Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Former Members of the Committee for a Proletarian Party

In Defense of Mao Tsetung’s Contributions to Materialist Dialectics

Position Papers Prepared for the National Joint Study


“The law of contradiction in things, that it, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics.” (Four Essays on Philosophy, pg. 23, Foreign Language Press, 1968 Ed.) We agree with Mao’s designation of the unity of opposites as the basic law of dialectics. Other laws, such as the mutual transformation of quantity and quality, are direct outgrowths of this basic law.

Failure to understand the nature of the law of the unity of opposites leads to many ideological and political errors. One of Mao Tsetung’s most outstanding contributions is his development of Marxist philosophy on the question of the identity and struggle of the aspects of a contradiction. Thus, he was able to sum up and clarify in a philosophical way many of the ideological and political mistakes of the international communist movement and develop correct policies to overcome them.

One of Mao’s most valuable contributions was his deepening of the Marxist understanding of how the two aspects in a contradiction mutually penetrate or interpermeate. This was a key factor in combatting the strong trend of mechanical materialism in the international communist movement.

There are two basic meanings to the Marxist term of identity or unity between opposites. The first meaning is that, given certain conditions, there is interdependence and co-existence of opposites in a single entity. This identity is always relative, conditional, and transitory; nevertheless, without this interdependence or co-existence it is impossible to explain how one thing passes into its opposite.

The second basic meaning of identity involves this transformation of opposing aspects into each other. For Mao, this transformation of opposites is explained by the exchange of place between the principal and non-principal aspects of a contradiction. It is this exchange of place that brings about qualitative change in the entity within which the two aspects co-exist.

An example of this transformation of opposites can be seen in the development of the antagonistic class contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This is the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society; the nature of capitalist society is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction, the bourgeoisie. When the proletariat gains in strength and consciousness and eventually seizes political power from the bourgeoisie, it replaces the bourgeoisie as the principal aspect of the contradiction. The result is that there is a qualitative change in society, from capitalism to socialism.

This transformation of opposites between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie does riot mean, as is sometimes stupidly interpreted, that the bourgeoisie is transformed into the proletariat and the proletariat is transformed into the bourgeoisie. What it does signify is that the two aspects have exchanged places so that the proletariat becomes the ruling class in society, instead of the bourgeoisie. With this transformation of the principal and non-principal aspects of the contradiction, capitalism is_ transformed into its opposite, socialism.

Understanding how the principal and non-principal aspects transform themselves into each other explains how there is identity between the two opposites, capitalism and socialism. If there is no understanding of this identity, there can be no understanding of how capitalism is transformed into socialism, and conversely, how this process can be reversed and capitalism restored.

In Imperialism and the Revolution, Hoxha charges that Mao Tsetung “does not proceed from the Marxist theses, but from those of ancient Chinese philosophers, sees the opposites in a mechanical way, as external phenomena, and imagines the transformation of opposites as a simple change of places between them.” (Pg. 113, COUSML Ed., printed in Proletarian Internationalism, Vol. 1, No. 2). For anyone who has done any study of Mao’s development of dialectics, the charge that he views opposites in a mechanical way is absurd.

Mao was able to rid himself of much of the prevalent mechanistic conception of contradictions precisely because he was able to clarify the internal identity between the two aspects of a contradiction. Mechanists like Bukharin tend to negate this internal connection and view the two aspects as primarily external to, or independent of, each other. Thus, Bukharin tends to reduce the struggle between opposites to the collision of independent forces. Instead of attempting to disclose the concrete internal identity of opposites, which is the basis for the self-movement of a contradiction, Bukharin is led to look for the source of motion outside the contradiction itself.

In On Contradiction Mao holds that “external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change.” (Four Essays, pg. 28). Mechanists turn this idea on its head and essentially see external causes as the basis for change. They see that these external forces collide with one another and determine the direction of motion of a particular thing on the basis of which forces are stronger. Such a view has several problems. For one thing, it implies that such external forces must eventually lead back to an external force which does not contain any internal contradiction. Such a view is metaphysical because it denies that contradiction is universal and absolute in reality. A second problem with mechanism is that, because it utilizes the model of an external collision of independent forces, it tends to equate all contradictions with antagonistic contradictions. On the one hand, this view can lead to “left” errors by seeing antagonism where non need exist, such as in the contradiction between the proletariat and the peasantry under socialism, or it can lead to right errors by denying that any contradictions exist between the proletariat and the peasantry because they are not antagonistic. (Cf. Textbook of Marxist Philosophy, pp. 172-176)

Although Stalin criticizes these obvious mechanistic tendencies of Bukharin and Trotsky, he himself often fell prey to a metaphysical view of the nature of the unity and struggle of opposites. Mao explains Stalin’s tendencies:

Stalin failed to see the connection between the struggle of opposites and the unity of opposites. Some people in the Soviet Union are so metaphysical and rigid in their thinking that they think a thing has to be either one or the other, refusing to recognize the unity of opposites. Hence, political mistakes are made. (SW, Vol. V, pg. 369)

Stalin tended to give a metaphysical meaning to the Marxist term identity, equating it with the claim that two things are basically the same. In class terms, this would mean that seeing an identity between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, for example, would be the same as saying that these two classes have common interests. This is a revisionist definition of identity, and Stalin made philosophical mistakes which went hand in hand with serious political errors because to some extend he adhered to the same definition. These political errors involved a wrong method of combatting revisionism.

Not having a fully Marxist understanding of the identity of opposites, Stalin also, of necessity, tended to have a mechanical conception of the struggle between opposites. In the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, which also finds its expression in acute ideological struggle, Stalin contended that under the conditions of a consolidated socialist system the proletariat could be the principal aspect of the contradiction without the bourgeoisie being the non-principal aspect. Expressed ideologically, proletarian ideology could exist without unity and struggle with its opposite, bourgeois ideology.

Having a more consistently Marxist understanding of the unity of opposites, Mao was able to explain that proletarian ideology does not exist except in struggle with its opposite, bourgeois ideology. The two opposites, although mutually exclusive, interpermeate and interdepend for their existence. Mao sums up what the problem was in the Soviet Union on this score:

Now in the Soviet Union they have nothing to do with such “pairs” but are going in only for “singles”, asserting that only fragrant flowers, but not poisonous weeds, grow there, and denying the existence of idealism and metaphysics in a socialist country. As a matter of fact, idealism, metaphysics and poisonous weeds are found in every country. In the Soviet Union many of the poisonous weeds appear in the name of fragrant flowers, and many absurd statements bear the label of materialism or socialist realism. (SW, Vol. V, pp. 366-367)

The struggle between opposites, such as idealism and materialism, exists and has a particular character because of the identity between these two aspects. Without the identity, the struggle would not really take place. Hence, if the identity between proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology is denied, the struggle against bourgeois ideology cannot be successfully carried out. The struggle will end up being one-sided, subjective, and mechanical. The result will be that the contradiction will not be satisfactorily resolved, to the benefit of the proletariat.

Mao summed this weakness up as one of the factors in the reversal of socialism in the USSR. This kind of wrong policy also contributed to some of the widespread disturbances in the peoples’ democracies of Eastern Europe. As a result, Mao advanced the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend in China in order to neutralize the ability of reactionaries to gain any kind of mass base.

This policy was based on the belief that it was dangerous to incubate people from bourgeois ideology. Having a superficial or distorted view of bourgeois ideology, the working class and the masses in China would not be able to successfully wage combat against it and educate and steel themselves in the process. They would be easier prey for revisionism because their grasp of Marxism would still be shallow. Mao believed that banning reactionary ideas and culture would “lead to mental deterioration, one-track minds, and unpreparedness to face the world and meet challenges.” (SW, Vol. V, pg. 366)

The Party of Labor of Albania, by contrast, shares some of the metaphysical conceptions of Stalin on the nature of class struggle under socialism. This error results from a failure to grasp the concrete inner connection or particular identity between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and between proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology under socialism.

Consistent with this error, Hoxha charges in Imperialism and the Revolution that Mao “does not see the socialist revolution as a qualitative change of society in which antagonistic classes and the oppression and exploitation of man by man are abolished, but conceives it as a simple change of places between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.” (Pg. 113)

However, what becomes obvious as we investigate the PLA’s views of socialist society and the party is that they are the ones who have a mechanistic conception of identity and struggle between opposites – a conception they share in common with Stalin. They have a metaphysical view of identity between opposites which equates it with “Two Combines Into One.” The PLA itself promotes the policy of “Two Combines Into One” as do the Chinese and Soviet revisionists, except that it achieves this under the cover of negating one of the aspects. For example, negating the powerful influence of bourgeois ideology on the working class and the masses under socialism effectively negates the struggle against it. The reason is that by banning the expression of bourgeois ideology, one does not ban its already existing influence on people’s minds.

Mao Tsetung had a profoundly dialectical view of the vital internal connection or identity between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie under socialist conditions. He achieved this understanding by a consistent and relentless application of the dialectical principle of “One Divides Into Two.” His concrete dialectical analysis of socialist society revealed that antagonistic classes continued to exist. To deny the material basis for their continued existence would be to liquidate the waging of sharp and effective class struggle to defeat the bourgeoisie.

Acknowledging the existence of antagonistic class struggle under socialism does not sanction or excuse the existence of the bourgeoisie or bourgeois ideology. On the contrary, it is being keenly realistic about the threat of capitalist restoration in order the better to steel the masses and party members to struggle more fiercely and ceaselessly against this threat. Comprehending the very real threat of capitalist restoration even under socialism, Mao developed the strategic line of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The PLA paid some lip service to the line of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it parted company with Mao and the Left in the CPC when it came to elaborating policies, methods, and forms for carrying out this line, such as the Cultural Revolution. The basic reason is that Hoxha and the PLA have never agreed with Mao that antagonistic classes really continue to exist under socialism. Hoxha explains his position:

Because antagonistic classes with irreconcilable interests no longer exist in the PSRA, because private property and the exploitation of man by man have been done away with and are prohibited in our country, in the election campaign there is no fighting like wild beasts in the jungle as in the capitalist and revisionist countries. (“Albania Is Forging Ahead...” Speech, Nov. 8, 1979)

Denying that antagonistic classes continue to exist under socialism indicates that Hoxha has not done a concrete historical investigation which consistently applies the concept of “One Divides Into Two.” It is true that in a contradiction, the identity of opposites is always relative, conditional, and temporary, while the struggle is absolute, unconditional, and universal. Certain conditions must be present for the identity between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to continue to exist. What the PLA is claiming, as an ideological inheritance from Stalin, is that the conditions for such an identity are eliminated once socialism is consolidated as a system.

Such a claim belittles the persistent material conditions – such as bourgeois right, the contradictions between mental and manual labor, proletariat and peasantry, town and country – that will continue to engender the bourgeoisie and bourgeois political representatives. These material conditions provide the basis for the identity in the continuing contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Not acknowledging the strength of these material conditions means that the struggle against the bourgeoisie will essentially be directed at the remnants of the old bourgeoisie. According to this idealist perspective, once these remnants are eliminated, the bourgeoisie has been defeated and no longer really exists, even as the non-principal aspect of the contradiction. As a result, the struggle against bourgeois ideology becomes a mopping-up operation, i.e., an arbitrary, mechanical, and superficial struggle against an enemy which is gravely underestimated.

The PLA’s advocacy of a “pure and monolithic” party with identity of views is a corollary of their perspective on class struggle under socialism. This model of a party is probably the clearest example of how the PLA makes identity absolute and struggle relative. To cover for their own idealist view of the party, the PLA opportunistically accuses Mao of advocating two lines within a party. Mao does not advocate the existence of two lines in a party, but merely warns that a class perspective should be taken on major struggles within a party. Clashes of policies within a communist party will always tend to reflect the two opposed lines of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, since this is the fundamental contradiction under both capitalism and socialism although the principal aspect changes.

Failing to perceive that struggles within a communist party will always tend to reflect the two opposed lines of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat belittles the danger of bourgeois representatives arising within the party and becoming its principal aspect. In effect then, the “pure and monolithic” party is just a more rigid and doctrinaire version of the “party of the whole people.”

By way of contrast, Mao explains the real interconnection between unity and struggle within a party:

As soon as we talk about unity, there is disunity; disunity is unconditional. At the very time we talk of unity, there still remains disunity – this is why we have work to do. To talk all the time about monolithic unity, and not to talk about struggle, is not Marxist-Leninist. Unity passes through struggle, only thus can unity be achieved. It is the same within the Party, as regards classes, and among the people. (“Talks at Chengtu”, Chairman Mao Talks to the People, pg. 108)

The real test of a dialectical understanding, and not a mechanical understanding, of the basic law of dialectics – the unity and struggle of opposites – is in political practice. The political practice of Hoxha and the PLA, with regard to such questions as class struggle under socialism and two-line struggle within a communist party, makes it evident that they are strongly influenced by a mechanical conception of materialist dialectics. The political practice of Mao and the Left in the CPC makes it clear that they developed a profound understanding of materialist dialectics and were able to rigorously apply it to the real world.