Can someone help me answer this question about Soviet Union and China? Thank you!

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1 Answer
Oct 9, 2017

I'll base my answer on China.


After taking power in 1949 Mao moved China in stages towards a centrally planned economy.

5 year plans were introduced and from the late 50's the agricultural sector was organised into huge communes. One has to remember that China was predominantly an agricultural economy.

Industries were nationalised and production targets set. There were policies such as the Great Leap Forwards whose objective was to rapidly increase industrial production through innovative ideas such as producing steel in small quantities.

It is understandable that this centralisation was introduced given what the communists had inherited in terms of extreme inequality and in many instances a feudal power structure.

However the problems that developed were and are symptomatic of a highly centralised planning system.

China is a massive country and taking decisions centrally, thousands of miles from where they were implemented was a recipe for disaster. When such bureaucratic structures are created, then the existence and justification of the bureaucracy become more important than the aims and objectives they are supposed to be achieving.

In the case of China, quotas and targets were set. for example a certain amount of rice would have to be produced. What became centrally important was the need to complete this target administratively. So if an official needs to set a target for another 100,000 tons of rice his overriding concern is to complete that form. He may find that two provinces have the administrative capacity to produce this so they are set this target. However they may be provinces which are totally unsuitable for the production of rice. However that doesn't matter, what is crucial is that the forms are completed.

Also setting unrealistic targets becomes endemic in centrally controlled systems. The Great leap Forwards and indeed the agricultural reforms of the 50's proved disastrous. Most of the steel produced was useless because of such poor quality. There was widespread starvation and possibly 20-30 million Chinese starved to death.

Given the political monopoly exercised by he communist party then there is no serious opposition or opportunity to challenge such policies so they are simply maintained. It took the death of Mao in 1976 and a subsequent power struggle which brought refomers to power before serious reforms and a decentralisation process began.