For over twenty years our Party has carried on mass work every day, and for the past dozen years it has talked about the mass line every day. We have always maintained that the revolution must rely on the masses of the people, on everybody’s taking a hand, and have opposed relying merely on a few persons issuing orders. The mass line, however, is still not being thoroughly carried out in the work of some comrades; they still rely solely on a handful of people working in solitude. One reason is that, whatever they do, they are always reluctant to explain it to the people they lead and that they do not understand why or how to give play to the initiative and creative energy of those they lead. Subjectively, they too want everyone to take a hand in the work, but they do not let other people know what is to be done or how to do it. That being the case, how can everyone be expected to get moving and how can anything be done well? To solve this problem the basic thing is, of course, to carry out ideological education on the mass line, but at the same time we must teach these comrades many concrete methods of work.- Mao Zedong, A Talk to the Editorial Staff of the Shansi-Suiyuan Daily
Adherence to the practice of the mass line is one of the main reasons why Marxist-Leninist-Maoist led movements are having consistent success and growing in several countries. In the United States, many talk about the mass line, but do not apply it well, or at all. What is supposed to be mass work turns into its opposite. Mass work is something that draws in the broadest segments of the masses of people in a given area, and produces results in the form of a growing revolutionary movement, the isolation and repudiation of revisionist/reformist tactics and lines by the masses, and the growing of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist hegemony among the masses and entrenchment of our positions. Politics is a battle, warfare without bloodshed, thus, when we see revisionism or reformist tendencies rearing their heads and being smuggled into our movements, it is our job to wage war against it, in practice, among the masses. We need to not just polemicize and kvetch about Trotskyites and revisionists among each other, but show how we are better, make Maoism the dominant, hegemonic trend in this country, and make millions of Maoists. This can not be done without a firm grasp of the mass line! As a result of this mishandling of things and turning of the mass line into a toy, the actually revolutionary Communist movement here is tiny and has very little prestige among the masses of people. If we are to have a proletarian revolution in this country, we must learn to rely solely on the masses, and we need to defeat revisionists and reformists in practice and out-organize them. At this stage, most “Communist organizing” is done by groups such as the PSL, the WWP, and Socialist Alternative, we can complain about them all we want, but they have tens of thousands of people out for their demonstrations, and their front groups/coalitions encompass and swallow up heavy struggles. The MLM movement does not have this power, but we desperately need it. This is, in major part, our fault. To rectify our shortcomings, we need to rectify our mass line and our mass work.
This piece includes a very good chart of errors and misconceptions when applying the mass line. The major error that many people in the First World commit is the sectarian-dogmatist error, believing that they have all the answers, making lines and determining things among themselves, usually informed by reading old material that has no relation to the concrete conditions of the United States, not doing any SICA (Social Investigation and Class Analysis), and then carrying these lines to the masses. Spray-painting inaccessible slogans (VICTORY TO PEOPLE’S WAR IN PERU! FREE CHAIRMAN GONZALO!) in neighborhoods where people are worried about being deported or having their Social Security benefits or wages cut, pushing ancient lines that you read in Peking Review or A World To Win about arcane issues that maybe only 50 people in this country care about, going into black and brown communities or meeting black and brown people to tell them what they need, disrespecting their already established mass leaders, making lines among yourselves and then trying to argue with them on their internal community affairs, not developing mass contacts, and other things of this nature may work and get you pats on the back among your small group of comrades, but they hold no weight among the masses of people. First, you have never taken the initiative to reach out to and establish mass contacts in communities that you seek to begin work in. You mistake the small segment or fraction of “the masses” that is even slightly interested in your ideas or lines for the masses as a whole, and proffer your skimpy mass contact for actual, deep mass engagement and investigation. In “How to Fake the Mass Line“, this is discussed and laid out in detail:
Once the line and immediate goals are firmly decided, the “rationalization” phase of the process can begin. Start by realizing that these ideas in your leaders minds must have come from someplace. Probably some of the masses must have talked to some of the group’s members, who have in turned occasionally passed some of this on to other members until some of it just might get to the top. Even if no attempt was made to encourage this and systematize it, this could still be considered the “accidental mass line method”. And in any case there are people among the masses who might already agree with these decisions of the top leaders. Yes, that’s it, these ideas must surely agree with those of some of the masses…If anyone disputes that your group uses the mass line, point out that if you have any followers among the masses at all, even just a tiny few, then this proves that some of the masses do agree with you, and these are the masses from whom you must have gotten the ideas for the line and policies in the first place…If anyone still doubts you, appeal to the necessity for your group to keep its decision-making procedures secret from the ruling class. Tell them that “You’ll just have to take our word for it that we are really using the mass line.” That should shut them up!
The Filipino movement is the most advanced in the world today, and their piece on Mass Work is something that Maoists need to read and know. They didn’t unfold a mass New Democracy movement by not establishing deep and firm links with the masses, or being fools. It reads:
The first step in organizing the masses in the barrios, factories, communities, schools or offices, is to locate reliable contacts.
Preliminary contacts may be products of mass work in other places, relatives, our friends or acquaintances, or those of other comrades, or those of the family of a comrade.
Preliminary contacts may be formed into coordinating groups in order to carry out tasks collectively.
As much as possible, the preliminary contacts must hail from the class or sector to which we are giving principal stress. They must be honest, have an excellent record of humanity, know a lot of people, and [be] enthusiastic in carrying out tasks. When in a barrio, strive to find contacts from the exploited peasants or rural workers. If there are none, the preliminary contacts may also hail from the middle forces. But at the earliest opportunity, we must allow those contacts who hail from the basic classes to emerge. Before we give them work, it is necessary to conduct a detailed investigation of the preliminary contacts, especially those who do not hail from the basic forces of the revolution.
This means, get to know people. Get to know one, get to know 10 or 20. Strike up conversations with people. Go into churches, community centers, bars, get to know your co-workers, classmates, etc. If you’re a student at university, build up contacts among workers on your campus. Before you can organize a community, you need to have an in, you need to be known. Ask people what they care about, what’s affecting them. Find out what issues in the city are impacting them in a negative way, and what they think can be done to solve them. Get involved and be active in organic efforts launched by the masses themselves, whether it be an effort to help find missing Black women, or clean up trash off the streets, or curb violence in a neighborhood. Get into political discussions with people. Take notes. Some of what you hear may be advanced, some may be intermediate, some may be backwards, it doesn’t matter. The mass line requires input from the masses, some raw material may be good, some may be bad, that’s fine. A sectarian-dogmatist approach leads to isolation and alienation from the masses, this is currently where many US Maoists are. To build up, consolidate, and entrench the MLM movement in a particular area and win prestige among the masses, we need to do away with sectarianism and dogmatism, only speaking to other Maoists that agree with us, elitism, excessive formalism, and talking like Cultural Revolution era Chinese politicians. If we do not repudiate this trend, and reject arrogance and dogmatic posturing, we will continue to come up short and make embarrassing mistakes.
We also have bourgeois-populism in abundance, represented mainly by non-Maoist tendencies, usually Trotskyist. These groups cling to the legacy of Occupy and are more concerned about poaching other organizations’ members, getting as many of their professionally done signs on television or in the newspapers, elevating one or two members to the level of cult of personality *cough* Kshama Sawant*cough*, or being seen as “the vanguard” despite conducting little to no political development of people that join the organization, posing little to no militant opposition or threat to the ruling class, and using tired, incorrect slogans such as “We are the 99%”. This is tailism, it falls behind the most advanced segments of the masses, who should be united with, and in the revolutionary movement it does an extreme disservice, it pulls us backwards into electoral efforts and engagement with the bourgeois system. Our job as Maoists is to struggle against this trend and use the mass line to destroy these trends and cast them out of the revolutionary movement. Engage the mass base of these types of organizations, but criticize and isolate their leadership. We must be pragmatic in that we must realize that our work requires nuance and correct handling of contradictions, not sowing and promoting antagonism for no reason or to posture, but we should not be so pragmatic that we lose our revolutionary essence and yield critical terrain to reformists and revisionists.
The work today in the United States that falls on us Maoists, to build a revolutionary party and revolutionary mass movement capable of destroying this empire and liberating those captured within its borders, is dependent upon our grasp of the mass line and mass work. Without realizing that the mass line requires going among the masses, collecting their scattered ideas among which correct ones can be found, analyzing them and synthesizing them into a concrete line using MLM, and then propagating these ideas far and wide among the masses through programs, demonstrations, and other tools, and that lines that we determine often must be tested in the hard school of practice, where they are often proven incorrect, in which case we must start all over again, we will never make revolution in this country. Make revolution. Use the mass line, not a parody of it.