by Comrade Anna
If divorced from the masses, being a communist in an imperialist centre can really make you feel crazy – like you can’t relate to anyone except your close comrades, which in turn makes you feel like a conspirator. I used to draw my inspiration of communist revolution from history (China, Russia) and from my sisters and brothers in strong communist formations in the third world (Philippines, India). But ideas could only take me so far. These days, however, my inspiration comes directly from my mass work. My mass work has made me feel fully-rooted in the broader material reality of the proletariat and it’s shown me that revolution is not only necessary, the super-exploited and nationally oppressed yearn for it. Mass work has made me realize that those whom I am organizing – who don’t know anything about MLM (the science of making revolution) – are ready, thirsty and committed to struggling for a new way of life, for political and economic justice. Even though my class background is proletarian, it’s my direct organizing with other class-combative proletarians that confirms I’m not crazy. In this piece, I want to talk about what I think makes mass work communistic and revolutionary when guided by the mass line practice, and why it is important for a communist party to engage in mass work.
A communist party cannot grow by simply waving a red flag to draw in the masses. Although this may attract textbook revolutionaries who are well-intentioned, it cannot sustain in the long run. For over three years, I was in a mass organization led by R.I. members – a media organization where we reported and agitated on class conflict and movements within an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist framework. We also studied communist theory in this organization. It was the first mass organization I had ever been in my life. For the first two years, I was happy to be surrounded by like-minded communists, soaking up MLM theory on the history and theory of revolution.
But after two years, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything revolutionary or communistic anymore. Instead, I was burning out from going to tons of meetings with the same group of activists in an organization that wasn’t growing. Because we didn’t actually directly engage in class struggle, I felt like we weren’t putting communist theory into practice. As an organization, we were stagnating and burning out from busy activist work. I quickly became undisciplined and began to loose my stakes in continuing on. Liberalism took its toll. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t revolutionary.
After some internal struggle and assessment both within this mass organization and within the R.I. Branch in our region, I was ecstatic when comrades came to the same conclusion: as communists who wanted to make revolution, we needed to build effective mass organization rooted in the proletariat in order to identify and develop organic leadership from within the oppressed and exploited sections of the working class. We had been discussing concepts of dual power for a couple years at that point within the organization, with some of this theoretical content being published in Uprising. This reached a boiling point a couple years ago, and led to a major reorientation of work in our region. We were now ready to reorient our organizing and carry these ideas into practice.
In my region, R.I. spent over half a year discussing and planning how to proceed with building a mass organization rooted in a proletarian community. Lenin once called on socialists to go lower and deeper, to the real masses. So this is what we did.
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It’s been over a year since I’ve been a mass organizer. As a first-time mass organizer, I’ve found that building a mass organization and organizing people is really, really hard. We do have a long way to go. It takes a long time to talk to most of the people in a community or a building ; and even longer to build trust with people and engage in a real conversation that compels them to get involved in collective class struggle. It is really hard – but it is also so reaffirming.
In a year’s time, I feel like I’ve seen the science of revolution come to life. I’ve seen lots of doors close on me– “Sorry, not interested.” But I’ve also seen many among the masses more ready to take on struggle than I am, and I’ve seen many take my work more seriously than I do. These experiences have given me so much hope and continuously reaffirm my commitment to advancing the struggle for communism in Canada.
One of my strongest contacts in the area I am working in is a woman named Tamara (not her real name). She’s a young and strong single mother from an oppressed nation who has independently struggled against everything that is fucked-up in this bourgeois colonial society, and she’s taken up our organization’s call for class struggle against local class enemies. Every interaction with Tamara inspires me, but there are two that’s impacted me the most.
The first is when Tamara and I went out to talk to other strangers and people she knows in the community . The experience of organizing alongside with her and introducing other masses to organizing was really powerful for both of us. At the end of the night, we were riding on that same inspired wavelength. We had big smiles on our faces and we gave each other genuine big hugs. It was also the first time we shared our uncensored personal stories with each other: the betrayal we felt in a patriarchal class society, what made us angry and hurt, and why we want to fight. I could tell that the experience had made a deep impact on our commitment to build organization. It was so powerful and real, and the feeling of hope I had that night reaffirmed my belief that the masses can be organized for communist revolution in Canada.
This belief was reaffirmed a second time with Tamara two months later. The organizing committee of our organization took it’s foot off the pedal a bit at the precise moment we were just ramping up our mass organizing. Consequently, we organized a poorly-attended meeting with our contacts. I felt discouraged and embarrassed – I felt like I couldn’t face Tamara until our organization got back on track. A week without contact turned into two, three, a month. I wanted to contact her, but I was too embarrassed. When our organization finally got back on track with a clearer strategic plan, I felt confident enough to return to the building and knock on Tamara’s door. Tamara was not happy to see me! She was very angry that I had dropped off for a month, understandably so. We talked and I told her honestly why I hadn’t been in contact. Luckily, she understood. The anger that she expressed still affects me today. Not because I hate having someone mad at me, but because she felt like I had betrayed her. We came to her asking her to take up leadership in building a mass organization in her building and she took up that call because it resonated with her – it offered her a promise of a better future. Then I disappeared without a word because of my own ego. This experience showed me that the masses are serious – when offered organization as a tool to fight, they are ready and want to commit to struggle. Like I said earlier, my inspiration these days comes from the masses I directly engage and organize with.
Some Maoists in this country critique mass work as being economistic, not communistic or revolutionary. There is no doubt that mass work can be un-communistic and not revolutionary. This happens when communists see themselves as do-gooders “helping” people and doing charity work; when communists refuse call on the masses to engage in struggle and refuse to go deep amongst the masses and struggle alongside them; when communists limit the tasks of the masses to an economic struggle for better immediate living and working conditions as opposed to a struggle for the overthrow of the rotten capitalist system; and when communists refuse to provide revolutionary leadership to the masses and refuse to develop leaders from among the masses. So what makes mass work communistic and revolutionary?
To me, revolutionary communist mass work is the combination of engaging in mass line practice and having a mass perspective. What does it mean to have a mass perspective and what is mass line? For a long time, these concepts were important to me but in a very abstract way.
Having a mass perspective means recognizing that it is the masses are the only force that are capable of waging revolution – it means that we have faith in the masses to create revolution, to take up revolutionary ideas through the practice of engaging in struggle. In practice, it means that we struggle alongside the masses, and through this, we expose the masses to revolutionary ideas and practice.
The mass line is the method of revolutionary leadership of the people. In practice, this means that we take up the problems of the masses as our own; that we dare to struggle alongside and with the masses; that we learn from the masses; that we take the most progressive ideas of the masses and synthesize them through a revolutionary lens, give the most advanced ideas back to the masses for the purposes of waging class struggle, and that we develop leaders from amongst the masses. The practice of these two concepts in conjunction with one another is what I see as the practice of revolutionary mass work. Without a mass line practice, we’re bound to lose hope in the masses, we’re bound to lose faith in communism, and we’ll just become some grumpy-ass cynics. But with a mass line practice, I believe that we’ll become better revolutionary communists. At least that’s what happened to me.