6 Pieces on Contradiction
The confusion of a phenomenon with the tendencies produced by that phenomenon
By Jan Makandal
(April 11, 2013)
All phenomena, all objective realities, have a dynamic of development. That development goes through different periods, stages and moments. And the dynamics of development, within all the stages and moments, are constantly producing tendencies.
In the evolution of phenomena, these tendencies will move in a direction toward either disappearing or consolidating, fundamentally because of class struggle. One example is slavery as a form of social relations. Slavery was a tendency of class-divided society, as a social relation in production that consolidated for the reproduction of the main phenomenon. It dissipated as soon as other tendencies became more profitable for the reproduction of those class-divided societies (transitioned to capitalism in the US, and to feudalism in other social formations such as Haiti).
In any relation inside any phenomenon, this contradictory process of producing tendencies exists. As long as the phenomenon exists, these tendencies will emerge, will dissipate and/or will elevate within the dynamic of the phenomenon. The basis for the development or dissipation of these is class struggle. The struggle for production is defined and determined by the contradictions of class struggle.
Tendencies are the emergence of new processes produced by contradictions inside a phenomenon. These tendencies are also phenomena themselves, which are constantly emerging or dissipating in their own process, based on a relative autonomy in relation to the core phenomenon (but are always defined and determined in the historical development of class struggle).
In the field of historical materialism we can identify three main structural fields: 1) the economic field (structures and practices); 2) the political field (structures and practices); 3) the ideological field (structures and practices). In the dialectical relation between structure and practice, structure determines practice, even if practices (tendencies) function in relative autonomy. Structure, as well, determines the dialectical relations between the different structures. All these structures function in relatively autonomous relations, but the superstructures (political and ideological) are determined by the base (economy/production). And we can state that most of the tendencies are borrowed from the base.
Even in the early period of social relations, when classes and class struggle were at an embryonic stage of historical constitution, the tendency for a centralized economy did emerge. And centralization, a tendency in the economic field, has transferred to the superstructure’s field plus other fields. It is very uncertain that even a classless society with transformed human relations (whatever new concept we will come up with) will be able to function outside of the concept of centralization. This shows the unsoundness of the anarchists’ argument equating centralization with bureaucratism.
Tendencies are structural practices emerging from a core phenomenon in any field, but they are not the phenomenon itself, even if those practices play an important role in the reproduction of the core phenomenon. In some cases, these practices are a fundamental aspect in the reproduction of the phenomenon. For example, the exploitation of the labor power of the worker is a fundamental aspect (at the level of the base) in the reproduction of capitalism. But exploitation is not capitalism. It is simply an effect of class-divided society, in the specific social relation of capitalism.
The importance of that point, again, is not semantic, and emphasizing it is not making a big deal out of nothing. Historically, when we equate tendencies with the core phenomenon, the nature of that contradiction (fundamental contradiction) changes, as does the characterization of that phenomenon (principal contradiction). Then the theory will objectively be predominantly erroneous, according to the philosophical conception of “one is divided into two.” Then, inevitably, the political line based on this theory will suffer the same fate. This is the fate of the struggles against racism and against the oppression of women, which have totally degenerated to the most simplistic and crude reformism.
In my previous piece, I mentioned the concept of power, a phenomenon constituted inside any class-divided society and taking shape historically within the objective realities of various class-divided societies, determined by class struggle. Inside that emerging tendency of power, and because of class struggle, power itself will produce tendencies as well, such as: expropriation, repression, fascism, laws and oppression at the level of the superstructures. Power at the level of the base will also produce tendencies such as: exploitation at the level of the fundamental contradiction of capital/labor, or speculation within the contradiction among sections of the capitalist class itself. The anti-fascist front led by the Comintern is a perfect example of shifting the characterization of a phenomenon by totally disregarding the universality of the fundamental contradiction between capital and labor. The two revolutionary movements (China and Vietnam) that did not follow that line, and instead specifically applied a line from the universal contradiction, proved to be more correct.
Confusing a phenomenon with an expression of that phenomenon will objectively lead to the construction of an erroneous interpretation, eventually leading to a wrong political line. It is a metaphysical approach, as explained by Mao in his initial and foundational definition of contradiction, and by many others. The dominant tendency in the mode and method of thinking of the petit bourgeoisie produces a mechanical form of mechanical materialism, a way of thinking that is totally disconnected from objective reality, even if the source of that thinking is objective reality.
Postmodernism is a variety of mechanical materialism. Postmodernism is the perfect mirror of finance capital, a relativistic and idealist way of thinking based on (reflecting) an economy that is not real, not material. The service employee is the mirror class of the finance capitalist, as the worker is to the industrial capitalist. Which is why postmodernism is the dominant ideology among them (the petit bourgeoisie).
We have anarchists talking about the need for organization, and simultaneously critiquing democratic centralism as a negative form. Is it an inconsistency or an objective advancement? I will identify it at this time as an inconsistency, since their critiques are not even based on their own assessments of organization building. In fact, they do practice centralism, and sometimes even a very bureaucratic from of centralism. They do strive for leadership, even as they promote bottom-up organization. They can be very elitist and vanguardist, while simultaneously claiming “horizontalism” (which cannot exist in reality). In Occupy, they were all seeking the role of facilitators. The call for a general strike was extremely vanguardist, in the sense of a small group of individuals mostly disconnected from the masses pretending to be leaders. Some of the ideological effects of postmodernism are demagoguery and an eclectic approach to struggle. We have seen, too, some in the networks of Kasama transitioning from supporting one fraction in Nepal to supporting a different fraction, with no explanation and very opportunistically.
The confusing of a phenomenon with its effects is an idealistic approach in the analysis of a phenomenon. This idealistic demarche is to erroneously identify the phenomenon’s external contradiction as an internal contradiction, while totally disregarding the source of development, regression and disappearance of that phenomenon: its internal contradiction (with all its own contradictions and historical tendencies). Eventually this approach will lead us, in the final analysis, to be in the service of the bourgeoisie.