Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) is both a continuation and a rupture of Marxism-Leninism, just as Marxism-Leninism (ML) continued and ruptured with Marxism. What this means is that while MLM adds on to ML theory, it is also distinct. First to understand MLM, ML must also be understood. This essay will focus purely on the Maoist addition to Marxist theory rather than the entirety of Marxism-Leninism and its theories.
The Mass Line is a means of organizing a Communist Party’s political platform as well as its internal structure. Mao considered the common people under capitalism to be inherently revolutionary, even if they didn’t recognize it: their, strikes, protests, riots, petitions, acts of sabotage, etcetera, could and did make their governments listen, and change their policy. They were capable of making governments bow to their will if they felt like it. However, due to the ruling class ideology being reproduced as society’s ideology, the common people, despite being unconsciously revolutionary, do not consciously believe in revolution: therefore, while they have ideas about what they would like to change, they are accordingly watered-down.
This is what the Mass Line is for. A Communist Party goes out among the people to collect these scattered, watered-down ideas, then re-convenes to discuss them. Filtering through a class-conscious, revolutionary mindset (using Marxist-Leninist analysis), they produce a political platform, and then take it back to the people for approval. If they’ve done their work correctly, the people will love it and flock to the Communist Party with great enthusiasm. In so doing, The Mass Line is how the Communist Party makes itself truly democratic and representative of the whole of the people.
Protracted People’s War, is conceived as a more effective method of revolution for a Communist Party to carry out. The general idea is that, while Lenin and the Bolsheviks were able to make an all-or-nothing insurrection work out for them, Mao considered such a thing to be extremely unlikely to happen again. The traditional insurrectionary approach was shown to be a failure in countries where the the capitalist class had a much more firm grasp on society, such as Germany, where the revolution was brutally crushed, as it was in Finland, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. People’s War was thought of as a means of a communist revolutionary force being able to both preserve its numbers as well as posing a significant threat to those they were attempting to overthrow.
While at a surface level People’s War has similarities to other kinds of guerrilla warfare, on a theoretical level People’s War is also a means of building a revolution’s popularity among the people. The general idea is that, prior to a revolution, a Communist Party’s goal is to serve the people: that is, to build what Lenin would call dual power, a revolutionary government which supplants the state in some areas, taking over the role of caregiver and building its legitimacy while destroying that of the bourgeois state in the areas in which it is active. When a Communist Party has built enough support, and with the support and backing of the people, it can then launch into an armed campaign, attacking government offices, police, army units, etc and seizing territory to establish as a revolutionary base area.
People’s War is divided into three phases: the strategic defensive, equilibrium, and strategic offensive. The first objective of a people’s war is to maintain its area of operations against the inevitable counterattack of the government it is revolting against. This will, of course, primarily be a defensive role. As the war continues, the revolutionary forces continue to serve the people within the bounds of where they operate so as to continue to grow their strength and grow the rebellion. The defensive becomes the equilibrium when it is thought the revolutionary forces have enough strength to begin testing the state, launching limited offensive actions to expand their territory, crush isolated or weak state forces, etc. And finally, the strategic offensive is when the balance of power is felt to be swinging in the revolutionary forces’ favor, and the main push toward the major urban areas of the crumbling state begins.
The reason it’s called a people’s war is because it is waged by not just a revolutionary force, but by what is known as the people’s army. The people’s army is not just a guerrilla force, but an army of the working people: it runs hospitals, builds roads, bridges, schools, tills fields and harvests crops, assists the people via the Mass Line in doing political work, and employs the Mass Line in newly taken areas so as to help the people there to trust them. The goal is to make the army as indistinguishable from the common people as possible, to gain the people’s trust and love so the army and the people are one and the same. For a practical example of what this looks like, see the Viet Cong.
New Democracy, similarly to the Mass Line, is a means of organizing the Party. It consists of forming a coalition between the workers, peasants, common people, and proletarianized (i.e. poor, oppressed on some level, or otherwise revolutionary for whatever reason) sections of the bourgeoisie, with the proletariat firmly in the guiding role. The idea behind this was to help China advance rapidly from its semi-feudal conditions into socialism (common doctrine was they had to fully embrace capitalism first) by keeping portions of the bourgeoisie in the loop of the governing coalition.
The Leninist (and therefore MZT) conception of the Communist Party is that it is a mass organization linking all of society together: the state, the workplace, and the wider social areas, via an all-democratic, all-accepting body which is open to anyone (as it is the sole legal governing political body anyway). Therefore, reactionary elements from the old regime - landlords, bourgeoisie, or those sympathetic to them - will also join it. Their economic means of dominance have been stripped from them because of the revolution, so they retreat to a government position to seek out political dominance, and steer country policy in such a way as to bring back a means of them accumulating capital and once again establish their position of being capitalists. These people Mao described as capitalist roaders, people who sought to commandeer the Communist Party and take it on a capitalist fork in the road as opposed to a socialist one.
From Mao’s point of view, it was capitalist roaders who took control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union following Stalin’s death, and capitalist roaders in the Communist Party of China were the ones calling for him to be removed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The former were why he thought it necessary to split with the Soviet Union, the latter he considered a direct threat to Chinese socialism. However, the key distinction is to note that, at this point in China, all was not yet lost: there was factionalism in the Party between its right/capitalist and left/socialist wings, both at a local and national level. There was still hope to shift the proverbial bus back onto the socialist road, but what would be needed was a vast uprising by the people to retake control of their Party. This, in essence, is the theory behind Cultural Revolution: calling upon the people and the progressive wings of the government to launch a mass insurrection, to suppress the capitalist roaders, to once more assert their control over their Party, their government, and their country.
The dangers of not having a Cultural Revolution, such as in the USSR or having a failed one like what happened in the PRC are that roaders within the Party will have strength enough to launch capitalist-oriented reforms such as the Kosygin reforms in the USSR and Deng’s liberalization in the PRC and begin a gradual destruction of socialism. The roaders in the Party having the necessary strength to this essentially breaks the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the proletariat are no longer in control of the governing state apparatus, and while socialist relations of production may exist on lower levels of the Party and the society, the state apparatus is effectively capitalist, and therefore capable both of destroying socialism as well as acting imperialist in interactions with other socialist nations or movements. This makes Cultural Revolution perhaps the most important contribution, as it is what allows the centralized organs of the proletarian state to remain under the control of the proletariat.