Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers’ Viewpoint

Excerpt from Workers Viewpoint Journal #6

Sum-Up, Study and Self-Criticism on the Mass Line Question

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 3, No. 11, November 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Chairman Mao has said, “whether he is a true or false Marxist, we need only find out how he stands in relation to the broad masses of workers and peasants and then we shall know him for what he is. This is the only criterion, there is no other.” Maintain close ties with the masses and consult them when matters arise is one important aspect of Party character all communists must strive for and practice. In some areas where the Party has relatively longer histories of work and has led many struggles to victory, we have at the same time violated very seriously this aspect of Party character. In some places, we became isolated from the people we have been working with. We must sum up the mistakes to retrieve valuable lessons for future work.

As communists, what should be our attitude towards the masses? Chairman Mao had synthesized it in a very profound way. He said it means relying on the masses, having faith in them, respecting their initiative and creativity. One concrete expression of this correct attitude is to maintain close ties with the masses and consult them whenever matters arise. First we must have a correct attitude. This correct attitude will be expressed in our method in dealing with the masses.

From the beginning of human history to today, we have seen how the masses have, through their creativity and initiative, produced the wealth of civilization. We have also seen how the oppressed, be it the slaves, serfs or proletariat, have risen up among themselves to overthrow their exploiters, and did succeed. These are all parts of our history. However, we have also complained that this or that person is lacking in initiative, or we doubt that if the masses would agree with a certain proposal that the Party made or would carry it out. Why? Because many of us do not really understand what mass initiative is, so we do not respect it. Very often, we see initiative only in relation to our plan–which often is a product of our “brain juicing” rather than reflection of the actual state of the masses’ demands and their sentiments. Unconsciously, we follow a logic that if we are not ready or if it’s not part of our plan, the masses shouldn’t go ahead either. This kind of thinking stifles the masses’ initiative, energy, and creativity.

For example, two or three years ago the comrades in one mass organization we are working in wanted to form a social committee to develop and lead social activities for its members. The reason for the proposal was the tendency of “all politics and no social aspects to the mass organization’s life.” It hurts the all-rounded character of the organization and therefore the accumulation of forces and influence for that mass organization. At that time, the party lacked a correct and systematic understanding of the relationship between social and political life and then in practice carried out an incorrect line. And the form it comes out in is that we felt we couldn’t “spare” any cadre to lead that work. Our line then was if we don’t have the leadership available, don’t start it. This was to ensure quality and guidance in everything we do. The result? The social committee was killed. Comrades that wanted to start it were almost viewed as anarchists.

The same thing happened to the proposal to do a colorful brochure to introduce the mass organization.

The more serious event in shifting people’s initiative was the struggle over the first Chairman Mao memorial. Chairman Mao died during the period when the Party was having its plenary. No directive was given to basic units as to what to do. We felt great sorrow but were unable to make a decision on what to do. All the friends around us were puzzled over our inaction. They felt the grief, and they wanted to do something about it. So they pushed the Party to hold something to commemorate Chairman Mao’s death. The sentiment was strongest in the Chinatown community. This sentiment can be illustrated by the over 2,000 people who turned out for the memorial uptown organized by the patriotic forces. Many elderly who had rarely walked outside of Chinatown made a long trip to this memorial. As the Party leadership came out of the C.C. Plenary, the decision was to have an internal forum to consolidate the Party and friends around the Plenary decisions. No public memorial was planned, even though the masses were urging strongly for one. As there was none organized by the Party, these comrades took the initiative in helping to organize the other memorials. Some also went to those organized by the opportunist October League and got disgusted over their typical opportunism of pimping off Chairman Mao’s prestige, while in practice opposing everything he believed in. Because of all the demands by our friends, we finally decided to have a public memorial. Four days was all we had for planning, preparation and mobilization. But that was not the main obstacle. The masses were so excited by the delayed memorial that they worked around the clock to get the program out. Even though time was short, over 200 people showed up to hear the Party’s presentation on Chairman Mao’s contribution to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. Everyone agreed they got more out of this memorial than all other memorials combined, in terms of what Chairman Mao’s teachings really mean to us. If we had listened to our friends’ opinions a little earlier, we could have had an even bigger memorial to tap many more people’s love for Chairman Mao and to consolidate more people to the noble principles he fought so hard for all his life.

Communist leadership does not create mass initiative. Communist leadership can only promote, organize, and give full play to this initiative which already exists by making it conscious. This conscious character is provided by the study of Marxism and the integration with actual experiences, so that we know deeply why people are doing or not doing certain things, to give direction and scope to the masses’ initiative so that it won’t become fruitless, in order that it be promoted, consolidated, and accumulated to serve the fight for socialism.

The lines or plans will turn into material forces only if they reflect the actual demands of the masses, where they are at, what they want to do at certain times. They cannot be pure products of our “brain juices.” For example, right now in a mass organization, there are many interested in forming a cultural committee. A few people have signed up for it. But it would not get off the ground because no one wanted to lead it. We did not assign anyone to take it up either. On the other hand, we are trying to start some other work around the attacks on undocumented workers. Work around this area is very important. However, no motion has been created at this point and no one in that mass organization has yet any interest in the project. So as a result, neither program can get started. Some comrades have told us, “When the Party has any idea or proposal, you will consolidate us to do the work. But when we have some idea to propose, you guys will either pretend not to have heard it, or say, “it’s a good idea, why don’t you do it.” This criticism is very true. So there are plans and plans, lines and lines. Some plans and lines are being used as tools to become bureaucratic. Some have helped to unleash people’s initiative. What are the “ingredients” for a correct plan? Talk to the masses, and they will tell you. To do that we must have close ties with them.

As the Party’s lines are formulated by some of the most advanced and committed elements in the working class and contains the most advanced perspective of class struggle, one would think that once these lines and plans are developed, they will automatically draw out the masses’ initiative and commitment. That is straight wrong and an attempt to simplify reality.

First of all, there are correct and incorrect lines within the Party. There are lines and plans that are only partially correct, reflecting only the early stages in the process of understanding things.

Secondly, independently of where objectively things are at, people also look at a given matter differently. To implement a line, a decision, you have to unite people with different views. Different classes have different views, and bourgeois ideology taints things with prejudices that affect everyone. Furthermore, people are divided into strata of advanced, middle, and backward. There is unity as well as differences among them. So it is not only necessary to struggle for where objectively things are at, but we also have to struggle to understand how different strata look at it and how to unite people to move on it, which includes even compromises and having people go through their own experiences. So to develop and to implement the Party’s or any mass organization’s decisions, it is necessary to know where each strata is at, what are the contradictions and unity between them and how to step by step move towards our objective. Not only is there a question of the will and sentiment of the masses in between the issuing and implementation of the Party’s lines, decisions, and directives, there is also the entire area of how the masses’ will and sentiments help to develop the Party’s lines, decisions, and directives. We must pay attention to both these points, developing the line and implementation of the line, in fighting to forge the Party’s mass line traditions.

On page 119 of “A Critique of Soviet Economics” written by Chairman Mao, he said:

Lenin put it well when he said, “Socialism is vigorous, spirited, creative – the creation of the masses of the people themselves.” Our mass line is like this...

In 1928 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union passed a resolution which said, “We will be able to solve the task of overtaking and surpassing the capitalist countries technically and economically only when the party and the worker and peasant masses get mobilized to the limit.” (p. 337) This is very well put. And this is exactly what we are now doing. At that time Stalin had nothing else to rely on except the masses, so he demanded all-out mobilization of the party and the masses. Afterwards, when they had realized some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses.

Lenin said, “Truly democratic centralism requires that the manifold paths, forms and methods by which local creativity and spirit of initiative attain general goals have a sufficiently unhindered development.” (p. 454). Well said. The masses can create the paths. The masses created Russia’s Soviets. And they created our people’s communes.

The key is to understand how mass line is crucial to develop manifold paths, forms and methods in order to develop and implement the line of the Party. Without mass line, at best, the line will be ’one-dimensional,’ the variety and scope of the activity will be narrowed and limited, and it will seriously compromise the political content of the Party’s work and will even turn its originally correct orientation into its opposite in time. For correctness of political line resides in particulars, in practice. ’Manifold paths’ can only come from vigorous, spirited and creative socialism, which is living socialism in practice. This can only come from the masses and the mass line.

The main source of the lack of mass line is the Party, but it also can be encouraged by certain tendencies among comrades and friends of the Party. One form is that the attitude of comrades who say, “Tell me what to do and I will implement it.” This outlook doesn’t differentiate the general line of the Party and its need to have ’manifold paths’ to enrich as well as to implement the general line. There is no way that a general political line or any plan can be so specific. That includes details on how it applies in different situations. The saying that, “Reality is richer than any theory” is correct precisely in the sense that it is more original, more complex than (and is the general expression of) the general law. So following this trend of thinking, at best the stated plan or line can lead to a form of one-dimensional, mechanical practice. How to implement it has to be based on particulars. No plan or general line, no matter how detailed they are, will deal with all particulars and take care of all situations. That’s why “manifold paths” will have to be developed in through practice. And its development will in turn enrich the overall plan and line. And that’s what living socialism is. That’s why living socialism is vigorous while dogmatism or even any correct formula in-itself or a general plan in-itself is dry and lifeless. And there is no such thing as dry or dead socialism. When socialism is only general, dry and lifeless, it ceases to be genuine socialism. It is either a deviation from socialism, or already a form of revisionism (either of the ’left’ or rightist forms).

In any case, whether the lack of mass line is directly from the Party’s leadership or whether it’s enforced by incorrect tendencies of the masses resulting from the lack of tradition in the mass line, whenever the Party’s work lacks vigor and “manifold paths”, it is a sure sign of us not appreciating the masses’ strength, wisdom and us not practicing mass line. It is a sure sign that there is an up-side down view on the relation between the masses and the Party, and an up-side down view as to who are the real makers of history, on whether the masses will emancipate themselves or the Party will emancipate them.