The totality and emphasis of Mao Zedong’s Four Modernization strategies

We are very pleased to publish this important paper on Mao Zedong and the Four Modernizations presented by leading Chinese Marxist theoretician Jin Minqing at last month’s Cloud International Workshop organised by Dalian University of Technology’s School of Marxism. We are grateful to Professor Roland Boer for his comradely assistance in sub-editing the translation.

In his paper, Jin Minqing seeks truth from facts to clearly establish and demonstrate Mao Zedong’s key role in the formulation and elaboration of the Four Modernizations strategy from the time of Liberation and even before.

This is extremely important as it refutes both right and ‘left’ opportunist positions, that spuriously seek to draw a line between Chairman Mao and the Four Modernizations. Right opportunists seek to ascribe the line of Four Modernizations solely or overwhelmingly to other important CPC leaders, negating or belittling Mao’s central role and the achievements made under his leadership. ‘Left’ opportunists present the Four Modernizations as somehow being a revisionist departure from Marxism and as running counter to Mao Zedong Thought.

As Zhou Enlai said: “One tendency covers another.” And these two currents certainly fuel and provide a specious credibility to each other. The present generation of Chinese communist leaders, with Xi Jinping as the core, draw a very clear line of demarcation with historical nihilism and stress the essential continuity of the Chinese revolution through its successive and distinct phases. It is in this context that Ji Minqing’s paper acquires great importance and needs to be widely read internationally.

Author: Jin Minqing. Secretary of the CPC Party Committee of the Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Vice President and Secretary General of Chinese Historical Materialism Society

(Text of a paper delivered at the Cloud International Workshop on “New Forms of Human Civilization from a World Perspective,” School of Marxism, Dalian University of Technology, 29-31 October 2021).

Translated by DUT Translation Team.


Shortly after the founding of New China, Mao Zedong clearly put forward the goal of “becoming prosperous” and “becoming strong” on the basis of “standing up,” and issued the call for building a strong socialistically modernized country, which entails an overall and comprehensive modernization strategy. At the same time, he formulated the development strategy of the four modernizations in accordance with China’s concrete conditions, emphasizing the key areas of industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and culture. This is a modernization strategy with breakthroughs in key areas and widespread effects in other areas. Thus, Mao Zedong’s modernization thought has shapted a wholistic strategy of combining all-round development with key breakthroughs, unifying hard power and soft power, and coordinating material civilization with spiritual civilization.

Building a strong socialistically modernized country is a long-term goal pursued by Mao Zedong and the Members of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong proposed at the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee: “After the victory of the revolution, we can speedily restore and develop production, cope with foreign imperialism, steadily transform China from an agricultural into an industrial country and build China into a great socialist country” (Selected Works, vol. 4, p. 373). After the start of large-scale economic construction in the New China, he proposed that it would take about 50 to 100 years to catch up with and surpass the developed capitalist countries such as Britain and the United States, to build China into a powerful and prosperous socialist country, making great contributions to humankind and showing the superiority of the socialist system. In March 1955, Mao put forward his assessment of the “new historical period” at the CPC National Congress, “Comrades, we are now in a new historical period. For a country in the East with a population of 600 million to make socialist revolution, to change its face and the course of its history, to accomplish its basic industrialization and the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce in a period of roughly three five-year plans and to catch up with or surpass the most powerful capitalist countries in the world in several decades” (Selected Works, vol. 5, p. 157). At the end of 1963, based on the development practice of the New China for more than ten years, he proposed that “in a short historical period, China should be built into a strong socialistically modernised country” (Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 341 – in Chinese). This grand overall goal of strengthening the country by socialist modernization was concretely developed into the development strategy of four modernizations.

The four modernizations, proposed by Mao Zedong according to China’s actual conditions, are development strategies with Chinese characteristics and in accord with the times.

In September 1954, at the first session of the First National People’s Congress (NPC), Mao Zedong proposed to strive for building a great socialist country and “build our country … into a great industrialized country with a high standard of modern culture” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 149). According to this thought, Zhou Enlai put forward in his government work report at the same NPC that they should build “powerful, modern industry, modern agriculture, modern communications and transport and modern national defence” and “build China into a strong, socialist, and modern industrialised country” (Selected Works of Zhou Enlai, Vol. 2, p. 142). Of course, in Zhou Enlai’s statement there is no “high standard of modern culture,” as mentioned by Mao Zedong.

In February 1957, Mao Zedong put forward the strategic conception of socialist modernization in “On Correctly Handling Contradictions among the People”: “To build China into a socialist country with modern industry, modern agriculture, and modern science and culture” (Selected Works. Vol. 5, p. 387)” At the end of 1959, he further enriched this idea and proposed the complete four modernization development strategies: “To build socialism, the original requirements were industrial modernization, agricultural modernization, scientific and cultural modernization, but now it is necessary to add the modernization of national defense” (Collected Works, Vol. 8, p. 116 – in Chinese).

In 1964, at the first session of the third National People’s Congress, Zhou Enlai publicly stated in his government work report: “The major task for developing our national economy in the years to come is, in brief, to turn China into a powerful socialist country with modern agriculture, modern industry, modern national defence and modern science and technology in not too long a period, catching up with and surpassing the countries that are advanced in these respects” (Selected Works of Zhou Enlai, Vol. 2, p. 458). Here, the expression of the four modernizations is different from Mao Zedong’s. Changing “modern science and culture” into “modern science and technology” highlights the productivity of science and technology, although the connotation of spiritual civilization is not obvious.

The four modernizations put forward by Mao Zedong comprise a modernization goal combining comprehensive development with key breakthroughs.

This goal contains four aspects: industry, agriculture, science and culture, and national defense, each of which has its own special connotation and development requirements. These different aspects entail mutual promotion, coordination with each other, and each has its own emphasis within a mutually unified strategy. To take the example of industrial modernization, it is necessary to establish an independent and complete industrial system and national economic system, correctly handle the proportional relationship among agriculture, light industry and heavy industry, and while there is an emphasis on heavy industry, full attention must also be paid to developing agriculture and light industry. Or to take the example of the relationship between industry and agriculture, importance should be attached to the basic position of agriculture in the national economy, along with adherence to the policy of taking industry as the leading factor and agriculture as the foundation. Agricultural cooperation and agricultural modernization on this basis have a decisive overall impact on industrialization. Without agricultural cooperation and mechanization, industrialization cannot be completed: “We must on no account regard industry and agriculture, socialist industrialization and the socialist transformation of agriculture as disconnected or isolated things, and on no account must we emphasize the one and play down the other” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 197).

The four modernizations not only start from the most important areas of productivity development and economic construction, such as industry and agriculture, but also emphasize the basic guarantee of the strength of national defense. At the same time, they attach great importance to the development of science, technology, and culture, which is a strategy of unifying hard power and soft power, material civilization and spiritual civilization. Science is an important part of modernization, and the development of science and culture cannot be separated from intellectuals and talented personnel. Mao Zedong attached great importance to this aspect. In January, 1956, he proposed that “it is necessary to make efforts to change China’s backward situation in economy, science and culture within a few decades, and quickly reach the advanced level in the world. In order to achieve this great goal, it is essential to have cadres and a sufficient number of outstanding scientific and technical experts” (Collected Works, Vol. 7, p. 2 – in Chinese). In September 1956 at the Eighth Preparatory Conference of the Party, he put forward a large number of tasks in the training of intellectuals” “We want to train intellectuals … We plan to train 1 million to 1.5 million accomplished intellectuals (including university graduates and professional college graduates) within three five-year plans. By that time … there will be many scientists and many engineers. At that time, the composition of the Central Committee of the Party will also change, and there should be many engineers and many scientists in the Central Committee” (Collected Works, Vol. 7, pp. 101-2 – in Chinese). In 1957, he emphasized again that in order “to build socialism, the working class must have its own army of technical cadres and of professors, teachers, scientists, journalists, writers, artists and Marxist theorists. It must be a vast army; a small number of people will not suffice” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 479-80).

The four modernizations were a feature of the overall development of the country and a strategy of breakthroughs in key areas according to the concrete reality of China at that time. However, they were also coordinated and unified with political construction, cultural development, institutional construction and Party building. While Mao Zedong’s four modernizations were never restricted to four aspects, they did neglect some other aspects. The four modernizations are the starting point of a process of the overall strategy of building a strong socialistically modernized country, and the foundation of the overall modernization strategy.

In the process of socialist transformation, Mao Zedong emphasized the concept of totality and systematic nature, proposing that “one transformation and three reforms” is a comprehensive whole: industrialization is the foundation of productive forces, while the “three reforms” is the condition of production relations. Further, there are two aspects that involve a mutually promoting relationship of one body and two wings, or two inseparable revolutions: “We are now carrying out a revolution not only in the social system, the change from private to public ownership, but also in technology, the change from handicraft to large-scale modern machine production, and the two revolutions are interconnected” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 197).

When formulating and implementing the goal of a strong socialistically modernized country, Mao Zedong focused on modernization and devoted himself to promoting the comprehensive development of economy, politics, culture, society and party building.

The four modernizations are closely related to and promote each other with political construction and institutional consolidation. For example, in the relationship between political construction and modernization, Mao Zedong clearly put forward the goal of political construction and the important role of a competent Politburo in dealing with modernization. In “The Situation in the Summer of 1957,” he wrote: “Our aim is to create a political situation in which we have both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of will and personal ease of mind and liveliness, and thus to promote our socialist revolution and socialist construction, make it easier to overcome difficulties, build a modern industry and modern agriculture more rapidly and make our Party and state more secure and better able to weather storm and stress” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 473-74). At the same time, modernization provides a solid foundation for institutional construction and state governance. Without a solid modern economic foundation, the consolidation of the socialist system will be insecure: “ten to fifteen years will be required to build a modern industrial and modern agricultural base in China. Only when the productive forces of our society have been fairly adequately developed over a period of ten to fifteen years will it be possible to regard our socialist economic and political system as having obtained a fairly adequate material base (now far from adequate), and will it be possible to regard our state (the superstructure) as fully consolidated and our socialist society as fundamentally built” (Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 479).

It is precisely because of the comprehensiveness and totality of the goals of the country’s socialist construction and modernization that Mao Zedong put forward a series of important theoretical viewpoints, principles, and measures in different fields such as political, cultural, social, and Party building. In the political system, we should firmly adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship, implement the system of people’s congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and the system of regional autonomy for minority nationalities. In the country’s political life, we should persist in expanding inner-party democracy and democracy in society, and raise the importance of upholding democratic centralism and promoting socialist democracy to the level of consolidating state power. In cultural construction, we should firmly adhere to the guiding position of Marxism and the basic policy of “letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” In regard to Party building, we should firmly adhere to the principle that “the Communist Party of China is the core of the leadership of the whole Chinese people,” maintain the high degree of Party unity, always maintain the true political character of Party, guard against and prevent corruption, deterioration, and degradation of cadres, and always implement the Party’s mass line. From the strategic height of the long-term development of the socialist system, Mao Zedong also put forward five criteria for the successors of the proletarian revolution, namely, adhering to Marxism-Leninism, seeking benefits for the majority, being able to unite the majority, adhering to the democratic style, and being good at self-criticism.

These topics show that the modernization goal put forward by Mao Zedong is a comprehensive and strategic plan, which not only involves the field of economic construction, but also covers all aspects such as the construction and consolidation of the new social system, the modernization of culture, the all-round development of the people, the development of the Party and the building-up of cadres. On the question of non-economic fundamentals, in certain circumstances he raised these to a higher position. Therefore, Mao Zedong’s thought on modernization cannot be said to be one-sided and incomplete; instead, the relationship between comprehensiveness and emphasis in his thought on modernization should be viewed in terms of historical reality. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, held in 2020, planned the long-term goal of basically realizing socialist modernization by 2035 and started a new journey of building a socialistically modernized country in an all-round way. The comprehensive construction of socialist modernization has not been proposed out of thin air, nor has it begun from ground zero; instead, it arises from the experience and results accumulated in the long-term development of China’s modernization drive.

3 thoughts on “The totality and emphasis of Mao Zedong’s Four Modernization strategies”

  1. El PCCh a comienzos de la década de los 80 realizó una evaluación de la historia del PCCh en la que se consideró un 70% positivo la actuación de Mao y un 30% negativo debido a los errores del Gran Salto Adelante, la Gran Revolución Cultural Proletaria y el culto al líder, asuntos todos ellos que dificultaron gravemente la modernización de China. Esa es la verdad completa independientemente de los escritos anteriores de Mao.

  2. The history of ‘altered’ or ‘transformed’ value did not end with this discussion between Engels and Kautsky. The ‘transformed’ and ‘altered’ value made a regular appearance in the communist movement whenever attempts were made to justify the retention or expansion of commodity-money relations in revolutionary societies. In the 1920s a number of economists projected the view of the ‘altered’ and ‘modified’ commodity within the Soviet Union. In the discussions which took place in the Communist Academy in 1924. A.F. Kon argued that in the Soviet economy the form of the capitalist regulator was preserved through exchange but with a changed content (N.C. Shukov, ‘Politicheskaya ekonomiya sotsializma v 20-e gody’, Moscow, 1991, p. 198, emphasis added). V. Chernomordik considered that the law of value was transformed under the influence of planning (ibid., p. 203). Preobrazhensky, the major economist close to Trotsky, argued that commodity-money categories in the state sector transformed and changed their role and function: ‘Our state economy within certain bounds shows that under the forms of exchange relations, their content in changing’ (ibid., p. 200, emphasis added). In 1926 he said that ‘Marx and Engels said that the law of value is superseded in the last analysis, but did not go into the question of the transformation of this law in the course of the transitional epoch’ (E. Preobrazhensky, ‘The New Economics’, Oxford, 1965, p. 22, emphasis added).

    Such views persisted into the period after the Second World War. This is clear from Stalin’s last work where he criticised a number of erroneous views in political economy which had become apparent after the November 1951 Discussion on the projected Textbook of Political Economy. Very much consonant with the spirit and letter of Engels’ Letter to Kautsky, Stalin denied that the law of value had been ‘transformed’ or even ‘radically transformed’ on the basis of the planned economy. He noted that the formula that economic laws could be ‘transformed’ had been current in the Soviet Union for a long time but had to be abandoned for the sake of accuracy. Stalin argued that laws could not be ‘transformed’ as the laws of political economy exerted their influence independent of the will of man, the Soviet government and its leadership. The sphere of action of a particular law could be restricted but it could not be ‘created’ or ‘transformed’. (J. Stalin, ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, Moscow, 1952. pp. 11-12).

    ‘The Textbook of Political Economy’ which was eventually published in the USSR in August, 1954 contained views which were in contradiction to the views of Engels and Stalin: ‘The new conditions arising as a result of the victories of socialism, change the character of commodity production and commodity circulation and the organic sphere of their operation’. (‘Politicheskaya ekonomiya-Uchebnik’, Moscow, 1954. p. 402, emphasis added.) In the same spirit it was argued that the nature of money ‘changed’ under socialism: ‘Money is an economic category, which, preserving its old form, in a fundamental manner changes its nature in conformity with the requirement of the development of the socialist economy (ibid., p. 449, emphasis added).

    The re-emergence of the notion of the ‘altered’ commodity in the Political Economy Textbook of 1954 corresponded to the changes which had taken place in the USSR between the death of Stalin in March, 1953 and the 17th August, 1954 when the manuscript of the text book went to the press. The programme for the gradual extension of products-exchange between state industry and the collective farms was de facto abandoned in May, 1953 and measures were introduced to expand the sphere of commodity circulation. The first major step to terminate the system of directive planning, under which all economic organisations were obliged to carry out the decisions of the planning authorities, was initiated in April, 1953, by which the powers of the All-Union Soviet ministries were expanded. In this manner the powers of Gosplan were reduced. The September, 1953 Plenum of the CPSU incepted policies which in previous years had been identified as ‘Rykovism’. Commodity-money relations were expanded systematically. Prices for fixed delivery and the purchase prices for the main agricultural goods were considerably raised. The quantum of obligatory deliveries of grain, potatoes, vegetables, oilseeds and livestock products by the collective farms was reduced. Arrangements are made for the collective farms to partially remove themselves from centralised planning by permitting them to decide the size of their crop area, the yield of certain crops, the number of livestock and the productivity of animal husbandry. (‘History of the CPSU’, Second revised edition, Moscow, n.d., p. 639).

    The notion of an ‘altered’ value appeared in different forms in the Asian people’s democracies. As in Central and Eastern Europe the initial revolutionary thrust was directed against imperialism and the pronounced survivals of feudalism which permitted the preservation of the middle bourgeoisie in the course of the democratic revolution. Only in the second, socialist, stage of the people’s democracies was the question broached of terminating the continued existence of this middle bourgeoisie. Dimitrov indicated the perspectives of socialism in 1948: ‘The correctness of the Party’s policy for the liquidation of the capitalist system and the construction of socialism in our country through an uncompromising class struggle against the capitalist elements and through adoption of the planning principle in our economy is not disputed by anyone in our party’. This programme involved the following understanding regarding the future of the urban bourgeoisie: ‘The last vestiges of the exploiters’ classes in the towns — the urban bourgeoisie will be economically liquidated (G. Dimitrov: ‘Political Report to the Vth Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party’, Sofia, 1949, p. 85, 78, emphases added).

    Some four years later the CPC, too adopted the programme for socialist construction in China as the second stage of people’s democracy. It was correctly recognised in 1952 that: ‘With the overthrow of the landlord class and the bureaucratic-capitalist class, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie has become the principal contradiction in China’ (‘Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Vol. V, Peking, 1977, p. 77). After the 20th Congress of the CPSU and the 8th Congress of the CPC however the liquidation economically of the middle bourgeoisie was no longer considered obligatory. The logic of the CPC was as follows: ‘The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic. But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods’ (ibid., p. 386, emphasis added).

    The notion of ‘transformed’ value, considered wholly impermissible for Marxists by Engels and Stalin, was sought to be applied to a section of the bourgeoisie on the ground of the – unspecified – concrete national conditions of a particular country. As a consequence the ‘transformed’ national bourgeoisie was considered exempt from the laws of motion of the commodity which Marx in ‘Capital’ had argued was the basic cell of capitalism. In his tract on political economy Stalin argued that as contradictions continued to operate in socialist society, if incorrect policies were followed by the directing bodies then contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production could become antagonistic (J. Stalin, ibid., p. 75). This did not normally occur as socialist society did not include obsolescent classes that might organise resistance (ibid., p. 57). After 1954 when the People’s Republic of China declared itself as a socialist society it was asserted in effect that obsolescent classes could be incorporated in the ‘socialist’ state and society. It was argued that if national capital were ‘properly handled’, (Mao Tsetung, loc. cit.) it could be incorporated within ‘the classes, strata and social groups which favour, support and work for the cause of socialist construction’ (Mao Tsetung, ibid., p. 385). After 1953 the CPC shrank from the nationalisation of the property of the middle bourgeoisie, i.e., from the economic liquidation of the national bourgeoisie specified by Dimitrov as the sine qua non for the transition to socialism in a people’s democratic state. The notion of the ‘transformed’ character of Chinese national capital corresponded to this political and economic compromise; it offered the theoretical justification for the eternal preservation of middle capital in the basis and superstructure in the ‘socialist’ stage of peoples democracy. These policies received support from the CPSU. At the 20th Congress of the CPSU it was noted that much that was unique in socialist construction was being done in the People’s Republic of China: ‘Having taken over the decisive commanding positions, the people’s democratic state is using them in the social revolution to implement a policy of peaceful reorganisation of private industry and trade and their gradual transformation into a component of socialist economy’, (N.S. Khrushchov, ‘Report of the C.C. of the CPSU to the 20th Party Congress’, Moscow, 1956, p. 43, emphasis added). The formulations of the CPC were replicated in the other people’s democracies of Asia, in Korea and Vietnam, as well as in the German Democratic Republic

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