Maoist economics

Chris, London 100423.2040 at compuserve.com
Wed Apr 17 00:05:36 MDT 1996


Gina has thrown down a challenge about the success of the economics
of China and the Cultural Revolution in particular, the challenge
which Pat of MIM did not accept.

The great majority of subscribers to this l'st would probably accept
some major successes were achieved by the Chinese revolution.
Works by William Hinton and Edgar Snow give details of the revolutionary
struggle including the process by which peasants were led to
organise their lives and join the forces of the revolution.

Major achievements of socialist cooperation were scored in the
early decades after the revolution, as can so often happen, with
a) collective enthusiasm, b) by contrast in filling major gaps in
the economy of the old society.

The challenge for socialism has come however when enthusiasm,
socialist ideals and central planning are no longer enough to
go on achieving results. Mao's answer was ideological: to stir
young people not into wanting designer jeans but into the
revolutionary fervour that their parents experienced.

The economics in some respects might look impressive, but fundamentally
they were not good enough.

Let me accept Gina's challenge on one of her own choices of territory:
Red Flag Canal.
Quotes from "Red Flag Canal" by Lin Min, Foreign Languages Press,
Peking 1974.

	"Cut through the Taihang Mountains,
	Lead in the waters of the Changho,
	With aspirations high,
	The Linhsien people rearrange nature."

'Rearrange the mountains and rivers of Linhsien!' - this was
the call to battle issued by the Linhsien County Committee
of the Chinese Communist Party. It fired the hearts of the
local people. Bravely and vigorously, they hastened to join
the struggle to transform the land. The Red Flag Canal is the
first victory in their march to conquer nature."

The work was done in a poor county of a poor province, Honan,
mountainous and short of water, between 1960 and 1969, 1,500
km of waterway, including 134 tunnels and 150 aqueducts.

Towards the very end of the booklet there is a human story of the
endeavours of Tumen brigade where
everything was bone dry, with neither an underground well or a spring,
and on top of a hill so the water of the canal could not reach them.

The local party committee decided "to overcome previous setbacks
and bring the masses' initiative into full play".

"At night, when people in other villages had long gone to bed,
Tumen still rang with a noisy clamour; its inhabitants were sinking
wells for family use.

The well-digging job was an arduous one, especially for the hundred
and more families living on the eastern side of the hill, where
the houses were bulit on layers of hard rock. ... Wang Tao-yu,
a veteran Party member and activist during the land reform, was the first
to take up hammer and drill rod. The rock was hard as iron, and each
hammer blow left only a white mark on it. After a few nights of hefty
pounding, Wang's arms became swollen. His wife was worried and
beseeched him to give it up. 'No' he answered. 'A Communist
never yields to difficulties!' So in the daytime, he continued
to dig ponds with the other team members, and in the evening, he was
busy sinking a well in his own courtyard.

When the opening was man-deep he began using small amounts of
explosive to help with the excavation. In two years he had succeeded
in sinking a well 10 metres deep and 4 metres in diameter at the mouth,
able to hold over 100 tons of water. Following Wang's example,
every other family on the hill began digging its own well.
The sound of blasting echoed constantly, like firecrackers
at the New Year."

So after several years there were 750 wells and 7 ponds on the
hill of rock. This was not enough for full irrigation but
was enough for watering young plants in times of drought.

All told "every year, thousands of people from all parts of China
visit the canal and learn from the revolutionary spirit which
inspired its construction."

Pretty impressive.

Is it nitpicking to note the way the story takes the exemplary
spirit of communists, alleges this is idealistically to assume
that all difficulties can be overcome, and then to allege that
"every family" will take up the same spirit as automatically
as a row of happy firecrackers.

But the biggest objection is more general. It is true as Gina says
that China made great advances in feeding its population
self-reliantly. But by the time of the end of the Cultural Revolution
agricultural productivity was about 5% of that in the USA per person.

And the heroism of Red Flag Canal shows why.

Gina is right that money is ultimately a social relationship, and
that goes for capital too (though a socialist society will need
to garner its surplus too and reinvest it with care if not for profit).

But what Gina forgets is the tremendous revolutionizing role of capital
in constantly reducing the amount of socially necessary labour time
for producing use values. Cultural Revolution economics did the reverse.

And this is the explanation of why with the switch to capitalist style
market relations China has had a phenomenal growth for over 15 years.

As in so many other industrial revolutions, labour has been pouring off
the land to new industry. Migration into Canton and especially the area
around Hong Kong is of the order of 1/4 million a year, if I recall
correctly.

This tremendous increase in the amount of socially available labour power
for competitive commodity production is fuelling the capitalist revolution
in China.

It may be wrong, but socialism was not competitive enough, for reasons
that Red Flag Canal explains.

I would be interested in the comments of Gina and others.

Chris B, London.


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