Land Reform in Vietnam

Land reform in Vietnam was a program of land reform in North Vietnam from 1953 to 1956. It followed the program of land reform in China from 1946 to 1953.

The aim of the land reform program was to break the power of the traditional village elite, to form a new class of leaders, and redistribute the wealth (mostly land) to create a new class that has no ownership. It was an element of the Communist revolution.

The reform led to allegations of many villagers being executed, land being taken away even from poor peasants, and of paranoia among neighbors. Several foreign witnesses testified to mass executions.

Former North Vietnamese government official Nguyen Minh Can, told RFA’s Vietnamese service: "The land reform was a massacre of innocent, honest people, and using contemporary terms we must say that it was a genocide triggered by class discrimination".

Between 8,000 and 172,000 perceived as "class enemies" were executed. Reports from North Vietnamese defectors at the time suggested that 50,000 were executed. A Hungarian diplomat was told that 60,000 were executed. Jean-Louis Margolin estimated that 50,000 landlords were executed. RAND Corporation analyst Anita Lauve Nutt concluded that a minimum of 100,000 Vietnamese were executed, as did French witness Gérard Tongas.

Nguyen Van Canh, a former South Vietnamese Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Amnesty, estimated the number of executions 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 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; and 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.

R.J. Rummel, in his book Statistics of Democide, estimates the death toll from all causes from 1945-56:

The estimates cover different periods; and some cover strictly the "land reform" campaign while others appear to mix up the "rent reduction" campaign with the "land reform" or "political struggle" campaigns, with on going repression and retaliation, or with democide associated with the suppression of rebellions. I try to handle this by dividing "land reform" estimates in terms of their ostensive inclusiveness. Thus I first present estimates of "executions"; then those executed and otherwise "killed"; and then those who also otherwise "died", such as those tagged as wealthy peasants who were deprived of their land, officially ostracized and thus denied food and shelter. Consequently, in consolidating the "land reform" dead, I made sure that the figures subsumed the consolidated killed estimates, that this in turn subsumed the consolidated execution estimates, and that this subsumed the rent reduction killed. In determining the final democide "land reform" total, I only added the final "land reform" dead to those killed in political struggle, etc., and the suppression of uprisings. The probable democide for this four year period then totals 283,000 North Vietnamese. There was also those who died in prison or at forced labor from 1945 to 1956. One estimate of 500,000 dead from President Nixon, which may have been based on secret intelligence estimates, cannot be accepted without some publicly available confirming information or similar independent estimates. Based on other estimates of the prison/camp population I assumed a 50,000 camp population per year and an unnatural death rate of 2 percent per year, on par with the Chinese rate and much lower than for the Soviet gulag. This gives me a low of 24,000 dead. Then also there were the POWs from the French Expeditionary Force that were killed. Based on the sources, I only dare estimate this number at 13,000. Putting together all these consolidations and calculations, I figure that for the years 1945 to 1956 the Vietnamese communists likely killed 242,000 to 922,000 people.

Dr. Steven Rosefielde, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina, separately estimated that a total of 200,000-900,000 Vietnamese were killed during this period. A U.S. government report (at February 17, 1972) concluded that 500,000 North Vietnamese were killed in the fifties.

Gareth Porter wrote The Myth of the Bloodbath, claiming that the death toll was only in the thousands but was criticized by historian Robert F. Turner for relying on official communist sources. Turner argued that the death toll "was certainly in six digits." Nevertheless, at least one historian, Edwin Moise, has defended this practice; asserting that the official communist newspapers of North Vietnam were "extremely informative" and "showed a fairly high level of honesty" when compared to those of other communist states. Former North Vietnamese government official Hoang Van Chi (who put the death toll at 500,000) also responded to Porter, stating that "Mr. Porter studies....a few propaganda booklets published by Hanoi....I lived through the whole process, and I described what I saw with my own eyes." Both Hoang and Turner noted that Porter could barely speak Vietnamese (despite his claim that sources about the land reform were mistranslated), and that he relied on sometimes inaccurate English translations of Nhan Dan done by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (as well as English-language propaganda meant to encourage anti-war groups). Moise's denial that China played an important role in the reform is no longer accepted by modern scholarship. Recent scholarship from Vietnam also suggests that a larger number of landlords were persecuted than previously believed.

More than 1 million North Vietnamese people fled to the South, due in part to the land reform. It is estimated that as many as two million more would have left had they not been stopped by the Viet Minh.

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