From ProleWiki, the proletarian encyclopedia
The modern Yin-yang is a illustration of contradiction.

The contradiction is the fundamental mechanism behind dialectics. A contradiction is a coexistent[a] diametrical[b] link between two forces. Contradictions exist when two requirements are met:

  1. Two forces must be diametrically opposed and
  2. one cannot exist without the other.[1]

In dialectics, a contradiction cannot be reconciled, it can only be solved by the transformation of one of the two forces. This transformation then creates new contradictions. As this change happens, the rest of the dialectical process plays out.

For example, the bourgeoisie form a contradiction to the proletariat. The former wants to make their workers work longer hours for less pay, while the latter wants to work shorter hours for more pay. The contradiction cannot be reconciled as both groups are fundamentally at odds; the only solution is the transformation of one class into another which will solve the contradiction and create a new, different contradiction out of it.

Primary and secondary contradictions[edit | edit source]

Contradictions are separated into primary and secondary categories. Secondary contradictions are dependent on primary ones for their existence or rather, primary contradictions drive secondary contradictions.

Whether one should solve the primary or secondary contradiction first is still a point of debate.

Some think that solving class contradictions for example (moving into communism, a classless society) will also inherently solve several secondary contradictions attached such as racism, homophobia, sexism, selfishness, etc.

For others, it is impossible to solve the primary contradiction without addressing the secondary contradictions. They argue it is simply impossible, for example, to solve class contradictions if sexism and homophobia are not addressed first.

Solving contradictions[edit | edit source]

A contradiction is solved when it stops existing; i.e. when both rules stop being applicable.

Thus the proletariat will stop existing as a class when the bourgeoisie stops existing. However, in that scenario, one of two things may happen:

  1. Another contradiction takes its place
  2. The contradiction is solved for good

In this example, it means that the proletariat may be replaced by another class -- but inevitably, so will the bourgeoisie (much like how serfs and nobles were replaced by capitalist social classes). Thus another contradiction would take place between these two classes. Or classes could stop existing at all, which would usher in a classless era and solve class contradictions for good (since there are no more classes).

Universality[edit | edit source]

The fact that contradiction is universal necessitates two prerequisites; these being that all things posses within them, contradiction and secondly, the contradiction exists through the whole of the process.[2]

Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end.

Mao Zedong, On contradiction, The Universality of Contradiction

Particularity[edit | edit source]

The particularity of contradictions refer to a contradiction that forms the distinct essence of a thing. Mao noted that it is important to study the particular contradictions of a thing to qualitatively distinguish it from other things.[3] Humans study the particular contradiction of an essence to distinguish it from other essences. This leads to common knowledge of a set of essences, which in turn aids in the study of particularities.

Mao and Lenin warned against viewing only part of a contradiction (or one-sidedness), as this leads to misunderstanding the contradiction.[4][5] Mao also warned against superficiality, which is not viewing both the totality and the individuality of a contradiction.[6] The result of applying both superficiality and one-sidedness is subjectivity.[7]

Principality[edit | edit source]

A principal contradiction is the sole contradiction in a thing that determines the existence and development of other contradictions.[8]

A principal force (or aspect) is the dominant force in a contradiction.[9] The principality of forces in a contradiction can change.[10]

Identity[edit | edit source]

Identity refers to the material linked coexistence of both aspects in a contradiction and that the contradictory aspects conditionally transform into their opposites.[11] Identity exists conditionally.[12]

Contradictions in the class struggle[edit | edit source]

In Europe, before the bourgeoisie was opposed to the proletariat, they were opposed to the nobility. The bourgeoisie was born out of the material conditions of the late Middle Ages: in free cities, artisans hired workers by the day and bought their labour power. This was a different relation to labour from the feudal lord and his serfs, as the serfs were not "free" to choose their employer or the nature of their work; the serf was locked to his lord's land, unable to freely travel or choose his occupation.

The bourgeoisie thus wanted to have more free workers available to expand their businesses (and have people to sell their products to), while nobles and lords wanted more serfs to increase their power and personal wealth. This lead to many violent uprisings and clashes, including the wars of religion in Europe (Catholic leaders were mostly feudal lords and Protestants were by and large bourgeois).

Eventually, after several centuries, the bourgeoisie won over the feudal lords and became the dominant class in society, controlling the state and able to pass laws favouring them (e.g. putting an end to the serf system). This slowly created a proletariat, and phased out the noble class over time who either became part of the bourgeoisie or were executed. Today, the contradiction is not between feudal lords and the bourgeoisie anymore, but between the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

As the proletariat will themselves become the dominant class in society, they will naturally phase out the bourgeoisie and create new contradictions out of this qualitative change and the class struggle will continue.

Other examples[edit | edit source]

  • Saturation and starvation form a contradiction; saturation is diametrically opposed to starvation, as one cannot be saturated and starved at the same time. Starvation also must coexist with saturation, otherwise it would be impossible to starve without the need for saturation.
  • In warfare, attack and defence form a contradiction; defence is the diametrical opposite of the attack (rule 1) and there is no need for defence if there is no attack (rule 2).
  • Life and death. Life is diametrically opposed to death and something is either dead or alive, but never both at once.
  • Void versus phenomena. This plays out in several ways. Darkness and light. Heat and cold. Darkness is the absence of light. Cold is the absence of heat.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. “…the existence of each of the two aspects of a contradiction in the process of the development of a thing presupposes the existence of the other aspect, and both aspects coexist in a single entity….”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'V. The Identity and Struggle of the Aspects of a Contradiction'. Yan'an. [MIA]
  2. “The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On Contradiction: 'II. The Universality of Contradiction'.
  3. “But what is especially important and necessary, constituting as it does the foundation of our knowledge of a thing, is to observe what is particular to this form of motion of matter, namely, to observe the qualitative difference between this form of motion and other forms. Only when we have done so can we distinguish between things. Every form of motion contains within itself its own particular contradiction. This particular contradiction constitutes the particular essence which distinguishes one thing from another. It is the internal cause or, as it may be called, the basis for the immense variety of things in the world. … All these forms are interdependent, but in its essence each is different from the others. The particular essence of each form of motion is determined by its own particular contradiction. This holds true not only for nature but also for social and ideological phenomena. Every form of society, every form of ideology, has its own particular contradiction and particular essence.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'III. The Particularity of Contradiction'. [MIA]
  4. “Firstly, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and “mediacies”. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity.”

    Vladimir Lenin (1921). Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin. [MIA]
  5. “In studying a problem, we must shun subjectivity, one-sidedness and superficiality. … To be one-sided means not to look at problems all-sidedly… . In a word, it means not to understand the characteristics of both aspects of a contradiction. This is what we mean by looking at a problem one-sidedly. Or it may be called seeing the part but not the whole, seeing the trees but not the forest. That way it is impossible to kind the method for resolving a contradiction, it is impossible to accomplish the tasks of the revolution, to carry out assignments well or to develop inner-Party ideological struggle correctly.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'III. The Particularity of Contradiction'. [MIA]
  6. “To be superficial means to consider neither the characteristics of a contradiction in its totality nor the characteristics of each of its aspects; it means to deny the necessity for probing deeply into a thing and minutely studying the characteristics of its contradiction, but instead merely to look from afar and, after glimpsing the rough outline, immediately to try to resolve the contradiction (to answer a question, settle a dispute, handle work, or direct a military operation). …”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'III. The Particularity of Contradiction'. [MIA]
  7. “To be one-sided and superficial is at the same time to be subjective. For all objective things are actually interconnected and are governed by inner laws, but instead of undertaking the task of reflecting things as they really are some people only look at things one-sidedly or superficially and who know neither their interconnections nor their inner laws, and so their method is subjectivist.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'III. The Particularity of Contradiction'. [MIA]
  8. “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 determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'IV. The Principal Contradiction and the Principal Aspect of a Contradiction'.
  9. “But, in any given contradiction, whether principal or secondary, should the two contradictory aspects be treated as equal? Again, no. 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 which has gained the dominant position.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'IV. The Principal Contradiction and the Principal Aspect of a Contradiction'.
  10. “…the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction transform themselves into each other and the nature of the thing changes accordingly. In a given process or at a given stage in the development of a contradiction, A is the principal aspect and B is the non-principal aspect; at another stage or in another process the roles are reversed--a change determined by the extent of the increase or decrease in the force of each aspect in its struggle against the other in the course of the development of a thing.”

    Mao Zedong (1937). On contradiction: 'IV. The Principal Contradiction and the Principal Aspect of a Contradiction'.
  11. “Identity, unity, coincidence, interpenetration, interpermeation, interdependence (or mutual dependence for existence), interconnection or mutual co-operation--all these different terms mean the same thing and refer to the following two points: first, the existence of each of the two aspects of a contradiction in the process of the development of a thing presupposes the existence of the other aspect, and both aspects coexist in a single entity; second, in given conditions, each of the two contradictory aspects transforms itself into its opposite. This is the meaning of identity.”

  12. “Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical--under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another, why the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another.”

    V. I. Lenin (1958). Conspectus of Hegel's The Science of Logic, Collected Works Russian Edition, vol. XXXVIII. Moscow.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. existing at the same time
  2. at opposite ends, in direct opposition