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


Our position on this question of dialectics is that an antagonistic contradiction is a contradiction in which the two aspects are locked in irreconcilable conflict, with the subordinate aspect able to assert itself and develop only by the progressive destruction of the dominant aspect. In a non-antagonistic contradiction, the change and development of one of the aspects does not necessitate the breaking down and destruction of the other aspect.

Because of the destructive nature of the struggle between its two aspects, an antagonistic contradiction has an inherent tendency to become more intensified. Although this tendency to intensification is inherent to an antagonistic contradiction, how this tendency manifests itself is also contingent on the relation of the contradiction to the external contradictions in its environment. It would be metaphysical to assume that, given this inherent tendency to intensification, the process of development of the antagonistic contradiction would not undergo ebbs and flows. More importantly, this inherent tendency does not lead the antagonistic contradiction to necessarily culminate, in all circumstances, in the form of open conflict.

We believe that Mao Tsetung made valuable contributions to Marxist theory in the way he handled the question of antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. As with the question of principal contradiction, Mao was able to break through some of the metaphysical pre-conceptions about the nature of antagonism and non-antagonism. As a prominent example, this metaphysical tradition can be found in such works as Shirokov’s Textbook of Marxist Philosophy. (cf. pp. 172-176)

In overcoming this tradition, Mao had to combat two related errors on the question of antagonism in particular. On the one hand, he had to overcome the failure to distinguish between the essence of an antagonistic contradiction and how it manifests itself. On the other hand, he had to overcome the failure to explain how the “environment” of an antagonistic contradiction influences the way it manifests itself.

A good example to use to explain these contributions is the way that Mao advocated handling the contradiction with the national bourgeoisie during the transition to socialism. In On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, written in 1957, Mao explains that:

The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between the exploiter and the exploited, and is therefore antagonistic in nature. But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic class contradiction can, if properly handled, be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful means. (Four Essays on Philosophy, pg. 82)

The concrete conditions of China were those of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country. Therefore, it would be mechanical to try to argue, as Hoxha tries to do, that Mao made fundamental errors in the handling of the national bourgeoisie because he did not follow the principles developed by the Bolshevik Party in dealing – with the bourgeoisie in the USSR. Russia was a military-feudal imperialist in which the bourgeoisie was totally lacking in any revolutionary qualities. In China, however, the national bourgeoisie had more of a dual character because of its opposition to imperialism. In other words, the “environments” for the antagonistic contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie were different in Russia and in China. These different environments did not alter the essence of the antagonistic contradiction and its tendency to intensification, but they did condition how the contradiction manifested itself or what particular form it assumed.

Mao Tsetung does not deny that the contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is antagonistic “in nature”. What he is claiming is that this antagonistic contradiction does not inevitably lead to a form of open conflict. Properly handled, this antagonistic contradiction can be resolved through peaceful methods. However, as Mao states in the same passage above, this contradiction can also assume a violent form, “if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy of ours.” (pg. 82)

The strategic goal of Mao and the Left in the CPC in relation to the national bourgeoisie was to liquidate it as a class. There can be no doubt that this liquidation represents a form of coercion or suppression. Such coercion is necessary because the existence of the national bourgeoisie is incompatible with the development of socialism. As the transition to socialism moves closer to its goal, the contradiction with the national bourgeoisie necessarily becomes more intensified. This process of intensification must result in the class liquidation of the national bourgeoisie; the individual members of the national bourgeoisie have a choice of either going along with this self-liquidation or trying to stage a rebellion, as happened in some of the Eastern European people’s democracies.

The question of intensification, however, is a separate question from whether an antagonistic contradiction will assume the form of open conflict In the case of China, the emergence of open conflict depended on the concrete conditions, the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, and the actions of the national bourgeoisie itself. In the USSR, for example, the Bolshevik Party attempted for a period of time during the 1920s to prepare the conditions for the peaceful liquidation of the Kulaks, but when the Kulaks resisted and staged an open revolt against the dictatorship of the proletariat, the response of the Bolshevik Party was to resort to violent means to suppress them and eliminate the basis for their existence.

We think that Mao Tsetung was not always consistently clear on the distinction between the essence of an antagonistic contradiction and its form of manifestation. For instance, in On Contradiction, Mao tends to identify antagonism exclusively with the form of open conflict. The consequence is that when the form of open conflict is not present, an antagonistic contradiction is regarded as a non-antagonistic contradiction. But this empiricist approach which relies on the appearance of things or their phenomenal form can lead to revisionist political conclusions. For example, if the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie under capitalism is not intrinsically antagonistic but can assume a violent form depending primarily on the given conditions, then the door is left open to argue that the peaceful transition or parliamentary road to socialism is a viable strategy for revolution.

Mao does not argue for the possibility of peaceful transition to socialist just the opposite is the case. But his ambiguity on this point fashions a methodology which can be used to justify revisionist practices. In his discussion of how antagonistic contradictions can be transformed into non-antagonistic contradictions, Mao confines his arguments to the conditions of China, in which the imperialists, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists had been violently overthrown, and the people’s democratic dictatorship had been established under the leadership of the working class. Under the conditions in which the proletariat was politically dominant and represented the future of the Chinese nation, while a class like the national bourgeoisie was historically obsolescent and under the control of the proletariat, it was possible that the necessarily antagonistic contradiction between the two classes could be handled through peaceful means.

The antagonistic contradiction with the national bourgeoisie, however, could never be transformed into a non-antagonistic contradiction as long as this class continued to exist. This antagonistic class contradiction could become non-antagonistic only insofar as the national bourgeoisie showed its “support of the Constitution and its willingness to accept socialist transformation” (Four Essays, pg. 82), and its individual members remolded themselves and became integrated into socialist society. This integration into socialist society is eased by the national bourgeoisie’s patriotism, its desire to see China a strong and prosperous country no longer dominated by imperialism, and by bribes such as granting it fixed interest on its expropriated holdings. But what is decisive is that the working class is firmly in leadership of the people’s democratic dictatorship and has the support of the People’s Army. As Mao states in his 1949 essay On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship: “The people have a powerful state apparatus in their hands – there is no need to fear rebellion by the national bourgeoisie.” (V. 5, pg. 419)

By 1952, with the socialist offensive under way, the contradiction between the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie became the principal contradiction. Although strictly speaking the national bourgeoisie was no longer part of “the people” because it was no longer an intermediate force, the united front was maintained with it as a die-hard force. Although its members could still serve a useful purpose as contributors to a socialist society, the national bourgeoisie, as a class, became a “target” of the revolutionary process. The efforts intensified to liquidate it, but the means used were peaceful in nature – primarily education and ideological remolding.

With a deeper grasp of dialectics, Mao Tsetung was able to give greater clarity to the distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions than had been developed by the international communist movement up to that point. Putting this theory into practice, Mao was able to develop greater flexibility in the use of tactics in relation to such class forces as the national bourgeoisie. Although Mao tended towards empiricist errors in failing to point out clearly enough how a contradiction is antagonistic in its essence as well as in how it may manifest itself, he made a valuable theoretical contribution in combatting the widespread metaphysical view of antagonistic contradictions which did not take into account the distinction between their essence and manifestation and did not explain how the environment of the antagonistic contradiction conditions its form of development.