Workers Studying Philosophy
Small Factories Build 400-Ton Platform Trailer
This article is written by members of a team under the bureau of transport
in Tsangchow, Hopei Province, who took part in making the platform trailer.
[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #3, Jan. 17, 1975, pp. 14-16.]
UNDER the impetus of the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius and supported by other factories in various parts of China, workers of Tsangchow city (in the southern part of Hopei Province) self-designed and manufactured China’s first large 400-ton platform trailer. This heavy-duty trailer and its 500 h.p. truck tractor together weigh 136 tons, measure 33 metres long, 3.8 metres wide and 3.45 metres high, and have a total of 116 wheels. After a series of loaded and unloaded text runs, it has proved to be functioning well and its capacity is up to the required standard. The new vehicle is now in use, after examination and final approval by departments concerned.
The manufacture of the platform trailer was at the same time a struggle between the two ideologies and the two lines, a struggle in which materialism prevailed over idealism and dialectics over metaphysics.
Large and Small Can Transform Themselves Into Each Other
A small city of 140,000, Tsangchow has only some small factories and co-operative workshops. The machinery and equipment available are poor, and its technical force is rather weak. For small factories to make a big vehicle is a real contradiction. However, “the law of the unity of opposites is the fundamental law of the universe.” Large and small are relative. Nothing in the world is absolutely large or small. Small is embraced in the large and large in the small. Under given conditions, large and small can transform themselves into each other.
Though a small city, Tsangchow altogether has over 70 small factories and co-operative workshops employing 20,000 workers. True, there is a lack of machinery, but taken together, there are over 3,000 pieces of machinery and equipment in the city. Taking each individual factory or co-operative workshop separately, there is really little manpower and equipment. But in our socialist country in which the means of production are either state-owned or collectively owned, small factories and co-operatives can co-operate with each other under the unified leadership of the Party organization and the People’s Government. A tremendous force is thus formed by pooling their manpower and material resources. To build a big platform trailer seems frightening, but like all other colossal things, it is also divisible. The vehicle has more than 20,000 parts, each of which is vastly smaller than the whole. If the entire city concentrated its forces and all the small factories and co-operative workshops worked together, the 3,000 “ants” could certainly eat up this “big bone.”
Since the start of the Great Cultural Revolution in 1966, small factories and co-operative workshops in Tsangchow have through co-operation succeeded in turning out mono-crystal silicon and a heavy-duty rolling mill, which required fairly high techniques. They also have behind them a record of completing two projects at high speed. The first was a small chemical fertilizer plant which was designed, built and put into operation in six months; the second was a 6,000 kw. power generating unit which was made and put in commission in one year. With the masses showing even greater enthusiasm for socialism in the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, why couldn’t the small factories and workshops turn out the platform trailer? Strategically, we attacked the large with the small, i.e., small factories and workshops engaged in building the large platform trailer; tactically, we attacked the small with the large, i.e., a great amount of manpower and equipment from the small factories and workshops was concentrated to build one or several parts. In this way, the vehicle was made in 99 days through the concerted efforts of the city’s factories and workshops, including those run by the cooperatives, schools, neighbourhoods and production brigades.
Ignorance Can Be Transformed Into Knowledge
We did not have any blueprints to go by, since this was China’s first 400-ton platform trailer. And there was not one technician in Tsangchow trained in automobile manufacturing. What was to be done? We mobilized the workers and the available technicians to do the designing. Apart from cadres and technicians, the “three-in-one” designing group consisted mostly of workers, including young workers. Could they handle the job of designing such a complicated vehicle? Some said that the workers lacked technical knowledge and were not up to the task. Was that view correct? No! Dialectical materialists consider that ignorance and knowledge, meagre knowledge and greater knowledge, higher and lower technique are all relative and changeable. Genuine knowledge comes from practice. Scientific and technical knowledge is the summing up of practical experience. If one takes an active part in the practice of the three great revolutionary movements—class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experiment—and uses one’s brain to learn and pays attention to summing up the experience gained through practice, ignorance gives way to knowledge and meagre knowledge to greater knowledge. Moreover, as Chairman Mao has pointed out, “in a sense, the fighters with the most practical experience are the wisest and the most capable.” Working at the frontline of the three great revolutionary movements, the workers have accumulated fairly rich experience and are seldom tied down by outdated conventional methods or impractical regulations. They dare to think and act and are staunch and unwavering in the face of difficulties.
In the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, the masses repudiated the idealist conception of history trumpeted by Lin Piao, such as the theory of “genius” and the fallacy that “the highest are the wise and the lowest are the stupid.” This helped them have a better understanding of their own strength and they began the designing with greater determination. Taking a direct part in this work were truck drivers, mechanics, carpenters, loading workers, cadres and technicians, who pooled their efforts to build up a picture of what a big platform trailer would be like, drawing on their personal experience and on what they had heard or seen about the special features of different types of vehicles. Some made models, others did sketches. The comrades in the “three-in-one” designing group summed up the suggestions of the masses and, on the basis of their study tours of other places and, in particular, basing themselves on the blueprints of the 300-ton platform trailer produced earlier in Shanghai, they assimilated the strong points of the structures of a dozen types of China-made vehicles whose designs had already been finalized. Through scientific analysis they successfully worked out a practical design after revising and improving it about a thousand times.
The 400-ton platform trailer produced by workers of Tsangchow.
In making the design, the workers dared to break with foreign conventions and overcame numerous difficulties in the way of advance. One outstanding example was the designing and manufacture of the tyres. The size of the platform trailer’s tyres has to be the same as ordinary tyres on the home-made “Liberation” lorry, but the load for each tyre should be 5 tons instead of 1.55 tons. Such heavy-duty lyres had not been made in China before. Workers and technicians at Tsangchow’s Hongqi Rubber Factory with long years of experience in repairing different kinds of tyres presented a draft design. After repeated experiments and revisions of the design, they finally produced tyres up to the requirement.
Small Machines Process Big Parts
Many contradictions had to be solved to translate the blueprint into a vehicle. For instance, large high-precision equipment was needed for processing big parts. But the small factories and co-operative work-shops had only small equipment and machinery. What was to be done? We sought help from Chairman Mao’s philosophical thinking. Materialist dialectics holds that the two aspects of a contradiction transform themselves into each other in given conditions. The workers solved the contradiction between the large parts and small equipment according to this principle.
Everything divides into two. A platform trailer itself can be divided into several parts and so can each individual part. Since a large part consists of several smaller parts, if a small machine processes one part of a big work-piece then the former becomes relatively big and the latter relatively small. In this way, the workers processed big work-pieces part by part. In doing so a large number of technical problems had to be solved. However, this materialist dialectical understanding gave us confidence and pointed out the fundamental way to solve problems. If we were to rely solely on big machines, we would have to sit and wait without making any progress.
The key to making a small thing play a big part lies in giving full scope to the masses’ wisdom and strength. For instance, the chassis of each section of the platform weighs 25 tons and is made up of main beams and 530-odd steel plates of diversified shape welded together. Welding must be done in a big workshop equipped with a large crane or an overhead travelling crane capable of lifting more than 25 tons. But the general assembly shop was only a large shed without an overhead travelling crane. And there was no heavy-duty crane in the whole city. This knotty problem was again solved by the workers through indigenous methods. The chassis was hoisted by a group of small cranes and put on two supporters, making the welding very convenient.
From a Low to a Higher Stage
Indigenous methods are evolved by the masses through practice and are rich in scientific content. The main beams of the platform trailer, its backbone, were made of manganese steel plates welded together, with a bending tolerance after welding less than 1/1000 of a millimetre. This was a hard nut for us to crack. Generally speaking, it required a whole set of automatic welding equipment and rigid welding technology. But the workers put their heads together and worked out an indigenous method which gave a tolerance of only 0.3/1000 of a millimetre; in other words, they exceeded the prescribed requirements.
Indigenous and modern exist in comparison with each other and develop through struggle. Without first having an indigenous method, there can be no modern method, and modern methods are the continuation and development of the indigenous. If we should wait for the modern instead of starting with the indigenous, we would be tied down completely and would not be able to achieve anything. Everything develops from a relatively low level to a relatively high level. Start with indigenous methods, combine the indigenous with the modern, and then develop from indigenous to modern—this is a special feature that distinguishes the principle of hard struggle and self-reliance from the slavish comprador philosophy and the doctrine of trailing behind at a snail’s pace. It also accords with the general law of development of things. The successful manufacture of the 400-ton platform trailer is a striking illustration.
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