One of the main things that attracted me to Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Zedong when I was becoming an activist and getting involved in popular struggles, particularly in the antiwar movement, was the revolutionary theory and practice of the mass line.
I was drawn to this method of organizing and leadership because it answers in a practical and straightforward way many questions that people have to deal with if they want to fight for fundamental change in society. When I was first beginning to organize and work is large mass meetings in the anti-war movement I felt the need for a revolutionary theory that could measure up to the test of practice. And the mass line measures up.
I first encountered the mass line in Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong. Later I read other articles by Mao Zedong on the subject, such as Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership and his January 30, 1962 talk on democratic centralism. I also studied articles by other communists like Liu Shaoqi’s Concerning the Mass Line of our Party and the short collection of Lenin’s writings, Party Work in the Masses.
That being said, I just wanted to draw people’s attention to this newly released pamphlet by the U.S. Marxist-Leninist group, Freedom Road Socialist Organization on the subject, Some Points on the Mass Line. It is a study of the mass line that was developed by FRSO which explains many of the key points of communist organizing, theory and practice, philosophy and revolution, in a very clear way. If an activist/organizer wants to know what Marxism has to offer in practical terms, in terms of getting stuff done, talk to them about the mass line and show them this pamphlet. It is about how to organize for revolution and change the world.
Well, though it is being published officially by Freedom Road now, in February 2008, it is really sort of a re-release, because as a study it has been floating around for a while now. So at the very beginning of Some Points on the Mass Line it says, “This study was prepared by a leading member of FRSO in the late 1980s. Since then this study has been used extensively inside and outside our organization and it has been reprinted in a number of different political settings. The application of the mass line is basic to how we do our work in trade unions, in the movements of oppressed nationalities, in anti-war and other progressive struggles. It informs our work on building a new communist party.” So the real target audience of Some Points on the Mass Line is clearly Marxist-Leninists, though I think advanced activists and organizers who aren’t necessarily Marxists or communists could get a a lot out of studying it as well. When combined with a strong, Marxist-Leninist class analysis, a clear view of the national question in the U.S., and important texts like the Main Political Report and other documents from FRSO’s 5th Congress (2007) we see that this document on mass line organizing is well contextualized within the rest of what Freedom Road has to offer.
When you get right down to it, Some Points on the Mass Line is an organizing handbook, with 20 points dealing with various aspects of the mass line, and including study questions. Some Points on the Mass Line deals with questions ranging from the philosophical (Marxist theory of knowledge, relationship between theory and practice) to the political (democratic centralism and communist organization), to the very practical (methods of work and methods of leadership). It shows how the mass line allows organizers to deals with questions as seemingly simple as how to respond practically to apathy and cynicism. It discusses the importance of summing up experiences and the struggle for summation. It talks about how to do united front work. It even deals with questions regarding how to build a stable core of activists to mobilize masses of poeple. And, importantly, it links all of these points with deeper questions such as how to raise the level of people’s consciousness.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is recommended reading at the end. The point is made that “although the term mass line was coined by the Communist Party of China, the basic method of reliance on, and the mobilization of, the masses of people has been utilized by all successful revolutionary parties.” So along with the well known texts of Mao Zedong and Chinese communism, others like Lenin’s On Confounding Politics with Pedagogics and Stalin’s Armed Insurrection and our Tactics are listed there as well for people to do more research into the classics of Marxism-Leninism.
It is in the mass line that the dialectical relationship between theory and practice is the most clear. As a revolutionary method, the mass line has be proven by successful revolutionary movements all over the world. This pamphlet from Freedom Road shows, point by point, just how that works. I would highly suggest that people read it and apply it.
“The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.” – Mao Zedong