Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Editorial on the Mass Line

First Published: Class Struggle, Vol. 12, No. 6, July-August 1988
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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This month we wish to highlight the crucial importance in any political work of the mass line: the idea that the starting point for any actions has to be in accordance with the actual needs and wishes of the people.

The theory and practice of the mass line were developed by the Chinese Communist Party, and in particular by Mao Zedong, over years of revolutionary struggle. Since then, it has proved to be a crucial method of work used by Marxist-Leninists all over the world, to ensure their work is fully integrated with the needs of the masses of people.

Writing in 1944, Mao Zedong said that “All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned.”

The mass line does not contradict the need for theoretical work. The development of a theoretical analysis of the different contradictions in British society and a strategy for revolutionary change is a central task today. However, adopting the mass line ensures that our theoretical work is linked with practice; that we integrate our theoretical knowledge with living practice and that we do not become isolated.

In this issue of ’Class Struggle’, there are two clear examples of struggles which can unite ordinary working class people. In this case, the issues are not industrial struggles but round other questions basic to people’s lives. The example of the St. Pancras housing struggle shows how people’s anger was channeled into militant organisation for their rights. Looking back at this struggle, it is useful to ask where were the women? Housing struggles have often been organised and carried through by women. Yet their role is not mentioned. Nevertheless, the basic approach was to mobilise as many people as possible in a militant fight using direct action, not relying on parliamentary methods.

On the issue of defending the NHS, it is clear that the vast majority of working people are in favour of maintaining and improving a free health service and against the development of more private medicine. Nevertheless, those who are in the leadership of this struggle at present, trade union leaders and many Labour Party politicians are not prepared to take a mass line approach. As the article states, the government can be forced to make concessions. Improvements can be won. But only if the struggle is led in such a way that relies on working people, both consumers and workers in the NHS to determine how they will fight and what demands they will make.

All opportunism, left and right, goes against the mass line. Sometimes this takes the form of being afraid to mobilise people fully, and where there is a mass struggle, to attempt to hijack it into voting at elections and demobilising the people. At other times, popular anger is channeled into committees and resolutions that take the struggle no further. The left variety tends to be divisive, to prevent the unity of the people by sectarian calls or the imposition of so-called revolutionary politics with all its usual paper-selling and recruitment tactics.

Such tactics are only too familiar in this country. It is probably the opportunism in the left that is the greatest obstacle holding back popular struggles at the present time. There is no short cut to defeat this. Only long and patient work to build genuine mass support and campaigns on different issues can overcome it.

For Marxist-Leninists, there has also been a difficulty with the mass line. We know from our theoretical analysis that imperialist ideology, such as racism or sexism, has made a deep impression on the thinking of many working people. We have called for a strategic alliance to be built between the working class and national minorities, with the working class supporting free national development for all nationalities.

In the past, we have often hesitated and stood to one side from working class struggles from a “purist” desire to remain free from criticism or chauvinism. We know now that this was wrong. We have to unite with ordinary people in their everyday struggles, learn from them and at the same time, gradually challenge incorrect ideas in order to win their support for national liberation struggles around the world and those of national minority people in this country.