What role did Mass Line (developed by Mao Ze Dong) play in the Chinese Civil War, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution?

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Mao Zedong believed that Chinese socialism had to be rooted in the mass of the people. Instead of Soviet vanguardism, which held that the people had to be led towards communism by a cadre of committed revolutionaries, the so-called "mass line" adopted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to...

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Mao Zedong believed that Chinese socialism had to be rooted in the mass of the people. Instead of Soviet vanguardism, which held that the people had to be led towards communism by a cadre of committed revolutionaries, the so-called "mass line" adopted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to build socialism from the ground up, consulting the masses before carrying out socialist policies. This way, it was believed, the CCP would be able to take the people with them as they embarked upon their radical program.

The mass line was much in evidence during the Chinese civil war, when communist insurgents lived and worked among the people. Chinese communism was essentially a rural movement, whose ideals were largely shaped by the needs and aspirations of China's vast peasant population. Communist insurgents drew inspiration from the people of rural China during their long and bloody struggle, developing an ideology that was firmly rooted in the soil.

During the Great Leap Forward, the People's Republic's crash program of mass industrialization, the mass line was also invoked. The CCP claimed that in carrying out the policy, they were learning from the peasants. To this end, tens of thousands of Party officials were sent into the Chinese countryside in the hope that they would learn from the common people how best to proceed.

Party ideology had always held up rural life as a living embodiment of the kind of collectivist social arrangement that the CCP sought to build across China. It was hoped, therefore, that Party officials, by being forced to live and work in the countryside, would return to the cities with a better understanding of the kind of nation they should be working to establish.

The Cultural Revolution also invoked the mass line. Mao and his allies argued that the CCP had become dangerously out of touch with the people and needed to reestablish a connection with them. Once again, this meant learning from the peasants, whose understanding of what Communism meant in practice was allegedly superior to that of Party cadres. In most cases, however, sending Party officials into the country to learn from the peasants wasn't so much an educational exercise as it had been during the Great Leap Forward, as a punishment.

The Cultural Revolution was primarily an attempt by Mao to get back the power and influence he'd lost in the wake of the utter failure of the Great Leap Forward, and he was determined to make sure that those in the Party hostile to his brand of Communism would be punished. And the main method for doing this would be the mass line. The people, through brutal methods such as torture and so-called struggle sessions—where victims would be publicly humiliated and beaten—would teach the Party leadership a lesson they would never forget.

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