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Mao developed it into a coherent organizing methodology that encompasses philosophy, strategy, tactics, leadership and organizational theory that has been applied by many Communists subsequent to the Chinese revolution. Chinese communist leaders generally attribute their conquest of power to the faithful pursuit of effective "mass line" tactics, and a "correct" mass line is supposed to be the essential prerequisite for the full consolidation of power.
According to Frederick Teiwes, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney, the "mass line" was related to the CCP's mass organizations. "Fundamentally, for all the CCP rhetoric concerning the 'mass line,' the unions and other mass organizations functioned more as Stalinist "transmission belts" in laying down the party line and extending the reach of the state," he wrote.
History and 20th century origins
After recognizing that large numbers of cadres properly trained in mass line tactics were critically needed for the CCP's building of a "complete socialist order," it intensified its cadre training program in 1950-1951 to ensure that all cadres and other workers would be "carefully indoctrinated in basic Marxist-Leninist mass line theory and practice."
Arthur Steiner, a professor of international relations and political science at UCLA, writes that Mao rose to pre-eminence in the CCP because he understood the requirements for effecting the strongest possible organization of the Chinese masses in unstable political circumstances. Since the days of his early activity among the peasantry of Hunan Province, he preached the doctrine that the Party must rely on the masses for its strength, that it must serve their needs, “draw inspiration” from them, and orient its political ideology and organizational tactics to their responsiveness.
Training in mass line tactics ranges in scope from propaganda to public administration, Steiner writes. Its principal focus, however, is in the "delicate area" of the CCP's dealings with the masses of Chinese people who have not yet bought into the communist program. In the early 1950s, the problem was sufficiently serious and urgent that CCP leadership temporarily deferred several important social reforms pending the completion of the cadre training program.
Mao criticized Stalin for having no faith in the peasantry and the masses of people, being mechanical in his understanding of the development of socialism, and not actively engaging the masses in the struggle for socialism. "'Politics in command' and the 'mass line' are not stressed. There is no discussion of 'walking on two legs,' and individual material interest is onesidedly emphasized. Material incentives are proclaimed and individualism is far too prominent," Mao wrote of Stalin in 1961. The Mass Line is a method of leadership that seeks ostensibly to "learn from the peasants."
Mao's slogan was "From the masses, to the masses." The process is said to include investigating the conditions of people, learning about and participating in their struggles, gathering ideas from them, and creating a plan of action based on these ideas and concerns of the people, and also based on an analysis of the objective conditions and in light of the revolutionary goal.
Some critics of Maoism consider the mass line to be a form of populism, a criticism that Lenin had leveled against the reformists in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in What Is To Be Done?.
21st century revival
One of the distinctive features of the national leadership of Xi Jinping has been the revival of the mass line in Community Party theory and praxis. As of 2014, this revival is still ongoing, and is reportedly "not a short-term movement".
In his own words, Xi has described the campaign in terms of "purification" of the Communist Party, often involving the elimination of "hedonism and extravagance", although the purification implied is sometimes extended metaphorically to issues such as "reducing air pollution".
As part of this campaign, "All Party organs and members should be frugal and make determined efforts to oppose ostentation and reject hedonism," Xi Jinping has declared, although the interpretation of what this means seems to have varied from one province to the next somewhat. Hebei province reportedly reduced public spending on official receptions by 24%, cancelled the order of 17,000 new cars, and punished 2,750 government officials. The Economist reported two specific examples of punishments under the new mass line: the suspended death-sentence for corruption given to Liu Zhijun, and charging the 17-year-old-son of a high-ranking military officer for an alleged connection to a gang-rape. Perhaps 20,000 Party officials were punished within the first year of the revival campaign.
Connection with propaganda
According to Steiner, the mass line is closely related to the CCP’s propaganda apparatus. Despite the vast output from the CCP’s propaganda apparatus, in January 1951 the Central Committee published a directive condemning as a “principal weakness of the Party's propaganda” a failure to effectively give “systematic guidance and control of various levels of party organizations.”
The directive said that “One of the inborn duties of a Communist lies in the incessant effort to carry out propaganda among the people so as to educate them, to wage relentless war against all reactionary and mistaken conceptions and principles, and to promote as well as raise the political consciousness of the masses.”
The directive called for the establishment of networks of "propaganda officers"—one in every party cell—and "reporting officers" at higher levels. Propaganda activity was to be conducted among the masses under strict control and in "fixed activity programs." Among other duties, propaganda officers were to maintain "constant public contact" so they could "assist the Party in the choice of propaganda matter and methods appropriate for different periods of time."
Earlier directives connected the need to boost consciousness of the mass line with criticisms and self-criticisms in the press. Party members were supposed to "be trained to appreciate that criticism and self-criticism in newspapers and periodicals are necessary methods for strengthening the relations between the Party and the popular masses."
During the Maoist era the state supported a range of mass organizations, coordinated by the CCP through the united front system. The most significant of the mass organizations encompassed large numbers of people from major social groups, including workers through trade unions, students, youth, and women. Their purpose was to "penetrate society, to bring vast sections of the population further into the party's net", Teiwes writes. The effort was skewed, however, and coverage was far more extensive in urban areas, with peasant associations existing only sporadically.
Influence outside the Chinese Communist Party
- Steiner, Arthur H., "Current 'Mass Line' Tactics in Communist China", The American Political Science Review, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Jun., 1951), pp. 422-436
- Teiwes, Frederick C., 'The Chinese State During the Maoist Era', in The Modern Chinese State, ed. David Shambaugh, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2000) pp. 105-160
- Mao Tsetung, "A Critique of Soviet Economics", Translated by Moss Roberts, Annotated by Richard Levy, With an Introduction by James Peck, Monthly Review Press New York and London:1977
- From the Masses, To the Masses Scott Harrison. The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement
- The Initiative, Creativity and Ideas of the Masses Scott Harrison. The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement
- "Xinhua says that almost 20,000 Party officials have been punished this year…" http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/the-mass-line-campaign-in-the-21st-century/
- The RCP and the Mass Line. Scott H., Massline.info