Mao on writing

In  1942 Mao Tse Tung addressed a Yenan meeting on the topic of ‘Stereotyped Party Writing’ and the role of writing within revolutionary activity. Developing an earlier essay on the Party’s style of work, he presented eight points of criticism against the boring eight part essays of ‘stereotyped party writers’ — using “poison as the antidote to poison” (Mao Selected Works, Vol 3 p.56). His indictments are as follows:

• against the filling of endless pages with verbiage, against the writing of long and empty articles that few if any will read. “We are in the midst of a war, and we should learn how to write shorter and pithier articles” (Mao SW3:56).

• against writing that strikes a pose in order to intimidate people. “Some stereotyped party writing is not only long and empty, but also pretentious” (Mao SW3:57). It is important to explain concepts, and to avoid the patronising attitude that privileges intellectual work over other activities. The difficulty entailed in this at the same time at which educational work is considered of utmost importance must be kept in constant tension.

• against writing that “shoots at random, without considering the audience” (Mao SW3:58). “Some comrades, however, are shooting without a target, shooting at random, and such people are liable to harm our work” (Mao SW3:42). “We must propagate materialism and dialectics” (Mao SW3:49)

• against “drab language … [against writing that is] wizened and ugly … without a shred of vigour or spirit” (Mao SW3:59).

• against complicated sets of headings that do nothing to attend to the problems under discussion,that name rather than analyse. Mao says: “In order to solve a problem it is necessary to make a systematic and thorough investigation and study. This is the process of analysis … and it is needed; otherwise, faced with a chaotic and bewildering mass of phenomena, you will not be able to discern where the problem or contradiction lies” (Mao SW3:61).

• against irresponsible writing which harms people wherever it appears.

• against writing which jeopardizes the revolution. If you have observed little, do not write. If you have nothing useful to say, do not write. Similarly, if there is something to be said, something you have observed, you must write.

• against the poisons of subjectivism and sectarianism, which harms the organisation and the work of people sympathetic to communism. Subjectivism, as described by Mao in a 1942 essay Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, includes a muddled separation of ‘theory and practice’ in which those who constantly talk about this link are the very ones guilty of maintaining the separation. “How is Marxist-Leninist theory to be linked with the practice of the revolution?” Mao asks. If the Marxist-Leninist method of dialectical materialism is “an arrow” to be shot at the target of the revolution, then those people who “stroke the arrow fondly, exclaiming, ‘What a fine arrow! What a fine arrow!’ bet never want to shot it” are the most harmful. “These people are merely connoisseurs of curios and have virtually nothing to do with the revolution” (Mao SW3:42). Sectarianism within the oganisation and against cadres of other like-minded organisations is “usually wedded to the doctrine of ‘me first’” (Mao SW3:44) and indicates an individualist pride that does not always help — “After reading a few Marxist books, such comrades become more arrogant instead of more modest, and invariably dismiss others as no good without realizing that in fact their own knowledge is only half-baked” (Mao SW3:48).

[From an internal communist party discussion paper written in 1992 – only recently decoded by the compatibility services of Mac OSX!]