More lessons learned in Communism

This is a follow-up to the November letter describing the Pilgrims’ communism experiment in 1620.

On a recent trip to China I learned of a similar experience that helped lead to China’s acceptance of free-market capitalist principles.

In 1978, Xiaogang village was a typical Chinese agricultural commune set up under Mao’s repressive communist cultural revolution. Farmers were assigned tasks and awarded points just for showing up.Individuals weren’t responsible for output, since government overseers directed all work and decisions.

Famines were the norm for this and most communes in China, and in the dark of night, some very brave farmers formed a secret pact. They signed (in bloody fingerprints) a treasonous agreement to assign plots of land to individual families, allowing each to determine what to grow and how hard to work. Families would keep any produce beyond that demanded by the state.

The leaders, expecting to be discovered and executed, included in the pact that any survivors would raise children of those who were punished. With individual responsibility and hard work being rewarded, famine turned to fortune and the village prospered above and beyond other communes. The first year’s harvest was greater than the previous five years combined. Eventually the new government under Deng Xiaoping realized something good was happening in Xiaogang village and the experiment was allowed to continue and expand.

Xiaogang became the new administration’s example of the good that would come from adopting some western ways, leading China to adopt free-market principles and their version of capitalism.

The Pilgrims’ experiment with communism and China’s experiment with capitalism are important lessons for all. Liberty, individual responsibility, and competition are keystones of our economic success in America.

If we don’t learn and remember this history, we’re destined to repeat it.

Richard Eichler