Deng Xiaoping

We Shall Expand Political Democracy and Carry Out Economic Reform


Published: April 15, 1985
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


When you visited China in 1973, there was great unrest because of the “cultural revolution”, which was still going on. At that time the “Left” ideology was predominant in our society. As a consequence social and economic development was very slow.

After the founding of the People’s Republic, in the rural areas we initiated agrarian reform and launched a movement for the cooperative transformation of agriculture, while in the cities we conducted the socialist transformation of capitalist industry and commerce. We were successful in both. However, from 1957 on, China was plagued by “Left” ideology, which gradually became dominant. During the Great Leap Forward in 1958, people rushed headlong into mass action to establish people’s communes. They placed lopsided emphasis on making the communes large and collective, urging everyone to “eat from the same big pot”, and by so doing they brought disaster upon the nation. We won’t even mention the “cultural revolution”. For most of the period from 1976, when the Gang of Four was smashed, to 1978, nobody knew what to do, and “Left” mistakes kept being repeated. During the 20 years from 1958 to 1978 the income of peasants and workers rose only a little, and consequently their standard of living remained very low. The development of the productive forces was sluggish during those years. In 1978 per capita GNP was less than US$250.

In December of that year, when the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party convened its Third Plenary Session, We made a sober analysis of conditions in China and summed up our experience. We reaffirmed the great achievements scored in the 30 years from the founding of new China in 1949 through 1978, but that didn’t mean that everything we had done was successful. The socialist system we have established is a good one, and we must adhere to it. The realization of socialism and communism was the lofty ideal we Marxists set for ourselves during the revolutionary years. Now that we are trying to reform the economy, we shall continue to keep to the socialist road and to uphold the ideal of communism. This is something our younger generation in particular must understand. But the problem is: what is socialism and how is it to be built? The most important lesson we have learned, among a great many others, is that we must be clear about those questions.

Comrade Mao Zedong was a great leader, and it was under his leadership that the Chinese revolution triumphed. Unfortunately, however, he made the grave mistake of neglecting the development of the productive forces. I do not mean he didn’t want to develop them. The point is, not all of the methods he used were correct. For instance, neither the initiation of the Great Leap Forward nor the establishment of the people’s communes conformed to the laws governing socio-economic development.

The fundamental principle of Marxism is that the productive forces must be developed. The ultimate goal for Marxists is to realize communism, which must be built on the basis of highly developed productive forces. Socialism constitutes the first stage of communism and will last for a long historical period. The primary task in the socialist period is to develop the productive forces and gradually improve people’s material and cultural life. Our experience in the 20 years from 1958 to 1978 teaches us that poverty is not socialism, that socialism means eliminating poverty. Unless you are developing the productive forces and raising people’s living standards, you cannot say that you are building socialism.

At the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee our Party, having reviewed our experience, laid down a series of new policies. There were two major domestic ones: to expand political democracy and to carry out economic reform and corresponding social reforms. As for our foreign policy, it is to oppose hegemonism and preserve world peace. Peace is the prime objective of our foreign policy. People all over the world are demanding peace, and we too need peace for national construction. Without a peaceful environment, how much construction could there be?

After the Third Plenary Session we proceeded to explore ways of building socialism in China. Finally we decided to develop the productive forces and gradually expand the economy. The first goal we set was to quadruple the GNP and achieve comparative prosperity by the end of the century. The second goal was, within 30 or 50 more years, to approach the level of the developed countries. How are we to go about achieving these goals? We must observe the laws governing socio-economic development and follow an open policy both internationally and domestically. It is very important to open to the outside world. No country can develop in isolation, with its doors closed; it must increase international contacts, introduce advanced methods, science and technology from developed countries and use their capital. Pursuing an open policy domestically means carrying out reform. The reform we are undertaking is a comprehensive one, including not only the economic and political spheres but also science, technology, education and all other fields of endeavour.

We began our reform in the countryside. The main purpose of the rural reform has been to bring the peasants’ initiative into full play by introducing the responsibility system and discarding the system whereby “everybody eats from the same big pot”. Why did we start in the countryside? Because that is where 80 per cent of China’s population lives. If we didn’t raise living standards in the countryside, the society would be unstable. Industry, commerce and other sectors of the economy cannot develop on the basis of the poverty of 80 per cent of the population. After three years of practice the rural reform has proved successful. The countryside has assumed a new look. The living standards of 90 per cent of the rural population have been raised. Those of the remaining 10 per cent are still low, but it should not be too difficult to solve that problem. Just now you mentioned that you had seen many new tall buildings in Beijing, but they aren’t the big changes in China. The big changes are to be found in the countryside.

After our success in rural reform we embarked on urban reform. Urban reform is more complicated and risky. We have no experience in this regard. Also, China has traditionally been a very closed society, so that people lack information about what’s going on elsewhere. That is one of our major weaknesses. Every step we take in urban reform will affect tens of thousands of families. However, we are fully aware of the risks and shall proceed carefully, drawing on the successful experience of rural reform to help us avoid major mistakes. Of course, we shall inevitably make minor and even not-so-minor mistakes. The principle we have laid down for ourselves is that we must be both determined and on the alert. By determined we mean that we must carry out the reform unswervingly; by on the alert we mean that we must promptly correct all mistakes as soon as they are identified. Reform is what the people want and demand. Although some problems have arisen in the process, we are confident that we can handle them. If it took us three years to complete the rural reform, we can expect that it will be three to five years before we can judge the success of the urban reform. We are sure it will be successful. To make it so we certainly won’t rely on the help of God; we shall rely on our own efforts, learning from experience and pushing resolutely ahead. In short, we are doing something that China has never done before, not in thousands of years. The current reform will have an impact not only domestically but also internationally.

So, that is a brief history of new China and of what we have done in recent years. How can people build socialism? You said you wanted to learn from China’s experience. The road to socialism in China has been full of twists and turns. But the experience of the last 20 years has taught us one very important principle: to build socialism we must adhere to Marxist dialectical materialism and historical materialism or, as Comrade Mao Zedong put it, in everything we do we must seek truth from facts — in other words, we must proceed from reality.

(Excerpt from a talk with Vice-President Ali Hassan Mwinyi of the United Republic of Tanzania.)