Collective control over agricultural production in Vietnam eroded in the late-1970s and 1980s, to a much larger extent than envisaged or desired by the Vietnamese Communist Party. Villagers and local cadres resisted central directives that conflicted with their own interests, and often colluded to circumvent state regulations. In North Vietnam, during the 1990s, by contrast, new-style cooperatives retained stronger influence over production than envisaged by national policy-makers; while in South Vietnam, most cooperatives were disbanded and alternative institutional arrangements established. This thesis seeks to determine why Vietnamese agricultural policy did not work as the Party intended, and by what means policy changes were introduced.
To address these questions, the thesis examines the relationship between changing rural institutional arrangements and the implementation of agricultural policy as this affected production at the village level. It also examines the overlapping and intersecting organisations of power in the formal political hierarchy and within the villages. How networks of power are organised determines to a large extent how policy will be implemented. To examine the practical outcome of these causal relationships, irrigation and drainage management is taken as a case study of the dynamics of the implementation of policy. In particular, it provides an opportunity to investigate the negotiation process that accompanies this implementation. During the period under study, irrigation and drainage was a main function of local authorities, and was crucial for food production. Productivity of villagers' land is largely determined by how efficiently irrigation water is supplied, drainage water discharged, and groundwater levels maintained. To obtain maximum yield and avert the risk of food shortages, villagers require flexibility in water supply in terms of frequency, rate and duration. Additionally, water supply requires coordination and scheduling in relation to soil and crop needs. But if irrigation and drainage are so crucial, why is their management so poor?
To answer this question, it is necessary to determine what happened at the local level. Central policy did not just fail, it was subverted, and we needed to know how. This thesis examines what happened in the case of three separate communes, two in North Vietnam and one in the South. At another level, the thesis seeks to include irrigation development more prominently in the history of agriculture. General writings exist on the macro-level of agricultural production and irrigation management, but what is needed is to integrate the two. The thesis utilises the management of water, the prime factor in agriculture, to examine social interactions in the hamlets in response to policy. It will be shown that whether policies were or were not applied was in large part determined by the relationship between Party and village power structures. Thus at the level of explanation, the thesis contributes to our understanding of how power is articulated in rural Vietnam. At the theoretical level, these findings feed into the continuing debate with reference to Vietnam about whether the state is strong or weak in terms of the capacity of its institutions to implement policy. From research conducted for this thesis, it will be concluded that the actual situation is more complicated than previous studies have shown. It is not enough to examine only the capacity of state structures, without giving attention to policy implementation at the grass-roots level. It will be shown that traditional kinship and patron-protege relations deeply embodied in Vietnamese culture and society continued to influence relations between peasant farmers and state authorities. It is these traditional relationships that organise power in the hamlets, no matter what form the Vietnamese political system takes.