Sunday, May 23, 2021

#StayAtHome: Mao Zedong's "On Contradiction" Study Companion


Mao Zedong's "On Contradiction" is one of Mao's five really important philosophical essays. Originally presented in 1937 as a lecture at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yanan, "On Contradiction" explains how things change according to dialectical and historical materialism. 

I'm also reading Georg Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness at the moment, and while they are both texts about historical materialism, and both owe a debt to Hegel, Mao's "On Contradiction" is much more in the Engels tradition in that he sees dialectics as explanatory in the realm of nature and science, as well as for history and human society. Strictly speaking, Mao's essay is a work of dialectical and historical materialism, whereas Lukacs confines dialectics to historical processes only, by which me presumably means humans-in-nature as opposed to all nature.

The edition I read, Mao Zedong's "On Contradiction" Study Companion, published in 2019 by Foreign Languages Press (Paris) is just that: 84 pages of text, with the left hand page being Mao's original text, while the right hand page is commentary on the text prepared by the Redspark Collective. The text is followed by three pages of footnotes from the original essay. 

Redspark Collective's commentary is quite useful. It explains many of the early 20th Century historical events that had happened or were in the process of happening at the time the essay was written. Commentary also explains various philosophical currents in the ancient world, Europe, the USSR, and China that have influenced or are referenced in Mao's text. Finally some comments focus on more recent events, including the dogmatism of some followers of Shining Path outside Peru (for example, some Maoists outside Peru took up the Sendero policy of printing all brochures with red covers!), even pointing out that the revolution in Peru ended for all intents and purposes in 1990.

More apposite to contemporary concerns, the Redspark Collective commentary also points out where Mao got things wrong in light of factors like climate change and the persistence of antagonistic contradictions within socialist societies. I read the entire book yesterday, and will probably read it again once I finish Lukacs.