In a speech given in July 1955, Mao Zedong expressed the need for peasant cooperatives, the first step towards agricultural collectivisation and the People’s Communes:
“A new upsurge in the socialist mass movement is in sight throughout the Chinese countryside. But some of our comrades are tottering along like a woman with bound feet, always complaining that others are going too fast. They imagine that by picking on trifles, grumbling unnecessarily, worrying continuously, and putting up countless taboos and commandments, they will guide the socialist mass movement in the rural areas along sound lines.
No, this is not the right way at all. It is wrong.
The tide of social reform in the countryside, in the shape of cooperation, has already reached some places. Soon it will sweep the whole country. This is a huge socialist revolutionary movement, which involves a rural population more than five hundred million strong,one that has very great world significance. We should guidethis movement vigorously, warmly and systematically, and not act as a drag on it…
It is wrong to say that the present pace of development of the agricultural producers’ cooperatives has ‘gone beyond practical possibilities’ or ‘gone beyond the consciousness of the masses’. The situation in China is like this: its population is enormous, there is a shortage of cultivated land (only three mou of land per head, taking the country as a whole; in many parts in the southern provinces, the average is only one mou or less). Natural catastrophes occur from time to time; every year large numbers of farms suffer more or less from flood, drought, gales, frost,hail or insect pests — and methods of farming are backward. As a result, many peasants are still having difficulties or are not well off. The well off ones are comparatively few, although since land reform the standard of living of the peasants as a whole has improved.
For all these reasons there is an active desire among most peasants to take the socialist road… We have been taking steps to bring about a gradual advance in the socialist transformation of agriculture. The first step in the countryside is to call on the peasants, in accordance with the principles of voluntariness and mutual benefit, to organise agricultural producers’ mutual aid teams. Such teams contain only the rudiments of socialism. Each one drawsin a few households, though some have ten or more.
The second stepis to call on the peasants, on the basis of the mutual aid tams and still in accordance with the principles of voluntariness, to organise small agricultural producers’ cooperatives, semi-socialist in nature, characterised by the pooling of land as shares and by single management.
Not until we take the third step will the peasants be called upon… These steps are designed to raise steadily the socialist consciousness of the peasants through their personal experience, to change their mode of life step by step, and so minimise any feeling that their mode of life is being challenged all of a sudden.”