At the start of the Great Leap Forward, in 1958, China formed communes to organize agriculture. Because of the huge famine caused by the campaign, historians have given the communes a bad name. But Eisenman argues that after the famine, and especially in the early 1970s, the reorganized communes fostered a green revolution that laid the basis for the rapid economic growth of the post-Mao era. He uses previously unexamined data on the production of grain, pork, and edible oils to show that the communes enabled the state to take most of the farmers’ profits away from them, thereby suppressing rural consumption, and reinvest it in an effective agricultural extension program that popularized the use of new seeds, fertilizers, and machinery. This in turn freed some of the rural work force up for light industry. Starting in 1978, however, the communes were dissolved because, Eisenman argues, Deng Xiaoping’s faction wanted to remove the cap on peasant consumption in order to generate support for economic reforms. Eisenman’s analysis implies that Western scholars who once held up Maoist practices as a model for developing countries were not entirely wrong, at least when it came to lifting traditional peasant farmers out of the trap of low productivity and low investment.
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