems the land reforms supposedly had eradicated—usury and tenant farming —quickly reemerged as well. This development threatened the prestige of the Communist Party, whose leaders had long promised that land reform would eradicate “feudalism” and “capitalism” in the countryside. Fourth, growing numbers of old cadres, many of whom were “middle” peasants (trung nông), rapidly regained leadership positions in the bureaucracy due to their administrative expertise. Some Politburo members found this trend worrisome and demanded that they be purged to increase the percentage of “poor” (bần nông) and formerly “landless” peasants (cố nông) in the bureaucracy. However, other Politburo members argued for a more pragmatic approach in Field Reports 55 the hope that middle peasants, because of their knowledge and skills, could play a positive role in the country’s development. Advocates of the pragmatic approachlost.BeginninginApril1959,theparty/statemovedforwardwithits plans to collectivize agricultural production, even though...


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