Nigel Harris


The Mandate of Heaven


Part III
The Workers and Peasants
in the People’s Republic


10. Peasants in the People’s Republic

Before we examine the provisions and implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law of 30 June 1950, it may be useful to outline what the “peasant revolution” meant in the Russia of 1917.

The inequality in landholding under Tsarism was much more extreme than in China. In the late nineteenth century, some 28,000 landowners had holdings 202 times that of the average peasant [105], whereas in China, landlord holdings were between five and fourteen times the average. The holding of land was the economic basis of the Tsarist aristocracy, the social foundation of Tsarism itself; in China, the social foundation of power was an oligarchic combination of relatively small landlords, merchants and capitalists (land had been freely bought and sold in China for some two thousand years). It followed that, in Russia, the peasant seizure of the land was a decisive factor in destroying the old order, but in China it could not play the same role; destruction of the old order needed to encompass land, trade and industry. It also followed that a land revolution in China could not provide even the temporary material basis for an alternative form of production, self-sufficient small-holdings; the need for industrialization, for the provision of work outside agriculture, was much greater than in Soviet Russia.

Under the impact of the February revolution, sporadic peasant assaults on the holdings of the landowners took place through the spring of 1917. Some of the owners tried to sell out in panic. As a result, the first demand of the local peasant committees was for a ban on land sales. The Provisional Government urged the peasants to be patient and await the termination of the World War for a proper land settlement: “The land question cannot be resolved by any means of seizures. Violence and robbery are the worst and most dangerous expedients in the realm of economic relations ... The land question must be resolved by means of law, passed by the representatives of the people. Proper consideration and passage of a land law is impossible without serious preparatory work: thecollection of materials, the registration of land reserves, [the determination of] the distribution of land property, and the conditions and forms of land utilization.” [106] The Provisional Government was determined to keep control in its own hands: “A great disaster threatens our native land should the local population take upon itself the reorganization of the land system without waiting for the decision of the constituent assembly. Such general arbitrary actions carry the threat of general ruin.” [107] The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (the main radical peasant party) in the government stressed the same point – the need to defend existing production and retain control in the hands of the government. “Do not confuse the socialization of land”, a Social Revolutionary Congress adjured the peasants, “with its arbitrary seizure for personal gain!”, a notion to become in China “economism”.

The advice could scarcely be heard in the din. The peasants, mobilized and stimulated by their mutinous soldier sons, began in some areas to seize the land, to burn down the manor houses of their hated overlords, to seize the stocks of grain, equipment and animals in the lord’s outbuildings. In other areas, they unilaterally cut rents and seized uncultivated land. Within the Social Revolutionary party, a schism opened between the “responsible” national leadership and the village committees.

The Bolsheviks did not lead, organize or actively promote the peasant revolution, although they recognized the decisive importance of this “peasant war” for the workers’ struggle. As early as 1905, Lenin had expressed the precondition for this war: “There is only one way to make the agrarian reform, which is unavoidable in present-day Russia, play a revolutionary role: it must be effected on the revolutionary initiative of the peasants themselves, despite the landlords and the bureaucracy, and despite the State, i.e. it must be effected by revolutionary means.” [108] The position was repeated after the February fall of Tsarism in April 1917. As to the Provisional Government’s advice to the peasants to wait, advice backed by troops driving the squatters off the land, the Bolsheviks were intransigent: “As to the land”, Lenin mimicked the government, “wait until the constituent assembly. As to the constituent assembly, wait until the end of the war. As to the end of the war, wait until complete victory. That is what it comes to. The capitalists and landowners, having a majority in the government, are plainly mocking the peasantry.” [109] The Tsar might have been overthrown, but the social foundation of Tsarism, large landed estates, had survived intact. Only the immediate seizure of land, whatever the dangers in the ongoing war, would settle the question.

The party adopted en bloc the programme of the national Congress of Peasant Soviets (19 August 1917) as its own – for the abolition of the private ownership of all land without compensation, confiscation of livestock and equipment, a ban on all waged labour, an equal and periodically readjusted distribution of land among all peasant households. It was not a programme formulated by the party – indeed, Lenin argued it would not work; but it was the programme of the peasantry, and must be wholeheartedly embraced by the party if the workers’ revolution was to succeed.


(i) Agrarian reform in China

Up to 1949 the position of the Chinese Communist party corresponded roughly to that of the Provisional Government in Russia – the maintenance of rural production to support the war first with Japan and then with the Kuomintang was the dominant preoccupation of the party. The programme was designed to achieve this while “maintaining the enthusiasm” of the peasants and the collaboration of all landed classes, including the landlords and the “patriotic gentry”. To this end, the cadres were required to prevent any spontaneous initiative by the mass of cultivators to settle the land question, to undercut the social foundations of Kuomintang power on the countryside. The party did not depend on the peasants except as cultivators and army recruits.

With State power, the party moved quickly to change land relations, both to go some way towards honouring its promises, and to eliminating Kuomintang, warlord and bandit power in the countryside. The Agrarian Reform Bill laid down that the land, equipment, animals and surplus houses of landlords, of temples, of industrialists and merchants, be either confiscated or requisitioned for redistribution. The land and properties of rich and middle peasants (including well-to-do middle peasants) were to be protected, although land rented by rich peasants might in certain circumstances be requisitioned. [110]

It was, on the face of it, a clean sweep of landlord power. But the “cleanness” depended upon the application of the classification used in the bill – landlord, rich and middle peasants. It was not at all clear to whom these labels properly attached unless the mass of the peasants were given the right to say which peasant households in their village belonged to which class (but then they would not need the bill except to ratify their decisions after the event). The peasants were firmly refused the right. It was the party cadre who had to make the key decisions. An elaborate code was laid down to guide him, but no code could encompass the complexity of China’s rural social structure, could eliminate the arbitrary and discretionary factor. [111] Even so the code included strange anomalies. The same family, for example, could include members of different classes: “The status of those members who take part in labour, if their position in the family is not a dominant one but a subordinate one, should be appropriately determined as labouring people in order to distinguish them in status from other family members who do not participate in labour.” [112]

For those unfortunate enough to be classed as “landlord”, there were escape routes. In due course, they could secure reclassification. Their urban and non-agricultural properties were protected. In the 1930s, landlord merchant activities had been important – between a fifth and a third of landlords in some provinces were said to be engaged in trade as their main occupation. [113]

The one certain thing was that the peasants should not be permitted to settle these questions themselves. Reform must not be undertaken at all if there were insufficient numbers of trained cadres available to control it. “It is necessary that the party cadres for land reform are, both in quantity and quality, capable of grasping local reform work without letting the masses indulge in spontaneous activities” [114]; or again: “Spontaneous struggles by the peasants must be firmly prevented in agrarian reform ... Pending the arrival of an agrarian reform work team, no official action is permitted and only policy, publicity and preparatory work are permitted.” [115] To cope with the demand, the party had to be vastly expanded, and, wherever possible, backed by military or public security forces lest the bitterness of decades explode and engulf the party in a “peasant war”. William Hinton in his vivid account of Fanshen, explains why the poor peasants were not permitted to “make a revolution”: “The military potential, the productive capacity and the political genius of the peasants had to be cultivated, mobilized and organized, not simply ‘liberated’ ... Without the Communist party, the poor peasants could easily have carried the Revolution so far to the Left as to convert it into its opposite, a restoration from the Right. Without the Communist party, the poor peasants might well have divided everything right down to the last bowls and chopsticks on the farmsteads ... and in so doing would have destroyed the only productive base on which they had to build . . . such mistakes would only have broken the peasant population into factions, based on kinship, religious affiliation, personal influence and gang loyalty.” [116]


Implementing the law

The implementation of the 1950 law depended on the strength of the local party and the reaction of the landlords. Landlords and rich peasants produced the marketable surplus of foodstuffs that kept the cities, and the party, alive. Yet the surplus was produced on relatively small holdings – to seize all the landlords’ and rich peasants’ land would eliminate the surplus without giving the mass of cultivators land adequate to support all. To take over all the land would be to break the fundamental link between the cultivator and his patch of soil, to destroy the incentive to cultivate altogether, resulting in national calamity – even if the party could have mobilized sufficient manpower to carry out such a policy. Party tactics were concerned with preserving the surplus rather than meeting the interests of the poor and landless. For this reason, different measures had to be employed in different localities, spread over a period of time, as the party advanced, then retreated when the surplus was threatened, then advanced again, edging slowly towards the elimination of the landlords. In Kiangsu, for example, the East China Military Administration varied its tactics in different districts – from rent and interest reduction to confiscation – the tactics being determined by the need to sustain peasant incentives, especially in the sowing and harvesting seasons. [117] The Administration was also concerned not to disturb trade and industry, so the draught animals, tools and buildings used by landlords for handicraft or trading activities were excluded from confiscation. Nonetheless, there was landlord opposition, expressed in the slaughter of livestock, destruction of equipment, concealment of arms and assaults on the peasants; in some cases, work brigades were bribed to ignore such activities, and rents secretly continued to be collected. At such stages, the Administration was obliged either to intervene to put down landlord opposition, or to retreat. In south Kiangsu, the regulations were diluted to mollify the landlords – the land brought into cultivation since 1948 was excluded; landlords were compensated for work already done in preparing the land; the land allowance for “non-agricultural” activities of landlords, was made more generous, even though this reduced the stock available for redistribution. As one official document recorded: “This is against the interests of the peasants. However, in order to avoid confusion it is better to allow the landlords to keep their properties and enable them to invest in production.” [118]

The difficulties were severe, not merely because of the obligation to maintain tight party control. The amount of land available for redistribution was limited. Nationally, it was claimed that 700 million mou of land were redistributed to 300 million peasants, an average of two and one third mou per head, or a little over a third of an acre. [119] The variation between provinces was great – from ten mou in mountainous Shensi, to between one and three mou in south Shensi, Hunan, Hupeh and Honan, and between 0.7 and three mou in east China (Shantung, Kiangsu, Chekiang, Anwhei). [120] The average per head in south Kiangsu was about 1.15 mou, or about a sixth of an acre. Since the middle peasants also received land – on average, 1.1 mou, in comparison to the 1.2 mou received by the poor and landless – the effect was to strengthen the middle peasants without making available to the poor enough land to secure an adequate livelihood. The middle peasants (and, depending on the favour of the local cadres, some of the “rich” classified as “middle”) retained substantially more and better land, better supplies of water, fertilizer, draft animals and tools, giving them, on average, yields thirty per cent above the poor peasants. The average rich peasant holding in south Kiangsu remained on average twice the size of the average in the given locality, and its yield of grain, ninety-five per cent above that of middle peasant holdings. [121]

It was the party’s estimate of what was objectively possible, not the interests of the poor and landless, which remained the guiding imperative. The chairman of the East China Military administration, paraphrasing those countless statements in the party’s earlier history, expressed it thus: ”We must constantly keep in mind the interests of farm labourers, look after their livelihood and ... raise their political consciousness and cultural standard. On the other hand, we must patiently educate the farm labourers to prevent ‘leftist’ sentiment and deviation. No demand must go beyond the scope permitted by the present economic situation. If they exceed the scope, nobody will employ farm labourers.” [122] As so often, the exploited must support the exploiters if the continued basis of their exploitation is to be preserved!

The surprisingly conservative nature of the land reform perhaps partly explains the relative mildness of the opposition. in relationship to the size of the rural population, the numbers of “bandits” were well within the scope of the party’s armed power. But still, in some areas, collisions were bitter – in 1951, the Minister of Public Security complained, for example, of continued “banditry” in south-west Kiangsi, claiming that 7,210 cadres and others had been murdered, 26,600 houses burned down and 200,000 cattle stolen. When cadres attempted to collect grain procurements, they were sometimes violent [123], and this evoked strong resistance; according to Finanace Minister Po I-po; “more than 3,000 cadres sacrificed their lives in the cause of collecting public grain.” [124] Mao later claimed that 2.3 million people had been “killed, locked up and controlled” up to 1956. [125]

The victory of the Communist party in China had brought order and security to the squalor, violence and corruption of rural China under the Kuomintang. Supplies were at long last becoming available, and as the distribution network developed, the danger of local famine was brought increasingly under control. The depredations of the landlords had been ended, and elementary reforms in the village begun. Yet conditions remained harsh. With only marginally more land, rent and interest payments were now replaced by public procurements in the hands of arbitrary cadres, themselves harried by a remote national authority. A complex of taxes – on salt and foodstuffs, on slaughtering animals – increased the burdens. As a result of the civil war, in the early years there was a dearth of industrial goods and considerable price inflation. The local granaries and sources of credit, formerly under the tight but tangible control of the landlord, were now directed by an impersonal and distant State. Public grain distribution was less flexible than under the old order. In the case of credit, the State’s inability to meet and police local demands obliged it to permit a resumption of private lending at whatever rates of interest the market would bear. [126] The strong mixture of revolution had become very dilute by the time it reached the villages.


(ii) Co-operativization

Land reform was, as the Act stated, a method of “setting free the rural productive forces, developing agricultural production and so [paving] the way for New China’s industrialization”. Yet to accomplish this, the scarcity of land, equipment and animals had to be overcome or neutralized. For this, a massive programme of investment in the land would have been required. But the new government was devoted to expanding industry first, and there was little investment left for agriculture. Instead, the peasants were urged to pool their resources in cooperatives. At first, this meant no more than traditional forms of cooperation – Mutual Aid Teams (covering three to five households for teams created for particular seasons, and between six or seven up to twenty for year-round co-operation). From there, the party raised its sights to the “lower level” co-operatives, covering about 100 households, where the principle of pay was based, not on the amount of land contributed, but on the labour provided in the year. Co-operatives went some way to centralize activities and render more effective State supervision and access to the agricultural goods (provided the State assumed monopoly control of agricultural trading which it did from 1953). By the end of 1952, the government claimed that forty per cent of the farm population worked in Mutual Aid Teams, and the cadres moved on (although at different speeds in different localities) to promoting “producer co-operatives”.

In the main, these changes still did not go beyond the traditional forms of co-operation. The producer co-operatives came closest to changing the basic structure, and evoked much opposition (which the party attributed to the rich peasants being unwilling to pool their resources). In 1953, the government retreated in order that procurements should not suffer; about a third of the co-operatives by then established were dissolved. In the autumn, a further attempt was made. However, opposition again led to a slackening of the pace in the spring of 1955. It was then that Mao accelerated the whole process. The target was to be 100 per cent “high-level” co-operativization by 1960. The cadres were to brook no resistance; all opposition was now denounced as “Rightist”; furthermore, “semi-socialist” co-operatives were superseded by the aim of full collectivization. By March 1956, the government claimed eighty-five per cent of rural households worked in “semi-socialist” co-operatives, and by the end of the year ninety-six per cent. Agriculture no longer waited on industrialization to achieve “socialization”; its organization was being transformed in advance.

There were other forces at work on the countryside. The ink was barely dry on the new land deeds before the fluctuation in the agricultural economy and the high demand for foodstuffs from the cities as a result of the drive to industrialization began to drive the poor marginal cultivators out of production, and concentrate an increasing share of land, equipment and animals in the hands of the new, euphemistically styled “middle peasants”. Each rural downturn as well as the need to make special expenditures forced the marginal cultivator to borrow, to mortgage his land, animals and equipment, and usually to do so when interest rates were high and agricultural selling prices low. A report from five villages in a former “old Liberated Area” in Shansi concluded that: “Since land reform, ninety-six peasant families in the five villages have sold a total of 284.11 mou of land to pay for wedding and funeral expenses, and the like. Ninety-nine peasant families bought land. Private ownership of land, natural calamities, and other inevitable misfortunes have caused a small portion of the peasantry to lose labour and land and become once more impoverished. On the other hand, another small portion of the peasantry has risen in status. This is the reason for emergent rural class distinctions.” [127] In north China, the chairman of the Administrative Committee complained that “a considerable number of peasants sold their land and became impoverished shortly after land reform.” [128]

The cadres were no protection against the resurgence of rural capitalism. Many were already rich peasants on joining the party, or used their power and influence to become so. The party centre might forbid the rural cadres to hire labour, rent out land or lend money, but to no avail. In 1952, one of the party leaders warned: “If no active steps are taken ... to lead the peasant towards the path of co-operative economy rather than to the rich peasant economy, then rural village government is sure to deteriorate into a rich peasant régime. If the Communist party members all hire labour and give loans at usurious rates, then the party will become a rich peasant party.” [129] Three years later, Mao himself complained that “new rich peasants spring up everywhere”, while “many poor peasants still live in poverty for lack of sufficient means of production, with some in debt and others selling or renting land”. [130] It was not surprising that there was a flight of peasants to the cities.

The “new rich” peasants produced the marketable surplus, and strongly resisted the increase in controls as the State strove to secure a stable grain supply for industrialization. Their response was to lower production or divert an increasing share of it from the fixed price State procurements to the free or black market. The floods of 1954-5 illustrated the problem. Output declined as procurements, in the interest of the industrial plan, increased. One leading party member estimated procurements at fifty-two million tons (or thirty per cent of the harvest), a considerable increase on the twenty-five to thirty million tons taken in rent by the landlords. [131] The peasants hoarded their grain, as Mao acknowledged. They followed the “dead cattle” policy of slaughtering their livestock, both to save grain used as fodder and to prevent the co-operatives acquiring them. Between July 1954 and July 1955, the national stock of pigs fell from 102 million to eighty-eight million, and by July 1958 (when purchase prices were raised) to eighty-four million. [132] Mao blamed the landlords and rich peasants, not co-operativization and State procurements. In Kiangsi, he said, the people who complained were cadres, a third of whom were really “well-to-do peasants, or formerly poor and lower middle peasants who had become well-to-do peasants”. [133]

The disturbances led to no slackening in the pace of accumulation, but Mao henceforth stressed the need to watch peasant welfare. The peasants must be looked after, then “the mouth of the bourgeoisie will have been stopped up”. “Like us, the peasants have to eat and be clothed. They are paying for many things with coupons alone. This will not do. They will still conceal their grain and not sell it.” [134] In the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward, he put it more cynically: “tackling production without tackling living would definitely result in tens of thousands of dropsy cases.” [135] In the short term, procurement prices were raised, more effort devoted to increasing rural employment, and the “three fixed” policies proclaimed (fixed production, purchase and sale of grain), setting the total volume of procured grain at 43.25 million tons.

None of this, however, did much to alleviate the burden on the peasants. Nineteen fifty-six saw another tide of complaints against food shortages, the privileged position of the cities, the petty tyranny of the cadres and the depredations involved in co-operativization. The government rejected the charges, claiming that in 1956 the average consumption per person was of the value of RMB 180 for workers and RMB 81 for peasants, a doubling of the prewar average. Yet the eloquent language of the stomach confounded the statistics. The government was obliged, because of the shortages, to cut the grain and cloth ration. It also relaxed some of the constraints on private rural markets and the drive to form co-operatives; some 100,00 peasant households are said to have left Kwantung’s co-operatives as a result. The prices paid for animals and equipment taken over by the co-operatives were also increased. Furthermore, the size of the co-operatives was reduced, making the village production team or brigade the effective level. The One Hundred Flowers movement – and a rectification campaign against “commandism” by the cadres – were tokens of the government’s goodwill.


(iii) After the Great Leap Forward

The pessimism of the early 1960s prompted a reassessment of the situation. The rural masses now became, not an advantage because they were “poor and blank” and could be directed to any end the leadership chose, but “a big problem”: “The population of the rural areas is a big problem, if we are to do away with an excess of population. To solve this, we must develop production rapidly ... Year in and year out, they labour without getting enough to eat.” [136] Peasant attitudes could be changed only slowly and after industrialization: “When the system of ownership by the basic commune has been put into effect, private property has been nationalized; new cities and big industries dot the whole country, communes and transport have been modernized, and economic conditions have been completely changed, the world outlook of the peasants will change little by little until the process is complete.” [137]

The “rich peasant economy” reappeared. But there was no Great Leap to reverse the restoration. The party henceforth was more cautious and conservative, lest it inflict upon itself a repetition of the “three hard years”. By comparison with the Great Leap Forward, the Socialist Education Movement was small in its impact on the rural population. Nor did the Cultural Revolution have any dramatic effect. The veto on worker and peasant participation could not be upheld in the cities in the heady days of 1966 and 1967, but in the countryside, the mass of the peasantry could be excluded. A number of cultivators took the opportunity to go to the cities with their children; and some of the Big Character posters listed their grievances – high interest rates on loans, poor selling prices, compulsory procurements, low wages (ten to twenty yuan per month) and poor supplies of meat. Some villages held meetings, and the local capitalist roaders received a drubbing. But in general, the mass of the rural population remained onlookers, the recipients of reforms (such as improved rural medical services) rather than the initiators.


(iv) After the Cultural Revolution

The short swing to the “Right” from 1969 produced an affirmation that private agriculture, the right to raise livestock and practise “sideline” activities (handicrafts, trade, peddling) were inviolable rights of the rural population. Indeed, the first two were explicitly dissociated from any “capitalist road”, and praised for damping down inflation and the black market. [138] However, in the subsequent swing “Left” there were complaints that private agriculture and other activities were becoming excessive, that the extension of private rural markets was going too far, that too much rural labour was involved in private trade and commodity speculation, and that party cadres were involved in all these activities and were guilty of secret contracting of labour. [139]

However, when some cadres drew the logical conclusion and proposed to abolish private plots and markets, they were reminded that such activities were a “supplementary part of the socialist economy”, and that abolition “would dampen the masses’ enthusiasm for socialism and undermine the development of the forces of production”. [140] It was the same as the problem of wage differentials. Maintaining the “masses’ enthusiasm for socialism” required practices which the party said led directly to the contradiction of socialism!

How important were these activities? Rural “sidelines” were supposedly marginal to the village economy, yet some reports suggest this was not always the case. In one instance, the rural cadres express unease at the profitability of their enterprise: “the production and marketing of our transformer switches are not included in the State plan. We have travelled far to look for and sign marketing contracts; we have produced the raw materials for transformer switches ourselves. We have also processed some products for others. This, of course, has an impact on the State plan. We should consider whether such a way of sideline production is socialist or capitalist.” [141]

Most of the practices condemned benefited only the richer teams, brigades and households. For the poor, and especially those in persistent deficit (that is, their consumption was regularly above their income), matters were not improved in either the “Right” or “Left” phase. In late 1975, letters of appeal for loans from poor villages in Kwantung reached relatives in Hong Kong, alleging that they were subject to a drive by the rural cadres to foreclose on debts. One letter complained that: “Those who are unable to do so [meet their debts] must sell their bicycles, watches, sewing machines, valuable household items and even their piglets to pay off their debts. Under the leadership of the cadres, this movement is a vigorous one and nobody dares to oppose it.” [142]

For the régime, the peasants were the scapegoats of China. In the years after the Cultural Revolution the press regularly cited Mao in support of the proposition that the peasants were to blame for the country’s difficulties. In particular, they repeated a 1963 quotation: “as small owners, they are individualistic and, what is more important, limited by their working conditions and methods and their use of outdated means of production; they are scattered, narrow-minded and ill-informed.” [143]

Such abuse affected rural life very little. The condition of the average household was hard, despite the improvements over the years. Although, from time to time, the modest “sideline” activities of the majority, so important for rural incomes, might come under attack because they competed with the State’s demand for land, labour and fertilizers, it does not seem to have affected the rural areas greatly. [144] The main problems remained – keeping up production, securing adequate supplies of inputs, coping with the still recurrent floods and droughts, absorbing and feeding urban immigrants. For the majority, living in poor areas, particularly barren upland communes, “self-reliance” continued to mean both austerity and occasional disaster.

The drive to work was unremitting. For example, an article in the People’s Daily in 1975 stressed the need for family planning so that women are not “bogged down by their children and household chores”. [145] With family planning, “the attendance rate of the women labour force has been raised from the sixty per cent in the past to ninety-three per cent.” What kind of work did the women do when relieved of “household chores”? In Nanking county: “Within the army of more than 70,000 diggers of ditches, there were more than 60,000 women. Fearing neither hardships nor fatigue, they worked arduously for fifty days together with men, and had shifted 3,670,000 cubic metres of earth and completed the task of building 140 li of ditches ten days ahead of schedule.”


(v) Retrospect

What was the effect of the transformation of China’s land? For the average peasant, the ending of the perpetual wars, of gangsterism and banditry, of epidemic, and the worst severities of flood and sporadic famine, were tangible enough benefits. His children might now hope to secure an education, and his family some degree of medical care. The landlord had gone. The cultivator’s crop received a stable return and, with time, he could afford to make improvements to raise output. Industry made available other comforts to rural existence. Yet, important as these improvements were, they did not demonstrate that the Chinese Communist party was the party of the Chinese peasantry.

It seems reasonably clear from the record of the Communist party during the years of the People’s Republic that its leadership felt no particular commitment to the peasantry, no obligation to “represent” it as a class. On the contrary, the government made sporadic efforts to eliminate the peasantry, to convert it into a tightly administered labour force, tied to the land more closely than ever before. The poverty of China, its intensive agriculture, the weakness of the administrative structure made it impossible to persist in this course for very long. The peasants refused to relinquish the products of the soil. Then State policy went into reverse, permitting the restoration of the “rich peasant economy”. When that threatened the rural authority, the State swung back towards stricter administration, and so on, an endless series of zigzags to escape from the imperatives of backwardness and build a powerful national economy.

The drive to increase rural output – which did not rule out a slow and modest improvement in rural living standards – did not flow from any “ideological preference”. On the contrary, the ideological formulations flowed from the efforts to sustain capital accumulation in peculiarly obdurate circumstances. For the majority there was little “emancipation” in this. The “emancipation” was, as Mao put it in the early years of the People’s Republic, of the “productive forces”.

It would appear, then, that the Communist party of China did not embody the class interests of either the working class or the peasantry. Its general political direction appears fully consistent throughout the period from the 1930s to the present, even if its immediate tactical responses vary. That direction of course represented interests that, it could be claimed, all classes shared – national unity, order, stability and the possibility of improving living standards – but no class interests specific to the exploited. On the other hand, the party did not represent the other two major classes – capitalists and landlords. Although it was indulgent towards landlord interests in the 1940s and capitalist interests in the l940s. and 1950s, it ultimately liquidated both as classes. It did so for material reasons, rather than ideological preferences. The landlords represented Kuomintang and warlord power on the land and were therefore a threat to the party in the rural areas (but not in the cities) and would be an obstacle to centralizing authority over the rural population; the capitalists encroached upon the public sector and jeopardized State control of the urban labour force, thus affecting the party’s main priority, accumulation, the basis for building a powerful national State.

On the argument so far, it would seem that Marx, Lenin and the Marxists generally were wrong in the estimate that a political party has automatically an organic relationship with one or another major class. Here was a party apparently without a class basis. However, before we take up this theme, we need to look at another argument. A number of claims have been made about the People’s Republic – that in the 1950s, by its reorganization of Chinese society, it was able to conquer the problem of economic backwardness with qualitatively more success than other countries; that because of the transformation, the party created a society moving steadily towards complete equality and fundamental democracy. If all three contentions are correct, it becomes clear that the Marxists were wrong in another way – in their estimation that only the industrial working class could achieve these purposes in the modern world.



105. Lenin, The agrarian question in Russia, CW (4th Russian) 15, pp.57-8, cited Gluckstein, op. cit., p.83

106. Provisional Government, statement, 19 March 1917, cited Cliff, Lenin, op. cit., II, p.208

107. Ibid., 21 April 1917, cited ibid., p.209

108. CW9, p.315

109. CW25, p.227

110. The agrarian reform law of the PRC, Peking 1951, pp.2-4

111. On the difficulties and anomalies, cf. Gluckstein, op.cit., pp.88-90

112. Agrarian reform law, op. cit., p.22

113. Chen Han-seng estimates 22% of large landlords of south Kiangsu were mainly engaged in trade in 1930 – The present agrarian problem in China, Shanghai, 1933, p.19; J.L. Buck estimates 31% of Szechuan landlords were also merchants – An agricultural survey of Szechuan province, (mimeo), Chungking, 1943, p.13, cited Gluckstein, p.89

114. Hsin Kuan Ch’a, Peking, 10 December 1950, CB 63

115. General Report, Peking Municipal People’s Government on Agrarian Reform in the Peking Suburban Areas, 21 November 1950, CB 72

116. Fanshen, A document of revolution in a Chinese village, New York, 1966, pp.605-6

117. See Robert Ash’s reconstruction of events and documentation, Economic aspects of land reform in Kiangsu, 1949-52, Pts.I & II, CQ 66 and 67, June and September 1976

118. Methods of implementing land reform in south Kiangsu, People’s Administration of Southern Kiangsu, 28 November 1950, Ash, ibid., I, p.289

119. New China’s Economic Achievements, 1949-1952, Peking, 1952, p.194

120. From I-nien-lai t’u kai-ko yün-tung ti ch’eng-chu, Hsinhua JP, 2 July 1951, p.3, and Hsinhua JP, 1 December 1951, p.2, cited Ash, op. cit., II, pp.521-2

121. Su-nan JP, Wusih, 1 January 1952, Ash, ibid., II, p.531

122. Shanghai, 14 July 1950, CB 10,29 September 1950

123. “The practices of indiscriminate beating, scolding, punishment, threats, arrests, etc., are frequently employed in promoting the work of collection” – Secretary, North East Bureau, 20 May 1951, Nang Fang JP, 9 June 1952, CB 158

124. New China’s Economic Achievements, op. cit., p.90

125. April 1956, Miscellany I, p.34; and 8 December 1956, ibid., p.41

126. GAC, Directive on the issuance of farm credit, 7 July 1953, NCNA Peking, 1 Sept. 1953, SCMP 645

127. Report on an investigation of conditions in five villages in an old Liberated Area in Shansi province, JMJP, II November 1951, CB 143

128. Liu Lan-t’ao, JMJP, 14 March 1953, SCMP 535

129. Kao K’ang, Overcome the corrosion of bourgeois ideology: oppose the rightist trend in the Party, JMJP, 24 January 1952, CB 163, 5 March 1952

130. On agricultural co-operation, op. cit., pp.18-19

131. Chen Yun, NCNA Peking, 21 June 1955; volume of rent formerly paid, in NCNA, 18 September 1952; cf. also Chen Han-seng, China Reconstructs, January-February 1953

132. Chen Yun, NCNA Peking, 10 March 1957; cf. also: “cattle slaughtered this year [1955] has shown an increase of more than seventy per cent compared with same period last year, and calves constitute a very large portion of the animals slaughtered” – Ta KungPao, Tientsin, 21 December 1955, SCMP 1200

133. 8th Party Congress, 17 May 1958, in Miscellany I, p.102, and II, p.237

134. Sixth Plenum, September 1955, Miscellany I, p.15

135. Feb 1959, in Miscellany I, p.157

136. 1959, in Miscellany II, p.313

137. Ibid., p.253

138. JMJP, 22 October 1971

139. Radio broadcasts, Hupeh 11, 24 February and 2 March 1975, Kansu, 16 February 1975, Kiangsu, 16 February 1975, in Current Scene XIII, 3-4, March-April 1975

140. Secretary of a County Party Committee, cited Changchun radio (Kirin), 28 July 1975, SWB 4973/BII/8

141. Liu Cheng-sung, of Niulantaotzu production brigade, Wuchiang County, Hopei, Shihchiachuang radio, Hopei, 18 August 1975, SWB 4989/BII/10, 23 August 1975

142. Ming Pau, 23 December 1975, in Translations of PRC 299, JPRS 63125, 21 January 1976, pp.9-10

143. 13 December 1963, in Mao Papers, p.88; cf. also Miscellany II, p.252

144. A point made by Kuang-ming JP, 17 April 1975, SCMP 5845, 5 May 1975; cf. also Shih Ta, JMJP, 3 April 1975, SCM? 5844, 2 May 1975, and Kuang-ming JP, 19 May 1975, SCMP 75-23, 2-6 January 1976

145. JMJP, 14 April 1975, SCMP 5841, 29 April 1975


Last updated on 26.7.2001