A faithful reader who knows I am interested in socio-political things sends this little book report blurb on Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese City:
The author points out that while peasants are learning to cooperate with one another in planting and growing crops, the bureaucratic overseers try to outdo one another by falsely reporting yields - proving that the competitive spirit can’t be obliterated but only moved from place to place.
So, in one village, X reports that “his people” produced 200 catties per mou (I’ve forgotten what those translate to in bushels per acre), and then Y says “my people” produced 300. And pretty soon, someone is reporting 10,000 catties per mou.
This is all well and good until all the cadres (bureaucrats) start harassing “their people” to produce to at the enormously inflated level, making all the peasants feel inadequate and depressing the collective to the point that it can’t function.
At which point, because this is socialism/communism, the state steps in and sends the peasants the grain they need but are no longer producing because they can’t meet unreasonable quotas.
Making them totally dependent on the state – which works only for a short time, because since all collectives are producing less, the state has less to distribute.
Forcing the peasants back into growing crops the way they used to – on their own land privately.
Mao wanted to put his trust in “the peasants,” believing that they could learn to cooperate in order to benefit both themselves and the state as soon as they could be taught that it was in their best interest to do so.
But Mao was opposed by others at the top who didn’t trust the masses at all and felt that they needed to be controlled and managed (exploited) and that power had to remain in the hands of an elite few. Unfortunately, these elite few were full of pie-in-the-sky ideas about farming and production, and when their projects fell apart, they simply blamed the masses for the failure.
It occurs to me that whether we are talking socialism or capitalism, true progress is made when those at the bottom cooperate to improve their own lives (bigger yields, more food on the personal table) while supplying the state with the excess, so that the state can, in turn, build roads, keep the peace, improve technology, and the like.
And that neither system flourishes when an elite loses touch with the grassroots.