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The Chinese attempt to build a socialist society (notes) 
(by Róbinson Rojas Sandford) (1997)

On October 1st 1949 when Mao Tsetung announced the birth of People's
Republic of China, the country was an agrarian society, with an
industrial sector almost inexistent, after 22 years of civil war
and eleven years of Japanese occupation (1933-1945) which was one of
the most barbaric acts of contemporary imperialism comparable only to
German occupation of Europe (1939-1945), and United States occupation of
South Vietnam (1964-1975).

The new people's republic, led by the Chinese communist party was
facing a menacing international environment:
    US military threat based on Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India
    French military threat from Indochina (what was going to be the
    Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the puppet regime in South

Therefore, needs:
1) to face the external military menace
2) to rebuild the Chinese economy mainly on self-reliant basis, because
   the USSR was reluctant to commit itself in China -actually, the
   soviet economic and military support of China lasted only 6 years,
   from 1953 to 1960, year in which USSR and the People's Republic of
   China became ideological enemies, and, at times, military enemies;
3) to develop heavy industry as fast as possible, especially to
   support the defense of the country;
4) to develop light industry in order to gain the support of the
   population, and, most importantly,
5) to increase rural production on to accounts: food (Chinese people
   obtains 80-90% of its protein needs from grain -rice), and industrial

All the above had to be developed from
                              1) very low level of technology
                              2) very small ratio cultivated land
                                 area/population (less than 0.4
                                 hectare per labourer)

So, before improving technology, the increased output had to be
achieved mainly through new organization of labour rather than
mechanization (Of course, mechanization at this stage would have
produced an added social problem: unemployment in the rural areas)

The above shaped the rationale behind the economic policies, strategies
for industrialisation and strategies for rural production in China.

From 1950 to 1958, after reorganizing labour and ownership of land
in the rural areas with the land reform and cooperativization, the
Chinese communist party created two types of units of production that
were going to be the foundation of their quest for building

1) in the industrial sector, what was conceptualized as "small and
   complete, large and complete", meaning that each enterprise,
   regardless of size, would produce all parts on-site, so that
   production could be carried on independently (this was the 
   military side of the concept), and the political side was that
   "enterprise and society are closely knit", that enterprises are
   to serve society. Because of that, when a large enterprise was
   established, it had to form subsidiaries to provide
                             schools -from primary level to
                                      university level;
                             stores, and
   The ideological tenet for the above was that units of production
are social tools to give individuals a secure environment in which
to work and develop as human beings -health, education, shelter, etc.
At the same time, this "social units of production" were going to
provide employment to every able citizen. In a nutshell, the new
units of production ( in the industrialized countries' media and
academy stupidly described as "state-owned enterprises" as if they
were the same than in a mixed capitalist economy) were a political
solution to an economic problem.

2) in the rural sector, by 1958 (December) the Chinese revolution
   create the rural version of the "small but complete, large but
   complete" social units of production.
   People's communes were an organization of labour that facilitated:
        a) utilization of labour-intensive undertakings to tackle the
           problems of rural infrastructure: irrigation works,
           communications systems (roads, etc), reclamation of unused
           land, etc;
        b) the possibility of a smooth passing from collective
           (cooperative) ownership of land to socialist ownership of land
        c) the avoidance of creating large amounts of redundant labour
           in the countryside (through modernization in the methods
           of cultivation and organization of labour)

TO AN ECONOMIC PROBLEM (this, of course, was never understood by many
scholars in capitalist societies)

By and large, then, the Chinese socialist state had a central
government in charge of planning economic and political targets and
assisting with financial and technological support, and rural and
urban units of production in charge also of the welfare of the
population, through financing and managing education, health prevention
and care, housing, and regional law and order.

The backbone of this state was the Chinese communist party, which
centralized power at the top (the less than 20 members of the political
bureau of the central committee), and reached down to the level of
production team in the people's communes, workshop in factories
and sections in offices, and, of course, especially the rank and
file of the People's Liberation Army.

The Central Committe resolution about the people's communes, published
on the 10th December 1958, began with the following words:
..."above the broad horizon of East Asia, fresh as the early morning
sun, a new type of social organization has risen..."

It was a combination of industrial, agricultural, commercial,
educational, administrative, political and military responsibilities,


at the basic level: the production team -composed of 20 to 25 households
                    who lived close to each other (generally forming
                    a village)
                    the production brigade - about a dozen or so
                                             production teams
                    the people's commune -around a dozen or so
                                             production brigades
on overage, around 2,500-3,000 households per commune -around 50,000
people's communes in all.
In accordance with "Materials on the Agriculture Economy", published in
1983 by the Planning Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, we have
the following trend:
                      AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLDS:
                  Commune          Brigade         Production Team
1962               1,793             191               24
1965               1,810             209               25
1970               2,948             236               33
1975               3,126             243               34
1978               3,287             251               36
The data show a clear tendency to further collectivization, which was
one of the primary targets of the revolutionary groups within the 
Central Committee, which was undergoing a process of ideological 
corruption that was attempted toreverse by the cultural revolution.

distribution of ownership

production team: owned the land, livestock, machinery, funds, products,
                 material resources and manpower;
production brigade: owned tracts of public lands such as woods, roads,
                    etc.; and big projects on irrigation, energy,
                    alongside rural industrial enterprises;
people's commune: the same as production, but on a larger scale

(It was assumed that over time ownership will move upwards to the level
of brigade and then to the level of commune, in a process leading to


at the top: commune's management committee, whose membership was civil
servants and people designated by the production teams. They were paid
by the state;
the commune level participated in production managing rural industrial
enterprises, and organizing the collective undertakings such as building
roads and irrigation works;

second level: production brigade committees
             -their members were paid in relation to production
             -productive activities were of the same type that the
              ones performed by the commune but at a smaller scale;

bottom level: production team  management committees
             -they decided what to grow where (as long as they fulfill
              the quotas asked by the state)
             -they decided how to use profits and how to distribute
             -their relation to the state was related to fulfil the
              quotas of the state plan (mainly grain and industrial
             -they decided, also, how land was going to be allocated

distribution of land

      Around 7% of the fertile land was allocated as "private plots".
This private plot was allotted to each commune member (household) for
their own use on permanent basis. In this private plot the family could
grow whatever they liked, and the totality of its product was "household
property" (it was assumed that the private plots were going to be
collectivize little by little over time, but it didn't happen like

Around 88% of the arable land was collectively owned by the members of
the production teams, or as members of the production brigade and/or

distribution of rural labour force

 1.6% were wage earners in the state farms, which accounted for 5% of
     the arable land, and didn't belong to the people's commune system
 2.3% were landless individual workers making a living as peddlers, etc.,
96.1% were people's commune members, who owned collectively around 93%
      of their land, and individually (household-family) 7% of it.

Nevertheless, in this sector we must make the distinction between
farmers (peasants) and workers (waged labour), because people's communes
managed a significative rural industrial sector...

almost 10% of them worked in rural industrial enterprises, and,
therefore, they were wage earners having the status of landless rural

these rural industrial enterprises broke down as follows:
        at the level of production team: 40%
        at the levels of brigade and
                                commune: 60%

Therefore, from the point of view of relation to the land, in China,
up to 1978, we had that
-around 86% of the rural population were small farmers (private plots),
 at a near subsistence level, undertaking cooperative farming
(collective land)
-the rest, 14% were landless peasants with the status of wage earners
 and self-employed

economic sectors in China up to 1978

from the above, we can say that up to 1978 China was undertaking the
building of socialism with the following socio-economic features:
                                TOTAL LABOUR FORCE
small farmers                        65%  -small producers ideology
rural-self employed                   2%  -small producers ideology
urban-self employed                   3%  -small producers ideology

civil servants                        9%  -authoritarian ideology

rural wage earners                  10%  -potential proletarian ideology
urban wage earners                  11%  -potential proletarian ideology

(see Robinson Rojas: Class Stratification in the Chinese Countryside
     Robinson Rojas: Class Analysis in Socialist China )

Then, where could we pinpoint the driving ideological force for building
socialism in China from 1949 to 1978? Of course, within the 21% of
wage earners, and, politically, the Chinese communist party, whose
members were leading the construction of socialism through managing
the rural, industrial, administrative and military sectors.

As economic growth, the system was working well, and, as development
of social welfare, was also working very well, giving to its citizens
what they call the "iron bowl": employment, health service, education
and housing as basic rights for the Chinese citizens.

                         GDP.-ANNUAL GROWTH.-CONSTANT PRICES
                  France            4.95
                  Germany, West     5.50
                  Japan             7.73
                  United Kingdom    2.70
                  United States     3.42
                  Brazil            6.83
                  South Korea       6.86
                  USSR              6.17
                  China             6.89
Source: World Bank and International Monetary Fund statistics,
        various years.

But, also, something else was happening, the building of what is
known as "bureaucratic socialism", which is the appearance, within
the communist party and within the high echelons of civil service of
a new ruling elite, transforming the process of building socialism
in a process of creating yet another social stratified society in
which the economic and political managers became the exploitative
class. ( see R. Rojas, "La guardia roja conquista China", 1968, and
             R. Rojas, "China: una revolucion en agonia", 1978)

Changes in the social composition of the membership of the Chinese
communist party illustrate the process:
                      year 1956          year 1973
workers                  14.0%              14.8%
civil servants           16.9%              33.6%
peasants                 69.1%              56.1%
                        -------            -------
                        100.0%             100.0%

It was apparent that the bureaucracy was over represented in the party
-the bracket "civil servants" includes members of the army, which adds
to the idea that an "authoritarian bias" was working strongly within
the high ranks of the communist party.

diverse factors at work in the making of a bureaucratic socialist
society in China:

1) the role played by the former ruling classes (large landowners,
intelligentsia, and business classes). They were not exterminated,
just expropriated from their capital and land. And the majority of
its members were incorporated to the state bureaucracy, because they
were in the first stage of the revolution the only Chinese citizens
with know-how;

2) the role played by a very tight state structure, born from applying
the same "secretive tactics" that the communist party was using to fight
during the civil war. That is: secrecy, vertical authority concentrated
in 20-50 members at the top in the Central Committee. Monopoly of the
political power in the hands of individuals not a social class...but
having as their social support a social group with a common status:
members of the communist party and/or bureaucracy (civil and military);

3) the role played by external pressures by the two superpowers global
system: United States and Soviet Union. This added to the acceptance/
justification of evolving a strong bureaucratic state...on permanent
state of alert against external menaces;

4) inequalities in distribution of income, which feeds a tendency to
improve individual conditions of living through the alliance/complicity
with the bureaucracy (civil/military). A sort of patron-client

The above produced, in the early 1960s, a reaction/uprising of some
proletarian sectors in the Communist party and in units of production
and teaching all over China. They attempted to win back the socialist
revolution from the new ruling class in China: the civil-military
bureaucracy. This new ruling class was led mainly by Liu Shaochi,
Chou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

That uprising was known as the "cultural revolution":
   its main aim was to dismantle the bureaucratic power within the
   communist party, and to replace both the organization of the party
   and civil society as a whole, with new type of organization, broadly
   based on the structure of the people's communes, but underpinned in
   a new class alliance:
      working class (both rural and urban) -wage earners
      poor peasants (both landed and landless) -small farmers
      students -as the successors of the socialist revolution

    (Adopted on 8 August 1966, by the CC of the CCP)
    by Chang Chun-chiao
    by Yao Wen-yuan

This revolution against the civil-military bureaucracy started in 1965
and was defeated in the period 1968-1970, and dismantled, slowly but
surely in the period 1970-1976. The final blow was the coup d'etat
staged by Deng Xiaoping and other leaders of the new ruling class in
october 1976. By 1978, the whole communist party was transformed in
a political party serving the dictatorship of the new ruling class and
the socialist revolution was dismantled, dismissing, in the first
place its most important foundation: the people's commune, 
unleashing capitalist relations of production in the rural and urban
areas, in the second place; and slowly transforming the social units
of production in the urban areas, in just state-owned capitalist
units of production leading to a process of privatization started in
( see R. Rojas Sandford:
  The other side of China's miracle: unemployment and inequality
and R. Rojas, Notes on China's painful path to capitalism)