Here at Anti-imperialism we enjoy sharing what we view as ‘correct’ or at least constructive thought on relevant issues. The following article was written by Neftali, a guest writer at Maosoleum, and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist author who has written for distinguished platforms such as Signal Fire. His work, shared here, elaborates on the practice of the Mass Line in context of a revolutionary Communist struggle; providing historical examples and theoretical advances to support his primary elaborations. We feel his analysis is fruitful and even if contested offers valuable space for constructive analysis for developing real revolutionary praxis.
Thoughtful criticism and discussion is greatly encouraged; however, there is no direct way to contact Neftali and therefore all criticism/discussion should be in light of the ideas presented. The following is the sole work of Neftali; the views therein do not completely represent those of Anti-imperialism.com and this is not an official endorsement of either Neftali or the site of original publishing which can be found here.
Article by Neftali
On Mass Line
Today we must draw our attention to questions concerning work of communists and broad work among the masses in the service of them and with the general aim towards revolution. It becomes difficult in the context of US Imperialism to be able to discern for ourselves a proper Communist practice that “serves the people.” Maoism and the historical example of Mao Zedong influenced communist organizations in the United States and elsewhere has often served as a beacon of example for people aspiring for a genuine Communist practice that have chafed against the sectlet paper gangs. Maoism in distinction to these trends has always historically emphasized the need for a Mass Line practice. As a great many of the young will move from their sites of learning into more immediate practice with the masses in the summer, it becomes necessary to demonstrate to our friends the demarcations of a Communist practice in relation to the masses as opposed to others.
Mass Line is both methodology and politics. It is an orientation which one takes up in regards to handling and conducting oneself among the masses. It is also the line of revolution that popularly manifests itself among the masses, a popular line to be grasped that is simultaneously bringing forward the most advanced revolutionary theory from the most advanced revolutionary organizations of the proletarian masses to the broadest section of the people possible. The aim for revolutionaries is therefore for the masses to pick up revolutionary politics as deep as they can, in whatever contradictory and dispersed ways that map alongside the real contradictions of the people. We must therefore distinguish two component parts of Mass Line, the active method of work in relationship and the concrete politics which is rendered from such a relationship of work between cadre and the masses. We refer to some summary definitions which are provided by Scott Harrison from Massline.info in regards to method
The mass line is the primary method of revolutionary leadership of the masses, which is employed by the most conscious and best organized section of the masses, the proletarian party. It is a reiterative method, applied over and over again, which step by step advances the interests of the masses, and in particular their central interest within bourgeois society, namely, advancing towards proletarian revolution. Each iteration may be viewed as a three step process: 1) gathering the diverse ideas of the masses; 2) processing or concentrating these ideas from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, in light of the long-term, ultimate interests of the masses (which the masses themselves may sometimes only dimly perceive), and in light of a scientific analysis of the objective situation; and 3) returning these concentrated ideas to the masses in the form of a political line which will actually advance the mass struggle toward revolution. Because the mass line starts with the diverse ideas of the masses, and returns the concentrated ideas to the masses, it is also known as the method of “from the masses, to the masses”. Though implicit in Marxism from the beginning, the mass line was raised to the level of conscious theory primarily by Mao Zedong.
The importance of Scott Harrison’s work in regard to Mass Line (as well as his other theoretical adventures and archival documentation) can’t be stressed enough. We are here firmly advocating the lines drawn by Harrison to attune oneself theoretically with the basis for applying a Mass Line methodology and politics to our work. Harrison identifies three fundamentally distinct stages of application of the Mass Line. It is important to note that such an application to be truly a communist practice of Mass Line orients itself first and foremost with the ideas among the masses of people, with their own consciousness. As Mao points numerous times, the masses are themselves the makers of history, they’re themselves take up initiative independently to fight for their own interests, they already are in effect engaged in class struggle many times independent of Communists at all. The emphasis on consciousness, about the ideas of the masses is consistent with Lenin’s own orientation to conduct among the revolutionary workers in the outset of an emerging Russian Social-Democratic  movement. Lenin posited first and foremost that without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary practice and furthermore stressed in regards to the workers’ movement and to Marxism
We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.
At the time Lenin wrote What is to be Done? he was in particular dealing with a trend of social-democracy known as Economism. This trend emphasized the activity of consistent and on-going trade union work absent the politics of revolutionary “social-democracy” (i.e. Marxism for its time). It emphasizes the immediate day to day in opposition to political agitation. It in fact created a cleft between theory and practice and emphasized practice at the expense of theory. Of course this was not simply a cleft that arose among the masses, but it was a separation created by an intellectual trend in the Social-Democratic movement itself. It had organized a paper and journals around this notion in opposition to the “elitism” and “ideologues” that Lenin and Iskra represented. It was philistinism yes, but a coherent intellectual one, a rejection from would-be Marxists who attempted to dress their erroneous views in the politics of revolution. Those who take up the slogan of “Serve the People,” who readily think themselves practitioners of Mass Line, but who orient themselves first and foremost to an unconscious activity in fact do not conduct themselves as Communists – but as economists who tail the masses. Mass Line first and foremost is not a call to an unconscious activity, and the unfortunate case today is that there are plenty of philistines and counterfeit Marxists (and now Marxist-Leninists), it is an attempt to create a politics of mass struggle through the intimate relation of the the conscious political collective force with the people. Such an intimate relation of a conscious political force with the people must be steeled first and foremost in the most advanced theory of its time, otherwise the link is a weak one, the political organization a counterfeit, and perhaps even a rearguard formation in the class struggle. So to make final emphasis, Mass Line can only be conducted from a communist force which is steeled in revolutionary theory. To move on to the essential point of practice, Mass Line distinguishes itself from other methods of trends of Marxism-Leninism (whether they be Trotskyists or otherwise) in that it engages the necessity of linking its cadre in the class struggle. The cadre perform vital work of investigating conditions among the masses, listening to them, working with them. Such investigation is first and foremost key to the Communist practice in so much as it avoids the subjectivist orientation of attempting to posit one’s own a priori ideas and conditions of struggle on the people. The second step which emerges in regards to the Mass Line orients ourselves to ideas once again – it is the necessity for Communists to take such ideas, primitive analysis among cadre, and to synthesize them to a political line to be implemented by the cadre. The act of synthesis is not done by one or a couple of cadre on their own, because such would inevitably find its own error in empiricism – that is to work and make judgements based upon one lone individual’s work in the class struggle. Rather it takes the intersubjectivity of the class conscious organization of Communists, the Party, to develop a coherent political line which orients itself to the grand politics of our effort. And lastly one applies the synthesis in practice, Mass Line becomes a communist politics suited to the active class struggle. We shall deal separately now with this third aspect of the question. In the end when we have gathered ideas from the masses, investigated conditions, synthesize this material in accord to the advanced revolutionary theory, we thereupon take such a synthesis in the form of a plan of action as cadre. This is a conscious political practice which is aimed at heightening further the contradictions between us and our enemy and overall building a hegemony for revolution. Political practice of Communists creates conditions for the masses to realize their struggle in terms with and accord to a Communist analysis of the totality of social-relations, it exposes not simply one point of struggle, but systematically demonstrates such a point of contention between us and the enemy as part of an overall trend to make revolution world-wide. We must inevitably struggle against those people and forces who attempt to limit consciousness.
Serve the People Programs and NGOs
Often more than not among ourselves many people are influenced by those communist forces guide to some extent by Mao Zedong in the 60s’ and the 70s’. This was the era of the New Communist Movement. Mainly there is great reference, often uncritically to those programs of the Black Panther Party (BPP). It is often especially those forces who move towards revolutionary politics from transitional, partial petty-bourgeois student backgrounds that engage with this history (with no necessary fault of their own) with little historical context and no summation of the demise of such formations. There is of course plenty that one can get into in regards to this. However let us be very keen in saying that the Serve the People programs of the BPP while initially demonstrating a very key lesson for us, also demonstrated how such basic platforms can easily be the center of outright revisionism and moreso, even the ground for future poverty pimps. The Black Panther Party was first and foremost an attempt to build a Marxist-Leninist Party among the African-American people in the United States. It was at first an attempt to build one in accord with the possible and actual condition for revolution. The Panthers were armed, their first “Serve the People” programs were defending their hood and organizing others in the defense against the pig police. Such work launched the Panthers from small sect in Oakland to national party, it ended up capturing the attentions of thousands. Simultaneously however such instant growth also created the conditions for the BPP to not emerge as a Vanguard Party as rather an organ that held new Vanguard Elements, its instant growth create real contradictions which would inevitably make it quite difficult for the Panthers to consolidate such a position under extreme state repression. As revolutionary leadership was brought under repression, murdered outright and imprisoned, and as split was being drove right into the center of the Party by the Cointelpro, two lines began emerging in distinction to each other. One centered in the work of the emerging military detachment of the Panthers known as the Black Liberation Army (BLA), headquartered in the East coast, while the other centered in the West Coast around the Panther’s ongoing Serve the People programs. The reality is one which needs to be broached. There is a necessity for examination of course of those lines of BLA which were themselves erroneous, but we shall keep our eye currently on those Serve the People programs. The Serve the People programs in effect became a center of revisionism and economism, which moreover was played upon by other revisionist forces like the Communist Party – USA (CPUSA), the programs under the revolutionary leadership of the Panthers were a vital link between themselves and the masses; however as the line emerged that these programs were for “survival till revolution” the effect of such a line was indeed in itself the primary focus on the maintenance of life in the conditions of capitalism. As revolutionary leadership was eliminated or degenerated, the Serve the People programs became nothing more than the centers that would soon be purchased by Capital itself in the form of NGOs’. The number of former Panthers today who were given training in such Serve the People programs in Oakland are indeed numerous, hardly any are quite revolutionary, but rather become paid brokers of the movement for Rockefellers and Ford. NGOs’ today have taken up the most vital aspect of that life that was the Survival Programs, and even more some, promote as wide as possible the misconception that the heart of the revolutionary project lays within these programs. What in essence they’ve all done however is become paid staff of the Bourgeoisie among the people, poorly paid staff some if not an executive director, but staff nonetheless. Each grant from a foundation becomes a means and a tool in which one wraps tightly as possible the people to the master’s house, to render their discontent solvable within the confines of bourgeois civil society. The radicals, many who are from the moment they enter a bourgeois university trained in only the skill of this craft, become servile to Capital itself. As it is put by our Indian comrades
They trade in people’s dire poverty and secure funds from imperialist donors or individuals abroad by showing the poverty-stricken masses from the Third World. Like parasites they live on funds acquired in the name of the impoverished women, children and disabled people; in the name of development; in the name of empowerment, and so on.
Today any radical poised to “serve the people” and fights against the ideologues of revolution merely has to reach out his hand and call on Lord Rockefeller for enough to acquire themselves position and hire a staff willing to allow themselves to conduct social-work for the wages of a subcontractor, their false consciousness being their beautiful soul. Communists struggle against such forces through the advancement of theory, through exposure among the masses of this mechanism, of this dirty trick who has turned “social justice” into nothing more than ragged charity of the bourgeoisie themselves. Communists must serve the people, but the greatest service is first and foremost our real solidarity against every and all forms of oppression, how can that ever be possible under the conditions of pay for the Bourgeoisie? Our “Serve the People” programs must grow from the solidarity that internally manifests among the people, a class conscious and revolutionary people.
The Party of a Not So New Type
The Communist position in regards to reforms is simple. In so much as a reform advances the general freedom of the people, as long as it betters the lives of the masses, we do not stand opposed, simultaneously we do not work for such position. That is a job already performed by sections of the bourgeoisie and their political agents themselves. In so much our enemies make attacks upon the whole of our class, we fight back, as is the nature of class war, but not to defend meagre privilege under bourgeois law, but rather to advance the whole of the class towards revolution and to build hegemony for a project of expropriation of the expropriators. For the longest of time today’s modern social-democrats have asked the question for the longest – can there be revolutionary reforms? The question posed is one as old as there have existed of course the Communist Parties in the centers of world Imperialism. Deriving the wrong lessons from the October Revolution, which essence universalized the singular experience of a radical social-democratic fraction seizing initiative in a semi-feudal country where world war had effectively crushed and fragmented the State. The Party of the New Types’ officially sanctioned by the Communist International (Comintern), reverted into Social-Democracy as it faithfully anticipated the arrival of their Octobers. As faithful social-democratic parties, they derived only the partial lessons of October from their own struggle and pushed forward with radical work in partial form, and elsewhere embedded themselves as part of the structural forms of resistance (re-inhabiting space of the second international parties). It was the line in practice of “survival till revolution.” Its only consistent practice one can be assured of was for a time whatever can be disseminated from Moscow through the Comintern or NVKD, which was not necessarily itself all that revolutionary. However when there existed final breaks emerging between these Western Communist Parties and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (formally in terms of tutelage), these parties altogether struck out on the revisionist course of electoralism and peaceful transition to Socialism. In the CPUSA even they spoke about “Bill of Rights Socialism” and American Exceptionalism in regards to European phenomenon of revolution. CPUSA would even go so far as to trace its revolutionary legacy to George Washington. The contradiction lies thusly – how does one become a tribune of the people but fight against the degeneration that comes with the long practice of active tributaries to the whole of the bourgeois state. The art is fundamentally rooted in the necessity of clandestine organization itself. Today even supposed Marxist-Leninist organizations have gotten this thoroughly wrong, they implement in reality the Party of the Old Type, that is they attempt to craft and form social-democratic mass parties (albeit of a radical kind) who engage in pressure politics in as many sectors as they can. They put forward hardly anything revolutionary in this activity, and despite their own small size, they’re themselves befuddled by what they mean by revolution in any concrete sense and damned they be able to say anything more than the need of continuing struggling “from below.” In the United States this desperate situation ironically lays in the fact that the Party of the Old Type is more ill-suited for the conditions of struggle than the Party of the New Type, that is the essence of the Leninist real politics. The form of a political party is suited first and foremost to the condition, typically, of bourgeois democratic struggle. In Europe and elsewhere the democratic bourgeois state is a parliamentary form for the most part. In the United States it it is not. Historically in the parliamentary form, a nominal Communist Party (in name only of course) can win elections, it can represent a sizeable constituency of a body politic, it can even in some places get a Prime Minister. That is not remotely possible in the United States, where Barack Obama is the closest thing to a Communist. This of course makes at first glance common sense to the discourse of most Communist groups in the United States, with exception of the most revisionist kind, however the issue becomes this. In what sense are these other Parties developing a party of the “new type?” In so much as they’re developing the old type of party outside of the possible condition of elections, they’re failing. In so much as they implement the faded and tarnished Marxist-Leninist Party (which in essence is the party of the old type, that is they’re merely left in form and right in essence) they fail. In so much as they’ve not grasped Maoism and the theoretical contributions of Maoism in supplementing the question of the party formed derived from Marxism-Leninism, they’ve had totally failed and have only engaged in a social-democratic practice in historically. These organizations become nothing more than struggle from below mechanisms for class struggle, which orient a certain petty bourgeois or organic intellectuals into a fold, in many respects being shaped by a certain cultural affinity in their own conscious development (which shapes the contours of these organizations own lived cultural life, one which has a semi-politics to it as opposed to a real politics). They inevitably attempt to lead such class struggle (that is mostly rallies, marches, protests, etc.), fighting each other for hegemony in such conditions. They advance only a semi-politics of revolution, which they inevitably disclose as part of their own Mass Line or as part of a Transitional Program or Demands. Often enough such Transitional Programs are quite literally nonsensical – they’ll read “Full Employment for All!” or “Nationalize the Banks!” These transitional demands become really nothing more than statist corporatist demands. Sometimes they’re actually even more tamed and passive, tailing national bureaucratic bourgeois politicians in advocating for a Stock Transfer Tax for example and just “Taxing the Rich.”
The Party and People’s Army, Hegemony and Revolution;
A Call for the Line of the Universality of People’s War at the Lead of All Communist Mass Work
Only a Maoist Party can actually give us today a genuine Communist practice – not Maoist in name, but Maoist in political line, Maoist in conception of world revolution. We will come back to this later, but let us for now go a bit deeper. In what sense can today there be a genuine Communist practice in regards to class struggle, in what way is there the possibility for a real Mass Line Communist practice absent the subjective strength to make revolution on the objective conditions. Our work absent the condition of revolution is in lieu of such activity is the preparation for revolution itself. As it so happens to be, the common practice of so-called Marxist-Leninists and even some Maoists, have yet to important the qualitative advancements of the Maoist synthesis generally to the consideration of their political activity. A Maoist vanguard engages its mass work to attempt to build a hegemony in leadership of the popular masses broadly in their struggle, a hegemony which allows for the general tactical and strategic mobilization of the subjective force among the broad populace. Such hegemony must simultaneously create the conditions for a subtraction of a concentrated bloc to engage in the forceful resistance with the State. Such a process maps generally those universal principles of Mao’s conception of People’s War. The model which has consistently led to a slow stagnation and degeneration of previous Communist forces has been the mechanical application of the line of October Road. Consistently even this line has been held as the only possible and legitimate condition for revolutionary upheaval in the metropoles. Nearly one century later it seems quite difficult to see the insistence upon this as legitimate in and of itself. Instead today we’re faced with the difficulty of conceiving of revolution properly demarcated from the old dogmatism which the parties who never fully grasped the Leninist real politic, that is the rational kernel from the Leninist husk imported to the metropoles by the Communist Parties from Comintern policy. The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Party implements the Leninist politic that presupposes an actuality of revolution (an actuality which is visible in the key storm centers for revolution in the weakest links of imperialism) through an applied line of universality of people’s war. In the current condition such an implementation is first and foremost one which builds the party as a key political form of militant cadre schooled in advanced Marxist theoretical formulations. What is often missing from such lines of thought is the inability to look at the general in relation to the particular, that is connecting the radical reality of a world revolutionary conjuncture with its particularized manifestation in one country, the connection and intertwining of national, regional, and global forces in an overall protracted people’s war on a world scale and an eventual assault on the citadels. Soviet Russia’s October Road manifested itself as an overall anomaly after the failure of social-democratic political trend throughout Europe to manifest a sufficient upheaval in the crisis of World War. It is only from the outbreak of revolution in Russia itself and the break from Social Democratic opportunism in Germany by Communists led by Rosa Luxembourg, that there became new condition broadly in Europe that had the potential to turn the whole imperialist war into civil wars between the proletariat allied with the peasantry and the bourgeoisie. It is untrue and erroneous position in the first place which looks at the revolution conjuncture in the Russian Empire and closes the borders around it. The Bolsheviks emerged as a force, a historical tandem part of the whole of European Social-Democracy, representing its most revolutionary wings. Russia historically has always been a country peripheral to the European system, a backwards preserve for the commodity production system of capitalist Europe, a semi-feudal Empire that bridged the West to the East. It was a country imperialist and dominated by imperialism. As Lenin understood it was a weak link in the chains of Imperialism. These conditions objectively set a particular distinct path for the possibility of revolution in Russia, and moreover such conditions were never fully understood by the Bolshevik Party itself. The contingency of its victory upon the smashing of Russian state forces in world war opened up an otherwise weak proletariat to extend itself outward and conquer a country in Civil War. It however did not do this from an assault and only could utilize a strategic defensive that stuck to the core of Russia and maneuver tactically to a respite in war with imperialist forces to consolidate its forces and lead a strategic offensive. In so much the Bolsheviks’ seized the moment for the smashing of the Tsarist state in their assault on the Winter Palace, they were correct. In so much in the preparation of this Party in this assault and the perpetuation of revolution continuity after, their line had errors. They didn’t fully grasp the importance of the large and robust peasantry in making revolution, treating them as auxiliary. Trotsky’s Red Army became reliant on a formal dictatorship over the peasantry through the years of War Communism, which relied upon commandist methods in relation to the broad masses. Trotsky refused to synthesize Marxist politics with military science, and in fact the military of the Red Army was run along bourgeois lines of efficiency in the end, this became famously pitch struggle between Trotsky and the Military Opposition. The military opposition was representative of the poor peasant line broadly among the Red Army which was resistant against command, especially as such command enlisted Tsarist expertise, etc. Military Opposition of course in the end represented more of a poor peasant tendency rather than any coherent political line in reform of the Red Army and had the hallmarks of such small petty-bourgeois politics in regards to the need of a center of command and People’s Army; however simultaneously the inability for the Bolsheviks themselves to raise a People’s Army under the basis of a Marxist military command and science (and only in the last instance its political command). It would mean the Red Army itself could only steel itself through the process of revolution and civil war. In opposition to this the line of People’s War in its Universal applicability first sees how irreversibly the objective condition in the world conjuncture has at its basis the fundamental contradiction between Imperialist and oppressed nations, where such oppressed nations are peripheralized in relation to the whole world system and simultaneously being proletarianized. These geographical spaces become the storm centers of world revolution itself, where revolution is possible today provided the development of a vanguard party, a united front of the broad masses, and a people’s army. Imperialism as neocolonialism means that such centers become focal points for the whole of the international proletariat’s struggle, and the whole of world imperialists bare their force upon such centers despite their own contradictions in maneuvering for world position. The whole of the imperialist system becomes engaged against these centers, they become engaged in a world’s people war which can no longer in this era singularly cut off its site at their countries’ borders. In a country like the United States it becomes our responsibility in such conditions to play a strategic role in the world revolutionary process itself. The universality has first its global picture and its particular focus. We’re in the first place rearguard detachments of the entire Communist movement, placed in a specific context where the balance of class forces does not make the possible condition of revolution possible currently. We’re however simultaneously in the particular moment able to attempt to build a revolutionary hegemony for revolution itself. The creation of such hegemony around a revolutionary proletarian class broadly among the popular forces in the country is the condition itself for any viable revolution as People’s War in the United States. The creation of such hegemony will inevitably lead to informal and formal repression from State forces, simultaneously such attempts to build hegemony will partially (though through the objective features of capitalism primarily) begin creating a polarization and/or fracturing of class society as well. Revolution in the US will be connected to the hemispherical uprising of those countries in the global south in historical sphere of US hegemony, in some places the connection will be indirect and others very direct. The Mass Line is, as we’ve demonstrated above, a method and a politics in regard to the masses. It however never supplants the maximum politics of Communism itself and supplant the lessons proven time and time again in the course of struggle. The building of a people’s militias is of one thing which is necessary in the accordance to any mass line activity, the formation of broad self-defense organizations against the state is in a matter of fact the only basis by which one can firmly break the control of the state and the bourgeois civil society. From within the context of actual legitimate power, that is of an effective force which orients, polarizes, and subtracts a hegemony away from the state. The development of the course of mass work among the people is not towards the ends of “survival” limitedly, but it is in the end towards self-defense and finally the creation of a dynamic of dual power. The development of mass work is first and foremost an attempt to build mass organizations broadly among the masses that can be effective combat organizations, wagers of class war. Not simply a soup kitchen line. There is in fact a deep connection between the line of October Road, that is the line of Marxism-Leninism, and this narrow economism, as in the end eventually the attempt to simply await the conditions and moment for revolution and “seize” opportunity narrowly morphs itself into into the perpetuation and mystification of revolution among the broad masses and insists upon an ineffective practice that never clearly engages in the necessary work of fomenting antagonism against the state. In fact it consistently shies away from it, it will consistently talk about revolution, about self-defense even, but will make sure each of its rallies’ plans are given to local authorities ahead of time, so that each of its marches are given police escort. It never contends to actually build a communist hegemony, to fight an internal cultural revolution for the leadership of our class as more as it attempts to fight for small scraps of scattered individuals produced in the poverty of our current conditions. Only through the line of People’s War can today’s Communists emerge to attempt to lead a Proletarian Revolution today. Only through the Maoist conception of Mass Line can we engage in mass work as Communists and not movement managers and agents of capital, in the last instance. Only through a perspective that unites the Mass Line with the general strategic line of Communism can we ever hope to make revolution.