Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Mas   —

MASKS   [Health]
Wearing high quality masks (especially N-95 masks) is one of the most important ways of stopping the transmission of many air-borne infectious diseases, including
Covid-19 and the flu. This is one of the elementary principles of the science of epidemiology. However, there is something very important about this which inexplicably is frequently not mentioned nor understood: namely, that many of the ways of attempting to stop or control an epidemic, including the use of masks, as well as testing for the disease, social isolation and getting vaccinated (when that is available), cannot be very effective unless they are very widely used by almost everyone! If only a fraction of the people use masks (or isolate when sick, or get vaccinated) those who do so can indeed help protect themselves from getting infected, but in that case the disease will still likely continue to spread to the largest part of the population which is not conscientiously using those preventative measures, and perhaps eventually even to most of those who are trying to be more careful. In other words, the control or complete ending of these sorts of epidemics must of necessity be a result of the social cooperation of the great majority of the people. Unfortunately, in contemporary individualistic bourgeois society (and especially in the United States today) that is almost impossible. [March 10, 2023]

[In January 2023 a Cochrane organization meta-study (i.e., collective review of a number of actual studies) of the efficacy of masks (even N-95 masks) for reducing the spread of diseases such as Covid-19 was published. Tom Jefferson, the anti-mainstream Oxford epidemiologist who was the lead author, told the journalist Maryanne Demast: “There is just no evidence that they [masks] make any difference. Full stop.” This study, this comment, and the supposed lesson of all this, that masks are useless so forget about them, was then quoted and publicized by the bourgeois columnist Bret Stephens in the New York Times (National Edition, Feb. 22, 2023). The following is a letter I wrote to the Times on that same day, condemning Stephens and his erroneous conclusion. It was not printed by them. —S.H.]
        “Bret Stephens’ Feb. 22nd column claiming masks are worthless in combatting Covid-19 just doesn’t get it. Many social techniques only work if more or less everybody follows them. Consider driving on the right side of the road (in America). What if half the population didn’t do that? Or even only 5 percent of drivers? That level of disrespect for a reasonable law or practice would make highways way too dangerous to use.
        “If nearly everybody had worn masks in this country, and a few other reasonable rules were followed (like social isolations of those who were sick), Covid-19 could have been controlled and defeated. As it was, millions didn’t do these things, mostly out of scientific ignorance and perhaps in some cases due to a lack of concern for others. While those who did wear masks helped protect themselves, this country was too scientifically ignorant for masks to have any appreciable effect on the overall progression of the pandemic.
        “If we follow voices like that of Stephens we will be even less prepared to deal with similar problems in the future. Shame on him!
         —Scott Harrison”
         [More generally, all the wrong conclusions and “lessons” with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic have already been firmly ingrained in the heads of large sections of not only the ruling classes, but also of the people themselves, in the U.S. and around the world. Tens of millions of people now believe that masks are useless, vaccines are dangerous and unnecessary, social distancing is pointless, and so forth. These false lessons will serve to make future pandemics under capitalism far worse and even more deadly. And we must put the primary responsibility for these widespread false views on the heads of the ruling class itself and their media and “educational” system.
         [The Cochrane editorial board later also admitted that the meta-study in question was poorly handled, its summarized conclusions unsupportable, and that Tom Jefferson’s comments in particular were incorrect. See: Zeynep Tufekci, “In Fact, the Science is Clear that Masks Work”, New York Times, National Edition, March 11, 2023. But the damage has been done, and the anti-scientific message against the use of masks is still out there and has been re-enforced by the Cochrane article. —Ed.]

“In fact, there is strong evidence that masks do work to prevent the spread of respiratory illness. It just doesn’t come from RCTs [Randomized Controlled Trials]. It comes from Kansas. In July 2020 the governor of Kansas issued an executive order requiring masks in public places. Just a few weeks earlier, however, the legislature had passed a bill authorizing counties to opt out of any statewide provision. In the months that followed, COVID rates decreased in all 24 counties with mask mandates and continued to increase in 81 other counties that opted out of them.
        “Another study found that states with mask mandates saw a significant decline in the rate of COVID spread within just days of mandate orders being signed. The authors concluded that in the study period—March 31 to May 22, 2020—more than 200,000 cases were avoided, saving money, suffering and lives.
        “Cochrane ignored this epidemiological evidence because it didn’t meet its rigid standard. I have called this approach ‘methodological fetishism,’ when scientists fixate on a preferred methodology and dismiss studies that don’t follow it.”
         —Naomi Oreskes, “Masked Confusion”, Scientific American, November 2023, pp. 90-91. [This article focuses on rebutting the Cochrane study discussed in the previous quotation. —Ed.]

MASLOW, Abraham H.   (1908-70)
A prominent American bourgeois psychologist who promoted a theory he called “self-actualization” which he said he derived from studying those he considered to be well-functioning individuals. According to this theory there is a hierarchy of human needs each of which must be met before a person can achieve his or her full potential. These needs are, starting with the most fundamental: physiological, security, love and belonging, esteem and status, and then “actualization” (or the desire “to be all that you can be”, as the recent U.S. Army slogan puts it). Maslow seemed not to understand at all that there is something very bourgeois in focusing on one’s own individual self-cultivation, on one’s own career, on one’s own personal “accomplishments”, and—indeed—on oneself rather than on important human goals and the welfare of others!
        Maslow is often considered to be the leader of the so-called “Third Force” in the psychological field of his era; i.e., as an alternative to both
Freudianism and behaviorism. This alternative is often called “humanist psychology”, and is clearly influenced by bourgeois humanism, bourgeois individualism and also existentialism. However, more recent psychology, especially cognitive psychology, seems to have largely shed itself of all three of these earlier “forces”. Maslow and his theories are now often viewed as unduly reflecting his own society and class milieu, and are seldom referenced in more recent psychological research.

“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), Chapter 2, final sentence.
        [Here we see the communist approach, of focusing not on our individual self-cultivation, but rather upon creating a better society so that everyone can be “all that they can be”, and in a way that is not at the expense of the welfare of others! —S.H.]

Rare, but severe and nearly simultaneous die-offs of vast numbers of species of animals and plants. The most famous such extinction event brought the Cretaceous Period to an end, wiping out the dinosaurs. This is now generally thought to be due to the collision of a large asteroid or comet with the Earth some 65 million years ago. However, today there is another mass extinction episode in progress, though perhaps not quite as swift as that which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is the
Great Capitalist Mass Extinction, which—unlike previous mass extinctions which were brought about by natural events—is due to the horribly irresponsible mismanagement of the world by the ruling capitalist class.

The Great Mass Extinction Episodes in the History of the Earth
Extinction Episode Millions of
Years Ago
Ordovician 440      Devastated early marine fauna.
Devonian 370      Devastated early marine fauna; eliminated
more than 20% of marine families.
Permo-Triassic 250      Possibly the worst extinction event in Earth
history. More than 50% of families died out.
End-Triassic 202      50% of genera eliminated.
65      50% of genera eliminated, including
the dinosaurs. Caused by asteroid or comet.
Great Capitalist
Mass Extinction
Present Time Some notable human-caused extinctions over past
12,000 years, but huge qualitative increase in
extinctions occurring right now.
[Source: Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth, (NY: Copernicus
Books, 2004), pp. 179-183, with additional comments added.]

This is the euphemism being used in present day capitalist China for the rapidly growing number of incidents of collective protest, workers’ strikes, local refusals by the people to follow the orders of the authorities, and other forms of social unrest. One Chinese sociologist, Sun Liping, estimated the number of “mass incidents” in 2010 as 180,000.
        There are many specific reasons for the huge growth in the number of such events, including the typically very low pay of workers, the exceedingly long hours of work, the dangerous working conditions, the lack of social services, the especially poor treatment of migrant workers from the countryside, the frequent outright theft of land from peasants, the high-handedness of the police and authorities, widespread political corruption, worsening inflation, and many other such things. On occasion the authorities will be forced to back down and grant some concessions, but the more typical response is to further tighten “public security” (expanded police forces and physical control over the masses). The Chinese government is expanding its expenditure for “domestic security” by 12% in 2012 over the already high level in 2011, to a total of $111 billion. (This is $5 billion more than China will be spending on its military budget in 2012!)   [Figures from the NY Times, May 10, 2012.]
        This increasing reliance on state violence to control the masses will of course mean that many future “mass incidents” will themselves be much more serious and much more violent. There are very good reasons for the growing anxiety of the Chinese leaders about the ever increasing discontent among not only the workers and peasants, but even among the new “middle class”.

“Scholars say the number of ‘mass incidents’—a vaguely defined official measure of discontent that includes spontaneous citizen protests—has doubled since 2005. The government stopped publicly reporting the total in 2006.” —Michael Wines, “As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”, New York Times, July 17, 2012.

The method of revolutionary leadership summarized by the phrase “from the masses, to the masses”.

“Party committees at all levels must abide by the directions given by Chairman Mao over the years, namely that they should thoroughly apply the mass line of ‘from the masses and to the masses’ and that they should be pupils before they become teachers. They should try to avoid being one-sided or narrow. They should foster materialist dialectics and oppose metaphysics and scholasticism.” —From “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (Adopted Aug. 8, 1966), Peking Review, #33, Aug. 12, 1966, p. 11. [This famous document was prepared under the direct supervision of Mao and thus certainly shows what he himself meant by “the mass line”.]

“The mass line is the primary method of revolutionary leadership of the masses, which is employed by the most conscious and best organized section of the masses, the proletarian party. It is a reiterative method, applied over and over again, which step by step advances the interests of the masses, and in particular their central interest within bourgeois society, namely, advancing towards proletarian revolution. Each iteration may be viewed as a three step process: 1) gathering the diverse ideas of the masses; 2) processing or concentrating these ideas from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, in light of the long-term, ultimate interests of the masses (which the masses themselves may sometimes only dimly perceive), and in light of a scientific analysis of the objective situation; and 3) returning these concentrated ideas to the masses in the form of a political line which will actually advance the mass struggle toward revolution. Because the mass line starts with the diverse ideas of the masses, and returns the concentrated ideas to the masses, it is also known as the method of ‘from the masses, to the masses’. Though implicit in Marxism from the beginning, the mass line was raised to the level of conscious theory primarily by Mao Zedong.” —Scott H., The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement, Chapter 43.



“A mass perspective is a point of view regarding the masses which recognizes: 1) That the masses are the makers of history, and that revolution can only be made by the masses themselves; 2) That the masses must come to see through their own experience and struggle that revolution is necessary; and 3) That the proletarian party must join up with the masses in their existing struggles, bring revolutionary consciousness into these struggles, and lead them in a way which brings the masses ever closer to revolution. A mass perspective is based on the fundamental Marxist notion that a revolution must be made by a revolutionary people, that a revolutionary people must develop from a non-revolutionary people, and that the people change from the one to the other through their own revolutionizing practice.
         “The relation between the mass line and a mass perspective is simply that only those with a mass perspective will see much need or use for the mass line. It is possible to have some notion of the mass line technique, and yet fail to give it any real attention because of a weak mass perspective. On the other hand, it is also possible to have a mass perspective and still be more or less ignorant of the great Marxist theory of the mass line.
         “The mass line and a mass perspective are nevertheless best viewed as intimately related, as integrated aspects of the Marxist approach toward the masses and revolution. I have found the most felicitous phrase for both aspects together is ‘the mass line and its associated mass perspective’.” —Scott H.,
The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement, Chapter 43.



“We Communists ought to face the world and brave the storm, the great world of mass struggle and the mighty storm of mass struggle.” —Mao, “Get Organized!”.

[To be added...]
        See also below and:

MASSES — Drawing Them Into the Revolutionary Struggle
Although there is virtually always at least some low level of spontaneous struggle against, and resistence to, the ruling bourgeoisie on the part of the masses, it is nevertheless a constant and major task of the Marxist forces to work on drawing the masses into an ever more powerful struggle, and specifically a consciously revolutionary struggle, against the ruling class.

“It would be a piece of unpardonable optimism to forget the difficulties which accompany the task of drawing into the movement the masses not only of the working class, but also of the peasantry.” —Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (June-July 1905), (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970), p. 110. [Of course there is no peasantry in the U.S., but as a revolutionary movement begins to build it will be necessary here to also draw in sections of other classes, including the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat. Still, our central task in this country is to draw in ever greater numbers of the working class itself. —Ed.]

MASSES — Shortcomings Of

“The masses too have shortcomings, which should be overcome by criticism and self-criticism within the people’s own ranks, and such criticism and self-criticism is also one of the most important tasks of literature and art. But this should not be regarded as any sort of ‘exposure of the people’. As for the people, the question is basically one of education and of raising their level. Only counter-revolutionary writers and artists describe the people as ‘born fools’ and the revolutionary masses as ‘tyrannical mobs’.” —Mao, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942), SW 3:91-92.

Yes, the masses of the people really can run society in their own collective interests! True, they will need an organization composed of their best representatives to guide this, under both socialism and also under communism. Under socialism, while classes still exist, this guiding collectivity will of necessity have to be a revolutionary party led by the proletariat. Under communism it will no longer be class based, but will still need to be a leadership selected from those who are most capable and who are dedicated to working for the welfare of the people as a whole. But in both genuinely socialist society, and under communism, all the people must be raised to be able to actively, and genuinely, participate in the running of society.

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” —Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian playwright, An Enemy of the People (1882), Act I. [Spoken by the character Billing, who was perhaps a naive bourgeois democrat. But there is nevertheless more real truth in this statement than either Billing, or Ibsen himself, could appreciate. —Ed.]

College level educational courses available on the Internet for anyone who is interested, and often for little or no cost. These first started coming into being in a prominent way around 2005 or so. However, these courses, while attracting many individuals, have not been nearly as popular as one might have expected. Among the reasons for this are: 1) Most youth are being turned off about education in general long before they get to the point where they might enroll in a MOOC; 2) Many of those going to college in present society are much more interested in simply getting a degree (in order to get a job) rather than actually learning much of anything, which means they must take approved courses from the degree-issuing institution itself. So, ironically, it is in the financial interests of most higher-education institutions in bourgeois society to discourage (or at least not to encourage) students from studying on their own!

“When the web started to shake up higher education a decade or more ago, it was widely expected that the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) it spawned would disrupt universities in the same way that digital media undermined newspapers and music firms. But that assumption rested on a misunderstanding of what students are paying for. They are not buying education for its own sake, but rather a certificate from a respected institution.” —“Higher Education and the Internet: Learning Difficulties”, The Economist, July 21, 2018, p. 51.

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