Monday, January 3, 2011
Mao on Philosophy
Mao’s writings on philosophy are directed to educating the Party cadre and masses in Marxism-Leninism so as to change the mode of thinking and practice. Mao himself was an ardent student of philosophy. When he got hold of books on philosophy he would consume them in intense concentrated reading. Because of the earlier influence of the dogmatists who had returned after study in Russia and could not relate their knowledge to reality, Mao was continuously eager to make the Party’s study and teaching linked to practice. He wanted to make Marxist philosophy and particularly the Marxist dialectical method of use to all Party cadre and activists and to the common masses.
The Theory of Knowledge: Of prime importance was Mao’s teaching on the theory of knowledge. An important work was his essay On Practice – On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing. Though it took only two hours of lectures, Mao said it had taken weeks to write. The central point, which Mao explains is that knowledge does not drop from the skies, it comes from social practice and from it alone. True knowledge, or correct ideas, come from three kinds of social practice – the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.
Theory depends on practice. It is unthinkable, said Mao, that it should not be measured and checked by practice. In turn, theory changes practice, changes our method of work and thinking. Through this is brought about the transformation and gaining of more knowledge. No one is born wise, or born stupid. Knowledge cannot come before material experience; nobody can become an expert before practically doing a thing.
Mao explained the process of obtaining knowledge. It starts from perceptual knowledge, the stage of sense perceptions and impressions, where man at first sees only the separate aspects, the external relations of things. As social practice continues, things that give rise to man’s sense perceptions and impressions in the course of his practice are repeated many times; then a sudden change (leap) takes place in the brain in the process of understanding, and concepts are formed. Concepts are no longer the phenomena, the separate aspects and the external relations of things; they grasp the essence, the totality and the internal relations of things. Between concepts and sense perceptions there is not only a quantitative but also a qualitative difference. Conceptual or logical or rational knowledge is a higher stage than the stage of perceptual knowledge.
There are two important aspects to this. One is that rational knowledge depends upon perceptual knowledge. It is foolish to think that rational knowledge can be developed without someone first experiencing and obtaining perceptual knowledge. The second important aspect is that perceptual knowledge remains to be developed into rational knowledge. This means that perceptual knowledge should be deepened and developed to the stage of rational knowledge.
The acquiring of rational knowledge is however not an end in itself. As Marxism has always held, the essential point of all knowledge is to bring it into practice. Thus as Mao says, “Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world.
Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. 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.”
On Contradictions: The other important contribution of Mao to Marxist philosophy was in dialectics and particularly relating to the understanding and application of contradictions. The understanding and use of contradictions appears at various points and almost throughout Mao’s analysis and writings. His main work is On Contradictions, which is an essay on philosophy written in August 1937 by Mao after his essay “On Practice” and with the same object of overcoming the serious error of dogmatist thinking to be found in the Party at the time. Originally this essay was presented as two lectures at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yenan.
Mao’s work was in a sense the continuation of work by Lenin who particularly made a deep study of contradictions. Lenin called contradiction ‘the salt of dialectics’ and stated that ‘the division of the One and the knowledge of its contradictory parts is the essence of dialectics.’ Lenin further in his Philosophical Notebooks asserted, “In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development.”
These ‘explanations and development’ was done some twenty years later by Mao. Mao work was a leap in the understanding of contradictions. He examined the question of contradictions in great detail and clarified them in such a manner as to make them easily understandable and easily useable by anybody.
Firstly he asserted that the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought.
Following from this he explained the principle of the universality and absoluteness of contradiction. According to this principle, contradiction is present in all processes of every object and of every thought and exists in all these processes from beginning to end.
Next he gives the principle of the particularity and relativity of contradiction. According to this principle, each contradiction and each of its aspects have their respective characteristics.
A very important concept given by Mao in this respect is regarding the unity and struggle between the opposites in a contradiction. Mao points out the unity or identity of opposites is conditional; it is thus always temporary and relative. On the other hand the struggle of opposites is unending; it is universal and absolute.
Another important principle, which Mao gave and uses very often in his analysis, was the understanding of the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction. According to this principle, there are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determines or influences the existence and development of the other contradictions. Hence, if in any process there are a number of contradictions, one of them must be the principal contradiction playing the leading and decisive role, while the rest occupy a secondary and subordinate position. Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved.
Similarly, in any contradiction the development of the contradictory aspects is uneven. Sometimes they seem to be in equilibrium, which is however only temporary and relative, while unevenness is basic. Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be principal and the other secondary. The principal aspect is the one playing the leading role in the contradiction. The nature of a thing is determined mainly by the principal aspect of a contradiction, the aspect that has gained the dominant position.
Mao always gave central importance to understanding the principal contradiction in his analysis. Thus in his analysis of Chinese society he always analysed the principal contradiction. This was an advance over earlier Marxist-Leninist analysis, which did not particularly go into an analysis of the principal contradiction in a country or revolution. Mao however asserted that unless we examine two aspects – the principal and the non-principal contradictions in a process, and the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction – we shall get bogged down in abstractions, be unable to understand contradiction concretely and consequently be unable to find the correct method of resolving it. The importance of understanding the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction was because they represented the unevenness of the forces that are in contradiction. Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly and therefore it was necessary to understand the change in the position of the principal and non-principal contradictions and the principal and non-principal aspects of a contradiction. It is only by understanding the various stages of unevenness in the contradictions and the process of change in these contradictions that a revolutionary party can decide on its strategy and tactics, both in political and military affairs.
Lastly Mao clarified regarding the question of antagonism in a contradiction. According to Mao antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites; the formula of antagonism therefore cannot be arbitrarily applied everywhere. Some contradictions are characterised by open antagonism, others are not.
In accordance with the concrete development of things, some contradictions, which were originally non-antagonistic, develop into antagonistic ones, while others which were originally antagonistic develop into non-antagonistic ones. Forms of struggle differ according to the differences in the nature of the contradictions. Non-antagonistic contradictions can be solved by peaceful and friendly means. Antagonistic contradictions require non-peaceful means.
Mao came back to the question of antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions during the period of socialist construction and during the Cultural Revolution. He stressed that despite the victory of the revolution it was wrong to think that contradictions no longer existed in Chinese society. He showed that there were two different types of contradictions still existing – the contradictions with the enemy and the contradictions among the people. The contradictions with the enemy are antagonistic and had to be dealt with by suppression. On the other hand the contradictions among the people which are non-antagonistic had to be dealt with in such a way that they did not become antagonistic. Mao always stressed the need for the correct handling of contradictions. He pointed out that if contradictions were not understood and handled correctly there was always the danger of restoration of capitalism.
Posted by nickglais on 1/03/2011 10:46:00 AM