The article, titled Why did the Communist Party Reform in China, but not in the Soviet Union? The Political Economy of Agricultural Transition, purposes to present a diverse set of arguments to demonstrate why China and the Soviet Union, along with other countries in Europe and Asia, chose different reform policies in their dramatic transition from communism to market economies. Specifically, the article looks into the agricultural reform and how various dynamics, including price policy, property rights, decentralization, and market liberalization, influenced economic reform in China and the Soviet Union1.
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The article proceeds by showing how China embarked on its economic reform path by going away from collective land ownership and leaning towards household responsibility system (HRS) in agriculture, before showing how the country relied on grassroots support, local leadership, and the central leadership to drive its agricultural reform agenda2. Equally, the Soviet’s Union’s journey to economic reform has been highlighted, with authors suggesting that the Soviet Union failed to achieve agricultural transition because of failure by grassroots farmers to adopt and implement strategies and initiatives from the country’s top leadership. In summary, the article shows that both grassroots support and supportive top leadership were important vectors in the push for an aggressive economic reform agenda3.
Other important highlights of the article include the motivations behind the actor’s push for economic reform in China and the Soviet Union. In particular, the authors provide an explicit explanation of how various variables, including historical legacy, wealth considerations, and technology, pushed farmers at the grassroots levels in China to embrace agricultural reform, and how the same variables pushed farmers in the Soviet Union to reject the reforms4. The motivations for embracing or rejecting these reforms have also been provided for local officials at the grassroots and also for the central leadership.
Why did property rights reform bore fruit in China and not in the Soviet Union?
There was strong grassroots support from farmers in China, while farmers from the Soviet Union refused to support the reform initiatives. Similarly, there was strong support from the local leadership. Although there was initial resistance against HRS from the top leadership in China, heavy grassroots pressures swayed the regime to change its perspective on the reform and indeed took part in drawing policy guidelines on how the reform was to be implemented. Additionally, China utilized labor-intensive costs of production, thus farmers had a higher chance of benefiting from the reforms. In the Soviet Union, farmers relied on heavy subsidies from the government, thus felt they would have lost if they adopted the reforms5.
What motivated farmers at the grassroots levels to adopt economic and agricultural reforms in China?
The three main motivators include historical legacy, wealth, and technology. In historical legacy, households in China had a recollection of the benefits of household farming as they had worked on collective farms for only around 25 years. In wealth, most rural households in China lived below a dollar per day, thus were eager for reform. In technology, farmers in China relied on labor-intensive technology with no incentives from the government. Chinese farmers also relied on simple supply channels6.
Why did grassroots local officials in the Soviet Union fail to convince farmers to embrace the economic reforms?
Grassroots local officials in China and the Soviet Union were charged with the responsibility of implementing policies, administering investments, operating commercial and social services, collecting taxes, guarding state policy, and imposing discipline. In the Soviet Union, local officials were fairly compensated, thus were not under pressure to align themselves with farmers. Second, the Soviet Union had different wealth levels and different nature of technology, implying that it was difficult for local officials to impose their will on farmers. Additionally, local officials feared the loss of financial benefits if the agricultural sector was privatized. Lastly, the centralized nature of political and economic structures in the Soviet Union made it hard for local officials to exercise influence over farmers7.
What were the effects of market liberalization on China’s reform agenda?
The early pricing reforms of agricultural produce and the household responsibility system assisted farmers in China to meet their preliminary objectives of enhanced agricultural productivity, sustained farm incomes, and food output. Owing to increased food security and improved standards of living, the political leadership’s hold on power was reinforced. Additionally, rural and urban wages plummeted due to a rise in food production. Market liberalization also ensured the stability and progress of China’s economy. Lastly, owing to a sudden rise in rural incomes, an instant surge in the demand for non-food products was created within the Chinese market8.
Highlight some failures of the Soviet Union’s political leadership in the push for economic reforms in the country
First, the political leadership failed to read the mood of the masses and attempted to force reforms rather than use other avenues. Second, the political leadership employed a top-down approach supported by inconceivable propaganda schemes and outright deceit. Third, political leadership delayed in assisting farmers to gain access to factors of production. Lastly, the political leadership failed to employ a decentralized approach to implement reforms in the country and instead relied on the centralized approach. The authors suggest that the centralized approach was costly and brought myriad negative reactions in the event of failure9.
Rozelle, S., & Swinnen, J.F.M. “Why did the Communist Party Reform in China, but not in the Soviet Union? The Political Economy of Agricultural Transition.” China Economic Review 20 (2009): 275-287.
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- Scott Rozelle and Johan F.M. Swinnen, “Why did the Communist Party Reform in China but not in the Soviet Union? The Political Economy of Agricultural Transition,” China Economic Review 20, (2009): 275-276.
- Ibid, 281-283.
- Ibid, 279.
- Ibid, 280-281.
- Ibid, 277-279.
- Ibid, 280.
- Ibid, 281-282.
- Ibid, 283-284.
- Ibid, 279-284.