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Official Gazette

Monday, March 30, 2020

Local administration in Vietnam during the 1945-1954 period

Updated: 15:45’ - 22/03/2011

Pham Diem      
State and Law Research Institute

As from the late 19th century when Vietnam became a French colony, successive struggle movements for national liberation and the establishment of an independent and sovereign state continuously broke out, which culminated in the August 1945 Revolution to wrest back the national independence, then the 9 year- long war of resistance against the French colonialists to defend the newly- gained national independence.

One of the striking features of the process of struggle to regain power to the hands of people in Vietnam was that the local administrations were set up before the establishment of the central government.

I. The establishment of local administrations during the August 1945 Revolution

Prior to the August 1945 Revolution, many mass demonstrations repeatedly broke out in Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in late 1930 and early 1931. Such seething and successive political struggles in combination with armed self-defense sent the grassroots feudal-colonial administrations in panic and disintegration and led to the emergence for the first time in Vietnam of the people’s administrations - the Xo Viet (Soviet) administrations in almost all villages of these two provinces of Central Vietnam. Labeled as “xa bo nong” (the communal administration) and numbering 1,072, such people’s administrations resolutely repressed the reactionaries, abrogated all laws and regulations as well as taxes imposed by the colonialists, redistributed public land to peasants, compelled the land lords to reduce the principal land rents and drop the secondary land rent, organized the people to assist one another in production and daily life, organized literacy classes, mobilized people to abolish bad habits and superstitious practices, maintained social security and order,... Xo Viet Nghe Tinh created for the first time the practical image of a revolutionary administration, having made the people to set their confidence in the new-typed administration- the people’s administration.

The Xo Viet Nghe Tinh administration, though quickly drowned in blood by the French colonialists, spelled out its great historic significance in that it was the first local people’s administration in Vietnam as well as its valuable experiences and lessons: First, in such a colonial society then, the objects of the revolutionary administration were the colonialists and feudalists, but, in the immediate future, only the most reactionary elements in the feudal class. Only by doing so could the revolutionary administration rally the vast majority of the national forces against the main enemy then, namely the imperialists and colonialists; second, Xo Viet was once the model of Russian administration, which rallied only workers and peasants. It was not suitable to the practical conditions of the people’s national democratic revolution in the then colonial Vietnam. Hence, the revolutionary administration in Vietnam had to be built after another model capable of rallying and uniting all forces advocating and struggling for national independence.

The Xo Viet Nghe Tinh’s reality had profound impacts on the struggle to regain power in the August 1945 Revolution.

In September 1939, World War Two broke out. The allied forces gradually gained big and decisive victories over fascism. In Indochina, the French colonialists stepped up the repression of the revolutionary movements and intensified the exploitation of human and material resources for the war. In face of swift and big changes in the domestic and world situation, the Communist Party of Vietnam, that led the struggle movement for national liberation in Vietnam, promptly shifted the strategic direction that the national democratic revolution in Vietnam still embraced two strategic tasks as set forth in the 1930 Political Program of the Party, namely the struggle against imperialists and the struggle against feudalists, of which the task of struggling against feudalists had to be carried out step by step and to serve the task of struggling against the imperialists, so as to gather all patriotic forces against the main enemy, namely the imperialists and colonialists. Such strategic shift gave rise to a new perception of the revolutionary administration model with the people’s democratic administration model having replaced the former Xo Viet administration model. This new model was capable of rallying all anti-imperialist forces.

It can be said that the new perception of the revolutionary administration model was one of the prerequisites for the victorious struggle to regain power in Vietnam. Such model was inherited and developed throughout the subsequent process of building the Vietnamese State.

In 1941, “Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh” (Vietnam Alliance for Independence), called Viet Minh Front for short, was founded, involving various forces, different national salvation societies and people of various  strata for national salvation. Viet Minh Front was organized into a system from the central level (Tong Bo Viet Minh- the Central Committee of Viet Minh) to the local administrative levels (the local committees of Viet Minh). From 1942 when the mass struggle movement seethed high, the colonial-feudal administration in many areas, especially mountainous resistance bases, was rocked to the root and became ineffective, while the revolutionary administrations were not yet set up, the local Viet Minh Committees functioned not only to rally and unite all patriotic forces but also as the revolutionary administration as clearly seen in the contents of Viet Minh’s national salvation program:

- Politically, to practice universal suffrage, to promulgate democratic freedoms to people, to organize the revolutionary army, confiscate property of the imperialists, fascists and Vietnamese traitors, to practice equality between men and women and to exercise the right to national self-determination.

- Economically, to abrogate capitation and other taxes imposed by the imperialists, to impose light and fair taxes, to nationalize the imperialists’ banks, to expand industries, agriculture, communications and transport.

- Culturally, educationally and socially, to abolish the enslaved education and build a new one, to enforce the labor law, develop health care, set up hospitals, clubs, libraries,...

- Diplomatically, to abrogate treaties signed by the colonialists and feudalists, to sign treaties of friendship and equality with countries, to preserve peace and oppose aggressive wars.

Clearly, the above-listed tasks would have been performed by an administration, but were included in the activity program of Viet Minh. And in reality, Viet Minh Committees, which were set up through democratic election, undertook the tasks of the local revolutionary administrations, having settled local affairs such as the maintenance of security and order, the solution of disputes among locals, organization of training of armed self-defense force, preparation of forces for the regaining of power in localities.

In short, in localities where the adversary administrations got puzzled and ineffective while the revolutionary administrations were not yet set up, the Viet Minh Committees functioned as the revolutionary administrations until the latter came into being. So, Viet Minh Committees could be considered the “ predecessor” of the revolutionary administration. This constituted a unique phenomenon in the history of the local administrations in Vietnam.

In the revolutionary process, the revolutionary administration was step by step set up and took over the administrative function from the Viet Minh Committees. On the basis of the fundamental and ultimate goal of regaining the power throughout the country, the revolutionary administration was set up in various forms such as the local National Liberation Committees and the local Revolutionary People’s Commit-tees, depending on numerous factors such as the revolutionary circumstances, the balance of forces, the people’s political consciousness, the capability to unite all patriotic forces, the immediate objectives,...

On March 9, 1945, in Indochina, the Japanese fascists staged a coup d’etat, having edged out the French colonialists. The direct revolutionary circumstance appeared, thus creating opportunity for the outbreak of a high tide of partial uprisings to regain powers in many localities. The Viet Minh Central Committee issued a directive, clearly stating: “Factories, mines, plantations, schools, army camps, public offices, villages and hamlets can all organize their local National Liberation Committees. At the same time, districts, cities, provinces, regions, can all organize National Liberation Committees at their levels.”

The National Liberation Committees were elected by people through universal suffrage or by conferences of people’s deputies, being composed of representatives of people of all strata, mass organizations, thus demonstrating the national unity bloc. Each National Liberation Committee was composed of a president, vice-president(s), a secretary, 2 to 4 members in charge of specific tasks. Each National Liberation Committee might set up its Standing Board and sub-committees.

Established in localities where the adversary administrations went in panic and became ineffective while the revolutionary administrations were not yet formulated, the National Liberation Committees had the basic and primary function of rallying and uniting all forces to liberate the localities and regain power. Besides, they had to perform the immediate tasks in the localities, namely caring for people’s interests, organizing military training, political propagation, maintaining security and order, wiping out reactionaries, settling disaccords among people. So, the local National Liberation Committees could be considered the provisional revolutionary administrations in localities where then coexisted two administrations: the pro-Japanese puppet administration which became ineffective and the people’s administration- the National Liberation Committee. Even in some localities, a double-faced administration existed, which pretended to work for the enemy forces during the daytime but actually undertook the revolutionary activities during the nighttime.

The Viet Minh Central Committee’s directive also advocated the second form of the local revolutionary administration, namely the local People’s Revolutionary Committees which were set up in completely liberated localities where the enemy administration were completely abolished. Actually in June 1945, the Viet Bac Liberated Zone was formulated, embracing six provinces with more than one million inhabitants. The People’s Revolutionary Committees were set up therein at all levels- communal, district, provincial, regional-through election by local people or by congresses of their delegates, having step by step implemented ten big policies of Viet Minh.

So, the People’s Revolutionary Committees constituted the form of official revolutionary administration in localities, a form of development higher than the National Liberation Committees which were in fact the provisional revolutionary administration. The People’s Revolutionary Committee was the manifestation of the combination between the function of rallying and uniting all patriotic forces and the function of administration, between the administrative nature and representative nature. This was a particular way of organizing the local administration, suitable to the then social circumstance of Vietnam, which was of great significance in creating the prerequisite for the formulation of legal regulation on organization of subsequent revolutionary administration in Vietnam.

On the significance of the establishment of the National Liberation Committees and the People’s Revolutionary Committees, the Communist Party of Vietnam evaluated: “Those organizations are of great effect. They acquainted people with the universal suffrage and gradually with the administrative affairs, making people start to hold their own destiny by themselves, to break fetters and improve their own living conditions. Those transitional organizations mobilized and appealed people to participate in the revolutionary struggle, thus greatly broadening the United National Front and laying foundation for the emergence of a new Vietnam. Using the People’s Revolutionary Committees and the National Liberation Committees as a transitional step to jump to the democratic republic was an extremely interesting point of the communist tactics in the period of general uprising.”

On August 15, 1945, the Japanese fascists officially surrendered to the Allies. Seizing this revolutionary opportunity, the Vietnamese people shifted from partial uprisings to regain power in localities to the general uprising to regain power nationwide. Within less than a fortnight, the power from the central to local level throughout the country fell into the people’s hands.

Generally, the local administration during the August 1945 Revolution period was characterized by the following peculiarities:

- Firmly seizing and flexibly applying the circumstances and opportunities, prior to the general uprising to regain power nationwide, there had appeared partial uprisings to regain power in localities.

- The local administration was established in flexible and rational forms, depending on specific situation and circumstances.

- An appropriate model of local administration suitable to Vietnam’s social circumstance was determined. That was the people’s democratic administration capable of rallying and uniting all patriotic forces in order to create a great national strength against the principal enemy, namely the imperialists and colonialists.

II. The local administrations after the August Revolution and during the anti-French colonialist war of resistance

Following the victorious August 1945 Revolution, one of the central and urgent tasks was to consolidate and perfect the State apparatus of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, including the local administrations.

In order to lay legal foundations and determine the specific model for the local administrations at all levels, a timely thing done by
the provisional Government was the issuance of a number of decrees:

- Decree No.63 of November 22, 1945 prescribing the organization of the People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees of all levels in the countryside.

- Decree No.77 of December 21, 1945, defining the organization of the people’s administrations in provincial capitals and cities.
Under the above decrees, there existed in Vietnam then four administrative-level local administration, including:

- The zone level (including Tonkin, Central Vietnam and Cochinchina, which were formulated during the French colonialists’ tenure).

- The provincial and municipal level.

- The district, provincial capital and city level.

- The commune and ward level.

Also according to the said decrees, the People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees were the specific models of the local administrations. Excluding the zone and district levels where existed only the Administrative Committees, the remaining levels were organized with both the People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees.

The People’s Councils were the representative agencies in localities, which were elected by local people. They had the right to decide on all local matters which are not contrary to the superiors’ directives, might elect and relieve from duty members of the Administrative Committees, abrogate inappropriate decisions of the Administrative Committees of the same level.

The Administrative Committees were the State administrative bodies in localities. The superior Administrative Committees were entitled to control the subordinate Administrative Committees, control the local professional agencies in the performance of tasks. The Administrative Committees were elected by the People’s Councils of the same level. For levels where existed no People’s Councils, the Administrative Committees were elected directly by the People’s Councils of lower levels.

In cities there existed two administrative-administration levels: Cities were divided into various wards. Only at the city level, there existed both the People’s Council and the Administrative Committee. Meanwhile at the ward level, there existed only the Administrative Committees elected directly by ward inhabitants.

Panoramically, the above two decrees determined for the first time the specific model of the local administrations including the People’s Council and the Administrative Committee. This model was basically maintained and developed throughout the subsequent periods.

After the above two decrees were issued, the localities organized the election of the People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees, thus marking the step of consolidation and perfection of the local administration system. The administrations in localities not only brought into full play the national unity but also took initiative in settling in time crucial and urgent affairs in the localities, such as the maintenance of security and order, organization of productive labor movement, hunger elimination, illiteracy eradication, preparation of forces for resistance war when the French colonialists came back. The efficient operation of the local administrations greatly contributed to the building and defense of the young Democratic Republic of Vietnam in face of untold trials and hardships.

On November 9, 1946, the National Assembly adopted the first Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, thus creating basic legal bases for the organization of the local administrations.

Under the 1946 Constitution, the local administrative units were organized also at four levels as provided for in the previous decrees, and also at the provincial, municipal, provincial capital and communal levels, the local administrations were structured comprehensively, consisting of the People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees. Meanwhile at the zone and district levels, there existed only the Administrative Committees.

The People’s Councils were elected by people through universal suffrage and their members could be relieved from office. They decided on local matters but not contrarily to the superiors’ directives.

The Administrative Committees were elected by the People’s Councils of the same level. As the People’s Councils did not exist at the zone and district levels, the Administrative Committees of the zone and district levels were elected by the provincial/municipal People’s Councils in such zones and the Administrative Committees of the district level were elected by the People’s Councils of the communes in such districts. Members of the Administrative Committees could be relieved from office. The Administrative Committees were answerable to their superiors and the People’s Councils of the same level, having the following tasks and powers:

- To enforce the superiors’ orders.

- To enforce the resolutions of the People’s Councils of the same level after they were approved by the superiors.

- To direct the administrative work in their localities.

So, the 1946 Constitution not only defined the position and nature of the People’s Councils as the State power organs in localities and also the representative bodies in localities, and the Administrative Committees as the State administrative agencies in localities as already affirmed by previous legal documents, but also expressed more clearly the spirit that the Administrative Committees are the executive bodies of the People’s Councils, being accountable to and implementing the resolutions of, the People’s Councils of the same level.

Immediately after the August Revolution, the French colonialists staged their come-back to re-conquer Vietnam. In late 1946, the war of resistance against the French colonialists broke out. Under the fierce and prolonged war conditions, in the people’s war disposition and in the flush of victories of the resistance war, the Government quickly shifted the local administrations into a system of high concentration and unity. The organization and operation of the local administrations during the resistance war years proved to be flexible, dynamic and efficient.

According to Decree No.1 of December 20, 1946, the zone level was abolished and the whole country was divided into 16 resistance zones. Then, Decree No.120 of January 25, 1948 abrogated the resistance zones, under which 16 resistance zones were merged into 10 inter-resistance zones. Under resistance zones or later inter-resistance zones were the administrative units of the provincial, municipal, district, provincial capital and commune levels. Resistance zones or inter-resistance zones were administrative units under the central government, where existed only the Administrative Committees, but not the People’s Councils.

Moreover, right after the resistance war broke out, the Government issued Decree No.1 of December 20, 1946, establishing the Defense Committees at all local administrative levels besides the Administrative Committees. The Defense Committees were tasked to seek ways suitable to the local situation to execute the orders and directives of the superiors on the defense of the country.
So, the Defense Committees settled matters related to the resistance war while the Administrative Committees handled daily administrative affairs. The Defense Committees were composed of representatives of the army, the administrative bodies, mass organizations. Under the written order issued jointly by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense on December 31, 1946, the Defense Committee was renamed the Resistance War Committee, aiming to lay stress on its basic and primary task of organizing the resistance war.

In order to increase neatness, unity and concentration of the local administrations to suit the wartime conditions, under the Decree of October 1, 1947, at all levels, the Resistance War Committees and the Administrative Committees were merged into the Resistance War-cum- Administrative Committees, which were then renamed the Resistance War- Administrative Committees under the Decree of March 29, 1948.

The election of the People’s Councils (except for the election of the provincial-level People’s Councils, which was postponed) still proceeded under the provisions of the Decree of November 22, 1945. Yet, due to hard war conditions in the first years of the resistance war, the People’s Councils could not meet regularly as scheduled, the powers in localities were concentrated in the Resistance War- Administrative Committees. In order to gather the opinions of people of all strata on important affairs of the localities, the Resistance War- Administrative Committees often organized congresses of representatives of the army, Viet Minh Front, mass organizations, patriotic personalities for discussion and solution thereof.

The Decree of November 19, 1948 specified the tasks, powers and working relationship of the system of the local administrations from the inter-zone to commune levels, delegating more powers to the Resistance War- Administrative Committees (especially of the inter-zone level) regarding the aspects of maintenance of security and order, justice, the powers to requisition, confiscation of resources for resistance war.

According to the Decree of November 19, 1948, the People’s Councils and the Resistance War- Administrative Committees were also organized in areas under the enemy control, where the adversary administrations went into panic and became ineffective.
In the flush of victories of the resistance war, which entered the final stage, the local administrations had conditions to be further consolidated. Under the May 22, 1950 Decree, the election of the provincial-level People’s Councils had to be restored and conducted as scheduled. The People’s Councils of all levels had to fully resume their functions and powers. This Decree also provided that the local administrations of all levels had to be participated by representatives of people of all strata, particularly workers and peasants. Later, the Government organized two national conferences of administration officials in December 1950 and March 1952, where participants discussed and decided on orientations and measures to consolidate the local administrations, especially the commune-level administrations as they were the grassroots administrations closest to the ordinary people.

Throughout the resistance war, the local administrations at all levels not only brought into fuller play the tradition of national unity, mobilized to the utmost the human and material resources for the resistance war, organized and directed the resistance war in localities, but also constantly cared for the people’s interests and life through the maintenance of security and order, the boosting of productive labor, land rent reduction, division of land to peasants, then land reform,...

In sum, the organization and operation of the local administrations during the anti-French colonialist war of resistance demonstrated the following peculiarities and creativeness:

- The high unity among the entire population, which helped mobilize to the utmost the human and material resources for the resistance war;

- Their high centralism and unity, suitable to the war conditions, and also their dynamism and adaptability to all circumstances and situations of war.

- The concentration of powers into the Resistance War- Administrative Committees in order to satisfy the requirements of quick and timely direction of the resistance war in localities.

- Their efficiency not only in the performance of the function of mobilizing human and material resources for the resistance war and organizing the resistance war in their respective localities, but also in their care for people’s life, which helped increase the people’s confidence in the administrations.-

VNL_KH1 

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