Liu Shaoqi

How to Be a Good Communist

IV. The Unity of Theoretical Study and Ideological Self-Cultivation

We Communists must not separate our study of theory from our ideological self-cultivation. We must remould ourselves and temper our proletarian ideology not only in the practice of revolution but in the study of Marxism-Leninism.

The view is current among some members of our Party that a firm and purely proletarian stand is irrelevant to a Party member's understanding a and mastery of the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism. They believe that one can thoroughly understand and genuinely master the Marxist-Leninist theory and method even though one's proletarian stand may not be very firm and one's ideology not very pure (i.e., it may be tainted with the remnants of non-proletarian ideas). They believe that the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism can be mastered merely through book learning. This view is wrong.

Marxism-Leninism is the science of proletarian revolution, the science by which the working class builds socialism and communism. It can be thoroughly understood and mastered only by those who have a firm proletarian stand and who have made the ideals of the proletariat their own. Without a firm proletarian stand and pure proletarian ideals it is impossible for anyone to thoroughly understand or master the science of Marxism-Leninism. The science of Marxism-Leninism is of little of no use to anyone who is not a genuine revolutionary, who is not a proletarian revolutionary to the core, who does not want to bring about socialism and communism throughout the world and emancipate all mankind, to anyone who does not want revolution or is unwilling to carry it through to the end and wants to stop half-way.

We often come across very fine Party members from the working class who are not well grounded in Marxist-Leninist theory and who may not do so well as others in an examination in which Marxist-Leninist works and formulations have to be quoted from memory. Yet in studying Marxism-Leninism, provided it is explained to them in language they understand, they generally show much keener interest and far greater comprehension than some Party members from the intelligentsia. Fore example, the section in Capital concerning surplus value is difficult for some Party members, but not for those from the working class. The reason is that in the process of production and of struggle against the capitalists, the workers come to know all too well how the capitalists calculate wages and working hours, exploit the workers for profit and oppress them. Therefore, they generally understand Marx's theory of surplus value more profoundly than do some Party members from other classes. When we say that many Party members from the working class are readier to accept Marxism-Leninism, we do not, of course mean that their class-background makes them born Marxist-Leninists. We mean that provided they study Marxist-Leninist theory modestly and diligently and have a real grasp of the method of seeking the truth from the facts, those comrades who have a firm and purely proletarian stand and are free from personal prejudice of other blemishes are certain to be keener and more correct than the others in their observation and handling of practical problems. In the struggle, too, these comrades will prove more able to discern the truth and will uphold it more courageously and unhesitatingly.

Also, we come across many Party members of non-proletarian origin who differ in their development owing to their differing attitudes towards the relation between Marxist-Leninist study and ideological self-cultivation. Generally speaking, when they join the revolution such people do not have a firm and clear-cut proletarian stand, are not very correct or pure in their ideology, and to a greater of lesser extent carry over various non-proletarian ideas from the old society. Obviously these ideas come into direct conflict with the principles of Marxism-Leninism, and since the people take different attitudes, the results of the conflict differ. In studying Marxism-Leninism, some people correctly combine theoretical study with their ideological self-cultivation, using Marxist-Leninist principles to fight and overcome whatever is backward in their thinking. In this way thy achieve a more truly proletarian stand and a more undiluted proletarian ideology, and learn how to apply Marxist-Leninist principles to the solution of practical problems. We have many such Party members. Others, however, go the opposite way; they have a lot of old junk accumulated in their heads and many stubborn habits, prejudices and selfish desires, but the lack of determination to remould themselves. In studying Marxism-Leninism they do not make use of its principles to criticize and repudiate whatever is backward in their own ideology, but employ it as a weapon to further their own private ends, and this is carried to the point where the principles of Marxism-Leninism are so distorted by their old prejudices that these people can neither reach a correct understanding of these principles nor grasp the spirit and essence of Marxism-Leninism. When they handle practical problems in the course of revolutionary struggle, the habits and prejudices which they have brought with them from the old society and their individualistic calculations led them to think in terms of personal gain or loss, to be hesitant and vacillating and incapable of going deeply into things in a free untrammelled way or of courageously upholding the truth , and they conceal or distort the truth unintentionally, or even deliberately.

These people are absolutely incapable of guiding their lives by the principals of Marxism-Leninism, and hence incapable of dealing with practical problems promptly, correctly and realistically according to these principles; sometimes they even adopt a negative attitude when practical problems have already been correctly solved according to these principals by the Party organization, or by comrades other than themselves. Such things are neither rare nor unusual, but are quite common.

Thus we can say that it is impossible for a Party member who lacks a clear-cut firm proletarian stand and a correct, purely proletarian ideology to achieve a thorough understanding and real mastery of the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism as a weapon in the revolutionary struggle. In other words a Party member must have the noble stand of the proletariat in order to become versed in Marxist-Leninist theory.

At the same time, we should add that no Party member can maintain a proletarian stand and express a proletarian ideology concretely in every revolutionary struggle unless he studies the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism diligently and guides his thinking and action accordingly.

There are some Party members who think it quite enough to have revolutionary firmness and to fight bravely, and that it does not matter much whether they study and undertake self-cultivation in Marxist-Leninist theory. Some comrades even think that a good class origin or a good personal class status is all that is needed to make them vanguard proletarian fighters, thus obviating the need to study Marxism-Leninism. There are other comrades who never study it earnestly in the course of work or struggle, though they generally admit the importance of theory. All such attitudes are obviously wrong.

The theory of Marxism-Leninism is our weapon for studying every phenomenon and dealing with every question, and especially for studying all social phenomena and dealing with all social questions.. If we do not know how to wield the weapon of Marxist-Leninist theory, we shall be unable correctly to understand and deal with the problems confronting us in the revolutionary struggle and shall be in danger of loosing our bearings and departing from the revolutionary proletarian stand, or even, whether consciously or unconsciously, of becoming opportunists of one kind or another, captives and yes-men of the bourgeoisie.

Revolutionary firmness and courage in the struggle are precious qualities which every Communist must possess. Besides these qualities, Communists must have the ability to find the right way to conduct the revolution and carry on the struggle in different historical periods and under different conditions of struggle, if they are to win the victory for the revolution and realize the highest ideal of communism. Only by applying Marxism-Leninism can we correctly solve such important questions in the revolutionary struggle as the question of whom to rely upon, whom to unite with and whom to overthrow, the question of who are our direct allies, who is the main enemy and who are the secondary enemies, the question of rallying all possible allies, including even secondary enemies under certain conditions, to defeat the main enemy, and the question of making timely changes in strategy and tactics to meet changing situations. Without mastering the weapon of Marxism-Leninism and attaining a high degree of self-cultivation in Marxist-Leninist theory, we cannot possibly maintain a firm, correct proletarian stand on every important question in the revolutionary struggle, or formulate the policies which are most advantageous to the cause of the proletarian revolution or champion the overall, long term interests of the proletarian revolutionary struggle amid the complex situations and sharp changes, when it is necessary for us to make detours and turns.

Consider, for instance, our Party's experience in carrying out the policy of the national united front against Japan. Before the Incident of July 7. 1937,1 certain comrades did not understand that the contradiction between the Chinese nation and Japanese imperialism had become the principal one while the contradictions among the different classes and political groups within the country had become secondary. As a result, they opposed the Party's policy of forming a national united front against Japan. of uniting all patriotic classes, strata, political parties and social groupings for joint resistance, and especially of uniting with the Kuomintang to fight Japan. Although these comrades thought they were taking a firm proletarian stand in opposing the Party's correct policy, they actually departed from it and plunged into "closed-doorism" and sectarianism. Had we acted in accordance with their wrong views, the proletariat and its political party would have been unable to unite and lead all the patriotic classes, strata, parties and social groupings for the purpose of defeating Japanese imperialism; instead, the forces of the Anti-Japanese National United Front would have been weakened and the proletariat and its political party would have been isolated to the detriment of the struggle to resist Japan and save China. After the July 7th Incident, when our Party had formed the Anti-Japanese National United front with the Kuomintang, certain comrades went to the other extreme, maintaining that since the Kuomintang had joined in the resistance to Japan, there was hardly any distinction between it and the Communist Party. They adopted a policy of capitulation by appeasing the big landlord and big bourgeois classes and the Kuomintang. and opposed the Party's policy of upholding its independence within the united front. While they over estimated the strength of and placed undue trust in the Kuomintang, on which they pinned all their hopes for resisting Japan and saving China, they had no confidence in the strength of the Communist Party and the people, did not place their hopes on the Communist Party and therefore did not dare freely to expand the Party and the anti-Japanese people's revolutionary forces and to resolutely fight against the Kuomintang's policy of opposing and restricting the Communist Party. The comrades with this approach styled themselves as the true representatives of the proletariat, but in essence their policy would have made the proletariat a vassal or an appendage of the bourgeoisie, and would have caused the proletariat to loose the leadership of the Anti-Japanese National United Front. These "Left" and Right mistakes are both striking examples of the failure to take a firm proletarian stand and to identify the correct path for advancing the revolutionary cause when major changes are occurring in the political situation.

The proletariat cannot just emancipate itself alone; it must fight for the emancipation of all the working people, the emancipation of the nation and of all mankind, for only thus can it fully emancipate itself. The proletariat must rid the whole of human society of exploitation, oppression and class struggle once and for all, for only thus can it genuinely and finally emancipate itself. Hence a firm proletarian stand must be sharply differentiated from "closed-doorism' and sectarianism. In waging struggles the proletariat and its political party must establish close ties with the masses of working people, form revolutionary alliances with other revolutionary classes and parties and lead the working masses and all their allies forward together; they must represent the interests of more than ninety per cent of the population of the country. To have a firm proletarian stand is to represent at all times and in all circumstances the highest interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, which, we must understand, are also the highest class interests of the proletariat. On the other hand, a firm proletarian stand must be sharply differentiated from all appeasement and capitulation. In waging revolutionary struggles the proletariat and its political party must draw clear lines of distinction not only between themselves and the landlord class and the bourgeoisie but also between themselves and the revolutionary democrats of the petty bourgeoisie, and must even make some distinction between themselves and the masses of working people. In the revolutionary struggle they must at all times firmly maintain their independence and be free from any bourgeois or other non-proletarian class influence. In every stage of the development of the revolutionary struggle they must combine the interests of the part with the interests of the whole and immediate interests with ling-term interests. As Marx and Engels said of Communists:

1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.2

During his struggle to organize a political party of the proletariat at the end of the 19th century, Lenin said:

The consciousness of the masses and of the workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population.3


The Social-Democrat's ideal should not be a trade-union secretary, but a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it takes place, no matter what stratum of class of people it affects; he must be able to generalize all these manifestations to produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; he must be able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to explain his socialist convictions and democratic demands to all and everyone the world-historic significance of the proletariat's struggle for emancipation.4

To fulfill the requirements cited by Lenin in these two passages, we Communists must of course unceasingly take part in the revolutionary practice and thus increase our perceptual knowledge and accumulate practical experience. But it must be pointed out, perceptual knowledge and practical experience alone are not sufficient. As Comrade Mao Zedong has said:

Fully to reflect a thing in its totality, to reflect its essence, to reflect its inherit laws, it is necessary through the exercise of thought to reconstruct the rich data of sense perception, discarding the dross and selecting the essential, eliminating the false and retaining the true, proceeding from the one to the other and from the outside to the inside, in order to form a system of concepts and theories - it is necessary to make a leap from perceptual to rational knowledge.5

Therefore, while engaged in revolutionary practice, we must most conscientiously study the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism.

The theory of Marxism-Leninism is the summing-up of the experience of the international working- class movement; it is a theory formulated in revolutionary practice and in turn serving revolutionary practice. If only we study this theory, apply it and master it in close conjunction with revolutionary practice, we shall be able to understand the inner connections of the changes taking place all around us and to know how and in what direction the various classes are now moving and will soon move, and we shall be able to determine our line of action and shall confidence in the future of the revolutionary movement.

It is precisely because the theory of Marxism-Leninism plays such a great role that Lenin said, "The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory."6 Members of the Communist Party must closely link their study of the theory and method of Marxism-Leninism with their own ideological self-cultivation and self-tempering; they must never divorce one from the other.

Time and again Comrade Mao Zedong has emphasised the tremendous importance of cultivating oneself in the theory of Marxism-Leninism. He has said:

From the Marxist viewpoint, theory is important, and its importance is fully expressed in Lenin's statement, "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." But Marxism emphasises the importance of theory precisely and only because it can guide action.5

Comrade Mao Zedong has constantly urged all Party members who have some capacity for study to study Marxist-Leninist theory, study the actual conditions of the movement, study Chinese and world history and learn to guide their actions by Marxist-Leninist theory and also help to educate comrades with a lower cultural and theoretical level. The whole Party should at times bear in mind this injunction of Comrade Mao Zedong's.

1. The Lugouqiao Incident is also known as the Incident of July 7, 1937. Lugouqiao, over ten kilometeres away from Beijing, is the southwestern gateway to the city. On July 7th, 1937, the Japanese invading forces attacked the Chinese garrison at Lugouqiao. In fluence4d by a vigorous nationwide anti-Japanese movement and encouraged by the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese troops there rallied to resist Japan. This incident marked the beginning of the Chinese people's heroic war of resistance against Japan, which lasted for eight years.

2. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party,Eng. ed., FLP, Beijing, 1977, p. 49.

3. V. I. Lenin, What is To Be Done? Eng. ed., FLP, Beijing, 1978, p. 87. p. 126

4. Ibid., p. 100.

5. ≴On Practice≵, Selected works of Mao Zedong, Eng. ed., FLP, Beijing, 1975. Vol. I, p. 303.

6. V. I. Lenin,What Is To Be Done?

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