The Worker-Peasant Alliance as a Strategy for Rural Development in China

By Hsu, D. Y.; Ching, P. Y. | Monthly Review, March 1991 | Go to article overview

The Worker-Peasant Alliance as a Strategy for Rural Development in China


Hsu, D. Y., Ching, P. Y., Monthly Review


THE WORKER-PEASANT ALLIANCE AS A STRATEGY FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

During the past few years, some high level government officials and many social scientists in China have admitted the many accomplishments made in rural areas under the leadership of Mao Zedong. [1] While acknowledging the building of an agricultural infrastructure, the increase in land productivity, the mechanization of agricultural production, and the provision of the basic necessities of life for the majority of China's rural population, they have conveniently avoided analyzing Mao's model of development. Such an analysis would reveal the fundamental diffeences between two lines--Mao's versus Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping's--and would undermine Deng's interpretation of China's development and the reasons behind his reform.

Mao believed that the continuing class struggle after the land reform was the driving force in China's rural development. He placed the alliance between workers and peasants at the center of this struggle during the reconstruction period following the revolution. This class analysis fundamentally distinguished his line from the Liu/Deng line.

Deng and his associates attacked Mao for stirring up class struggle that hampered the development of economic forces. On the contrary, the evidence shows that class struggle led to changes in the relations of production and thus the development of productive forces. We will also emphasize the importance of the ideological struggle between Mao's line and the Liu/Deng line, and thus help explain Mao's national campaign on "Learning from Dazhai" in the early 1970s and Deng's effort to discredit Dazhai in order to push his line of "letting a small number of peasants get rich first" when his reform began.

The Collectivization of Agriculture

Between 1949 and 1952, land reform in the newly liberated areas of China's countryside gave hundreds of millions of peasants a plot of land for the first time in their lives. Although holdings averaged only 0.2 hectares per capita, peasants cultivated their land with great enthusiasm. The output of both grain and cotton went up rapidly between 1949 and 1952. However, by 1953 grain production became stagnant and cotton production decreased sharply. [2]

After one hundred years of destruction from wars and perhaps as many years of neglect by landlords, China's natural environment for agriculture was fragile, and arable land was scarce and infertile. Aside from owning very small plots of poor land, the majority of peasants owned very few productive tools. Among the poor and lower middle peasant households--60 to 70 percent of China's peasantry--many did not even own a plow, let alone other tools or draft animals. Without farm tools, enthusiasm alone could not continually increase production. Moreover, in 1953 and 1954, floods and drought affected large areas of farmland. Individual peasants were defenseless against such natural disasters and such personal mishaps as illness or the death of a family member. As a result many peasant families were forced into debt. Facing debts at usurious rates, many peasants were forced to sell their land. Before the cooperative movement began, land sales and private borrowing had started to rise, as had the number of peasants who hired themselves out as farm hands. [3] Had there not been a cooperative movement, there would have been further polarization and reconcentration of land ownership.

Small land holdings and inadequate farm tools were the main economic reasons behind the formation of first the Mutual Aid Teams and then the Elementary Cooperatives. Peasant households pooled their land, labor, and productive tools to farm together. Output was distributed according to land, tools, and labor contributed. With increases in production, the cooperatives began to accumulate funds to buy the farm tools from households which had owned them. In the Advanced Cooperatives, both the land and the tools were collectively owned by the cooperatives, so there were no more dividends paid for either land or tools contributed and the distribution of output was based only on the amount of labor contributed. …

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