Revolutionary Initiative: Mass Work and Proletarian Revolutionaries

Caption by RI: "The Panthers led some of the most exemplary serve-the-people programs done by revolutionary communists in North America in the last half century. Their work amongst the masses were built into schools of communism for the masses. But the lack of distinction between the tasks of Party organization and the mass organization also left their leadership exposed to infiltration, assassination, and disruption, bringing the organization down as quickly as it went up. How we resolve the contradiction between minimizing exposure to the enemy and maximizing exposure amongst the people?"

The following essay was written for the communist group Revolutionary Initiative / Initiative Révolutionnaire (Canada). Kasama re-publishes it here to contribute to critical discussion over issues this essay addresses.

There have been earlier discussions here on Kasama regarding the mass line. Some previous Kasama discussions on "who are the advanced" can be found here.

by Amil K.


The question of what are the tasks of proletarian revolutionaries amongst the masses remains a major point of difference1 between and an obstacle to the unification of the two revolutionary communist organizations in Canada, the Revolutionary Communist Party and our own organization, Revolutionary Initiative. This article is intended to explain the answer to this question not only to advance the unity-struggle-transformation process between Canada’s two revolutionary communist organizations, but also as a general discussion that all revolutionaries should be having.

How RI understands mass work of proletarian revolutionaries can be broken down into three questions:

First, what is the correct form of revolutionary leadership by proletarian revolutionaries among the masses? Based on the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, we uphold the mass line method of leadership; but we do not take it for granted that upholding the mass line theory leads to its implementation in practice. A related question to the mass line in particular and mass work in general is who we understand the advanced masses to be – a question that, as is argued below, follows from our understanding of the contradictions of Canadian society. We cannot define our mass work unless we know what sections of the masses we prioritize in our work.

Based on the answer we give to these questions, we then proceed to answer a second major question: How should proletarian revolutionaries relate to the masses in the current phase of revolutionary struggle, which is a phase of regroupement of proletarian revolutionaries in Canada? Or in other words, what should be the relationship between the Party and the masses broadly?


Third, based on our answers to Questions 1 and 2, we must answer the question of what should the character and role of the mass movement in the proletarian revolution be? We argue that the mass movement must be the basis for the construction of proletarian hegemony.

The answers we give to each of these questions is based on five fruitful years of practical party-building by Revolutionary Initiative. Since 2010, we have been operating under a Five Year Plan to satisfy what we deem to be the necessary preconditions for establishing a genuine proletarian revolutionary vanguard. In these years we have had ample opportunity to test out many of our preliminary hypotheses on party-building we set out in our foundational documents, hypotheses that were developed to publicly articulate our unresolved differences with the RCP-Canada at the time of their first Canadian Revolutionary Congress in late 2006.


In the interest of advancing the unity-struggle-transformation process amongst revolutionaries in this country – between the RCP and RI and more broadly amongst all proletarian revolutionaries – we are initiating this discussion in an open fashion. After a number of years of more or less active “unity-struggle” between RI and RCP-Canada we have made little headway towards unification on a principled basis – which is not for lack of effort on the part of RI.

(1) The Correct Form of Leadership is the Mass Line

Our organization upholds the principle of the mass line – first articulated by Mao Zedong, but since refined and honed by many Maoist forces – as being the highest and clearest articulation of the correct form of proletarian revolutionary leadership amongst the masses.


Although scattered throughout speeches and writings spanning many years in the revolutionary struggle, the collection of quotations from Mao Zedong on the mass line forms one of the richest articulations of a revolutionary epistemology and pedagogy in the International Communist Movement – that is, epistemology and pedagogy at the service of the proletarian revolution.

Epistemology is that branch of philosophy that deals with questions of where knowledge comes from and how knowledge is produced. In Mao’s On Practice, the answer given to this question is that in the contradiction (unity of opposites) between knowledge and practice, knowing and doing, the truth of a idea stems from social practice. The correctness of a concept is rooted in a systemization of our perceptions or the phenomenon we observe around us. Taken with Mao’s On Contradiction, these two pieces amount to Mao Zedong’s contribution to and enrichment of dialectical materialism.

Another dimension of the mass line is its pedagogical content, which speaks to the relationship between teaching and learning. Some academics of education theory would call this a ‘critical pedagogy’,based on the watered-down, liberal interpretation of the radical Brazilian educator Paolo Freire’s Pegagogy of the Oppressed. Critical pedagogy is a method of teaching and learning where the teacher not only teaches the student, but learns from the student as well. The student is not an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. The teacher, regardless of his/her expertise on a topic, cannot teach the student effectively without engaging with the student’s own experiences and knowledge, which also teaches the teacher.

If the communist is the teacher, then what s/he strives to teach is materialist dialectics and history and the strategic orientation for revolutionary struggle. But the mass line recognizes that one cannot teach revolutionary politics adequately without first being familiar with the conditions and experiences of the masses, and that knowing can only come by way of humbly learning from and being taught by the masses. Communist ideas are not neat little pre-packaged ideas that we just have to go out and disseminate amongst the people. The most important communist ideas, those that RI seeks to develop, are the mass-lined communist ideas – ideas that have been substantially enriched by knowing and living the experiences of the people in all the specificity and particularity that is required to advance class struggle in any given place and time.

Both the epistemological and pedagogical aspects of Mao Zedong’s mass line speak to the complimentary but opposing aspects of leadership that make up a unified whole: how we gather the ideas and how we disseminate them, how we teach and learn, and how we lead but also take leadership from the people. It is this form of leadership, a proletarian revolutionary leadership, that constantly strives to expand the horizon of proletarian revolutionary leadership in preparation for revolution and the mass administration of socialist society and through the process of continuous revolution until we have reached a classless communist society.

The most succinct formulation of the mass line given by Mao are in phrases like: [T]o be vigilant and to see that no comrade at any post is divorced from the masses… [to] teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes and, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them; and, according to their present level, to awaken them or raise their political consciousness and help them gradually to organize themselves voluntarily and to set going all essential struggles permitted by the internal and external circumstances of the given time and place.

“On Coalition Government” (April 24, 1945), Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 315-I6.

These are the methods of a genuine vanguard, the true leadership of the people.


If this process is undertaken in an erroneous fashion, marked by poor methods of social investigation or without sufficient integration with the masses, it will be lacking in its democratic character. Lacking in democracy, when the Party attempts to deploy its ideas to the masses, they may not resonate. If done properly, however, if the Party’s ideas are steeped in the struggles of the masses and correctly reflect their most advanced ideas, the masses will see the Party’s ideas as their own and will support it and join it.

An organization can coalesce and call itself a Party whenever it likes. But it will be the masses that will determine if this or that organization actually becomes ‘the Party’ of the revolutionary proletariat, its true vanguard in revolutionary struggle. To become this genuine proletarian revolutionary vanguard, even while we build a revolutionary Party that is distinct from the masses, the proletarian revolutionaries without that Party must be fully immersed within the oppressed and exploited masses, building people’s power and proletarian hegemony within it, and articulating the ideological, political, and organizational lines that converge with all sections of the proletariat upon proletarian revolution.

This, in short, is what we believe should be the mass work of proletarian revolutionaries.



Footnote 1:  We also have yet to arrive at a unified conception of revolutionary strategy. RCP-Canada upholds a form of protracted people’s war elaborated to the context of imperialist countries that our own organization has questioned, particularly the place of insurrection in this overall strategy. A substantial elaboration of their strategy has been long anticipated and we hope it is forthcoming. Therefore, we cannot say that we differ over strategy, but rather have not unified around a common conception.

Footnote 2:  We’re all familiar with the political boundaries that Canada claims and are recognized by international law. But internally, much of the land bounded by this border is not conquered or under the effective dominion of the Canadian state. These are the treaty lands or entirely unceded lands upon which indigenous people continue to fight and assert their right to self-determination against ongoing dispossession, plunder, and colonization. This is what is meant by “claimed but not conquered”.

Footnote 3:  “Autonomism” is a correct standpoint in relation to bourgeois power, what anarchists call “The State”; it is not correct, however, in relation to proletarian revolutionary power. Organs of popular power should not aspire to be “autonomous” from other organs of popular power, but rather interdependent, allied, and advancing together to defeat the enemy and build the new society. The problem is that anarchists generally don’t distinguish between the bourgeois state and the socialist state under proletarian hegemony; or if they do they see proletarian power as just another species of authoritarianism to be struggled against. The class basis of this anti-authoritarianism is the petty-bourgeoisie which sees its class ascendancy frustrated by the big imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand and by socialism and communism on the other.


People in this conversation

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Good read. Much to agree with here. A couple things though.

    <blockquote>In places where the people are facing desperate situations and their needs are being wholly ignored or unmet by bourgeois society, we should build serve the people programs to satisfy the needs of the people – be they material, cultural, or social – not in a social-service fashion, but as an infrastructural basis for advancing people’s power.

    I'd like to hear more about this distinction. Certainly an educational component needs to be included, but the Panthers breakfast program, for example, definitely had a strong social-service element to it, so much so that it was subsequently made a part of the bourgeois state's pacification strategy. It's hard to see how the social-service aspect is overcome other than by mirroring "workfare" programs of the bourgeois state, which might or might not spur more active participation.

    <blockquote>The problem is that anarchists generally don’t distinguish between the bourgeois state and the socialist state under proletarian hegemony; or if they do they see proletarian power as just another species of authoritarianism to be struggled against. The class basis of this anti-authoritarianism is the petty-bourgeoisie which sees its class ascendancy frustrated by the big imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand and by socialism and communism on the other.</blockquote>

    Who is this really going to convince? Maybe you're right about the class basis of anarchism (though I have my doubts), but if communists aim to convince anarchists, is this really the best lens through which we view our tasks? By approaching them from the standpoint of "knowing" how fundamentally petty bourgeois they are?

    Might there not be some other material basis for revolutionaries drawn towards anarchism? Might not some of this material basis lie in the historical errors of the past? Was the role of the Soviet Union in Spain simply wonderful such that any opinion to the contrary is necessarily part of the bourgeoisie's propaganda offensive

    <blockquote>“Communism” is a word that has been much maligned and distorted by our class enemies. The historical achievements of the communist parties in many parts of the world as vanguards of workers’ liberation, women’s liberation, and anti-colonial liberation have been buried under a mountain of lies and distortions. The true causes of the defeat of socialism – reformism and revisionism within the communist movement – are obscured, keeping revolutionaries today from being able to correctly synthesize the positive and negative lessons of previous generations of struggle. The greatest revolutionary leaders are attacked as the greatest monsters in history. What a way to keep the masses from examining what these figures actually had to say and what they actually contributed! Instead of making a correct (proletarian revolutionary) assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of previous revolutionary leaders and experiences, so many of us have swallowed the bourgeoisie’s assessment of these experiences and leaders. From the perspective of the imperialist bourgeoisie, of course the ideas of Mao Zedong and the experience of the Chinese revolution are monstrously totalitarian! Revolution is not a democratic thing in relation to the exploiting classes. Meanwhile, the most reformist and revisionist “communist” leaders are celebrated by bourgeois historians as great reformers and democrats, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev and Yeltsin, from Deng Zhao-Ping to Vaclav Havel and all the other traitors to the proletarian revolution in between.</blockquote>

    I'm in agreement with the overall thrust of this. Clearly there are massive lies and distortions around the words "communism" and "communists," and we absolutely need to combat these. But there also needs to be a serious, honest reckoning with the terrible errors of the past. Communism's record is not at all what the bourgeoisie says it is, but we're going to be rightly seen by the people as dishonest if we just ignore the bad or claim that it's all lies.

  • Guest - amanezca

    Thanks to Revolutionary Initiative for presenting this analysis. I agree with much that is written here, and we need to do more investigation among the masses to see where we need to develop mass work. We need to identify today the faultlines of potential upsurges in the future, to put into place the necessary networks (or "hegemony" as the author writes) for maximizing their outcome. We need to recognize that sometimes our work involves waiting for the right historical moment/conjuncture to emerge and jumping into the new: the Quebec student strike or the Occupy movement. I saw how a few months of intense political work can make up for decades of relative stagnancy.

    @redfly: Lenin said that the gravitation towards anarchism he saw a century ago was a "payment for the sins of right-opportunism" of the communist movement of that time. The communist movement has suffered a lot of defeats since then, and often these come from within -- the restoration of capitalism nearly always took place while maintaining the communist label. If all people associate with communism is modern Chinese sweatshop capitalism, then it is understandable why some gravitate first to anarchist politics (or versions of "socialism" that purport that it never <i>really</i> existed). To respond to the present reality, we have to develop new practice and a new voice that shakes all of society. We have to uncover and present to millions the truth about revolutionary movements past and present.

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