MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events


Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward was a campaign by the Chinese government from 1958 to early-1960 aimed at using China’s plentiful supply of cheap labour to rapidly industrialise the country.

Background: During the 1950s, the Chinese had carried out a program of land distribution coupled with industrialisation under state ownership with grudging technical assistance from the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s, the situation in China had somewhat stabilised, and the immediate threat from the imperialist wars in Korea (US) and Vietnam (France) had receded. The Chinese capitalists had been expropriated in 1952-3, left oppositionists imprisoned at the same time, and the remaining Kuomintang on the mainland had been eliminated. For the first time in generations, China seemed to have a strong and stable national government.

However, Mao Zedong had become alarmed by Khrushchev’s turn since the Twentieth Congress. He perceived that far from “catching up and overtaking” the West, the Soviet economy was being allowed to fall behind, uprisings had taken place in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and Khrushchev was seeking “Peaceful Co-existence” with imperialism. These policies meant for Mao that China had to be prepared to ‘go it alone’.

The “Great Leap Forward”: borrowed elements from the history of the USSR in a uniquely Chinese combination. Forced collectivisation from Stalin’s “third period”; Stalin’s ultra-Centralisation with an exaggerated cult of the leader; Stakhanovism from the early 30s; the “people’s guards” Khrushchev had created in 1959; and the uniquely Chinese policy of establishing communes as relatively self-sufficient economic units, incorporating light industry and construction projects.

An experimental commune was established in Honan early in 1958, and soon spread throughout the country. The entire population was mobilised to produce one commodity, symbolic of industrialisation – steel.

The hope was to industrialise by making use of the massive supply of cheap labour and avoid having to import heavy machinery. Small backyard steel furnaces were built in every commune and harvests were allowed to rot in the fields while peasants produced “turds” of cast iron made out of scrap. Very often valuable farm implements were smelted for steel. Sometimes even factories, schools and hospitals abandoned their work to smelt iron. Simultaneously, the peasants were collectivised.

The Outcome: The plan failed disastrously, fundamentally because it was based on bureaucratic command and the utopian perspective of building Socialism in one (economically backward) country and having no regard for a planned development of all sectors of the economy. The collective farms were provided with ample food via communal canteens to ease the demands of agricultural labour. But stocks were soon exhausted, and by the time food ran out, it was too late to rescue the harvest. The steel project was extended to “socialist miracles” in every branch of industry, every one a figment of bureaucratic double-speak and collective self-deception, in which no-one dared to tell the King he had no clothes. The withdrawal of Soviet technical personnel aggravated the shortage of expertise. Ten million people died in one year as a result of the disastrous harvests, and an estimated 30 million between 1958 and 1962.

The already rampant “cult of the individual” around Mao Zedong was elevated to the level of national insanity to force through a policy which was driving millions to starvation.

Khrushchev’s policies during the same period were very similar, and were marked by many of the same absurdities and resulting disastrous failures, particularly in the areas of economic development, science and technology, and both were engaged in battles to establish their authority over their respective parties. However, in the arena of international relations, Mao and Khrushchev were heading in different directions and the Sino-Soviet Split occurred later in 1960.

Some in the party some laid blame for the disaster at the feet of the Party leadership and took it as proof that China must rely more on education, acquiring technical expertise and applying bourgeois methods in developing the economy. It was principally to squash this opposition that Mao Zedong launched his Cultural Revolution in early 1966.


Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

See Cultural Revolution.


Green (or Environmental) Movement

The Environmental Movement is a very diverse social movement characterised by relatively loose organisations of activists involving people in local activity around global environmental and natural issues, organised on a transnational basis and promoting a holistic, global and ethical world-view emphasising preservation of nature and restraint on economic development.

The Green Movement had its origins in 1968-73. In 1968 President de Gaulle of France demanded gold in exchange for US dollars, causing the cancellation of the convertibility of the dollar and throwing into disarray the post-war financial arrangements made at Bretton Woods in 1944. The dollar was devalued in August 1971 and ultimately floated in 1973. These events terminated the illusion of unending expansion solving the problems of poverty and plunged the world into a period of “stagflation” and social crisis in which capitalism had to reneg on its promise of growth and prosperity for all.

In 1968, responding to this global crisis, leading capitalist businessmen, politicians and economists, such as Britain’s Tory PM Ted Heath, came together and founded the Club of Rome. The Club of Rome commissioned influential reports on problems of the global economy and the growing gap between “North” and “South”, the most famous of which was published as Limits to Growth in 1972. Using computer modelling of global socio-economic trends and predicting the collapse of world order, widespread starvation and depletion of natural resources, should population growth, industrial expansion, and increased pollution continue, the report called into question expectations of endless economic growth and recommended zero population growth, a levelling-off of industrial production, increased pollution control, recycling and a shift from consumer goods to a more service-oriented economy.

Already in 1966, the British chemist James Lovelock had been invited by Shell to investigate possible global consequences of air pollution resulting from ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. In 1972, Lovelock came forward with the Gaia hypothesis, that the climate was driven by the biosphere just as much as climatic change controlled life on Earth, so that in effect the Earth must be regarded as a single living organism.

At the same time, due in part to the effects of the Cold War and McCarthyism, in part to changes in the nature of the labour process and in part by the inability of the USSR to cope with the modern labour process, and particularly following the betrayal of the French General strike and the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks in 1968, there was a widespread loss of confidence in the working class as the principal social force opposing capitalism. This led to the development of a variety of new approaches to criticism of bourgeois society – “Consumerism” or Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man for example. The new criticism of the dogma of unending economic progress offered by these global perspectives, attracted many radical young people who brought with them organisational ideas developed in the Peace Movement and Civil Rights Movement.

Friends of the Earth, the most longstanding and radical transnational Green organisation, was founded in 1969 and has branches all over the developed world. The more mainstream GreenPeace was founded in Canada in 1971 to oppose U.S. nuclear testing in Alaska and still has full-time staff protecting whales and exposing toxic waste dumps all over the world.

OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided at its 35th conference in Vienna in October 1973, to raise oil prices by 70 percent as a political weapon against the West for its support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Prices were raised another 130 percent in December, and a temporary embargo was placed on oil shipments to the US and the Netherlands. These actions generated the Oil Crisis which for the first time in human history, brought home to millions of people the realities of finite energy resources, in the form of escalating petrol prices. (And ever since the Middle East has been the focus of US imperialist aggression.)

Commodity price increases brought a great upsurge in the government revenues of the OPEC countries. Much of these revenues were invested back in U.S. banks which then had to find avenues for lending this cash at interest. In turn, the Western banks had to find an outlet for this inflow of cash, and as a result, a rash of white-elephant “economic development” programs were sold to other developing countries who soon found themselves saddled with unrepayable debts when commodity prices collapsed. These events brought out in sharp relief the insanity of the large-scale development programs promoted by the US and European powers and the impossibility of the developing countries to simply follow in the path of the already-industrialised countries.

Green issues were no longer the preserve of a few visionaries or dedicated animal lovers, but began to engage the consciousness of millions in the West, who had achieved development but now feared the excessive cost. Pretty soon, “Third World” countries began seeing the cost of “development” as whole ecosystems came under threat as a result of uncontrolled development. Transnational companies, forbidden from polluting their own backyards, used these countries as “dumping grounds” for the most poisonous industries and rode roughshod over attempts to regulate their destructive practices. As a result, the Green movement has embedded itself in the anti-imperialist movement across the world.

One of the first successful Green political parties was die Grünen, founded in West Germany by Herbert Gruhl, Petra Kelly, and others in 1979 by the merger of about 250 environmental groups. The Green Party sought public support for the control of nuclear energy and of air and water pollution, becoming a national party in 1980 and their first delegate to the Federal Diet in 1983. The program that they adopted called for the dismantling of both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, the demilitarisation of Europe, and the breaking up of large economic enterprises into smaller units.

An umbrella organisation known as the European Greens was founded in January 1984 to coordinate the activities of the various European parties, and by the end of the 1990 almost every country in Europe had a party known as the Greens or by some similar name. Green parties developed also in countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and the United States.

The Green Movement should be distinguished from Neighbourhood, “Save Our Suburb” and other local-interest groups, which emphasise local priorities rather than the global priorities characteristic of the Green Movement; however, the Green Movement’s focus on local action frequently sees it making common cause with local-interest groups.

Like all social movements, the Green Movement grew from being scattered groups of single-issue protesters, to being a world-wide movement with its own radical and mainstream wings each offering a broad view of the world.

The Green Movement was able and continues to engage hundreds of millions of people because it offers people a means of participating in day-to-day life – by recycling their own rubbish and so on, (something learnt from the Women's Movement); organisational methods (consensus decision-making, media-events, focus groups, etc) and non-violent protest tactics developed mainly by the Peace Movement were developed to an even higher level by the Greens, while terrorist tactics are employed by some extreme green groups.

The issues raised by the Green Movement were and remain genuine issues of life and death for humanity; the problems were posed to humanity for the first time in the early 1960s as a result of the gigantic expansion brought about by the post-war boom. No force existed capable of confronting this danger, and the Green Movement came forward to meet this challenge. It seems clear that neither the market nor bureaucratic states in which people have no democratic rights can resolve the problems of environmental destruction; in general the Greens have shown that the problem of preventing destruction of the environment is the same as the problems of poverty and freedom. People who do not have enough to eat or who are ignorant, will not and cannot prevent governments and corporations who are accountable to no-one for destroying Nature.