Marxist hegemony of the North Vietnamese revolutionary movement has always been characterized at its high points by an ability to conduct the anti-imperialist struggle together with internal social revolution. Recent victories in North and South against us imperialism have tended to turn outside observers’ attention from the struggle for socialism in the North. Yet however discreetly the Lao Dong Party has carried it out, a major change in agricultural policy has taken place in the period following the reduction of us bombing of the North in 1968.

Before discussing the new agricultural policy, there must be a brief account of politico-economic policy and development since 1954, since very little serious analytical material has appeared in the West on this subject. footnote1 With the temporary division of Vietnam in 1954, the Democratic Republic comprised the poorer, over-populated, part of a poor country. The peasantry still account for up to 90 per cent of the population; there is only a small working class and no national bourgeoisie. In 1954, there were few landed estates of any size, and agriculture was dominated by numerous petty landlords, rather on the Chinese pattern. Agricultural techniques and productivity are generally considered to have been below Chinese levels at comparable stages in socialist construction. Modern industry was almost non-existent—in 1954 there were only seven industrial enterprises in the North (including mines).

Some measures of land reform had been initiated during the period of the resistance to the French, but the main thrust came after 1954. The land reform undertaken in 1955–56 was conceived less as a boost to production than as a re-distribution of income in favour of poor and middle peasants, footnote2 and as a way of destroying the economic and political power of the rural elite. But the clumsy way it was put into practice by ill-prepared cadres, particularly in minority areas, caused much discontent and was associated with a rebellion in Nghe An province in 1956. A rectification campaign was initiated and Truong Chinh resigned as Party Secretary.

In 1958, despite the fact that a modern industry barely existed in any form, the campaign to form peasant co-operatives began. This was a key decision, setting the framework for future policy debates. Two forms of co-operative or stages of co-operative development were proposed: ‘low-level’ co-operatives, where the co-operative still pays rent for land and tools to members, and ‘high-level’ or socialist co-operatives, similar to Russian kolkhozes, where the co-operative’s output is divided according to the work done by the members. Both types contained a proportion of land to be cultivated privately by individual families. The campaign went smoothly as far as low-level co-operatives were concerned, and by 1960 80 per cent of peasant families were members of such low-level co-operatives. High-level ones, on the other hand, developed rather slowly until 1963 (see table.)

Article figure i068AlecGordontable1

‘There was agreement on the need for agricultural co-operation; differences arose over the timing of the campaign. The Soviet Union was already producing tractors and farm machines when the first kolkhozes were created. Some inferred from this that Vietnam should wait until conditions were “ripe”, i.e. until the country could make tractors, or in other words, until heavy industry had been built up. . . . We could not wait until we had a developed industry to launch agricultural co-operation. The small individual production, with its rudimentary techniques, was hardly able to ensure simple reproduction. . . . In such conditions, how could we speak of enlarged reproduction, how could we provide the food and raw materials necessary for industrialization?’ (Nguyen Khac Vien, Vietnamese Studies no. 13, 1967, pp. 78–9).

The year 1960 is an important landmark. The very high proportion of peasants joining co-operatives led many, perhaps most, party leaders to conclude that the first of the ‘three revolutions’—respectively the revolution in the relations of production, the revolution in technique and the ideological and cultural revolution—had been achieved. As we shall see, some still hold this view. The same year saw the Third Party Congress (the latest one to be held), which outlined the strategy behind the First Five-Year Plan, 1961–5, as follows: ‘We must give priority to the rational development of heavy industry, strive to promote agriculture and light industry, take industry as the leading force and agriculture as the basis for industrial development.’

Since 1963 there has been a tendency to interpret this fairly flexible statement as laying the emphasis on agriculture. This shows that agriculture in general and the co-operative in particular were areas of conflict in the struggle for socialism.