A Critique of Soviet Philosophy

Proletarians of all countries, unite!
There is one goal, the conquest of power!


Chairman Mao Tse-tung
November 1936-July 1937

Mao Tse-tung on Dialectical Materialism
M. E. Sharpe, 1990
Reproduced by
The Red Flag



(Page 14-15)

The essence of dialectics, namely the law of the unity of opposites.

(Page 193-196)

Materialist dialectics is the determining element of marxism.

The objective world develops, and so too does subjective knowledge.

Reflection is not a passive absorption of the object, but an active process. In production and class struggle, knowledge is an active element which leads to the transformation of the world.

To change the world is at the same time to change oneself.

Plekhanov … did not understand the essence of dialectics (the law of the unity of opposites) …

The mechanistic outlook — this perceives only mutual interconnections, and not mutual interpermeation.

(Page 203-213)

No question regarding knowledge of the world can be solved except through practice.

The subject of cognition is social class.

The first stage: very shallow, the proletariat does not understand the essence of capitalism, adopts incorrect methods of struggle, and is still in the stage of a „class-in-itself“.

The second stage: the practice of everyday struggle and the development of the reality of capitalism, leads the proletariat to an understanding of the essence of capitalism (exploitative relationships and the relations of class struggle), marxism appeared, and the proletariat achieved the stage of a „class-for-itself“.

From the perceptual stage move to the rational stage, and from the rational stage move to revolutionary practice.

The purpose of knowledge is to achieve logical understanding from perceptual data, the two stages are different, but cannot be separated.

Perceptual knowledge: one-sided, superficial, external connections.

Rational knowledge: totality, essence, internal connections.

Perceptual knowledge cannot be separated from rational knowledge, perceptual knowledge already contains within it the sprouts of rational knowledge. The general is already contained in that which is concrete, but what is contained is only the external and not the internal connection. From the shallow to the deep, from the outside to the inside, from the particular to the general, it is only thought with practice as its basis which succeeds. This is the movement of the deepening of knowledge, it is sudden change of knowledge. It is only with this deepening and sudden change that nature can be reflected relatively correctly and completely.

Practice proves: things that are perceived cannot immediately be comprehended, it is only things that are comprehended that can be more deeply and correctly perceived. Perception solves the problem of phenomenon, comprehension solves the problem of essence and it is only in the process of practice that the essence of a thing can be revealed and understood.

Practice is the proof of truth.

(Page 213-216)

Theory is produced from practice; if the process of development of the objective external world is correctly reflected, and if subsequently this theory is applied in practice, then this theory can be made manifest in practice, and thus completes the process of knowledge.

(Page 253-257)

It is necessary to indicate all of the particular characteristics of a process, especially the fundamental particularity; only then is it possible to know the laws of development of a process, because the laws are contained in the development of the contradictions of the basic particularity.

It is necessary not only to know the basic characteristics of an entire process, it is also necessary to know the different characteristics of the various stages of the process.

(Page 258-260)

The process of development has its origin in the change of intrinsic essence to non-essence, has its origin in the change of non-essence to essence. This distinction is essential, otherwise there will be errors.

(Page 265-267)

A process has both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

Quantitative change promotes qualitative change.

(Page 272-276)

The acknowledgement of development through leaps is one of the central characteristics of dialectical materialism.

Nature, society, thought, all undergo leaps. At the moment of the leap, the old quality is eliminated and a new quality is produced (with the old quality as the basis).

The quality and quantity of the old object are terminated, and the new quality and quantity begin to emerge.

The old process is the preparation for the new process, the old stage is the preparation for the new stage.

The new process or stage retains remnants of the old quality, and while there is furthermore a lengthy period in which the old and new intermesh in a complex manner, there is dominance of one over the other.

Dialectics must pay attention to the specific character of leaps.

(Page 277-280)

Two viewpoints.

The first viewpoint, the mechanistic view of development, sees development resulting from an increase or decrease in quantity. It sees problems only one-sidedly and externally rather than completely and internally, and cannot explain the reasons for the development of a thing.

The second viewpoint, the dialectical-materialist view of development, reveals the course of movement within a process. So-called knowledge of a process is the revelation of the various aspects of the contradictions replete within a process, the determination of the mutual relations between these aspects, and the search for the movement of the contradictions of a process.

If we take cognisance of a process during its dissociation, observe the parts of the contradiction replete within the process and the mutual relations of these parts, we can then know the development of a process from emergence to elimination. As Lenin has therefore stated: The essence of dialectics is knowledge of the dissociation of a unified entity and the parts of the contradiction replete within it.

It is necessary but not sufficient to have knowledge of the mutual distinctions of a process, of the many aspects and attributes of the mutual opposites of a process, including a knowledge of the mutual connections of these aspects and attributes; it is necessary also to know the fundamental contradiction which allows development of the process, for that is the source of movement of the process.

(Page 281-286)

In the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of ownership can be seen the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, and this is the fundamental contradiction. From this fundamental contradiction emerges all other contradictions, because this fundamental contradiction determines the development of capitalism.

The main contradiction in the transitional stage in the Soviet Union is the contradiction between socialism and capitalism, and the basis for the continual emergence of this contradiction is the existence of a rich peasantry. All other contradictions are determined by this main contradiction. It will only be with industrialization and the socialization of agriculture that this main contradiction will be resolved; but there is the possibility that this contradiction can be resolved through the use of internal force.

The unity of contradictions and their dissociation is also a law of thought.

Knowledge is determined by practice and the history of society.

The so-called unity of opposites is the dissociation of a unified entity to become mutually exclusive opposites, and includes the mutual connections between these opposites. This is the source of the so-called main contradiction, of so-called self-movement.

The particularity of contradictions is different as the contradictions of each different process are different.

Qualitatively different contradictions require different methods for their resolution.

(Page 287-292)

The national contradiction between China and Japan requires for its resolution a united front with the bourgeoisie. The internal contradiction after 1927, however, was resolved through a united front with the peasantry and small bourgeoisie. During normal times, the contradiction between labor and capital will be resolved through a united front of the workers. In the contradiction between the correct line and incorrect tendencies within the Party and revolutionary ranks, use the method of ideological struggle for its resolution. Internationally, revolution is to be employed to resolve the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Industrialization and collectivization of agriculture are to be used in resolving the contradiction between the proletariat and the peasantry in the Soviet Union. Develop the productive forces to resolve the contradiction between society and nature. As the contradictions of processes are different, so too are the methods for their resolution.

In looking at a problem from a dialectical-materialist perspective, it is necessary to expose the particularity of contradictions within any process, and at the same time it is necessary to know the particularity of contradictions of the various aspects of a process.

Opposed aspects are a condition for the existence of each other, only if one aspect exists can the other exist.

The central task of dialectics is to study the mutual permeation of opposites, namely the identity of opposites.

If there is no concrete study of a process, there is no way that the identity of opposites, that is, their mutual permeation, can be understood.

(Page 293-299)

Although contradiction exists universally, antagonism only emerges when the contradictions of certain processes have developed to a definite stage. The contradictions between oppressing and oppressed classes, between oppressing and oppressed nations, between State and State, between party and party, and so on, all have circumstances in which antagonism is developed. Antagonisms within the social process adopt the form of oppression and war; those within the process of nature adopt the form of clash and conflict; and scuffles and plotting between individuals are of the same order. Many contradictions do not develop to an antagonistic form: within the Communist Party, the contradiction between correct and incorrect; in the realm of culture, the contradiction between advanced and backward; in the realm of the economy, contradictions between town and countryside, between value and use value, between mental and manual labour, between production and consumption; in class relations, the contradiction between workers and peasants; under socialism, the contradiction between the forces and relations of production; in the natural world, between life and death, positive and negative, inheritance and variation, attraction and repulsion, cold and warm, and between ocean and continent. None of these has yet achieved a condition under which it bursts asunder, none of these contradictions contains antagonism. The method for the resolution of contradictions and that for the resolution of antagonism are different. This is the particularity of contradiction and the particularity of the method for the resolution of contradiction, a question which requires distinctions to be made.

A complex process has many contradictions, and amongst these one is the main contradiction and the others are secondary contradictions. Because the development of the main contradiction determines the development of the various secondary contradictions, if one cannot distinguish between the main and secondary contradictions, between the determining contradiction and those that are detemined, one cannot seek out the most essential thing of a process (provide examples). However, within a contradiction, regardless of whether it is main or secondary, the two aspects of the opposites are not only in opposition and struggle, but are moreover in mutual reliance on the opposing aspect with which it carries on opposition and struggle. The result of the struggle of the two aspects is the emergence of the change of mutual interpermeation, namely a transformation to achieve identity, a transformation to its opposing aspect, and this is the indivisible interconnection of the two opposed aspects. However, it is a big mistake to look at the two aspects of any contradiction as though they are equal. Of the two aspects, one is inevitably the main and the other the secondary aspect, and the former is the aspect which plays the contradiction‘s so-called leading role. This book has already provided the four examples of value and use value in which value is the main aspect, of forces and relations of production in which the forces of production are the main aspect, of theory and practice in which practice is the determining aspect, and of socialism and capitalism in the Soviet Union of which socialism is the main aspect; all prove the determining function of the main aspect in relation to the other aspect. It is not, as Plekhanov‘s mistaken explanation has it, simple mutual combination; neither is it, as Luppol‘s explanation has it, a case of alternating mutual determination; it is rather one aspect performing the main and determining function. In actuality which aspect is main? It is necessary to observe the situation of the development of a process, and it will be determined under definite conditions. For a long period in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie were the main aspect, but on the eve of the revolution and during its aftermath, the proletariat changes to become the main aspect. In a capitalist State, capitalism is the main aspect while feudal forces are the secondary aspect. Feudal forces were the main aspect in pre-revolutionary Russia, as they are in present-day Japan, with capitalism playing a secondary role. In Chinese society, dominance belongs to imperialism and the feudal forces, such that they exercise a determining effect on all else. The invasion by Japanese imperialism determines all manner of changes. Thus, during the vigorous development of the great revolution between 1925 and 1927, in the confrontation between the southern revolutionary forces and the northern warlords, the southern forces changed from secondary status to being dominant, while the power of the northern warlords changed in the opposite direction. In the example of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, because the bourgeoisie still has a firm grasp on the economic arteries, to this day it still occupies a dominant position; however, in terms of revolutionary leadership, because of the level of consciousness and the thoroughness of the proletariat and the vacillation of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat occupies the dominant position. This particular point has an influence on the future of the Chinese revolution. If the proletariat is politically and materially to occupy the dominant position, it must unite with the peasantry and small bourgeoisie. If the majority of the workers, peasants, and small bourgeoisie can become conscious and get organized, then the proletariat will assume the determining and dominant role of the revolution. In the situation of hostility between China and Japan, the Chinese elements are currently changing from a secondary to a main position, and that is because if the national united front is established broadly and is consolidated, and with the addition of international factors (the Soviet Union, the Japanese masses, and other peaceful States), there will be created a superiority over the Japanese aspect. In the contradiction between the peasantry and the proletariat, the proletariat is dominant. In the contradiction between industrial workers and artisans, industrial workers are dominant. In the contradiction between skilled and unskilled workers, skilled workers are dominant. In the contradiction between town and countryside, the town is dominant. In the contradiction between economic base and superstructure, the economic base is dominant. In the contradiction between perceptual knowledge and rational knowledge, perceptions are dominant. In the contradiction between the main force of the Red Army and the guerilla units, the main force of the Red Army is dominant. In the contradiction between the military tactics of offence and defence, offence is dominant. In the contradiction between strategy and tactics, strategy is dominant. In the contradiction between mobile and positional warfare, mobile warfare is dominant. Of the various arms of the services, the infantry is dominant. In the contradiction between mental and manual labour, manual labour is dominant. And who is to decide? When the development of a process reaches a definite stage, the strength of the two sides in the struggle will determine it. The dominant and the non- dominant change from one to the other.

(Page 303-308)

In the motion of contradiction in all processes, identity is relative while struggle is absolute; all processes are thus. However, because the nature of the contradiction is different in each process, and the internal structure of each process is different, it is very apparent that the method by which absoluteness and unity are made manifest will also be different

It is correct but insufficient to recognise that contradiction gives rise to motion; it is also necessary to understand under what kind of conditions contradiction gives rise to motion. In a condition of unity, although contradiction is in motion it is a particular state of motion, namely a relative state; this is commonly called rest, invariability, immobility, death, static, standstill, deadlock, stalemate, peace, gentleness, and is relative, temporary, and conditional. It is necessary to recognise the general condition of motion, namely the dissociation of a unified entity, its struggle, conflict, movement inconstancy, life, action, dynamism, warfare, mutual disputation, and this is absolute. Identity, unity, rest, death, peace, and so on, which are the relative condition of contradiction, are contained within the absolute condition of contradiction. It is metaphysical and mechanistic not to understand this truth, and in fact is a rejection of dialectics.

It is not the unity of opposites which is the essence, it is the struggle of opposites.

(Page 316-324)

The contradiction between the forces and relations of production, namely society‘s internal contradiction, has a determining influence on the contradiction between society and nature; in other words, humanity can triumph over nature. It has been thus ever since the production of instruments of labour.

The „Left“ and the Right are linked, and this is because they both are divorced from a correct understanding of a process; they arrive at a vacuous understanding which is abstract and general, which pays no heed to the content of a process, and which does not analyse concrete stages, conditions, possibilities, and so on.

The so-called dialectical process of the development of reality and knowledge is a process of mutual transformation of quality and quantity, of the unity of contradictions, and the negation of the negation.

(Page 324-327)

Engels‘ words on the three laws are correct.

(Page 329-334)

The error of formal logic is in its perception of negation as an external negation between one process and another, which is moreover regarded as an absolute negation; this approach completely misunderstands reality. The opposite of this approach is dialectical materialism, that is, scientific observation and study. Material reality is self-motion, and moreover this self-motion is interconnected. Any process itself moves forward because of the struggle of contradictions, and through a sudden transformation it changes to move in an opposite direction. The entire history of development of any process is constructed of a thesis, an antithesis which negates the thesis, and a synthesis which is a negation of the negation of the antithesis. The thesis already contains contradiction or antithesis within it, the antithesis also contains the thesis within it, and the synthesis incorporates both the thesis and antithesis. So-called negation, as Lenin has stated, „is neither random nor complete negation, is neither sceptical nor vacillating negation; it is rather negation as an element which preserves connection, an element of affirmation, that is, without any vacillations, without scepticism“.1 Negation does not destroy everything and make a clean break with the past, it is not absolute; things that are in front contain things that come later, and things that come later contain things that are in front. Without the motion of negation, there can be no motion of affir1nation. All processes are like this.

Negation is the ever-higher development of a process.

A dialectical negation does not constitute a complete break with the past or its complete elimination.

The first negation creates the possibility of the second negation.

A dialectical negation is the cause of movement of a process of development, and this negation manifests itself as two aspects: one aspect manifests itself as sublation, namely the overcoming of the principal things of the old entity which are incompatible with preservation; the other aspect manifests itself as affirmation, namely the provision of status to and the preservation of the various things of the old entity which are still temporarily compatible with existence.


(Page 179-180)

Practice is the criterion of truth.

(Page 181-185)

Correct theory actively guides practice.

Practice develops, theory too should develop.

Perceptions and thought are a product of social life. As social life changes, so too do perceptions and thought.

Material production is the foundation of the varied life of humanity.

All knowledge is the result of the struggle for production and the class struggle.

Before Marx, all materialism examined the problem of knowledge apart from the social nature of humanity and apart from its historical development, and was therefore incapable of understanding the dependence of knowledge on social practice.

(Page 187-188)

The purpose of the study of philosophy is not to satisfy one‘s curiosity, but to transform the world.

Know the laws of the world, find correct theory in order to guide practice effectively, and transform the world.

(Page 194-201)

The fundamental theme of the view of development of materialist dialectics is that it is the contradictory nature of any phenomenon which leads to the development of that thing.

Different processes have different contradictions.

It is because there are different characteristics and different contradictions that there are all sorts of different forms of motion.

Knowledge of matter is knowledge of the form of motion of matter.

The law of the unity of opposites is the universal law of the objective world and knowledge, and all processes fall within its ambit.

(Page 207)

Every difference contains contradiction.

Mutual dependence is a manifestation of the struggle of opposites, the absolute exists in the relative.

(Page 216-222)

With regard to the Chinese revolution, we should emulate Lenin‘s analysis of the Russian revolution.

Scientific research must commence from a knowledge of the distinguishing characteristics of quality.

The various and different forms of the motion of matter. Each entity has a definite form of motion, and there are a wide variety of forms of motion; however, there is of necessity one form of motion which manifests any one particular quality of matter. Different forms of motion manifest the different qualities of matter or composition of substances.

Quantity too is objective, and the concept of quantity is a reflection in human consciousness of those quantitative relations within phenomena themselves. Scientific research should come to know objective reality not only on the basis of qualitative difference, but also on the basis of quantitative complexity.

Within an entity, quality and quantity constitute an indivisible identity, an identity of different substances, namely an identity of opposites.

However, the quantitative change of an entity can only emerge on the basis of a certain quality compatible with it, and within a definite period, quality restricts the development of quantity. Feudalism, imperialism and socialism are three examples.

Quantitative change is restricted by the nature of quality, but at the same time quantitative change also has an influence on quality. That is to say, an entity which is determined by a definite quality will remain thus up to the moment at which quantitative change reaches a definite qualitative limit; quantity will then demand a change of quality. At the same time, this change is a change from quality to quantity. Once the old quality has passed away, a new quantity can then develop in a forward direction.

Only through quantitative change can qualitative change emerge.

1V. I. Lenin: „Conspectus of Hegel‘s ‚The Science of Logic‘“, September-December 1914.