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Continuous development of the means of production is a major goal of all Marxist governments. Under Mao, however, that goal was pursued in a manner that subordinated economic policy to the dictates of massive class struggle and, in the end, to political struggle carried up to the Political Bureau level. Mao, who admitted his own ignorance of economics, resented efforts to correct the problems caused by hasty agricultural collectivization and the Great Leap Forward (1958-60; see Glossary), and he initiated a political and ideological "struggle" against the 1950s reformers. This political campaign reached massive proportions during the Cultural Revolution, doing extensive damage to the economic, political, and social fabric of Chinese society.

In contrast, the post-Mao leadership so emphasized the issue of economic modernization that modernization began to shape the political process itself. Economic modernization became the basis of Deng Xiaoping's pragmatic reform policies. Despite disagreements over the content and pace of the reform program, Deng won solid support from other senior Chinese leaders who recognized the great danger of neglecting economic development and the well-being of the people.

The difference in political style between Mao and Deng was evident in their approach to opposition. When Mao perceived that party bureaucrats were blocking the full implementation of his radical programs, he set out in the early 1960s to purify the party. In contrast, faced with similar opposition in the 1980s, Deng sought points of agreement and built a coalition around an eclectic economic program.

Data as of July 1987