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The Eighth Party Congress 1956

Mar 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The Eighth Party Congress in September 1956 was the first opportunity for a conclusion over the achievements of the past six years in the field of collectivization of agriculture, nationalization of industry, and the First Five-Year Plan (1953-1957) in general—and also, to prepare the Second (to cover the years 1958-1962). The most important documents were the political report (zhengzhi baogao 政治报告) delivered by Liu Shaoqi 刘少奇 on the Party's general line in the period of transition, socialist transformation, socialist construction, the political life of the state, international relations, and the leadership of the Party; then Zhou Enlai's report on the Second Five-Year Plan (Guanyu fazhan guomin jingji di er ge wunian jihua de jianyi de baogao 关于发展国民经济第二个五年计划的建议的报告), Deng Xiaoping's report on the amendment Party Constitution (Guanyu xiugai dang de zhangcheng de baogao 关于修改党的章程的报告), and Dong Biwu's report on judicial work. The reports showed a kind of political moderation, partly also as a result of the public start of De-Stalinization during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February that year.

The Party structures and the leadership of the CPC remained relatively intact until the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Yet 90 per cent of the party members had joined after 1949, but the distribution of classes was not reflected in membership: Peasants, the vast majority of the population, were hesitant to join. The Party therefore imposed restrictions on membership by a trial period of one year or intensified training in ideology, in order to exclude such who only joined to reap advantages.

Liu Shaoqi explained the order of economic construction, which was to base on industrialization, and on heavy industries in particular. For this purpose, class struggle was to be alleviated, in order to gradually transform the national bourgeoisie. Their expertise in economic planning was an important source of knowledge, as Li Fuchun and Chen Yun had stressed repeatedly. Both also advocated diversity and autonomy in small-scale industrial and commercial enterprises, and in the prices of certain goods. Liu said that full-scale industrialization would take 15 years, but socialist transformation would happen before that time. Heavy industry zones would be created in certain core areas (Baotou, Inner Mongolia, and Wuhan, Hubei). These would improve living conditions for the workers, and thus stimulate their enthusiasm.

The First Five-Year Plan had achieved excellent results, and in some fields, targets had even been overtaken. First elements of advanced industry were visible. In the Second Plan, steel production was to increase from 4.2 million tons (1957 target) to 12 million, and the coal output from 113 million to 210 million (Guillermaz 1976: 128). Similar raises were planned for the sector of electricity and for railroad transport. Light industries were to advance with lesser speed. In the field of agriculture, Liu Shaoqi mentioned problems that had occurred in the course of collectivization as well as structural problems (limited amount of arable land, lack in chemical fertilizers, low mechanization), but it had to be admitted that the pace on the countryside would not be as quick as that of in the industries: the target of the Second Plan would be 250 million tons of grain annually. The report did not share the optimism of Mao Zedong and Chen Boda in that field. Bo Yibo and Li Xiannian calculated that if the country was built with 40 per cent of the state budget, rapid industrial development could be assured.

In spite of some apparent interpretive differences, the unity of a collective leadership (jiti lingdao 集体领导) was stressed, and was also to be seen in the amended Constitution, where the earlier mentioning of Mao Zedong Thought as the Chinese answer of Marxism, was eliminated.

Sources: Harold C. Hinton, “The Eighth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party”, Far Eastern Survey, 26/1 (1957), pp. 1-8. J. F. A. W., "The September 1956 Congress of the Chinese Communist Party", in The World Today, 12/11 (1956), pp. 469-478.