Raising peanut yields with dialectics (an essay from China)

This excerpt is the first essay of the 1972 edition of “Serving the People with Dialectics”, which tells the story of everyday workers and peasants in their daily application of materialist dialectics to socialist construction. Enjoy!

Raising Peanut Yields, by Yao Shih-chang

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I was born into a poor peasant family forty-eight years ago. I went to school for four years when I was a child. For more than ten years I have studied Chairman Mao’s philosophic works in order to use materialist dialectics. Applied to my scientific experiments to raise our brigade’s average per-hectare yield of peanuts from around 1.5 tons before 1958 to 3.4 tons. We’ve reached as high as over 6 tons.

Lessons from failure

Our brigade has some 320 hectares of fields, mostly hilly. We grow peanuts on about 133 hectares of this. Before 1955, our average per-hectare yield was about 1.1 tons. We raised this figure somewhat after setting up our agricultural producers’ co-operative that year, but it was still low.

In 1953 I began trying to raise our peanut yield, but I experimented without using materialist dialectics, and failed. Drought hit in the spring of 1958 just when we started sowing. The soil was dry, and it looked as though the seeds would not sprout. I had heard about a production team using deep ploughing and covering the seeds with only a thin layer of soil. I persuaded our brigade to use their method, but our output dropped that year.

What was wrong? Our leaders suggested analyzing our experience and drawing lessons from it. I turned to Chairman Mao’s On Practice and On Contradiction:

“Only those who are subjective, one-sided and superficial in their approach to problems,” he says, “will smugly issue orders or directives the moment they arrive on the scene, without considering the circumstances, without viewing things in their totality (their history and their present state as a whole) and without getting to the essence of things (their nature and the internal relations between one thing and another). Such people are bound to trip and fall.”

Chairman Mao’s teaching made me realize that my mistake was imitating others without considering the local conditions. That team’s land is level and fertile, so their rows of peanuts can be wide apart. The method of planting in deep furrows and covering lightly works well in their situation but not for our brigade, where the land is hilly and the soil layer thing. Our rows must be close together. When we ploughed deep, the loose soil fell into the furrow just dug and buried the seeds. It amounted to ploughing deep and covering deep, and this was what caused our output to fall. Chairman Mao’s philosophic thinking helped me to see what my failure was due to the lack of correspondence between my notion of things and the facts. I was acting blindly and passively trying to know the objective world. I decided to apply Chairman Mao’s philosophic thinking in future scientific experiments and really increase our peanut output.

What produces the peanuts

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I determined to study the growth of peanuts so as to lace our efforts to increase yields on a new basis. How should I go about this?

I started at the blossoming stage, with the knowledge that the peanut plant yields pods after the flowers wither. But what was the relationship between flower and nut? I selected two clusters of peanut plants for field observation, and stayed in the field for three nights during the blossoming stage. I found that peanuts blossom just before dawn. From the fourth night I went to the field before dawn each day, and labelled each flower with the date it blossomed.

I continued doing this for more than twenty days, including one rainy night when I went only after struggling with the thought that one night’s absence wouldn’t matter much. Then I remembered Chairman Mao’s teaching that the Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism has two outstanding characteristics. One is its class nature: it is in the service of the proletariat. The other is its practicality. How could I learn the laws governing the growth of peanuts if I did not apply Chairman Mao’s philosophic ideas, first of all, to think always of serving the proletariat. I got a good soaking that night and was chilled through, but I had followed Chairman Mao’s teaching and overcome a difficulty. From that time on, I persisted in making my observations, rain or shine. In sixty nights I attached 170 labels to my two clusters. When the peanuts were dug, I analyzed my data and learned things I never knew before about peanuts. The time between the opening of the flower and the ripening of the nut below was at least sixty-five days. I found also that the first pair of branches was responsible for most of the nuts.

This was an exciting discovery. The experiment would need testing, and in fact observation and study the second year confirmed the conclusions drawn. But coincidentally I always found that 60 to 70 per cent of the pods were produced by the first pair of branches while 20 to 30 per cent were produced by the second. The third pair produced only a few pods, and most of those were empty. Further, the main stem of the plant bore neither flowers nor pods at all.

Having arrived at some laws governing the growth of peanuts, I continued experimenting, using these laws to increase the peanut yield. Obviously, the best should be gotten out of the first pair of branches. To favor them shallow sowing was preferable, as it would facilitate the bearing of pods by that first pair of branches, which grew at the base of the plant. But out soil was generally dry in spring. Moreover, such large, oil-rich seeds did not sprout easily. Shallow sowing would allow the seeds to dry so that not all of them would sprout. The yield could scarcely be increased by shallow sowing. Since the principal contradiction was between all the seeds sprouting and growing well, and not doing so, the method of shallow sowing was out. We would sow the seeds as deep as was necessary to ensure sufficient moisture for sprouting and growth.

Deep ploughing having been decided on, the problem arose of the first pair of branches: buried deep in the soil they would have little chance of developing. Formerly a secondary contradiction, this problem rose to primacy. To solve it I turned to On Contradiction, where Chairman Mao points out: “It [materialist dialectics] holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes.”

I analyzed that the first pair of branches, which blossomed early with many flowers, was the internal factor in increasing output. Deep planting however, would not favor the branches’ growth, so their productive potential would not be given full play. These external conditions would tend to restrict yield. Practice provided an answer.

It came one day when I was helping former poor peasant Want Tien-yuan thin out glutinous millet shoots. I asked him why we didn’t bank earth around them. He said, “If the roots are not exposed to the sun, the plants won’t produce much grain.”

It occurred to me that if the millet shoots branched off from exposed roots, why not with peanuts? We could sow deep but remove the earth around the roots so as to facilitate their branching off. I tried this with a cluster of peanut plants. The exposed main stems were white and tender, so that there was water on my hand when I rolled them between my fingers. Wouldn’t such tender roots be withered by the sun? Still, I mustn’t jump to conclusions, but see what practice said. I removed the earth around twenty-two clusters.

To my surprise, not only were the peanut plants not dry, but the main stems had turned purple and were as tough as sapling branches. I had found a solution to the contradiction between deep planting and developing the first pair of branches. When I discussed this method with our brigade cadres, they decided to set aside four small plots for experiment. That autumn we harvested 25 per cent more peanuts from those plots than from the controls.

Solving contradictions as they arise

Applying this method throughout the brigade, we increased our output of peanuts on all 133 hectares quite substantially. This meant a lot to our brigade, and to us. Chairman Mao’s philosophic thinking had given us the key of materialist dialectics to solve our problems in growing peanuts. I went on experimenting in the spirit of Chairman Mao’s teaching: “Man has constantly to sum up experience and go on discovering, inventing, creating and advancing.”

I found that while each flower stalk (calyx tube) of the first pair of branches had six or seven flowers, it bore only one or two pods beneath, showing a contradiction between the main stem and the branches. The first and second pairs of branches need more nourishment for growth, blossoming and bearing pods, but the main stem drew it away.

I referred again to the principle of transformation of contradictions as explained in Chairman Mao’s On Contradiction. I tried cutting off the top of the main stem to check its overgrowth after the second pair of branches had grown. The result was about as expected: the first pair of branches blossomed seven days earlier, and each cluster bore seven more pods. The following year, on an experimental plot, using the same irrigation and fertilizer, the yield was roughly 8 per cent more.

Practice in those two years led me to the conclusion that in farm work, as in all other, we must constantly resolve contradictions. Scientific experiments create the conditions to transform contradictions in a direction favorable to the revolutionary creations of mankind. We concluded that since things are continuously developing, and since contradictions are bound to arise from time to time, so scientific experiments must constantly be made.

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4 comments

  1. How is any of this relevant to today? Today we have pesticides that destroy the genetic material of crops. Besides, genes may be influenced by environment, but what is the environment made up of? Genes. Your marxist thinking is turning you into an environmental fascist as most marxists are.

    1. This is a historical document which shows the accomplishments of the “massification” of philosophy in China, and the overall mindset it brought to Chinese people, who were until the the revolution plagued by Confucian thinking (and still are today with the restoration of capitalism and neoliberal education practices in modern China). The rest of your comment is hardly relevant.
      Also, environmental fascist? Really? LMAO

      1. So how is this relevant to today? Monsanto owns almost all of our food. Why not focus on how we can dodge the feds and grow our own instead of wooing over what some Chinese communists did 40 years ago?

        Most marxists are environmental fascists. You see everything as the result of environment so naturally you are going to force humans into totalitarian means of environmentalism.

      2. We’re not hippies, we don’t advocate us “dodging the feds” and “growing our own food”, we advocate the socialization of agriculture, the collectivization of farming, and its democratization. This essay is a historical document, not a platform for agrarian reform today. And no, we don’t see everything as the result of environment, the Marxist system is way more complex that that, but good try.

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