A successful economic policy was the most important single factor for the ruler of a single party state to remain in power
One of the reasons why the GMD had lost the civil war in China was their economic mismanagement. They allowed Inflation and social unrest to rise enormously during the 1940s and even after the “Gold Yuan” reform in 1948 nothing seemed to change the situation. The constant decrease of support for the ruling party in this case can be seen as one of the many examples which proved that successful economic policies were one of the major factors for a leader of a single party state to remain in power.
The consolidation of power of the CCP was attained primarily through solving the economic and social conflicts that the GMD government had failed to previously resolve. The reform of the countryside became an extremely important economic policy of Mao’s leadership in the early days of his rule. From the very beginning on the aim of the Communist party was it to stay in close relationship with the peasantry, to gain their support. He tried to destroy the old elite and redistribute the wealth in the rural areas. By the time the previous social structure was abolished, a new power structure had already been developed.
Educated Communists, mostly coming from the cities all over China, spread out into the countryside to train talented peasants in leadership. The most active and efficient peasants could then become the head of their village. “Work teams” were sent out by authorities to supervise the transformation of the society. They also had the objections to collect taxes and persuade the local people to support the government as well as fighting for their interests. The result of the reformation of the countryside was that the Communist Party had successfully gained more support and the national economy was strengthened.
Once the CCP had secured power, Mao’s plan was it to make China a great power, whose socialist economy would eventually be superior to the capitalist states. He did this by introducing collectivisation of land, which was supposed to increased agricultural efficiency. In terms of industrialisation, he proposed “backyard furnaces”. Evidence for both of these disasters was seen by the unprecedented famine that occurred in 1961. By the beginning of the 50s, the organisers of the First Five-Year Plan realised that China suffered from a big labour shortage.
Although the production of food had increased over the last years, industrial output still remained at the previous level. The economist’s idea, that this was due to the peasants faults by over-eating the food reserves, lead to the introduction of collectivisation. Mao divided China into 70,000 communes, each made up of approximately 750,000 brigades. This was a vital part of the Second Five-Year Plan, taking place from 1958-62, also known as “The Great Leap Forward”. It was absolutely inefficient and took the peasant’s freedom away.
But the disruption of private farming was not the only factor leading towards the great hunger. The other issue of the failure was the useless programme which tried to bring in a revolutionary crop. According to its inventor Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s main scientist, it would boom the food production, but in fact the opposite occurred. After the successes of the First 5Y-Plan China’s agricultural output was yet again steadily deceasing. Nevertheless the more essential thing Mao was concerned about was the industrialisation of the country. He believed that Chinas big advantage lay in the enormous population.
The initiative “backyard furnaces” changed supplies of iron and steel from large factories to smelting devices that every family now had to build. Again this was a huge catastrophe and completed the tragedy of the “Great Leap Forward”. The famine that occurred between 1958 and 1961 severely weakened Mao’s reputation within the party. Two figures, CCP General Secretary Deng Xiaoping and President Liu Shaoqoi, were ordered by Mao to restore the economic stability. After Liu and Deng were called to take responsibility for the ending of the chaos, they were advised by Chen Yun, the leading CCP economist.
They agreed to establish market forces, giving peasants the incentive to produce more food. This was a typical example of the economic flexibility that the CCP government was willing to use in order to stay in power, but it still proved that the commune system had been a disappointment. Although economic policy did play an important role in the CCP’s rule of China, it was not the only aspect that enabled them to stay in power. Another key means to increase support from China’s population was through improving certain elements of living conditions.
Firstly Mao wanted to improve the status of women in Chinese society. Before the Communist Revolution in 1949, rights between men and women had not been equal. Women were always seen as an inferior sex which was for instance expressed by foot binding. By taking over power, Mao passed a series of laws which were intended to change the lives of millions of women. In 1950 the Communist Marriage Law was published, aiming to abolish the marriage where the woman is forced and does not have the same constitutional rights.
Polygamy, drowning of female babies or other horrible practices where also stopped in the same year. Consequently Mao’s reputation began to recover again. However there is no doubt that the most important way of maintaining power was political and military, not economic. On the 18th of August 1966 a massive demonstration took place on the Tiananmen Square. Over a million people wanting to create a new Chinese society started the Cultural Revolution. Within the next ten years, millions of people, mostly young citizens, are going to lose their lives or will suffer from irreparably damages.
The question why Mao was willing support the revolution can be answered with the fact that he wanted to regain his power over China and the CCP. He thought that the revolution might be infected by neo-capitalism coming from inside the party and the desire for personal power. He began a poster campaign in the summer of 1966 by convincing students to put up revolutionary posters, which attacked the education system. Realising the trouble, Xiaoping and Shaoqi sent work teams into the universities to keep the peace between the teachers and the students.
As a result the students went to the streets to start a reign of terror, supplied by red arm bands from Maoists. This was the reason why they were now called Red Guards. The poster campaign perfectly illustrates the political power of Mao at that time and showed how efficient he could use it. Another way in which Mao could keep control of his people was Propaganda. Young people soon saw him as the great hero who had freed China from a century of humiliation at the hands of foreigner. They were now keen on joining the Red Army to achieve their goal: Revolution.
The Red Guard Movement soon became extremely brutalised. They revolted against everything that represented the West, especially the USA, or which was seen as “bad elements”. Temples, shrines and other irreplaceable treasures of Chinese civilisation were destroyed by vandalism. Mao simply brainwashed big parts of the population to follow him. Mao’s also strengthened his power by making use of the PLA. With the “defenders of Chinas revolution” Mao managed to control the masses and change the direction of the revolution into the way he wanted it to go.
A successful economic policy has always been a very important factor for a leader of a single party state to remain in power, but was not the most important. As the example of China in the period 1949-76 perfectly illustrates, the control over the people and the army was far more significant. It could be argued that Mao’s consolidation of power was primarily due to solving economic problems which the GMD had left, but he was not able to maintain his leadership without other policies. The loyalty of the Red Army and the successful propaganda towards the Cultural Revolution finally secured him his control of the country.
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