When the People Had Power:
The Economic Miracles of Maoist China

By Raymond Lotta

Revolutionary Worker #1029, November 7, 1999

On October 1, 1999--the 50th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution--the New York Times ran an editorial which stated:

"Millions perished needlessly in the famines caused by Mao's erratic economic policies and millions more sacrificed their careers and ambitions to the fanaticism of the Cultural Revolution during the 1960s and 1970s. Virtually all the economic progress of the past half century has occurred since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping discarded the precepts of Maoist socialism, opened China's economy to the world and liberated the entrepreneurial energies of the Chinese people."

In response, Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta sent a letter to the New York Times. The letter was not published. The following is an expanded version of this letter.

To the editor,

Your October 1 editorial on the 50th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution states that "virtually all [of China's] economic progress of the past half century has occurred since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping discarded the precepts of Maoist socialism." The idea that China suffered from economic stagnation and economic misguidance during the Maoist years (1949-1976) simply does not stand up to the facts.

Let's start with agriculture. Before 1949, famines, food shortages, and starvation were commonplace in China. But after liberation, hundreds of millions of peasants, now freed of feudal domination, mobilized to expand agricultural production on a cooperative foundation. Vast tracts of existing farmland were improved, while new land was brought into cultivation.

In 1949 only 65,000 acres of land were irrigated; by 1974, over 100 million acres were irrigated--giving China the world's largest area under irrigation. Water conservancy, flood control, and anti-erosion projects changed the landscape of China's countryside. Massive reforestation efforts created significant areas of new forest in China.

By the mid-1970s, basic farm machinery was being manufactured and repaired in most rural localities. Over 70 percent of China's rice paddies and wheat fields were sown with high-yielding seed varieties.

Between 1960 and 1975, China's grain production increased at an annual average rate of between 3.2 and 4 percent, well above population growth. Time magazine acknowledged in 1976 that the problem of adequately feeding China's population "had been solved."

Let's move on to industry. Before 1949, China had practically no machine-building industry of its own. During the Maoist years, the Chinese working class constructed a comprehensive industrial base that was increasingly able to supply the various branches of production with complete sets of equipment.

Maoist China's industrial growth rate ranked among the highest in the world--growth averaged 14 percent a year in 1949-52, and 11 percent through 1976. China became self-sufficient in oil. It was able to build computers and modern freight ships. At the same time, China's workers and peasants developed and mastered middle-range technologies that could be adapted to local conditions in communes and neighborhood factories.

Before liberation, most of China's railroads were concentrated in the northeast and coastal provinces. But during the Maoist years, the rail system was vastly expanded: every province, municipality, and autonomous region (with the exception of mountainous Tibet) had railways. The total length of roads opened to traffic increased more than nine-fold in the Maoist period. Entire provinces, like Sichuan, Guangxi, and Fujian, were taken out of isolation.

Mass public health campaigns wiped out drug addiction and eliminated the diseases that had ravaged China's poor. Medical clinics run by "barefoot doctors"--peasants trained in preventive medicine and able to take care of basic health needs--stretched across the countryside. Life expectancy in China rose from under 30 before 1949 to 65 in 1975.

If this is not economic progress, then what is?

Raymond Lotta

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