Global Agrarian Problems and the Significance of the Cooperative Model. The Former Chinese Example


Published August 25th, 2018 in German. Translation is mine, I apologize for its insufficiencies


Of this planet’s total population – appr. 7,5 billion people – several billions are still living in agrarian conditions. Among them, a great many can hardly live on them. A great many are not at all or only to a small part integrated into local, regional or international markets; that is to say, the subsistence economy is still of paramount importance.

In the past, traditional patterns of subsistence economy or of a semi-subsistence economy enabled many people, e.g. in Africa, to make a living, albeit on a most inferior level; but they are increasingly insufficient for growing populations. What is more, they are losing out to the greedy grab of international agribusiness, they are squeezed by climatic changes, and above all, they prove increasingly insufficient for the changing demands of the people that have so far been living under such conditions.

For such reasons, important parts of the globe’s population are fleeing them, moving into the urban centres where, however, they cannot find work that could feed themselves and their families in such a way as to enable them to participate in basics of civilization – affording decent housing, connecting to education and culture, getting medical care and some social security

They are living in slums as, e.g., in India or Latin America; in the case of China, they are living as migrant workers in the urban agglomeration areas, somewhat better than in slums, but in some ways, regrettably, similar to those.

All countries are more or less dominated by capitalist economic systems and are, to varying degrees, integrated into the globalised capitalist economy without having opportunities, presently, to decouple. For this system, large parts of these masses of people are “superfluous”. Only parts of them can join the capitalist “reserve army”, i.e. they are at least intermittently allowed to earn some meagre salaries in the capitalist networks. The majority of those billions of people probably have not even such a chance, they are simply “superfluous” and, by capitalist economic criteria, are just a burden.

It is a safe bet that there are quite a few considerations underway in capitalist political circles how those billions could be retracted from world population; some of those ideas are presumably so devoid of humaneness that they are transmitted to the public not at all or in disguise. The past, however, has time and again prompted theoretical and practical instances of anti-human approaches.

Malthus, for example, preached some 200 years ago that food production never could keep in step with the growth of the population and that, therefore, wars and epidemics had to be cherished for re-establishing the balance (Malthus was proven wrong by the real development. This probably contained contradictory elements as the rapid improvement and scientification of agrarian production on one side, the colonial robber economy on the other).

In the seventies, a secret program by the US to sterilize Latin American women without their knowledge was leaked. In India, Indira Ghandi’s government program to enforce sterilization failed. The Chinese leadership under Deng Xiao-ping, the re-introducer of capitalism, ordered the “one-child-policy” resulting in grim pain for the population and gross deformations for demography (senescence, overhang of males). These are just the best known examples.

If you are looking for illustrative materials about certain far-reaching capitalist imaginations you could, e.g., take a certain strand of the so-called fantasy movies (predominantly from Hollywood). There, scenarios of a planet devastated and depopulated after apocalyptic wars or natural catastrophes have been abounding for decades. Human leftovers are brutally fighting for individual or racial survival, just the way certain ideologists of radical capitalism are describing the “normality” of society, at least of societies they still clandestinely imagine as colonial ones.

There is at least one historical example of a large country with an almost completely agrarian economy and only some vestiges of industry, with a very large and rapidly growing population that, from a capitalist point of view, largely consisted of ‘unproductive eaters’, a country that was able to generate productive work for this population, to feed it, to increasingly offer social security and, without resorting to the global capital markets, to create an industry of its own and an inner market.

This example was provided by China during the period from 1949 on, after the People’s Repulic of China was founded, after it had finished off, by revolutionary means, the imperialist attempts to rule and divide the country.

The paramount method was the formation of agricultural cooperatives and communes, that later on increasingly developed into subjects of industrialization, education and social security. Politically, this development was the work of millions of rural activists, namely those within the Communist Party of China of then, and of the ideas of Mao Zedong, the party’s long-time main representative.

Why and how this development in China was torn down after the end of the Mao era, from appr. 1980 on, and step by step, though relatively fast, was transferred into capitalist forms by a CPCh that increasingly revealed itself as an bureaucratic state apparatus, into a “Wild-West-turbocapitalism” (a rating by writers who under no circumstances can be suspected of socialist leanings) – this is one of the most interesting questions, relevant not only to the further development of today’s China but of large other parts of the world, too.

Connected is the question, even more political and up-to-date, what will come into place when this most recent example of the transformation of an agricultural society into a society that is dominated by globalized capitalism (with “excess population” for capitalist minds) will be confronted by existential challenges. Elsewhere in the world, it has already proved to be apocalyptic, as already partially doomed.

For me, thinking in terms of cooperatives will again assume great importance, possibly even central importance.

The Chinese cooperatives, right from the start, proved capable of securing the food supply for the population. They combined the forces of their members for mutual help, for common improvement of the rural infrastructures, for the increase of production, its mechanization and scientification. Migration from the land, thus, was largely inhibited and even not needed in a certain sense.

Naturally, on the other hand, the grave differences between the city and the land with regard to opportunities for individual development, to culture and knowledge could not fundamentally be overcome within two decades.

Slums werde not needed in China between 1949 and 1980, and they did not come into existence. Food supply for the urban population was secured. The agrarian part of China, the absolutely predominant part, developed and offered fundaments of living and work, albeit under a series of limitations.

For societies of today as in large parts of Africa, in Latin America, but also in the Middle East, in India and elsewhere, these experiences are very worth, in my opinion, to be known, to be studied and to serve as examples for practical purposes.


These are societies that, similar to China during the first half of the 20th century, are still largely trapped in agrarian structures, partly in forms of subsistence economy, that lack capital, that are not capable of creating industries and infrastructures of their own, that are led by corrupt gangs, and that must dump the best of their resources in terms of men, of soil and raw materials to international capitalism at ridiculously low prices. Societies – this has once to be said to the dishonour of their inner political and cultural conditions – which experience punctual empowerments almost only by direct investments from the part of the basically predatory international capitalism.

Future will show the revolutions that have to sweep through these large parts of the globe, the international upheavals and wars that have to overturn those conditions (as it happened in China since the beginning of the 20th century in an exemplary and often very brutal way). In any case, imho, cooperative thinking shall be able to demonstrate its constructive civilizing powers.

China’s experiences with cooperativism are not at all free from grave disturbances and even destructions that took place in the entire social and economic fabric. There was plenty of them during the three decades since 1949, due to international and domestic political aggravations (blockade by the “free West” since 1949; severance of the support by the Soviet Union since about 1960; aberrations during the “Great Leap Forward” from 1958 on; chaos in the Cultural Revolution from 1966 on) – nevertheless the rural cooperative system was able to survive and to reconsolidate itself time and again.

The reasons why China‘s cooperative structures could be dissolved under Deng Xiao-ping‘s leadership from 1978 on, and why the new, more and more turbocapitalistic  economic rules could be seen as an alternative from the part of the population’s predominant majority, from the part of relevant segments even as the better alternative – and still are being seen this way -, these reasons certainly are manifold and still waiting for analyses and reappraisal, which should be done in China in the first place.

For observers in far-distant Europe, some starting points might be discernible, though.

One of the reasons could be looked for in the fact that China’s cooperative movement had been convincingly successful only in parts of the nation, with large differences between the regions. W. Hinton, an expert for China’s development and especially for agrarian affairs, estimated that approximately one third of the cooperatives were successful, one third were so-so and one third were failures. Some observations could be hinting to connections between previous experiences the peasants had been able to make during the agrarian uprisings and the guerrilla war against the Japanese occupation; in one word, by revolutionary experiences.

Digging deeper, certain persistent characteristics of China’s culture and society might come under scrutiny. Some writers seem to believe that although there are some typically Chinese forms of socialization – the one embodied in the system of kinship clans and the corresponding worship of ancestors, the other in coercion by China’s imperial central bureaucracy established in the course of two millennia -, there is, at society’s bottom, a deep-rooted individualism and profit-driven egoism. These features might be a favourable breeding ground for a corresponding capitalism in its most up-to-date dominant moldings.

In this regard, Deng Xiao-ping might have built on deep-rooted basic characters in China’s society and culture when he dissolved the cooperative system and appealed to elementary drives for egoistic enrichment.

At this point I have to stress that the examples of extreme asociality were and are nowadays set by US imperialism, the – still – central authority of globalised capitalism.

I assume that in today’s China there are important approaches to critical reflection of the nation’s history, its cultural imprints, the modern social development – and of Western societies likewise, naturally. There must be the formation of a fundament for continuative criticism and for new ideas, nourished by the experiences of the 20th century and the aggravations of today. Present turbocapitalism, perhaps capitalism in general, are being critically questioned from various starting points. There are liberals, social democrats, “Marxists”, “Maoists” and so on, and probably new ideas and syntheses whose coming manifestations can be expected with suspense. By no means Xi Jin-ping’s new capitalistic imperialism will have the last saying.


For practical tests of cooperative models, at first primarily agrarian ones, Africa could become an important ground in the decades to come. The continent’s immense population can’t be fed by its still largely dominant subsistence economy, neither by aggressive agrobusiness of Western or Chinese provenance nor by some sweeping industrialization (which is not possible there by any means) nor by mass emigration. On the other hand, it is extremely rich in natural preconditions for agriculture as well as in mineral resources etc. Cooperatives can combine social coherence and productive cooperation with basic elements of a capitalistic market economy in an exemplary way and could open opportunities for Africa. Radical political changes are a prerequisite.

Similar views can be held for other regions, for large parts of Latin America, India etc.


My opinions about the capitalist development in China, about the roles of Mao Zedong and the Cultural revolution can be read here and here and here.


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