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Cadres Studying Marxism-Leninism

Revolutionary Theory of Reflection

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #46, Nov. 17, 1972, pp. 16-17.]

It is apriorism to make suggestions and draw up plans without investigations and study and without knowing the actual situations, because they are conjured up and not based on practical experience. To avoid making such mistakes, it is necessary to carry out investigations and take a practical approach so as to make plans and measures truly reflect the objective reality.

How to reflect? There are two different theories of reflection. One is the mechanical, passive theory of reflection, and the other is dynamic and revolutionary. Members of the Party committee of the Bureau of Metallurgical Machinery in Hsiangtan city, Hunan Province, had a debate on this question during one of their working sessions.

Chang Hai-peng, deputy director of the bureau, submitted a monthly production plan to the Party committee for discussion. The quota of output value was smaller than the previous month’s. His reason was: The factories had made efforts in the past few months to increase production by a wide margin. As some of them could not get enough raw material for the time being, the tempo of production should be slowed down. He cited many examples of shortage of raw materials to support his view.

Hardly had Chang finished speaking when one of the committee members said: ”The general line for building socialism demands that we go all out and aim high; the city Party committee also wants us to tap our potential and advance with big strides. But your plan is so conservative!”

Thinking that he had investigated the situation, Chang retorted: ”Why, the plan I have drawn up reflects the objective reality.”

“A plan must of course reflect the objective reality. The question is how to reflect, mechanically or dynamically.”

To convince each other, both sides based their arguments on theory and quoted from Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and Engels’ Anti-Dühring which they were studying.

Chang Hai-peng said: ”Lenin pointed out, ‘Things exist independently of our consciousness, independently of our sensations, outside of us.’ How can one impose his will on objective things?”

Director Chang Hsiu-ling countered: ”When you drew up your plan, you took into consideration the objective things but not the role of man. In essence it is mechanical materialism. You regard the objective conditions as static and dead.”

Chang disagreed. Just as Engels said that “the principles are not the starting-point of the investigation, but its final result,” isn’t talking only about principles proceeding from ideology and sensations to things?

So the debate went on. Seeing that the problem could not be solved just by arguing, Party committee secretary Ku who presided over the meeting suggested that it be adjourned. He asked the members to study again works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and Chairman Mao’s teachings on the theory of knowledge and go to the grass roots to make further investigations and listen to the masses’ opinions.

The next day, the Party committee members went to different units under the bureau. They found that what Chang had said about the lack of raw materials was true, but they also found that he had not made an analysis of the situation as a whole. True, the various units were short of this or that, but the situation could be changed through the subjective initiative of the leadership and the masses. Then, responsible comrades of the bureau and those in charge of production in the various factories spent two days in inspecting the warehouses of 16 units. With full knowledge of what they lacked and what they had more than needed, the leadership solved the problem in the following manner: Units under the bureau were called on to supply each other’s wants, and the departments concerned were asked to deliver the needed raw materials as quickly as possible; at the same time technical innovations were introduced and efforts were made with regard to multi-purpose use of materials.

The Party committee then held a discussion meeting. How did they bring about the change from deficiency to sufficiency with the same amount of things and the same people? In accordance with Lenin’s thesis “Not only is the transition from matter to consciousness dialectical, but also that from sensation to thought, etc.,” they earnestly analysed the two investigations they had made and probed the question of transition from matter to thought. Through study and analysis, Chang came to know the truth: In his first investigation, his brain only functioned as a ”camera.” The second time his brain acted as a ”processing factory” which processed the ”raw material” he came across into thought to guide practice. Only through the latter process can matter be transformed into correct thinking.

Later, the Party committee called another meeting to draw up the production plan. The output value under the new plan was 40 per cent higher than the original one.

The debate, however, did not end with the drawing up of the new plan, for the results would have to be proved through practice.

The masses have boundless creative power, and the leadership should adhere to the mass line. Enlightened by this truth, the committee members came to realize that to achieve the objective they had in mind, they must rely on and mobilize the masses to work hard to fulfil the plan. They went to the grass-roots units to study, work and solve problems together with the workers. The result was encouraging. News of success kept pouring in. Practice showed that the monthly production plan was correct.

The Party committee members studied and discussed again the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge. Comrade Chang Hai-peng said: ”Man’s knowledge can only be obtained from the external world, it can only reflect things. This is the general principle of the theory of reflection. But there’s also the question of how to reflect. There is mechanical reflection as well as dynamic reflection. The first time I saw only ‘dead things’ but not ‘living men,’ and this is mechanical reflection, or mechanical materialism.”

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