The Great Leap Forward was launched in socialist China. Communes in the countryside brought together tens and tens of millions of peasants to collectively work the land. Beyond that, the communes combined economic, political, administrative, militia, and social activity.
People’s energy and creativity were mobilized and unleashed. Communes worked to reclaim land, to plant trees, construct roads, and build irrigation projects and flood-works projects. Use of tractors and machinery became more rational because land was collectively owned. Small-scale industries were developed, such as fertilizer and cement factories and small hydroelectric plants. Peasants began to master technology and scientific knowledge. In these and other ways, gaps between the city and countryside, peasants and workers, and mental and manual labor were reduced.
The communes have been blamed for a major famine in 1959–60. But the reality is that the communes did not cause this famine. And by 1970, due in large part to the changes made possible by the People’s Communes, China had solved its ages-long hunger problem. This was because the communes and whole socialist economy established a reliable system of food production and of food supply for the people for the first time in Chinese history.
Women’s oppression was challenged. Communal kitchens, dining rooms and nurseries allowed women to enter the battle to create a new society. Old habits and values that still persisted, such as superstition and fatalism, were struggled against, as were feudal customs, such as arranged marriage.
Communes were a leap in the masses’ direct participation in all spheres of society and in changing relations between and among the people.