Peasants as a Tool for the Acquisition of Power

In our last textbook reading I noticed that the success of Deng Xiaoping can be largely attributed to his allying with the peasants.  I couldn’t help but realize that this was the same technique Mao Zedong used to acquire power for the Chinese Communist Party.  However, the policies each leader used to gain the support of the peasants were far different.  During the early 20th century, the peasants made up 300 million of China’s 550 million citizens.  Therefore gaining the support of peasants means gaining a tremendous amount of power and influence.  Mao and the Communist Party gained the favor of the peasants by reducing rents, promising land redistribution, enticing intellectuals, and spreading propaganda.  It was not by chance that this was so effective; Mao understood the role peasants have in revolutions.  According to the biography of Mao, his work at the Peasant Movement Training Institute, “opened his eyes to the revolutionary potential of the Chinese peasantry.”  Mao understood the power the peasants had, arguing, “They will bury beneath them all forces of imperialism, militarism, corrupt officialdom, village bosses, and evil gentry.”  Chairman Mao harnessed and utilized this power in order to defeat the nationalists.  However, under Mao, peasants were denied adequate food due to his collectivization policies.

The irony of this all is that Deng Xiaoping, a moderate communist and enemy of Mao, used the power of the peasants to acquire power from the radical members of the Communist Party.  While Chairman Mao enticed the peasants with his communist policies, Deng Xiaoping enticed peasants with a more capitalist ideology.  Deng Xiaoping allowed peasants to farm the land in small family units rather than in large collectives and to produce what they could produce best.  As our textbook describes, Deng Xiaoping wanted the support of the peasants in order to promote the modernization of the economy.  Like Mao, Deng Xiaoping did not assist peasants in order to help them, rather he assisted them in order to gain their support.  Then used the support of the peasants as a tool so that he might promote his own ideologies.

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One Response to Peasants as a Tool for the Acquisition of Power

  1. ryan says:

    While the peasants played an undeniably essential role in the Chinese revolution, I believe there is some wisdom to Marx’s faith in the urban working class. Afterall, the Russian Bolsheviks were able to seize and hold power whilst missing a large block of support from the peasants. I believe that in the case of China, the reliance on the peasants worked because the Nationalist’s base in the cities was greatly weakened by the war. It is, to make an understatement, difficult to mobilize a great enough amount of peasants to ward off urban support while the peasants, are, by definition, spread across large areas of land. Indeed, Deng Xiaoping gained the support of the peasants by making food free market, but i’m unsure if this amounted to a significant power increase for him. For sure, it fixed the economy, but even earlier on in China’s history we saw the insignificance of the support of rural peasants. The Communist party, which was banished from the city, was at one point down 10,000 or less in a country of 550 million. The peasants can be a powerful tool, but only if you can complete the difficult task of mobilizing them. Cities, in contrast, are much easier to unite for a cause.

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