Some Points on the Mass Line – A Few Points More
Posted by Enaemaehkiw Túpac Keshena
As I mentioned last week The Speed of Dreams was going to be welcoming it’s first guest writer in some time, comrade Greg Lucero of the FRSO, this week. Well now the time has come and The Speed of Dreams would like to extend warm revolutionary greetings to comrade Lucero.
Below is his first article, Some Points on the Mass Line – A Few Points More, a follow up of sorts to the FRSO’s widely circulated Some Points on the Mass Line document. Greg was also asked to write a brief intro about himself. This appears below before the body of the essay itself.
Hello everyone. My name is Gregory Lucero and I’m absolutely honored to guest write for The Speed of Dreams. The Speed of Dreams remains one of my favorite sites on the internet and I check it constantly. I hope I can contribute to the high level of revolutionary history and theory found on this site.
As for myself, I’m a Marxist Leninist Maoist from Utah where I run the blog “Red Flags Over Utah.” I’m a founding member of the Revolutionary Students Union. I recently joined the Freedom Road Socialist Organization this year. I am a member, but I am not in any leadership position. None of my writing should be taken as the official position of the FRSO.
That being said, it’s my absolute pleasure to contribute in some small way to this blog and discussion.
In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in action. –Mao Zedong
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization put together a pamphlet to help its members organize in the 1980s called “Some Points on the Mass Line.” This writer would encourage everyone to review that document. This document does not seek to fundamentally challenge that document, but expand its content to make it easier to understand in its full impact not only to to new members of the FRSO, but also to those outside the FRSO who which to engage in revolutionary mass organizing. This document hopes to provided a brief out line on some theories, methods, and advice about not only how to organize, but how to do so in a revolutionary fashion.
The mass line provides the basis of all serious communist and revolutionary organizing. Historically successful revolutionaries have not formally written out a plan that other must follow with out deviation. Instead, we follow in their example through mass line organizing. Mass line organizing depends on a wide range of factors including revolutionary theory (which includes and understanding of society and how we learn from it), revolutionary practice, (which includes identifying the practical situation, those in it, and how to help them struggle for themselves), and finally it includes the struggle for revolutionary changes here in our society. This pamphlet hopes to introduce all of these topics to provide a basic guide to those interested in organizing and fighting for the working class. However, one should only take this guide as a starting point. You will find methods and tactics that prove effective for you, your conditions, and your area of work. We have two goals for this pamphlet. First, we want it to provide strong basic introduction so that any communist or revolutionary could arrive at any city in the country, pick up a newspaper, and begin mass line organizing. Second, we want people to use it as foundation that they necessarily grow beyond through their experiences, efforts, and struggles. Yet this does not answer one fundamental question, “Why use the mass line to organize when there are so many other methods of organizing?”
We use the mass line because we believe that revolutionary change must come from the masses. Revolutionary communists agree completely with Mao when he wrote, “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” We reject the history of the capitalists (the bosses and owners) and instead embrace the history of the masses (the workers, farmers, and oppressed people of the world). The capitalist history talks about a history of “great” kings, generals, and CEOs. However, a king remains a king only as long as people accept they’re a king. Generals only have armies if they can convince or fool the masses into fighting for them. CEOs only have big businesses if the workers continue to labor for them. The entire world depends on the masses to continue forward. We recognize this and make it our primary foundation.
Some view other methods of organizing as more effective. Some believe that they can change the world through elections. Others believe that they can change the world through legal court challenges. Others believe that they can change the world by “rising to the top” and then making “good decisions.” We do not agree with this. We think that these tactics may prove useful in the short term in some situations, but ultimately do not offer a road to serious revolutionary change. Moreover, those tactics won’t have any impact unless they have the support of the masses. Not only must we mobilize the masses, they will help us understand important fights. They will guide us as they begin to find their voice in the most effective tactics, struggles, and allies. As Mao said, “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.” We must focus our work on the masses.
Q: Do you believe that the masses make history? What would you say to someone who disagrees?
Q: Have you seen, or can you think of examples of left/progressive forces that have failed to rely on the people? What has been the result?
Marxist theory includes a wide range of topics that relate to the mass line. It’s absolutely vital that we study revolutionary theory. As Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” We need to create a revolutionary movement. We don’t pretend that this pamphlet could cover such a wide subject as revolutionary theory. Nevertheless, every revolutionary must understand the basics of revolutionary theory: Marxist analysis, Marxist epistemology, and Marxist dialectics. We will cover these more in depth later. However, these categories roughly correspond as follows. Marxist analysis consists of understanding the forces of society, how they interact, and being able to explain their interactions. Marxist epistemology (the science of knowing) understands that we learn through practice and struggle. Marxist dialectics understands that things don’t happen in simple cause and effect, but instead happens through complex interactions. Marxist theory helps arm revolutionaries to fight more effectively for the working class and we should all make sure to study it.
Analysis entails breaking down complex structures and situations to their basic parts. We hear analysis all the time. We here political pundits analyze politics as republicans and democrats. We hear bosses analyze their costs and profits. We hear economists analyze the stock market in terms of projections and confidence. Yet, for all this analysis, no one seems to know what’s actually going to happen or explain why it does. Sometimes, even well meaning people will try and give us an analysis that doesn’t really explain anything. Most people in society fail to properly analyze the world because they want to repeat the analysis of the capitalists (the bosses, bankers, and owners). Even our close friends may fail to analyze correctly because they don’t understand Marxist analysis. We should always try and understand things in the clearest Marxist terms.
Marxist analysis breaks things down fundamentally into classes. It holds that two main classes make up our society. The capitalist class make up the ruling class. They own and control our society for their own benefit. The proletariat make up the working class. The capitalist class lives off the working class. We can see this in our communities as working class people continue to scramble to find jobs, keep their hours, and make ends meet while the rich fly in private jets, eat caviar, and don’t have to work an honest day in their life. Marxist analysis shows these class contradictions give rise to the other contradictions in our society.
Marxists believe in the primary nature class contradictions, but recognize other contradictions as well. Contradictions like racism, sexism, and homophobia all exist in our society. They provide both points of struggle and obstacles to overcome. We find both hostile contradictions like those between racist police and young oppressed black men and non-hostile contradictions like those between various churches who come together to fight for immigrant rights. We must use Marxists analysis to understand which contradictions we must work to unite and which we must work to overcome through struggle.
We can find examples of contradiction all through out our society. We see contradictions when racists attempt to attack immigrants. We see contradictions when bosses try and cut wages and benefits from unions. We see sharpening contradictions at home when imperialist powers like the US, lose wars and can’t make the profits they want. They turn viciously on their people cutting social services, funneling money to the rich, and attacking oppressed nationalities within their country. We can see this continuing trend even now. However, we must make sure to mass organize so that the people can fight back.
Q: What others forms of analysis have you seen besides Marxist analysis?
Q: What forms of analysis did you learn in school through your history, politics, and civics classes?
Q: Use Marxist Analysis. What contradictions do you find in your community?
Marxist Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge)
Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, and Marxist epistemology is based on practice. We all have different beliefs and values as we start to mass organize. We all learn through actually doing. The general knowledge resides in the particular. People learn politically through struggle over any other type of knowledge. We will have much greater success armed with this theory of knowledge than simply haphazardly trying different tactics.
Marxist epistemology bases itself on materialism rather than idealism. It holds our ideas do not simply fall out of the sky, but arise from our background, class position, and daily interactions. Every person you organize will have their own material basis. We cannot trust in “innate” or “universal” human ideas. People have ideas and experience from the areas they’ve lived, their class, their jobs, their educational experiences, and the various social influences like religion, community, and family. Someone who comes from a rich white background with a conservative family will more likely share those views unless they’ve lost all their wealth and join the working class. In contrast, working class undocumented immigrants can easily understand the nature of capitalisms oppression because they feel it every day. Yet, they do not learn this simply by living in this or that surrounding. They learn it by practice.
Marxist epistemology holds that people learn primarily through practice. The concept of practice works on many levels. We learn by practice when we experience things everyday. The more we meet people different from us, the more we can understand them and the less likely we are to have racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas. We get better at playing an insterment, speaking in public, and organizing marches the more we do them. Most people gain their knowledge from practice haparzardly and in a disorganized fasion. The Marxist epistemology attempts to clarify this knowledge in a specific way. Marxist epistemology holds that the universal that resides in the particular. What does this mean? It means that individual actions build a wider pictures of society. Racism does not exist simply exist as an abstract universal idea, but rather exists in every particular racist traffic stop, every unarmed black man gunned down by police, and every prison sentences extended for oppressed nationalities and reduced for whites. As revolutionaries, we must understand that the particular resides in the universal in order to build our campaigns. We do not build campaigns around abstract concepts such as “racism.” We build them around around concrete campaigns like racist cops, politicians, laws, and school administrators. You must understand theoretically how to identify the particular in the universal so that you can build the best struggle, which is the best way for people to learn.
People learn best through struggle. It’s fine to read books, have conversations, and hold study groups. We should obviously do those things. We should obviously share our views and opinions. However, people fundamentally learn through struggle. We can tell people that the school administrator won’t care about cutting popular programs because he runs the university like a corporation. However, many working class people will believe he simply “doesn’t understand” or will change his mind if he “gets all the facts.” Yet, once you run a campaign and they will see that the administrator doesn’t actually care about the students. People understand the truth out of their struggles and we must help them plan, fight, and win in those struggles. We must not simply talk at working class people, but help organize them into struggle.
Q: How have you learned in your life? What shared experience or practice do you find in your community? Do you think people who experience oppression are more likely to want to struggle?
Q: Do you learn best with practice? Do you learn more easily simply by studying or by thinking how the study can apply to your work?
Q: What are some particulars in your area that reflect the universal? How can you use them to organize?
Q: Why is struggle the best form of practice? How can you help people understand the struggle even better?
Marxist Dialectics consists of understanding the theory of mutually changing causes in our world. Most of our education, media, and political leaders encourage us to see things as a simple “cause and effect.” Marxist dialectics instead sees things as mutually reinforcing relationships. For example, capitalists in traditional media say “Social Security is going to collapse because too many people use it and not enough people pay into it.” What they don’t say is that politicians take money from Social Security to pay for wars, prisons, and border fences. After taking the money, they can then claim it doesn’t have enough money, which allows them to divert even more money from it because it “isn’t working.” This dialectical relationship creates an ongoing reinforcing situation that supports the runaway destruction of Social Security for the sake of the capitalists. We want to create a dialectical relationship where revolutionary struggle constantly increases. However, there are many aspects to dialectics we must always keep in mind.
We must always remain conscious about the dialectical relationship between theory and practice. Theory consists of how we analyze, understand, and generally view the world. Practice consists of our actions and how we try and change the world. We obviously act (practice) in the world based on our understanding (theory), yet through our actions (practice) we confront new situations which challenge our previously held beliefs (theory). Thus we can see the dialectical nature between theory sand practice. We’re constantly learning more to apply to our work, but our work constantly gives us more to know and apply to future work. We must understand and accept this dialectic without becoming rigid in previously successful tactics and methods. However, we also shouldn’t be so eager to “try something new” that we abandon tried and true methods. We must always keep this dialectic of theory and practice in our mind in order to help build our struggles.
We must also keep in mind the objective and subjective aspects of dialectics. The object consists of our conditions of struggle. Is an area religious, unionized, filled with general anti-war sentiments, or primarily immigrant? These objective conditions manifest themselves as the “setting” for your struggles. You have to understand the situation in which you find yourself in order to understand how you can struggle. The subjective forces manifest themselves as the active revolutionary and organizing forces that can fight for the working class. The subjective exists as an “active” force fighting for change. Yet, the subjective forces can’t exist outside of the conditions that give rise to them. However, the subjective forces can dialectically change the objective conditions. For example, you may live in a conservative pro-military town (an objective condition). Yet, you can engage in counter-recruitment (a subjective action) with the youth and oppressed nationalities. This can help spread to their friends and family so that the wider community becomes more anti-war (objective conditions) and you gain more people to help you with your anti-war work (subjective forces). We must understand that neither the subjective or the objective dominates the other, but rather they work dialectically together. We can approach our practical work more effectively when we have a strong theoretical understand of the world.
Q: Do you think things follow simple cause and effect? Why or why not?
Q: How can you apply theory to your work? How can you use your practice to expand your knowledge of theory?
Q: What is the objective condition of your area? What subjective actions can you take to improve the objective conditions?
Methods of Work and Leadership
The methods of work and leadership focus on the various practical aspects of fighting for the working class. First, you have to have a good practical understanding of the orientation of those involved in struggle. Secondly, you have to understand your goals for the various orientations in the struggle. Finally, you have to understand the very practical dynamics that exist in any given struggle. Anyone who masters these basics will find themselves in a great position to carry forward the mass line struggle.
Material Conditions of Struggle (Objective Conditions)
We must take into account many different factors before attempting any struggle. We should look at the material interests of the working class and various aspects of that interest. We must take these diverse, scattered, and unsystematic interests and turn them into a definite plan. We must create clearly defined goals so that we can direct our work accordingly.
Communists understand that its the direct material interest that mobilizes the masses more than anything else. We certainly agree outstanding people can fight for others and causes that don’t directly affect them. However, we will prove more successful if we work to build mass movements on direct material interest of working people. People have an indirect interest in stopping corporate greed, ending racism, stopping the wars, and fighting against budget cuts. Practically speaking, we must understand the universal resides in the particular. We can’t fight for those abstract terms. Instead we must fight for workers wages, firing racist cops, counter-recruiting, and saving particular programs on campus. We have to relate our struggles concretely to people’s lives and conditions. However, that doesn’t mean we simply “tail” things as they develop. By “tailing,” we mean simply doing things because we think they’ll be popular.
For example, we have to have constant and consistent work in immigrant communities. We can’t simply show up when a bad law is being debated in the legislature in the hopes of getting new members. If we simply try and “tail” growing trends we’ll look like we don’t care about their struggle, but instead we’re simply using them. We need to constantly and principled fight for the interests of the working class. We need to build these sorts of relationships with the communities we want to organize. Otherwise we’ll end up trying to create struggles out of thin air. We need people to help us in our organizing. We have clear tools to help us identify the material interests of working class people and get that help..
We must understand the materialist interest of the working class through numerous methods. The material interest of the working class does not depend on any abstract philosophy. Instead, it depends on looking at the situation in front of us and deciding our best course of action to fight for those interests. The primary question of any policy, action, or demand remains, “Who has the most to gain?” We identify the nature of a policy, action, or demand by who it serves. If it serves the rich, powerful, or connected then we should oppose it. If it serves the working class then we should support it. We should also ask, “What will they gain?” This question clarifies what’s really at issue in any given struggle. If we’re talking about “budget cuts” then we’ll usually learn it’s a pay raise for the administrators by cutting healthcare for working class students. We should ask of any demand, “Why don’t they have it now?” For the oppressors, we can help find areas of natural resistance that prevent them from getting what they want. That’s why they “don’t have it now.” For the oppressed people, we can find exactly who is preventing them from getting what they need. Yet, once we analyze the situation we need to come up with a direct way to serve the material interests of the people.
Goals and Planning
The people want to struggle against oppression, but many don’t know how. It’s our job to show them how. We must carry out the mass line in the fashion Mao laid out when he said, “In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in action.” We need to clearly state our goals before we begin planning in any substantive sense.
We can help our struggles by clearly defining the goal of our struggles. The core question to find our goals should be, “What specifically do we want?” Usually, goals fall into two types of categories for the sake of planning. Absolute goals remain clear cut and either succeed or fail. We want to organize a work place, save a school program, or prevent an anti-immigrant law. We either do or don’t succeed. It’s an absolute goal. Quantitative goals become more difficult. One needs to set realistic goals, but also not compromise principles or the struggle. Quantitative goals include gaining a 50 cent wage increase in the contract, get 50 people to attend a meeting, or recruit 10 members over the course of a year. We need to set clear and definite goals or else we can quickly fall into the endless quagmire of “raising awareness.” Revolutionaries have no interest in abstract “raising awareness” about issues. We want to mobilize and organize the masses to fight and win real battles.
Preparing Cadre (Conscious Forces)
Finally, we must make sure that our forces can engage in the struggle. One should ensure that for every campaign that at least three conscious revolutionaries can help lead and organize. Larger campaigns obviously need more people. Haphazardly engaging in dozens of campaigns where those campaigns fail or go poorly does not help the working class. Obviously, people’s time to organize will flow and ebb based on work, family, and other commitments. However, you must make sure you have enough time among all the revolutionaries to organize the overall campaign. Do not undertake campaigns for which you don’t have time or you’ll simply end up betraying the working class people who believe in the campaign.
One should not take these conditions as law, but as a good rule of thumb. An outrageous abuse by a police officer can allow a small group of people to mobilize hundreds with little effort while a large number of organizers may take a long time to reach any success fighting in a large well entrenched union. That being said, it’s vital to analyze the situation and pick battles you can win. Once you have set the conditions and planning for the campaign, you must actually engage the masses who take on a contradictory character.
Q: How can you see the universal residing in the particular? What are some particulars in your area and how do they relate to the universal struggle?
Q: What material interests can you find in the struggles around you? How would you characterize them?
Q: What sort of goals are more clear cut? What sort of goals do you want to set for your revolutionary group?
Q: What conditions will you need to run a campaign? If you don’t have what you need, how will you get what you need?
Orientation of the Masses in Struggle (Subjective Forces)
Communist revolutionaries must remain conscious of the various contradictions among the masses and overcome those contradictions to lead a successful campaign. The main categories found in organizing consist of the advance, intermediate, and the backward. Revolutionaries must understand their proper direction towards the different groups of the masses and act accordingly: otherwise we’ll get nowhere in our work. As Mao said, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution. The basic reason why all previous revolutionary struggles in China achieved so little was their failure to unite with real friends in order to attack real enemies. A revolutionary party is the guide of the masses, and no revolution ever succeeds when the revolutionary party leads them astray.” We want make it clear that the following categories are not moral categories. Rather they’re practical categories for organizing. That someone falls in with the category of “backwards” does not necessarily make them a bad person, but rather political unhelpful to our struggle. However, it’s key that one understand the difference between the conscious and the advanced before we begin talking about the other categories of the masses.
Your organizing group consists of the conscious elements and you should not mistake them for the advance. The conscious element supply leadership, planning, and the push towards revolutionary orientation. Obviously, the conscious elements must do work as well like passing out flyers, hold meetings, and phone bank. However, we’re not in the business of activism for activism’s sake, we’re in the business of revolution. That being said, we also need to avoid commandism (forcing our opinions without discussion). Many of the advance will have personal experience in many fields and we can really benefit from their advice.
Q: Do people in your group feel uncomfortable with the conscious/advance distinction? Why or why not?
The advance consist of the most active fighters within the masses for the cause. We must identify the advance. We must strive to unite the advance. Once we’ve identified and united with the advance, we must give clear and definite tasks. The last task of our practical work requires organizing the advance. Finally, we must win over the advance to revolutionary Marxism Leninism to expand our conscious forces. The advance will provide the core of all our struggles. We cannot lose them, and we must recognize they will prove vital to mobilizing the intermediate.
The advance come from all walks of life, but usually consist of those most directly attacked by the capitalist system. The main criteria of finding the advance consists of looking for the most active in the struggle. Those who attempt to organize their own fight backs, reach out to the community, and speak out against oppression will likely belong to the advance. However, simple activity is not sufficient. Often liberals and democratic party members will parasitically latch on to social movements. They create a lot of “activity” with very little struggle. We must always remain vigilant to ensure that we’re reaching honest, hard working people rather than self-aggrandizing or opportunistic liberal “activists.” Once we identify the advance we need to unite them.
We need to unite the advance under conscious revolutionary leadership. We don’t do this by showing up to meetings and demand they do things our way, pushing our way to the front of marches, or by simply declaring ourselves the leaders of a movement. Instead, it requires patient, careful, and consistent work to win people over to our mass line position and to build trust in our leadership. We can do that in a few broad ways. First, we must put out a mass line slogan that appeals the broad base of activists (we’ll cover mass slogans later). Secondly, we must patiently and consistently explain our position and why we view it as best. Thirdly, we need to make accurate predictions about the outcome of likely choices. We don’t need to pretend to have a crystal ball, but we must use our experience to explain why certain choices will prove effective and which choices will not. Finally, we need to show we’re willing to do the hard work on the ground. People will reject our leadership if it seems like we’re trying to position ourselves “on top” and give order to those “on the bottom.” They need to see us working as well. Once we gain a leadership position, we need to exercise that leadership carefully while building the most effective fighting campaign.
We need to use our leadership to give clear and definite tasks to the advance. The advance have a wide range of skills, strengths, and weakness like everyone else. We must utilize their skills in the most effective way to fight for the working class. Some make excellent flyers, others write great press releases, and others work well reaching out to other groups. We must ensure we don’t pressure people into taking on tasks with which they’re not comfortable. We must make sure they’re clear and definite when we create tasks. Requesting that someone print up some flyers isn’t acceptable. Requesting that someone print up 500 flyers at the union hall by Monday is acceptable. Clear and definite tasks help the advance get a sense of the work they’re doing. It connects them to the work as they can see how they fit relative to the wider picture. It also provides a mechanism for accountability for tasks. Vague requests to the group as a whole invite disorder and a lack of action. It’s not enough to simply get the advance active, but instead we must ensure they become organized.
We must organize the advance by creating mass organizations and training the advance in our mass line methods. A group of individuals, even dedicated revolutionary individuals, remains only a group of individuals. We need mass organizations that appeal to the broad masses in our area of work. A group of individuals cannot build a name in the community. A group of individuals cannot draw in those interested in class struggle. Mass organizations can. Even if it’s only a handful of people, it’s vital to build a mass organization either locally or connected to national organizations. A Students for a Democratic Society club on campus will have a better chance of building student struggles on campus than that same group of activists alone. Even if the group of activists and the SDS are the exact same people. A Jobs with Justice will have a better chance of leading labor struggles than an assortment of “pro-labor” individuals from the community. If you can’t find an organization that fits with your work either practically or politically, than create one. We must recognize that many of the advance will need guidance during this period. However, leadership in an organization does not mean we do not want to create organizations that depend on our leadership for every small decision.
We can only considered the advanced organized once they take on our methods and can carry out the struggle on their own. We should identify the most revolutionary of the advance and ensure we explain our methods, actions, and outlook to them through the struggle. Our transparency will win their trust, train them in leadership, and help them understand how communist revolutionaries act in reality. It becomes much easier to win them to revolutionary theory if they begin to take up our practical methods of work. As Mao said, “In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses’. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action.” We must encourage the advance to take up our methods through practice above all else. We must direct that practice primarily towards the intermediate.
Q: How would you identify the advance? Have you seen groups that engage in a lot of activity but get little accomplished?
Q: How do you feel about exercising leadership over the advance? What are the best ways to establish that leadership?
Q: Why do we need to give clear and definite tasks? Have you been part of an organization that didn’t? How did that function?
Q: Why do we work within mass organizations? How can we best organize the advance?
The intermediate represent the broad masses of people involved in any struggle. They usually don’t begin a struggle with strong feelings either way. If the conscious elements create an effective campaign the intermediate will support and join it. The conscious elements united with the advance should work to mobilize the intermediate. Finally, the conscious and advance should work to move any members of the intermediate they can into the advance.
The intermediate have a wide range of beliefs and attitudes. The intermediate have been conditioned by capitalism in capitalist ideology. However, they have life experiences of capitalism both of oppression and exploitation. Thus, the intermediate contains various attitudes, ideologies, and views. Some of the intermediate have a predisposition to our work and our campaigns and some against. We must accept this contradictory nature of the intermediate in a certain sense. We ought not to engage in petty moralizing so often found among liberals. We will never guilt the intermediate into revolution, let alone organizing. Yet, we must reject the current nature of the intermediate and must fight to change it to a more revolutionary outlook. We must do that with conscious planning and careful methods.
One of the core components of our campaign method seeks to mobilize the intermediate. We will deal with various campaign tactics specifically below. However, we should take this time to mention a few principles in regards to mobilizing the intermediate. First, we must not compromise our principles for the backward leaning elements of the intermediate. This does not mean we don’t compromise in tactics or on certain issues among coalitions, but we do not compromise our positions. We do not support war, deportation, sexism, or union busting. Second, we don’t pretend we do in order to work with people or mobilize them. We hold this view not simply as an ethical position, but as a practical one as well. The masses may not understand all the arguments and facts of any given case, but they know a scam when they see it. If we appear that we only take action when it’s self-serving, we’ll quickly lose any traction among the intermediate (and likely the advance). Third, we need to prepare ourselves for dealing with attacks, lies, and slander that our enemies might spread among the intermediate. That means not only having facts and arguments, but also taking the right tone and approach to well meaning people in the intermediate who have simply been fed misinformation. These principles will help us in our practical work that will be covered later. That being said, we have two distinct goals for mobilizing the intermediate.
First, the mobilization of the intermediate requires that they take some action as part of the campaign. Once again, we’re not in the business of “raising awareness.” It’s not enough for them to look at a flyer, meet with an organizer, or attend a meeting and say, “oh that’s a good cause.” We need them to take action. That can mean smaking a phone call, attending a protest, or donating money. The point is they need to do something. We also should not mistake mobilizing for organizing. That a hundred, thousand, or more people show up to the rally does not mean that they are “organized.” Organization entails a serious commitment of time and effort which is why we spend our efforts organizing the advance. In addition, many people conceive of mobilizing the intermediate by inviting their friends, family, or co-workers. They also understand it as standing on a corner and handing out flyers. We should not degrade these tactics, but many revolutionaries forget about the institutional power all around them. Unions, student clubs, and churches can all help us mobilize the intermediate. Yet, we should recognize that most of the intermediate will not join our mass organizations or participate beyond that direct mobilization. Even so, that should not dissuade us from trying to move the intermediate into the advance.
Secondly, we should try and move the intermediate to the advance. Often, a few intermediate individuals will instinctively recognize the need for organizing and struggle and work to join the advance. Yet frequently, others in the intermediate may lean towards the advance, but need some guidance to move there. No one tactic will guarantee success in moving someone from the intermediate to the advance. Sometimes, they need to see that organization serves their best interests, moral arguments compel others, and some simply want to exercise their political power to feel in control of their own lives. Build relationships with advance leaning intermediate people, but don’t spend too much time trying to organize them when you could spend that time on the advance. Don’t feel resentment towards those of the intermediate who refuse to join the advance. We must work to create objective conditions that make joining the advance attractive to the intermediate. Yet, we should never forget that even unreceptive intermediate individuals are not trying to disrupt our attempts at struggle unlike the backward.
Q: What views do the intermediate have in your area? What ways can you approach the intermediate?
Q: Why do we seek to mobilize the intermediate? How can we counteract the propaganda of our enemies?
Q: What are some tactics used to mobilize the intermediate? What groups can you approach to mobilize the intermediate?
The backward provide a block to our organizing efforts. The backward generally have two distincts categories. They are relatively backward and absolutely backward. We must use our work with the intermediate and advance to prevent them from disrupting our campaign by isolating them. We must always remember a few principles when dealing with the backward. First, backward is not a moral term. They simply cannot or will not understand the principles and methods necessary for our struggle. We often run across old anti-war and labor activists who don’t mean any harm, but refuse to adopt any new methods. They want to do things the old ways regardless of whether or not the old ways work. Secondly, backward is a term used relative to a particular struggle and doesn’t imply something universal about a character. The most militant and advance strike advocate may be the first to offer concession once the strikes over. An activist may fight strongly against racist politicians, but want to compromise on the first relatively progressive piece of legislation. We can’t reduce individuals to simply “backward” in all categories. Finally, we must always take care than dealing with the backward. Regardless of how reactionary they are, we need to maintain a level of professionalism in dealing with them. If not for the sake of the backward, then for the sake of maintaining relationships with the advance and intermediate with whom we work.
The relatively backward will make up the majority of the backward you will encounter. You can determine the backward because they disrupt our organizing and push the masses to reactionary paths. They may disrupt meetings. They may demand the organization do everything in their way. They may refuse to listen, talk off topic, and otherwise derail meetings. Beyond methods they may also disrupt our work on issues of slogans and lines. They may push slogans in an attempt to move people into liberal NGOs or the democratic party. We need to combat that. They also may push slogans which alienate our allies and unions. We must work to keep the advance from adopting these methods and slogans. However, many of the relatively backward may become our close allies on different methods and slogans. Often, they’ll throw themselves fully and honestly into the work once the group decision has been made. We must do our best to maintain friendly relationships with the relative backward because they may move out of the backward by seeing our work, following our methods, or because they have more advance views on different subjects. Nevertheless, we should focus our efforts on the advance and the intermediate, not on the backwards. Yet the absolutely backward make the relatively backward seem that much better.
The absolutely backward constantly attempt to disrupt all efforts at organizing. The absolute backward may simply reject any methods of organization. They disrupt meetings by refusing to agree to anything. They demand everything occur their way regardless of the feelings of the group. They may harass, bully, or attack other members in the group. They refuse to respond to discussions, confrontations or demands about their behavior. Other absolute backward members have ideological reasons for their behavior. Democratic party agents, certain forms of “socialists,” or hidden right wing agents push their political agenda by disrupting, attacking, or attempting to destroy mass organizations. They either refuse to see any organizing done out of their control or they have a direct political opposition to the campaigns themselves. The way to handle the backward may vary slightly depending on whether they’re relatively or absolutely backward, but the overall tactic remains the same.
We must isolate the backward. It’s dangerous to leave the backward in positions of power and authority. They can quickly run organizations into the ground. We must stand against their positions, methods, and beliefs in a principled fashion. We must point out why their plans didn’t work previously and why they won’t work in the future. However, we must remain careful never to attack the person as such for being relatively backward. We want to make it clear to both the backwards person and the group, that we think they’re mistaken on this or that particular issue rather than they’re a bad person. It’s different for the absolutely backward. The absolutely backward mean death for organizations. They must be removed either formally or informally. This can mean voting them out of the organization. This can mean gathering a group of people to confront them outside of a meeting and making it clear that they’re not wanted. We need to make it clear that the problems with the absolute backward actually reside with the person and it’s not simply some “bad ideas.” Regardless of the situation, the main method of isolating the backward means convincing the advance of our leadership through the fight for ideas, methods, and political line. That means using our campaign method.
Q: Why is it important we don’t use “backward” as a moral term?
Q: Why is it important to maintain as polite a relationship with the backward as possible?
Q: Do you think it’s a better idea to attack the ideas, methods, and policies of the backward or the person? Does the situation change depending on whether they’re relatively or absolutely backwards?
Q: How would you view the difference between relative and absolute backwards?
Our fight for the working class depends on protracted struggle. We use our Marxist theory and methods of work and leadership to view the situation and what forces we can put into the struggle. Now it’s time to put that theory into action. We must prepare ourselves for a long term struggle with many back and forth turns. Yet, our mass work should not consist of vague endless actions, but a clear and definite struggle with a beginning, a middle, and end. We encourage you to apply this document to your own situation without taking it mechanically. We must confront every situation with fresh eyes and with a good sense of the practical nature of the movement.
Our practical work consists of a few organizing principles and some general organizational tactics. Our two main organizing principles depends on the United Front and Democratic Centralism. The practical work of the campaign consists of the general call, the core struggle, and summation. Finally, we should understand the difference between a United Front, a mass organization, and a coalition. If we keep these in mind, it will remain easier organize and plan our struggle.
We use the united front to mobilize everyone we can to fight. This includes both individuals and organizations. Some organizations have honest and good leaders. Some organizations have confused leaders that go back and forth on issues. Some simply want to exploit the struggles of the people for their own ego and benefit. Our course of action remains quite clear. We can easily unite with the honest and good organizations, win over the confused, and then isolate those backward opportunists. The methods remain the same. We must put out a good line that embodies the demands and needs of the masses. We must work tirelessly on our campaigns. We must refuse to compromise our principles and the struggle for the working class to opportunists and the backward.
Q: Why do we use the United Front?
Q: Who can you include in the United Front in your ongoing campaigns?
Democratic centralism remains the method necessary to put marxist theory into practice. Democratic centralism consists of two major concepts, democracy and centralization. For democratic centralism, we have discussions, debates, and various people present their positions. This embodies the nature of Marxist democracy. However, once the organization makes a decisions then every member should follow that decision. If the members break discipline it can create confusion and dissension among the group. Moreover, we have practical reasons for maintaining democratic centralism.
We need to carry out one line in order fully understand and analyze it. If a group pursues multiple lines during the same period of time, they won’t know which line succeeds and which fails. In addition, often multiple lines can cause an organization to work at cross purposes disrupting an otherwise successful line. We need to carry out one line, sum up what works and what doesn’t, change the line completely if it’s failing, and modify the line to create a more effective one if it’s succeeding.
We need to recognize that most of our mass organizations will not function on the principles of democratic centralism. We obviously should push the organizations to adopt structures of democratic centralism, but we can’t dominate mass organizations. We also can’t expect advance and intermediate members in those organizations to show the discipline and understand of democratic centralism like the conscious elements. It remains a delicate balance to what extent we can push democratic centralism to maintain practical efficiency and to what extent we have to compromise with other individuals and groups to ensure their support. For revolutionary organizations, democratic centralism is a point of principle. For mass organizations, democratic centralism is a point of practicality that requires careful judgment.
Q: Why do we use democratic centralism?
Q: Why do other people and groups refuse to use democratic centralism?
The General Call (Beginning a Campaign)
Every campaign needs to begin around a particular issue and address a universal problem. One will find it difficult to start a campaign in a general field of work such as immigration, union organizing, or police brutality. Instead, we need to find a particular instance to begin our campaign. Are the legislators discussing a new law? Is a new contract up for negotiation? Have the police carried out an excessive raid? The bitter reality of capitalism ensures we’ll always have a particular issue to struggle around because the outrages of this system remain endless. Yet, we have to provide the most effective campaign around these attacks on the people. The particular issue will provide a clear struggle for people to understand, the general call will make people understand its wider connection. A slogan such as “Stop police brutality, justice for ___” can fulfill this call. Nevertheless, urgent situations sometimes call for immediate action.
Advance actions can often kick start a campaign. Advance actions do not immediately depend on the mass of workers. Instead, advance actions include a confrontation or action that directs attention to the issue at hand. They can include sit ins, banner drops, or disrupting press conferences. Advance actions have three clear goals. First, the advance action should unite the advance and make them more committed to the upcoming struggle. Second, we need to make our side against the oppressors clear so that people can rally around it. Finally, an advance actions give us the chance to fight for public opinion, especially if they’re quite spectacular. However, if we grow too reliant upon advance actions we will quickly separate ourselves out from the masses and simply become an activist organization rather than a mass organizations.
Q: What calls to action have you responded to? Why did they prove effective?
Q: What advance actions have you seen work effectively? What happens when a group does nothing but advance actions?
The Core Struggles
The core struggle consists of the bulk of your campaign. It’s important to understand the general strategy for this period of the campaign and the specific tools and tactics necessary for the fight. Much of the core struggle has been covered in previous sections and we will only touch on it here. However, we will deal with the vital issue of slogans, printed materials, news media, and rallies which frequently form the core of much activism today. One should not treat this as a comprehensive list, but as a starting point for your struggles.
We will briefly touch on some previous topics that you should keep in your mind during your campaign. Keep the Advance, Intermediate, an Backward categories in your mind. Constantly reevaluate the actions of individuals within those categories as people move between them. Remember to unite with the advance, mobilize the intermediate, and isolate the backward. The advance form the most committed fighters for the working class. Do not lose them as they’re not easily replaced. Use the United Front in your work to have the best chance for success. We can now deal with the very practical tasks of slogans, printed materials, media, and rallies.
Every communist revolutionary should make slogans the forefront of his or her practical work. We interact with the masses primarily through our slogans. We cannot understand slogans simply as sentences where we inform people what we think about things. Our slogans should demand concrete things for the working class while exposing the wider system of capitalism. Our slogans do not simply inform, they call to action. Our slogans represent our line and our position in the working class. We should aim for all our primary slogans to mobilize the intermediate.
Mass slogans help mobilize the intermediate because they represent the demands of the people and they help create a united front. Previously, we mentioned that communists must take the unsystematic ideas of the masses, refine them, and return those ideas in a systematic form. Slogans accomplish this by finding the primary capitalist targets and their political lackeys. Good slogans provide a single rallying cry and demand rather than the hundreds or thousands of different demands the masses would take up otherwise.
Finally, good slogans can help build the united front. A wide mass slogan can mobilize different groups with different interests for the struggle. Example of anti-war slogans from Vietnam can prove instructive. Examine the slogan, “Support our troops, bring them home!” This slogan is bad for numerous reasons. Ideologically, it forces us to accept that those troops fighting imperialist wars some how are “ours” which they’re not. That would grossly compromise our principles. It also alienates the militant anti-imperialists who recognize the fact that troops engaged in imperialism aren’t ours. Examine “Stop American Imperialism!” Certainly the Vietnam war was an imperialist war. This slogan is perfectly fine to have at a rally, but as a practical sense makes a bad slogan because many do not understand the nature of imperialism. Examine the slogan, “Support our troops, victory to the NVA!” Again, the slogan accurately represents the truth of the matter. The American soldiers not only aren’t “our troops,” but the Vietnamese striking blows against US imperialism are. However, attempting to make this a mass slogan will leave us generally pretty lonely. Instead, the mass slogan should serve as a banner under which all of these slogans can fall.
Concretely, a mass slogan should represent the camp of resistance from the most minimal to the most extreme. For our example, “Troops out now!” serves as the best mass slogan. It can mobilize every group holding the slogans above without out compromising their principles or ours. One final point on mass slogans that will likely dishearten many communists. There is no formula for the mass slogan. In a quiet suburb, the mass slogan simply be “stop police harassment.” In the inner city after a grizzly police murder the mass slogan may be “disband the killer cops.” For the first International, their mass slogan was “fight for an eight hour day.” For Lenin and the Bolsheviks it was essentially, “Overthrow the provisional government.” We cannot accept empty dogma or formulas in mass organizing. We must use our experience and our judgment to create the best mass slogans.
We primary focus on the mass slogan directed at the intermediate, but we can also use slogans in other ways. First, one can use more slogans than simply the mass slogan. One should focus the bulk of one’s work on the mass slogan, but it’s perfectly reasonable to put out slogans to unite the advance and isolate the backward. One must take stock of one’s forces. If you only have a small group of organizers then you must put all your focus and emphasis on the mass line slogans. However, if you have a relatively large group, it’s not only possible, but helpful to have a small group dedicated to advance slogans. These advance slogans will help you unite the advance to further your mass organizing. You also may want to include a few slogans to isolate the backward especially if the mass organization faces co-option from some outside group. We must always focus on the mass line, however we have latitude to engage in complex organizing and messaging with our slogans.
Q: How do you create slogans?
Q: Why is it important to spend time creating a mass line slogan?
Q: Why is it sometimes helpful to have advance slogans in addition to mass slogans?
Printed materials should reflect and expand on your slogans. It’s not simply enough to repeat your slogan in bold letters. One can use the printed materials such as posters, flyers, or pamphlets to explain the situation in more detail. As a rule of thumb, all printed materials should include a definite “what,” “why,” “who,” “when,” and “where.” It’s best to link all of our printed materials to future actions. In addition, we should we double check our material. For any printed material, make sure that at least two people check it. Our printed materials need to stay on message, look professional, and reach out to the working class people. We also should use the capitalist news media to whatever extent we can.
Q: What’s the most effect way to make printed materials?
The capitalist media can prove both beneficial and dangerous. One one hand, the large capitalists own the corporate media so the news stations have a strong passive interest in supporting the ideology of the capitalists. On the other hand, news agencies make their money from controversy and sensationalism. It’s our job to exploit this contradiction as effectively as possible to have our ideas contend in public opinion. A few basic guidelines will help your interactions with the media. Have the most effective people talk to the media, have well planned events for contacting the media, and make sure to have a follow up action to push in the media itself.
First, have the most effective people talk to the media. Obviously, they will talk to whomever they want in the crowd at any large events. Yet, frequently they will ask your mass organization for someone to interview. The person who speaks well and knows the most should speak to them. Frequently, those are two different people. Nevertheless, they should talk to both if possible. Train the person who speaks well in the facts of the case so they can explain those if necessary. Help the person who knows the facts to practice their points so they’re comfortable speaking. It’s best to alternate people who speak between campaigns to build leadership and skills among your unit. However, you’ll need the media at your event before anyone can talk to them.
Word of mouth and press releases provide our main ways of getting the media to our events. We need to have well planned events in order for either of these methods to work effectively. If we have broad based community support, frequently the media will show up simply to cover events. Yet, we should not rely on that strategy. We should contact media through their usual channels which includes press releases. One should direct press releases to every print, TV, and independent news agency within your city and state. The press should include a clearly written “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” If you have friends in the media, try and make sure your press release reaches them. If you have comrades withing the media, it’s helpful to have them teach you the best way to write a press release, or to have them write it for you.
Finally, it’s helpful to have a follow up action. This action beyond that covered by the press gives you an opportunity to show the direction of the struggle moving. In addition, it provides a great opportunity for the intermediate and advance to get involved after they read or see you in the media. The follow up action can give the media a way to cover an unfolding story, which helps them because many reporters would rather not have to find their own story. If the masses get involved, the follow up action will build momentum for the campaign. It’s vital that we understand that victory is the “endpoint” of the campaign, not once we finish the action. Once we reach the end of a campaign it’s vital we take stock of what proved effective and what did not.
Q: How should your unit interact with the media?
Q: Why are follow up events important?
We battle for summation in three main ways. We battle for summation with the public, with our allies, and within our group. The battle for summation helps us combat the ideas of the enemy and make our ideas clear to the masses. The summation between ourselves and our allies helps cement our position of leadership. The summation among ourselves in our group helps us become more effective revolutionaries. If we fail to engage in summation we will fail to execute the principles of democratic centralism because we cannot determine the clear difference in line.
If we do not make a public summation then our enemies will do it for us. Any struggle has at least two sides. Our enemies usually have the media, the government, and money on their side. If we don’t contend for the story of our struggle, our enemies will. They will create a story to confuse and separate the masses from our leadership. We can see the government’s actions in the 60s where they spread disinformation, false news stories, and scandalous slanders about civil rights leaders. They will continue to do so to us. We need to stay on point for the media. If they ask questions not topic then the best response is to state, “That’s not the issue, the issue is X.” We can win the public battle for summation if we stick to our points.
We also must make a summation between ourselves and our allies in order to cement our leadership. We must make a positive summation of how we’ve helped the struggle and our successes. We also must honestly admit whenever we make mistakes to establish we’re honest and willing to recognize them. We can also use this behavior to help isolate backward elements among our allies by not simply identifying backward behavior, but giving an analysis of why it damages our organizing. We also can use this time to encourage behavior that proved effective by recognizing it publicly. Summation among our allies should always focus on expanding our leadership and winning people over to Marxism Leninism.
The summation among our group should not focus on our actions as the conscious element within the mass campaign rather than the mass campaign itself. We can sum up most of our successes and failures in the mass campaign with our allies unless they’re particularly sensitive. Instead, we should sum up our actions as part of our unit. How did we do at leading the campaign? Who did we recruit to Marxism Leninism? What tactics were effective? Which groups proved helpful as close allies in struggle? Which allies proved effective in our struggle? Which allies proved difficult? How did our unit function? Who performed exceptionally well in the unit? Who did not fulfill their responsibilities? As Mao said, “Conscientious practice of self-criticism is still another hallmark distinguishing our Party from all other political parties. As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades’ minds and our Party’s work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing. The proverb ‘Running water is never stale and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten’ means that constant motion prevents the inroads of germs and other organisms. To check up regularly on our work and in the process develop a democratic style of work, to fear neither criticism nor self-criticism, and to apply such good popular Chinese maxims as ‘Say all you know and say it without reserve’, ‘Blame not the speaker but be warned by his words’ and ‘Correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not’ – this is the only effective way to prevent all kinds of political dust and germs from contaminating the minds of our comrades and the body of our Party.”
We must understand the purpose of criticism and self-criticism. We should certainly strive for the strongest personal as well as political unity with our comrades. However, it’s possible when spending time with people that we may have personal problems with people. We intend to use criticism of our comrades to help them grow and correct mistakes they may make while pointing out the correct political actions they take. It is not to air personal grievances under the mask of political teaching. We also use self-criticism to point out mistakes we made and raise our understanding and self-knowledge. It is not a version of Catholic confession where we admit our “sins against the revolution,” and feel better about ourselves. We need to openly and honestly admit out mistakes without falling into pathological self-punishment. We’re trying to build a revolutionary movement, not a self-help group.
Q: What are some effective was to engage in summation publicly?
Q: Why do we need to provide summation to our allies and friends?
Q: What’s the best way to engage in summation within our own group?
Beyond activism and Towards a Revolutionary Movement
We do not engage in activism for the sake of activism, but to build the revolutionary movement. We engage in activism to train the revolutionary movement. We engage in activism to build the revolutionary movement. We engage in activism to create militancy among the revolutionary movement. We do not have an interest in “raising awareness,” competing with non-profits, or running social programs as such. We do have in an interested in fighting and winning the political struggle of power for the working class.
Activism trains the revolutionary movement. We must ensure our activism teaches working people to struggle for revolutionary change. We must pick battles that raise that consciousness through both the targets and the method we want to train those activists in leadership and revolutionary Marxism Leninism so that they can begin to train others. We also must train ourselves. We understand that leadership is not an innate quality, but a skill learned over time and struggle. We will struggle to run a small campaign on our campus, in our union, or with our community when we first begin. We grow our skill and leadership so we soon begin running larger regional and national campaigns while winning almost everything to which we set our sights. We must never grow arrogant and think that we teach the passive masses, but we must strive to bring in new ideas, perspectives and leadership, so we can be more effect in our mass campaigns.
We engage in activism in order to build the revolutionary movement. No revolution in history has occurred based on scattered individuals. Instead, revolutions depend on mass organizations. Unions, student groups, women’s organizations, and national movements take up the revolutionary struggle and ultimately win the revolution. We strive to organize and lead these mass organizations. We seek leadership positions so that in the decisive crisis of capitalism the masses will look to us to strike the decisive blow to capitalism.
Finally, we seek to create militancy among the mass movements to confront and defeat capitalism. People learn through struggle that the capitalist “rules of the game” have no power over them. They learn that can take control of their workplace, university, and communities when they organize and struggle. This militancy leads to a general awaking and a lack of respect for the oppressive power of imperialism. We will depend on this militancy for the revolutionary struggle. A revolution requires a fearless, daring, and active working class to challenge the capitalist system and its lackeys.
We are a revolutionary organization dedicated to revolutionary change. Lenin showed us the three conditions for revolution. The people cannot live in the old way, the ruling class cannot rule in the old way, and there must be a strong revolutionary organization. This will take some time. We must mass organize to show the people that they can live in new ways so they reject the old ways. We must build the strong mass movement so the working class effectively rebels against the ruling class so that the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. Finally, we must establish ourselves as leaders of the people so that we can build that strong revolutionary organization so we can act decisively in the time of crisis. In all our actions, we must remember Mao’s demand for all revolutionaries. “Dare to fight! Dare to win!”
Posted on June 2, 2012, in Organizing, Revolutionary Theory and tagged Gregory Lucero, Guest Authors, Mass Line. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Some Points on the Mass Line – A Few Points More.
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