Deng Xiaoping

Reform Is the Only Way For China to Developed Its Productive Forces


Published: August 28, 1985
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


We did a great deal of work between 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and 1976, when Chairman Mao Zedong passed away. We were particularly successful during the period of transition from new-democratic revolution to socialist revolution, in which we carried out agrarian reform and then, in the period of the First Five-Year Plan [1953-1957], engaged in large-scale industrialization and completed the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce.

We began to experience some trouble in 1957, when “Left” ideology appeared. It was necessary for us to combat bourgeois Rightists, but we went too far. In 1958 the spread of “Left” thinking led to the Great Leap Forward and the movement to establish people’s communes. That was a serious mistake, and we suffered because of it. During the three years of economic difficulty from 1959 through 1961, industrial and agricultural output dropped, so that commodities were in short supply. The people didn’t have enough to eat, and their enthusiasm was greatly dampened. At that time our Party and Chairman Mao Zedong enjoyed high prestige acquired through long years of struggle, and we explained to the people frankly why the situation was so difficult. We abandoned the slogan of the Great Leap Forward and adopted more realistic policies and measures instead. The year 1962 saw the beginning of recovery, and in 1963 and 1964 things were looking up, but our guiding ideology still contained remnants of “Left” thinking.

In 1965 it was said that certain persons who were in power in the Party were taking the capitalist road. Then came the “cultural revolution”, in which the “Left” ideology was carried to its extreme and the ultra-Left trend of thought became rampant. The “cultural revolution” actually began in 1965, but it was officially declared only a year later. It lasted a whole decade, from 1966 through 1976, during which time almost all the veteran cadres who formed the backbone of the Party were brought down. It was they who were made the targets of the “cultural revolution”.

After the downfall of the Gang of Four, we began to set things to rights, that is, to correct the ultra-Left trend of thought. But we still maintained that it was necessary to uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. When we met in 1981, I talked about keeping to the socialist road, upholding the people’s democratic dictatorship, upholding leadership by the Communist Party and upholding Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Now we call these the Four Cardinal Principles. If we do not uphold them in our effort to correct ultra-Left thinking, we shall end up “correcting” Marxism-Leninism and socialism.

We summed up our experience in building socialism over the past few decades. We had not been quite clear about what socialism is and what Marxism is. Another term for Marxism is communism. It is for the realization of communism that we have struggled for so many years. We believe in communism, and our ideal is to bring it into being. In our darkest days we were sustained by the ideal of communism. It was for the realization of this ideal that countless people laid down their lives. A Communist society is one in which there is no exploitation of man by man, there is great material abundance and the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs is applied. It is impossible to apply that principle without overwhelming material wealth. In order to realize communism, we have to accomplish the tasks set in the socialist stage. They are legion, but the fundamental one is to develop the productive forces so as to demonstrate the superiority of socialism over capitalism and provide the material basis for communism. For a long time we neglected the development of the productive forces of the socialist society. From 1957 on they grew at a snail’s pace. In the countryside, after ten years — that is, in 1966 — the peasants’ income had risen only very slightly. Although peasants in some areas were better off, those in many other areas still lived in poverty. Of course, even that was progress, compared with the old days. Still, it was far from a socialist standard of living. During the “cultural revolution” things went from bad to worse.

By setting things to rights, we mean developing the productive forces while upholding the Four Cardinal Principles. To develop the productive forces, we have to reform the economic structure and open to the outside world. After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee we began our reform step by step, starting with the countryside. The rural reform has achieved good results, and there has been a noticeable change in the countryside. Drawing on our successful experience in rural reform, we embarked on urban reform. Urban reform, a comprehensive undertaking involving all sectors, has been going on for a year now, ever since the second half of last year. Since it is much more complicated than rural economic reform, mistakes and risks are unavoidable, and that’s something we are quite aware of. But economic reform is the only way to develop the productive forces. We have full confidence in urban reform, although it will take three to five years to demonstrate the correctness of our policies.

In the course of reform it is very important for us to maintain our socialist orientation. We are trying to achieve modernization in industry, agriculture, national defence and science and technology. But in front of the word “modernization” is a modifier, “socialist”, making it the “four socialist modernizations”. The policies of invigorating our domestic economy and opening to the outside world are being carried out in accordance with the principles of socialism. Socialism has two major requirements. First, its economy must be dominated by public ownership, and second, there must be no polarization.

Public ownership may consist of both ownership by the entire people and ownership by the collective. The publicly owned sector of our economy accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total. At the same time, we allow a small private sector to develop, we absorb foreign capital and introduce advanced technology, we encourage Chinese and foreign enterprises to establish joint and cooperative ventures and we even encourage foreigners to set up wholly owned factories in China. All that will serve as a supplement to the socialist economy.

From such ventures workers get wages and the state collects taxes, and part of the income of the joint and cooperative ventures goes to the socialist sector. An even more important aspect of all these ventures is that from them we can learn managerial skills and advanced technology that will help us develop our socialist economy. This cannot and will not undermine the socialist economy. As of now, there has been only limited foreign investment, far less than we feel we need.

As to the requirement that there must be no polarization, we have given much thought to this question in the course of formulating and implementing our policies. If there is polarization, the reform will have been a failure. Is it possible that a new bourgeoisie will emerge? A handful of bourgeois elements may appear, but they will not form a class.

In short, our reform requires that we keep public ownership predominant and guard against polarization. In the last four years we have been proceeding along these lines. That is, we have been keeping to socialism.

Let me add that our socialist state apparatus is so powerful that it can intervene to correct any deviations. To be sure, the open policy entails risks and may bring into China some decadent bourgeois things. But with our socialist policies and state apparatus, we shall be able to cope with them. So there is nothing to fear.

Our comrades have published a collection of some of my speeches, entitled Build Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, which includes, for instance, my opening speech at the Twelfth National Party Congress. I don’t know if you have read it. What, after all, is socialism? The Soviet Union has been building socialism for so many years and yet is still not quite clear what it is. Perhaps Lenin had a good idea when he adopted the New Economic Policy. But as time went on, the Soviet pattern became ossified. We were victorious in the Chinese revolution precisely because we applied the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism to our own realities.

In building socialism we have had both positive and negative experiences, and they are equally useful to us. I hope you will particularly study our “Left” errors. History bears witness to the losses we have suffered on account of those errors. Being totally dedicated to the revolution, we are liable to be too impetuous. It is true that we have good intentions, that we are eager to see the realization of communism at an early date. But often our very eagerness has prevented us from making a sober analysis of subjective and objective conditions, and we have therefore acted in contradiction to the laws governing the development of the objective world. In the past China made the mistake of trying to plunge ahead too fast. We hope you will give special consideration to our negative experiences. Of course one can learn from the experience of other countries, but one must never copy everything they have done.

(Excerpt from a talk with Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and President of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front).)