Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Chairman Mao’s Teachings on the Mass Line: Combining Communist Leadership with Masses

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 34, December 27, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One of Mao Tsetung’s most important contributions to Marxism-Leninism is his teaching on the mass line. Chairman Mao stressed in many of his writings the need for communists to have close ties to the masses and rely on them in everything.

In his important work, “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” (Selected Works, Vol. 3, pp. 117-122), Chairman Mao said that “to combine the leadership with the masses” was one of the methods which “we Communists must employ in whatever work we do.” He added that: “However active the leading group may be, its activity will amount to fruitless effort by a handful of people unless combined with the activity of the masses.”

Many comrades have great enthusiasm and energy in carrying out the struggle for sociahsm, but have missed this important point in Chairman Mao’s teachings. Others have been influenced by the revisionists or the “left” opportunists, like the so-called “Revolutionary Wing.”

The “left” sectarians promote the line that “propaganda is our only form of activity,” and fail to combine communist leadership with the demands and struggles of the people. On the other hand, the modern revisionists of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) separate communism from the masses in the opposite way. They leave the working class to struggle spontaneously under the influence of the bourgeoisie and the reactionary union leaders, teaching the masses revisionism and never Marxism. By tailing behind the spontaneous struggles, they actively work to keep revolutionary leadership out of the workers’ movement. But without conscious revolutionary leadership, the spontaneous movement of the masses can neither go beyond the bounds of capitalism nor even sustain itself. In some campaigns and activities, communists have incorrectly substituted themselves for the masses, acting in isolation or making little or no effort to explain to their fellow workers what their campaigns are about. In many cities the October League’s recent campaign around Anti-Repression Day was marked by important mass actions and events. But in some places, these were organized simply as meetings of communists, and the militant feelings and energy of the masses of workers and oppressed minorities were not drawn upon. This was seen in the narrow choice of speakers and endorsers.

The present situation in the U.S. is marked by militant resistance on the part of the workers and minorities to the attacks of the ruling class. Strikes are on the rise, and mass sentiment for struggle for democratic rights and against imperialism’s policies of aggression and war preparations is running very high. Campaigns such as the Gary Tyler defense and the struggle for “Jobs or Income Now” should be closely linked to the masses and based upon their own sentiments and understanding.

Chairman Mao wrote: “In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses,’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study rum them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action.”

A good positive example of such work took place around the July 24 march in New Orleans to Free Gary Tyler. Not only were the masses in their thousands mobilized from around the South, but their spontaneous understanding of the Tyler struggle and the Black liberation struggle was raised significantly.

Through study and the presence of the conscious forces such as the October League, the aspirations of the masses were expressed by the slogan of “Afro-American Self-Determination,” which concentrates the democratic, national aspirations of the millions of Black people in the deep South and elsewhere.

Of course, it is important to realize that we are not yet in a period when mass action is the chief form of our activity. In this, the first general period of party building, the central task is forming the party and getting it firmly on its feet. Our chief form of activity is propaganda work; that is, using propaganda and agitation aimed especially at winning the advanced elements of the working class to the party and to Marxism-Leninism.

Chairman Mao pointed out: “The masses in any given place are generally composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward. The leaders must therefore be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate elements and to win over the backward elements.”

For us to make mass action our chief form of activity at this time, before the advanced forces are organized into the party, would be to bow to spontaneity and follow the road of the revisionists.

Our mass work at present must be concentrated on winning the advanced workers to join the new party and to take up the science of Marxism-Leninism, This is why the general education of the workers, rather than mass action, takes the front seat in our work.

Some comrades have incorrectly interpreted this to mean that mass action is not important in this period. This goes against Chairman Mao’s teachings on the mass line. Mao Tse-tung said that “A leading group that is genuinely united and linked with the masses can be formed only gradually in the process of mass struggle, and not in isolation from it.”

This incorrect approach is taken by groups like the so-called “Revolutionary Wing” and the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (MLOC), who liquidate the need to build the party in the heat of class struggle. The “Wing’s” line is summed up by the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization (WVO). They call for a party formed around a small group of opportunists who are untried and unproven in their work among the masses.

The WVO’s former “Wing” partners, such as the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization (PRRWO), raised the destructive slogan of “propaganda only.” MLOC went so far as to say that “communists do not build the mass movement; the objective conditions of capitalism do that. We seek to lead it.”

But communists can no more substitute themselves for the actions of the masses than the actions of the masses could by themselves take the place of communist consciousness and leadership.

Chairman Mao’s writings on the mass line provide correct guidance for us in the difficult but momentous period ahead. By relying on the masses themselves and combining correct communist leadership with the masses, we will be able to forge a party of steel, a party with the firmest foundations and the broadest possible support.