Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung


April - June, 1938

[This text includes about two thirds of the first chapter, and about one fifth of the first six sections of the second chapter of Mao's 'Pien-Cheng-fa wei--wu-lun (chiang-shou t'i-kang)' ('Dialectical materialism-notes of lectures'), as published in K'ang-chan ta-hsueh, nos. 6 to 8, April to June 1938.]




The whole history of philosophy is the history of the struggle and the development of two mutually opposed schools of philosophy -- idealism and materialism. All philosophical currents and schools are manifestations of these two fundamental schools.

All philosophical theories have been created by men belonging to a definite social class. The ideas of these men have moreover been historically determined by a definite social existence. All philosophical doctrines express the needs of a definite social class and reflect the level of development of the productive forces of society and the historical stage in men's comprehension of nature . . .

The social origins of idealism and materialism lie in a social structure marked by class contradictions. The earliest appearance of idealism was the product of the ignorance and superstition of savage and primitive man. Then, with the development of the productive forces, and the ensuing development of scientific knowledge, it stands to reason that idealism should decline and be replaced by materialism. And yet, from ancient times to the present, idealism not only has not declined, but, on the contrary has developed and carried on a struggle for supremacy with materialism from which neither has emerged the victor. The reason lies in the division of society into classes. On the one hand, in its own interest, the oppressing class must develop and reinforce its idealist doctrines. On the other hand, the oppressed classes, likewise in their own interest, must develop and reinforce their materialist doctrines. Both idealism and materialism are weapons in the class struggle, and the struggle between idealism and materialism cannot disappear so long as classes continue to exist. Idealism, in the process of its historical development, represents the ideology of the exploiting classes and serves reactionary purposes. Materialism, on the other hand, is the world view of the revolutionary class; in a class society, it grows and develops in the midst of an incessant struggle against the reactionary philosophy of idealism. Consequently, the history of the struggle between idealism and materialism in philosophy reflects the struggle of interests between the reactionary class and the revolutionary class…. A given philosophical tendency is in the last analysis a manifestation in a particular guise of the policy of the social class to which the philosophers belong.

The distinguishing characteristic of Marxist philosophy -- i.e., dialectical materialism -- is its effort to explain clearly the class nature of all social consciousness (including philosophy). It publicly declares a resolute struggle between its own proletarian nature and the idealist philosophy of the propertied class. Moreover, it subordinates its own special and independent tasks to such general tasks as overthrowing capitalism, organizing and building a proletarian dictatorship, and edifying a socialist society.


Wherein lies the basic difference between idealism and materialism? It lies in the opposite answers given by the two to the fundamental question in philosophy, that of the relationship between spirit and matter ( that of the relationship between consciousness and existence). Idealism considers spirit (consciousness, concepts, the subject) as the source of all that exists on earth, and matter (nature and society, the object) as secondary and subordinate, Materialism recognizes the independent existence of matter as detached from spirit and considers spirit as secondary and subordinate..


Idealism see matter as the product of the spirit. This is turning the real world upside down. Where is the source of the growth and the development of such a philosophy?

As mentioned above, the earliest manifestation of idealism was brought about by the superstition and ignorance of primitive, savage man. But with the development of production, the separation between manual labour and intellectual labour was responsible for ranking idealism first among currents of philosophical thought. With the development of the productive forces of society, the division of labour made its appearance; the further development of the division of labour saw the emergence of persons devoting themselves entirely and exclusively to intellectual labour. But when the productive forces are still weak, the division between the two does not reach the stage of complete separation. Only after classes and private property appear and exploitation becomes the foundation of the existence of the ruling class do great changes occur. Intellectual labour then becomes the exclusive privilege of the ruling class. while manual labour becomes the fate of the oppressed classes. The ruling class begins to examine the relationship between themselves and the oppressed classes in an upside-down fashion: It is not the labourers who furnish them with means for existence, but rather they who supply the labourers with these means. Hence, they despise manual labour and develop idealist conceptions. To eliminate the distinction between manual labour and intellectual labour is one of the preconditions for eliminating idealist philosophy.

The social root that makes possible the development of idealist philosophy lies principally in the fact that this kind of philosophical consciousness is the manifestation of the interests of the exploiting class ... The final decline of idealism will come with the elimination of classes, after the establishment of a communist society.

The source that enables idealism to develop and deepen and gives it the strength to struggle with materialism must be sought in the process of human knowing.. When men think, they must use concepts. This can easily cause our knowledge to be split into two aspects: reality, which is of an individual and particular character; and concepts, which are of a general character... In the nature of things, the particular and the general are inseparably linked; once separated, they depart from objective truth... To separate the general from the particular, and to view the general as objective reality and the particular merely as the form in which the general exists— this is the method adopted by all idealists. All idealists put consciousness, spirit, or concepts in place of objective reality existing independently from human consciousness... They cannot point out the materialist truth according to which consciousness is limited by matter, but believe that only consciousness is active, whereas matter is only an inert composite entity. Urged on moreover by their own class nature, the idealists then use every method to exaggerate the activity of consciousness, developing this aspect unilaterally... Idealism in economics exaggerates beyond measure a nonessential aspect of exchange,, raising the law of supply and demand to the status of the fundamental law of capitalism... Idealist historians regard heroes as the makers of history. Idealist politicians regard politics as omnipotent. Idealist military leaders practice the methods of desperate combat [p'ing-ming-chu-i-ti tso-chan]. Idealist revolutionaries advocate Blanquism. The diehards say that the only way to revive our nation is to restore the old morality. All this results from exaggerating subjective factors beyond measure...

Pre-Marxist materialism (mechanistic materialism) did not stress the thought process in the development of knowledge, but regarded thought merely as the object of action, as the mirror that reflects nature... Only dialectical materialism correctly shows the active role of thought, and at the same time points out the limitation imposed upon thought by matter. It points out that thought arises from social practice and at the same time actively shapes practice. Only this kind of dialectical theory of the unity of knowledge and action can thoroughly vanquish idealism.


The recognition that matter exists independently and apart from consciousness in the external world is the foundation of materialism. Man created this foundation through practice... Obliged to submit to natural forces, and capable of using only simple tools, primitive man could not explain the surrounding phenomena and hence sought help from spirits. This is the origin of religion and idealism. But in the long-range process of production, man came into contact with surrounding nature, acted upon nature, changed nature, and created things to eat, to live in, and to use, and adapted nature to the interests of man and caused man to believe that matter has an objective existence.

In the social existence of humanity, reciprocal relationships and influences arise between individuals. In a class society there is moreover a class struggle. The oppressed class considers the circumstances and estimates its strength, and then makes its plans. When they succeed in the struggle, the members of this class are convinced that their views are not the product of fantasy, but the reflection of the objectively existing material world. Because the oppressed class fails when it adopts the wrong plans and succeeds by correcting its plans it learns to understand that it can achieve its purpose only when its subjective plans rest upon the accurate understanding of the material nature of the objective world and the fact that the objective world is governed by laws. The history of science furnishes man with proof of the material nature of the world and of the fact that it is governed by laws and helps man to see the futility of the illusions of religion and idealism and to arrive at materialist conclusions. In sum, the history of man's practice comprises the history of his struggle with nature, the history of the class struggle, the history of science. Owing to the necessity to live and struggle, men have thought about the reality of matter and its laws, have proved the correctness of materialism, and have found the necessary intellectual tool for their struggle— materialist philosophy. The higher the level to which social production develops, the greater the development of the class struggle, and the more scientific knowledge reveals the ‘secretes’ of nature, the greater the development and consolidation of materialist philosophy. Thus man can be delivered gradually from the dual and crushing oppression of nature and society. .  




The Chinese proletariat, having assumed at the present time the historical task of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, must make use of dialectical materialism as its mental-arm... The study of dialectical materialism is even more indispensable for the cadres who lead the revolutionary movement, because the two erroneous theories and methods of work of subjectivism and mechanism frequently subsist among the cadres, and as a result frequently cause the cadres to go against Marxism, and lead the revolutionary movement on to the wrong path. If we wish to avoid or correct such deficiencies, the only solution lies in conscious study and understanding of dialectical materialism, in order to arm one's brain anew.


After the May 4th Movement of 1919, as a consequence of the conscious appearance of the Chinese proletariat on the political stage, and the rise in the scientific level of the country, a Marxist philosophical movement arose and developed in China. In its first period, however, the level of understanding of materialist dialectics within the materialist current of thought was rather weak, and mechanistic materialism influenced by the bourgeoisie, as well as the subjectivism of Deborin, were its principal components. Following the defeat of the revolution in 1927 the level of understanding of Marxism and Leninism progressed, and the thinking of materialist dialectics gradually developed. Just recently, because of the severity of the national and social crisis, and also because of the influence of the movement for liquidating deviations in Soviet philosophy, a broad movement of materialist dialectics has developed in China's intellectual circles.

Because of the backwardness of China's social development the dialectical materialist philosophical currents developing in China today do not result from taking over and reforming our own philosophical heritage, but from the study of Marxism-Leninism. However, if we wish to ensure that dialectical materialist thought shall penetrate profoundly in China and continue to develop, and shall moreover give firm direction to the Chinese revolution and lead it to final victory in the future, then we must struggle with all the old and rotten philosophical theories existing in China on the ideological front throughout the whole country, raise the flag of criticism and in this way liquidate the philosophical heritage of ancient China. Only thus we can attain our goal.


Dialectical materialism is the world view of the proletariat. At the same time it is the method of the proletariat for taking cognizance of the surrounding world, and the method of revolutionary action of the proletariat. It is the unity of world view and methodology….


Marx, Engels and Lenin all explained materialist dialectics as the theory of development...

Under the heading of the object of philosophy we must still solve another problem, namely the problem of the unity of dialectics, logic and epistemology. . .

Materialist dialectics is the only scientific epistemology, and it is also the only scientific logic. Materialist dialectics studies the origin and development of our knowledge of the outside world. It studies the transition from not knowing to knowing and from incomplete knowledge to more complete knowledge; it studies how the laws of the development of nature and society are daily reflected more profoundly and more extensively in the mind of humanity. This is precisely the unity of materialist dialectics with epistemology...

The essence of the concept of development consists in regarding laws as the reflection in and transplanting to our minds (moreover further elaborated in our minds) of the manifestations of the movement of matter...

Only by using materialism to arrive at a solution of the problem of the relations between existence and thought, only by taking one's stand on the theory of the reflection, can one arrive at a thorough solution to the problems of dialectics, logic and epistemology….


The very first condition for belonging to the materialist camp consists in recognizing the independent existence of the material world, separate from human consciousness -- the fact that it existed before the appearance of humanity, and continues to exist since the appearance of humanity, independently and outside of human consciousness. To recognize this point is a fundamental premise of all scientific research.

How shall we demonstrate this? The proofs are extremely numerous. Humanity is constantly in contact with the external world and must, moreover, struggle fiercely against the pressure and resistance of the outside world (nature and society). Moreover, we not only must, but can overcome this pressure and resistance. All of these real circumstances of the social practice of humanity, as manifested in the historical development of human society, are the best proof [of the existence of the material world ]. China does not doubt the objective existence of Japanese imperialism which has invaded our country, nor of the Chinese people themselves. The students of the Anti-Japanese Military-Political University also do not doubt the objective existence of this university and of the students themselves...

If we consider this thing known as consciousness in the light of thoroughgoing materialism ( that is to say in the light of materialist-dialectics), then what we call consciousness is nothing else but a form of the movement of matter, a particular characteristic of the material brain of humanity; it is that particular characteristic of the material brain which causes the material processes outside consciousness to be reflected in consciousness. From this we see that when we distinguish matter from consciousness and when, moreover we oppose them one to another, this is only conditional that is to say, it has meaning only from the standpoint of epistemology.. … … ….

In a word, matter is everything in the universe. 'All power belongs to Ssu-Ma- I.' We say, ‘All power belongs to matter.' This is the source of the unity of the world.


The first fundamental principle of dialectical materialism lies in its view of matter... This principle of the unity of the world has already been explained above in discussing matter.

The second fundamental principle of dialectical materialism lies in its theory of movement (or theory of development). This means the recognition that movement is the form of the existence of matter, an inherent attribute of matter, a manifestation of the multiplicity of matter. This is the principle of the development of the world. The combination of the principle of the development of the world with the principle of the unity of the world, set forth above, constitutes the whole of the world view of dialectical materialism. The world is nothing else but the material world in a process of unlimited development…

Dialectical materialism's theory of movement is in opposition first of all with philosophical idealism and with the theological concepts of religion. The fundamental nature of all philosophical idealism and religious theology derives from their denial of the unity and material nature of the world; and in imagining that the movement and development of the world takes place apart from matter, or took place at least in the beginning apart from matter, and is the result of the action of spirit, God, or divine forces, The German idealist philosopher, Hegel, held that the present world results from the development of the so-called 'world idea'. In China the philosophy of the Book of Changes, and the metaphysics of the Sung and Ming, all put forward idealist views of the development of the universe. Christianity says that God created the world, Buddhism and all of China's various fetishist religions attribute the movement and development of all the myriad phenomena (Wan Wu) of the universe to spiritual forces. All of these doctrines which think about movement apart from matter are fundamentally incompatible with dialectical materialism...

Dialectical materialism... considers that rest or equilibrium are merely one element of movement, that they are merely one particular circumstance of movement... A sentence popular with the metaphysical thinkers of ancient China, 'Heaven does not change and the Way also does not change,' corresponds to... a theory of the immobility of the universe. . . In their view, the basic nature of the universe and of society was eternally unchanging. The reason why they adopted this attitude is to be found primarily in their class limitations. If the feudal landlord class had recognized that the basic nature of the universe and of society is subject to movement and development, then most certainly they would have been pronouncing in theory a death sentence on their own class. The philosophies of all reactionary forces are theories of immobilism. Revolutionary classes and the popular masses have all perceived the principle of the development of the world, and consequently advocate transforming society and the world; their philosophy is dialectical materialism..

The causes of the transformation of matter is to be found not without, but within. It is not because of the impulsion of external mechanical forces, but because of the existence within the matter in question of two components different in their nature and mutually contradictory which struggle with one another, thus giving an impetus to the movement and development of the matter. As a result of the discovery of the laws of such movement and transformation, dialectical materialism is capable of enlarging the principle of the material unity of the world, extending it to the history of nature and society. Thus, not only it is possible to investigate the world considered as matter in perpetual movement, but the world can also be investigated as matter endlessly in movement from a lower form to a higher form. That is to say, it is possible to investigate the world as development and process.

Dialectical materialism investigate the development of the world as a progressive movement from the inorganic to the organic, and from thence to the highest form of the movement of matter (society).

What we have just discussed is the theory of the movement of the world, or the principle of the development of the world in accordance with dialectical materialism. This doctrine is the essence of Marxist philosophy. If the proletariat and all revolutionaries take up this consistently scientific arm, they will then be able to understand this world, and transform the world.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung