1949-1956 Model Essay

2015 (b) In the early 1950s, Mao said, ‘Our present policy is to control not eliminate capitalism.’ To what extent was Mao’s policy put into practice during the period 1949–1956?

Essay plan

 Overall argument: Counter to Mao’s statement, the collectivization of agriculture meant the gradual elimination of capitalism rather than the ‘control of capitalism.’ The same can be said of industry in terms of the First Five Year Plan as a precursor to the Great Leap. Both sectors were inspired by the Communism of the Soviet Union.


- Mao admired development of USSR , five year plan was modelled upon this – foreign imports and trade minimal

- Development of the urban ‘danwei’ or work unit -exertion of control over people’s lives, collectivism

- 1955 advent of state-private firms


- Mao believed peasants had ‘spontaneous tendency towards capitalism’ – collectivization would gradually force them to adopt communist behaviors.

- forcible state purchase of grain

-  process of move towards communes beginning with mutual aid teams in 1953

This essay argues that Mao’s statement ‘Our present policy is to control rather than eliminate capitalism’ is misleading. Instead, developments in both China’s agricultural and industrial sectors between 1949-1956 pointed to the gradual elimination of capitalism, culminating in the all-encompassing institutions of the Commune (1958) and Danwei (1953)  

In terms of industrial development, Mao’s First Five Year Plan was modelled on those of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Mao’s First Five Year Plan kept foreign imports to an absolute minimum, effectively isolating China’s economy from global markets. This helped to ensure that capitalist ventures were reduced to their absolute minimum rather than merely being controlled. Heavy industry companies such as the Anshan steel plant were all placed under state ownership. Production rates increased rapidly, and the government set highly ambitious targets. However, failure to comply with these targets was dangerous, since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exerted political control and limited any form of personal freedom. As such, the First Five Year Plan was part of a wider strategy to gradually eliminate capitalism.

In urban areas, the advent of the danwei in 1953 exerted enormous amounts of control over people’s daily lives.The Caoyang model village in Shanghai is an important example. Kitchens and toilets were public which lessened the influence of the family unit and encouraged collective living. People lived and worked with colleagues and were accountable to each other. Clearly, the dismantling of private property constitutes more than the mere control of capitalism.

In 1954 the First Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was adopted, and it was stated that the government was moving towards a centralized, socialist economy. A year later, in 1955, any company that was not under state control was compelled to move towards joint state-private ownership with no choice in the matter. Moreover, the common program, enforced between 1949-1954, emphasized the principle of ‘democratic centralism,’ the name of which is slightly misleading. The common program states ‘the minority will abide by the decisions of the majority.’ No critique was allowed after a majority decision was taken. Former purges during the Yan’an rectification period demonstrate the severe consequences of not obeying this policy. As such,democratic centralism constituted a highly restricted form of democracy compared to the western notion of a liberal democracy. The difference between the common program and the first constitution of the PRC demonstrated this gradual elimination of capitalism in China.

Turning to agriculture, it is clear that a gradual elimination of capitalism also took place. After Land Reform was completed, peasants felt a sense of individual ownership, as they were now entrusted with their own plot of land which had been redistributed from landlords. This feeling was short-lived, as this land gradually became government property. Firstly, mutual aid teams were sent in to encourage peasants to pool resources such as tools and machinery. Then, in 1953 cooperatives were created, where individual plots of land were collectivised. Between 1955 and 1956 ‘higher stage cooperatives’ emerged where what an individual earned was determined by the amount of labour they had undertaken. Finally, in 1958 communes were formed, which controlled every aspect of rural peasants’ life, for example communal canteens, education and so on. The commune was the elimination of capitalism to the greatest possible extent. Therefore, it is clear that the process of the collectivisation of agriculture initiated before 1956 was intended to lead to this stage.

The forcible state purchase of grain began as early as 1953 meaning that any form of surplus supply had to be given to the government. In a capitalist system, greater levels of production are often rewarded with a higher salary, but under unified purchase and sale, peasants had little incentive or motivation to produce more. By 1954, 4.5 million people in Henan and Jiangxi provinces were going hungry. Many people fled to the cities to escape famine and by 1955 an ‘internal passport’ was introduced to prevent rural-urban migration. Clearly, a lack of individual reward constitutes the elimination of capitalism.

The elimination of capitalism also came with the elimination of personal freedom and the establishment of political control. Mao had famously claimed that peasants had a ‘spontaneous tendency towards capitalism.’ It was also hoped that the process of collectivisation would force peasants to comply with communist ideology given that every aspect of their lives would be monitored. Mass campaigns such as those to improve education also instilled a sense of loyalty to the CCP and communism. Particularly in rural areas, illiteracy was a major problem that the Combat Illiteracy (1950-1956) campaign intended to solve. However, the texts that peasants were given to read were all prescribed by the party which of course was a barrier to any form of independent thinking. As such, Mao and the CCP supressed many of the social liberties associated with capitalism as well as economic freedom.

In conclusion, between 1949-1956 Mao gradually eliminated capitalism in a step-by-step process rather than merely controlling it.  Beyond 1956, a completely closed economy was enforced during the disastrous Great Leap Forward where millions died of famine. The years 1949-1956 could be said to have laid the foundations for this horrific outcome. Both the commune and danwei exemplified complete control of the Chinese citizenry in all aspects of their everyday lives whilst economically speaking any form of private industry was gradually abolished.