Based on archival sources, this paper examines North Vietnam’s labor regimes during 1945—1970. Soviet and Chinese models are found to be influential there up to the late 1950s. An early emphasis on labor mobilization was gradually replaced by a concern for control to increase economic efficiency and to cope with pressures from workers. As in the Soviet Union and China, a hierarchy based on political criteria was created in the workplace but the state failed to motivate workers to work hard despite intense political campaigns and propaganda. Productivity and labor discipline declined in the 1960s while collusion between state enterprises and the informal sector to steal state resources was widespread. Similar to their counterparts in other socialist states, Vietnamese workers were assertive and able to evade state demands and control. They depended on the state for their food and clothes but the state was not able to count on them for quality labor. The failure of the Vietnamese state seemed to speak not only to workers’ ingenious strategies for survival but also to the inherent limit of Stalinist regimes in creating compliance.

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