In the Soviet Union, the theoretical battle had been won by the “voluntarists” against the “determinists.” The former (led by Preobrazenski and other important Bolsheviks that were subsequently eliminated) believed in not only the difference, but the superiority of socialism with regards to capitalism, and that proper management would have allowed it to take off. Industry is indeed capable of generating more revenue, and faster, than agriculture. The drain on resources was to be significant, sometimes ruthless. Crops were to be sent to the cities to feed a loyal and productive working class. After it gave life to private agriculture, the requisitions towards the end of the NEP (new economic policy) caused the disappearance the wealthy farmers, called kulaks, and fierce tensions and shortages across the countryside. The determinists were more cautious with the economic balance, the laws of the “bourgeois science,” and the compatibility between the general sectors of the economy. Their ranks held academics, leaders in the Gosplan (the State Planning Committee), and they were represented politically by one of the most lucid minds of the Communist party, Nikolai Bucharin, himself a victim of a Stalinist trial in 1938.
This fertile and bloody clash did not occur in China. The CCP in the end was much more cohesive in its choice to pursue an unbalanced development model; alternative models, like a parliamentary democracy or a western free-market system, were never even considered. There was nevertheless a multitude of alignments behind the apparent unanimity ensured by Mao’s eminence. The Great Helmsman himself – probably in the minority inside the CCP – raised some questions that his standing did not allow to be ignored. His publication of On The Ten Major Relationships was the mouthpiece for this intense criticism. Mao felt that unbalanced development was not right for China, because it allowed more power to the economy, at the expense of a righteous political line. It used workers as a productive means, rather than an end. It gave priority to the coastal regions, rather than the country’s interior countryside, and favored heavy industry rather than light. It imitated the bourgeois economy rather than building a new one, giving an accounting interpretation of growth, rather than a policy of development.
Faced with the predominance of the economy, Mao filled an ideological position in the Communist Party before filling a political one. He maintained that the same results could be achieved with the correct line, popular mobilization, and ideal balance. Material progress could be coupled with ideological progress. The sharing of the tools of production (even the most basic such as a plough or a lathe) would increase productivity; technologies would be developed through collective labor, and not only in academic circles. Despite sounding anachronistic today, these convictions were able to mobilize hundreds of millions of workers, employed in economic activities that were actually serving to cement political opinions. Mao had declared more than once that he had little experience in economics. More than ignoring the laws of economics, Mao disregarded them, relegating them to technical options, always subordinate to political decisions. The campaigns he launched after 1958 – The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – will always bear the mark of the denial of economic constraints, of having to choose between quality and quantity, between “butter and cannons.” These stances place Mao and China in a eccentric and heretic fold; the model chosen does not apply to any classification. It constitutes instead a base for the diversification of China in later years. In the 1950’s, China reflected many aspects of the Soviet model, but Mao’s concern was two-fold: first of all he wanted to avoid the general social degeneration he saw in the USSR, and second, he did not intend to force the peasants to pay the price for development.