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The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV; Vietnamese language: Việt Nam Dân chủ Cộng hòa ), generally known as North Vietnam, was a communist republic in Southeast Asia, comprising nominally all of Vietnam from September 2, 1945 to December 18, 1946. The communist Viet Minh ("League for the Independence of Vietnam") controlled areas of Vietnam between December 18, 1946 to July 20, 1954 and the northern half of what is now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam between July 20, 1954 and July 2, 1976. The state was first proclaimed by Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi in 1945, and established formally in the eyes of the West following the 1954 Geneva Conference at the end of the First Indochina War. North and South Vietnam were reunited in 1976.

Vietnam was an ancient land with thousands of years of history and almost a thousand years of independence as a sovereign nation when it fell under French rule in the mid to late nineteenth century. During World War II, Vietnam was a French colony under Japanese occupation. Soon after Japan surrendered in 1945, the DRV was proclaimed in Hanoi, government for the entire country. Viet Minh leader Hồ Chí Minh became head of the government while former emperor Bảo Đại became "supreme advisor." Later that year, the French reoccupied Hanoi and the French Indochina War followed. Bảo Đại became head of the Saigon government in 1949, which was then renamed the State of Vietnam. Following the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th parallel. The DRV became the government of North Vietnam while the State of Vietnam retained control in the South.

The Geneva Accords promised elections in 1956 to determine a national government for a united Vietnam. The French accepted the proposal of Viet Minh delegate Pham Van Dong,[1] who proposed that Vietnam eventually be united by elections under the supervision of "local commissions".[2] The United States countered with what became known as the "American Plan," with the support of the State of Vietnam (which later became South Vietnam) and the United Kingdom.[3] It provided for unification elections under the supervision of the United Nations, but was rejected by the Soviet delegation.[3] During the Vietnam War (1955–75), North Vietnam and the Viet Cong supported by its communist allies, including the Soviet Union and China, fought against the military of the Republic of Vietnam government, the U.S. and the Free World Military Forces, including Australia, South Korea, Thailand and various smaller players. North Vietnam also fought alongside indigenous communist rebels in Cambodia and Laos against their respective US-backed governments. China and the Soviet Union feuded with each other over their influence in North Vietnam, as both wanted without success to make the country their satellite state.[4] The war ended with the total victory of the North Vietnamese forces, about two years after American combat troops withdrew from the South. The two halves of Vietnam were reunited into one country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, in 1976.

Independence proclaimed

Vietnam became part of French Indochina in 1887 and was administered by the pro-German Vichy government during World War II. From 1940-1945, French Indochina was occupied by Japan, which used the colony as a base from which to conduct military operations further south. Soon after the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, the Vietminh in the August Revolution, entered Hanoi and Hồ proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.[5] U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt had spoken against French rule in Indochina and America was supportive of the Viet Minh at this time.

The Hanoi government of Ho Chi Minh claimed dominion over all of Vietnam, but during this time South Vietnam was in profound political disorder. The successive collapse of French, then Japanese power, followed by the dissension among the political factions in Saigon had been accompanied by widespread violence in the countryside.[6][7] On 12 September 1945, the first British troops arrived in Saigon. On 23 September, 28 days after the people of Saigon seized political power, French troops occupied the police stations, the post office, and other public buildings. The salient political fact of life in North Vietnam was Chinese Nationalist army of occupation, and the Chinese presence had forced Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh to accommodate Chinese-backed Viet Nationalists. On June 1946, Chinese Nationalist troops evacuated Hanoi, and on the 15th of June, the last detachments embarked at Haiphong. A part of Cochinchina, South Central Coast, Central Highlands, French controlled territory, since the end Southern Resistance War, 1946.

In January 1946, the Viet Minh held an election to establish a National Assembly. Public enthusiasm for this event suggests that the Viet Minh enjoyed a great deal of popularity at this time, although there were few competitive races and the party makeup of the Assembly was determined in advance of the vote.[nb 1]

When France declared Cochinchina, the southern third of Vietnam, a separate state as the "Autonomous Republic of Cochinchina" in June 1946, Vietnamese nationalists reacted with fury. In November, the National Assembly adopted the first Constitution of the Republic.[8] The French reoccupied Hanoi and the First Indochina War (1946–54) followed. Following the Chinese Revolution (1946−1950), Chinese communist forces arrived on the border in 1949. Chinese aid revived the fortunes of the Viet Minh and transformed it from a guerrilla militia into a standing army. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 transformed what had been an anti-colonial struggle into a Cold War battleground, with the U.S. providing financial support to the French.

Partition of Vietnam

Following the partition of Vietnam in 1954 at the end of the First Indochina War, more than one million North Vietnamese migrated to South Vietnam,[9] under the U.S.-led evacuation campaign named Operation Passage to Freedom,[10] with an estimated 60% of the north's one million Catholics fleeing south.[11][12] The Catholic migration is attributed to an expectation of persecution of Catholics by the North Vietnamese government, as well as publicity employed by the Saigon government of the President Ngô Đình Diệm.[13] The CIA ran a propaganda campaign to get Catholics to come to the south. However Colonel Edward Lansdale the man credited with the campaign rejected the notion that his campaign had much effect on popular sentiment.[14] The Viet Minh sought to detain or otherwise prevent would-be refugees from leaving, such as through intimidation through military presence, shutting down ferry services and water traffic, or prohibiting mass gatherings.[15] Concurrently, between 14,000 and 45,000 civilians and approximately 100,000 Viet Minh fighters moved in the opposite direction.[11][16][17] The communists rejected the "American Plan" to hold reunification elections monitored by the United Nations to ensure fairness.[3]

Land Reform and Consolidation of Power

Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various agrarian reforms, including "rent reduction" and "land reform". Large landowners and rich peasants were publicly denounced as landlords (địa chủ), and their land distributed to poor and middle peasants, particularly to those with ties to the Communist Party.[18] In some cases there were mass slaughters of landlords. People of the middle- and upper-class, intellectuals, anti-communists, affiliates to the French colonial government and dissidents were also persecuted, imprisoned or killed.[19] Declassified Politburo documents confirm that 1 in 1,000 North Vietnamese (i.e., about 14,000 people) were the minimum quota targeted for execution during the earlier "rent reduction" campaign; the number killed during the multiple stages of the considerably more radical "land reform" was probably many times greater.[20] Lam Thanh Liem, a major authority on land issues in Vietnam, conducted multiple interviews in which communist cadres gave estimates for land reform executions ranging from 120,000 to 200,000. Such figures match the "nearly 150,000 houses and huts which were allocated to new occupants".[21] Landlords were arbitrarily classified as 5.68% of the population, but the majority were subject to less severe punishment than execution. Official records from the time suggest that 172,008 "landlords" were executed during the "land reform", of whom 123,266 (71.66%) were later found to be wrongly classified.[22] Victims were reportedly shot, beheaded, and beaten to death; "some were tied up, thrown into open graves and covered with stones until they were crushed to death".[23] The full death toll was even greater because victims' families starved to death under the "policy of isolation."[24] As communist defector Le Xuan Giao explained: "There was nothing worse than the starvation of the children in a family whose parents were under the control of a land reform team. They isolated the house, and the people who lived there would starve. The children were all innocent. There was nothing worse than that. They wanted to see the whole family dead."[25] Former Viet Minh official Hoang Van Chi wrote that as many as 500,000 people may have died as a result of the policies of the North Vietnamese government.[26] Ironically, a number of sources have suggested that about 30% of the "landlords" executed were actually communist party members.[21][27][28][29][30] 6,000 peasants were massacred in Ho Chi Minh's home province of Nghe An, in a peasant revolt against the communist regime's collectivization of farmland across the North.[23] There were periodic reports of famine, but not mass death.[31]

North Vietnam's capital was Hanoi and it was a one-party state led by the Vietnam Workers' Party (Vietnamese: Đảng lao động Việt Nam). Political opposition groups were suppressed; those publicly opposing the government were imprisoned in hard labor camps. Prisoners were abused and beaten atop of labor-intensive work forced upon them. Many died of exhaustion, starvation, illness (who often died without any medical attention), or assault by prison guards. Private property ownership, large-scale business, and entrepreneurship were criminalized.[31]

North Vietnam was also known for its inhumane and abusive treatment of Vietnam War POWs and North Vietnamese political dissidents. Worldwide attention focused on this issue when information on the treatment and living conditions of American POWs Hoa Lo Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton) in Ha Noi was publicized in the West. Poet and teacher Nguyen Chi Thien extensively described the torture, starvation, hard labor, illness and deplorable living conditions he and other prisoners endured while imprisoned in various prisons and labor camps in northern Vietnam, documented in hundreds of poems he made, memorized, and later published in the West via the British Embassy in Hanoi. Tien's poems are published in several books, including Flowers from Hell and Hanoi Hilton Stories by Nguyen Chi Thien.

A literary movement called Nhân văn-Giai phẩm (from the names of the two magazines which started the movement, based in Hanoi) attempted to encourage the democratization of the country and the free expression of thought. Intellectuals were thus lured into criticizing the leadership so they could be arrested later, many of whom were sent to hard labor camps (Gulags), following the model of Mao Tse-tung's Hundred Flowers campaign in China.[32] Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and other basic civilian freedoms were soon revoked after the government's attempt of destroying the literary movement. In his 1955 interviews, Hoang Van Chi described North Vietnam as a terrorist state where "the village guards would dig tombs" before every trial; where "ghastly" and "barbarous" torture was used; where the communists "starve the people in order to enslave them more surely"; where dissidents were either "in the other world [i.e., dead] or in the concentration camps"; and where non-communists had been "classified as landowners" and either "sentenced to hard labour" or "shot on the spot."[33]

A puritan personality cult was also established around Ho Chi Minh, later extended nationwide after the Communist reunification of the Vietnam, and is reminiscent to other Communist nations like North Korea, the Soviet Union, and China.

Foreign relations

South Vietnam

From 1960, the Hanoi government went to war with South Vietnam via its proxy the Viet Cong, in an attempt to annex South Vietnam and reunify Vietnam under communist rule.[34] Troops and supplies were sent along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In 1964 the United States sent combat troops to Vietnam to support the South Vietnamese government, but they had advisors there since 1961. Other nations, including Australia, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and New Zealand also contributed troops and military aid to South Vietnam's war effort. China and the Soviet Union provided aid to North Vietnam and troops in support of North Vietnamese military activities. This was known as the Vietnam War (1955–75). According to political scientist R.J. Rummel, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops murdered between 106,000 and 227,000 civilians in South Vietnam throughout the entire war.[32] Viet Cong insurgents assassinated at least 37,000 civilians in South Vietnam; the real figure was far higher since the data mostly cover 1967-72. They also waged a mass murder campaign against civilian hamlets and refugee camps; in the peak war years, nearly a third of all civilian deaths were the result of Viet Cong atrocities.[35] In addition to the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, other communist insurgencies also operated within neighboring Kingdom of Laos and Khmer Republic, both formerly part of the French colonial territory of Indochina. These were the Khmer Rouge and the Pathet Lao. These insurgencies were heavily aided by the Hanoi government, who even sent troops to fight alongside them.

Communist states

North Vietnam was diplomatically isolated by many Western states, and many other anti-communist states worldwide throughout most of the North's history, as these states only extended recognition to the anti-communist, republican government of South Vietnam. North Vietnam however, was recognized by almost all Communist countries and some other Third World countries, like the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, China, North Korea, and Cuba, and received aid from these nations. However, North Vietnam obtained diplomatic relations with several anti-communist states in the 1970s, like with the government under Gough Whitlam of Australia. North Vietnam refused to establish diplomatic relations with the non-aligned government of Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia and repeatedly denounced his regime as "revisionist" for rejecting Stalinism. For example, at the Third Party Congress in 1960, First Secretary Le Duan asserted that "modern revisionism remains the main danger for the international communist movement" and denounced "[t]he modern revisionists represented by the Tito clique in Yugoslavia."[36]


After the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, or Vietcong, alongside the North Vietnamese Army, governed South Vietnam during the period before reunification. However it was seen as a puppet government of North Vietnam.[37][38][39] North and South Vietnam were officially reunited under one state on 2 July 1976, forming the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which continues to administer the country today.

History since 1976

See Vietnam.


  1. Although former emperor Bao Dai was also popular at this time and won a seat in the Assembly, the election did not allow voters to express a preference between Bao Dai and Ho. It was held publicly in northern and central Vietnam, but secretly in Cochinchina, the southern third of Vietnam. There was minimal campaigning and most voters had no idea who the candidates were. (Fall, Bernard, The Viet-Minh Regime (1956), p. 9.) In many districts, a single candidate ran unopposed. (Fall, p. 10.) Party representation in the Assembly was publicly announced before the election was held. (Springhal, John, Decolonization since 1945 (1955), p. 44.)


  1. The Pentagon Papers (1971), Beacon Press, vol. 3, p. 134.
  2. The Pentagon Papers (1971), Beacon Press, vol. 3, p. 119.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Pentagon Papers (1971), Beacon Press, vol. 3, p. 140.
  4. William H. Thornton. Fire on the rim: the cultural dynamics of East/West power politics. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Rowan & Little field Publishers, Inc., 2002. Pp. 161.
  5. The August Revolution and its historic significance
  6. Pentagon Papers [ Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense 1969] Retrieved 28/09/12
  7. Pentagon Papers Pentagon Papers 1969 Retrieved 28/09/12
  8. "Political Overview"
  9. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "The State of The World's Refugees 2000 – Chapter 4: Flight from Indochina". Retrieved 6 April 2007. .
  10. Lindholm, Richard (1959). Viet-nam, the first five years: an international symposium. Michigan State University Press. p. 49.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Tran, Thi Lien (November 2005). "The Catholic Question in North Vietnam". Cold War History (London: Routledge) 5 (4): 427–49. DOI:10.1080/14682740500284747.
  12. Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-4447-8. p. 45
  13. Truong Nhu Tang. 1986. A Viet Cong Memoir. Vintage.
  14. Hansen, pp. 182–183.
  15. Frankum, Ronald (2007). Operation Passage to Freedom: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1954–55. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 978-0-89672-608-6. p. 159/160/190
  16. Frankum, Ronald (2007). Operation Passage to Freedom: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1954–55. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 978-0-89672-608-6.
  17. Ruane, Kevin (1998). War and Revolution in Vietnam. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-85728-323-5. 
  18. Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975
  19. On the question of communist reprisals in Vietnam by Anita Lauve Nutt (1970), Rand.
  20. Alec Holcombe, Politburo's Directive Issued on May 4, 1953, on Some Special Issues regarding Mass Mobilization Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 243-247, quoting a translated Politburo directive from May 4, 1953. This directive was published in Complete Collection of Party Documents (Van Kien Dang Toan Tap), a 54 volume work authorized by the Vietnamese Communist Party.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Lam Thanh Liem (1990), "Chinh sach cai cach ruong dat cua Ho Chi Minh: sai lam hay toi ac?" in Jean-Francois Revel et al., Ho Chi Minh, Nam A, pp. 179-214.
  22. The History of the Vietnamese Economy (2005), Vol. 2, edited by Dang Phong of the Institute of Economy, Vietnamese Institute of Social Sciences.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Readers Digest, The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh, November 1968.
  24. Nhan Vhan, November 5, 1956: "In the agrarian reform, illegal arrests, imprisonments, investigations (with barbarous torture), executions, requisitions of property, and the quarantining of landowners’ houses (or houses of peasants wrongly classified as landowners), which left innocent children to die of starvation, are not exclusively due to the shortcomings of the leadership, but also due to the lack of a complete legal code. If the cadres had felt that they were closely observed by the god of justice... calamities might have been avoided for the masses." Nhan Vhan was one of the best-known opposition periodicals that was allowed during the three-month period of relative intellectual freedom in the fall of 1956, modeled on Mao's "Hundred Flowers" campaign.
  25. Turner, Robert F. "Expert Punctures 'No Bloodbath' Myth". Human Events, November 11, 1972.
  26. Hoang Van Chi (1962), From Colonialism to Communism: A Case Study of North Vietnam, New York: Congress of Cultural Freedom.
  27. Nhan Dan, August 13, 1957.
  28. Time, July 1, 1957, p. 13, says they were given a proper burial.
  29. Gittinger, J. Price, "Communist Land Policy in Viet Nam", Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 29, No. 8, 1957, p. 118.
  30. Dommen, Arthur J. (2001), The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans, Indiana University Press, p. 340.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Rosefielde, Steven (2009). Red Holocaust. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-77757-5.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Rosefielde 2009" defined multiple times with different content
  32. 32.0 32.1 Rummel, Rudolph, Statistics of Vietnamese Democide, in his Statistics of Democide, 1997.
  33. Interviews, August 17 and July 30, 1955, reprinted in Hoang Van Chi, The Fate of the Last Viets (Saigon: Hoa Mai Publishing, 1956), pp30-40.
  34. "The History Place — Vietnam War 1945–1960". Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  35. Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam, (Oxford University Press, 1978), pp272-3, 448-9.
  36. Le Duan (1964), On Some Present International Problems, pp. 51-52.
  37. Senauth, Frank [1], The Making of Vietnam, 2012, p. 54.
  38. Nguyễn, Sài Đình [2], The National Flag of Viet Nam: Its Origin and Legitimacy,p. 4.
  39. Emering, Edward J. [3], Weapons and Field Gear of the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong, 1998.

External links

Preceded by
French Indochina
North Vietnam
Succeeded by
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Coordinates: 21°02′N 105°51′E / 21.033°N 105.85°E / 21.033; 105.85

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