Deng Xiaoping

Our Chief Task Ahead is Building Up the Country


Published: April 8, 1957
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


We were engaged in revolution during the earlier period. As of last year, when we basically completed the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce, we fulfilled our revolutionary tasks by and large. What are our future tasks? Besides just a few tasks left over from the revolution, the chief task for the future is building up the country. The task set forth at the Eighth National Congress of our Party was to bring into play all positive factors and all possible forces in striving to make our country a great industrial socialist country. This will be our task for a very long time to come. No one knows how long it will take us to accomplish the task. Building up China will be, if not more difficult, at least as difficult as making revolution, with which we became very familiar. As far as development is concerned, our entire Party is still learning, with a great deal we still do not know. No one would say we were not capable of making revolution, now that we have succeeded in it. But we are not sure how well we will do at building up the country.

It cannot be denied that our achievements of the past few years in all fields, including national reconstruction, were great. Our country has indeed undergone rapid development and taken on a new look. I visited Xi’an towards the end of 1952, but the city of that time bore no comparison to the city of today, where many modern industrial enterprises have been established, as is true of other big cities. Last year we accomplished many things, but some were overdone or done impetuously. As a result, we have somewhat lost the initiative today and perhaps we shall not regain it in the near future. In general, however, last year’s achievements were remarkable. Last year socialist transformation was basically completed, capital construction underwent rapid development and, thanks to the success of co-operative transformation, agriculture easily made it through the famine caused by serious crop failures. In short, we have achieved a lot over the past few years, and it would be wrong not to recognize this.

However, under no circumstances should we exaggerate our achievements or regard our accomplishments as superb. This simple way of thinking has been reflected in our propaganda work, and every endeavour in the country is described as successful as could be, as if we had no difficulties whatsoever now and there were nothing for us to do except enjoying a happy life. Some cadres think that having devoted themselves to the revolution for so many years and now that the country has been built up, it is time to satisfy their own needs. As a matter of fact, we still have many difficulties and we are confronted with problems which are more complex than those of the past. We should recognize that despite the great achievements — industrial and agricultural production has grown rapidly, a preliminary foundation has been laid for industrial development and many enterprises have been established — our country is still poor and backward. It will take a long time and strenuous efforts to turn such a poor and backward country as China into an advanced, industrial, socialist country. That is to say, we must learn to build up the country through thrift and hard work, because we are too poor to do otherwise. Given this poverty, our country will never prosper if we do not learn how to build it up through thrift and hard work. Our Party and the Chinese people have proved highly capable in class struggle in the past. This explains why we succeeded in the revolution. On the whole, our Party and cadres have learned the science of class struggle, but they know little or nothing about the science of transforming nature. Of course, we do have some talented people, but they are too few in number to meet our needs. China’s scientific and technological level is still very low. The work of development in the past few years had demonstrated our lack of knowledge and proved that we have not learned how to build up the country through thrift and hard work. Chairman Mao said it took us more than twenty years to learn how to make revolution, during which time major mistakes were made. These years refer to the period from 1921, when the Party was founded, to 1945, when the Party’s Seventh National Congress was held. Of course, as far as the Central Committee is concerned, it solved the question of how to make revolution at theZunyi Meeting. In the 24 years from 1921 to the convening of the Party’s Seventh National Congress, our Party made Right opportunistic mistakes once and “Left” opportunistic mistakes three times. The “Left” opportunistic mistakes made the third time practically ruined our entire revolutionary force — 90 per cent of the revolutionary base areas collapsed, which was disastrous and cost us dearly. Chairman Mao wondered if we could carry out economic development within a period shorter than twenty-odd years and avoid making major mistakes and suffering serious setbacks. He implies that if we do not proceed cautiously, we may make major mistakes and suffer serious setbacks in development as well. For a socialist country to make major mistakes and suffer serious setbacks in development is not without precedent. Therefore, it is unrealistic for us to believe that we shall not suffer this fate; we shall if we do not study hard and review our experience.

Is it possible for us to build up our country in a relatively short period of time without making major mistakes or suffering serious setbacks? I should say yes, it is, because we have conditions favourable to development, with fewer impediments than the Soviet Union had after the October Revolution. First, the international situation is in our favour. Second, we have the experience of the Soviet Union and other fraternal countries to go by. The fact that we have been able to go fast in our development over the past few years is partly due to Soviet experience and assistance. Of course, that is not to say that all of the Soviet Union’s assistance has been efficient in all respects. Generally speaking, if it were not for their help, we would not have been so successful. We should continue to learn from the Soviet Union and know what to learn. To learn from the successes of the Soviet Union does us much good, as does drawing lessons from the mistakes it has made. We should make good use of the experience and lessons of the Soviet Union, so as to avoid losses. Of course, we should also learn from all the advanced experience of all the other countries in the world, including the United States. But we must first learn from the Soviet Union, because only the Soviet Union and other fraternal countries are assisting us, whereas the United States has imposed an embargo on us.

We ourselves have also gained some experience in managing our own development over the slightly more than seven years since we embarked on it. In some areas, such as the northeast, we began even earlier. Our experience of the past few years is also of great importance and should not be downplayed. We have blazed our own trail, and if we truly learn from our experience, it will be of even greater benefit to us. In the development of these years we have been quite successful, but we have made more than a few mistakes as well. We should learn from both our successes and our mistakes, and learn to profit from our own experience as well as that of other countries.

The international and domestic situation is in our favour. What we must do now is to take advantage of the situation, accomplish more with less money, constantly analyse our experience, add to our achievements, overcome our shortcomings and avoid major mistakes. The key to our success lies in the Party leadership. In the past our success in revolution hinged on Party leadership, the same is true of our success in economic development today. In other words, successful development depends on whether the Party is good at learning (if it is, it will avoid major mistakes and get more done on less money), and whether the Party relies on the masses and constantly works to root out subjectivism, bureaucratism, sectarianism and, in particular, dogmatism from its ranks. During the revolutionary years, subjectivism, bureaucratism and sectarianism estranged us from reality and the masses, and in the course of economic development they can do the same, making it impossible for us to build up the country through thrift and hard work, and to bring into play all positive factors in our effort to make development a success.

We have made great stride in development over the past few years. The work of all political parties and all the people across the land has been fruitful, as has been the work done by us Communists. This is the principal aspect of our work that we must recognize first, for if we ignore this, we may become frustrated. At the same time, however, we should recognize that serious shortcomings have arisen in the course of development. Tendencies towards subjectivism, which ignores reality, and, in particular, towards dogmatism occurring over the past two years call for close attention. For example, some of our comrades tend to go in for new and large projects. Such formalistic mentality, divorced from reality, has cost us much. Do we need new and large projects? Certainly. Projects such as the Anshan Iron and Steel Complex and some of the large enterprises in Xi’an constitute the backbone of our economic development. Without these new projects and the development of such key enterprises it would be impossible for us to solve the problems connected with more advanced technologies. In future, more new and large enterprises will be established. However, not every enterprise has to be new and large, nor should we assume that being new or large is necessarily a good thing. As far as form is concerned, it is indeed necessary. We should pay close attention to form whenever possible, but we should not allow this to degenerate into formalism, wasting state funds for the sake of form or stressing the importance of form at the expense of our work.

At present, our enterprises, especially the large ones financed by the central authorities, have wasted too much money. If we managed things correctly, it should have been entirely possible to save a great deal by spending less money to set up new enterprises of the same size equipped with the same level of technology. Some of our enterprises are very large, covering a vast area, with a huge area in front of the factory and an office building besides the factory itself. Can they not do without these extras? Can they not direct production under simpler conditions? A lot of money has been spent improperly. Some central enterprises have taken the lead by giving a massive appearance, erecting impressive name signs and behaving like pampered princes, exerting a bad influence on some local industries. For example, when a coal mine was operated by the provincial authorities, the costs were low, but after it was handed over to the Central Coal Administration, the costs went up considerably. When the mine is run by the local authorities, its accounts are well kept, but once it is brought under the control of the central authorities, nobody calculates the costs of production on the grounds that it does not matter much if the mine is running at a loss, since the state can compensate for the loss. Such things do not happen in the Soviet Union or in the United States, France or other capitalist countries. Even the Kuomintang did not dare to behave this way. Although it had many corrupt officials, the Kuomintang managed enterprises better than we do. Many of the national capitalists in China have made their fortunes through hard work, and they are doing better at running enterprises than we do. When I came here last time, I heard that there were 13 joint state-private factories whose workshops and workers’ living quarters were old and whose directors lived in humble houses. I suggested that the Xi’an Municipal Party Committee organize a visit to those factories for comrades of the state-run enterprises. I also suggested that comrades of the Provincial Party Committee visit Shanghai, where some enterprises with economical and practical facilities really owe their success to their hard work. Such a visit may help you change your way of thinking, because these enterprises have a wealth of valuable experience for you to emulate. People managing large enterprises, those managing the central ones in particular, should take care not to be rash and go in for new, large projects and stateliness in disregard of China’s reality. They should do things simply and economically, practising economy and working hard with perseverance. In my opinion, economy can be truly practised only under socialism. In Lanzhou I visited a factory where everything was very simple, including its equipment and the director’s office, yet the factory turned out quite good products. Of course, I am not suggesting that all enterprises follow this example, except that this spirit is worth emulating.

There are also many problems in city planning. Planning is a necessity; it would be improper for us not to do it. The problem is how. In planning, too, we must adopt a correct guiding concept, because improper planning may lead to enormous waste. It is said that the urban plan for Xi’an has already accounted for all the space in the city. In fact, there is still plenty of empty space and nobody knows when it will be filled. I have noticed that the workshops of some cotton mills and factories of the Second Ministry of Machine-Building Industry are located quite far from each other. As the mills and factories cover large areas, a lot of money has to be spent for their construction.

Where the “bone” projects and the “flesh” projects are concerned, we have been building new, large “flesh” projects, too. It is true that in the past we did not pay enough attention to the “flesh” projects when making city plans, failing to set up enough service trades, such as stores and barbershops, as we should have. This question must be solved now; it would be inappropriate not to solve it, for this is a question related to the system. However, it must be emphatically pointed out that although a large amount of money was allocated for such projects, the money was inappropriately used. From now on, we should build more projects with less money. As far as the central authorities are concerned, they have failed to pay enough attention to “flesh” projects; the local authorities, for their part, should pay more attention to using their money appropriately, I am afraid. On this visit I have gone to many places and noticed that in some of them a lot of money was spent on nothing. To be frank, Lanzhou made a better impression on me than Xi’an. I saw a lot of simple facilities in Lanzhou. For example, theatres there also serve as cinemas with quite comfortable seats. It took only one hundred thousand yuan, and sometimes even less, to build such a theatre. As a matter of fact, building one less large, elegant theatre will make it possible for us to build many smaller, simpler ones that are laid out more proportionately in the city. As ours is a large country, we do need some marvelous facilities to demonstrate the new look of the country. I am not totally against this, but such facilities should not be too great in number. I feel that we already have too many of them, and we should definitely stop setting up any more. As long as we bear this in mind and build more simpler facilities, we shall be able to solve the question of “flesh” projects and spend our money on the badly needed projects, such as sewers. In Xi’an there are more than a few cinemas and theatres, but none is in the industrial district, so that those who want to see plays have difficulty finding a theatre, and where theatres are located, there are few patrons. The layout of theatres is obviously irrational. There are many simple shops in the Chenghuangmiao area of Xi’an; why not have more “Chenghuangmiaos” in the industrial district? Are people not complaining that transportation represents a large problem? If our urban facilities are laid out properly, that is, if we are to set up more simple stores and barbershops in densely populated areas, the traffic problem will be solved. Where there are people, there is a need for schools. Building fewer large schools will make it possible for us to build more smaller ones. In short, these are all questions concerning the guiding concept of city planning and the guiding concept for handling the relationship between the “bone” projects and the “flesh” projects.

The guiding concept for our economic development should consist of the following:

First, to face up to the actual conditions of the country. We should never divorce ourselves from China’s actual conditions. What is dogmatism? It is divorce from reality. Experience is a good thing, but it can turn into a bad thing if we learn the wrong lessons from it. A lot of the experience of the Soviet Union is good, but it would be disastrous if we emulate it in a dogmatic way. We must not forget for a moment the fact that ours is a poor country beset with difficulties. It is precisely because we are poor that we emphasize the need to increase production and practise economy. We must face up to the actual conditions of the country and take economy, practicality and attractiveness into account in the course of development. Premier Zhou Enlai talked about this question as early as in 1953. Some comrades stress the need of attractiveness, which is good, of course; everybody likes attractive things. However, it should not be over emphasized at the expense of economy and practicality, or without regard to what is actually possible. It is all right if something is not very attractive. We can take care of that in future, when we are rich enough, but for now we should concentrate on economy and practicality.

Second, to face the needs of the masses. We tend to neglect the needs of the masses when considering things. There are different views prevalent today. People are pursuing a variety of “-izations”, including communization, to the neglect of the needs of the masses. Instead of trying to solve easy problems, they spend money where they should not. They do not pay enough attention to solving the problems of concern to the masses that can be solved with a small amount of money or even without spending any money. We should consider the needs of the masses in the course of development, finding out what their problems are and helping them solve these problems. We should do the same when we build schools, set up cultural and recreational centres, and solve problems in the relationship between the “bone” projects and the “flesh” projects.

It should be noted that in the past our Party was successful in leading economic development, but it has slackened its efforts over recent years, spending money in disregard of the country’s actual conditions and the masses’ needs. In addition, our propagandists are always saying that our country is very beautiful and wealthy. Some students and young workers are creating disturbances because they think the state had done too little to satisfy their needs and has been unfair to them. Some cadres share their sentiments. After working in the city, they are unwilling to go down to the countryside. Our country is poor, but people are trying to make it appear very rich. Therefore, I suggest that simple facilities be set up purposefully in the neighbourhood of high buildings here in Xi’an, which may help educate the young. In short, in economic development we must not divorce ourselves from reality and the actual living standards of the masses. Looking back on our past, I should say that first, our achievements have been great and we should do even better tomorrow; and second, mistakes are unavoidable. This is not meant as negative criticism, so do not feel disheartened. Those mistakes cannot be blamed on any one individual; the central authorities should be the first to blame. We have spent money to gain experience, experience that is rather dear. We shall have to do it in future, but we should try to buy much more experience with much less money.

(Excerpt from a report delivered at a meeting of cadres in Xi’an.)