6 Pieces on Contradiction
Critical thoughts on Mao’s conceptions of contradictions, for the consolidation of the theory of contradictions
By Jan Makandal
(April 6, 2013)
Mao is one of the proletarian revolutionaries who defined contradictions. It is an objective advancement and an objective contribution to the struggle of the international proletariat. Many other intellectuals did contribute, as well, to the consolidation of the theory of contradictions. One of the fundamental differences between those intellectuals and Mao is that in the case of the others, their contributions to the theory of contradiction were not constructed inside the struggle, as was Mao’s as he waged struggle inside the CCP for the triumph of a proletarian line.
All contributions to, and all definitions of, the theory of contradictions are fundamental to the struggle of the proletariat. The most advanced detachment of the proletariat, the proletarian revolutionary organization, must appropriate contradiction as a fundamental element of dialectical materialism, for a materialist interpretation of history, and simultaneously to construct a political line. Historical materialism is the analysis of history using the method of dialectical materialism. The theory of contradiction is a fundamental element of dialectics, which is the most advanced method in the analysis of historical materialism. The analysis of capital, the whole social relations of capital, must be indissolubly defined as a process, as a contradiction, and finally as a historical tendency.
We know that it is not enough, by any means, to analyze just the economic determination of the dialectic of class struggle, if we are to be able to explain it and to control the concrete phases. On this basis, it is important to analyze the superstructures as well. Their operations are necessary to the reproduction of the whole of the social relations, and to their transformations as well. They consist of specific class struggles, irreducible to the economic base only. In the same way, it is necessary to be able to analyze the entire complexity of class struggle of a specific social formation; for example, the peasantry has been for some time the most difficult point to integrate into a cohesive theory and tactics of the proletariat.
Marx attempted to give an outline to the peasant question. Marx is not the only Marxist who developed the basis of proletarian theory, even if he was unique. Mao was one who deepened and consolidated Marx’s contributions. But Mao’s own limitations also prove clearly that the production of proletarian theory is still an unfinished task. It is not enough to reproduce Mao contributions, but more importantly it is imperative that we utilize his contributions (from the dialectical relations of general to specific), to develop and consolidate a universal theory of class alliance to be applied in our specific social formation.
A more cohesive theory on the peasantry is greatly needed. Mao did not quite define a correct political line capable of preserving the autonomy of the proletariat in its unity with the peasantry (even, in particular, those fractions of the peasant class that he considered part of the fundamental masses). In contrast to the petit bourgeoisie, in general the peasantry in its relation to production are possessors of land, even though they are dominated. Capitalism and capitalist policies of neo-liberalism, especially, are transforming dispossessed peasants into potential workers, the unemployed and the sub-proletariat (potential workers unable to work). They are still very attached to their private property. At the ideological and political level, they share similar characteristics of the petit bourgeoisie and are very individualistic, as well. The peasantry, with the exception of capitalist farmers, are an enlargement of the petit bourgeoisie, and share similar aspirations of becoming capitalists.
Although Mao understood and appropriated this reality, he was not fully able to formulate a cohesive theory on the participation of the peasantry in the revolutionary struggle for socialism. He did identify them as a principal force and correctly identified the working class as the determinant force, the leading force, but his opportunism and populism made him unable him to formulate a correct line guaranteeing the autonomy of the proletariat, in the class alliance, under the leadership of the proletariat. Consequently, the peasantry became a dominant force in the CCP. They became the capitalist roaders, the leading forces. And like all petit bourgeoisie elements, they were constitutionally incapable of constructing socialism.
Also, some aspects of Mao’s analysis of the Chinese social formation were very much based on a level of mechanical materialism. His analysis of the relations of two antagonistic modes of production also led him to some fundamental errors, even in his dominantly proletarian line. And because of his proletarian tendencies, Mao attempted to rectify these errors during the conjuncture of the GPCR, but again his opportunism and populism did not allow him to go all the way. These are important points identified to put some meat on the initial points outlined by Marx on the key questions of the peasantry/ petit bourgeoisie, which any revolutionary movement will face.
Stalin’s political orientation was not only mechanical and bureaucratic, but objectively revisionist. Although Mao demarcated from Stalin, we still have a long way to go, in a moment in which the movement is dominated by the radical petit bourgeoisie… It is important in the class unity, that the working class maintain its autonomy organically at all levels in building the people’s camp, under its leadership.
Some limitations of Mao’s definitions of contradictions:
At some level, and in some instances, Mao confused the fundamental contradiction with the principal contradiction. And he did not quite appropriate that the aspect of a contradiction is not the same as the particular aspect of a contradiction. And most importantly, he totally did not appropriate the theory of pertinent effect in a contradiction.
A social formation, for us, is an objective reality in need of being analyzed, because it is the totality of the relations between all classes that constitute the structure of historical class struggle.
For us, all objective realities, all phenomena, have a dynamic of development. This development goes through different periods, stages, phases, and moments. We must look at these periods, at these stages, at these phases, and at these moments in the development of these objectives realities, to constantly appropriate and give a scientific interpretation to these phenomena. This analysis is what is called the periodisation of the phenomenon. Because these phenomena, these objective realities are dynamic, we must understand the reasons for that dynamism and identify the motors of that dynamic.
The engine of that dynamic, in all objective realities, in all phenomena, is contradiction. In all phenomena, in all complex objectives realities, we will find many contradictions determining their development and dynamics. The development isn’t always ascending; it could also be declining. Either way, these contradictions are the motors of development of these realities. These contradictions exist from the onset, the beginning of these realities, through their end.
In order to understand the development, the dynamic of any phenomenon we must comprehend its contradictions.
In the law of contradictions, there are four concepts we must understand: contradiction, fundamental contradiction, principal contradiction, and secondary contradiction.
1) Contradictions are when we have two elements existing together which are in struggle one against the other. The most powerful element in the struggle is the fundamental contradiction, which consists of the two elements that are fundamental for the constant reproduction of that phenomenon. The weaker elements are the secondary contradictions; for example, the contradiction between capital and the bourgeoisie are secondary contradictions. The principal contradiction provides the characterization of the contradiction.
2) The fundamental contradiction is a contradiction that exists from the beginning to the end of a phenomenon. It characterizes the phenomenon, the objective reality. If or when it disappears or is no longer fundamental, the phenomenon itself disappears or enters a period of transition, engendering a new phenomenon. The fundamental contradiction determines all other contradictions, even if they function independently and autonomously from it, and in the final analysis, determines the relations of all other contradictions. In a capitalist mode of production (even in dominated social formation), the contradiction between capital and labor is the fundamental contradiction.
Proletarian revolutionary theorists did not arbitrarily or semantically define the relation of capital to labor as the fundamental contradiction of our time, leading them to determine that the core task of all proletarian revolutionaries internationally is to organize for proletarian revolution. All did declare that proletarian revolution is the order of the day. And Mao applied that general call in the concrete reality of China by defining all the modalities of a revolution led by the proletariat in the concrete conditions of China. His class analysis of China, defining the principal force of the proletarian revolution under the leadership of the proletariat, is a specific application of that general call to the concrete reality of China. Of course, lessons are to be learned by us to rectify or to consolidate our theory from that experience, in order to continue to apply that general call in our respective realities of the social formations we belong to.
What makes the contradiction between capital and labor a fundamental contradiction, with capital the fundamental aspect of that contradiction:
Briefly and very concisely, the social process of exploitation of labor power and the process of production of surplus value are the fundamental elements of capitalist relations of production. They are the fundamental relations of capitalist production. This is true of all manifestations of capital such as: a) movement of capital on the financial market, b) capital as money, and c) goods.
Thus the movement of capital competition and concentration, with all its contradictions, depends on these fundamental aspects: the process of exploitation of labor power and the process of production of surplus value. And both of these fundamental aspects situate labor as antagonistically facing capital. This is because their most important aspect is conquest through the most productive form of surplus value: industrial capital. The production of surplus value is not only the most important form, among many, but even more importantly the production of surplus value is the organic unity of all forms of capitalist exploitation in a production process. Surplus value is class struggle in the process of production.
In other words, the analysis of surplus value is the internal analysis of determined forms of class struggle.
So, the call for proletarian revolution as the order of the day addresses two possible historical resolutions: either the reinforcement of exploitation or the revolutionary transformation of the capitalist mode of production.
To be continued…