The Mass Line: A Study in Revolutionary Methods of Leadership and Work (Part 4)
The mass line is method of leadership and work which was most clearly developed by Chairman Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It has been described as the ”concentrate[d]…correct ideas that the masses gain in everyday life.” Mao developed it into a coherent organizing methodology which has subsequently been applied by many revolutionaries since the Chinese revolution.
I firmly believe that the application of the mass line is something that must be fundamental to how revolutionary communists carry out any and all of their work, no matter whether it is in community development initiatives, the anti-imperialist and anti-war struggle, political prisoner and prisoner of war work or other progressive struggles.While the term mass line was first coined by the Communist Party of China during the revolutionary Mao period it has in fact been employed by every single successful revolutionary movement. Like the vanguard party and the united front its validity has been proven by this success.
Because of its importance to any successful revolutionary movement I have started a short series of posts that will continue over the coming days that feature articles written by prominent revolutionary thinkers and forces on the concept of the mass line. I began by going right to the source with Mao and followed up with the Communist Party of Peru and the Communist Party of the Philippines. This fourth (and for now, final) entry comes from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The PFLP is a revolutionary communist organization struggling for national liberation and socialism in Occupied Palestine. Founded in 1967 the PFLP is the second largest member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization next to the late Yasser Arafat’s organization Fataḥ, and it is the largest communist organization within the PLO.
However, while it is a member of the PLO current the PFLP considers both the Fatah-led government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip to be illegal due to the lack of new elections to the Palestinian National Authoritysince 2006.
The final entry comes from the 1969 book by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine.
Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine: The Party and the Masses by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
The party is the leadership of the masses. Consequently, the members and leaders of the party must come from conscious elements that are imbued with enthusiasm for action and are willing to accept sacrifice, observe discipline and act in accordance with regulations and organization policy. The party must see to it that its members in general constitute an example and a vanguard in consciousness, activity, sacrifice and discipline. If the party and its members lose these qualities, it naturally loses its role as a revolutionary political organization. However, inasmuch as the revolutionary party must maintain itself as an organization of conscious, active, loyal and disciplined elements, it must at the same time be an organization for the masses, emanating from them, living in their midst, fighting for their causes, relying on them and realising its aims through and with them and in their interest.
Mao Tse Tung says:
“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. On the other hand, if the masses alone are active without a strong leading group to organize their activity properly, such activity cannot be sustained for long, or carried forward in the right direction, or raised to a high level.” It would be very useful for us always to remember this in our action. By understanding the dialectical relation between the party and the masses we can understand a sound manner the party’s role on the one hand and the masses’ role on the other.
The mass line is our third strategic line in the building of the Popular Front.
To succeed in the building of the Popular Front for the organization of the masses, the purpose of each revolutionary political action must be deeply rooted in the heads of the organization members. The final purpose behind our action is the masses: the freedom of the masses, the dignity of the masses, the life of the masses, the fulfillment of their needs, the guarantee of their future.
Keeping this purpose in our mind, making the members increasingly conscious of it and constantly reminding them of its importance will help us always to follow the right direction in our work, will determine the measure of evaluation of our work, organizations, leaderships and branches of action, will protect us from the dangers of seclusion, isolation, bureaucracy, superiority, opportunism and preoccupation with petty internal matters, and will determine the nature of our activities and the direction of our operation.
Sometimes our organization or some of its branches confine themselves to purely internal activities : meetings, education, discussions, criticism, etc. In the absence of a mass cause towards which the organization is directed, and in tbe light of the organization’s isolation from the masses and their problems and causes, the organization’s life becomes closed and isolated and will soon be swamped by the organization’s problems and side issues, so that the organization will lose all capacity for revolutionary action .
To look always to the masses, to handle the masses’ problems, to work for the masses, to help the masses to understand and analyse their problems and to adopt a position in respect thereof, to assist them in organizing themselves and to lead them in action to face their problems – this is our main task, the purpose of our existence, and it is our only way to muster the revolutionary strength that will enable us to achieve our aims.
Without this climate, this consciousness, this direction, we fall in the circle of seclusion and isolation. This would mean, first, the preponderance of side issues pertaining to the organization itself and, second, the ability of the opposing forces to encircle and strike us.
The mass line and our success in following it constitute a basic measure of the revolutionary character of the members, the organization’s branches and the political organization as a whole.
The member who establishes the best relations with the masses around him, looks for any service which he can perform for them and is for those around him a factor of awakening and assistance is the revolutionary member. There are no grounds for claiming any revolutionary quality in respect of the member who does harm to the masses or isolates himself from them. The organization branch which sets up political forums, reacts with the masses in the problems and issues facing them and looks for any service which it can perform for them, such as opening a school to combat illiteracy, or helping people in collecting the harvest, or advising them in the establishment of a co-operative, or leading them in demanding an electricity or water supply project or the opening of a road, is a successful branch in giving the mass line a concrete form. Conversely, no organization branch can claim success or revolutionary action if it is enclosed within itself, confining all its time and effort to its internal organizational life, not feeling with the masses so that they do not feel its existence.
The party which mobilises for the revolution every man, woman and worker, every peasant, every student and every youth, orients constantly towards the battle and the revolution and leads them in their various political and mass activities, and the party whose basic organization is surrounded by student, labour and peasant unions and organizations for women, youth and cubs (pioneers) is the revolutionary political organization for the masses. There is no ground for claiming any revolutionary quality in respect of an organization which lives in seclusion away from the masses.
Naturaly such a picture does not occur in a short time. The mobilisation of the masses must take place at a speed which enables the organization to make of this mobilisation a conscious and disciplined operation, neither spontaneous nor disorderly. However, the important thing is that we remain in this direction, following it with firm, continuous and sure steps, deeply realising that the basic and final purpose of our existence is the masses, that we are all right as long as the masses are with us and as long as many positive bridges link us with the masses, and that any isolation or any movement of the masses away from us must constitute a warning or alarm signal requiring a critical review of our positions and procedures.
The party’s leadership of the masses is not an easy process. It is not sufficient to have the intention, nor is it sufficient for the party to stress the importance of the mass line to ensure its leadership of the masses. The party’s ability to analyse the situation, the mottos which it presents, the nature of the mass problems which it intercepts, the manner in which it presents all these questions, the pattern of the relations which it establishes with people and the mobilization and organization formulas which it adopts – these are the factors which determine the party’s success or failure in the leadership of the masses. The party will not be able to lead the masses if it presents issues that do not spring from their midst, or if it presents them in a manner which is not understood by the masses, or if it fails or hesitates to present some of the issues.
Mao Tse-Tung says:
“To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. Unless they are conscious and willing, any kind of work that requires their participation will fail… There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them.”
Inasmuch as we must avoid the disease of rashness or leftist opportunism in the leadership of the masses, we must likewise avoid the disease of inaction or rightist opportunism.
Here Mao Tse Tung goes on to say:
“If we tried to go on the offensive when the masses are not yet awakened, that would be adventurism. If we insisted on leading the masses to do anything against their will, we would certainly fail. If we did not advance when the masses demand advance, that would be right opportunism.”
Our emphasis on the mass line and the basic character of the masses should not be understood in an erroneous idealistic manner creating among the masses a sentimental mystic view which would conceal from them the objective view of things and result in spontaneously trailing behind the masses instead of coalescing with them with the object of leading them.
Our masses, like the masses in underdeveloped countries, are the victim of many outworn concepts, tribal, clan and communal connections and bad, anarchical customs and traditions which are remote from the spirit of the age. Under this situation our masses cannot be that force which is capable of achieving victory over the enemy which we have defined. The rallying of these masses around the party without such rallying being accompanied by efforts towards revolutionary political consciousness and organizational disciplinary consciousness would result in transferring to the organization all the diseases of the prevailing conditions, and this would be a gross error. The revolutionary party is the school in which the masses learn and change many of their habits, traditions and concepts, substituting everything modern, new and revolutionary for all that is old and outworn.
On the other hand, our toiling masses, by reason of their material living conditions and of the fact that they suffer in practice the exploitation and subjection exercised by the anti-revolutionary forces, undoubtedly constitute in the strategic field real protection for the revolution from any vacillation, weakness or slackening, but this would not mean that the masses are always right in assessing tactical political positions and determining their programmes. In their positions the masses sometimes represent sentimental and impulsive reactions which are unscientific in their calculations and unobjective in the evaluation of all circumstances. Consequently, it is wrong for the party to go along always with the state of the masses without action or effect. The party must always remember the danger of “impulsiveness” in political action, and that its role is to lead the masses and not to straggle behind them, for otherwise it would lose the justifications for its existence as a revolutionary political organization.
The relation between the party and the masses is a dialectical one. It teaches them and is taught by them, affects them and is affected by them. They provide it with the facts and in the light of its comprehension and analysis of these facts, it provides them with a sound assessment of the situation and eventually with the working programmes.
Posted on July 17, 2012, in Organizing, Revolutionary Theory and tagged Mass Line, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, The Mass Line: A Study in Revolutionary Methods of Leadership and Work. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.