as a Dialectician
By Martin Glaberman
MAO TSE-TUNG'S reputation as a philosopher, as a materialist dialectician,
stems primarily from his essays, "On Practice," "On
Contradiction," and, in part, from "On the Correct Handling
of Contradiction Among the People." This is an output, depending
on the edition, of little over 100 pages and it would not ordinarily
entitle its author to serious consideration as a philosopher. The
case of Mao, however, is not an ordinary one. His importance as
a political figure and his impact on history are unquestioned. The
question of the nature of his philosophy, therefore, assumes a significance
that cannot be dismissed on the basis of purely scholarly criteria.
To evaluate Mao as a dialectician poses certain problems. The
first is the matter of the quality of his work. It would be fairly
simple to make out a case for the view that Mao as a philosopher
is crude and trivial. It is difficult to take seriously the suggestion
of Prof. George Thomson that "Mao's treatment of contradiction
is subtler and more profound" than Stalin's. One would suspect
that the comment was made with tongue in cheek, a kind of damning
with faint praise, if the content of the article did not indicate
that Thomson was quite serious. More accurate is the judgment of
Arthur A. Cohen, in connection with a particular point of Mao's,
that "This is crude dialectics. It is below the level of Marx,
Engels and Lenin. It resembles Stalin's clumsy thinking and style."
The difficulty with this line of reasoning, however, is that it
tempts one to dismiss Mao's philosophy as, on the whole, a crude,
popularized paraphrase of Marx and Lenin. Mao's philosophizing becomes
the self-indulgence of an all-powerful leader, plucking laurels
for himself in fields in which he does not belong. "Mao's description
of qualitative change," says Cohen, "seems to be the extent
of his originality as a Marxist dialectical materialist."
The crudeness, however, conceals a complete departure from, and
rejection of, dialectical materialism. These need to be examined
in their own right. The specific philosophical views of Mao Tse-tung
are of much greater significance than his technical qualifications
One further point needs to be noted. This discussion is limited
to Mao as a dialectician and it is not intended that judgments about
Mao's philosophical views or abilities be automatically transferred
to other fields of theory or practice. Mao's practical abilities
as a revolutionary leader are widely recognized. Apart from practical
ability and success, I believe that Mao Tse-tung has made significant
and original contributions to political theory. His theories of
guerilla warfare and his development of a theory of national revolution
based on the peasantry and on a peasant army are two examples of
this. But these have to be discussed in their own right and in another
context, although an analysis of Mao as a dialectician may contribute
to that discussion ultimately. One of the purposes of this paper
is to show that the relation between Mao's philosophical views and
his political views cannot automatically be brought together under
the heading of dialectical.
The second question is what standard of dialectical materialism
is there to use as a basis for judging Mao's writings? The most
literal answer is that there is none. I believe, however, that a
reasonable standard can be deduced that can be fruitfully used.
Lenin once noted that "It is impossible completely to understand
Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without
having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic.
Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood
Marx!" I have taken this as a guide. Marx used dialectical
materialism but was unable to find the time to write an exposition
of his philosophy, or, rather, his method. Engels' philosophical
writing is of a very mixed quality. There is a discernible leap
in the quality of Lenin's philosophical and other writing after
his studies of Hegel. His Philosophical Notebooks, fragmentary
as they are, are more valuable than his book, Materialism and
Empirio-Criticism, which is more materialist than dialectical.
His political writings in the period following his Hegelian studies,
particularly Imperialism and State and Revolution,
clearly reflect the philosophical advances he had made. I have attempted,
therefore to use as a guide a kind of synthesis of Hegel and Marx
and Lenin which seems to me to correspond with a reasonable view
of dialectical materialism. This will have to stand or fall on the
measure of fruitfulness it provides in the analysis of Mao.
In the essay, "On Practice," it becomes evident that
Mao's philosophy is not simply a popularization of Leninist views
but something else. More than the other writings, it is full of
the crude and the trivial, the commonplace platitudes presented
as profound wisdom. The point to the article is that theory is derived
from practice and "that man's social practice alone is the
criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world."
This is a simple enough point but it is some distance from being
dialectical materialism. The same view can be contained in other
and conflicting philosophies. The crucial question would be exactly
how practice becomes theory and is then tested in practice. The
entire emphasis of the article, despite the quotations from Lenin,
is pragmatic and empirical.
"The Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism has two
outstanding characteristics," says Mao. "One is its class
nature: it openly avows that dialectical materialism is in the service
of the proletariat. The other is practicality: it emphasizes that
theory is based on practice and in turn serves practice.... The
standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the
dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge."" This is
valid enough in general, although very one-sided. But the validity
is reduced by its concretization by example and by the claims made
One example given is that visitors come to the Communist territories
in Yenan and observe visible phenomena. "When the members of
the observation group have collected data and, what is more, have
'thought them over,' they are able to arrive at the judgment that
'the Communist Party's policy of the National United Front Against
Japan is thorough, sincere and genuine." This is the second
stage of cognition and already we have to note that neither Marx
nor Lenin would have tolerated anything as subjective as the nonsense
about "sincere and genuine." "Having made this judgment,
they can, if they too are genuine" (another purely subjective
judgment) "about uniting to save the nation, go a step further
and draw the following conclusion, 'The National United Front Against
Japan can suc-ceed."' This is not merely a simple example.
It is a purely em-pirical progression with nothing inherently dialectical
contained in it. The judgment is subjective without any indication
of an internal and necessary progression from one stage to the next.
Further examples are on the same level. Practice is interpreted
as meaning that "If you want to know a certain thing or a certain
class of things directly, you must personally participate in the
practical struggle to change reality ... ; only through personal
partici-pation ... can you uncover the essence of that thing or
class of things and comprehend them." Later on he says,
"If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution,
you must take part in revolution." Poor Karl Marx who never
got the chance to do quite that! Matters are not helped by the addition
of the comment that "most of our knowledge comes from indirect
experience." While this statement makes it possible to
claim that Mao is formally correct, that one side is balanced against
the other, in the context of this article it does not at all prevent
the impression that a conception of social truth is reduced to an
injunction to join the Communist Party and the "correction"
of the last quotation is simply a statement that if you are in the
Party you can allow the Party to make the experience for you.
Another example intensifies this impression: the example of a
com-rade who hesitates to accept an assignment. "If he spends
some time at the job and gains experience and if he is a person
who is willing to look into matters with an open mind and not one
who approaches problems subjectively, one-sidedly, and superficially,
then he can draw conclusions for himself as to how to go about the
job and do it with much more courage." The moral of this
little tale, on the level of bright sayings from Poor Richard's
Almanac, is that comrades shouldn't hesitate, that with experience
gained on the job they will become qualified and expert. This is
as far from dialectics as you can get. Compare it with the following
It is now seen that the so-called explanation
and proof of the concrete element which is brought into Propositions
is partly a tautology and partly a confusion of the true relation;
further it is seen that this confusion served to disguise the
trick of Cognition, which took up empirical data one-sidedly (the
only manner in which it could reach its simple definitions and
formulae), and eludes empirical refutation by examining experience
and allowing it validity not in its concrete totality but as example,
and only in that direction which is serviceable for the hypothesis
and the theory. Concrete experience being thus subordinated to
the presupposed determinations, the foundation of the theory is
obscured, and is exhibited only from that side which is in conformity
with the theory .... 
Lenin quoted this passage in his Notebooks and added
the comments, "remarkably correct and profound" and "against
subjectivism and one sidedness." It is as if it was written
in reply to Mao's "On Practice." A further barb thrown
at Mao's essay is the comment of Lenin's which follows: "Example:
ridiculous pomposity over trivialities, etc." Hegel categorizes
Mao's type of philosophy as Synthetic Cognition, a subordinate level
of thought that has not reached the heights available to the dialectic.
Mao's difficulty is compounded by the claim he makes for his article.
The concluding sentence is: "Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist
theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory
of the unity of knowing and doing." That makes it impossible
to say that Mao was merely intending to redress thebalance, to give
to practice a little more emphasis because theory had had all the
emphasis in the past. The balance is completely upset, and the editor
of the Selected Works of Mao tells us why. "'On Practice'
was written in order to expose the subjectivist errors of dogmatism
and empiricism in the Party, and especially the error of dogmatism,
from the standpoint of the Marxist theory of knowledge.""
Dogmatism is the too-rigid adherence to the theories of Marx. In
establishing his own leadership over Chinese Communism, Mao had
to lay the theoretical groundwork for whatever departures from Marxist
theory seemed necessary to him. If practice is primary, and the
practice of the Party the most decisive of all practice, and the
relation between practice and theory is nowhere made explicit, then
it becomes quite clear that the "Thought of Mao Tse-tung"
becomes the embodiment of both practice and theory. The rank and
file Communist is left with no theoretical method to examine reality
for himself, for the Party's method is empirical and cannot be tested
except in practice, that is, after it is too late. When Lenin says,
"the practice of man and of mankind is the test, the criterion
of the objectivity of cognition, " and when he repeats
this idea in many ways and many places, it is quite clear from the
total context that he is speaking on a historical scale in terms
of major events and human experience. He is not joining Mao in practicing
"ridiculous pomposity over trivialities."
There appears in "On Practice" an unusual reference
to the class struggle. "Man's social practice is not confined
to activity in production, but takes many other forms - class struggle,
political life, scientific and artistic pursuits...." Later
in the same paragraph, class struggle is again listed as another
type of social practice distinct from material life, that is, life
in production. This is quite a departure from Marx and Lenin for
whom class struggle, although pervading all aspects of society,
was above all found in the process of production. It is difficult
to understand this particular formulation except in relation to
the needs of Chinese Communist society. Mao has put forward the
theory that the class struggle will be a feature of Communist society
for a long time to come. This, however, cannot be permitted
to become a carte blanche to workers to struggle for their rights
in the factories. As a result it becomes necessary to amend Marx
and Lenin to take the class struggle out of the process of production
and put it in the sphere of politics, that is, in the sphere where
the Party exercises full control and where independent and spontaneous
activity by workers is excluded.
There also appears in "On Practice" the first sign of
a view which achieves a fuller representation in "On Contradiction."
"As man's practice which changes objective reality in accordance
with given ideas, theories, plans or programmes, advances further
and further, his knowledge of objective reality likewise becomes
deeper and deeper. " Notice the phrase: "in accordance
with given ideas, theories, plans or programmes," and compare
it with the famous quotation from Marx: "It is not the consciousness
of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their
social existence determines their consciousness." As I
shall try to show below, this is not an accidental formulation,
the result of crudeness or lack of sophistication. It is a link
in an idealistic and intellectual view of history that is an integral
part of the philosophy of Mao-Tse-tung.
Contradiction brings us to the heart of the dialectic and it is
necessary to begin with some indication of what the dialectic is
about. Hegel says in the Preface to his Phenomenology,
"the real subject-matter is not exhausted in its purpose, but
in working the matter out; nor is the mere result attained the concrete
whole itself, but the result along with the process of arriving
at it." He says the same thing in many places and in many
ways, that dialectics is a totality and a process, not simply some
rules or conclusions.
That Lenin was familiar with this integral character of dialectics
is indicated by his notation of sixteen points as the "Elements
1) the objectivity of consideration
(not examples, not divergences, but the Thing-in-itself) ...
2) the entire totality of the manifold relations of this
thing to others.
3) the development of this thing, (phenomenon, respectively),
its own move-ment, its own life.
4) the internally contradictory tendencies (and sides)
in this thing.
5) the thing (phenomenon, etc.) as the sum and unity of opposites
6) the struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites,
contradictory strivings, etc.
7) the union of analysis and synthesis - the break-down of the
separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.
8) the relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only
manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process,
etc.) is connected with every other.
9) not only the unity of opposites, but the transition of EVERY
determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other
(into its opposite?).
10) the endless process of the discovery of new sides,
11) the endless process of the deepening of man's knowledge of
the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence
and from less profound to more profound essence.
12) from co-existence to causality and from one form of connection
and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form.
13) the repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties,
etc. of the lower and
14) the apparent return to the old (negation of the negation).
15) the struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing
off of the form, the transformation of the content.
16) the transition of quantity into quality and vice versa.
(15 and 16 are examples of 9).
I quote this in full not because it succeeds in embodying the
totality of dialectics but because it indicates Lenin's awareness
of dialectics as a process of constant change, of relationships
being constantly transformed, of ever newer and deeper insights
and discoveries. Lenin surely understood the sense in which Hegel
called his philosophy Speculative Logic. It is necessary to contrast
this to Mao's "On Contradiction" as a whole to appreciate
the rigidity, the fixed categories and concepts, the conception
of truth as a finished product, with which Mao's essay abounds.
It will become clear that this contrast is not the result of "popularization"
or simplification, but something very different.
To Mao all cause and effect is simple and clear-cut. "Contradictoriness
within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while
its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary
causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory
of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by
metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism."
All his examples reinforce the rigidity of this initial conception
and, in addition, primary causality becomes the basic element of
development. This is not merely an inadequate presentation of the
dialectic; it is a false one. Lenin notes:
When one reads Hegel on causality, it appears
strange at first glance that he dwells so relatively lightly on
this theme, beloved of the Kantians. Why? Because, indeed, for
him causality is only one of the determinations for universal
connection, which he had already covered earlier, in his entire
exposition, much more deeply and all-sidedly; always and from
the very outset emphasizing this connection, the reciprocal transitions,
In the first section of "On Contradiction," in "The
Two World Outlooks," there already appears the philosophical
idealism which was only indicated in "On Practice." Mao
says that the "dialectical world outlook teaches us primarily
how to observe and analyse the movement of opposites in different
things and, on the basis of such analysis, to indicate the methods
for resolving contradictions." The theme of resolving contradictions
continually reappears. "Qualitatively different contradictions
can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods."
"The principle of using different methods to resolve different
contradictions. . . ." ". . . find a way to resolve
its contradictions." And so on. It reaches its fulfillment,
of course, in the title of the essay, "On the Correct Handling
of Contradictions Among the People." Mao in this way contradicts
his otherwise correct opposition to external causes and insistence
on contradiction being the source of internal movement. The concept
of "solving" or "handling" contradictions, as
used by Mao, is a purely external and manipulative one. It is not
used in a historical or objective sense of a solution being drawn
out of the dialectical process. 'This conception of "solving"
is rejected completely by Hegel, and he is joined in this by Lenin.
It is the simple point of negative self-relation,
the internal source of all activity, vital and spiritual self-movement,
the dialectical soul which all truth has in it and through which
it alone is truth; for the transcendence of the opposition
between the Notion and Reality, and that unity which is the truth,
rest upon this subjectivity alone. The second negative, which
we have reached, is this transcendence of the contradiction, but
is no more the activity of an external reflection than the contradiction
is; it is the innermost and most objective moment
of Life and Spirit, by virtue of which a subject, the person,
the free, has being.
The emphasis is Lenin's, who also added the notes: "the kernel
of dialectics" and "the criterion of truth (the unity
of the concept and reality)."
What is involved here is fundamental and relates to the kinds
of historical examples used by Mao to illustrate his philosophical
points. "This is the key to the Hegelian dialectic and therefore
to Marxist thinking.... Thought is not an instrument you apply to
a content. The content moves, develops, changes and creates new
categories of thought, and gives them direction." Hegel
says "it is the nature of the content and that alone which
lives and stirs in philosophic cognition, while it is the very reflection
of the content, which itself originates and determines the nature
of philosophy." Lenin puts it, "Logic is the science
not of external forms of thought, but of the laws of development
'of all material, natural and spiritual things,' etc., of the development
of the entire concrete content of the world and of its cognition
. . ."
Two things are involved here. The first is that contradictions are
not problems that need to, or can, be "solved." They are
a complex set or series of ever-changing relations, that are "transcended"
in particular ways. The function of thought is not to solve them
but to comprehend the way in which, objectively, the contradiction
will be transcended. That is why the following statement is so alien
to dialectics, rigid and formalistic. "Qualitatively different
contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods.
For instance, the contradiction between the proletariat and the
bourgeoisie is resolved by the method of socialist revolution."
As it stands, that is little more than a tautology. It conceals
more than it reveals. The function of the dialectic begins to be
displayed if you ask the question: How did the two poles of the
contradiction (bourgeoisie and proletariat) change and develop to
result in the socialist revolution taking the form of the Paris
Commune in 1871, of soviets in 1905 and 1917, of workers councils
in Hungary in 1956? Above all, the development of this particular
contradiction is studied to find an indication of the form of the
next stage as the two sides of the contradiction move toward another
confrontation. That is the kind of question Lenin attempted to answer
in State and Revolution. Mao avoids it like the plague.
The second point involved takes us to the question of Mao's examples.
Dialectics is unlike formal logic in that it is integally related
to contents. Formal logic can be correct whether the facts used
are right or wrong. Dialectic thinking cannot because it involves,
above all the self-movement of objective categories. The categories
of thought, therefore, cannot be assumed or given as fixed; they
have to be derived from reality, they have to be shown in their
objective self-movement, and they have to be shown developing inevitably
toward the transcendence of their contradictions, that is, toward
their destruction. This last is important and is why Marx called
the Hegelian dialectic a critical philosophy. There is thus involved
a complex range of problems in dealing with Mao's philosophical
writings which take us far beyond the limits of philosophy and have
to be excluded from this essay. Above all, the objective truth of
the facts used by Mao in developing his argument become integral
to the argument itself and if the facts are demonstrated to be false
or distorted, the dialectical logic is also false or distorted.
However, certain elements or aspects of the facts presented are
more directly relevant and have to be dealt with.
As an example of the primacy of "internal causes," Mao
cites the defeat of the revolution of 1926 and attributes it to
the opportunism then to be found within the Chinese
proletariat itself (inside the Chinese Communist Party).... Later,
the Chinese Revolution again suffered severe setbacks at the hands
of the enemy, because adventurism had risen within our Party....
Thus it can be seen that to lead the revolution to victory, a
political party must depend on the correctness of its own political
line and the solidity of its own organization.
Thus it can be seen that what is decisive to the success of a
revolution is not the objective strength or weakness of the respective
classes (size, relation to the means of production and communication,
relative weight in the society, etc.) which can be reflected (accurately
or inaccurately) in the ideologies of parties, but the purely ideal
representation, the mental construct, of a political line and political
solidarity. Not only has Mao given causes (even if true) which are
external to the working class, not internal, and are therefore not
dialectical; he has given causes which are ideal and not material.
There are points in a revolutionary crisis, of course, at which
a political line can be decisive. The political line, however, cannot
come out of thin air. It can be analysed as correct only in relation
to the actual circumstances of the proletariat and other classes,
not in relation to the superior or inferior wisdom of political
leaders. It is only necessary to contrast Mao's method with Lenin's.
When he was confronted with the collapse of the anti-war program
of the Second International in 1914 he was not satisfied to charge
the socialist leaders with betrayal. He produced his study of Imperialism
in order to find the class contradiction within the working class
and concluded that a new stage of capitalism had produced a privileged
section of the working class which benefited from colonial exploitaton.
He attributed what he believed to be the degeneration of the socialist
parties to that. Subjective causes, such as betrayal or an incorrect
political line were, at most, consequences of an objective historical
Another example further extends the idealistic departure from
dialectical materialism. In discussing the particularities of contradictions,
Mao gives as example of examining "the two aspects of each
contradiction" a history of the Kuomintang and the Communist
Party." Before 1927 the Kuomintang had certain policies and
was revolutionary and vigorous. "After 1927, however, the Kuomintang
changed into its opposite and became a reactionary bloc of the landlords
and big bourgeoisie." After 1936 its policies changed again
and it cooperated with the Communist Party. An "alliance of
various classes for the democratic revolution" at one point
"becomes a reactionary bloc of the landlords and big bourgeoisie"
at another. I leave aside the question of whether the description
is accurate. What is essential in this connection is that nowhere
is there any attempt to show or claim that the class composition
of the Kuomintang changed in any way. Instead of policy being determined
by material base, that is, by class character, the class character
of the organization is determined by its policy. Once again, consciousness
determines existence, instead of the other way around. It takes
more than the ritual use of the language of dialectics, "changed
into its opposite," to produce dialectical thought.
Why Mao so flagrantly violates a basic tenet of dialectical materialism
becomes a little more evident in the second half of this example,
the development of the Chinese Communist Party. From 1924 to
1927 the CP "courageously" led the revolution but was
immature, etc. After 1927 the CP "courageously" led .
. . but committed adventurist errors. Since 1935 (that is to say,
since Mao assumed the leadership) the Party has corrected its errors,
etc., etc. Once again a completely idealistic interpretation. Absent,
for example, is any consideration of the class base of the Party,
the fact that before 1927 the Communist Party had great strength
in the working class which it lost completely after the debacle
of 1927. Again, I leave aside the question of whether Mao's description
of the development of the Communist Party is historically accurate.
It is very evidently incomplete and the particular incompleteness
is crucial to dialectical materialism. It may have some significance
that only by departing from dialectical materialism in this way
can Mao call the Communist Party a proletarian party in any sense
whatever. It is not class composition which helps to determine policy.
It is policy which determines class "composition."
"The Principal Contradiction and the
Principal Aspect of a Contradiction"
In order to free himself to make whatever alliances
he deems necessary with organizations or states which would ordinarily
be considered reactionary (as the Kuomintang), Mao places great
emphasis on the particularity of contradiction. This simply means
that the universal principle that all things contain contradiction
does not relieve you of the responsibility of determining the specific
nature of each concrete contradiction in each particular situation.
After, having gone on at great length to demonstrate this generality,
he goes on to the heart of the question. Not only does each thing
or phenomenon have a principle contradiction; it also has a principal
aspect of the contradiction. What this means to Mao is a thoroughly
rigid, formalistic, undialectical construction within which purely
ideal and subjective judgments can be made. When the Kuomintang
cooperates with the Communist Party, the principal aspect of its
contradiction is its progressive revolutionary side. When the Kuomintang
turns on the Communist Party, its reactionary nature becomes the
principal aspect. It must be repeated: this is completely divorced
from any material base, in fact or in thought, and is completely
empty of the element of necessity, that is, of inherent inner development,
so critical to dialectical materialism.
The rigid formalism is extended to other questions.
There is identity and struggle in contradiction. Example:
You see, by means of revolution
the proletariat, at one time the ruled, is transformed into the
ruler, while the bourgeoisie, the erstwhile ruler, is transformed
into the ruled and changes its position to that originally occupied
by its opposite.... If there were no interconnection and identity
of opposites in given conditions, how could such a change take
It is difficult to conceive of a greater misuse of
the concept of unity of opposites or interpenetration of opposites.
Compare this rigid use of categories with Lenin's sixteen elements
of dialectics cited above. A simple changing of places is the least
of what is involved. Even at the very end, at the conclusion of
the process in the overthrow of one class by another, the destruction
of both classes is assumed, not a formal change of place. Relevant
to this discussion is the way Marx used this same concept in Capital,
particularly in Chapter I, but then, following that, throughout.
The category Capital contains and is its opposite, Labor. Capital
is divided into constant and variable capital. Constant capital
is means of production variable capital is labor. Labor
thus does not simply stand off somewhere in opposition to capital,
waiting for its chance to overthrow it. It is part of capital Itself
and the relation between the two and within the totality is in constant
flux and change as technical advances in constant capital change
(and are changed by) the nature of work, the size of the working
class, the nature of supervision, the organizations of workers,
and so forth. To reduce this rich and complex process, which is
here only hinted at, to a simple change of place is like determining
which are the good guys and which are the bad guys according to
who wears the white hats. And Mao, of course, is in charge of distributing
Criticism and Self-Criticism
The rejection of dialectics is not accidental. The
blurring of concepts as motive forces in history, the rigid formalism,
all have a point. That point is a theory of the Party and the role
of the Party in Chinese society. ". . . Contradiction within
the Communist Party is resolved by the method of criticism and self-criticism
. . ." This bears a striking resemblance to the philosophical
views imposed by Zhdanov on Russian philosophers.
In our Soviet society, where antagonistic
classes have been liquidated, the struggle between the old and
the new, and consequently the develop-ment from the lower to the
higher, proceeds not in the form of struggle be-tween antagonistic
classes and of cataclysms, as is the case under capi-talism, but
in the form of criticism and self-criticism, which is the real
motive force of our development, a powerful instrument in the
hands of the Communist Party. This is incontestably a new aspect
of movement, a new type of development, a new dialectical law.
This was presented in a report to a conference on
philosophy in June 1947 to impose a new line in the name of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party. To combat idealism
there is introduced a new law, criticism and self-criticism, a purely
idealistic construction. Mao duplicates this view in all essentials.
The result is an inverted criticism of Hegel. From believing that
history was the history of the philosopher, of consciousness and
self-consciousness, Hegel eventually finds himself supporting the
state bureaucracy. Beginning with a state bureaucracy, the Stalinists
(Chinese and Russian) find themselves putting forward the theory
that history is now the history of consciousness and self-consciousness.
This is an idealistic view required in order to keep the material
instruments of power out of the hands of simple workers and peasants.
It is buttressed by Mao with a falsification of Lenin's
views on antagonism and contradiction. Mao quotes Lenin as saying,
"Antagonism and contradiction are not all one and the same.
Under socialism, the first will disappear, the second will remain."
Mao interprets this to mean pure will: "if comrades who have
committed mistakes can correct them, it will not develop into antagonism."
But Lenin meant something very different. It was his view that socialist
society would see the disappearance of classes and therefore the
end of class struggle. It is clear that he equated antagonism with
class struggle, that is, an opposition that was rooted in objective
reality and set man against man. With the end of classes he thought
that contradiction would be essentially in physical or scientific
forms as men continued to transform the world. It had no relation
whatever to the narrow concerns of Mao. It was also consistent with
his philosophical views. For Mao, who postulates centuries of class
struggle in Communist society, it becomes only another way of removing
philosophy from any material objectivity.
"On the Correct Handling
of Contradictions Among the People"
This is overwhelmingly a political and not a philosophic
work. If the title were changed to "On the Correct Handling
of Disagreements Among the People," there would be a clear
picture of what it is about and no misconception that anything like
dialectical contradiction was involved. However, the title is deliberate
in order to give the appearance of philosophical objectivity and
add the weight of Marxist dialectical materialism to support Mao's
arguments. The last shred of dialectical materialism is, in fact,
abandoned. "The contradiction between exploiter and exploited,
which exists between the national bourgeoisie and the working class,
is an antagonistic one," says Mao. "But, in the concrete
conditions existing in China, sach an antagonistic contradiction,
if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic
one and resolved in a peaceful way."
It is all here in a nutshell: The role of the Communist
Party as the maker of history instead of the masses of the people.
The categories (working class, bourgeoisie) made so rigid and meaningless
that they are juggled any way which pleases Mao. Classes without
class struggle (or, if necessary, class struggle without classes).
Dialectical materialism, or rather the shell of dialectical materialism,
becomes simply the quotations researched by clerks and learned by
rote to justify the next twist in the political line. The essence
of my argument is contained here. It is impossible to say that Mao
Tse-tung in any way continues dialectical materialism. The departures
from the philosophical method of Marx and of Lenin are much too
great to be accepted as incompetent popularization on the one hand,
or striking originality on the other. It is, of course, true that
Mao, like most people, has a philosophy. A positive presentation
of what that philosophy is is beyond the scope of this paper. But
what is most apparent is that his philosophy is servant to his politics.
It is not the source of whatever contribution he has made to history.
That Mao has made original contributions to the modern world cannot
be denied. What must be denied is that they have anything to do
1. George Thomson, "Marxism in China Today,"
The Broadsheet (London) Vol. 2, No. 5, p. 4.
2. Arthur A. Cohen, The Communism of Mao Tse-tung (Chicago,
1966), p. 21.
3. Ibid., p. 22.
4. V. I. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks (Collected
Works, Vol. 38) (Moscow, 1961), p. 180.
5."The 'dialectical' materialism, or monism, put forward in
the Anti-Dühring, and in the essays on natural philosophy
eventually published in 1925 under the title Dialectics of Nature,
has only the remotest connection with Marx's own viewpoint . . .
" George Lichtheim, "On the Interpretation of Marx's Thought,"
Survey, No. 62 (Jan. 1967), p. 5. "The results (of
Engels' work on the philosophy of Nature) were not perhaps such
as to enhance Engels' reputation as a philosopher among those who
do not accept his writings as part of a creed." Frederick Copleston,
S.J., A History of Philosophy (Garden City, 1965), Vol.
7, Part 11., p. 82.
6. Collected Works, Vol. 14 (Moscow, 1962).
7 "The embarrassment caused to his editors by the evident incompatibility
of the rather simple-minded epistemological realism expounded in
the earlier work with the more 'dialectical' approach of the Notebooks
is among the minor charms of Soviet philosophical theorising."
George Lichtheim, op. cit., p. 6 (footnote).
8. Collected Works, Vol. 22 (Moscow, 1964), pp. 185-304.
9. Collected Works, Vol. 25 (Moscow, 1964), pp. 381-492.
10. Mao-Tse-tung, Selected Works (Peking, 1965), Vol. 1,
11. Ibid., p. 297. n
12. Ibid., p. 298.
14. Ibid., pp. 299-300.
15 Ibid., p. 300.
17. Ibid., p. 302.
18. G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic (London and New York,
2nd impression, 1951), Vol. 2, pp. 456-57.
19. Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 210. 2° Mao op. cit., p. 308.
21. Ibid., p. 296.
22. Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 211.
23. Mao, op. cit., p. 296.
24. An editorial in Liberation Army Daily of May 4, 1966
credits him with the view that the class struggle will continue
for "centuries." The Great Socialist Cultural Revolution
in China (1) (Peking, 1966), p. 21.
25. Mao, op. cit., p. 307.
26. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
(Chicago, 1904), pp. 11-12.
27. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, translated by
J. B. Baillie (London and New York, revised 2nd edition, 1949),
28. Collected Works, Vol. 38, pp. 221-22, emphasis in original.
29. Op. cit., p. 313.
30. Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 162, emphasis in original.
31. Op. cit., p. 315.
32. Ibid., p. 321.
33. Ibid., p. 322.
34. Ibid., p. 332.
35 The discussion over the correct translation of aufheben
(transcendence, sublation, sublimation), in itself points up how
far this conception is from Mao's "solving." See, e.g.,
Walter Kaufmann, Hegel Texts and Commentary (Garden City,
N. Y., 1966), p. 33.
36. Hegel, Science of Logic (London and New York, 1951),
Vol. 2, pp. 477-78.
37. Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 229.
38. C. L. R. James, Notes on Dialectics (Detroit, ND),
p. 3. (Written in 1948, this was published in draft form in 1966.)
39. Science of Logic, Vol. 2, p. 36.
40. Collected Works, Vol. 38, pp. 92-93.
41. Mao, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 321.
42. The last clause, of course, shows why the question is beyond
43. In contrast with Mao's use of contradiction to place the Party
above the historical process, C. L. R. James' Notes on Dialectics
contains a valuable example of how the concept of contradiction
can be used to illuminate the stages of development of the proletarian
party. "The development of the antagonistic elements in
the labor movement is clear. Constantly higher stages, sharper conflicts
of development between it as object and it as consciousness.
Increasingly violent profound attempis by the masses to break through
"It is obvious that the conflict of the proletariat is between
itself as object and itself as consciousness, its party. The party
has a dialectical development of its own. The solution of the conflict
is the fundamental abolition of this division. The million in the
CP in France, the 2 1/2 millions in Italy, their domination of the
Union movement, all this shows that the prol(etariat) wants to abolish
this distinction which is another form of the capitalistic division
between intellectual and manual labor. The revolutionary party of
this epoch will be organized labor itself and the revolutionary
petty-bourgeoise. The abolition of capital and the abolition of
the distinction between the proletariat as object and proletariat
as consciousness will be one and the same process. That is our new
notion and it is with those eyes that we examine what the proletariat
is in actuality." (pp. 46-47, emphasis in original)
"Hegel had followed his system to the end and established the
faculty of thought (through his World-Spirit) as the moving principle
of the Universe. Under this banner he had linked being and knowing.
And he had made thought free, creative, revolutionary (but only
for a few philosophers). Marxism followed him and established human
labor as the moving principle of human society. Under this banner
Marx linked being and knowing, and made labor and therefore thought,
free, creative, revolutionary, for all mankind. Both in their ways
abolished the contradiction between being and knowing. Now if the
party is the knowing of the proletariat, then the coming of age
of the proletariat means the abolition of the party. That is our
new Universal, stated in its baldest and most abstract form...."
"We are beyond State and Revolution. I can summarize
where we are in the phrase: The Party and Revolution. That
is our leap. That is our new universal - the abolition of the distinction
between party and mass. In the advanced countries we are not far
from it in actuality." (p. 154, emphasis in orig-inal)
This is the only place, to my knowledge, where eight years before
the event, the form of the Hungarian Revolution is abstractly predicted.
44. It is this which makes it necessary to reject the interpretation
of Stuart R. Schram: ". . . If Mao's performance in the domain
of `pure' dialectics is not so impressive as Mr. Holubnychy maintains,
neither is his contribution to 'applied' dialectics as contemptible
as Mr. Cohen would have it." "Mao Tse-tung as Marxist
Dialectician," China Quarterly, No. 29 (Jan. - March
1957), p. 160. There can be no such separation of "pure"
and "applied" dialectics since the only "pure"
dialectics is, of necessity, an applied dialectics. If, however,
for the term, "applied dialectics," there is substituted
the word, "politics," so that the contrast is now between
Mao's dialectics and Mao's politics, the meaning of the above statement
becomes quite valid and, perhaps, does not do great harm to Mr.
Schram's basic concept.
45.Op. cit., p. 315.
46. Ibid., pp. 326-27.
47. There were, of course, very different views of the facts within
the Communist movement. As an example see Leon Trotsky, Problems
of the Chinese Revolution (New York, 1932).
48. Op. cit., p. 327.
49. In a curious note the French Marxist, Louis Althusser, says,
". . . On Contradiction (1937) contains a whole series
of analyses in which the Marxist conception of contradiction appears
in a quite un-Hegelian light. Its essential concepts may be sought
in vain in Hegel: principle (sic) and secondary contradiction; principle
(sic) and secondary aspect of the contradiction; antagonistic and
non-antagonistic contradiction; law of uneven development of the
contradiction. However, Mao's essay, inspired by his struggle against
dogmatism in the Chinese Party, remains generally on a descriptive
level, and is consequently abstract in certain respects. Descriptive:
his concepts correspond to concrete experience. In part abstract:
the concepts, though new, and rich in promise, are presented as
specifications of the dialectic in general, rather than as necessary
implications of the Marxist conception of society and history."
("Contradiction and Overdetermination," New Left Review,
No. 41 [Jan-Feb. 1967], p. 19, footnote 6.) Althusser seems unaware
that by divorcing Mao's dialectics from Hegel he has completely
separated it from Marx. Althusser's attraction to Mao is quite natural,
for in his essay he attempts to do in a sophisticated way what Mao
does crudely. By removing the Hegelian dialectic from Marxism, Althusser
transforms "contradiction" into an abstraction so broad
and universal as to be meaningless and transforms the Marxist dialectic
into a close approximation of ordinary scientific empiricism.
50. Mao, op. cit., p. 339.
51. Ibid., p. 322.
52. Andrei A. Zhdanov, Essays on Literature, Philosophy, and
Music (New York, 1950), pp. 71-72.
53. An incisive analysis of this development appears in State
Capitalism and World Revolution, 2nd edition (Welwyn Garden
City, England, ND) (1956), pp. 41-42. Gustav A. Wetter, S.J., reviews
this conference in Dialectical Materialism (New York, 1963),
pp. 183-89, but does not seem to be aware of the significance of
the "discovery" of a "new" dialectical law.
54. The question of whether Mao or Zhdanov first
discovered this "new dialectical law" is not crucial to
the theme being developed here. The point is simply that it was
required by the political needs of both Russian and Chinese Communism.
See Arthur A. Cohen, The Communism of Mao-Tse-tung (Chicago,
1966), pp. 22-28 for a discussion of the view that "On Practice"
and "On Contradiction" were not written in 1937 as claimed
but many years later in 1950 and 1952. Stuart R. Schram summarizes
the opposing view in "Mao-Tse-tung as Marxist Dialectician,"
China Quarterly, 29 (Jan.-March 1967), 157-59.
55. Quoted in Mao, op. cit., p. 345.
56. lbid., p. 345.
57. "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People"
(6th ed.; Peking, 1964), p. 4.
58 For a discussion that places Stalinist (and Maoist) philosophy
in historical context see State Capitalism and World Revolution,
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