The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement

37. Chinese Revisionism and the Mass Line

Immediately following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the revisionists in the Communist Party of China seized power in a coup.1 With the change in ruling class from proletariat to bourgeoisie, the character of a great many institutions and other entities also changed. The Communist Party of China, for example, became a bourgeois party. And the mass line too changed into its opposite; in the terminology of chapter 35, the mass line in the hands of the new revisionist rulers became the "anti-mass line".

Just as the revisionist usurpers in the Soviet Union felt the necessity to cloak themselves in the mantle of Lenin to "prove" their legitimacy, the revisionist usurpers in China have found it necessary to claim to uphold Mao Zedong and the traditions of the Chinese revolution. This was especially the case in the period immediately after they seized power, although as the socialist relations of production and other features of Mao’s China have been dismantled, piece by piece, this has become tougher to do. It has become necessary to attack Mao himself to a growing degree, and this will probably intensify as time goes on. Of course, during periods when they need to "re-establish" their legitimacy, such as after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of students and workers which they engineered on June 4, 1989, they go back temporarily to wrapping themselves in the mantle of Mao. "Mao suits" even came back into style briefly, among the top leaders!

To the maximum extent possible, therefore, the Chinese revisionists are trying to have it both ways: to attack Mao and his revolutionary ideas, while wrapping themselves in the mantle of the great Chinese revolution led by Mao, and the traditions of that revolution. They have tried to maintain verbal allegiance to the mass line, specifically, for a number of important reasons:

First, the mass line is a very important part of the Chinese revolutionary tradition. This was noted by James R. Townsend, from his own distorted bourgeois-Sinologist perspective of course, when he wrote that

The theory of the mass line is probably the strongest part of the legacy [of Maoist "populism"]. It is now deeply implanted in CCP ideology, and it would be difficult to reject it without altering the ideology as a whole. The legitimation of populism means that it has been accepted as a fundamental principle of the Chinese political system—that is, it has acquired an aura of "constitutionality."2

Second, both Liu Shaoqi [Liu Shao-chi, old style] and Deng Xiaoping [Teng Hsiao-ping], the top two leaders of Chinese revisionism, claimed to be supporters of the mass line, authorities on it, and masters of it. Both gave speeches about the mass line at CPC Party congresses. Even though both of them are now dead (the bastard Deng having finally died in 1997), their traditions also live on, and Deng’s carefully trained, and hand-picked successors remain in power.

And third, to a degree, the mass line can be transformed into the anti-mass line; it can be transformed from a revolutionary to a counter-revolutionary tool suitable to the needs of the new ruling bourgeoisie. The heritage of the mass line exists in China and the revisionists have long demonstrated a desire to transform it and use it for their own ends.

Liu Shaoqi—A "Master" of the Mass Line

Liu Shaoqi once enjoyed something of a reputation as a Party theorist, a reputation that the present revisionist usurpers have attempted to reestablish.3 In fact he did write a number of lengthy expositions on the nature of the Party, its tasks and role, on democratic-centralism and so forth. However there is nothing new in these works, or at least nothing Marxist that is new. In order to be correctly termed a Marxist theoretician someone must primarily demonstrate the ability to summarize new theoretical principles (which accord with the general principles of Marxism) from revolutionary practice. Mao demonstrated this ability repeatedly both during the new-democratic revolution and during the period of proletarian state power. Merely writing up expositions of such principles that others have discovered—even if this is quite useful in some cases—does not make one a "Marxist theoretician", but at most a propagandist.

To hear some people tell it, Liu Shaoqi was more the founder and chief theoretician of the mass line than was Mao. This is because he supposedly wrote the "first extended exposition" of the mass line, namely a 21 page section of his essay "On the Party".4 However in this work Liu himself attributes the mass line to Mao ("...the mass line of Comrade Mao Tse-tung").5 More importantly, the exposition of the mass line properly speaking in these pages is really quite brief, and Liu’s exposition of what he calls the mass line betrays several misconceptions and erroneous tendencies. It really gives the impression of being a hack journalist’s summary of Mao’s original and highly penetrating 1943 essay.

First of all Liu does not seem to understand that the essence of the mass line lies in the phrase "from the masses, to the masses". To him everything having to do with the relationship between the party and the masses is called the "mass line". Thus he says that in order to carry out the mass line attention must be paid to four "mass standpoints": 1) the standpoint of serving the people; 2) the standpoint of assuming full responsibility to the people; 3) the standpoint of having faith in the people’s ability to emancipate themselves; and 4) the standpoint of learning from the masses. Of course a communist must indeed adopt all these standpoints, but to explicate the mass line in this fashion is to show confusion as to what the mass line method of revolutionary leadership itself is all about. The fourth point comes closest to actually talking about the mass line proper, but even then it only gets at one aspect of the mass line—that of learning from the masses—and not the aspect of processing the ideas of the masses, nor the aspect of returning these processed ideas to the masses. I don’t want to give the impression that Liu doesn’t mention the concept of "from the masses, to the masses" at all; only that he doesn’t understand its central importance. In his 21 pages under the heading "Regarding the Mass Line of the Party" he devotes just one paragraph to it.

Secondly, the few sentences Liu does "devote" to the method of "from the masses, to the masses" reveal a quite peculiar interpretation of it indeed:

According to Comrade Mao Tse-tung, our Party’s policies and methods of work must originate from the masses and go back to the masses. In other words, our Party’s organizational, as well as its political line, should come correctly from the masses and go back correctly to the masses. Our Party’s correct political line cannot be separated from its correct organizational line. Although partial, temporary disharmony may occur between these two, it is impossible to imagine a correct political line existing alongside an incorrect organizational line or vice versa. The one cannot be isolated from the other. By a correct organizational line is meant the mass line of the Party, the line of intimately linking the Party’s leading cadres with the broad masses inside and outside the Party, the line that comes from and returns to the masses, the line that combines general appeals with individual guidance as a method of leadership.6

This as an exposition of the mass line? An exposition that supposedly shows one as a master of it?? How like a bureaucratic revisionist to interpret the mass line in terms of organization! True there is an organizational aspect to the mass line, but whereas Mao emphasizes the mass line as the implementation of the Marxist theory of knowledge in the realm of revolutionary leadership, Liu tries to separate it from the process of determining political line and emphasizes only organizational relationships.

Thirdly, the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above shows that Liu also confuses the mass line with the method of "combining the general appeals with individual guidance". (The relationship of the two was discussed in chapter 13 of this essay.)

Fourthly, there are hints of other erroneous tendencies, such as in this statement: "The slogans of action and the forms of struggle and of organization we put before the masses must be acceptable to the intermediate and the backward elements."7 It is not entirely clear what Liu is trying to say here but as it stands this sentence can be dangerously misleading at the very least. It is certainly true that the line put before the masses must be capable of being understood, grasped and accepted by the intermediate and backward sections if and when the appropriate political work is done with them. But it is a rightist, bourgeois-populist view to demand that a political line must be immediately, spontaneously, or automatically accepted by the intermediate and backward sections of the masses. After all, the only views people accept immediately and automatically are ones they already agree with, which in the case of intermediate and backward elements are intermediate and backward views. The whole point of Marxist leadership is to raise the level of understanding of the masses, not to feed back to them only what they already believe and accept.

Liu Shaoqi was a high-ranking member of a Party which was led by Mao Zedong and which enthusiastically adopted and proclaimed Mao’s mass line. As such he had to endorse the mass line and uphold it verbally. But it is clear that he did not really understand or accept the mass line. Liu was a revisionist and I think he was actually quite sincere in his revisionism. In any case, in a fashion typical of modern revisionists the world over, he idealized the Party, viewed it as infallible and the fount of all wisdom. He was forever going on about how the interests of the Party and the interests of the masses are of necessity identical; on how every Party member owed unconditional and absolute obedience to the Party and its leadership, and so on. This seemed OK while the Party was firmly in the hands of the proletariat, but later during the Cultural Revolution when it became clear that a large part of the Party’s top leaders were capitalist roaders, the real class content of Liu’s poisonous glorification of absolute Party obedience was revealed. While Mao was calling upon the masses to bombard the headquarters and rise up against the top Party persons in authority following the capitalist road, Liu said:

Recently, Chairman Mao said: "To rebel is justified."... At present we have proletarian dictatorship. The Chinese Communist Party is Marxist. It is not justified to rebel against the Communist Party.8

With respect to our present discussion of the mass line, the aspect of Liu’s revisionist idealization of the party which most directly concerns us is his view of the party as the source of correct political lines. Revisionists, like all reactionaries, have contempt for the masses and simply do not believe the party can learn anything from them—except for such things as how much the masses have so far grasped from the party, or the current mood of the masses. In their view correct political line comes solely from the party and its leadership, which evidently creates it out of thin air. As they see it, the role of the party is to educate the masses, period. Marxists of course agree that the party must educate the masses; but we insist with equal vigor that the masses must also educate the party. To recognize only half of this inter-relationship is just not Marxism.

That Liu had a different view of the mass line than Mao, has not gone unnoticed by a number of writers, including even some bourgeois Sinologists. However as might be expected their analysis of the difference is screwed up, cast as it is in terms of Liu’s so-called "Leninist orthodoxy" versus Mao’s "populism". But one of them does rather accurately characterize "Liu Shao-chi’s view of the mass line" as being for the purpose of "channeling the populace in support of the elite and its programmes".9

Another bourgeois expert on China, Roderick MacFarquhar, goes into more depth. He shows that Liu Shaoqi always tried to twist the meaning of the mass line, reinterpreting it as nothing more than the Party’s "selfless service" toward the people, when he could not avoid the topic altogether:

In the 1945 party constitution that Liu introduced, the leadership method of ‘from the masses, to the masses’ was not mentioned as such. In the paragraph of the general programme dealing with relations with the people—in which the words ‘mass line’ nowhere appear—most space is devoted to aspects of ‘selfless service’.10

MacFarquhar contrasts this 1945 constitution with that adopted in 1956, which gave a whole lot more attention to the mass line. He then asks

What lay behind the different approaches to the mass line in the 1945 and 1956 constitutions? Why was the ‘leadership method’ aspect of the mass line, laid down by Mao in 1943 and discussed, accurately enough [Bullshit! —JSH], by Liu in his 1945 report, not formally enshrined in the 1945 constitution? The explanation would seem to have been a fundamental difference of opinion over the role of the vanguard party. For Liu, the important point was that the party member should devote himself selflessly to the cause of the people; the purity of that devotion was the best safeguard of his ability to act correctly on their behalf. For Mao devotion was never enough, and particularly not when the party was entrenched in power; he demanded constant learning from the source of correct ideas, the masses, and considered that to be the firmest guarantee of correct conduct. Liu’s approach smacked of elitism, Mao’s of populism.11

Another writer, James Peck, an evident friend of the Chinese revolution, has some more comments which are relevant here:

For Liu, the party, and only the party, could see what was necessary and could see to these necessary changes. To the masses, it would appear as a united, selflessly dedicated organization. Purity of devotion and ideological orthodoxy were the ultimate safeguards for the ability of the party to act correctly on behalf of the masses. Only after its members had been taught "how to be good communists" could the party effectively help the masses to solve their problems. A selfless party elite should thus be above external supervision; its mistakes could be satisfactorily rectified through intraparty channels. As Mao said in the fall of 1957, "Some seem to think that once in the Communist Party, people all become saints with no differences or misunderstandings, and that the Party is not subject to analysis, that is to say, it is monolithic and uniform..." [SW 5:515]
      At the heart of Mao’s disagreement with Liu’s orthodox conception of the Communist Party was his insistence that the party itself is only an instrument involved in, but not dominating, the dialectical process of continuous revolution. Knowledge, he points out in the critique, is not first the exclusive domain of the party elite. The party does not stand outside the revolutionary process with foreknowledge of its laws. "For people to know the laws they must go through a process. The vanguard is no exception." [A Critique of Soviet Economics, p. 73] Only through practice can knowledge develop; only by immersing itself among the masses can the party lead the revolution.
      Throughout the history of the Chinese Revolution, Mao criticized those who believed they knew exactly what had to be done and relied on Marxism-Leninism as an abstract doctrine filled with ready-made answers....
      Mao saw the masses as the real creators of history, those from whom the Communist Party had to learn....
      No leadership, in short, can create the new social forms and political and economic innovations out of its own heads, then apply them through administrative decree. New forms and methods will emerge, Mao insisted, if cadres and the masses are allowed to experiment, if they are mobilized and encouraged by a party leadership willing to learn from their potential breakthroughs and capable of both shaping and being shaped in the process....
      Unlike Liu Shao-chi, therefore, Mao never saw ideological devotion and intra-party rectification movements as sufficient to maintain the revolutionary role of the party. Only by being immersed in the masses, subject to their criticism, and sensitive to their needs could the party truly combat bureaucracy, privilege, and elitism.12

During the Cultural Revolution Liu wrote several superficial self-criticisms which were rejected by the Party as completely inadequate. To the end, Liu was unable to see or admit the actual bourgeois leadership role he had been playing. Nevertheless his "self-criticisms" are interesting in several respects. For one thing they give a hint of his character (which the Chinese revisionists have since described as a "lofty moral character"). Liu tries his damnedest to push most of the blame for his sins on to others, including the work teams which he sent out to suppress the mass movement, on to Deng Xiaoping, and even on to his own wife, Wang Guangmei [Kuang-mei], who he evidently characterized as a "counter-revolutionary revisionist"!13 I don’t doubt that Wang Guangmei, Deng Xiaoping and the others really were counter-revolutionary revisionists, but it is quite interesting to see this man of such a "lofty moral character" try to save his own skin through such accusations which he himself must surely not have believed. As for his own errors, says Liu, they lay mostly in "not refuting the mistaken opinions" of others, in an occasional rightist "inclination", and in failing to always see what Chairman Mao had on his mind.

However with respect to the masses and the mass line Liu did make a few admissions in the following "explanation" for his "mistakes":

The reasons that accounted for my mistakes are as follows:
      1. I did not understand that the great cultural revolution marked a new stage of more intensive and extensive development in the socialist revolution, nor did I understand how the cultural revolution could be carried out. To fulfill all the tasks laid down in the Sixteen Articles, we must, however we tackle them, follow the mass line, go more extensively and intensively into the masses and mobilize them to conduct self-education, carry out self-liberation, and promote more urgently the proletarian rebel spirit. However, I distrusted the masses and could not make up my mind whether we should mobilize the masses to conduct self-education and self-liberation. On the contrary, I believed completely in the functions of the work teams, wanting to monopolize the mass movement. I was gripped by the fear of confusion, great democracy, rebellion by the masses against us, and uprisings of counter-revolutionaries.
      2. I misjudged the situation regarding the proletarian cultural revolution and wrongly regarded the normal inevitable defects in a mass movement as anti-Party, anti-socialist, and anti-proletarian dictatorship adverse currents. Hence I made a wrong judgement, because I took the bourgeois reactionary stand and became a bourgeois dictator.
      3. Ideologically, I could not completely change my bourgeois world outlook, thus retaining many idealistic and metaphysical viewpoints. Hence I vacillated in my stand when I looked at problems and when I deliberated on how to deal with them. Sometimes I took the bourgeois stand. At the office I assumed bureaucratic mannerisms and dealt with my colleagues as a boss with his subordinates.
      4. The most fundamental problem was that I did not learn to grasp Chairman Mao’s thought. While waging a struggle, I could not correctly apply Chairman Mao’s thought. I could not go deep into the midst of the masses to learn from them, nor did I make reports to Chairman Mao. In fact, I often countered Chairman Mao’s thought and could not listen to my comrades’ correct views. On the contrary, I could easily accept incorrect ideas.14

Well what can we say about all this? First, Liu’s "mistakes" were no mere "wrong judgment" on his part—indeed they were not even truly mistakes. To make a mistake in doing a thing you must be actually trying to do that thing—in this case lead the proletarian revolution, which is supposed to be the task of communists. Though Liu probably never fully realized it himself, he was actually attempting to lead a bourgeois counter-revolution, and whatever "mistakes" he may have made in doing that are to be welcomed and delighted in. Second, I think all this "self-criticism" about failing to use the mass line and so forth, even if sincere, in fact functions as a cover up for his real bourgeois role. It is true that he says he became a bourgeois dictator, but he sees this as an inadvertent result of his "wrong judgment" in opposing a particular mass movement—not as what his role as a bourgeois dictator really amounted to, the leader of a counter-revolution, the number one Party person in authority leading China along a new capitalist road. But despite the fact that his confessions regarding the masses and the mass line function as a smokescreen, it seems to me that these admissions really do give a suggestion of Liu’s real attitudes toward the masses. He really did fear them (for good reason, considering the role he was playing); and he really did distrust and despise them. A lot lies behind Liu’s remark that "The masses, like wild horses, will provoke trouble once they are mobilized".15

(There is additional discussion of Liu Shaoqi’s view of the mass line elsewhere in this book, especially in chapters 21 and 34.)

Deng Xiaoping—Another "Master" of the Mass Line

In light of all the evidence that Liu Shaoqi never correctly understood the mass line and opposed it to the extent he did understand it, it is interesting to see the new revisionist rulers in China laud his "great contributions" and "faithfulness" to the mass line. Here is one ludicrous example: "‘On the Party’ contains a relatively profound and thorough explanation of the Party’s mass line and the organizational principle of democratic centralism."16 Even more amusing is Deng Xiaoping’s claim that Liu "unswervingly adhered to the Party’s mass line".17 This can in fact only be taken as powerful evidence that Deng himself failed to correctly understand the mass line, or also opposed it to the extent he understood it. Or maybe it is just a conscious lie designed as part of a plan to help shore up a troubled revisionist regime? After all, Deng himself admitted some years ago that "Being subjective and bureaucratic, we [Liu Shaoqi and I] repeatedly violated Chairman Mao’s mass line".18

Deng Xiaoping likewise built up something of a reputation as an "expert" on the mass line. He refers to it repeatedly in his writings, in the period of his return to power after Mao’s death, as well as in former days. Like Liu Shaoqi he wrote short expositions of the mass line such as the one contained in his 1956 report to the 8th Congress of the CPC on the revision of the Party constitution.19 As with most such works written for publication while Mao was alive, and especially documents such as this one representing the Party, few glaring errors with respect to the mass line stand out in this report. Perhaps its biggest weakness is a failure to point out the role of Marxist theory in processing the ideas of the masses.

For Deng Xiaoping, like Liu and all revisionists, the party is itself the primary source of "correct" lines which, yes, the masses do need to acquire, and which therefore the party must transmit to the masses. This point of view comes out in Deng’s 1956 speech where in discussing the mass line he says that "the Party’s role in leading the masses lies in pointing out to them the correct path of struggle...",20 when in fact this is only a part of the Party’s role in leading the masses. An equally important part of the Party’s role in leading the masses lies in learning from the masses what to do. I should repeat here that what is at issue is not the undoubted importance of "pointing out the correct path" (and the truly correct path, not just something put out under this name), but simply that this is not the whole story of Marxist leadership as revisionists constantly try to make it appear.

But the proof of someone’s understanding of, and dedication to the mass line lies not so much in what they write about it, but in their political practice. During the Cultural Revolution Deng amply demonstrated his real feelings concerning the masses and the mass line. He was, after all, the number two party person in authority taking the capitalist road, and Liu’s right hand man. Like Liu his attention was entirely devoted to suppressing the mass movement and he certainly showed no interest at all in learning from the masses or accepting their criticisms and supervision.21

In his Oct. 23, 1966 self-criticism, Deng repeatedly admits that he (and Liu) opposed the masses and the mass movement, and opposed, violated and failed to use the mass line.22 He admitted that "In this present movement of the Cultural Revolution, comrade [Liu] Shao-chi and myself are the people in the Party and the Central Committee who represent this bourgeois line."23 However, in light of the fact that Deng returned to these very same bourgeois policies when he later regained power we may legitimately question the sincerity of his self-criticism. His criticism reeks with toadyism not only towards Mao but also towards Lin Biao [Piao] and Chen Boda [Po-ta]. In fact it’s so disgusting that even his own apologists had to excise part of it about Lin Biao. It seems clear that already in his self-criticism he is working to return to power someday. All in all there is no doubt that Deng was merely feigning agreement with the judgment rendered on him by the masses and the CPC. Specifically I can’t believe his self-criticisms about the mass line were sincere, but this does not mean that they are incorrect; if anything they should be strengthened.

Bourgeois Sinologists have a more difficult time seeing through Deng’s "defense" of the mass line than they do with Liu Shaoqi. Roderick MacFarquhar, for instance, says that Deng "unlike Liu, took a Maoist position on the mass line"—which is utter nonsense.24 I think these bourgeois writers don’t understand that with a dishonest, slippery worm like Deng you have to look much more at what they actually did in practice, than what they said publicly when Mao was alive. Even Liu Shaoqi looks like a man of principle compared to Deng Xiaoping.

On June 4, 1989, Deng Xiaoping amply demonstrated his true feelings towards the masses when this "master" of the mass line ordered troops to fire on the unarmed people in Tiananmen Square demonstrating against him and his cohorts. Deng’s leadership of the revisionist forces that overthrew socialism and restored bourgeois class rule, topped off by this massacre will seal Deng’s place in history.

Anti-government rebels in
Tiananmen Square, 1989.
The man on the left is holding
a copy of Quotations from
Chairman Mao Tsetung

The Chinese Revisionist View of the Mass Line

Deng Xiaoping’s fellow revisionists who now have state power in China still claim to use the mass line, but now it is really the "anti-mass line", a perversion of the mass line directed against the masses. It is now a bourgeois bureaucratic formalist tool for controlling the masses and directing them along the path selected by the new state bourgeoisie and serving the exclusive interests of that new class. But only a bourgeois mind could believe that the masses will never realize that it is not their interests which are being served by the new regime and its "leadership methods".

(I wrote most of this chapter around 1980-81. Since then the true nature of the revisionist regime in China has become much clearer for all to see, and signs of mass discontent in China, and opposition to revisionist rule have become far more open. In particular, the Tiananmen Massacre woke up a great many in China and abroad. True, in the west the opposition to the regime is portrayed as exclusively a bourgeois democratic movement, and so far this has in fact seemed to be its principal aspect. But there is also a very strong proletarian current just beneath the surface, with workers at anti-government protests wearing Mao badges, singing the Internationale and moving towards revolutionary opposition to the bourgeois regime.)

A particularly outrageous touch added by the revisionist usurpers is to claim that they are better upholders of Mao’s mass line than was Mao himself!

However, because of victory, he [Mao] became less prudent. Unhealthy ideas, mainly ‘Leftist’ ideas, began to emerge when he was advanced in years. He gradually lost touch with the actual conditions and failed to adhere to the fine style of work of the past, such as democratic centralism and the mass line.25

I trust that it is unnecessary to rebut any part of such a preposterous and disgusting statement here. But I can’t help but note with regard to this nonsense about Mao’s abandoning the mass line in his later years, that, if anything, his dedication to it became even more intense at that time. One of the points he most stressed in leading the Cultural Revolution, for example, was to never deviate from the mass line.26

Certainly Mao never abandoned the mass line; as the years went by he continued to give it an ever increased emphasis. But what about Mao’s radical supporters, the Left wing of the CPC? One reactionary American Sinologist, Peter Moody, writing on the differences between the radicals and those he calls the "moderates" (i.e., the revisionists and capitalist-roaders), says

Western analysts have the incorrigible impression that the mass line was taken more seriously by the radicals than by the moderates, but here they probably confuse the moderates’ propensity for technocratic or bureaucratic control with a lack of concern for the opinions of or impact upon those affected by the policy. In fact, a standard moderate criticism of the radicals had been that the radicals acted on the basis of formalistic or wacky theories without determining the nature of the concrete situation, the actual possibilities, and the real needs and desires of the people.27

Moody then cites a couple articles from the Chinese press in 1959 and 1960. My own reading strongly suggests, however, that while the "radicals" did frequently fail to use the mass line in Mao’s China, they were in general much more serious about it than were the "moderates" (capitalist-roaders). Moody seems to imply in the above quote that if the "moderates" were in any way concerned to win over public opinion to their point of view (which of course the bourgeoisie in all countries tries hard to do) that they must have therefore favored the mass line. Furthermore, he forgets (if he is aware of it at all) that the Maoists and the revisionists had very different concepts of the mass line in the first place. In the mouths of revisionists, calls to use the mass line are in reality calls to abandon the real, revolutionary, mass line.

But what about the so-called "Gang of Four" specifically, those close supporters of Mao who were overthrown by the revisionist coup just after Mao died? (The "Gang of Four" consisted of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing [Chiang Ching], Zhang Qunqiao [Chang Chun-chiao], Wang Hongwen [Hung-wen] and Yao Wenyuan [Wen-yuan].) Did they also really use the mass line? Moody notes that "A stock criticism of the Gang from the very beginning had been that they ignored the mass line."28 Probably the same response as above is in order here: first, the "Gang of Four" seems to have championed the mass line approach to leadership far more than the revisionists, and second, charges from the revisionists that the "Gang" didn’t use the mass line can scarcely be taken very seriously in light of the fact that the rightists had a very different (anti-revolutionary) conception of the mass line.

And yet, and yet... I have to admit that I myself sometimes wonder if there is not a grain of truth to the accusation that the "Gang of Four" was not totally dedicated to using the mass line in the way that Mao was. It is possible, after all, to ferociously oppose revisionism without being dedicated to the mass line. It is even possible to try to lead powerful movements of the masses against the capitalist-roaders—as the "Gang of Four" certainly tried to do—without necessarily employing the mass line in the process. On several occasions Mao himself seems to have criticized the four, and Jiang Qing especially, for a tendency towards left sectarianism and factionalism.29 In addition, the Four were rather easily overthrown after Mao’s death. It seems they did not have the close support of the masses that they should have had, and had not prepared the masses very well to watch out for such an eventuality. Moreover, there is a question in my mind about how deeply held their Maoist convictions really were. All them except Jiang Qing apparently changed their ideas after their arrest and during their long imprisonment.30

However, no matter what the record of the "Gang of Four" is on the mass line, it is clear that the record of the revisionists is far worse. At most you could say that the Four did not sufficiently use the mass line. But the revisionists have not even been trying to use any leadership tools to advance the revolution; and therefore cannot possibly have been genuinely using the mass line at all.

The whole revisionist view of leadership of the masses is disgusting. In a major article on this theme, "How the Party Should Exercise Leadership", by the Dean of Studies at the Party School of the C.P.C. Central Committee, we find this gem: "Leadership of the Party means first and foremost political leadership, i.e. the enforcement of the Party’s line, principles and policies."31 Enforcement as leadership?! And not a word in this article about how the correct line, principles and policies are discovered by the leaders in the first place. The mass line? What does that have to do with leadership??

The distortions of the theory of the mass line in hands of the Chinese revisionists are generally subtle, but no less real for that. Let me give you an example:

A study of our Party’s history shows that, when we correctly handled the relationship between the Party, people and leaders, adopted a mass line and exercised collective leadership, our revolutionary cause flourished.32

The phraseology here is noteworthy: "...adopted a mass line...". Generally in the past the phrase has been the mass line. Is this small difference important? Yes, because it shows that the revisionists do not look on the mass line in the same way as Mao and his followers did. "A" mass line is presumably a particular line or political policy. The mass line is a method of revolutionary leadership.

The same point of view is apparent in other revisionist documents even when the word ‘the’ is used. The RCP points out a good example of this in a critique of the major revisionist document "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China":

The revisionists explain in their resolution that "The Party’s mass line... is a summation of our Party’s invaluable historical experience in conducting revolutionary activities over the years under difficult circumstances in which the enemy’s strength far outstripped ours." Two things stand out about this formulation. First, it refers to the mass line as if it were a thing not a method and a process by which the Party’s understanding is raised and the masses are armed and mobilized. Revisionism often treats the mass line in this way ("our mass line on this... our mass line on that"); the result is reformism. Under capitalism this means the Party tailing the present level of things; under socialism it is the ruling tyrants’ mask of "kindly benevolence".33

The thing to be stressed here is that the mass line is not a summation of the "Party’s invaluable historical experience"; in fact, despite the name given to "the mass line", the mass line properly speaking is not any kind of a summation nor any kind of a political line in the usual sense of the word. A political line is a guiding orientation, strategy, policy or point of view. But in talking of the mass line we are speaking of a method of revolutionary leadership. It is true that this method results in a political line, but the method must nevertheless be carefully distinguished from the specific political lines which may result from the use of the method.

In certain respects the name ‘mass line’ is not a very good one for the method; no doubt it arose historically because the method was abstracted theoretically from practice which involved references not to methods but to particular lines—some of which were correctly distilled from the masses and hence were honored with appellation "mass lines". Now that this phrase, ‘the mass line’, has become the name of the method, it is at best very misleading to use the term in this possibly original sense, and—more than that—it is generally a tip-off that the person using it in such a way does not understand the mass line method.

Mao, as we noted in chapter 32, did not originally use the term ‘mass line’ for this method, and it would probably have been better if people had stuck to his longer, but more apt name "the method of ‘from the masses, to the masses’". (It has been claimed that it was Zhou Enlai who first applied the name "mass line" to the method of "from the masses, to the masses". If so, it perhaps shows a weakness in Zhou’s understanding of the mass line, at least at that time.) But by now the name ‘mass line’ is firmly established and will no doubt continue in use. There should be no harm in this if the concept is correctly understood and correctly explained to others. In a way the fact that those who don’t understand the method tend to misuse the phrase, tend to get the words slightly wrong, is a nice little trap; it makes it easier to spot the phonies!

The RCP goes on to discuss the second point that stands out in the quoted passage, namely the suggestion that the mass line applies primarily to the era of the new-democratic revolution and not to the period of socialist society when the enemy’s strength no longer "far outstrips ours". Such a view again is typical of revisionists who have seized power after a genuine people’s revolution: they admit they needed the masses and their ideas during that revolution, but deny they have any further need for them once they themselves are in power.

Mao’s view, however, was the exact opposite; that if anything, the mass line becomes more important after the proletarian party seizes power. In 1956, following Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, the Chinese Politburo held an enlarged conference devoted to the question of Stalin. Based on that discussion, an important unsigned editorial, "On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" appeared in People’s Daily, with which Mao expressed his complete agreement to Edgar Snow. In that article it states that it is particularly important to use the mass line after the seizure of power because

the leading personnel of the Party and the state, beset by bureaucratism from many sides, face the great danger of using the machinery of state to take arbitrary action, alienating themselves from the masses and collective leadership, resorting to commandism, and violating Party and state democracy.34

And of course there is the increased stress that Mao placed on the mass line during the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

There are some more criticisms of the revisionist view of the mass line in this same RCP article, which incidentally is poetically entitled "A Stagnant Pool vs. The Inexhaustible Yangtse River: Chinese Revisionist Philosophy vs. Mao Tsetung Thought". The article first quotes the viewpoint it is criticizing:

In their historical resolution, the revisionists give their version of the mass line: "concentrating the ideas of the masses and turning them into systematic ideas, then going to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through, and testing the correctness of these ideas in the practice of the masses. And this process goes on, over and over again, so that the understanding of the leadership becomes more correct keener and richer each time."35

The RCP article then points out that: 1) there is no sense here that Marxism-Leninism is to be used to process the ideas of the masses; 2) there is no sense here that the ideas and experiences of the masses in all countries (and not just China at the present moment) should serve as raw material for the mass line; and 3) there is no indication that the mass line is not just for use in expanding production, but in transforming all spheres of society.

These are all valid points; they are all very definite weaknesses in the revisionists’ understanding of the mass line. But could the revisionists not simply respond: "Hey, don’t jump on us! Jump on your hero Mao. All we’re doing is quoting him." There is some truth to this hypothetical defense; Mao’s 1943 essay "Concerning Methods of Leadership" did put the mass line pretty much in the same terms as those the revisionists are still using. But as I pointed out in chapter 32 on the history of the mass line, Mao did not formulate the theory of the mass line in its entirety in 1943. He elaborated it over the decades, and right up until the end of his life. Most of these later elaborations were directed against rightist distortions of the mass line. So when present-day revisionists (or frankly bourgeois commentators, for that matter) present the mass line today in 1943 terms they are distorting it, even if they use Mao’s very own words. The theory of the mass line today is much richer, and much clearer, than it was in 1943, and this is primarily due to Mao himself.

(I have yet to find a single bourgeois or revisionist commentator on the mass line who understands that the theory of the mass line continued to be developed after 1943. Even those like Stuart Schram with a better understanding of the mass line than most, fail to notice this. See for example his comment that the mass line "was fully elaborated by Mao" in the early 1940s in his book The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung36)

The RCP, and other genuine revolutionary parties and organizations around the world have shown that they are vastly better in summing up Mao’s contributions to Marxism than are his traitorous ex-comrades at home. Why? Because much of Mao’s contributions to Marxist theory were developed as an attack on these revisionists in the first place. There is no major point in this RCP summation of the mass line that was not discussed by Mao at one time or another. Genuine revolutionaries have correctly combined all these pieces into the complete, coherent theory of the mass line. But the revisionists are still stuck in theory back in 1943, just as you would expect for people who only wanted to make a bourgeois democratic revolution, and then stop.

The Chinese revisionists actually do not have a single theory of the mass line; they have many theories—none of them correct. They characterize it variously as: a political line derived (supposedly) from the masses; as an organizational line (Liu Shaoqi); as the "mass line concept of everything for the people and relying on the people in everything"37; as a bourgeois-populist means of trailing the masses; as a means of indoctrinating the masses with the party line; etc. The one thing they do not see it as, and cannot see it as, is a method of revolutionary leadership of the masses.

But the Chinese revisionists do still talk about the mass line, or at least their conception of it. According to the American Sinologist Tang Tsou,

In March 1990, the Sixth Plenum of the Thirteenth Central Committee adopted a resolution to strengthen the linkage between the party and the masses of the people. It revived one of the best of Mao Zedong’s ideas—the mass line. That decision resurrected the once-effective slogan of "from the masses and to the masses," but coupled it to the operational procedure of "democratic, scientific decision-making and implementation and legality"—both of the latter ideas developed during the Dengist period. This looks at first glance like a step toward reconciliation with "the people" and society, or the silent majority in the urban areas, for the mass line that called for giving more attention and weight to public demands and wishes was historically an idea that contributed to the adoption of moderate policies and served as a counterbalance to the concept of class struggle.38

Most of this is pretty laughable, but it shows that: 1) the revisionists continue to affirm the mass line in words, especially when they sense a need to reestablish their legitimacy; and 2) the revisionists and liberal Sinologists alike imagine that the mass line is a populist sort of concession to the masses, and hence opposed to class struggle and revolution!

While Deng Xiaoping’s revisionist cohorts do continue to uphold the mass line in words—that is, uphold their various distortions of it—and do attempt to apply it for their nefarious purposes to some extent, it should also be pointed out that their enthusiasm for even their distortions of the mass line has been noticeably diminishing as time goes on. Whereas under Mao the mass line was referred to constantly, and constant efforts were made to implement it, these days it is only occasionally that the mass line is referred to. And it is becoming more and more infrequent that we hear of any serious attempts by the new Chinese bourgeoisie to employ even their distortions of the mass line. This is not surprising; as we saw in chapter 35, even the "anti-mass line" requires some contact with and reliance on the masses, which a bourgeois group in power finds frightening and dangerous.

One of the major changes that the revisionists made after they seized power was to renounce any future mass campaigns—which automatically eliminates the possibility of using the genuine mass line at all, and even greatly restricts the scope for using any bourgeois distortion of it.39 In fact, the vociferous rejection of mass politics is a very revealing feature of the regime. "There will be no more mass political campaigns."40 To be sure, the revisionists deny that the end to mass campaigns means that they are divorcing themselves from the masses:

Drawing on past lessons, we wage such struggle [non-antagonistic class struggle which is claimed to be the only form of class struggle which still exists in China—JSH] not in the form of political and mass campaigns but in accordance with the principle of the socialist legal system, within the framework of state law and following legal procedures so that we can administer a telling blow at these hostile elements with the full force of law. Of course, when we say we are not going to launch political and mass campaigns, we do not mean that we will not rely on the masses, follow the mass line and conduct education among the masses.41

I will leave it to the reader to try to puzzle out just how one goes about "relying on the masses" and "using the mass line" through legal procedures instead of through mass campaigns!

Is it possible to use the mass line except in mass campaigns? According to the Chinese revisionists it is. In fact, in their view the two things seem to have nothing to do with each other. The sympathetic Sinologist Tang Tsou describes how the Chinese revisionists’ conception of Mao’s thought has been divided into two parts, the "Left"—which the revisionists reject, and the "Right" which they continue (supposedly) to uphold. He says

the term "Left" denotes the emphasis on Mao’s new tenet of historical materialism [giving priority under certain circumstances to the superstructure over the base], revolutionary theory, revolutionary impulse, class struggle, coercive power, mass mobilization, and the political penetration of society. Correspondingly, the term "Right" refers to the emphasis on the notion of unity of theory and practice, the slogan of "seeking truth from facts," prudent respect for reality, the mass line, persuasion, the perceived interests and felt needs of social groups and individuals, and the energies flowing from civil society.42

In contrast to the mass line, mass movements and mobilization were merely means of waging class struggle, implementing radical policies, or fighting among Party factions. The recent reemphasis of the mass line on the one hand and abandonment of mass movements on the other enable us to see this distinction clearly.43

Thus for the Dengist revisionists there is nothing strange about using "the mass line" through legal procedures rather than through mass mobilizations. But of course all that this means to us Maoists is that whatever the revisionists may mean by "the mass line", it is not what we mean! For Mao, and for us, the mass line means the primary method of leading the masses in their struggle to make revolution and transform society. To us it is absolutely incomprehensible and totally ridiculous to try to divorce the mass line from mass campaigns!

I close this chapter with an example of how the Chinese revisionists fancy they are using the mass line. In the process of dismantling the socialist system in the factories and the communes the revisionists have come up against considerable objections from the masses, and have sometimes tried to use the "mass line" in attempts to foist this terrible crime off on them. In their appropriately entitled book Smashing the Communal Pot—Formulation and Development of China’s Rural Responsibility System,44 there is precisely one reference to the mass line, and it is in regard to forcing the peasants to accept bourgeois contracts!

Experience in various localities has illustrated the necessity of paying close attention to the contract, from its signing to the fulfillment of all commitments. In making the contract we must follow the mass line.45

Well that’s it, folks! The brilliant use of the mass line by the new bourgeois masters of China!


1   For a full discussion and debate about this revisionist coup see the following volumes published under the auspices of the RCP: Bob Avakian, The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978); Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978); Raymond Lotta, ed., And Mao Makes 5 (Chicago: Banner Press, 1978).

2   James R. Townsend, “Chinese Populism and the Legacy of Mao Tse-tung”, Asian Survey, Vol. XVII, #11 (Nov. 1977), p. 1011.

3   See Deng Xiaoping, “Memorial Speech [for Liu Shaoqi] by Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping”, Beijing Review, #21, May 26, 1980, especially pp. 10-11. Deng even goes so far as to ascribe a portion of Mao Zedong Thought to Liu!

4   Liu Shao-chi [Shaoqi], On the Party, 3rd ed., (Peking: FLP, 1951), pp. 41-62.

5   Ibid., p. 49.

6   Ibid.

7   Ibid., p. 60.

8   Liu Shao-chi [Shaoqi], “Talk to the Work Team of the Peking College of Construction Engineering” (Aug. 4, 1966), Collected Works of Liu Shao-chi, Vol. 3, 1958-1967, (Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1968), p. 351.

9   John Wilson Lewis, Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 38. See also Frederic Wakeman, History and Will (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pp. 303-4; and the commentary in chapter 40.

10   Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution: [vol.] 1: Contradictions Among the People 1956-1957 (NY: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 117.

11   Ibid., p. 118.

12   James Peck, Introduction to Mao’s A Critique of Soviet Economics (NY: MR Press, 1977), pp. 20-22.

13   Collected Works of Liu Shao-chi, Vol. 3, 1958-1967, (Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1968), p. 365.

14   Liu Shao-chi [Shaoqi], “Self Criticism” (Oct. 13, 1966), Collected Works of Liu Shao-chi, [Vol. 3], 1958-1967, (Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1968), pp. 363-4.

15   Liu Shao-chi [Shaoqi], quoted in: Communist Party of China writing group, A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China (Shanghai: 1974); English edition (Toronto: 1976), pp. 213-4.

16   Ye Duchu, “Liu Shaoqi’s Theoretical Legacy”, Beijing Review, #43, Oct. 27, 1980, p. 29.

17   Deng Xiaoping, “Memorial Speech [for Comrade Liu Shaoqi] by Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping”, Beijing Review, #21, May 26, 1980, p. 12.

18   Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], “Teng Hsiao-ping’s Self-Criticism, Made at a Work Meeting of the Central Committee of the CCP on 10-23-66”, in Chi Hsin, Teng Hsiao-ping: A Political Biography (Hong Kong: Cosmos Books, 1978), p. 59.

19   Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], Report on the Revision of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China (Peking: FLP, 1956). The portions on the mass line are reprinted in Winberg Chai, ed., Essential Works of Chinese Communism (NY: Bantam, 1969), pp. 318-323.

20   Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], ibid., in Winberg Chai, p. 319.

21   See Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], “Teng Hsiao-ping’s Self-Criticism...”, op. cit., pp. 55-6 & 62.

22   Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], ibid., pp. 55-6, 59, 62, 63 & 64.

23   Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], ibid., p. 55.

24   Roderick MacFarquhar, op. cit., p. 143.

25   Zheng Bian, Beijing Review, Vol. 24, #1, January 5, 1981, p. 4, emphasis added. Zheng is identified as the Political Editor of Beijing Review. This same theme is repeated many other places, such as in the article “Zhou Enlai on Mao Zedong Thought”, Beijing Review, #9, March 2, 1981, p. 11.

26   See for example Mao Papers, pp. 24-5, 149 & 150.

27   Peter R. Moody, Jr., Chinese Politics After Mao: Development and Liberalization, 1976 to 1983 (NY: Praeger, 1983), p. 78. At the time of publication Moody was a professor at Notre Dame, and was formerly a “Peace Fellow” at the Hoover Institution. Obviously very respectable credentials—if you happen to be a reactionary.

28   Ibid.

29   In a letter on Dec. 24, 1974, Mao is said to have written to his wife “Don’t form factions. Those who do so will fall.” Earlier, in another letter to her (July 17, 1974) Mao supposedly wrote “You’d better be careful; don’t let yourselves become a small faction of four.” [Quoted by the victors after the coup in 1976 in the pamphlet Great Historic Victory (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976).] It is also claimed that Mao criticized Wang Hongwen to his face: “Stop carrying on with your gang of four.” [Quoted by the revisionists in The Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party of China (Documents) (Peking: FLP, 1977), p. 13.] Assuming all these statements (and several others along the same lines) are truthfully quoted, it is still not clear that Mao was being harshly critical of the Four. The whole tenor of these remarks seems to be one of constructive criticism and attempting to help them from becoming isolated. Nevertheless, this does suggest a tendency on the part of the Four to fail to unite all those who can be united, and perhaps hints at conspiratorial tendencies on their part.

30   Peter Moody says of Zhang Qunqiao: “He is alleged to have become a convert to political democracy while in prison.” [Op. cit., p. 180.] (Exactly what a “convert to political democracy” is supposed to mean, I don’t know.) Of Wang Hongwen: “The youngest member of the Gang of Four and allegedly, since his arrest, the most cooperative.” [P. 189.] Of Yao Wenyuan: “Since his arrest he is said, like Wang Hung-wen, to have become very cooperative with his persecutors." [P. 190.] Of course we don’t know what kind of “brain-washing” (i.e. brain-dirtying) and possibly even torture may have been inflicted on them. But even so, I am not impressed with this showing from those who were supposed to be the successors to Mao Zedong.

31   Song Zenting, Beijing Review, #13, March 30, 1981, p. 18.

32   An Zhiquo, Beijing Review, #32, Aug. 10, 1981, p. 4.

33   Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, “A Stagnant Pool vs. The Inexhaustible Yangtse River”, Revolutionary Worker, #116, (Vol. 3, #14), Aug. 7, 1981, p. 21.

34   Quoted in Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution: [vol.] 1: Contradictions Among the People, 1956-1957 (NY: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 45.

35   Ibid., p. 21.

36   Stuart Schram, The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 45.

37   Shi Zhongquan and Yang Zenfhe, “Zhou Enlai on Mao Zedong Thought", Beijing Review, #9, March 2, 1981, p. 11.

38   Tang Tsou, “The Tiananmen tragedy: the state-socity relationship, choices, and mechanisms in historical perspective”, in Brantly Womack, ed., Contemporary Chinese Politics in Historical Perspective (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 318-9.

39   The decision that there would be “no more turbulent political movements” was made by the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Party Central Committee held in December 1978. (“Some Questions Concerning the Building of the party”, Beijing Review, #28, July 12, 1982, p. 18.)

40   Xin Xiangrong, “More on Literary Criticism”, Beijing Review, #35, Aug. 31, 1981, p. 3.

41   “Jiefangjun Bao” Commentator, “Scientifically Understand and Handle Class Struggle in China”, Beijing Review, #49, Dec. 6, 1982, pp. 18-19.

42   Tang Tsou, The Cultural Revolution and Post-Mao Reforms: A Historical Perspective (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. xl-xli, emphasis added as quoted in Marc Blecher, “The contradictions of grass-roots participation and undemocratic statism in Maoist China and their fate”, in Brantly Womack, ed., Contemporary Chinese Politics in Historical Perspective (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 131.

43   Tang Tsou, op. cit., p. xliv; as quoted in Womack, op. cit., p. 131.

44   By Wang Guichen, Zhou Qiren and Others, (Beijing: New World Press, 1985).

45   Ibid., p. 76.

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