Agriculture: Organization for Self-Reliance
After summarizing socialist land reform and the transition to basic and then advanced cooperatives, the chapter focuses on a key organizational innovation, supply and marketing co-ops, which served as local intermediaries for goods and information everywhere in rural China. Replacing predatory loan and purchasing practices from Old China, SMCs were charged with demonstrating socialism through fairness; in a sense, they were daily evidence that revolutionary change had commenced. Yet, SMCs and the communes that followed were imperfect devices. Weakly trained cadres were consistently overwhelmed by visitors, supervisors, meetings, and the demands of calculating household shares of collective revenues. Situated accounts of missteps and failures and efforts at correction and re-centering will document ongoing experimental practices on the ground, not least the discoveries that mechanization necessitated better farm tools more than tractors, and that attending to maintenance and repair tasks was fundamental. The chapter closes with the decade’s greatest error, the Great Leap Forward’s rush to rural development through which “rocks for brains” officials triggered China’s last famine.