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Literary and Art Workers Must Go Among the Masses

— In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the publication of Chairman Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art

by Hsin Wen-tung

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #20, May 19, 1972, pp. 7-10.]

IN his Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, Chairman Mao issued the call that literary and art workers “must go among the masses”!

Guided by the brilliant thought of the Talks, writers and artists in the revolutionary base areas at that time took up their knapsacks and went to the villages, to the front and into the heat of the struggle, and a vigorous and thriving scene prevailed in the revolutionaty literary and art movement. Recalling those years, Chairman Mao said in 1957: “Many of them in Yenan were very confused in their thinking and came out with all sorts of queer arguments. We held a forum, advising them to go among the masses. Later many went, and the results were very good.”

Over the past 30 years, the clarion call “Go among the masses” has been a spur to creative literature and art and to building contingents of literary and art workers under the leadership of our Party. In the past ten years or so, in particular, through practice in the proletarian literary and art revolution characterized by the model revolutionary theatrical works, it has more than ever before demonstrated its tremendous strength.

Source of Literature and Art

Chairman Mao’s instruction that literary and art workers “must go among the masses” was based on the dialectical materialist interpretation of the law governing creative literature and art, on the fundamental principle that the lives and struggle’s of the workers, peasants and soldiers are the only source of revolutionarv literature and art, and on the needs of the proletarian literary and art movement.

Chairman Mao pointed out: “Works of literature and art, as ideological forms, are products of the reflection in the human brain of the life of a given society. Revolutionary literature and art are the products of the reflection of the life of the people in the brains of revolutionary writers and artists.” This tells us clearly that life in a society, which is an objective reality, is primary, while literature and art, as ideological forms, are secondary; man’s social life provides literature and art with an inexhaustible source, their only source, and literary and artistic works are reflections of social life. Only through processing in the brains of revolutionary writers and artists under the guidance of the Marxist world outlook can social life be correctly reflected and become revolutionary literature and art. On the other hand, through processing in the brains of counter-revolutionary writers and artists with the world outlook of the exploiting classes, the same social life may become reactionary literature and art distorting life and reversing history. Using the dialectical materialist theory of reflection, Chairman Mao has clarified the question of the source of literature and art and the relationship between them and life, thereby developing the Marxist theory on literature and art.

Concerning the question of the source of literature and art, there has always been two different answers which reflect the struggle between two diametrically opposed world outlooks, materialist and idealist, a struggle also between two basically opposed literary and art lines.

Chairman Mao pointed out that revolutionary writers and artists must go into the heat of the struggle, “go to the only source, the broadest and richest source, in order to observe, experience, study and analyse all the different kinds of people, all the classes, all the masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, all the raw materials of literature and art. Only then can they proceed to creative work.” This is a proletarian materialist line. All correct knowledge originates in practice. If literary and art workers do not go into the midst of the lives and struggles of the masses to observe, experience, study and analyse, they will not be able to get correct knowledge, or to understand and know well the workers, peasants and soldiers whom they want to serve and depict, and consequently will not be able to create good works.

Liu Shao-chi and other swindlers pushed a revisionist line, inducing literary and art workers to detach themselves from the masses, from the workers, peasants and soldiers and their revolutionary practice. The preached idealism and peddled that ”genius decides everything,” denying that practice is primary. They raved that once the writers were inspired, they could produce all kinds of works. They exaggerated the role of technique in writing as if it meant everything. Marxist-Leninists hold that artistic technique is necessary for writers and artists. Works which lack artistic quality have no force, however progressive they are politically. But technique, after all, is a means and method and can in no way replace the source. If writers and artists are detached from the lives of the masses, their works will be like water without a source and a tree without roots, and no matter how proficient they are in technique, they can never produce a revolutionary work. Some works which politically are reactionary may have a certain artistic quality. But the more reactionary the content and the higher the artistic quality, the more poisonous they are.

Liu Shao-chi and his gang disseminated idealism and brought extremely harmful effects to the creative arts. For instance, some writers were influenced in their works by the theory that ”there is no conflict.” One of the causes was because they had not gone into the midst of the masses to experience their lives, had not used the Marxist viewpoint to analyse the contradictions in actual life and had not understood the essence of social life, the main content of which is class struggle. Another example was some works were over-simplified and too generalized. One of the causes was because the writers failed to produce works through a process of refining, concentration and artistic generalization of the rich lives of the masses. To solve these questions, literary and art workers must go deep into the lives and struggles of the people—the broadest and richest source of literature and art.

Be One With the Masses

Marxism holds that the people who are the makers of history have also created literature and art. The fundamental task of proletarian literature and art is to depict the workers, peasants and soldiers, extol them and portray their heroic images.

Contrary to the Marxist viewpoint, all representatives and apologists of the exploiting classes throughout the ages at home and abroad invariably reverse history, slandering the people as ”ignorant mobs” while prettifying themselves as masters of history. In the old China as well as after liberation when the revisionist line exerted its influence, many dramatic and other literary and art works were dominated by emperors, kings, generals and ministers and scholars and beauties, while the people were described as though they were dirt. This reversal of history was a reflection of the afore-mentioned idealist conception of history. Works produced in line with this viewpoint could only serve the exploiting classes and a handful of parasites. As far as the people are concerned, such works could only poison their minds and corrupt their thoughts.

Countless facts have proved that the basic question concerning literary and art workers is still one of relationship between the individual and the people, that is, a question of whom should they love or hate and whom should they serve. On this question, some comrades have often reversed the position of individuals on the one hand and the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers on the other. To a certain degree, they tend to look down upon and stand aloof from the workers, peasants and soldiers. Instead of regarding literary and art work as the people’s cause, they use it as a tool for seeking personal fame and gain. These comrades often produce works that are the self-expression of the petty bourgeoisie, and are not enthusiastic about extolling the workers, peasants and soldiers. And when they do write about them, the clothes are the clothes of workers, peasants and soldiers but the faces are still those of petty-bourgeois intellectuals. They are at their best in portraying backward persons, but are at their wit’s end in writing about worker-peasant-soldier heroes. The reason for all this is mainly because they have not yet shifted their stand to the side of the workers, peasants and soldiers.

In his Talks, Chairman Mao pointed out for us the fundamental course to remould our world outlook, and this is to study Marxism-Leninism and society and integrate with the workers, peasants and soldiers.

In order to have a real grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, we must learn it not only from books but through class struggle and close contact with the workers, peasants and soldiers. Similarly, in studying society, we must also go among the people and take part in their revolutionary practice. Only in this way can we turn the incomplete knowledge we have obtained from books into complete knowledge and truly understand the people’s strength.

Going among the masses is a long-term task. Only by living together with the workers, peasants and soldiers and undergoing a long and even painful process of tempering can intellectuals get rid of the bourgeois world outlook and foster the proletarian world outlook. They should go among the masses unconditionally and wholeheartedly to be re-educated by the workers, peasants and soldiers and be one with them in thoughts and feelings.

“Go among the masses” is the basic course to build up proletarian literary and art contingents ideologically, and is an important principle guiding all the actions of a Marxist party. No exploiting class can put this principle into practice. Some representatives of the exploiting classes in the past raised slogans such as ”go to the ordinary folk.” But whether in its stand, attitude or effect, this slogan differed completely from the proletarian principle ”Go among the masses” mentioned above. Towards the masses, the exploiting classes’ thinkers regarded themselves as overlords and saviours. Their wish to ”go to the ordinary folk” was, at best, merely to express pity and sympathy for the labouring people, but they would never really take root among the people.

* * *

“Go among the masses” has been Chairman Mao’s consistent thought. In the protracted revolutionary struggle in China, Chairman Mao has pointed out many times that the question of the relationship between intellectuals and workers, peasants and soldiers is one of Marxist principle. He 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.” After the founding of New China, in his On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People and Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work, Chairman Mao in 1957 pointed out once again that intellectuals must go among the masses. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao stressed again and again: “Direct reliance on the revolutionary masses is a basic principle of the Communist Party.” He called on the “young people with education to go to the countryside to be re-educated by the poor and lower-middle peasants” and on the vast numbers of cadres to go down to do manual labour in order to “study once again.” Going among the workers, peasants and soldiers is a must for the intellectuals, cadres in government offices and Communists in continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Restudying the Talks, literary and art workers in China have in the last few years gone to mines and factories, to villages and People’s Liberation Army units to integrate with the workers, peasants and soldiers, putting remoulding their world outlook above everything else. Actively taking part in the revolutionary practice of the masses, they have persisted in using the Marxist viewpoint to observe life, collect material and do their best to portray and extol the workers, peasants and soldiers, and have as a result produced a number of good literary and art works.

At present, creative literary and art activities and performances by the masses in their spare time are full of vitality. Acting according to the requirements put forward by Chairman Mao in his Talks, literary and art workers are maintaining close links with worker-peasant-soldier writers and artists, learning and getting sustenance from them and doing everything they can to help them. This provides the raising of standard of literary and artistic works with a more extensive and popular basis. In celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of Chairman Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, a number of new literary and artistic works have been published. It can be expected that the day will soon arrive when socialist literature and art will thrive as never before.

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