3 of 6 on Contradiction: Concepts of Contradiction (Principal Contradiction)

6 Pieces on Contradiction

Text 3:

Concepts of Contradiction
By Jan Makandal

(April 6, 2013)


The principal contradiction is the contradiction characterizing a stage of a phenomenon. It is considered principal, because we must address it in order for the phenomenon to pass to a new stage of development. In a specific stage, the principal contradiction determines the evolution of other contradictions. Hence, all other contradictions play a secondary role in the transition from one stage to another. We identify the principal contradiction as conjuncturally determinant, meaning it concentrates and condenses all the other contradictions, and it must be addressed in order to resolve other contradictions.

The defeat of capital and capitalism is the principal contradiction we are facing. In the concrete, this means that the principal contradiction is a contradiction between the masses, under the leadership of the proletariat, against the capitalist state. Thus the correct call: Proletarian revolution is the order of the day.

In a capitalist social formation or a social formation dominated by capitalism, the struggle against the capitalist state apparatus is the principal aspect of that contradiction: it must be destroyed in order to enter a new stage. The principal contradiction is a stage of development of a phenomenon, and will change with a new stage. The principal contradiction will become a secondary contradiction in a new stage, with the objective for it to disappear, to totally resolve. If not addressed properly, the principal contradiction, now a secondary contradiction, may revert and regain its place as the principal contradiction. It could thus enter yet another stage, a new transition toward a return to capitalism.

To further clarify: even if the fundamental contradiction in a social formation is at the economic level, the solution, the process of entering a new stage, can only be resolved through a political struggle. The solution to enter a new stage is a political solution. Under capitalism, the proletariat is the only force that could lead society to a new stage.

Why can the resolution of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism to enter a new stage only be addressed principally in the political field?

Even if we agree that capitalism is working toward its own demise, it hasn’t happened yet. For now that is only a utopian hypothesis. The human lifespan is very short compared to the lifespan of class struggle. As far as we know, any radical transition from one mode of production to another (a new stage) happens in the field of revolutionary struggle. So far, humanity has witnessed a few important ones: Haiti, Russia, China and Vietnam (to a certain extent). In Haiti’s transition from a slave-based mode of production to feudalism, there was an alliance of two main classes. The slaves were the principal force, and the free slaves were the leading force that transitioned to the new dominant class: the feudal landlords.

Another reason for this definition of the principal contradiction, is that historically the ultimate objective of class struggle is power, the political power of classes or a bloc of classes over other classes.

Now we will make a tangential point for the simple purpose of clarification, even if it may temporarily put us off the subject:

The concept of power, for all its theoretical value, has not been correctly appropriated by most previous proletarian revolutionaries. So far, and dominantly, the theoretical value of that concept has been limited to its pragmatic value. Power has mainly been equated with its external expression: the effect of power . Most have reduced the notion of power to its reformist value. Marx and Engels, after the Paris Commune, rectified their reformist conception of transition to a more radical one. But their notion of transition still remained very limited. And this limitation meant that the concept of power was not elevated to a level benefiting the proletarian alternative.

In the relation of structure and practice, the definition of the concept of power remained mostly at the level of practices: coercion, repression, oppression. But the concept of power is structural, a phenomenon in its own right, with his own set of contradictions. Power is democracy and dictatorship (which are identical). Power is historically determined and chronologically conjunctural, defined and determined by class struggle. The way that the capitalist class exerts power now it is not the same way it did it 50 or 100 years ago.

Power, the dictatorship/democracy of a class, is the capacity of that class to reproduce itself in different moments or conjunctures, for the constant reproduction of that class (or classes) as a dominant class. Power is a class relation: the relations of forces between classes or class alliances under the leadership of a class. Power is the ideological and political dominance of a class or bloc of classes over all other classes for the reproduction of that dominance.

This point (even if tangential to the subject at hand) is important because without the autonomous practice of the proletariat, and the objective to unify the masses under its leadership, the dictatorship/democracy of the proletariat in alliance with the bloc of the fundamental masses is nothing more than a utopian fantasy.

Now back to our main point:

Why is the capitalist or the dominated capitalist state apparatus the principal aspect of the principal contradiction between the masses and the capitalist state, from the standpoint of the fundamental contradiction of labor and capital?

The capitalist state apparatus is the ultimate political structure organizing the social formation in the interest of capital and capitalism. The actual political structures, such as the democratic and republican parties, and any other fringe organizations (not excluding the radical left petit bourgeoisie when they are not under the leadership of the proletariat) are effects of class struggle among the different forms of concentration of capital. The capitalist state apparatus is the organizer of the social formation for the reproduction of capital, the center pole for the reproduction of capital. The capitalist class can’t be disorganized if it center pole is not destroyed. To face that center pole, a highly organized, disciplined and democratically centralized machine is needed. Lenin identified them as professional revolutionaries, but Mao objectively elevated that concept of professional, by identifying them as the most historically advanced elements of their class, ready to face all kinds of adversities to serve the masses and the struggle for the ultimate objective of defeating capital.