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RECTIFICATION (Chỉnh Huấn)

Like land reform, the application of “rectification” in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) resulted from the decision of Vietnamese communists in 1950 to align themselves with the communist bloc in general and the Chinese version in particular. Indeed, cheng feng, as it is known in Chinese, was something of a Maoist speciality. The Great Helmsman had used it effectively at Yan’an in his indoctrination of the Chinese Communist Party’s inner circle, including both political and military cadres.

The main goal of rectification is “reform” (chinh) and “instruction” (huan) of good elements in the Party. Chinh huan was central to shaping likeminded, reliable cadres in the army (chinh quan), the Party (chinh dang), and mass organizations (chinh don to chuc). Rectification was dispensed in sessions in Party schools before being diffused throughout society under the Party leadership via its selected cadres. In these courses, cadres inculcated the major party themes and ideology (land reform, communist theory, new heroes, ideological texts, etc.) starting with ranking and mid-level cadres before working their way down to the local district, even the village levels in territories under DRV control. Cadres then citizens were forced to make rectification “retreats”, cut off from the outside, in order to concentrate entirely on readings, exercises, critiques, and auto-critiques.

The main goal of the rectification campaign, as Georges Boudarel has described it, was to give rise to an epiphany, a conversion to the Party family and its ideology. For Maoists, rectification allowed the Party to change the ideas, customs, and thinking of its disciples. This type of “education” did not seek to inspire critical or analytical skills, but rather to homogenize thinking and place it under the control of the Party. In order to paralyze attempts at individual thinking, rectification campaigns used group pressure run by a political cadre, backed by police or military force. The cadre teacher could thus force individuals to examine their conscience and confess their shortcomings via self-criticism (kiem thao) before being reborn into the wider collective identity.

If Ho Chi Minh was uncomfortable with these radical Maoist methods (and new research suggests that this might not have been the case), others in his entourage embraced them as part of the communist recipe. General Nguyen Son, who had become a Maoist political cadre in the Chinese Red Army during the Long March and at Yan’an, first applied rectification methods upon his return to Vietnam to work in inter-zone IV (Lien Khu IV) in the late 1940s. During its second Party congress in early 1951, the newly reborn Vietnam Worker’s Party openly allied itself with the Chinese methods of rectification, land reform, and new heroes. However, the real intermediaries in the transfer of Maoist rectification practices to Vietnam were the Chinese Political and Military Advisor Delegations.

In the spring of 1952, the Vietnamese communist leadership formally approved the launching of rectification campaigns and began organizing sessions for the Party and the army mainly in northern and central areas of the DRV. As the Party consolidated its hold over the DRV, it became increasingly difficult for non-communists working in the state or army to hold out. This was especially the case for independent-minded and colonially trained intellectuals, thousands of whom were working for the DRV on nationalist and anti-colonial grounds. Hundreds began to leave the DRV in the face of this communization of Vietnamese hearts and minds.

Like land reform, the application of Maoist methods could have disastrous effects in the Vietnamese context. The Vietnamese army’s Security Department (Cuc Bao Ve) has recently acknowledged that in April 1952 the Vietnamese Worker’s Party decided to undertake a political “reform” of the army. When it was applied to the Army Officers School operating in Yunnan province in southern China, for example, 4,000 trainees ended up “admitting” under pressure that they were working for the “enemy” or had entertained such connections in the past. This wave of political reform in the army led to a total of 20,000 personnel in the armed forces either admitting or being accused of working for the enemy. While investigations revealed that most of these “admissions” were fabrications designed to placate their accusers, it was clear that the Vietnamese communists, like the Chinese, were intent on politicizing the army, the state, and society. See also TORTURE; PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE; PROSELYTIZING THE ENEMY; LE THIET HUNG; DESERTION; TRUONG CHINH; INDOCTRINATION; PARALLEL HIERARCHIES.