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.