CHEN Yun, Mass Work is the Central Task at the Local Level, 1939

November 3, 1939
Source: Selected Works of Chen Yun, Vol 1

After talking with comrades engaged in Party work in six different parts of north China, I think the weakest link there is mass work. This problem exists not only in north China but in central and south China, and in other war zones and enemy-occupied areas as well. In a word, it exists everywhere. Progress in the war of resistance and in our Party’s work depends essentially on mass work. It is the central task at the local level now.I am going to discuss a few aspects of the current war situation in light of some things we have learned from our experience in north China.


In many anti-Japanese base areas in north China our work both inside and outside the Party has been successful. Nevertheless, when we examine it from different perspectives, we find that it has weaknesses.Let’s consider the Party organizations in the base areas. They are all new organizations, proliferating very quickly. As a result, Party members are not receiving nearly enough education in class consciousness. Another consequence is that a few bad elements have slipped into the Party. Since the Party branches were set up only recently, they are relatively inexperienced, and few of them have become a guiding force for the local people. The great majority of cadres on Party committees at the county and district levels are also new and inexperienced. Meanwhile, untrustworthy persons and alien class elements have made their way into certain leading organs.

Now let’s look at political power in the base areas in north China. Few of the township and village governments there are in the hands of persons who truly represent the interests of the people; most of them remain under the control of local tyrants, evil gentry and other wicked men who serve as township or village heads. Governments at higher levels have tried to reform these local governments but without success, because they have only given instructions from above and have failed to mobilize the people at the grass roots. As a result, progressive decrees and measures of the higher-level governments have not been fully carried out. Some are even distorted or enforced perversely. For example, the landlords in one county, who control the township governments, impose taxes and other burdens on family members of soldiers who are fighting the Japanese and on poor workers and peasants, telling them to “set good examples.”

Now let’s take military affairs. To carry on the gruelling war of resistance, north China needs massive amounts of manpower, money and matériel, which can only be obtained from the people. If we want the people to give the army their wholehearted assistance, and to keep on giving it, we have to do our best to mobilize them. Party organizations in the anti-Japanese base areas in north China must make every effort to organize the masses —that is the only way to secure their help today. And that’s exactly what we did in the days of the Jiangxi Soviet area.30 In the Red month of May 1933, we recruited 63,000 people for the Red Army. By comparison, the mass work in most base areas in north China today lags far behind. Of course, things were different then. In Jiangxi we were carrying out the Agrarian Revolution,15 while there is no possibility of doing that in north China today. However, if we adhere strictly to the current policy of reducing rents, interest rates and taxes200 and do our organizational work well, it will be entirely possible for us to mobilize considerable manpower and financial and material resources in support of the anti-Japanese war. In guerrilla areas where our governments have not yet been established, the quality of mass work is also a decisive factor in maintaining stubborn resistance and turning the guerrilla areas into base areas.

Lastly, let’s consider popular orgnaizations. We have to recognize that popular organizations have achieved real success in only a few places. In most areas the only mass organizations are those the government has helped set up from above. Since they have made little or no effort to awaken the masses, they are not what the people really need and are regarded as serving only the army and government. Most of the township and village organizations are not performing any real function and are only interested in accumulating names on a membership list. That is why so few people have stood out as leaders who truly enjoy the support of the masses. Only in a few places have mass organizations become the mainstay of the anti-Japanese governments.

The above facts show that our work among the masses is the weakest part of our endeavour. It is true that Party, government, military, mass organization, cultural and educational work are conducted separately, but it is basically mass work that connects them all and provides the impetus for progress in each field. Unless we concentrate our efforts on mass work and overcome our weaknesses in this respect, we shall not be able to hold on to the anti-Japanese base areas or to carry on a protracted guerrilla war.

In mass work there are a thousand and one things to be done. Where should we begin? How can we expand the limited work we are doing now so as to involve the masses on a truly broad scale? The only way is to arouse the people and help them establish their own grass-roots organizations, under the Party’s leadership, to safeguard their own interests. That will sharpen the conflict between the interests of the masses and those of the local despots who control the township and village governments. Encouragement from the Communist Party and from higher-level governments will make it easier for the people to help reform the township and village governments, placing them in the hands of leaders who will truly represent the people’s interests. In other words, the key to transforming township and village administrations is mass work. In the course of the mass movement in which the people fight for their interests, they will learn through their own experience that their strength lies in unity and organization. Meanwhile, the mass organizations will function better and truly become people’s organizations. Only then will leaders emerge from the masses. Only then will the people come to see that their own interests are inseparable from the defeat of Japanese imperialism and, consequently, take a keen interest in the resistance. And only then will they increase their support for the army, which—thus assured of a reliable source of manpower and matériel—will be able to continue the war for a long time to come.

Experience has proved that no Party organization that is divorced from the masses is really solid. The weakest Party committees are the ones that have lost touch with the masses. The Party branches that are strong and serve as bastions among the people are those that maintain close ties with them and truly give them guidance. All the weaknesses of the Party, whether in its organization or its work, can be traced to isolation from the masses. Once the mass movement of people fighting for their own interests gains momentum, it will be easy to tell true Communists working for the people from bad persons who have joined the Party out of ulterior motives. Then we will be able to rid the Party of undesirable members. The mass movement provides new Party members and newly appointed cadres with a practical education in class consciousness that no book could offer. These new members and cadres have generally had no experience in doing mass work or in leading the mass movement. The only solution is for them to train themselves in the mass movement. Then they will quickly gain experience. The longer they engage in mass work, the richer their experience. Of course they will make some mistakes, but they will learn and make progress.


We all understand that we cannot win the war of resistance unless we arouse the masses. Many comrades, however, do not understand that to arouse them we must first raise their political, economic and educational level. Our comrades in the anti-Japanese base areas in north China have done a great deal to improve the people’s welfare. But many comrades elsewhere have not really grasped the importance of doing that. In some places they are not clear about the fundamental question of whether we should depend mainly on the workers and peasants in the anti-Japanese war or on people of all social strata equally. In others they have failed to help implement the progressive decrees issued by the local governments.

Experience has shown that wherever the people’s welfare has been improved, the masses are more active in the resistance and better organized. Wherever no effort has been made to improve their welfare and the decrees designed to do so have not been enforced, the masses remain indifferent. Wherever the people are active, the Chinese collaborators have to pull in their horns and are easier to deal with, so to cope with them too we must rely on the masses.

When we have formulated a policy for improving the people’s welfare, we must also rely on the masses themselves to enforce it. One of the chief reasons why in many places decrees issued by higher authorities for the purpose of reducing rents and interest rates were not fully carried out was that little or no effort was made to mobilize the masses to enforce them. To do so, members of various organizations at the township or village level, primarily Party branches, should mingle with the people, talk things over with them and help them come to decisions. If they do that, the people themselves will try to enforce the decrees concerning rents and interest rates and to ensure that their own urgent demands—demands that can and must be met immediately—are satisfied. If local Party committees do not concern themselves with the people’s welfare and work hard for their vital interests, they will never be able to launch a vigorous mass movement and persuade people to join in the struggle alongside the Party, the government and the army.


People’s vital interests include not only such things as the reduction of rents and interest rates and the abolition of exorbitant taxes and levies, but many matters of daily life as well. At meetings, therefore, a district Party committee, Party branch or group should always include on its agenda an item addressing the vital interests of the people in its area. Local Party organs, especially district Party committees and Party branches, should pay close attention to the people’s mood and find solutions for their difficulties and demands. It is important for us to encourage local Party organs to discuss people’s vital interests and to work for the local people.

In talking with comrades from nine Party branches in different areas in north China, I learned that very few Party branches do that. Most of them limit themselves to enlisting a few recruits for the Party and the army and collecting a given amount of grain and army shoes as instructed by the district Party committees. And they do this merely by assigning quotas, instead of by starting a vigorous mass movement. All they know how to do is to ask the people for things. They don’t care what the people need, let alone offer to discuss it. We must admit that many Party branch meetings have no clear-cut purpose. The comrades don’t know why they are meeting. Consequently, the gathering becomes a sort of publicity session. Once an inspection team from the Organization Department of the Central Commit- tee attended a meeting of a Party group under a township Party branch in north China. Comrades from the district Party committee and the Party branch secretary were present. Without presenting any issues for discussion, they asked the Party members to speak up. Not knowing what to say, the comrades nudged each other to take the floor. Finally they elected one who was never at a loss for words. “I’m not good at speaking,” he said, “and I don’t know if I’m going to say the right thing. We are Party members. Everybody should pay membership dues as a way of keeping the Party in heart. We pay three coppers a month. Anyone who can’t pay in cash can pay in kind, like eggs or millet. That’s all I want to say.” At least he had broken the silence. Another comrade stood up and said, “We must pay membership dues….” All together, three comrades spoke, all about paying dues. The meeting ended without the branch secretary or the comrades from the district committee having spoken a word. After a few meetings like that, I doubt that anyone would want to show up again. District Party committees, Party branches and groups that are completely divorced from the people’s political and economic struggles are bound to lose the support of the masses, and that is very dangerous.

Nevertheless, there are good examples among the primary Party organizations. In a village in the Shanxi-Qahar-Hebei border area there is an excellent Party branch that has mobilized 51 persons, or 13 percent of the population, either to join the Eighth Route Army or to leave the village for national salvation work. The comparable figure in other places is less than one or two percent. In this particular village the representatives who attend village meetings are really elected by the people. It has fulfilled its quotas for national salvation bonds and public grain. It has done a good job of giving preferential treatment to the families of soldiers fighting the Japanese. It runs a co-operative and an office that provides low-interest loans. It has lowered rents and interest rates. All the popular organizations are well organized. The women are involved, and they have formed a women’s self-defence corps. The villagers have done all this of their own accord.

How is it that this particular Party branch has been able to do such good work? Basically, it’s because it maintains close ties with the masses and loses no time in solving problems of immediate concern to them. Such problems were discussed at six out of ten meetings it held. I think this Party branch has set a good example for all the others.

But if a Party branch spends most of its time attending to the people’s problems, won’t that prevent it from fulfilling the quotas assigned by the higher Party committee? No. On the contrary, it will make the task that much easier. It will be like rowing with the current. Local Party organs, especially district committees and Party branches, must try both to fulfil the quotas and to solve the people’s problems. Only by solving the people’s problems can they win their support and trigger an enthusiastic mass movement to fulfil the quotas.

There are not, and cannot be, any fixed methods for solving the people’s problems; it all depends on the circumstances of a given time and place. But one thing is certain and applicable everywhere, and that is that any solution must be worked out by the people themselves. Because only the people know their own problems, and the best solutions can be devised only through their own discussions. Our local Party organs, district Party committees and Party branches must gather opinions from the masses before they can make sound decisions. That is why Comrade Mao Zedong often says that Communists should at all times “learn from the masses as well as teach them.” To lead the masses, Communists must first learn from them. There is an old saying: “Three cobblers with their wits combined match Zhuge Liang, the master mind.” There are no master minds in the world who stand aloof from the masses.