Ygael Gluckstein


The Chinese People’s Communes

(Spring 1960)

From International Socialism (first series), No. 1, Spring 1960, pp. 20–28.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Colin Barker and Paul Blackledge.
Thanks also to Paul Kellogg for supplementary information.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ygael Gluckstein is the author of Stalin’s Satellites in Europe (Allen & Unwin, 1952) and Mao’s China (Allen & Unwin, 1957) besides numerous articles.

There are two periods in the history of the People’s Communes: that of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ up to March or April 1959, and that of the period after this, which can be characterised as the ‘Great Retreat’.

This article deals mainly with the first stage; the second, for reasons of space, is dealt with briefly.

The movement to build People’s Communes has had no parallel in extent or speed. The first experiments were carried out in Honan Province in April 1958. Mass propaganda in their formation began only in July 1958. But once started they multiplied very rapidly, so that within two months practically all the peasants of China were included: at end of September, some 120 million households (including some non-peasant ones) or 98.2 percent of the total number of households in the Chinese countryside, were organized into 26,425 People’s Communes. [1]

The Chinese People’s Commune is a unique organisation. It cannot be identified with the Russian collective farm (kolkhoz). While the latter concerns itself only with agricultural production, the Chinese People’s Commune is an inclusive organisation, running agricultural, industrial, cultural, political, and military activities. It is some twenty times larger than the kolkhoz: the average commune contains 4,614 households [2], the average kolkhoz had (in 1955) only 229 households. [3]

All land and other means of production, such as livestock and ploughs were declared the common property of the Commune which, besides managing agriculture, was to and manage industrial undertakings, and educational and social institutions such as schools, nurseries and hospitals. All members of the Commune were to be fed in a number of common mess halls. The Commune was also declared to be a political-military unit – the organizational unit of the State and Party.

One of the most important results of the organization of the Chinese peasantry into Communes was that peasants worked harder.

A study of Chinese agriculture in 1930 showed that number of workdays per farm averaged 190. [4] Men, alone, worked an average of 119.4 ten-hour days during the year. [5] Prior to the establishment of the People’s Communes, the rural population was already working considerably more. In 1957 for example it was found that in 228 typical agricultural co-operatives in 24 provinces and regions, worked an average of 204 days in the co-operatives, and women, 105 days. [6]

The establishment of the Communes gave a new spurt to employment.

The Weihsing (Sputnik) People’s Commune, which was held up as an example by the People’s Daily in its Provisional Regulations, decreed that ‘... each person may have two days leave with pay a month and women labourers may have three days leave with pay a month. Expectant mothers may have one month’s leave with half pay.’ [7]

In the People’s Commune of Fengjen hsien in Hopei province each man is entitled to two days holiday a month, while every woman is entitled to five days. [8] However, there is little reason to rush to the conclusion that members really take as many holidays as are allowed. ‘Those members who voluntarily join in production in the Commune during their holidays may be issued additional wages or awards.’ [9] The Communes demand much more obligatory labour than the Russian kolkhozes ever did. In 1939 the Soviet Government issued a decree instituting an annual obligatory minimum of 60–100 work days (according to the region) in the kolkhozes. The minimum was revised in 1942 to between 100 and 150 annually according to region. [10]

The actual number of workdays earned per able-bodied kolkhoz member in 1937 was 194. [11]

The number of days worked on the People’s Communes is also much greater than envisaged in the Chinese Twelve Year Program announced by Chou En-lai on January 30, 1956. This set a norm of 250 working days per year for able-bodied men and 120 working days per year for able-bodied women to be attained within seven years. [12]

What about the length of the labour day?

The People’s Daily wrote:

‘... It is absolutely necessary and possible to organize normal production so as to enable the labouring army to have proper hours of rest. In Shansi; and Hopei, directives have been issued to ensure eight hours of sleep a day for the working masses under general conditions. In Hungchao hsien, Shansi, it has been stipulated that the normal production time should account for two-thirds of each month, the hours of shock production in general may not exceed one week each month, and the remaining three days should be set aside for political and cultural activities and members’ personal activities. The hours of shock production activities may not exceed two days and nights each time; during the time of shock production activities, six hours of sleep should generally be ensured. In addition, more rest hours should be allowed to young people, children and expectant mothers.’ [13]

To work beyond these wide limits proved disadvantageous to production, as was pointed out by the same paper a few weeks later, when it described conditions in the exemplary Ch’aoying People’s Commune:

‘Members worked hard day and night and had few hours of sleep a day. This circumstance began to affect members’ health and production efficiency.’

‘The Party committee proposed in time that in ordinary circumstances members should spend one-third of the day on rest and have two days off each month.’ [14]

The People’s Daily made it quite clear that even the limitations on the length of the labour day were imposed not mainly in consideration of the needs of the peasants but of those of production:

‘Attention must be paid so that there will be necessary rest during productive labour. But we rest not for rest’s sake but for a more fruitful hard fight, for a still bigger leap forward.’ [15]

To ensure that the peasants do work the number of days expected of them the authorities closed the one loophole so characteristic of the Russian kolkhoz: the private plot is not allowed in the People’s Communes.

In the kolkhoz each family has the right to a small vegetable and/or fruit garden plot adjacent to his dwelling, ranging in size from a quarter to half a hectare, and in some regions up to a hectare. The individual family is also allowed to keep some livestock. Actually, prior to the Second World War, kolkhoz members owned individually almost as much livestock as was owned collectively.

The members of the Chinese People’s Communes are not allowed these things. The Weihsing Commune’s regulations state:

Article 5: On the basis of the communal ownership of the means of production, members joining the Commune should turn over all their private plots, and place private houses, lands, livestock and trees under the ownership of the Commune but may keep small numbers of domestic animals and poultry as private property.’ [16]

Labour Services on Water Conservancy

One of the most important fields into which the extra labour has been mobilized is water conservancy and irrigation.

In the three years 1949–52, ‘about 20 million people took part in water conservancy work’ [17], in 1957 and 1958 the number was much greater. In February 1958 Vice-Premier Po I-po reported: ‘At present nearly 100 million men and women are going out every day in China to work on irrigation work,’ and each works an average of 100 days. [18]

In the three years (1949–52) 1,700 million cubic metres of earth were moved [19]; in the year from October 1957 to September 1958 the total was 58,000 million cubic metres of stone and earth. [20] This is equal to digging 300 Panama Canals, or 800 Suez Canals!

To achieve these results, the authorities could not rely on voluntary labour and had to establish Labour Armies.

Thus in Shansi, ‘All persons reaching the full age of 16 and below the age of 55 should join the Labour Army.’ The organization of the Army is very hierarchical:

Article 6. The commanding organs for labour armies of various levels shall be as follows:

‘At the provincial, administrative district (municipal), and hsien (ch’u in a large city) levels, there shall be organised Labour Army Headquarters. A labour army headquarters shall have a commander, a number of deputy commanders, a political commissar, a number of deputy political commissars. The provincial military district, the various military sub-districts, the people’s armed forces of various hsien, and the labour departments of the provincial, administrative district and hsien levels shall jointly organize the staff department of the headquarters of different levels, to attend to such routine matters as the organization of the labour armies, the assignment of manpower, and military training:

‘At the basic level, there shall be a Labour Army Tsung-tui (regiment) Headquarters, with a commander of the tsung-tui, a number of deputy commanders, a political commissar, and a number of deputy political commissars. The people’s armed forces departments and labour departments of the various relevant units shall organize the staff department of the tsung-tui headquarters to attend to routine matters. The ta-tui (battalion) shall have a commander, two deputy commanders, a political commissar and two deputy political commissars. A chung-tui (company) or a hsiao-tui (squad) shall have a commander, a deputy commander, a political director, and a deputy political director.’ [21]

Service in the Labour Armies is quite lengthy:

‘The shortest term should be half a year, and the longest term four years. Under special conditions, with the approval of the organ sending out the workers, the term of service may be extended or shortened, and the number of people replaced may be increased or reduced.’ [22]

Originally the Government paid the peasants working on water conservancy. [23] With the complete co-operativization and later communization of agriculture the peasants ceased to be paid by the Central Government, but were paid by the agricultural co-operatives or later by the People’s Communes. The result has been a great saving to the Government:

‘As to the amount of money spent, each 1,000 cubic meters of earth work cost JMP 364.00 and each 1,000 cubic meters of water stored up cost JMP 290.00 in the past; at present, expenses (including construction of bridges and culverts, expenses on tools, change-over to paddy rice crop and wages for technicians etc.) amount to JMP 2.30 per 1,000 cubic meters of earth work, or 1/158 of the expenses incurred in the past, and each 1,000 cubic meters of water stored up costs only JMP 1.80, or 1/160 of the expenses incurred in the past.’ [24]

Industrial Production in the Communes

Another result of the mobilization of human resources in the countryside was a tremendous effort to increase industrial production in small and primitive workshops, mines and quarries.

We are informed that

‘about 60,000,000 people are engaged in the operations of millions: of new native iron smelting and steel refining furnaces which came into being in the country forming an important force on the industrial front.’ [25]

Many millions of others are engaged in other industrial enterprises. Quite a considerable portion of the rural population is so employed.

‘Once set up, many People’s Communes took out 30 percent and even about fifty percent of the labourers to extract coal, to coke, to make charcoal, to exploit mines, to smelt iron and steel and to set up group of native type furnaces everywhere. This measure played a tremendous role in fulfilling the task of doubling the steel output in 1958.’ [26]

How small and primitive these ‘industrial’ enterprises are is clear from the fact that the 60 million engaged in steel production produce a quarter of what the 200 thousand British steel workers do!

Light is also thrown on the Communes ‘factories’ by the following quotation from the People’s Daily:

‘A cooperative in Liling hsien opened a coal mine, spending only JMP 0.40. In Hengyang municipality, an ancestral hall was used as a plastic factory ... this factory cost only JMP 2.00 in capital construction.’ [27]

A Chinese JMP is less than 2/5 of a US dollar, or less than 3 shillings sterling.

The net result, we were told, of the mass effort in tin “factories” has been a tremendous spurt in industry output.

It was reported at the time for instance, that steel output rose from 5.35 million tons in 1957 to 11.08 million tons in 1955 an increase of 108 percent; pig iron from 5.94 million to in 1957 to 13.69 million in 1958, an increase of 131 percent coal from 130 million tons in 1957 to 270 million in 1958, an increase of 108 percent. [28]

The total value of industrial output increased by 66 percent in 1958 over 1957. [29] This is an unparalleled speed of economic growth!

Throughout this production spurt the emphasis continues to be laid on the production of means of production and not on that of means of consumption. The share of the former in total industrial output, 28.8 percent in 1949, rose to 46 percent in 1955, 51.6 percent in 1957, and 57 percent in 1958. [30]

While the output of steel rose in 1958 by 107 percent, pig iron by 131 percent and coal by. 108 percent, the output of cotton cloth rose by only 13 percent, edible vegetable oil by 14 percent, sugar by 4 percent, cigarettes by 7 percent. [31]

The Emphasis on Capital Accumulation

During the first few years of the co-operative organization of agriculture the Chinese authorities were wary of taking too big a portion of agricultural income for capital accumulation. The CP Central Committee’s Decision on Mutual Aid and Co-operation in Agricultural Production (February 15, 1953) states:

‘... the amount of reserve funds and public welfare funds should never be too large a percentage of the annual income of the mutual-aid teams or agricultural producers’ co-operatives. Generally speaking, 1–5 percent would be a comparatively reasonable amount; in time of a poor harvest, however, the accumulation of reserve funds may be discontinued.’

New regulations (March 17, 1956) raised the share taken for reserves:

‘The amount of reserve funds should in general not exceed 5 percent of the actual income of a co-operative ... at the initial stage of a co-operative, and may gradually be raised to 10 percent along with the development of production. In the case of co-operatives producing industrial crops, however, reserve funds may be slightly increased (Article 64).’ [32]

As a matter of fact, peasant accumulation constituted 5.6 percent of the national agricultural income in 1953, and rose to 11 percent in 1956. [33] In 228 typical agricultural cooperatives from all over the country it was found that in 1957, the portion of reserve and welfare funds made up 11.3 percent of their income. [34]

With the launching of the Commune movement a tremendous spur was given to raise the proportion of agricultural income devoted to accumulation. Thus, the People’s Daily recommended that 30–40 percent of the net income of communes should be put to reserves ‘over the following several years.’ [35] The Honan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party went even further in the regulations it issued on the distribution of the Communes’ income:

‘For the ordinary Communes, the portion for consumption by Commune members may amount to about 35 percent of the total income, and the portion for accumulation (including public grains, tax, profit forwarded to the upper levels, and investment in production) to about 65 percent. For the Communes of lower productivity and less income, and for those Communes which suffered decrease in production as a result of natural calamities, the portion for consumption by Commune members may amount to 40 percent of the total income or even higher.’ [36]

Actually we are informed of Communes which went even further in tightening the belts of their members for the sake of capital accumulation. Thus the Ho Sang Ch’iao People’s Commune of Chang Ke hsien, in Honan Province, distributed only 29.3 percent of its gross income among its members in 1958, while it devoted 58 percent to reserves. [37] Another Commune in the same province, the Weihsing Commune already mentioned, gave individual members only 23.8 per cent of the gross income, while allocating 57.8 percent to reserves. [38]

In Hsiianchuang People’s Commune, in Fengjen hsien, Hopei province, the share of the members was 34 percent of gross income, while 46.63 percent went to reserves. [39]

Income Differences in the Communes

Equality is far from being enjoyed by different members of the people’s communes. First, the peasants themselves are differentiated into separate skill and income-groups. Secondly, industrial workers in the Communes are set apart and paid according to a special scale. Above them all towers the Communes’ officialdom.

Thus, for instance, in Kuotson hsiang People’s Commune, Honan Province, monthly wages standards for the peasants were fixed thus: Class I labourers, JMP 6.70; Class II, 6.00; Class III, 5.40; Class IV, 4.80; and Class V, 4.00. [40]

In Fengjen hsieng, Hopei Province, ‘The Wangkuanying Commune divides its wage scale into five grades, the highest being seven JMP and the lowest three JMP’. [41]

In Hsűanchuang People’s Commune, Fengjen hsien, Hopei Province,

‘the wage for each grade was fixed at: JMP 3.6 each month for the 1st grade, JMP 4.6 for the 2nd, JMP 5.3 for the 3rd, JMP 6 for the 4th and JMP 7 for the 5th. The 2,000 labourers participating in industrial work were divided into six grades; the three lower grades were worker-peasants in general, who joined in industrial production after the establishment of the Commune, while the three higher grades were for workers of comparatively high skill. Biased on the principle of making the wage for industrial labour slightly higher than that for agricultural labour beginning from the 3rd grade, wages for industrial labour were fixed as follows: JMP 6 per month for 1st grade labourers, JMP 7 for 2nd grade, JMP 8 for 3rd, JMP 12 for 4th, JMP 15 for 5th, and JMP 20 for 6th.’ [42]

In the People’s Commune of Chaovuan hsien, Heilungkiang Province, the standards of allowances were fixed thus:

‘The personnel of hsien committee level get an allowance of JMP 20 per month; those of department, bureau, and board levels, JMP 16; those of section level in work districts, JMP 12; chiefs of sub-sections, JMP 9; ordinary cadres, JMP 7; office attendants, JMP 5; peasants in three grades of JMP 4, 3 and 2; workers in four grades of JMP 12, JMP 9, JMP 7 and JMP 6; university students and inmates of homes for the aged, JMP 2; middle school students, JMP 1; and primary school students, JMP 0.5.’ [43]

In terms of a Western standard of living even the top rural official’s lot is hard. Their standard of living is low even compared to many of the urban bureaucrats. About these a Chinese paper wrote: ‘Many high-salaried parents have pampered their children to a very serious extent,’ as a result of which they ‘have shown keen interest in comparing the grades of their fathers and their brands of automobiles. Some children, who are used to motor-cars, ask their little friend whose father rides a bicycle: “Is that man your father’s messenger?”’ [44]

The children of rural Commune bureaucrats are not as pampered as this. Their fathers have no cars. But in the midst of general poverty, an income ten times higher than many of the common labourers is not to be shrugged off.

People’s Communes as a Weapon to Cut Industrial Wages

The establishment of ‘industrial’ plants in Communes enables the rulers of Peking to make inroads into the standard of living of the industrial working class proper. Throughout the preliminaries to the launching of the Commune movement, during its launching and afterwards, the central theme of the official wages policy has been the need to cut excessive wages.

In the Communist Party Central Committee’s greetings to the Eighth All-China Trade Union Congress, the working class; was called upon to ‘endeavour to bring closer the standards of living of the workers and the peasantry, which will serve to strengthen the worker-peasant alliance.’ This was to be done through workers’ moderation of their demands. [45]

The Minister of Labour expressed shock when he dealt with the extravagant income of apprentices in industry:

‘According to the 1956 industrial statistics report of the Bureau of State Statistics, the monthly living allowances for apprentices of large industrial enterprises in China averaged JMP 28.65 and reached as high as JMP 35 or JMP 39 in some cities. In some individual cases, it even amounted to JMP 48.’ [46]

JMP 48 a month, that is, some £7 a month! What wild extravagance!

Accordingly, new Regulations regarding apprentices’ were issued:

‘During the period of their training, the apprentices will receive a monthly subsidy for livelihood from the units where they are stationed. The amount of subsidy is based on the amount of food allowance for the average lower grade staff members of the locality or trade with a small allowance of pocket money which depends on the different living standards in the urban and rural areas. It is stipulated that the monthly pocket money will be two three JMP for the first year; three or four for the year, and four, five, or six for the third year.’ [47]

The maximum: JMP 6 – or less than £1 per month!

The Minister of Labour was shocked when he dealt with the extravagant wages of unskilled workers:

‘The current wages for these workers ... are generally high. For instance, the wages for ordinary workers who are engaged building construction in Peking are between JMP 33.66 and 50.75. Wages for miscellaneous workers are between JMP 23 and 37.5. Such scales of wages are high ... compared ... with the income of the peasants.’ [48]

Accordingly, new Regulations were issued by the State Council, which stipulated:

‘In the future, all ordinary workers both regular and temporary in the first to third grades – should not be paid much higher than the local peasants, taking into consideration the difference in the cost of living between the urban and rural areas. Therefore, the wages for such ordinary workers should be about the same as the income of a better-than-average peasant of a medium-level agricultural co-operative in areas where most of the ordinary workers come from, plus whatever amount is justified by the difference of the cost of living between urban and rural areas.’ [49]

A series of wage cuts in the towns followed.

For instance, the Peking stevedores who earned in the first six months of 1958 – prior to the ‘leap forward’ – a monthly average wage of JMP 89, have now, while working much harder, ‘demanded’ a cut in wages to JMP 40–60! [50] Similarly ship-building workers in Shanghai, we are told, abolished the price-wage system which gave them higher wages and also overtime bonuses. [51]

Universities Established in the Communes

Dizzy with success, and anxious to maximise achievements not only materially but also culturally, the Chinese authorities have started speaking about the mass construction of universities in the People’s Communes. Thus we are told; ‘In Hopei Province there are 8,872 universities, run by hsiang, People’s Communes, government offices, enterprises, factories and mines.’ [52] In Shantung ‘there are over 3,100 universities.’ [53] In Tientsin Province: ‘Each hsien will build an all-round university.’ [54] ‘In 10 or 15 years, all people now below 25 may reach the cultural standards of a university student.’ [55]

An idea of the standard of university education may be gleaned from the proud avowal: ‘People who have never attended schools for more than a few years become presidents and professors’ in the universities. [56]

The boasting which goes with the great efforts demanded during the period of construction of the People’s Communes, do not contradict actual great achievements in the educational and cultural fields.

In 1949–50 the number of primary school children was 24 million. [57] This rose in 1957 to 64 million, and in 1958 to 85 million. [58] The number of secondary school pupils rose from a 1952 figure of over 3 million to a 1957 figure of 7 million, and a 1958 figure of 12 million. The number of students in higher educational institutions was in 1952, 190,000; in 1957, 440,000, in 1958, 660,000. [59]

This is a vast achievement by any standard!

Love, Family and ... Production

If the Commune is to encompass all aspects of life, nothing, even the most intimate feelings of the individual, should be beyond its control. The press, especially that directed towards the youth, repeatedly calls for the subordination of love to the needs of the State. Thus we are told:

‘Love should be subservient to work and study ... In choosing the object of their affections, many young people ignore the political stand of the other party but are guided purely by outward appearances ... Such an attitude does not represent the proletarian concept of love. Some people take the extremely erroneous view that the problem concerns the private life of individuals and not society as a whole, so that the choice of a spouse is purely a matter of personal taste ...’ [60]

With the ‘Big Forward Leap in Production’ things have changed. Before, ‘young men spent too much time fooling around with girls instead of engaging themselves in production.’ [61] Now there is to be an end to such frivolities. Now ‘Lovers are discouraged from talking to each other in the lanes, but may do so while working together.’ Again,

‘Brides who as a rule did not leave the house of their husbands during the seven days after their marriage now go out to work immediately after their marriage.’ [62]

Even as regards their sleeping habits, husband and wife should learn to think above all about production. Thus in one paper the following question was posed: ‘Since members do not cook food themselves, they will have no heated beds (k’ang). What are they to do? The answer given was:

‘During the distribution of the autumn harvest, farming co-operatives may distribute some crop stalks among their members. In localities near mountains, members may be organized to cut firewood. Where firewood is unobtainable a quantity of coal may be supplied. In order to save firewood some households may put their k’ang (brick beds) together if they will.’ [63]

Even divorce should be subordinated to State interests. As one youth paper writes:

‘Some ask: “What can you do if your spouse turns out be a rightist?” First, you should take a correct or proletarian stand, politically and ideologically, and draw a clear line of demarcation.’ People placed in this awkward situation should ‘hate the rightist just as much as any other comrades do and politically draw a clear line against their spouse ... Nowadays people ask for divorce, saying that their spouse being a rightist and therefore an enemy, the couple are politically incompatible and. therefore find it impossible to live together any longer. The reason is sound and the stand is correct, and there is nothing to argue against it.’ [64]

Peasants’ Attitude to the People’s Communes

While no doubt the cadres play a basic role in the creation and running of the People’s Communes, it is also clear that such a broad movement, embracing millions, could not be accomplished so successfully and so swiftly if not for the fact that part of the peasantry supports it, part is passively tolerant towards it, and only a small minority really opposes it bitterly.

The cadres – some few millions – derive benefit from the establishment of the People’s Communes. And as the Communist Party of China was always much more of a rural organisation than the Communist Party of Russia [65], this creates quite an important basis of support for the Communes – a basis that was missing in Russia during collectivization.

The policy of stratifying the members of the People’s Communes into different income groups atomizes the peasantry and builds layers of support for the bureaucracy.

The biggest source of support, however, is the fact that practically all the peasantry have, to some extent, benefited from the creation of the Communes, through the distribution of the extra production achieved. The fact that most of the extra loaf is not taken away to feed the distant city population with whom he has no direct contact, but his own kith and kin who are working on nearby public works, in mines, or local workshops, further serves to mitigate any discontent.

However, these factors did not overcome all opposition to the People’s Communes amongst the peasantry. The Chinese press gives quite a lot of evidence as to the existence of widespread opposition.

A session of the Honan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party held from June 6 to July 1, 1958, announced the sacking of the First Secretary of the Party, P’an Fu-sheng, the deputy First Secretary Wang T’ing-tung and another Secretary of the Provincial Committee, Yang Chueh. The main accusations against them were that they ‘opposed agricultural co-operation.’ When ‘in the winter of 1956 and the spring of 1957, agitation for withdrawal from cooperatives took place in some areas of Yungch’eng, Hsiayi and Minch’uan hsien,’ they did not oppose the agitation. They agitated against the situation in which, because of ‘shortage of draft animals, ploughs and harrows are pulled by men.’ They also said: ‘Peasants’ production enthusiasm is not as high as in 1951’; ‘we are sitting on a volcano’; ‘the peasants will revolt; and may reject the leadership of the Communist Party.’ P’an Fu-sheng was quote saying: ‘The peasants were not equal to beasts of burden in the past, but are the same as beasts of burden today. Yellow oxen are tied up in the house and human beings are harnessed in the field. Girls and women pull plough; harrows, with their wombs hanging down.’ P’an Fu-sheng also complained about the practice ‘of digging up tombs and collecting women’s ornaments, thus causing discontent and tension among the peasants.’ We are informed he charged cadres with ‘pretending to know when they do not know,’ ‘putting on official airs,’ ‘showing off seniority’ and ‘maintaining petticoat relations.’ He called cadres ‘bureaucrats’ and law-breaching and discipline-breaching elements.’ He accused cadres of ‘bandit working style’, ‘despotic working style,’ ‘Kuomintang working style’ and ‘behaving like spies.’ [66]

From far off Kansu, similar accusations were made against a group of top personnel leaders. One of these, Governor, Sun Tien-Ts’ai, accused cadres of robbing shepherds of their sheep. He said, slanderously, we are told that peasants now ‘have no money for (cooking) oil, salt or safety matches, so that several families have to share the same lamp,’ that ‘pulling two-wheel, double-blade ploughs has ruined the health of the womenfolk.’ [67]

Similar accusations were hurled against the governor of Shantung, who was also Secretary of the Secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party Provincial Committee, heading a whole group of provincial leaders. [68]

One of the sharpest expressions of peasant opposition been the rise in ‘counter-revolutionary’ cases dealt the courts and security organisations.

According to Liu Hsiu-feng, President of the Shansi Provincial Higher People’s Court,

‘in April, May and June (1958), 6,573 counter-revolutionary cases, 9,740 criminal cases and 7,749 civil disputes were disposed of, i.e., 7,300 counter-revolutionary and criminal cases and 460 civil disputes more than were disposed of in the first quarter of the year.’

The main cause of this increase was, we are informed, the opposition of criminal elements to the Commune movement.

‘Thereupon, all the people in our province took it as their primary task to punish severely the criminal activities that undermined the people’s communes, iron and steel production, and agricultural production.’ [69]

A similar picture is presented by Hopei, where the of the Higher People’s Court of this province announced:

‘This year (1958) the work of the people’s courts at various levels has been heavy and complicated, the total number of counter-revolutionary cases and other criminal cases tried being four times that of the previous year.’

Above all the clearest expression of the widespread and deep peasant opposition to the Communes has been the great retreat from the original Commune conception (see below).

What Was Achieved Economically

In the first flush after the establishment of People’s Communes, it was announced that total grain output reached 375 million tons in 1958, doubling that of the previous year. Cotton output at 3.32 million tons also doubled that of the previous year, and there were similar increases for other agricultural products. [70]

However, a few months later, a Central Committee Plenum declared the figures were grossly exaggerated, and that the verified figure was 250 million tons of grain, or 35 percent above 1957; and 2.1 million tons of cotton or 28 percent above 1957. [71]

The target figures were cut drastically: grain from 525 million tons to 275 million tons; cotton from 5.2 million tons to 2.3 million tons.

This juggling with figures leaves one wondering about the general credibility of official Chinese statistics.

Even the revised figures on grain output for 1958 seem to be very much inflated. If grain output did rise in 1958 by as much as 35 percent it is difficult to explain the shortages appearing more and more in China. Despite promises rice rationing has continued and been made even more stringent. Towards the end of 1958 China also began to default on deliveries of agricultural products to foreign countries.

Again, the statistical method adopted by the Chinese authorities tends to exaggerate achievement in grain output. Thus, for instance, sweet potatoes, whose nutritional value per unit of weight is considerably smaller than that of rice or wheat, is included among the ‘grains’. And we are informed that while potatoes made up 4.6 percent of the grain output in 1936, their share rose to 12 percent in 1956, and to ‘approximately a quarter of the total grain output’ in 1958. [72]

However, in spite of all these reservations, it must be stated (without doubt that agricultural production did rise considerably during 1958.

As regards the Communes’ industries, the original enthusiasm of the authorities fizzled out completely. There is now no more talk of 60 million peasants engaged in the iron and steel .industry. The figure now mentioned of the people engaged in all Commune-operated industries is 5,000,000. [73] It looks as if the large majority of the so-called furnaces produced at best products of extremely poor quality, causing wastage of both materials and manpower. (By the way, there has also been no more talk of ‘Universities’ in the Communes in the last year or so!).

The Great Retreat

Since March 1959, many major features of the Commune system have been radically altered.

Firstly, ownership of most means of production was taken away from the Commune and returned to the ‘production brigades’ – the old village agricultural producer co-operatives. There is now a ‘Three-Level Ownership System,’ instead of the all-embracing Commune. Ownership by the people’s commune, ownership by the production brigade (battalion or administrative ch’u), and ownership by the production team co-exist, with ownership by the production brigade as the basic form. The Commune now embraces commune-operated industry, enterprises, large farming machines, the major means of transportation, and commune-controlled capital accumulations and public welfare funds. As to the land under cultivation, the means of production, the means of communications and transportation, the domestic animals raised by the brigade, the small factories or workshops run by the brigade and their products, they all come under ownership by the brigade. Ownership by the production team includes the small farm implements, the reward for the portion of over-fulfilment of the ‘three-guarantee’ quota, the expenses saved after fulfilling the ‘three-guarantee’ quota, and income from sideline occupations undertaken collectively by the team. [74]

Since land – the most important means of production – is out of the hands of the Commune, it ceases to be the main unit in agricultural production. And as industry ceases to be a central item in the efforts of the rural population, it is not to be wondered at that many in China argue that ‘People’s Communes have become an empty framework.’ [75]

Small plots of land were returned to individual households for private cultivation. As a result, individual farming plays quite a considerable role in the life of the peasantry. It was found, for example, in P’enghsing Commune, Hupeh Province, that the share of individual farming in the general income of the production brigade members was: 1st brigade, 36.38 percent; 2nd brigade, 28 percent; fourth brigade, 19.76 percent. [76] In Hsiaokang People’s Commune, Hupeh, peasants raised individually 65 percent of all pigs sold and 95 percent of all chickens and eggs sold. [77]

The draconian rate of accumulation has also been radically scaled down. The share of the individual in agricultural output fixed in the heat of the ‘Forward Leap’ at 30–50 percent, has now been raised to 60 percent. As stated by the People’s Daily:

‘... the gross income of the people’s communes is found to be distributed as follows – about 40 percent of the gross income of the commune is deducted for production costs, the payment of public grain and other taxes, and for payments into the reserve and welfare funds; the rest, about 60 percent, is distributed to the commune membership for personal consumption.’ [78]

However, two basic achievements of the Commune system remain: commune control over water conservancy schemes, and the mess halls. These two institutions are connected. Water conservancy carried out by compulsory labour has a long history in China. Actually this is one of the few activities where labour serves as a satisfactory substitute for capital. For instance, the TVA scheme in the United States was built with an army of bulldozers, tractors, mechanical shovels, concrete mixers and the like, while a similar complex on the Huai River in China is being built by millions of peasants who use practically no machinery at all. However unproductive such labour may be, it is very economical where human labour is abundant and cheap and capital equipment scarce and dear. However built, these public construction works are a valuable contribution to the capital fund of the country. Now this important work is being undertaken by the Communes.

The innovation of mess halls is bound up with the needs of this public work. It may well help the State to control agricultural products by having them syphoned off for the workers on the water conservancy schemes (and also for the industrial areas, military units and exports).

Chinese agricultural production proper is predominantly intensive, practically garden cultivation. It is too dependent on human labour, the will to work, the care and zeal of the peasants in production to make it possible for a forced march to be a consistent success story.

This, above all, is the lesson to be learnt from the two years’ history of the People’s Commune experiment.


Note by MIA: The numbering of notes 46–49 is confused in the printed original (48, 49, 47, 48). We have renumbered them in the order of appearance. Note 52 is missing.

1. T’ung Chi Kung Tso (Statistical Work), Oct. 29, 1958. Extracts from China Mainland Magazines, Hong Kong. (Hereafter referred to as ECMM.)

2. Ibid.

3. Narodnoe Khoziaistvo SSSR. Statisticheskii Sbornik, Moscow 1956, p. 100.

4. J.L. Buck, Chinese Farm Economy, Chicago 1930, p. 52.

5. Ibid., p. 127

6. T’ung Chi Yen Chiu (Statistical Study), August 23, 1958. ECMM, 148.

7. Jen Min Jih Pao (hereinafter referred to as JMJP), Sept. 4, 1958; Current Background (hereafter referred to CB), 517.

8. Ta Kung Pao, October 25, 1958, CB, 537.

9. Ibid.

10. Vazhneishie Resheniia po Selskomu Khoziaistvu za 1938-1946 gg., Moscow 1948, p. 286.

11. N.I. Anisimov, Pobeda Sotsialisticheskogo Selskogo Khoziaistva, Moscow 1947, p. 85.

12. New China News Agency (hereafter referred to as NCNA), Peking, Feb. 1, 1956.

13. JMJP, Nov. 9, 1958. Survey of China’s Mainland Press (hereafter referred to as SCMP), 1898.

14. JMJP, Nov. 28, 1958. SCMP, 1913.

15. JMJP editorial, Feb. 2, 1959. SCMP, 1954.

16. JMJP, Sept. 4, 1958. CB, 517.

17. New China’s Economic Achievements, 1949–52, Peking 1952, p. 196.

18. NCNA, Peking, Feb. 13, 1958.

19. New China’s Economic Achievements, op. cit.

20. NCNA, Peking, Apr. 14, 1959.

21. Hsin Hua Pan Yueh Kan (New China Semi-monthly), No. 21, Nov. 10, 1958. ECMM, 155.

22. Ibid.

23. See Y. Gluckstein, Mao’s China, London 1957, pp. 127–8.

24. Hung Chi (Red Flag), June 16, 1958. ECMM, 137.

25. NCNA, Peking, Nov. 19, 1958.

26. Hung Chi (Red Flag), Jan. 1, 1959. ECMM, 158.

27. JMJP, May 23, 1958. CB, 509.

28. NCNA, Peking, Apr. 14, 1959.

29. NCNA, Apr. 21, 1959.

30. NCNA, Peking, Sept. 21, 1955 ; June 15, 1956 ; July 1, 1957, Apr. 14, 1959.

31. Ibid.

32. NCNA, Peking, March 17, 1956.

33. JMJP, June 6, 1958. SCMP, 1798.

34. T’ung Chi Yen Chiu (Statistical Study), Aug. 23, 1958, ECMM, 140.

35. JMJP, Oct. 31, 1958. SCMP, 1901.

36. Chengchow, Honan Jih Pao, Jan. 14, 1959. SCMP, 1965.

37. Tung Chi Kung Tso (Statistical Work), Nov. 14, 1958.

38. JMJP, Sept. 20, 1958. SCMP, 1875.

39. Ta Kung Pao, Peking, Oct. 25, 1958. CB, 537.

40. Ts’ai Ching Yen Chiu (Financial and Economic Research) No. 6, Sept. 15, 1958. ECMM, 152.

41. Ta Kung Pao, Peking, Oct. 25, 1958. CB, 537.

42. Ibid.

43. Ts’ai Ching Yen Chiu (Financial and Economic Research), No. 9, Dec. 15, 1958. ECMM, 156.

44. Ta Kung Pao, June 1, 1957.

45. NCNA, Peking, Dec. 2, 1957.

46. NCNA, Peking, Nov. 20, 1957. SCMP, 1667. [Numbered 48 in printed original – MIA]

47. NCNA, Peking, Feb. 10, 1958. CB, 497. [Numbered 49 in printed original – MIA]

48. Ibid. [Numbered 47 in printed original – MIA]

49. NCNA, Peking, Feb. 10, 1958. CB, 497. [Numbered 48 in printed original – MIA]

50. Chung Kuo Ching Nien (China Youth), No. 19, Oct 1 1958. ECMM, 150.

51. Chieh Fang Jih Pao, Shanghai, Oct. 19, 1958. SCMP, 1947.

52. [This note is missing in the printed original. – MIA]

53. Tsingtao Jih Pao, Nov. 4, 1958. SCMP, 1924.

54. Kuang Ming Jih Pao, Peking, Aug. 16, 1958. SCMP, 1850

55. Hung Chi (Red Flag), No. 8, Sept. 16, 1958. CB, 524

56. Chung Kuo Ching Nien, July 1, 1958. ECMM, 143.

57. NCNA, Peking, June 14, 1956

58. NCNA, Peking, April 21, 1959

59. Ibid.

60. Shansi Jih Pao, Taiyuan, Nov. 8, 1958. SCMP, 1789.

61. Kuang Ming Jih Pao, Peking, June 26, 1958. SCMP, 1832.

62. Ibid., July 17, 1958. SCMP, 1832.

63. Wen Hui Pao, Peking, Sept. 12, 1958. SCMP, 1862.

64. Chung Kuo Ching Nien (China Youth), Apr. 16, 1958. ECMM, 134.

65. In China on June 30, 1956, there were 7,417,459 Communist Party members in the Chinese countryside (Shih Shih Shou T’se (Current Events), Sept. 25, 1956. CB 428) as against 217,411 Communists among the Russian peasantry in 1927. (Bolshaia Sovetskaitskya Entsiklopediia, First Edition, Vol. XI, p. 534.)

66. Honan Jih Pao, Kaifeng, July 4, 1958. CB, 515.

67. Kansu Jih Pao, Lanchow, Aug. 16, 1958. CB, 528.

68. Tsingtao Jih Pao, Nov. 4, 1958. SCMP, 1924.

69. Shansi Jih Pao, Taiyan, Dec. 8, 1958. SCMP, 1946.

70. NCNA, Peking, April 14, 1959.

71. NCNA, Peking, Aug. 26, 1959.

72. Hung Chi (Red Flag), Jan. 1, 1959. ECMM, 158.

73. NCNA, Peking, Jan. 26, 1960.

74. Shanghai, Chieh Fang Jih Pao, Oct. 14, 1959. SCMP, 2143.

75. Peking, Chung Kuo Ch’ing Nien Pao, Sept. 6, 1959. SCMP, 2104.

76. JMJP, Aug. 24, 1959. SCMP, 2092.

77. Ibid.

78. JMJP, Oct. 18, 1959. SCMP, 2125.

Last updated on 6 November 2015