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Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

The Centre’s Instruction On Learning
From Each Other And Overcoming
Complacency And Conceit

December 13, 1963

[SOURCE: An anthology without a title.]

To be complacent and conceited, to refuse to apply Marxist dialectical, analytical method, i.e. the method of splitting one into two (both achievements and shortcomings); to work in one’s own field, studying only the achievement but not the shortcomings and mistakes, to like flattering but dislike critical words; to have no interest in organizing competent high and middle cadres to learn and investigate the work of other provinces, cities, regions, or departments so as to link the result with one’s own circumstances and improve the work of one’s own province, city, region, or department; to be blindly conceited, i.e. to limit oneself to one’s own district, the small world of one’s department, the inability to widen one’s scope, and the ignorance of other spheres of work; to show and talk to foreigners, visitors from other places, and people sent by the Centre only about the achievements, not the weaknesses; in one’s own area of work; to talk only superficially and perfunctorily [these are the faults common to all our comrades]. The Centre has more than once raised this problem to our comrades: a communist must have at his disposal the Marxist dialectical method of ‘splitting one into two’: achievements and shortcomings, truth and mistakes. All matters (economic, political, ideological, cultural, military, party, and etc.) are always in a process of development; this is common sense to a Marxist. However, many of our comrades in the Centre and regions do not use this method of thinking and working. There is a formal logic deeply planted in their minds which they cannot uproot. Formal logic denies the unification of the opposites of things, the contradiction of opposites (‘splitting one into two’), and under given conditions the transformation of one pair of opposites into another. Therefore, these comrades become complacent, conceited, observant of achievements only, blind to weaknesses, capable of hearing only favourable words but not c! riticisms, unwilling to criticize themselves (i.e. splitting into two), and afraid of other people’s criticism The old saying, ‘Conceit courts harm while modesty is beneficial’ still holds good from the point of view of the proletariat and the interest of the people.

1. Conceit grows under all circumstances and in all forms. Generally, it is likely to grow with success and victory. This is because under adverse condition one can easily see one’s own weaknesses and is comparatively more cautious. Under the pressure of difficulties, modesty and caution are the only attitudes to adopt. But with success comes the gratitude of other people. Even one-time enemies may turn round and pay tribute to one’s prowess!. One can therefore easily lose one’s head in favourable circumstances following success and feel light enough to fly. ‘From now on the empire will be at peace,’ one believes. We are fully aware that the party is more vulnerable to attack by the virus of conceit at a time of victory and success.

2. Conceit grows under conditions of victory — i.e., the conceit of swollen-headedness and an inflated ego. This is one kind of conceit. Another kind grows under normal conditions with neither spectacular victory nor ignominious defeat, when people intoxicate themselves with such thoughts as ‘Not as good as the better but better than the worse’ and ‘To have served as a daughter-in-law for twenty years automatically makes one a mother-in-law.’

There is a third kind which flourishes in backward conditions. Some people take pride in being backward, because they think ‘Our work is not all that good, but it is better than in the past,’ or ‘So and so are even XX worse than us.’ Whenever they want to show off their history, they make a quick switch from any other subject, their faces light up, and they begin thus: ‘Once upon a time . . .’

3. We become conceited as soon as we overlook the strength of the masses; as soon as our subjective understanding lags behind the development of the objective reality; as soon as we overrate our own achievement.

4. Essentially, conceit is derived from individualism and nurses the growth of individualism. It is individualistic.

5. Speaking from a class analytical point of view, conceit comes first from the ideology of the exploiting class and then from that of small producers.

6. As workers, small producers have many good qualities. They are industrious, thrifty, not afraid of hardships, cautious, and realistic. But as small owners, they are individualistic and what is more important, limited by their working conditions and methods and their use of outdated means of production, they are scattered, narrow-minded, and ill-informed. They are often blind to the strength of the collective; they see only that of the individual. Furthermore, they are easily satisfied. A small achievement may induce them to think: ‘That’s not bad at all,’ ‘This is super,’ ‘Ah, let’s enjoy a bit,’ and ‘Not as good as the better but better than the worse’.

7. Conceit is based on the bourgeois, idealist world view. It can lead people to XX, to a way of dealing with reality which is against the laws of the development of reality and eventually to failure. The materialist historical view provides that the history of social development is not the history of big men, but of the labouring masses. None the less, conceited people always exaggerated the role of the individual take [undue] credit, and become proud of themselves. They underestimate or completely overlook the strength of the masses.

8. Hence, conceit is against Marxism-Leninism, against the dialectical and historical materialist world view of our party.

9. Conceited people cannot forget their merits. They hide their own shortcomings and disregard other people’s strong points. They often compare their own merits with other people’s demerits, thereby drawing satisfaction. When they see the strong points of others, they say ‘Not much,’ or ‘Nothing to make a song and dance about.’

10. In fact, the more one overrates oneself, the worse the result is likely to be. Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer, put it humorously:

‘A man is like a mathematical fraction, whose actual talent can be compared to a numerator and his own estimate of it to a denominator. The bigger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.’

11. Modesty is a necessary virtue for every revolutionary. It benefits the people’s cause whereas conceit leads the people’s cause to defeat. Therefore modesty is an expression of one’s responsibility to the people’s cause.

12. A revolutionary in name and practice must be able to: First, respect the creativeness of the masses, listen to their views, and regard himself as one of the masses. He must not have a single grain of selfishness or exaggerate his own role and must work honestly for the masses. This is the spirit which Lu Hsun describes as ‘Hanging my head low, I willingly serve as the young people’s ox.’[1] This is modesty.

13. Second, he must have an indefatigable progressive spirit and must be forever alert and clear-minded. He must be observant of new things and consider them well. He must therefore have modesty so that he does not accredit himself with undeserved merits; nor be satisfied with his own achievements. This is a realistic attitude, the noble virtue of modesty.

14. If a man can learn seriously from work, life and actual struggles, if he can regularly sum up his thought and action in a effort to find out his deficiencies, shortcomings, and errors, if he can ruthlessly and resolutely fight against his conceit and self-satisfaction and unreservedly overcome them, it is absolutely within his powers to train himself to be a man of humility.

15. A truly modest man is also a man who enthusiastically, unconditionally, loyally, and actively works for the cause of the party, the people, and the collective. He works not to show off or for awards and fame, not for any selfish desire, but whole-heartedly for the happiness and interests of the people. Therefore, he is always buried in hard work for the benefit of the party and people, never giving a thought to his own distinction, status, reputation, or salary. He does not brag about his achievements to other people; he does not ever entertain such thoughts in his mind. He considers nothing more than how to serve the people better.

16. Why must a true collectivist demand humility from himself?

First, because he understands that although he plays a part in the achievements of knowledge or other results, the part the masses play is far greater. Without the help and support of the masses, he would not be able to have knowledge; nor would his work be successful. As a collectivist, he must not discount the merits of the masses, or ‘rob other people of their merits’. He knows that it is shameful to be conceited.

Second, he understands that what he has learnt and done forms only a tiny drop in the ocean of revolutionary knowledge and work: it is infinitesimal. Moreover, revolutionary knowledge and work are incessantly developing. As a collectivist, he must do his utmost to acquire the knowledge which is useful to the people and to devote his ability to the revolution. Therefore, he must feel that there is no room for complacency, for becoming stagnant.

Third, he knows that work is constructed like a huge machine with its wheels, screws, steel frames, and other parts of different sizes and shapes, each being indispensable. As a collectivism he should respect each man’s work and each man’s achievement. For the perfection of the revolutionary work, he must co-ordinate his own work with that of others. He must feel that he cannot bear to be left out of the collective, and that he passionately loves his colleagues. Because of this, he must treat people with modesty, never with pride or conceit.

Fourth, he understands that the scope of an individual view is narrow and limited, whereas the scope of revolutionary work and knowledge is broad and their contents extremely rich and complex. Thus he understands that it is inevitable for an individual to have faults and be ‘likely to commit mistakes. These faults and mistakes open escape his full attention. Since he is a collectivist, he would demand of himself a deeper and wider vision to detect he own faults and mistakes in time and to correct them quickly, so that he can do revolutionary work well and be responsible to the people. Because of this, he is modest, humbly learns from others, and sincerely welcomes other people’s criticism.

From these points [we] may see a true collectivist possesses humility, a fact that reflects the progressive spirit and realistic attitude.

17. Another method of overcoming one’s conceit and nurturing one’s humility is to heighten one’s communist consciousness. This requires more intensive study of Marxism-Leninism. Why?

18. Because the theories of Marxism-Leninism can help us to understand scientifically the world and the relationships between individuals and the masses, individuals and collectives, individuals and organization, and individuals and the party.

[They also help us to] understand correctly the roles of the masses and individuals in revolutionary struggles. Marxism-Leninism tells us that the working people are the creators of social wealth and the mainstay in a revolutionary struggle. In order to build socialism and communism in China, we must depend on the creative power of the working class and the millions of labouring people under the leadership of their vanguard. As for an individual, he is no more than a small screw in the revolutionary works. Marxism-Leninism tells us: all achievement is the result of the strength of the collective, no individual can detach himself from a collective, and an individual, without the party to lead him or an organization and the masses to support him, cannot accomplish anything. If we do really understand the part played by the masses and the individual in history and their mutual relationship, we automatically become modest.

Marxism-Leninism can raise our understanding of the future and the destination we are going to, can widen our scope, and can free our thought from parochialism. When people see only what is under their feet, not what lies above the mountains and beyond the seas, they are likely to be as boastful as ‘the frog at the bottom of a well’. But when they raise their heads to see the immensity of the world, the kaleidoscope of man’s affairs, the splendour and magnificence of the cause of humanity, the richness of man’s talents, and the breadth of knowledge, they become modest. What we are dedicated to is a world-shaking task. We must focus not just on the world and happiness in front of our eyes, but also on the work and happiness of all of us in the distant future. Marxism-Leninism helps us to overcome self-satisfaction of a small producer due to a small success or a small achievement. It arouses our desire for ceaseless progress. At the same time, it helps us to eliminate our idealistic subjective way of thinking.

19. Modesty and self-abasement are not synonymous. Modesty does not mean belittling oneself; it is an expression of a realistic attitude and the progressive spirit which enables one to see facts objectively, whereas self-abasement is an expression of unrealism, a lack of self-confidence, and a fear of difficulty.

Self-abasement and self-advertisement or a feeling of superiority are based on subjectivism and wrong. They represent two extreme and erroneous subjective estimates of oneself. The boastful person detaches himself from reality and overestimates himself, exaggerates his actual ability and role. He feels superior, out of the ordinary, and therefore stops making progress or learning new things. Inevitably, he must make mistakes. The self-abasing person is apparently the opposite of the boastful, but he is just as unrealistic. He underestimates himself, forgets that he can be improved and disciplined in his work, and belittles the part he has played and will play in the revolution. Consequently, he loses his courage and confidence in making progress and relaxes his fighting spirit

In short both self-abasement and conceit are wrong, because both represent an erroneous assessment of one’s part in the revolution, and an unrealistic and unscientific attitude. Both can do harm to the revolution. That is why we must resolutely oppose conceit and boastfulness, and also strictly distinguish modesty from self-abasement. In this way we may avoid drifting from one extreme to another.



[1.] A line from the introductory poem to Lu Hsun’s Hua-kai Chi.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung