(CHINA from MAO to DENG – continued)
Discovering how bad things were, the Communist Party struggled to put things right. China's defense minister, Marshal Peng Dehuai, reported to Mao what the actual conditions in the countryside were, and Mao responded defensively. Peng was a comrade from the days of the Long March and a general in the civil war. As defense minister he had been opposed to Mao's wish to do away with educated experts and his approach to developing the economy. Peng had realized that a modern army needed technical people and heavy industry to develop advanced weaponry. Mao's response to his old comrade was to dismiss him from his position as defense minister, and in Peng's place Mao chose a devoted follower, another old comrade, Lin Biao. As defense minister leader of the People's Liberation Army, Lin Biao began promoting Mao. He put together a little red book of quotations from Chairman Mao, for distribution within the army.
Facing criticism from some others in the Party, Mao stood firm in his beliefs. Debate within the Party was bitter, and those supporting Mao had the upper hand. Mao's prestige was enough for him to maintain Party leadership, driving those who disagreed with Mao to hiding their disagreement and feigning unity with Party opinion. What had been open and honest debates within the Party had come to an end.
Despite Mao maintaining his position within the Party, most high-ranking Party officials swung toward favoring a pragmatic retreat from Mao's Great Leap Forward – not unlike Lenin's retreat from "war-communism" to his New Economic Policy. China's retreat was from collective economics to individuals seeking personal gain. The retreat was meager compared to Lenin's, meager enough that Mao went along with it, but it upset him, Mao seeing the retreat in part at least as a loss of will. And in 1963, at the age of seventy, an unhappy Mao diminished his participation in Party matters, leaving the Party to more pragmatic men.
Industry, large and small, was to remain state owned, but authority was given to trained managers over Maoist ideologues. Skilled technicians were promoted, and material incentives were created in the place of moralistic slogans. Control over commerce was returned to an economics ministry. The government closed thousands of small and inefficient factories. The industrial work force was cut in half, and many were sent back to the countryside, where, it was hoped, they could find gainful employment.
In the countryside, more freedom was given to the People's Communes to set their own production quotas. Attempts were made to mend the People's Communes. Communist Party pragmatists found that many former commune leaders had abused their positions of power, and the Party moved to replace former commune leaders with trained Communist Party members. And to reinforce the Party's authority in the countryside, these new commune managers were given support by units of the People's Liberation Army.
A part of the Party's increase in control and discipline was its demand for accurate statistics from the communes. The People's Communes were reduced in size. Machinery that had been distributed to the communes, such as tractors, was returned to a soviet-style equipment rental center.
The Party abolished the commune school system, seeing these schools as failures and that people were teaching subjects in which they had no training. Many peasants had already dismissed them as failures, wishing to have their children educated instead in the old-fashioned schools.
But attempts were made to re-establish mess halls and to abolish private plots. And here too Mao's masses abandoned him: the peasants resisted. Government authorities did not want to press the issue., so mess halls remained abandoned. The Party gave in to peasant sentiment and restored as much as twelve percent of tillable land to private ownership and production – which coincided with the Party wishing to encourage individual responsibility and initiative rather than group conformity.
Party pragmatists encouraged the re-establishment of open markets in the countryside. Peasants were encouraged to trade locally. And for the sake of industrialization in the cities farming families were encouraged to buy goods made in urban factories rather than to engage in communal industries.
With a good harvest in 1962 and a return to incentives over official altruism came a rise in industrial production and productivity, and in 1964, the Party leader second to Mao, Zhou Enlai, wishing to encourage and reassure everybody, announced that the recovery from economic disaster was complete.
Then, in 1965, Mao, at the age of 72, came out of seclusion. He complained about the retreat, about the rise of a new class of bureaucrats, a new exploiting class. China, he believed, was going the way of the Soviet Union and becoming a bureaucratic state. The Party, according to Mao, had been taken over by "capitalist roaders" – by people with a bourgeois mentality. Mao, like Trotsky, was advocating "permanent revolution" – although he did not label it as such. Reinvigorating his leadership, Mao was about to create what was to be known as the Cultural Revolution.
Copyright © 1998-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.