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A study of the significance of the Chinese People's Communes in the Sino-Soviet dispute Marson, Derek Brian

Abstract

With the introduction of the people’s communes in the People’ s Republic of China in 1958, a far-reaching ideological dispute arose between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China. In the years following the death of Stalin, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had embarked upon a domestic policy which largely ignored many of the directives laid down by the fathers of Communism, and which often subordinated ideological considerations to pragmatic economic considerations. The people's communes embodied an attempt by the Chinese communists to realize all the prerequisites to Communism which the Soviet Union had forsaken in their drive to increase production and thus constituted a challenge to the "revisionist" policies of the Soviet Union. This was especially true in the light of the specific rejection of communes by the Soviet leaders a few months before the Chinese communes were introduced. Moreover, because "anti-party" groups existed both within the Chinese and Soviet parties, and were given ideological support by the opposing party, the dispute over the principles involved in the communes was turned from a theoretical dispute into a concrete struggle with in the separate parties. Besides being an ideological dispute over the correct policies to follow during the transition to Communism, the commune controversy also related directly to the more predominant issues of the Sino-Soviet dispute. The military significance of the communes provided one such link; the detrimental effect of the communes on the world's image of Communism provided another such link, and the existence of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions within the two parties, provided the other link; the latter situation was especially significant in the commune controversy since the C.P.S.U.’s support for the anti-commune faction of Marshall Peng Teh-huai and Chang Wen-tian, was at the same time support for a faction more in sympathy with the "revisionist" foreign policy of the Soviet Union. In a broader perspective, the commune controversy also raised important issues concerning ideological authority, particularly over questions of domestic policy during the transition to Communism. Since the Chinese party remains determined to proceed with their commune program as soon as economic conditions allow, and since the C.P.S.U. continues to make a more and more liberal interpretation of Communist society, it can be expected that the issues embodied in the commune controversy will continue to be strongly contended by the two parties. Moreover, the fact that the commune issue is related to the more predominant issues of the Sino-Soviet dispute, suggests that the debate over the communes will continue as long as differences remain between the two giants of the Communist world.

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