Creating a Socialist Economy in China: Policies and Failures
China tried to establish a socialist economy with policies including land reform, its First Five Year Plan, and the intense Great Leap Forward between the 1940s until the 1960s. While there was intense output from China in this period, there was also massive failure from rapid planning and poorly executed leadership.
Justification behind land reform was straightforward: help increase agricultural production in order to help fuel urban industrialization while promoting a “class struggle” against landlords. The CCP believed the destruction of the ancient ruling class of landlords was needed in order to insure they would never gain power again (87). This was accomplished by the divvying up of land among peasants. While the process had begun in the 1940s, the reform was completed around 1952. In the end, “the whole process leveled out Chinese society considerably. and led to a system of small privately owned farms throughout China” (88). However, land reform had serious ideological and political consequences. By promoting the land reform process, the CCP was able to rally peasants for the Communist Party’s cause while at the same time establishing branches within rural villages (87).
After the land reform, China began massive collectivization of farms to fuel rapid industrialization with the First Five Year Plan between 1953 and 1957. The First Five Year Plan's focus was to nationalize industry in urban areas and collectivize farming in the rural countryside. The CCP believed that this would fuel rapid economic growth to help the country catch up with foreign capitalist powers. This plan towards industrialization was inspired by China’s only model: the Soviet Union. After isolating itself following the Korean War, China could only turn to its “elder socialist brother” in order to devise a quick system to turn its economically backwards nation into a modern superpower in a short amount of time (91).
The small privately owned farms that peasants possessed after the completion of land reform was “hardly socialism as the CCP leaders understood it” (91). Socialism was pushed in the countryside through collectivization of farms in stages. The process began with Mutual Aid Teams of 5 to 6 were joined together followed by semisocialist cooperatives were installed, enlisting groups of 30 to 50 families to work together. Finally, fully socialist collectives were installed with hundreds of families joined, utilizing a system of work points for rewards (92). However, the First Five Year Plan's focus was nonetheless urban industrialization (93-94).
Industrialization in urban sectors of China was guided by Soviet models. Private enterprises in heavy industries were given priority and absorbed in a nationalized system that put the economy completely under state control (95). Light industry focusing on consumer goods, along with agriculture, got very little of this state aid. In the end, “[this] meant that the agricultural sector of the economy subsidized the industrialization drive” because of fixed grain prices fueling modernization, with little state investment retuning to the countryside (95).
Mao Zedong’s would take a divergent path towards rapid economic growth for China that moved away from the Soviet model and opted instead for a unique Chinese approach. Mao’s insisted that the motivation to fuel the Chinese ardor for the unique form of development would come from “[the peasants] own socialist consciousness, nurtured by the Communist Party” (96). China’s development would differ from the Soviet Union’s because “the social and cultural transformation of China [would have to] occur together with its economic development” (96). While the Soviets had pushed for industrialization and allowed socialism's ideological development to stagnate, Mao decided that the focus should be placed on “mobilizing China's huge labor force for the enormous task of modern economic growth rather than relying on technology” (96). Mao termed this idea “engineering the soul” (97). This method would mean an individual would be “studying Marxist-Leninist-Maoist literature... openly criticizing one's own ideas and behavior.... accepting criticism from others.... [and] working with ordinary people” to develop a “socialist consciousness”, before the development of the a socialist economy (97).
Between 1958 and 1961, the Great Leap Forward represented China's distinctive take at rapid modernization, diverting from the Soviet model it had originally followed in the First Five Year Plan. When Mao came to the assertion that the countryside's lack of development was caused by exploitation from China’s rapidly growing cities, he decided to implement People's Communes. The communes would supposedly lead to greater output from the countryside by bringing together the already large collectivized farms. Communes “containing typically 25,000 people, 10,000 acres, and 100,000 animals” were created (100). It was also suggested that these communes could be utopias, and “would become a major unit of government and military organization, replacing many functions that had been performed by the central state and party bureaucracy”, which by this time, Mao claimed, had grown too large and elitist (101).
However, while the Great Leap Forward had optimistic goals, it did accumulate severe failures. It caused a major split in the Communist Party (96, 103). Disorder in the communes happened because of the speed which at which they were established, along with unqualified leadership managing huge masses of people (102). Leaders also exaggerated production figures in order to appear more successful, when famine was actually killing peasants caused by poor farming policies and terrible weather (102). Mao never fully acknowledged the failures of the Great Leap Forward, and it forever tarnished the Communist Party’s image in the eyes of the peasantry (103).
Strayer, Robert W. The Communist Experiment: Revolution, Socialism and Global Conflict in the Twentieth Century. Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print. - Chapter 4 "Mao's Path: Building Socialism in China"
For Prof. Bell's HIST182 - May 14, 2010