Mao Zedong

Critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems

Written: 1961
First Published: 1981 (English translation)
Source: Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Volume VIII [A]
Transcribed: Maoist Documentation Project
HTML Markup: Roland Ferguson

Stalin’s book from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things, people. Does the kind of supply system for consumer goods help spur economic development or not? He should have touched on this at the least. Is it better to have commodity production or is it better not to? Everyone has to study this. Stalin’s point of view in his last letter [Reply to comrades A.V. Sanina and V. G. Venzber] is almost altogether wrong. The basic error is mistrust of the peasants.

Parts of the first, second, and third chapters are correct; other parts could have been clearer. For example, the discussion on planned economy is not complete. The rate of development of the Soviet economy is not high enough, although it is faster than the capitalists’ rate. Relations between agriculture and industry, as well as between light and heavy industry, are not clearly explained.

It looks as if they have had serious losses. The relationship between long and short-term interests has not seen any spectacular developments. They walk on one leg we walk on two. They believe that technology decides everything, that cadres decide everything, speaking only of “expert, ” never of “red”, only of the cadres, never of the masses. This is walking on one leg. As for as heavy industry goes, they have failed to find the primary contradiction, calling steel the foundation, machinery the heart and innards, coal the food . . . For us steel is the mainstay, the primary contradiction in industry, while food-grains are the mainstay in agriculture. Other things develop proportionally.

In the first chapter he discusses grasping the laws, but without proposing a method. On commodity production and the law of value he has a number of views that we approve of ourselves, but there are problems as well. Limiting commodity production to the means of subsistence is really rather doubtful. Mistrust of the peasants is the basic viewpoint of the third letter. Essentially, Stalin did not discover a way to make the transition from collective to public ownership. Commodity production and exchange are forms we have kept, while in connection with the law of value we must speak of planning and at the same time politics-in-command. They speak only of the production relations, not of the superstructure nor politics, nor the role of the people. Communism cannot be reached unless there is a communist movement. These first four paragraphs comment critically on the entire text. There follows a series of comments criticizing sections. Before each comment Stalin’s original text is given, as translated for Jen min ch'u pan she, 3rd ed., January 1938.]

1. These comrades... it is evident... confuse laws of science, which reflect objective processes in nature or society, processes which take place independently of the will of man, with the laws which are issued by governments, which are made by the will of man, and which have only juridical validity. But they must not be confused.

1. This principle is basically correct, but two things are wrong: first, the conscious activity of the party and the masses is not sufficiently brought out; second, it is not comprehensive enough in that it fails to explain that what makes government decrees correct is not only that they emerge from the will of the working class but also the fact that they faithfully reflect the imperatives of objective economic laws.

2. Leaving aside astronomical, geological, and other similar processes, which man really is powerless to influence, even if he has come to know the laws of their development....

2. This argument is wrong. Human knowledge and the capability to transform nature have no limit. Stalin did not consider these matters developmentally. What cannot now be done, may be done in the future.

3. The same must be said of the laws of economic development, the laws of political economy—whether in the period of capitalism or in the period of socialism. Here, too, the laws of economic development, as in the case of natural science, are objective laws, reflecting processes of economic development, which take place independently of the will of man.

3. How do we go about planning the economy? There is not enough attention given to light industry, to agriculture.

4. That is why Engels says in the same book: 'The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating, him, will them be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him.” (Anti-Duhring)

4. Freedom is necessary objective law understood by people. Such law confronts people, is independent of them. But once people understand it, they can control it.

5. The specific role of soviet government was due to two circumstances: first that what Soviet government had to do was not to replace one from of exploitation by another, as was the case in earlier revolutions, but to abolish exploration altogether; second, that in view of the absence in the country of any ready made rudiments of a socialist economy, it had to create new, socialist forms of economy “starting from scratch,” so to speak,.

5. The inevitability of socialist economic laws—that is something that needs to be studied. At the Ch'engtu Conference I said that we would have to see whether or not our general program (“More! Faster! Better! More economically! ”, the three concurrent promotions, and the mass line) would flop (1) or if it could succeed. This can not be demonstrated for several or even as many as ten years. The laws of the revolution, which used to be doubted by some, have now been proved correct because the enemy has been overthrown. Can socialist construction work? People still have doubts. Does our Chinese practice conform to the economic laws of China? This has to be studied. My view is that if the practice conforms generally, things will be all right.

6. This [creating new, socialist forms of economy “from scratch".] was undoubtedly a difficult, complex, and unprecedented task.

6. With respect to the creating of socialist economic forms we have the precedent of the Soviet Union and for this reason should do a bit better than they. If we ruin things it will show that Chinese Marxism does not work. As to the difficult and complexity of the tasks, things are no different from what the Soviet Union faced.

7. It is said that the necessity for balanced (proportionate) development of the national economy in our country enables the Soviet government to abolish existing economic laws and to create new ones. That is absolutely untrue. Our yearly and five yearly plans must not he confused with the objective economic law of balanced, proportionate development of the national economy.

7. This is the crux of the matter

8. That means that the law of balanced development of the national economy makes it possible for our planning bodies to plan social production correctly But possibility must not be confused with actuality. They are two different things. In order to turn the possibility into actuality, it is necessary to study this economic law, to master it, to learn to apply it with full understanding, and to compile such plans as fully reflect the requirements of this law. It cannot be said that the requirements of this economic law are fully reflected by our yearly and five yearly plans.

8. The central point of this passage is that we must not confuse the objective law of planned proportionate development with planning. In the past we too devised plans, but they frequently caused a storm. Too much! Too little! Blindly we bumped into things, never sure of the best way. Only after suffering tortuous lessons, moving in U-shaped patterns, everyone racking their brains to think of answers, did we hit upon the forty-article agricultural program which we are now putting into effect.

And we are in the midst of devising a new forty articles. After another three years' bitter struggle we will develop further; after full and sufficient discussions we will again proceed. Can we make it a reality? It remains to be proved in objective practice. We worked on industry for eight years but did not realize that we had to take steel as the mainstay. This was the principal aspect of the contradiction in industry. It was monism. Among the large, the medium, and the small., we take the large as the mainstay, between the center and the regions, the center. Of the two sides of any contradiction one is the principal side. As important as eight years' achievements are, we were feeling our way along, nonetheless. It cannot be said that our planning of production was entirely correct, that it entirely reflected the objective laws. Planning is done by the whole party, not simply the planning committee or the economics committee, but by all levels; everyone is involved. In this passage Stalin is theoretically correct. But there is not yet a finely detailed analysis, nor even the beginnings of a clear explanation. The Soviets did not distinguish among the large, the medium, and the small, the region and the center; nor did they promote concurrently industry and agriculture. They have not walked on two legs at all. Their rules and regulations hamstrung people. But we have not adequately studied and grasped our situation, and as a result our plans have not fully reflected objective laws either.

9. Let us examine Engels' formula. Engels' formula cannot be considered fully clear and precise, because it does not indicate whether it is referring to the seizure by society of all or only part of the means of production; that is, whether all or only part of the means of production are converted into public property. Hence, this formula of Engels' may be understood either way.

9. This analysis touches the essentials! The problem is dividing the means of production into two parts. To say the means of production are not commodities deserves study.

10. In this section, Commodity Production Under Socialism, Stalin has not comprehensively set forth the conditions for the existence of commodities. The existence of two kinds of ownership is the main premise for commodity production. But ultimately commodity production is also related to the productive forces. For this reason, even under completely socialized public ownership, commodity exchange will still have to be operative in some areas.

11. It follows from this that Engels has in mind countries where capitalism and the concentration of production have advanced far enough both in industry and agriculture to permit the expropriation of nil the means of production in the country and their conversion into public property. Engels, consequently, considers that in such countries, parallel with the socialization of all the means of production, commodity production should be put an end to. And that, of course, is correct.

11. Stalin’s analysis of Engels' formula is correct. At present there is a strong tendency to do away with commodity production. People get upset the minute they see commodity production, taking it for capitalism itself. But it looks as if commodity production will have to be greatly developed and the money supply increased for the sake of the solidarity of several hundred million peasants. This poses a problem for the ideology of several hundred thousand cadres as well as for the solidarity of several hundred million peasants. We now possess only a part of the means of production. But it appears that there are those who wish to declare at once ownership by the whole people, divesting the small and medium producers. But they fail to declare the category of ownership! Is it to be commune-owned or county-owned? To abolish commodities and commodity production in this way, merely by declaring public ownership, is to strip the peasantry. At the end of 1955, procurement and purchase got us almost 90 billion catties of grain, causing us no little trouble. Everyone was talking about food, and household after household was talking about unified purchase. But it was purchase, after all, not allocation. Only later did the crisis ease when we made the decision to make this 88 billion catties of grain. I cannot understand why people have forgotten these things so promptly.

12. I leave aside in this instance the question of the importance of foreign trade to Britain and the vast part it plays in her national economy. I think that only after an investigation of this question can it be finally decided what would be the future [fate] of commodity production in Britain after the proletariat had assumed power and all the means of production had been nationalized.

12. Fate depends on whether or not commodity production is abolished.

13. But here is a question; What are the proletariat and its party to do in countries, ours being a case in point, where the conditions are favorable for the assumption of power by the proletariat and the overthrow of capitalism [where capitalism has so concentrated the means of production in industry that they maybe expropriated and made the property of society, but where agriculture, notwithstanding the growth of capitalism, is divided up among numerous small and medium owner-producers to such an extent as to make it impossible to consider the expropriation of these producers?] [Material in brackets added from Stalin’s text to clarify the point.].... [This] would throw the peasantry into the camp of the enemies of the proletariat for a long time.

13. In sum, the principle governing commodity production was not grasped. Chinese economists are Marxist-Leninist as far as book learning goes. But when they encounter economic practice Marxism-Leninism gets shortchanged. Their thinking is confused. If we make mistakes we will lead the peasantry to the enemy side.

14. Lenin’s answer may be briefly summed up as follows: (a). Favorable conditions for the assumption of power should not be missed — the proletariat should assume power without waiting until capitalism has succeeded in ruining the millions of small and medium individual producers;

l5 (b). The means of production in industry should be expropriated and converted into public property,

16(c). As to the small and medium individual producers, they should be gradually united in producers” cooperatives, i.e., in large agricultural enterprises, collective farms;

17(d). Industry should be developed to the utmost and the collective farms should be placed on the modern technical basis of large-scale production, not expropriating them, but on the contrary generously supplying them with first-class tractors and other machines;

18(e). In order to ensure an economic bond between town and country, between industry and agriculture, commodity production (exchange through purchase and sale) should be preserved for a certain period, it being the form of economic tie with the town which is alone acceptable to the peasants, and Soviet trade — state, cooperative, end collective-farm — should be developed to the full and the capitalists of all types and descriptions ousted from trading activity.

The history of socialist construction in our country has shown that this path of development, mapped out by Lenin, has fully justified itself.

19. There can be no doubt that in the case of all capitalist countries with a more or less numerous class of small and medium producers, this path of development is the only possible and expedient one for the victory of socialism.

14. This passage has a correct analysis. Take conditions in China. There is development. These five points are all correct.

15. Our policy toward the national bourgeoisie has been to redeem their property.

16. We are developing the people’s communes on an ever-larger scale.

17. This is precisely what we are doing now.

18. There are those who want no commodity production but they are wrong. On commodity production we still have to take it from Stalin, who, in turn, got it from Lenin. Lenin had said to devote the fullest energies to developing commerce. We would rather say, devote the fullest energies to developing industry, agriculture, and commerce. The essence of the problem is the peasant question. There are those who regard the peasant as even more conscious than the workers. We have carried through or are in the process of carrying through on these five items.

Some areas still have to be developed, such as commuune-run industry or concurrent promotion of industry and agriculture.

19. Lenin said the same thing.

20. Commodity production must not be regarded as something sufficient unto itself something independent of the surrounding economic conditions. commodity, production is older than capitalist production. It existed in slave-owning society, and served it, but did not lead to capitalism. It existed in feudal society and served it, yet, although it prepared some of the conditions for capitalist production, it did not lead to capitalism.

21. Bearing in mind that in our country commodity production is not so boundless and all-embracing as it is under capitalist.

22. conditions, being confined within strict bounds thanks to such decisive economic conditions as social ownership of the means of production, the abolition or the system of wage labor, and the elimination of the

23. system of exploitation, washy then, one asks, cannot commodity production similarly serve our socialist society for a certain period without leading to capitalism?

20. This statement is a little exaggerated. But it is true that commodity production was not a capitalist institution exclusively.

21. The second plenary session of the Central Committee suggested policies of utilizing, restricting, and transforming (commodity production.)

22. This condition is fully operative in China.

23. This point is entirely correct. We no longer have such circumstances and conditions. There are those who fear commodities. Without exception they fear capitalism, not realizing that with the elimination of capitalists it is allowable to expand commodity production vastly. We are still backward in commodity production, behind Brazil and India. Commodity production is not an isolated thing. Look at the context: capitalism or socialism. In a capitalist context it is capitalist commodity production. In a socialist context it is socialist commodity production. Commodity production has existed since ancient times. Buying and selling began in what history calls the Shang [''commerce''] dynasty. The last king of the Shang dynasty. Chou, was competent in civil and military matters, but he was turned into a villain along with the first emperor of the Ch'in (2) and Ts'o T’sao (3). This is wrong. “ Better to have no books than complete faith in them.'' In capitalist society there are no socialist institutions considered as social institutions, but the working class and socialist ideology do exist in capitalist society. The thing that determines commodity production is the surrounding economic conditions. The question is, can commodity production be regarded as a useful instrument for furthering socialist production? I think commodity production will serve socialism quite tamely. This can 'be discussed among the cadres.

24. It is said that, since the domination of social ownership of the means of production has been established in our country, and the system of wage labor and exploitation has been abolished, commodity production has lost all meaning and should therefore be done away with.

24. Change “our country” to “China” and it becomes most intriguing.

25. Today there are two basic forms of socialist production in our country. state or publicly owned production, and collective farm production, which cannot be said to he publicly owned.

25. “Today” refers to 1952, thirty-five years after their revolution. We stand but nine years from ours.

He refers to two basic forms. In the communes not only land and machinery but labor, seeds, and other means of production as well are commune-owned. Thus the output is so owned. But don't think the Chinese peasants are so wonderfully advanced. In Hsiuwu county, Honan, the party secretary was concerned whether or not, in the event of flood or famine, the state would pay wages after public ownership was declared and the free supply system instituted. He was also concerned that in times of bumper harvest the state would transfer away public grain but not pay wages either, leaving the peasants to suffer whether the harvest succeeds, or fails. This represents the concerns of the peasants. Marxists should be concerned with these problems. Our commodity production should be developed to the fullest, but it is going to take fifteen years or more and patience as well. We have waged war for decades. Now we still have to have patience, to wait for Taiwan’s liberation, to wait for socialist construction to be going well. Don't hope for early victories!

26. [ How the two basic forms of ownership will ultimately become one] is a special question which requires separate discussion.

26. Stalin is avoiding the issue, having failed to find a method or suitable formulation for the transition from collective to public ownership.]

27. Consequently, our commodity production is not of the ordinary type, but is a special kind of commodity production, commodity production without capitalists, which is concerned mainly with the goods of associated socialist producers (the state the collective farms, the cooperatives), the sphere of action of which is confined to items of personal consumption, which is obviously cannot possibly develop into capitalist production, and which together with its “money is designed to serve the development and consolidation of socialist production.

27. The “sphere of action” is not limited to items of individual consumption. Some means of production have to be classed as commodities. If agricultural output consists of commodities but industrial output does not, then how is exchange going to be carried out? If “our country” is changed to “China,” the paragraph becomes all the more interesting to read. In China not only consumer goods but agricultural means of production have to be supplied. Stalin never sold means of production to the peasants. Khurshchev changed that.

28. (Chairman Mao commented on page 13 of the original text); Let us not confuse the problem of the dividing line between socialism and communism with the problem of the dividing line between collective and public ownership. The collective ownership system leaves us with the problem of commodity production, the goal of which is consolidating the worker-peasant alliance and developing production. Today there are those who say that the communism of the peasants is glorious. After one trip to the rural areas they think the peasantry is simply wonderful, that they are about to enter paradise, that they are better than the workers. This is the surface phenomenon. We hall have to see if the peasants really have a communist spirit, and more than that, we shall have to examine the commune ownership system, including the extent to which the means of production and subsistence belong to communal collective ownership. As the county party committee secretary of Hsiuwu, Honan, said, we still have to develop commodity production, and not charge blindly ahead.

29. Further I think that we must also discard certain other concepts taken from Marx’s Capital — where Marx was concerned with an analysis of capitalism — and artificially applied to our socialist relations....It is natural that Marx used concepts (categories) which fully corresponded to capitalist relations. But it is strange, to say the

30. least to use these concepts now, when the working class is not only not bereft of power and means of production, but, on the contrary, is in possession of the power.

31. and controls the means of production. Talk of labor power being a commodity, and of “hiring” of workers sounds rather absurd now under our system as though the working class, which possesses means of production, hires itself and sells its labor power to itself.

29. In particular, the means of production in the industrial sector.

30. Commodity production has to be vastly developed, not for profits but for the peasantry, the agricultural-industrial alliance, and the development of production.

31. Especially after rectification. After the rectification and anti-rightist campaigns labor power was no longer a commodity. It was in the service of the people, not the dollar. The labor power question is not resolved until labor power is no longer a commodity.

32. It is sometimes asked whether the law of value exists and operates in our country, under the socialist system.

32. The law of value does not have a regulative function. Planning and politics-in command play that role.

33. True the law of value has no regulating function in our socialist production.

33. In our society the law of value has no regulative function, that is, has no determinative function. Planning determines production, e.g., for hogs or steel we do not use the law of value; we rely on planning.

1. Mao is here talking about the excessive purchase of grain at the end of 1954 and the consequent rural grain shortages in the spring of 1955. Subsequently, the quota for state purchases was reduced by 7 billion catties and tension in the countryside eased. These occurrences, however, took place in the spring or 1955, not at the end of that year, which was characterized by the continuing high fide of collectivization in China's countryside.

2. Ch'in Shih Huang Ti (Qin Shi Huangdi), the first emperor, was a king or the state of Ch'in who, between 230 and 221 B. C., conquered the neighboring states and unified China. Under his rule, a feudal system was established, weights and measures and coinage were standardized. The legalist philosophy was the philosophical basis of the Ch'in. The first emperor is remembered for his burning of all nonutilitarian, subversive literature in 213 BC.

3. Ts'ao Ts'ao (Cao Cao) was a famous general and chancellor of the latter Han dynasty (25-220 AD) who played a significant role in the wars which finally toppled the Han and led to the epoch of divided empire called the three kingdoms.

[A] These volumes were published in India by Kranti Publications, Secunderabad, and Sramikavarga Prachuranalu, Hyderabad. They contain many documents published by the Red Guards and other sources. References are given within regarding sources. Although this material was not officially published by the CPC, we include it here because of its great historical importance. Note by Maoist Documentation Project

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