NB: The following is an analysis of the bloodbath resulting from Ho Chi Minh’s land reform in North Vietnam. For decades, totalitarian apologists such as Gareth Porter and Edwin Moise have denied that the bloodbath took place. They have claimed that the death toll was in the low thousands and that the killings were a “mistake.” They rely on official North Vietnamese publications, which they take at face value. This is what passes for scholarship on the “anti-imperialist” left.

The bloodbath deniers simply ignore or dismiss the evidence from dissident publications, communist defectors and foreign witnesses. Below, Lam Thanh Liem, a major authority on land issues in Vietnam, concludes that the communists perpetrated a huge bloodbath and that the death toll was in the hundreds of thousands. Translated from Vietnamese.

[From Lam Thanh Liem, “Chinh sach cai cach ruong dat cua Ho Chi Minh: sai lam hay toi ac?” in Jean-Francois Revel et al., Ho Chi Minh: Su that ve Than the & Su nghiep (Paris: Nam A, 1990), pp. 179-214. This excerpt is from pp. 200-5.]

Ho Chi Minh’s Land Reform: Mistake or Crime?

By Lam Thanh Liem

... The Result of the Land Reform

The 5-phase land reform resulted in a bloodbath all over North Vietnam. Unfortunately, because of the techniques of falsification and censorship under the “closed door” policy implemented by Ho’s regime from 1954, the world was completely unaware of this catastrophe. Genuine information related to this land reform is extremely scarce, and even inaccurate and vague. As a result, it is almost impossible to establish a clear picture of this internecine massacre.

A recent memoir by Hoang Van Hoan – a former member of the Hanoi communist Politburo who fled the country in September 1979 and is presently in exile in China – partly uncovered the disastrous situation the government had created for the population. Like the Vietnamese Communist Party’s other leaders, Hoang Van Hoan dwelt lightly on the “errors” and “deviations” of the lower levels. He never revealed the real number of victims who suffered in this reform campaign or the number of innocent people wrongly accused by people’s tribunals and later executed.

In 1987, the Institute of Marxist-Leninism in Hanoi published a book entitled Ho Chi Minh: The Era of 1954-7 (simultaneous with the progression of the land reform). However, the book failed to provide anything useful and only touched on the incident briefly in 2 pages.

Vo Nhan Tri, at the request of the Hanoi government, wrote a book, Croissance économique de la Répubique démocratique du Vietnam (Economic Growth in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam). Having been given this task, the author was allowed to access the documents in the Prime Minister’s archives, where he “found and read a top-secret report on the number of communist cadres falsely accused and executed: 15,000.” Ho Chí Minh, in an attempt to hide the truth, reduced this number to 10,000 when he addressed an assembly of Party members, confessing to having killed a number of “innocent victims.” “Of course, this number of so-called ‘innocent victims’ would be much greater,” according to Vo Nhan Trí.

In South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Canh, a former Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Amnesty (1969-70), sought an answer to this problem by interviewing returnees from Chieu Hoi programs and interrogating POWs, including communist cadres, soldiers, and officers from the North. These interviews and interrogations produced a great deal of valuable and reliable information. Ultimately Nguyen Van Canh was able to generate an estimate of 200,000 victims, which he divided into 2 main categories:

— 100,000 accused and murdered during the period before 1955, excluding another 40,000 victims who were sent to various concentration camps in the mountain areas. Here most of them died of malaria or other epidemic diseases. Those who were able to survive and were released became crippled mentally as well as physically. They have led a dog’s life ever since.

— 100,000 killed during phase 5, the last phase of the reform campaign, known as the Dien Bien Phu General Offensive, which ended in summer 1956. Thousands of others, most of them rich farmers and land owners, were sent to concentration camps for “reeducation.”

Of more than 200,000 victims executed, 40,000 (20%) were communist cadres, according to Nguyen Van Canh.

During work visits to the Mekong Delta (assigned by Ho Chi Minh City’s agriculture department), we had opportunities to talk to a number of Northern cadres working in scientific and technological areas as part of the “agricultural collectivisation policy” in 1978-9. The discussions eventually touched on the land reform campaign in the North. Two of the cadres admitted that they were participants in the campaign in 1955-6.

— One estimated that 120,000 victims were falsely accused and executed. This number included 40,000 communist cadres.

— The other gave a larger figure: 150,000-160,000 victims killed, among them 60,000 communist cadres.

In general, the conclusions and estimates are similar; especially the number of communist cadres, which ranged from 20-30% of the total number of victims. Though the numbers of victims falsely accused may be different, the acceptable figure is 120,000-200,000 (including cadres and Party members).

According to official statistics, the outcome of the land reform was an award of more than 800,000 hectares of land and rice paddies, plus 100,000 cows and water buffalo, redistributed to 2 million farmers. Nearly 150,000 houses and huts were allocated to new occupants. These estates had been in the possession of people classified as “indigenous oppressors, reactionaries, or traitorous elements.” These figures are quite significant in relation to the number of murdered victims. Another estimate for the period 1952-6 was about 150,000 victims (of which 30% were communist cadres and Party members).

Let us note how Hoang Van Hoan described the situation in that period:

unjust and false verdicts imposed on the victims were concealed and were never brought to light for verification. Those who had been erroneously classified and accused were never exonerated. Grievances against the Party accumulated during the reform campaign have taken root in everyone’s heart and have remained intense to this moment.