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Socialist states everywhere sought to accumulate all available means of production and, with varying degrees of success, place them under its exclusive administrative control in the name of “the people.” This process was a crucial part of the “transition” to state socialism because the centrally planned economy could not have functioned without it. The result of this process, a “unitary fund” of property, was inalienable and indivisible according to Katherine Verdery. Consequently, lower-level entities, such as different branches of government , did not own any of the tangible assets under their immediate purview. (The state did.) Instead, she explains, these entities possessed different kinds of overlapping administrative and use rights, but only those that planners had officially allocated downward to them.1 Since “power” within centrally planned economies is based on a redistributive logic, the cadres overseeing agricultural cooperatives quickly learned how to hoard and barter some of the resources under their temporary control in order to meet official targets. Doing so helped to maintain existing patron-client ties, as well as to establish new ones that might prove useful in the future. Such exchanges maintained a degree of flexibility in an otherwise very rigid system.2 But, as I explained in the introduction to the volume, these tactics also contributed to a related problem: mistrust within the bureaucracy due to the difference between what was claimed and what was accomplished, a problem Dery termed “papereality.”3 This problem prompted high-level officials to introduce new legibility devices to close the information gap. These devices were part of a broader trend: the increased centralization of documentation, which technocrats 81 Introduction Conflicting Narratives: The Transition to State Socialism needed to “scientifically” manage the planned economy following collectivization . Period II charts the rise and decline of bureaucratic professionalism. In it I focus attention on three legibility devices: administrative templates (chapter 3), labor contracts (chapter 4), and performance audits (chapter 5). Importantly, the introduction of these devices after the collectivization of agriculture did not displace those that preceded them; rather, they augmented those already in use. However, the steady increase in the number and type of legibility devices frequently did not function as planned, in large part because of the conflicting forms of complementarity already at work prior to collectivization .4 Consequently, the devices used to make the countryside more legible to policy makers in Hanoi—“to see” as James Scott put it—created new blind spots in the process, as well as compounded existing ones.5 The remainder of this introduction to period II presents further details on collectivization . The details provide needed context for the arguments I make about the politics of mistrust and the role different forms of documentation played in it over the course of three decades (ca. early 1960s to the early 1980s). Incomplete Transitions Vietnamese technocrats believed that the “unitary fund” would foster linear returns to scale. Like their socialist counterparts elsewhere, this belief reinforced policies that sought to transform small-scale forms of agricultural production into large-scale ones, as the latter were thought to always outperform the former. Because of this assumption, which subsequent studies proved to be false, “low-level agricultural production cooperatives” (hợp tác xã sản xuất nông nghiệp bậc thấp) were not substantively different from the mutual assistance teams that preceded them. Instead, they were larger, consisting of approximately 30 to 50 households rather than the previous average of 5 to 7. Property in both cases remained privately owned, and the cooperative had to rent land, draft animals, and tools in exchange for their use. These arrangements meant that individual income for members varied according to the amount of assets they contributed to the cooperative and the total number of work points each accrued over the course of an agricultural season or year. For this reason, official studies often described low-level cooperatives as being only “one-half socialist” (một nửa xã hội chủ nghĩa). To make them fully socialist, central-level officials issued a series of governing documents instructing cadres to transform low-level cooperatives into “high-level ones” (hợp tác xã sản xuất nông nghiệp bậc cao), based entirely on the collective 82 The Centralization of Documentation ownership of the means of production. Such cooperatives typically consisted of 150 to 200 households and, due to their size, required far more documentation to manage them than low-level ones did, hence...


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