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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 240

In 1937, when On Contradiction was first delivered as a speech, the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, in response to an attack by Japan, had temporarily allied with the Guomindang, the revolutionary party led by Sun Yat-sen, which had overthrown the leaders of the Ching Dynasty in 1911. The speech was an attempt to explain both the current struggle and the upcoming development of the Communists in historical terms. Mao drew on the writings of Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Joseph Stalin, leaders of the Soviet Union, then the only nation in the world led by a Communist government. There are also considerable references to the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, nineteenth century German philosophers who initiated the ideas of communism, and through them, to the earlier works of German philosophers Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

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Kant wrote of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Every philosophical situation can be seen as a conflict between two opposing points of view and the resolution between them, which leads to synthesis, a new system of thought. Marx used this system to discuss the proletariat, or working class, and the capitalist ruling class, and posited as their synthesis a new ruling class composed of the workers themselves. Mao draws on both these sources in two ways. The thesis-antithesis system is generalized as a series of societal contradictions and then particularized into the revolutionary struggle between communism and capitalism, in China and elsewhere.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Mao begins On Contradiction with a brief introduction summarizing two basic modes of thought. The metaphysical mode suggests that causes of events are external, including such factors as climate and geography. The method of dialectical materialism, to which the author subscribes, contends that basic causes are internal, central to the very nature of a situation or a physical entity. Dialectical materialism was founded by Hegel and was further codified and specifically related to class struggles by Marx.

At the basic level, all developments are determined by the contradictions inherent in a situation and the resolution of these contradictions. Mao states that such contradictions are universal and underlie all modes of thought. Thus, mathematics is based upon the contradiction between positive and negative quantities, electricity on positive and negative charges, and physics on action and reaction. Most pertinent to the present discussion, the struggle to achieve a communist state is based on the contradiction between labor, which produces goods and services, and the capitalist class, which owns and controls the means of production.

Change depends on particular contradictions. Every change in motion of matter is thus determined: Mechanical energy, heat, light, sound, and so on, determine the changes in the matter they affect. Essentially, this is a scientific statement, maintaining that changes in matter are determined by differences in various forms of energy.

In social development, the particular contradictions involve conflicts between groups of people. The contradiction between the rulers of a feudal society and the peasants who do the real work of that society leads to social conflict and democratic revolution. The later conflict between the capitalist rulers and the workers similarly leads to communist revolution.

It is essential at this stage to acknowledge that development of thought moves in two seemingly contradictory directions. Specific types of contradictions lead to general principles, and then, in turn, consideration of these principles allows the philosopher to make statements and predictions regarding future developments in other particular circumstances.

(The entire section contains 1779 words.)

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