The Communist Party's 'Magic Spell of Obedience' in China

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends an agreement signing between China and Bahrain at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, Sept. 16, 2013.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends an agreement signing between China and Bahrain at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, Sept. 16, 2013.

Nowadays, the elite of the Chinese Communist Party is responding to the call of [President Xi Jinping] to study the "mass line." Of course, I don't know much about Xi Jinping's way of doing things. But I have lived a long time, and I hear a lot of things, and I do know all about the origins of the mass line.

I have written them below for those who are interested:

There is no mention of the mass line in classic Marxist and Communist Internationalist documents. The patent for this concept belongs to the Communist Party of China, and its inventor was Mao Zedong. Its earliest appearance was made during the work style rectification campaigns known as the "cadre trials" in Yan'an, and in the anti-spy campaigns known as "saving those who have gone wrong."

Following textual modifications and theoretical generalizations, it appeared in the [document titled] "Decision of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on Methods of Leadership," and was fully clarified during the 7th Party Congress [of 1945].

Mao, in his work report to the 7th Party Congress, as well as Liu Shaoqi in his "Report on Modifying the Constitution," turned it into a carefully written statement.

[The mass line concept] was later used with powerful effect in the struggle against the landlords in northern China, and in the Party's military internal investigation and rectification campaigns.

Then it had a few years' rest, before being reintroduced in Deng Xiaoping's "Report on Modifying the Constitution" to the 8th Party Congress [of 1956].

But of course, the true glory of the "mass line" concept really shone through in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution [of 1966-1976]. Anyone over the age of 60 will understand this, without need for further explanation. Such was its evolution.

'Magical obedience spell'

So what is the purpose of bringing up the mass line once more in this day and age, and at such dazzling heights? I don't know, and I daren't start any rumors.

All I do know is that the mass line, in essence, is a form of "people's democracy" known as the dictatorship of the proletariat. And I know that citizens have no stake in this concept; it can only ever belong natively to the Party. So if someone tries to tell you that the mass line is "socialist" and that civil society is "capitalist," and that the two, like fire and water, can never mix, I won't disagree.

All I know is that the mass line fits neatly alongside mass political movements to make a formidable force; the two mix together like milk and water.

Whereas, in fact, the mass line and a civil society are chalk and cheese. This means that wherever there is a need to implement the mass line, citizens won't be allowed to take part in elections or express their opinions, and their supervision [of government] will be unwelcome.

Whenever the leadership is highlighting the Party and socialism, especially when it goes after dissenting voices, then the mass line is out in force, like a magical obedience spell that can accomplish anything. It is the universal substitute, trotted out to do duty for science and technology, for knowledge, for humanity, and for the law.

The mass line is a family heirloom that has won a hundred battles for the Party, and which can take on and resist anything.

But there is a small magical side-effect to the use of the mass line [spell]. I remember that Deng Xiaoping once said something like this to a formal meeting during the 1950s as he presented his work report:

The upside to everyone taking part in decision-making is that everyone has to share responsibility if the decision is wrong.

I am old, and my brain is failing, and I don't have a reliable source for this [quote]. If someone wants to accuse me of "rumor-mongering" because of this, I'll readily admit my guilt.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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