The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 29 of the Common Program

The mutual-aid by exchange of labour and draught animal power is a traditional practice throughout centuries in China. "...traditional mutual aid arrangements were nearly always made between friends, close neighbors, or relatives; the trustworthiness and commitment of each participant in the arrangement was thus reinforced by already existing bonds of family relationship and friendship." As early as 1943, the CCP formed mutual-aid groups and even cooperatives. Their aim was to earn as much money as possible. They did not increase their agricultural production, but developed secondary industries. With the introduction of political objectives and principles, these organizations could not survive. There is a big difference between the land reform campaign and cooperative movement. The land reform campaign had 2 aims. The first was to redistribute land. Second, and more importantly, was to transform the political landscape in the rural areas. The traditional leaders were replaced by new and politically loyal cadres. The CCP believed that by redistributing land to impoverished peasants and elevating them to village leadership roles, both the peasants and the cadre members would develop a sense of gratitude towards the party. This loyalty was expected to endure, even if it occasionally clashed with the personal interests of individual peasants. The party considered such assumptions to be entirely justified. During the Land Reform, the Party undertook the systematic dismantling of the traditional elite class, thereby eradicating an entire stratum of society. This process, however, came at a significant human cost, resulting in the loss of over two million lives. Consequently, the social power within rural areas was effectively obliterated, leaving the peasantry without a solid foundation for organized social resistance. The pace at which mutual-aid teams were formed differs per Region. In the case of Guangdong province, it is evident that while agrarian reform had been successfully implemented, other Regions across the country had already commenced the mutual aid in agriculture campaign. This campaign was an integral part of the regime's plan to gradually transition towards the socialization of agriculture. However, Guangdong province did not immediately embark on the mutual aid movement. This decision was influenced by the numerous challenges persisting in the rural areas, some of which were direct consequences of the social upheaval brought about by the land reform. It was deemed necessary to prioritize stability and minimize agitation in order to address these lingering issues. However, even in the old liberated areas, the mutual aid teams were not a success. Gao Gang reported in April 1952 "...although there were now 1,200 cooperative farms in Manchuria compared to just a 100 in 1951, most were set up by administrative means.213 Conditions in these farms were very poor and the Northeast Government could not purchase grain from many of them.214"
Fig. 29.1: The Evolution of Rural Land Tenure in China 1949-1954
Zhou (2021). Page 10

Between 1949 and 1954, agricultural cooperative movement can be divided into 3 stages: Mutual-Aid Teams; Elementary Agricultural Producers' Cooperatives (elementary APCs) and Advanced APCs. Members of the mutual-aid teams shared only tools and draft animals. Members of the APCs also pooled their land holdings. Households retained formal ownership and could withdraw at will. Farmers received an income from the cooperative in return for investing their land. Not only the amount of land, but also the hours of labour invested determined their income. This often caused much controversy.
Starting from 1949, three types of mutual-aid teams were established. The first type was a temporary team formed solely during the sowing and harvesting seasons, typically consisting of 3 to 5 households. The second type was more permanent, with each team comprising 6 to 7 peasant households working together on a continuous and regular basis. The third category, known as the "combined mutual-aid team," involved the consolidation of two or three groups from the second category. This larger unit allowed members to utilize mechanized farming techniques and engage in large-scale cultivation. Formation of teams in this third category only occurred once peasants had acquired adequate experience, skills, and necessary tools for large-scale operations. Notably, these teams were predominantly established in significant numbers in North East China.
Fig. 29.2: Number of collective rural institutions and its characteristics 1950-1954
Source: Wen Zha (2015). Pages 128-129 and Lin (1990). Page 1232 Zhou (2004). Page 10
Fig. 29.3: Percentage of households participating in agricultural cooperation out of total households 1950-1954
Source: Zhou (2004). Page 10
In the mutual-aid teams the means of production are private ownership, likewise in the elementary cooperatives. Income distribution is in the latter labour and dividends. The advanced cooperatives have collective ownership and the income distribution is labour.
Hou (2008) gives an example of joining the mutual-aid teams on a ‘voluntary’ basis. "To fulfill the quota, in some counties of Southwest China, rural cadres formed mutual aid teams according to administrative affiliation totally regardless of peasants’ own willingness, then reported the “achievement” to their superiors. Such kind of mutual aid teams did not go into effect at all. Sometimes, coercion in addition to verbal threats was employed. The most frequently used method was to hold peasants in a meeting for days until they acceded to join mutual aid teams. Nevertheless, the degree of violence was mild."

The difference between mutual-aid teams and cooperations can be seen in figure 29.1. On February 15, 1952, the GAC stated that 80-90% of rural households should be organized within 2 years in the old liberated Regions and within 3 years in the new liberated Regions. It also recommended that the mutual-aid teams be upgraded to APCs. To promote this plan, the People's Bank provided low-interest loans and in November 1952, the Rural Work Department is founded. Its main task is the promotion and upgrading of mutual-aid teams to APCs.
Credit cooperatives derived their capital from three sources: shares acquired by members, member deposits, and loans from state banks. The majority of the capitalization was attributed to the first two sources. The deposits and loans obtained by credit cooperatives can be seen as an organized method to stimulate surpluses in rural private capital. Surveys suggested that cooperative loans were not as narrowly restricted to a specific purpose as state agricultural loans. "In carrying out the spring ploughing production campaign, the distribution of agricultural loans and the supply and marketing of rural commodities must be well organized. Agricultural loans must be distributed rationally between organized farmers and individual farmers, as stated in the Central Committee's Resolution on Mutual Aid and Cooperation in Agricultural Production. It would be wrong to concentrate agricultural loans only on a small number of mutual aid groups and agricultural production cooperatives instead of lending to independent farmers, so as to separate the few advanced groups from the general mutual aid groups and the majority of farmers. Agricultural loans must be issued in a timely manner according to the production seasons in various places. " The cooperative movement regulated the ownership and use of land. The peasant household had to produce what the state imposed on it. The government declared that the agricultural cooperative movement was a fundamental goal to be achieved gradually, without a timetable. This gradual approach was necessary to ensure that radical land reforms (as in the liberated areas before 1949) would not harm the interests of the middle and rich peasants, who were responsible for the highest levels of production. At the start of the cooperative movement, county and prefectural cadres began to set up cooperatives. At the onset of the cooperative movement, county and prefectural cadres initiated the establishment of cooperatives, with peasants having the freedom to decide whether to join or not. Peasants carefully weighed their options and independently made decisions regarding participation. Initially, peasants' choices were respected for a limited period. Some peasants willingly opted to join cooperatives, influenced by various factors such as political aspirations, reverence or apprehension towards the CCP, personal connections, economic considerations, and opportunism. Moreover, peasants managed to exert some influence over the rules to suit their interests to some extent. One notable example was the allocation of community funds, with many peasants discontented with the notion of surrendering 20 percent of their total output, which was almost equivalent to the tax rate. In the early 1950s (until 1952), peasants faced uniform agricultural tax rates for both cash crops and grains, while sideline products remained untaxed.
However, rural cadres were eager to promote cooperations. Soon this led to excesses. "In their eagerness to manifest loyalty and revolutionary zeal they set up cooperatives at an unprecedented pace – often forcing peasants to join the local cooperative, and before long the national target was surpassed.5"

The CCP had decided that the Sanfan should not be extended to the countryside, although the corruption on district and village level was extremely severe. Village cadres were discouraged from admitting to corruption, and ordinary peasants were prohibited from lodging corruption accusations against village officials. Consequently, the "three-anti" movement did not directly impact lower-ranking party members. As the three-anti campaign gained momentum, county-level and higher-ranking cadres largely overlooked other matters, indirectly affecting the lives of peasants. The movement disrupted commercial trade between urban and rural areas, resulting in a lack of market for peasants' sideline products. This contributed significantly to the widespread spring famine of 1953. During this period, county-level and higher-ranking party cadres prioritized the "three-anti" movement over the cooperative movement. As the campaign targeted party members themselves, they were fully engrossed in its execution, leaving little attention for the cooperative movement.
After the Second National Conference on Agricultural Work in October 1952, the lower cadres at the district and county levels were targeted. They were urged to implement the CCP's orders. They were no longer the protectors of the villagers, but the protectors of the CCP, and the rural cadres became the target of socialist education. But the villagers were being targeted as well. "Although in theory the three-anti movement and party rectification movement were confined to CCP members, in practice the criteria the party set for the party members were widely applied to masses of peasants."
Not only the Sanfan added to the ‘political oppression’ but also Wufan, RAAK (see Article 54 ) and patriotism campaigns. Peasants who declined to join were subjected to social ostracism and mockery. In some regions of southwest China, they were even labeled as "counter-revolutionaries," a grave accusation with severe consequences. Economic coercion was applied by excluding them from the peasants' associations established during the land reform era and by denying them access to loans and the ability to hire labor.
All the political campaigns such as implementing the Marriage Law, building the Party, preparing for universal suffrage, reviewing the land reform in some areas, trying to build a militia cadre, etc. are hindering agricultural work. "Therefore, the central government has decided that the overwhelming central work in the current rural areas is to intensify preparations for spring ploughing and start spring ploughing production. All other work must be carried out around and in conjunction with spring ploughing production. All work should be changed, postponed or reduced or even cancel the original plan. Party committees and people's governments at all levels above the county level shall arrange various tasks in a unified manner according to local conditions."

The "Learning from the SU" campaign saw the SU collective farms as a model for the development of agriculture in the PRC. The advantage of large-scale production is seen as the road to socialism. This idea led to a "big is better and more progressive" campaign. It also led to opportunities for rural cadres to show their loyalty to the Party and be selected to become cadres in the cities. In the urban Regions, the industrialization campaign of the First Five-Year Plan required more CCP cadres. The five-year plan objectives were the expansion of the agricultural economy and the increase of agricultural output. This was needed to finance the industrialization. The government wanted to accomplish these aims with minimal state investment in the rural sector.
Fig. 29. 4: The volume of agricultural credit 1951-1954
Korkumov I. et al (1960) Page 68

On December 16, 1953, the CCP set a target of setting up 35,000 APCs by the autumn of 1954. This policy was a direct consequence of the proposal made by Mao Zedong on June 15, 1953. At the politburo meeting Mao Zedong proposed the CCPʼs so called general line for the transition period of socialist transformation. According to the general line, the CCP was to achieve the transformation of private economy to socialist public economy in 15 years, covering agriculture, industries and commerce. The aim was to lead individual peasants towards socialism through mutual-aid groups. The first step is the development of elementary cooperatives, the second the establishment of advanced cooperatives.
The resolution described some basic features of the elementary cooperatives. Membership was open to men and women above the age of 16. Landlords and rich peasants were excluded. The members partly give up their land use rights for collective farming. Draught animals, orchards and herds and large equipment should also be handed over. A suitable compensation should be paid to the owner. The members of the cooperative have to pay a contribution. This allowed the coop to set up a production expenditure fund. This was used to purchase for example seeds and fertilizers. The other fund was used for buying animals and equipment. The management of the coop should organize its members into production brigades and develop schedules for day-to-day work, and seasonal work. The management was required " gradually meet the demand of the state in organizing agricultural production. They were asked to have a detailed yearly production plan on seeds, farming, fertilizers, etc."
Again, it is emphasized that the free choice of the farmers is the basis of this process. The target of 35,000 was exceeded and the leaders did not interfere. Most of the rural cadres treated the campaign as a purely economic target and used economic rather than political incentives to attract farmers. They tried to involve the middle-class peasants into the movement and often did not accept poor peasants. They were seen as a financial burden for the coop. To solve this problem many cooperatives received loans. Material incentives were given, such as the title of "model worker", which came with several benefits (higher social status, trips and networking with party cadres).
The coops gave the CCP the means to control collective local government and the rural economy. It was a means of projecting power into the countryside, and breaking any remaining resistance among the former rural elite. In this way, the government was able to procure grain below market price and provide cheap food in the cities. This control was not total. The rules of the mutual-aid teams and coops varied from place to place. Sometimes the use of land was favoured, sometimes the use of labour and the level of capital accumulation were not the same.
Model workers

In an effort to encourage households with significant land but limited labour resources to participate in cooperatives, certain cooperatives opted to set the land dividend at a high level. However, this approach generated discontent among larger households with relatively less land. As the cooperativization debate grew increasingly intense, the policy of attracting large landowners was criticized as opportunistic. It was argued that poorer households with ample labour but limited land were being "exploited," leading to a reduction in the land dividend. Eventually, in the mid-1950s, as cooperativization reached its “high tide”, the land dividend was entirely eliminated, shifting the primary source of income solely to labour.
Regulation of labor as a source of income was necessary. Regarding compensation for the work performed by members, the cooperative needed to gradually implement the piece-work system, aligning with the principle of "to each according to his work," meaning that more work should result in more pay. To implement the piece-work system effectively, appropriate standards for different jobs must be established, and payment rates must be determined.
Most mutual-aid teams and coops faced the same problems.
a. The distribution of resources caused friction and led to disruption of the organization.
b. The total lack of democracy. Mostly one person ruled the units.
c. Financial overview was almost entirely lacking.
d. The lack of details how to build a mutual-aid team provided plenty of room for manipulation
e. Helping each other and working hard were exceptions.
f. "Even in those mutual aid teams or agricultural producers’ cooperatives that claimed to be successful, peasants’ old mentality remained, they continued to be selfish. They only sought individual profits and short-sighted objectives. Mutual aid teams and agricultural producers’ cooperatives did not care about, or perhaps sometimes did not dare, training peasants of the principles of socialism."

Several activities of the mutual-aid and cooperation movement were considered capitalist. The two most criticized were the hiring of labour and the admission of rich peasants. Actions such as lending and borrowing money, buying and selling land, trading and planting the most profitable crops were also seen as acts of capitalism. "For example, in Sichuan province, if soil conditions permitted, peasants preferred to plant cash crops which were far more profitable than grain. Castor-oil plants and tobacco were popular choices. By contrast, in poorer Changzhi prefecture many peasants preferred to plant grain to feed the family and to avoid economic risks. It was not uncommon for peasant planting patterns to conflict with party plans."
The production plans mandated by the government often proved to be unrealistic, and at the local level, rural cadres submitted reports to the administrative hierarchy that emphasized political motives. However, in reality, the cooperatives were primarily economically driven. Due to customary culture and illiteracy, peasants were hesitant, if not entirely unwilling, to engage in planning of this nature. When pressured, peasants or rural cadres would sometimes fabricate plans, but peasants seldom adhered to these artificial plans. Instead, they viewed such attempts with skepticism and amusement. In essence, individual family farming was incompatible with a centralized national economy for practical purposes.
During the course of this process, the mutual-aid and cooperative movement shifted its focus away from purely economic considerations and increasingly became politicized. The pursuit of profit was no longer deemed acceptable. Traditionally, one herd of cattle was valued as equivalent to, if not more valuable than, one and a half full laborers due to their efficiency in farming. However, under the new circumstances, this calculation was deemed exploitative. Consequently, the compensation for cattle was reduced to half the value of a laborer, which, according to the owners' calculations, was insufficient to cover the cost of fodder. Faced with limited options, cattle owners were forced to either consume the cattle or sell them. However, under mounting pressure from cadres, and with peasants reluctant to withdraw from mutual aid teams, cattle owners increasingly viewed their livestock as burdensome and thus opted to donate them to the team or proposed the formation of agricultural producers' cooperatives.

As seen above there was some resistance of the farmers against the cooperation movement. Uddenfelt (2009) gives an example. The state controlled the coops and was enabled to procure grain below market price. "“This encouraged them (the farmers) to sell second-grade grain to the state while selling the best produce at the local market, where prices were higher, and thereby compensating for the loss. To prohibit this kind of economic behavior, the local markets – as old as China herself – were clamped down upon, deemed a capitalist relic of the old society, and eventually completely banned.4"
Liu (2006) gives an explanation for the little resistance of the farmers. "Although the Party was now taking the land back, it was not taken back to the landlords, but to the state, and the state, according to the discourse of the Party, was “owned” by “the people”. The difficulty of “visualizing” the exploiters and predicting the future consequences, as opposed to the spatial proximity of landlords and historical verifiability of their behaviors, created the poverty of resistance discourse even doubts emerged among peasants."
The CCP displayed a deliberate approach to fostering social integration by actively cultivating relationships within society. Rather than imposing collectivization forcefully, the Party sought out and collaborated with a group of activists from the peasant class, creating a buffer zone between the state and society. The CCP and its work teams made efforts to identify these activists based on their economic status, with greater trust placed in poor and lower-middle peasants. As a testament to the effectiveness of this approach, during the peak of collectivization, a remarkable 148,000 individuals joined the Party in Guangdong Province alone.

Shue (1980). Page 152 [Cite]
Hou (2008). Page 53 [↩] [Cite]
Liu (2006). Page 3 [↩] [Cite]
Bays (1969). Page 60 [↩] [Cite]
Sautin (2020). Pages 176-177
Sautin remarks "
1. Uneven use of farm animals, peasants without horses not treated equally within mutual aid teams; some Communists still not wanting to join them. Peasants resisted the idea that all members were on equal footing within the teams.
2. Model workers were only encouraged financially, political work was not done, and many became distant from the collective/masses and stopped being model workers.
3. Mutual aid teams were being corrupted by hired labor, usury. Some party members also engaged in usury." Page 177 [↩] [Cite]
Shue (1980). Shue states "The industrial and handicrafts sectors of the economy were still disorganized and incapable of quick and cheap mass production and distribution of farm tools. And the total number of oxen and other draught animals was still far from sufficient. It was to cope with these continuing peasant difficulties that after land reform the central leadership immediately began to propagandize and to press for the establishment of Mutual Aid Teams (MATs) among poor and middle peasants." Page 145 [↩] [Cite]
Sreedhar (1969). Page 123 [↩] [Cite]
Korkumov (1960) gives an example of how a mutual-aid team is organized in Shang-fan village in Guangxi.
The mutual-aid within the group was to be governed by the following principles:
1) Subordination to those appointed as leaders and the completion of all assignments.
2) Subordination to the decision of the majority.
3) Recognition of the need to work according to plan.
4) Unselfishness and personal honesty.
5) Unbiased accumulation of later units and an honest, determination of work norms.
6) Meetings every evening for summing up and evaluating work accomplished during the day.
7) Inadmissibility of hidden criticism;all dissatisfactions to be brought out openly during group meetings.
The productive plan adopted by the team at the meeting contained the following points:
1) To save six dan of seed by reducing wedding and religious expenses.
2) To extend irrigation ditches and to irrigate fields in a more thorough manner during the dry seasons.
3) To plough the fields in an exemplary fashion and to exterminate field pasts.
4) To allow 400 man-days for members of the team to engage in outside work for additional income, so as to assure the group with sufficient provisions to last until the new harvest.
5) To prepare 500, dan of straw and 40 dan of grass to be used as fertilizer, and to mix in 50 ching of lime into every mou of sugar cane.
6) To sow jointly the early crops: 1 mou of peanuts, 1 mou of pepper, 800 tou of tobacco (one tou is equal to 1/10 of a dan).26 to cultivate 2 mou of virgin land, to raise two pigs, 20 ducks and 30 chickens in common (point six of the production plan points out the in caption of common property and labour in the group).
7)To establish a system of aiding the poorer members of the group.27 Pages 19-20 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Page 118 [Cite]
See for example RMRB editorial "Eliminate the style of coercive orders" 11-02-1953
 12-08-1953 Mao Zedong "Combat bourgeois ideas in the party" [↩] [Cite]
"In the Mutual Aid Group, the emphasis was on satisfying the interests of the poor and farm laborers, thus violating the interests of the middle peasants and damaging the production enthusiasm of the individual farmers who accounted for the vast majority of the population in the rural areas of the New Area"  16-03-1953 Instructions of the CC of the CCP on Spring Ploughing Production to Party Committees at All Levels [↩]
Hou (2008). Pages 103-104 [↩] [Cite]
Uddenfeldt (2009). Page 21 [Cite]
"As a result, no one picks up dung all winter, no one engages in side-line production, sells livestock, cuts down trees and kills pigs, eats and drinks, and other serious phenomena that disrupt production. We must pay careful attention to all correct criticisms of the peasant masses and correct all leftist and adventurous mistakes. Comrades must be reminded that when organizing mutual aid groups and cooperatives, we must not forget to proceed from the level of consciousness and personal experience of the masses, proceed from the actual demands of the masses, proceed from the current production status of the small peasant economy, and correctly resolve the combination of the individual interests of the peasants and the public interests."  16-03-1953 Instructions of the CC of the CCP on Spring Ploughing Production to Party Committees at All Levels [↩]
Hou (2008). Pages 115-116 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Page 150 [↩] [Cite]
Walker (1966). Page 12 [↩] [Cite]
"Some cadres working in rural areas are uneasy about their jobs, blindly waiting to change jobs, and not actively working hard to study how to lead farmers to improve agricultural production,..."  16-03-1953 Instructions of the CC of the CCP on Spring Ploughing Production to Party Committees at All Levels [↩]
Wei (2010). Page 14 Beyond the scope of this article is the political struggle at the top of the party about the formation of mutual-aid teams and coops.
Wei (2010) states "Deng Zihuiʼs assistant Du Runsheng11, also thought there should be no rush to change private ownership, because the peasants needed some years to recover and develop after the wars. Therefore, he thought merging land and labor hiring in some Regions were the results of market regulation and were in fact good for the recovery of agricultural production. Deng and Duʼs opinions were in fact underpinning Liu Shaoqiʼs idea of mechanization before collectivization, contrary to Maoʼs strategy to change private ownership into collective ownership before developing agriculture." Page 14 [↩] [Cite]
"Naturally, on the other hand, adopting a negative attitude towards the mutual aid and cooperation movement in agricultural production, allowing it to run its own course, allowing the spontaneous capitalist tendencies in the small-scale peasant economy to flourish, excluding poor peasants in mutual aid groups and cooperatives, and making poor peasants suffer, is not a good idea for all."  16-03-1953 Instructions of the CC of the CCP on Spring Ploughing Production to Party Committees at All Levels [↩]
Wei (2010). Pages 16-17 [↩] [Cite]
Uddenfeldt (2009). Page 19 [↩] [Cite]
Sreedhar (1969). Page 126 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Page 123 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Page 62 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Pages 62-63 [↩] [Cite]
Hou (2008). Pages 162-163 [↩] [Cite]
Uddenfeldt (2009). Page 24 [↩] [Cite]
Liu (2006). Pages 4-5 [↩] [Cite]
Liu (2006). Pages 11-12 [↩] [Cite]

 27-07-1950 The Cooperative Law of the People's Republic of China (Draft)
 00-02-1951 Supplementary Provisions of the Central Committee Concerning the Confiscation of Real Estate from Landlords in the Land Reform in Suburban Areas
 30-09-1951 Resolution of the CC of the CCP on Mutual Assistance in Agricultural Production
 15-12-1951 Mao Zedong "Take mutual-aid and co-operation in agriculture as a major task"
 15-12-1951 Resolution of the CC of the CCP on Mutual Aid and Cooperation in Agricultural Production (Draft)
 15-02-1953 Resolution of the CC on Mutual-Aid and Cooperation in Agricultural Production.
 16-03-1953 Instructions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Spring Ploughing Production to Party Committees at All Levels
 15-10-1953 Mao Zedong Two talks on mutual-aid and co-operation in agriculture
 05-11-1953 Resolution on the Development of Agricultural Production Cooperatives
 16-12-1953 Resolution of the CC of the CCP on the Development of Agricultural Production Cooperatives

09-09-1951 - 30-09-1951: 1st conference on mutual-aid and cooperation
2nd National mutual-aid and cooperation conference from August to September 1952
26-10-1953 – 05-11-1953: 3rd mutual-aid and cooperation work conference
Chapter 4 of Common Program

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