The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping

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To Build Socialism We Must First Develop the Productive Forces


April-May 1980



Revolution means carrying out class struggle, but it does not merely mean that. The development of the productive forces is also a kind of revolution — a very important one. It is the most fundamental revolution from the viewpoint of historical development.

(Talk with some leading comrades of the Central Committee, April 1, 1980)


Over the past 30 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, we have laid the basic socialist foundation in agriculture, industry, and other areas. But we have a major problem, that is, we have wasted some time and our productive forces have developed too slowly. All revolution is designed to remove obstacles to the development of the productive forces.

Since socialism is superior to capitalism, socialist countries should be able to develop their economies more rapidly than capitalist countries, improving their people’s living standards gradually and becoming more powerful. We have suffered some setbacks in this respect.

The objective of achieving the four modernizations was actually put forth by Chairman Mao and announced by Premier Zhou in his report on government work. But how did the Gang of Four respond? They said that it was better to be poor under socialism than to be rich under capitalism. It seemed to them that socialism meant pauperism. Marxists have always held that socialism is superior to capitalism and that socialist countries should be able to develop their productive forces more rapidly than capitalist countries.Lin Biao and the Gang of Four totally deviated from the cardinal principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

Being a large country, China should play a more important role in the world, but owing to its limited strength, it cannot play a greater role. In the final analysis, what we should do is try to promote China’s development. It is not enough just to say we are poor, and actually, we are very poor. Such a status quo is far from being commensurate with the standing of a great nation such as ours. Therefore, starting last year, we shifted our focus onto economic development. We should unequivocally continue to do so. Developing the economy is a new endeavour for us, for which we must pay a price. We are exploring ways to develop the economy more rapidly and we have confidence that we can do so. We must emancipate our minds and we should do so even in answering the question as to what socialism is. If the economy remains stagnant and the people’s living standards remain at a very low level for a long period of time, we cannot say that we are building socialism.

(Talk with Kenneth David Kaunda, President of the Republic of Zambia, April 12, 1980)


We should research earnestly how to carry out socialist development. At this time, we are reviewing the experience gained in the past three

decades since the founding of the People’s Republic. To sum up, it is as follows. First, we should not adopt “Leftist” policies by divorcing ourselves from reality or skipping over necessary stages. Otherwise, the task of building socialism will not be accomplished. We have suffered losses from “Leftist” policies. Second, whatever we do must contribute to developing the productive forces. In our effort to do this, we should stress economic results. Unless we develop the productive forces, we cannot gradually increase people’s incomes. We have suffered a great deal in this respect, especially during the ten years of the “cultural revolution”. We should research why so many African countries which have been developing socialism have become poorer and poorer. We should not consider it to be glorious merely to call our nation socialist, nor should we be content with this.

(Talk with the delegation from the Party of the National Liberation Front of the Democratic People’s Republic of Algeria, April 21, 1980)


“Socialism” is a good term, but if we fail to have a correct understanding of it and adopt correct policies for establishing it, we will not be able to demonstrate its essence. We believe the socialist road is the correct one. While carrying out reforms, we still adhere to the Four Cardinal Principles, one of which is to keep to the socialist road. In building socialism, each country should adopt policies commensurate with its particular conditions. As for a big country such as ours, we must give due consideration to the specific conditions in each area. For instance, we encountered the problem that some areas which were self-sufficient in grain had become grain-deficient. Of course, the growth of the urban population is one of the reasons for this change, but it is a minor one. The main reason lies in the fact that these areas proceeded without giving due consideration to the actual state of economic development, and that they did not act in accordance with the laws governing economic development. Policies formulated on this basis cannot arouse the people’s initiative. In the past one or two years, we have emphasized that measures should be suited to local conditions and in rural areas we have improved the system of responsibility by which the fixing of output quotas is based on individual households and production teams. Consequently, conspicuous results have been achieved and output has doubled.

The greatest contribution Chairman Mao Zedong made in building socialism was his integration of the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution. We were particularly successful in carrying out the socialist transformation. At the time, in our effort to transform agriculture, we advocated establishing mutual aid teams and small cooperatives. Since they were small and distribution among the peasants was equitable, the output of grain increased and peasants’ enthusiasm for production was enhanced. In order to transform capitalist industry and commerce, we adopted the policy of redemption. While changing private ownership into public ownership, the development of the national economy was not affected. We have allowed individual handicrafts to exist for a long time now, and organized most of the handicraftsmen into collectively owned cooperatives according to the principle of voluntary participation. Because we did all this in light of the country’s specific conditions, we suffered almost no setbacks. Production kept on increasing, no unemployment resulted, and there were ample products. But in 1958 we made a mistake by initiating the Great Leap Forward76. We neglected the laws governing economic development and consequently production dropped. Thanks to the three years of readjustment of the economy, the national economy resumed a fairly smooth development. But then came the “cultural revolution”, a disaster for the nation, causing economic chaos. For this reason, we have to take a few years to readjust the economy during our modernization drive. In short, we must act in accordance with economic laws.

According to our experience, in order to build socialism we must first of all develop the productive forces, which is our main task. This is the only way to demonstrate the superiority of socialism. Whether the socialist economic policies we are pursuing are correct or not depends, in the final analysis, on whether the productive forces develop and people’s incomes increase. This is the most important criterion. We cannot build socialism with just empty talk. The people will not believe it.

(Talk with Aimed Ceca Toure, President of the Republic of Guinea, May 5, 1980)



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