Monthly Archive for January, 2014

Turkey Jan. 2014 Shoebox-waving pensioner arrested

Where is Turkey Going?

by Veli Sirin
January 3, 2014 at 5:00 am

The unraveling of relations between Erdoğan and Gülen has begun to overshadow the details of the corruption scandal that brought it about.

As the crisis of Turkey’s government and the country’s competing Islamists is deepening, the attitude of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, is hardening – as are the positions of his opponents.

With new developments emerging daily, Erdoğan was confronted on January 1, 2014 with a petition by the former army general staff chief, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, that Başbuğ be released from a life sentence handed down against him on August 5, 2013, in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy trials, in which the Islamist government accused members of the secular military of supposedly trying to bring the government down. As described in the leading national media platform, the Hürriyet Daily News, Başbuğ was one of 275 suspects charged in the “Ergenekon” affair; other high military officials, journalists and academics were subjected to “aggravated life sentences,” which replaced death sentences, in the “Ergenekon” proceedings.

As noted in the same Hürriyet article, Başbuğ based his demand for exoneration on Erdoğan’s claim that “gangs within the state” and “members of the parallel state” had penetrated the judiciary, police, and other official structures. Erdoğan’s chief advisor, Yalçin Akdoğan, implied that members of the judiciary had “framed” military officers in the “Ergenekon” case.

Senior AKP legislator Mustafa Elitaş, told Hürriyet Daily News that Turkey could change laws to allow a retrial of the military officers convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan. According to that Hürriyet Daily News account, Elitaş said of the army defendants, “We will, if necessary, make new legal arrangements to stop people’s unjust treatment.”

At the same time, and as reflected in the same Hürriyet Daily News post of December 31, former army General Çetin Doğan, accused and convicted of a similar plot in the “Sledgehammer” trial of military leaders, which ended in 2012, is preparing a complaint against a 20-year prison term imposed on him.

Erdoğan’s chief advisor, Akdoğan, then reversed course. In a press statement quoted by Today’s Zaman, another major Turkish newspaper, Akdoğan declared, “It is wrong to the utmost degree to use my previous writings to say that I have called some trials ‘false,’ ‘baseless,’ ’empty’ and ‘fabricated.’ Just as prosecutors need evidence to issue criminal charges, the defense, believing the evidence presented is false, needs to provide its own evidence to support its argument.”

Ironies abound in the current Turkish turmoil. Erdoğan and AKP were widely reported to have mounted the “Sledgehammer” and “Ergenekon” proceedings in a long-term Islamist bid to cut down the influence of the secularist military. London Guardian correspondent Simon Tisdall, noted on September 25, 2012 that Turkish military commanders had carried out three coups, between 1960 and 1980 (including a full-fledged takeover in 1971), and had forced AKP out of power in 1997.

Tisdall continued, “Tensions between the AKP and the military, proud guardians of [Turkey]’s secularist legacy, were at times acute. It is not difficult to imagine the generals wanted rid of Erdoğan.”

The AKP seems caught between its desire to defend the two anti-military trials and to rein in a process that has escaped its control, with the judiciary turning on Erdoğan’s party leaders. A December 31, 2013 Reuters news agency wire ascribed to AKP deputy prime minister Ali Babacan a claim that subversion of the AKP administration was the motive for a “graft inquiry [that] became public on 17 December with a series of raids and detentions of senior businessmen close to Erdoğan, and of the sons of three ministers.”

The same Reuters account pointed out that “Erdoğan has, without naming it, accused a movement led by the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen of creating a ‘state within a state,’ using influence in the police and judiciary in a campaign to discredit the government. The [Gülen-led] Hizmet (Service) movement controls a global network of schools and businesses. Tensions have grown between the two former allies over elements of foreign and domestic policy and moves to close Gülen’s private schools in Turkey.”

Fethullah Gülen was born in Turkey in 1941 near the city of Erzurum but since 1999 has lived in rural Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, according to a profile of him by Alexander Christie-Miller posted by The Christian Science Monitor Gülen came to the U.S., Christie-Miller wrote, “after fleeing Turkey over charges of seeking to topple the country’s secular government.” London Financial Times writer Daniel Dombey, however, stated that Gülen had moved to America for “medical treatment.”

Gülen was portrayed as “soft-spoken,” “modest,” and tolerant of Turkey’s non-Muslim religious minorities, including “Nestorian Christians, Protestants [and] Jews,” in an article about him by Brian Knowlton of The New York Times. The newspaper Today’s Zaman, quoted above, is owned by the Gülen movement.

Erdoğan, for his part, has become known for conspiratorial claims. When the corruption scandal struck the AKP government in December, the prime minister was cited by Emre Peker in The Wall Street Journal.

Erdoğan claimed, according to Peker, that the investigation of financial crimes in his administration was “the work of foreign powers uncomfortable with Turkey’s rising economic and political clout. ‘If we don’t respond to these operations in the harshest, most decisive manner today, rest assured that these conspiracies will continue to engineer our national will in the future,’ he said.”

Prime Minister Erdoğan further used an idiom flavored with aggression. Hürriyet Daily News reported that Erdoğan said in a speech in Ordu, a northern Turkish city, “Those who want to establish a parallel structure alongside the state, those who have infiltrated into the state institutions … we will come into your lairs and we will lay out these organizations within the state.”

Gülen, in reaction to the implication by Erdoğan and his supporters that Gülen, and his followers in the judiciary and police had turned against the AKP, burst out with rhetoric that belied his long-cultivated image of unruffled tranquility. Gülen issued a video sermon, rebroadcast widely on Turkish television channels, in which he denounced “Those who don’t see the thief but go after those who chase the thief … May Allah bring fire to their homes.”

Erdoğan replied in a subdued manner, on December 22, before leaving on a trip to Pakistan: “We pray for Muslims to reach the right way, not for their damnation. Cursing is such a trick among Muslims it will return to one who did this like a boomerang.”

The unraveling of relations between Erdoğan and Gülen has begun to overshadow the details of the corruption scandal that brought it about. On December 17, fifty individuals were arrested in Istanbul and Ankara. The focal point of the investigation was a deal between Turkey and Iran for Turkey to provide gold in payment for Iranian oil, circumventing international financial sanctions against Tehran.

Charges in the case included money laundering, bribery and fraud. The accused include the sons of three members of Erdoğan’s cabinet, who resigned on December 25: Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, and Environment Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. Hürriyet Daily News reported that Bayraktar complained of pressure to quit, and gave up his AKP parliamentary seat as well as his ministry. Bayraktar concluded, “For the sake of the well-being of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign.”

Others under arrest include Süleyman Aslan, chief executive officer of Halkbank, a state institution, and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman, Reza Zarrab, according to Isobel Finkel of Bloomberg News.

Hürriyet Daily News said police “reportedly have found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in Aslan’s home.” The cash-laden shoeboxes were shown repeatedly on Turkish television.


The Bloomberg News article of December 23 asserted “the next target of investigation [could involve] construction contracts with an NGO [non-governmental organization] that allegedly has connections to Erdoğan’s son Bilal.” The Bloomberg reportage also noted that the “government purged at least 60 police chiefs,” aggravating the conflict with Gülen, whom the Bloomberg reporter stated “has a wide following in the police and judiciary.”

A December 26 Deutsche Welle report announced the latest turning point in the case, when “The attorney responsible for corruption investigations in Istanbul, Muammer Akkaş, was removed from the case after allegations of leaking information to the media.”

Erdoğan “appeared to threaten Akkaş,” according to Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times. Dombey wrote, “‘What kind of prosecutor is this?’ Mr Erdoğan asked his audience. ‘The chief prosecutor takes the file from him and this gentleman gets up and screams. Just wait – we have business to settle with you.’ “

Hürriyet Daily News described Erdoğan as continuing “vitriolic attacks” in a speech he delivered in Akhisar, a neighborhood in the western Turkish town of Manisa that day.

The anti-Erdoğan portion of the Turkish public has contributed in its own distinctive manner to the crisis of Islamist power. When Erdoğan appeared in Manisa on December 29, Nurhan Gül, a female pensioner, waved a shoe-box, symbolizing the corruption at Halkbank, from her balcony to express her discontent with Erdoğan during his speech. She was detained by the Prime Minister’s security guards, taken to a police station, and questioned for four hours, then released. But Erdoğan was apparently irritated to learn that Nurhan Gül had become a national hero immediately, and that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), had called her with congratulations.

Hürriyet Daily News columnist Serkan Demirtaş, noted the arrest of the shoebox-waving pensioner and concluded, “This is [the] time for President Abdullah Gül, who is only watching developments so far, as the head of the nation, to step in and assign the State Audit Board (DDK) to study whether claims of a parallel state or gangs within the state are accurate. The problem is about the functions of the state and it is Gül’s constitutional duty to deal with this growing crisis.”

Egypt: The Coup the World Forgot

Egypt: the coup the world forgot
The shallowness of Western politicians’ commitment to democracy lies exposed.
by Tim Black
23 January 2014

What has happened in Egypt over the past seven months ought to chill the democratic blood. It ought to command the attention of anyone who claims to care about defending freedom.

Think back to 3 July 2013: the Egyptian military, under the leadership of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, deposed the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi. Despite the reluctance of Western politicians to use the phrase at the time, this was a coup d’état.

Morsi, a leading member of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and chairman of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, had become, just over a year earlier, Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected head of state, winning 52 per cent of the vote. This ought to have been a historical moment to savour; this ought to have been the time when Egyptians began finally to enjoy some of the democratic freedom we have long exercised in the West; this ought to have been the time to bid an unfond farewell to the years of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship. But in July last year, just like that, it was over: the democratic flame had been extinguished.

After a few days of unrest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, during which anti-government protesters expressed their anger at Morsi’s Islamist tendencies and economic inaction, the army, the tanks and the jets moved in, and switched the whole thing off. Over the following weeks, as supporters of Morsi rallied and set up protest camps in and around Cairo, al-Sisi’s ‘interim’ government declared a state of emergency and began a crackdown on the protesters. By the end of August, the beatings and killings served up by the army, alongside the revived, reviled secret police, had enforced some semblance of order.

As the months have passed, General al-Sisi has furnished this naked display of might with the veneer of right. In September, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters banned the Muslim Brotherhood, the political and religious movement that, just a few months earlier, had formed the basis for Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected power; the arrest, torture and killing of Morsi supporters now had a legal sanction. And Morsi himself – alongside many of the Brotherhood’s leading figures – was left potentially facing the death penalty on trumped-up charges.

And then, in late 2013, al-Sisi published a new constitution for the Egyptian state, drawn up by a 50-strong committee of coup supporters. Unsurprisingly, it preserved the military’s privileged position, guaranteeing the secrecy of its budget, permitting it to try civilians in military courts, and stipulating that, for the next eight years, Egypt’s defence minister must be approved by the military.

When the new constitution was put to the Egyptian electorate last week in a referendum, over 98 per cent voted in favour. Given the palpable absence of a ‘no’ campaign, the outlawing of political opposition, and the deployment of 160,000 soldiers and 200,000 policemen to ‘oversee’ voting, the fact that al-Sisi won was less a democratic triumph than a fait accompli. Indeed, it has since emerged that over 60 per cent of the electorate either didn’t vote or refused to vote.

Not that al-Sisi seems to care. With his uniformed image adorning everything from cupcakes to pyjamas, and his each and every public appearance prompting a carefully managed wave of euphoria from the select throng of supporters, al-Sisi is now said to be considering whether to do what his handpicked public is demanding and stand for president. His opponents, meanwhile, both secular and Muslim Brotherhood, continue to be rounded up and thrown in jail.

Yet where is the international outrage? Where are the leaders of the nominally free world issuing sharply worded condemnations of this authoritarian turn? If this was Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe beating and rigging his way to near unanimous electoral victories, no doubt Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague would be pontificating from on high. If this was Colonel Gadaffi’s Libya, no doubt the self-righteous guffawing from the White House would have been audible in Tripoli.

But this is not Libya or Zimbabwe or one of those other easy stages for Western political posturing. This is Egypt, a place where the hypocrisy and double standards of Western leaders and the political punditariat lay so shamelessly exposed last summer. The problem, in short, is that despite the likes of the US president, Barack Obama, or the great and the good of the EU, seemingly championing the striving for freedom evident during the Arab Spring, as soon as the Egyptian people began to realise that freedom, and voted for what were perceived to be the wrong guys, the less-than-PC Muslim Brotherhood, the cheerleading from the West ceased. In its place was a willingness to approve the overthrowing of a democratically elected government on the basis that the Egyptian people had proved their immaturity, their inability to exercise their democratic rights correctly.

Little wonder, then, that the military coup was given such prominent international backing right from the start: it was seen as a necessary correction to a democratic error, a righting of the Egyptian people’s mistake. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, even went so far as to call General al-Sisi’s military government a regime for ‘restoring democracy’. And Baroness Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, spent much of last year meeting with al-Sisi and praising him for continuing on the ‘journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt’.

That support, that moral bolstering of al-Sisi’s military dictatorship, has continued throughout the crackdown, throughout the transformation of Egypt into something that looks very much like an autocracy – indeed, something that looks very much like Mubarak’s regime. So in November, amid the arrests and the passing of oppressive anti-protest laws, Kerry said that the ‘road map’ to democracy was ‘being carried out to the best of our perception’.

There are none so blind, it seems, as those who see only what they want. Last week, speaking of a referendum so biased that even North Korea’s erstwhile dictator Kim Jong-il would have blushed, Kerry continued in his mission to twist reality in accordance with his prejudices: ‘[General al-Sisi’s] government has committed repeatedly to a transition process that expands democratic rights and leads to a civilian-led, inclusive government through free and fair elections.’ While Kerry was tying himself in knots, Ashton seemed content to praise ‘the Egyptian people and the authorities responsible for organising the vote in a largely orderly manner’. Orderly is one way of describing the pre-emptive arrest of opposition activists.

As for the broadsheet supporters of the Arab Spring, and later the military coup, their position seems to have become a little more critical. So having praised the military for bringing down an elected government and, in the words of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, pointing out that Morsi’s election showed that the Egyptian people ‘lack the mental equipment to govern’, many pundits have changed their tune. The news that ‘the military-backed government has shifted its attention to secular activists’ and that ‘the most genuine and committed supporters of a secular liberal order in Egypt [are now] sitting in Cairo’s Tora prison’ has led to a growing willingness to point out that Emperor al-Sisi is wearing dictator’s clothes.

But again, the double standards are still at work. It’s striking that it is only since the Egyptian authorities started arresting the secular, liberal-ish activists Westerners approve of – the likes of Ahmed Maher, Mohammed Adel, Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abdel Fattah – that al-Sisi’s regime has started to look like the authoritarian military dictatorship it always was. When it was massacring Muslim Brotherhood supporters, when it was rounding up and arresting supporters of Morsi, those currently up in arms about the crackdown on secular types could barely raise an eyebrow, let alone lift a pen in condemnation.

So, yes, what has happened in Egypt ought to chill us. It ought to command the attention of anyone who cares about defending freedom, even if – no, especially if – it’s the freedom of those like the Muslim Brotherhood we might not like. Yet so superficial and so selective is the democratic commitment of Western pundits and politicians, so illiberal and freedom-doubting are their basic impulses, that what has happened in Egypt has barely been recognised for the oppressive military coup d’état that it is. It seems that democracy for these one-time champions of the Arab Spring has nothing to do with freedom, the chance for people to determine collectively their own future. Rather, it is seen as little more than a means to what Western leaders and media supporters hoped would be the right end. And if they don’t like the end, if they don’t like who the Egyptians vote for, then, just like a tap, their support for democracy can be turned off.

Tim Black is deputy editor of spiked.

Egypt’s ongoing crisis in letters

Egypt’s ongoing crisis in letters


Three letters written by prominent Egyptians — two from inside jail — are making the rounds on social media, punctuating the fallout of government crackdowns in a politically charged climate that appears far from reconciliation, despite calls to end polarization on the third anniversary of the revolution.
Summary⎙ Print Letters released by an activist, a journalist from prison and an Islamic scholar reveal the depth of the polarization in Egyptian society.

Author Shadi Rahimi Posted January 23, 2014

One of two letters released from jail was written by activist Alaa Abdel Fattah in late December inside Tura Prison. It reappeared this week after being translated into English and shared on social media. The second was written by Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy, jailed for five months without charges.
See more here

The third letter was written by Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam, who is now being charged along with ousted President Mohammed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders with conspiring to undermine national security.

Fattah and Shahin have both been critical of the military leaders who ousted Morsi in July and of Morsi and the Brotherhood while they were in power. Elshamy was one of hundreds rounded up Aug. 14 in a bloody crackdown on sit-ins protesting Morsi’s ouster that left up to 1,000 dead. He is one of several Al Jazeera journalists behind bars in Egypt.

Shahin’s letter is a strongly worded defense, calling claims against him “baseless and politically motivated.” His seven charges include espionage, leading an illegal organization, preventing state institutions and authorities from performing their functions and attempting to change the government by force.

“I categorically and emphatically deny all the charges,” Shahin wrote, challenging the state security prosecutor to present evidence substantiating the charges.

He has never been a member of the Brotherhood, Shahin continued, but he has been a fervent critic of authoritarian rule in Egypt and has expressed strong support for peaceful protests and the main objectives of the January 25 Revolution, “namely freedom, dignity and social justice,” he wrote.

It appears his critique of events since Morsi’s ouster, including the violent storming of sit-ins in August, “is my true offense,” Shahin wrote, vowing to continue advocating for the right to protest “that is enshrined in Egyptian law.”

Elshamy’s letter was shared from the Facebook accounts of his wife and brother Jan. 23. The Al Jazeera reporter wrote of laying in a 12-meter space with 16 other prisoners, and spending 160 days in jail without being charged.

The Al Jazeera network and its journalists have come under attack since Morsi’s ouster, accused of siding with the Brotherhood and the ousted president.

Elshamy’s letter highlighted a polarized climate in Egypt that has led to the quashing of press freedom. He criticized journalist colleagues who “consent to be mouthpieces and witnesses to the violation of the freedom of media,” and spoke of a lack of regret for his jailing, defending with pride his work with Al Jazeera.

“I do not belong to any faction or ideology. I belong to my conscience and my humanity, and I do not take interest in what has been said in the local media about me or my colleagues. History doesn’t forget; we are going strong,” Elshamy wrote.

He mentioned his jailed Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Badr (also held for five months without charge), Mohammad Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, who have been in custody since Dec. 29, accused of spreading lies harmful to state security and joining a terrorist organization.

Elshamy wrote that he has chosen a hunger strike to send two messages: “One to journalists who choose to falsify the facts and cover up the violations of freedoms and media, the other to the Egyptian junta that I do not mind to die for my freedom. Nothing will restrict my freedom or break my will and dignity.”

While Shahin and Elshamy’s letters struck defiant tones, Fattah’s month-old letter was shared with sadness by supporters, also on Jan. 23. An English translation is available in a Google document.

Fattah was arrested at his home last November after prosecutors accused him of breaking a new law banning spontaneous protest. He has been in detention since, awaiting a trial. In his letter, he wrote of the physical discomforts of prison in a measured tone, drawing parallels to the plight of the homeless, and focused his reflections mostly on sadness over the loss of time with family.

Life in prison is a series of negotiations, he wrote, and conditions are improving. At the same time, his improving access to newspapers has meant reading biased editorials about how the three-year sentence for activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel are due to hostility toward their April 6 youth movement, “as if the man arrested is just a theoretical notion named April 6 and not a human being who has a 5-year-old daughter,” Fattah wrote.

Maher, Douma and Adel were convicted of calling for a demonstration without a permit and assaulting security forces. They are appealing from Tura Prison.

Fattah, who has a young son, said that this time — after being imprisoned under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak and again by the military rulers who replaced him — he finds his imprisonment “is serving no purpose.”

“It is not resistance, and there is no revolution,” Fattah wrote. “The previous imprisonments had meaning because I felt that I was in jail by choice and it was for a positive gain. Right now, I feel that I can’t bear people or this country, and there is no meaning for my imprisonment other than freeing me from the guilt I would feel being unable to combat the immense oppression and injustice that is ongoing.”

In sharing his letter two days before the anniversary of the revolution, prominent blogger and reporter Sarah Carr wrote, “It really is game over.”

The April 6 Youth Movement continues to demand the release of the jailed activists, and this week published a reconciliatory initiative on its Facebook page, asking Egyptians to refrain from polarization and acts of violence during the anniversary. The group was among the organizers of the protests culminating in Mubarak’s toppling in 2011.

Supporters of Morsi and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have both called for demonstrations on Jan. 25, leading to concerns over violence. During commemorations of Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel on Oct. 6, more than 50 were killed when Brotherhood and army supporters took to the streets.

“The revolution has been reduced to narrow struggles over power,” the April 6 Youth Movement said in a statement.

Shadi Rahimi
Contributor, Egypt Pulse

Shadi Rahimi is a journalist and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. She is filming a documentary about several friends who fought in the 2011 clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street entitled, “Boys of the Bullet.”

On Twitter: @shadirahimi

Translate with Google

Powered by Translate

More From Egypt Pulse

Egypt’s factions divided over Jan. 25 celebrations
Ahmed Fouad
Egypt has little to celebrate on January 25
Mohannad Sabry
Moussa: Sisi will assume presidency in ‘democratic way’
Ayah Aman
Egyptians vote yes, for many reasons
Wael Nawara
Singer from ‘The Square’ in shadows of Egypt’s crackdown
Tom Rollins
Egypt confronts pro-Brotherhood fatwas in media
Walaa Hussein

Read more:

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki embraces Tunisia’s outgoing Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh,

Tunis, Jan. 9, 2014. Laarayedh resigned on Thursday to make way for a caretaker administration as part of a deal with his opponents to finish a transition to democracy. (photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

For Tunisia, its political transition is like its revolution: full of surprises. Less than a month ago, most local and international media asserted that the transition was stuck in place and facing an unsolvable problem. But today, most are praising the “Tunisian model.”

The biggest accomplishment of the new Tunisian constitution is not its content, but the fact that Tunisians have abided by the democratic process by which it was made.

Author Chukri Hamad Posted January 23, 2014
Translator(s)Rani Geha

Original Article اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

Compared with Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain, Tunisia seems to be on the right track. The “national dialogue,” the concessions by the ruling coalition (the “troika”), international pressure, and civil society’s vigilance and actions regarding the splits and unrest that disappeared as fast as they appeared led to the Constituent Assembly going back to its proper work.

It looks like the constitution will be adopted before the end of this week. Moreover, the Islamist government formally resigned and a new government of “independent technocrats” run by former Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa has been named.

An independent supreme body was formed to supervise the upcoming elections. In such circumstances, we should not spoil the party or put pressure on painful points. But we should examine what looks like a miracle. What model are we talking about regarding the “Tunisian example”? Aside from the democratic transition rhetoric, which ranged from slander to praise, analyzing the revolutionary process that started in December 2010, it appears that political progress in recent months cannot hide the doubts about the dynamic that was started by people calling to bring down the regime. This progress represents a solid foundation for a new social contract whose basic pillars are the state and representative institutions.

Toward a democratic Tunisia

Adopting a new constitution was a central demand for the Tunisian revolution, as expressed during the second Kasba events (February-March 2011), during which the movement was joined by the General Union of Tunisian Workers and some political parties, including Ennahda, demanding the departure of the interim government, dissolving the Democratic Constitutional Rally (President Ben Ali’s party) and the formation of a constituent assembly.

The new constitution is supposed to organize power distribution, the relations between the public authorities, and to identify the basic rights and freedoms in accordance with the revolutionary spirit that produced the Constituent Assembly.

It’s good that the new constitution provided for the freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom of conscience, the freedom to publish, academic freedom, judicial independence, equality between male and female citizens (which is not quite the same as equality between men and women), the right to work and the separation of powers.

All these provisions are effective guarantees for a democratic Tunisia where Tunisians have equal rights and duties, and where abuse of power and the law of the strong are prevented.

A modern and secular constitution?

But the Tunisian model did not adopt a modern and secular constitution. Despite the joy of secularist and progressive Tunisians and foreigners, who share a deep hatred of political Islam, it doesn’t matter whether the constitution proves its “modernity” or “traditionalism” (noting that both are fake concepts), or whether it ensures the neutrality of the state in religious affairs. The media’s focus on referring to a religious text or Sharia in the constitution, or its equivalent, i.e., the debate about women’s rights, ignores the social reality of Tunisia and the Arab world. It is also an artificial palliative for the fears and imaginations about the “Islamist devil” and its allies.

Focusing attention on individual freedoms, especially for women, restores, whether consciously or unconsciously, former leader Habib Bourguiba’s simplistic ideas about Tunisia. (Bourguiba was supposedly “the builder of the new Tunisia and the emancipator of women,” according to the official slogan, while in fact he was the founder of the authoritarian regime.) This is a way to hide the abuses practiced by the Ben Ali regime and women in the name of secularism and universal values​.

That regime is the one that created inequality between men and women in inheritance, in the Personal Status Law of 1956. In fact, that “Green Tunisia,” which the “modern” ​​Bourguiba built, is discriminatory and unfair toward women and toward the weak and disadvantaged classes.

The frustrated hopes for a social democracy

A child joins demonstrators protesting against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in London

The constitution by itself is but one of many revolutionary demands. Economic and social rights and protecting vulnerable groups are still the least important part of the ongoing process of making a new constitution, despite the fact that those were basic demands in the first days of the revolution.

Perhaps this explains why many Tunisians from the lower classes are uninterested in the work of the Constituent Assembly, just as they are uninterested in the negotiations that preceded the national dialogue. For them, the text produced by the political elite did not achieve the social democracy they aspired to and whose importance and meaning they very know very well.

They also know that without the political will of the establishment for fair and democratic institutions, the constitution will remain just ink on paper. They know that adopting such a constitution will by itself not change Tunisian society, which has multiple splits and is founded on an exclusivist economy.

Thus, finding jobs for unemployed university graduates, comprehensive social security and providing protection for social risks — in short, a state that protects the people — is still a fantasy as long as there is no serious public debate about them. In the same token, transitional justice and holding former torturers accountable have so far been done with a lack of professionalism and with political calculations, despite recently adopting a special law for that matter.

The Constituent Assembly is at the heart of the revolutionary process

In the face of all these objectives, the work of the Constituent Assembly was an occasion for the middle and upper classes to reflect their concerns, both real and fake. So it was not easy adopting a constitution that satisfies most political forces, both those represented in the Council and those outside it such as labor unions, employers or the Tunisian League for Human Rights.

Since Jan. 3, 2014, there have been debates about the constitution’s articles as they were being voted on one by one. These debates have been very enthusiastic, even violent at times. But they did reach some kind of agreement. This includes an agreement on the powers of the prime minister (Article 90) and the independence of the judiciary (Article 103 ), on which much was written.

The debates have shown that despite the lack of a sense of responsibility on the part of the political elite, both Islamist and opposition, which is ready to mobilize on minor issues and exacerbate tensions to the point of threatening the political transition itself, the Constituent Assembly was consecrated as the only legal framework for debate and for building the next social contract.

Publicizing the work of the Constituent Assembly in the media (the sessions were broadcast live) has fueled aggressive behavior and speeches by MPs. Despite that, the Council’s work was steadily gaining effectiveness. Its critics have long demanded its dissolution since October 2012. But the distribution of the specialized committees, namely the consensus committee, and the prior preparation for the different versions of the constitution, have shown that the Council’s work was monumental and that success was possible. This success, though not yet complete, enhances the confidence of Tunisians in their institutions and ultimately in the state, which for the people still represents both their main fears and hopes.

In conclusion, two lessons can be drawn from the Tunisian revolutionary experience.

The first is that this experience shatters the myth that Islamic and Arab countries are averse to democracy.

That myth, which is pervasive in the West and among the Arab authoritarian elites, has been revived by the frustrations experienced by the revolutionary movements, especially in Egypt and Syria. On the contrary, the peaceful transfer of power, ensuring freedom of expression, even if violent at times, respecting legal institutions, although their legitimacy is incomplete, and adopting rules of the game that are fair and respected by all, are entrenching a culture of democracy in Tunisia.

The second lesson is that we should not forget that political progress in recent months has been limited to the political field. Much work remains in order to translate the words “jobs, freedom, and national dignity” into something concrete that would form a coherent political program that the people would support.

Pending that, we must rejoice in the “democratic celebration,” with the hope that the road map set by the “national dialogue” will be respected by all the revolution’s components.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

Read more:

Turkey seals border against al-Qaeda

Turkey seals border against al-Qaeda

The turmoil on the Turkish border is likely to intensify following major operations by the Syrian army in Aleppo and Idlib. The regime’s move pushed opposition forces northward against the border and prompted infighting between them. At the moment, the Turkish border, already the scene of crucial developments because of crossings of refugees, militants, arms and ammunition as well as traditional smugglers, had become even more volatile because of the clashes between the Islamic Front and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Turkey has closed its gates after al-Qaeda captured three border crossings into northern Syria, with potential implications for armed groups operating in Syria.

Author Fehim Taştekin Posted January 23, 2014

Translator(s)Timur Goksel

The Syrian border crossings of Bab al-Salameh, Carablus and Tal Abyad, which face the Turkish crossings of Kilis-Oncupinar, Gaziantep-Karkamis and Sanliurfa-Akcakale, respectively, were captured by ISIS one after the other. When Turkey closed the crossings because of this development, the trucks waiting there to cross into Syria were diverted to the Cilvegozu border crossing at Reyhanli-Hatay. But after the Jan. 20 car-bomb attacks at Syria’s Bab al-Hawa facing Cilvegozu, Turkey closed this crossing as well. The queue of trucks waiting at Cilvegozu was 30 kilometers (19 miles) long on Jan. 22. Only Syrians wanting to go back to their country are allowed to cross.

FSA couldn’t hold out.

A senior official told Al-Monitor that although Bab al-Hawa is technically under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), ISIS has a presence in the area and passages are therefore risky. He said, “There was stiff opposition to al-Qaeda at Tal Abyad, which is across from our Akcakale border crossing. But when al-Qaeda got the upper hand in the clashes, FSA people manning the crossing abandoned their weapons at the border and escaped to Turkey. Turkmen villages in the area were evacuated. At the moment, there is no force other than al-Qaeda at Tal Abyad. That is why we had to seal off the Akcakale border crossing.

Three hundred trucks a day used to pass through that crossing. Now the owners of the Akcakale-based truck fleets have formed a pressure group and they want us to reopen the crossing. They say they have commercial obligations and they have to deliver. According to them, al-Qaeda has transferred control of the crossing to civilians. Turkey is now assessing the situation but if you ask me, to allow trucks to cross from there would only benefit al-Qaeda because although ISIS may have withdrawn, it is al-Qaeda that actually controls the crossing.”

The official continued, “There was a long clash at Carablus about a week ago. In the end, the Tawhid Brigade gave up and ran away. About 1,500-2,000 civilians living in tents near the border also crossed into Turkey. These were people who had escaped from clashes at Hama and Homs. Most of them are Turkmen. Turkey was keeping them in camps on the Syrian side instead of letting them cross into Turkey. But when the border was closed, humanitarian assistance was disrupted and Turkey had to accept these refugees.”

He concluded, “There were bomb attacks in the town of Azez across from our Oncupinar. At Bab al-Hawa across from Cilvegozu, control is in the hands of the Islamic Front.”

One can sense a martial command in the region, especially to the east, where the Kurds are. The Nusaybin, Senyurt and Ceylanpinar crossings that provide access to Qamishli, Derbesiye and Serekaniye are controlled by the Kurds and already are closed. According to the official who spoke to Al-Monitor, vehicles going to Qamishli are processed at the Habur border crossing. At Senyurt, humanitarian assistance trucks are occasionally allowed through. That Turkey erected a wall at Nusaybin to prevent illegal crossings was interpreted as enmity toward Kurds and a challenge to Kurdish efforts to set up an autonomous region in Rojava.

The official said it is impossible to prevent illegal crossings on a border of 910 kilometers (565 miles), but the least Turkey could do would be to devise policies that would discourage the villagers on the Turkish side from joining the smuggling enterprises common there.

Alarm over terror

Another reason for Turkey’s increased vigilance on the border is the intelligence gathered on al-Qaeda’s intentions to stage attacks in Turkish cities. The latest report reaching the security units concerned ISIS plans to launch suicide attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and Hatay.

Intelligence reports said ISIS was specifically targeting the big hotels where the FSA and the Syrian National Coalition hold their meetings, hence the urgent warning sent to police and the gendarmerie. Turkey’s support of the Islamic Front, which is now fighting ISIS, and the recent detentions of al-Qaeda militants in some cities have increased fears that Turkey itself may be targeted.

Fehim Taştekin
Contributor, Turkey Pulse

Fehim Taştekin is a columnist and chief editor of foreign news at the Turkish newspaper Radikal, based in Istanbul. He is the host of a fortnightly program called “Dogu Divanı” on IMC TV. He is an analyst specializing in Turkish foreign policy and Caucasus, Middle East and EU affairs. He was founding editor of Agency Caucasus.

Original Al-Monitor Translations

Read more:

1993 review of “Imperialism, pioneer of Capitalism”

Bil Warren book cover

1993 review of “Imperialism, pioneer of Capitalism” – Bill Warren’s book, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, performs a useful service by refuting much of the mythology that the left has embraced in the name of ‘anti- imperialism’.


A Review of Warren’s Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism.

This article was originally published in September 1993 in the journal “Red Politics”

by David McMullen

Bill Warren’s book, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, performs a useful service by refuting much of the mythology that the left has embraced in the name of ‘anti- imperialism’. However, on the other hand, he manages to create his own brand of confusion. He does this, firstly, by blaming Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism for many of the left’s erroneous views.

And secondly, he is so busy extolling the historical mission of capitalism, that no effort is devoted to discussing how capitalism is an obstacle to human development and is becoming increasingly obsolete. Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings it is the myth shattering quality of the book that predominates.

Warren begins by reminding us of the basics of a Marxist attitude to capitalism:

(a) It is an advance in all respects on earlier forms of society.

(b) It develops the productive forces and society generally, so creating the necessary material or objective conditions for future communist society. This development also generates the contradictions which lead to capitalism’s revolutionary overthrow.

The following passage from the Communist Manifesto that Warren quotes (Warren 1980, p 11) says it all.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fact-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones becomes antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind. (Marx and Engels, 1968, pp 34-5.)

This approach to capitalism is at total variance to that prevailing in the “left’, The usual practice is to bemoan the development of capitalist productive relations and productive forces, and to cherish the things that capitalism is destroying. A few examples might clarify this point.

(1) Increased economic concentration and the destruction of the petty bourgeoisie. A classic case of the left’s response is its bemoaning such things as agribusiness, supermarkets and fast food chains.

(2) The increasing internationalisation of capital and the division of labor, which increases human intercourse on a world scale and lays the basis for a global society. This is denounced for destroying our independence and national heritage and placing us at the mercy of the multinationals.

(3) The destruction of cherished skills by new technologies (cherished, that is, by trendy left sociologists). To a Marxist, technological development is eliminating the technical division of labor which is the material basis of class society. In other words we are moving to a situation where you will have an educated and versatile workforce, on the one hand, and on the other hand, processes of production in which all types of activities can be performed equally by all members of the workforce.

(4) The erosion of traditional culture and social bonds. Traditional life tends to be romanticized, compared with soulless modern living We have lost something. On the other hand, to a Marxist the neuroses and instability of modern life are infinitely superior to the narrow mindless certainty and security of days gone by.

So given that capitalism is a social advance and creates the conditions for social revolution, how are we to view European colonial expansion into pre-capitalist societies?

Warren cites, by way of example, Marx’s recognition of the historically progressive role of Britain’s penetration of India.

“England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindoostan, was actuated by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about the revolution.” (S. Avineri (ed.) pp 93-94.)

Not long afterwards, Marx wrote as follows:

“England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating – the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia.” (S. Avineri (ed.) pp 132.)

On the destruction side, they broke up or seriously undermined much of the existing social fabric and pre-capitalist modes of production. On the construction side, political unity was greatly enhanced by the British sword (mainly in the hands of local recruits), telegraph and railways, and embryonic industrialization began to emerge.

It is appropriate that the anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century have not simply been directed at expelling the foreign oppressor. Rarely was the struggle simply one of returning to the days before colonial rule. For example, the struggle for independence in India was not directed at restoring the Mogul empire and independence in Africa did not mean returning to tribal hunter gathering or slash and burn societies.

In some cases such as in China, the revolution was directed at the total destruction of the traditional conditions that predated colonialism such as the remnants of feudalism. Even where independence from colonialism was not accompanied by fundamental social revolutions, the essential aspect of decolonisation was the establishment of a modern state, and the first steps towards a modern economy.

In the case of Czarist Russia, the modern industrial sector, which spawned the proletariat in the two decades prior to 1914, was primarily the product of foreign investment. At no stage did the Bolsheviks target this foreign ownership as something to be abhorred, an interesting point in the light of the economic nationalist position adopted by most of the Australian left.

To quote Warren:

“Between 1896 and 1900 a quarter of all new companies formed were foreign, and by 1900 foreign capital accounted for 28% of the total. By 1914 the proportion had risen to 33%. Foreign capital controlled 45% of Russia’s oil output, 54% of her iron output, 50% of her chemical industry, 74% of her coal output. More than half of the capital of the six leading banks of the country – themselves controlling nearly 60% of all banding capital and nearly half of all bank deposits – was foreign.” (Warren 1980, p 46.)

The position commonly adopted by the left is to deny that capitalism is fulfilling its historical function in the developing countries. We are told that capitalism is not developing the productive forces nor is it destroying pre-capitalist conditions. The LDCs are supposedly being underdeveloped by the world capitalist system. A major part of Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism is devoted to refuting these views. The linchpin of these views is the modern theory of imperialism, dependency and underdevelopment. Typical of the theorists in this area are Paul Baran, Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin.

We are told that the people of the Third World have been getting progressively worse off during the modern era (ie since the industrial revolution) and have generally experienced a socio-economic and cultural regression. Capitalism has developed, and continues to do so, in a contradictory fashion, which generates at the same time development in the centre and underdevelopment in the periphery.

The implication is that it is fruitless to expect underdeveloped countries to repeat the stages of economic growth passed through by modern developed capitalist economies whose classical capitalist development arose out of pre-capitalist and feudal society. Hence, the historical role of capitalism in these countries is finished, or at a dead end. It is argued, moreover, that the achievement of political independence has not significantly improved prospects of development in the periphery.

A number of arguments are put forward to support the above position. Warren picks out three as being particularly important.

(a) A drain of economic surplus from periphery to centre is said to arise from the flow of profits from foreign investment in the periphery back to the metropolitan country, and from unequal exchange in trade.

Warren points out “that for such a drain to retard economic development it must be an absolute drain not simply an unequal transaction that nevertheless leaves both sides better off than before …”. For example, the comparison that people make between profit outflow and capital inflow tends to be very misleading. Surplus extraction under capitalism is not comparable to the plunder practiced by the empires of antiquity.

Foreign investment creates the surplus (with the help of local labor of course) before it extracts it; and it does this by developing the productive forces. You can certainly criticise the form taken by foreign investment and trade, and argue that Third World countries would gain if they were better organised. What you cannot argue is that the wealth of Third World countries is being depleted.

Closely related to this surplus gain concept is the idea that developed countries are better off than others because they have more than their share of the world’s resources. In other words the reason why we have better plumbing than people in Bangladesh is because we have more than our share of the world’s supply of pipes and trained plumbers.

Or to put it more generally, there is a fixed quantity of some substance called prosperity and the more that goes to one lot of people the less there is for everybody else. This is a total failure to understand economic development as a process of economic accumulation. Its most negative effect is the implication that the interests of people in the developed and underdeveloped world are at loggerheads.

(b) The ‘traditional’ division of labour between centre and periphery countries whereby the former produce manufactured goods and the latter primary goods, is seen to be imposed by the centre on the periphery and is a source of its backwardness.

Warren argues that the validity of the argument rests on two assumptions, which he sets out to refute. These are first that there was a possible and desirable alternative line of development to primary-product, export-lead growth in the backward countries concerned; and second, that the initial emphasis on the export of primary products actually erected serious impediments to subsequent diversification, especially along the lines of industrialisation.

(c) Imperialism or centre/periphery relations are said to encourage the preservation of pre-capitalist modes of production. This is discussed at two levels. First, there is the case where capitalist production at one point encourages pre-capitalist production at another point (eg, cotton production based on slavery). Here Warren correctly argues that the destructive force of capitalist relations would far outweigh any conserving tendencies.

Second, there is the claim that imperialism has tended to ally itself with local feudalism at the expense of progressive bourgeois forces. Warren replies that this is largely undercut by the almost universal willingness of feudal classes to transform themselves, at least partly, into capitalist industrialisers once conditions are ripe. Where

Warren falls short on this question in failing to emphasise that a thoroughly bourgeois revolution would far more successfully unleash capitalist development.

At a more general and theoretical level Warren attacks dependency theory on a number of grounds.

To begin with it is a static view. While a change in form over time tends to be conceded, the possibility of declining dependency is precluded. Moreover, changes in the centres of power is inadequately allowed for.

The theory is ahistorical in that it assumes the following:

(a) that there were latent suppressed historical alternatives to the development that actually took place; (b) that the failure of alternatives to materialise was primarily the result of external imposition (colonial policy).

The theory is metaphysical in that it basically explains social phenomenon in terms of external causes, rather than as an interaction of both internal and external factors. (Mao spoke of external factors as the conditions of change and internal factors as the basis of change.) Dependency theorists would, for example, explain a country’s backwardness by the fact that foreign capital is only invested in enclaves or cash crops.

A more sensible approach would perhaps be to see cause and effect running the other way – because the country is backward these industries are the only opportunities for investment. The backwardness would then be explained essentially by internal factors, namely a social system and mode of production significantly inferior to, or historically less advanced than, capitalism in developed countries.

Dependency theory has a strong thread of nationalist utopia, which establishes a set of thoroughly dubious criteria of what is good and what is detrimental. The first blossoms of bourgeois society are denounced simply as imperialist cultural penetration (coca cola culture) serving the interests of the mutinationals and reinforcing dependent status.

There is also the concept of articulated economy. Every country has to have its own steel industry, for example. It is argued that if you do not have the full range of industries you are trapped into some narrow and enslaving international division of labour.

This last point touches on a major area of confusion, namely, the distinction between dependence and interdependence. Warren says:

“Since national economies are becoming increasingly interdependent, the meaning of dependence is even more elusive, not to say mystical.”(Warren, 1980, p 182)

In fact with the increasing importance of international trade and capital movement, it is often the case that dependence on trade and foreign investment is a sign of economic development.

The last section of Warren’s book provides extensive evidence that considerable economic development has occurred in the Third Word during the post-war period. It has been meteoric in comparison with that in western countries. The western countries took centuries to emerge from the Middle Ages and eventually achieve an industrial takeoff in the nineteenth century.

On Lenin’s views of imperialism

In Warren’s opinion, the more recent theories of imperialism, such as underdevelopment and dependency are best regarded as post-war versions of the views expressed by Lenin in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, or at any rate stemming, or continuing, from where he left off. Warren also claimed that in this book Lenin was espousing views that were at variance with his earlier writings on the Narodniks and the role of capitalist development in Russia.

Here Warren is skating on thin ice. Much of his case rests on Lenin’s use of particular words, especially ‘moribund’, ‘stagnant’ and ‘parasitic’. By ‘moribund’, Lenin is referring to the increasing obsolescence of capitalism, exemplified most starkly by two world wars and economic crises of the sort that hit in the 1930s and will hit again in the future. He is not saying that social and economic development ceases.

In his use of the word, ‘stagnation’, Lenin is not saying that capitalism is no longer revolutionising the productive forces – a proposition that would obviously be wrong. He is referring to its increasing tardiness relative to a communist organisation of production – the productive forces are outgrowing the capitalist mode of production.

Warren tries to equate Lenin’s description of monopoly capital and imperialist countries as parasitic with the crude “surplus drain’ view . However, Lenin is not denying that the export of capital develops the productive forces in recipient countries; he is just saying that the centralisation in the ownership of capital shows up geographically.

Places such as London and New York have a far higher than average proportion of the world’s bloodsuckers; they tend to be richer and their ‘portfolios’ span the world. When Lenin explicitly discussed the impact of imperialism on the then colonies, he said that it was developing the productive forces. Warren unjustifiably shrugs this off as lip service to Marxist orthodoxy.

Warren had a number of other criticisms of Lenin’s position. However, they are not central to our present discussion. He claims (a) that capital exports have not increased in signifcance, (b) that Lenin espoused underconsumptionism and (c) that inter-imperialist rivalry was based on trade rather than competing capital. These and other issues could perhaps be looked at on some other occasion in a fuller discussion of Lenin’s book.


Amin, S., Accumulation on a World Scale, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974.

Avineri, S., ed., Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernisation, New York, Anchor Books, 1969. Frank, A. G., Capitalism and Underdevelopment in LatinAmerica, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1971.

Greene, F., The Enemy, Notes on Imperialism and Revolution, London, Jonathon Cape, 1970. One of the more readable and also more appalling renderings of the ‘anti-imperialist’ position.

Lenin, VI, ‘On the So-Called Market Question’ Collected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1963.

———– ‘The economic content of Narodism and the criticism of it in Mr Struve’s book’, Collected Works, Vol. 7, Moscow, 1963.

———–, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Peking, Foreign Language Press.

Marx, K., Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1964.

———– and Engels, F., Manifesto of the Communist Party, Peking, Foreign Language Press, 1968.

Warren, W., Imperialism and capitalist industrialisation, in New Left Review (1973).

———–, Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism, British and Irish Communist Organisation (March 1977).

———–, Nations and corporations, in Times Literary Supplement, 1 November 1977..

———–, Poverty and prosperity in Times Literary Supplement, 12 December 1975.

———–, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, Verso, 1980, 274 p.

America in Iraq: Dialectics of Occupation and Liberation

Saddam statue topples

Ed.note I republish this because of the recent theme of discussing dialectical perspectives and opinions of Iraqis just after the ‘occupation’. This not so new book, by Kurdish author Kamal Mirawdeli is nevertheless relevant today because of the examination of the ‘motives’ of the U.S. for undertaking to ‘liberate’ Iraq, and concludes despite the misgivings that we all understand, that the chance at ‘freedom’ was worth it. I think he uses the term ideology erroneously, but the insights such as of the Dinosaur left (pseudoleft) and nationalistic right achieving unity in their wrongness over this issue is a point correctly observed. Also, his observation that opponents of the task ‘merely play with words’ as opposed to having a care to bring about the best possible outcomes is largely correct imv.

America in Iraq: Dialectics of Occupation and Liberation

Kamal Mirawdeli

Book Review by keza 2005

From authorhouse (inexpensive electronic version available)

A collection of his articles spanning three years (May 2002 – November 2004). Many of these can be read at Kurdish Media by clicking here.

Here is a sample chapter (scroll below it to see the Table of Contents) :

US’s military forces should stay in Iraq

20 April 2003

Step by step, brick after brick, idea after idea, and institution after institution: the US should never leave Iraq until a new fully democratic modern society is well-established and the process of democratisation in the Middle East is well under way!!

It is too normal, vulgarly expected: Iraq’s neighbours, including Turkey, ask the US to leave Iraq. They are worried about Iraq’s independence. They want Iraqi people to choose their own rulers and govern themselves. Yes, only few weeks ago the same people did not want the US and Britain to intervene. They said the Iraqi people were happy with Saddam and if they wanted change they would change the regime themselves.

These people do not ever feel shame. They never learn. They never see and hear. They can never feel that the carpet under their feet has been pulled. The earth under their feet has shaken. The warm sun they are used to, does not shine on the same world.

They are worried about one thing and one thing only: Freedom. This word has been omitted from their pocket dictionary. It has been tabooed on their policy agenda. It could only appear from time to time in their nightmares. But it always existed in people’s dreams, hopes and aspirations. And these all came true. Thanks to the US.

No one in this age can be so ignorant or ideologically prejudiced as to claim that the US liberated Iraq as an act of charity to Iraqi peoples’. Of course the US has its own vital, yes imperial, interests in Iraq and the region. But what age in human history has been free of empires and empire-building? Why is Islam a religion in Indonesia, Morocco, Bosnia, and Malaysia as well as in Pakistan and Middle East? How did Christianity reach Europe and North and South America? Why is English a predominant international language? Why is globalisation an unstoppable historical process?

But it is wrong scientifically, logically and morally to measure the present with the yardsticks of the past, to let ideological prejudice corrupt pragmatic sense, to see the world with dark glasses and then claim that darkness covers the four corners of the world because the US is spreading its tyranny all over the world.

The prophets of doom and gloom, the messengers of distortion and deception, the forces of conservatism and old Europeanism, the dinosaurian Left and nationalistic Right, the selective hypocrites of peace causes – all those who, for one reason or another, are detached from reality, ignorant of the operation of history, incapable of understanding universal relativity of issues and inherent deficiency of ideas, filled the world with hue and cry: Don’t attack Iraq! Minimum 500,000 people will be killed. Two million children will die. Four million refugees will need to be supported. There will be a Third World War. There will be a repetition of Vietnam. There will be rage, wrath and revolution in Arab streets. Fundamental Islamism will sweep the Middle East and vengeful Islamist terrorism will visit every home in US and Britain. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

No one of this motley mix ever said some people in Iraq would be happy. Some tyrannical structures would be dismantled. Some hope would be regained to 25 million enslaved souls. Hope of freedom and democracy would afflict and affect the slavery system of the Middle East.

I was reading all this rubbish coming from famous Middle East experts, revitalised retired politicians, visionary Leftist imams, reactionary Islamic ideologues, Middle East rulers, think tank analysts- with pain, anger and often contempt. These people had learnt nothing from Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. They had refused to move to the 21st century: the age of technological liberation, the age of globalisation of information and universalization of the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and individualism. They wanted UN to be the saviour of fascists in the name of sovereignty and be an absurd undertaker for the denied funerals of millions of the victims of genocide in the name of international law. They were to coin a word: ideo-fascists.

At this moment when I am writing this, I see and hear on my TV screen a paradox. A group of Iraqis in Baghdad are demonstrating against America. Some people from the same group ask the Americans for jobs! The BBC commentator finds this a strange contradiction.

It is not. It is only superficially contradictory. Ordinary people are NOT demonstrating against the US. If they do it is because they do not have jobs and opportunities now. If the US can create an Iraq in which there will be jobs, opportunities for self development and freedom, then there will be no demonstrations by ordinary people.

But still, like the die-hard Leftists of Europe who are still operated by the 19th century Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party, there will be people who will be ideologically exploited and operated by interest groups inside and outside Iraq, who will be demonstrating against the Americans because of ideological indoctrination not moral conviction. This act of protest will be facilitated by the very prospect of emerging democracy but also will eventually be neutralized and marginalized by the process and practice of democracy. Once people know that ideologies like Ba’ath or its factional fictional religious alternatives have nothing to offer but death and destruction, in the name of independence and martyrdom, then people will be able to choose rationally and determine their lives as individuals freed from all shackles of totalitarianism, dogma and demagogy.

I also heard and read a lot about the phenomenon of looting in post-Saddam Iraq?

Some people asked: why do Iraqis destroy their own country?

Sorry, mate! Wrong question. Faulty language.

If the questions are wrong, what hope are there for correct answers?

Iraqis do not destroy their country. This has never been their country, their government, their institutions, their wealth, their resources and their opportunities.


Everything belongs to the sole leader and his clique. The rest are dispossessed underclass: deprived, degraded, dehumanised, exploited, abused, and indoctrinated. They are the Leaders’ people. The party’s people. They do not own anything. They do not own themselves, either. They do not own their bodies, their dignity, and their freedom.

But like all other human beings in the world, the Iraqis have basic human needs. They also have hopes and dreams.

Iraqi girl U.S. flag

Their basic needs have necessarily been materialistic. They always knew, thanks to globalisation, that they lived in a materialistic world. The Iraqi people also wished to have good homes, food, fashion dresses, beautiful furniture, new cars, TVs and fridges. They also wanted to have good jobs, happy families, and well-educated children. Then they had dreams: to be a part of this globalised world. To have access to information. To have mobile phones, satellite TVs and computers. To have opportunity to learn languages, to travel and enter international labour market. Above all to be free individuals. To think freely and express themselves freely. But all these basic and higher human needs were denied and suppressed by the apparatuses of the despotic regime.

That is why there was this wide-spread looting spree: as expression of alienation from what supposed to be their country, heritage and culture. As a revenge from a system and a culture which enslaved them. And as expression of their long-suppressed desire to be part of the modern materialistic world. That is why taking a vase, a chair, a piece of wood, a window handle, a useless piece of metal, a double-deck bus, etc all had the same psychological and historical effect. It was a show to allow the Iraqis to see each other, feel each other, loot together to feel that what the end of slavery and dictatorship was not a dream. It was really the end of the nightmare, of tyranny, of despotism. This deep-rooted frustration for lack of material needs was important to find an outlet even if it took criminal proportions. Obviously there were also organised criminal gangs. But this will be a short-lived phenomenon. It will soon be over. Every thing wills settle down. Sorry again, the prophets of doom!

However, the satisfaction of the higher need of understanding freedom and how to achieve it democratically will come much later and need a long time. It should not be rushed. The US should stay put in Iraq until Iraq would really and practically join the front of free democratic nations. This can only be done if the US stays in Iraq and pursue its agenda of liberation and democratisation in the Middle East for the following reasons:

1. Reconstruction of Iraq and reconstruction of Iraqi peoples’ psyche and culture:

It needs a lot of time for Iraqi people to realize who they are, what world they live in, what have they gone through, what has happened to them and to what extent they can be themselves. Iraq throughout its history has known nothing but the culture of violence, despotism and killing. Saddam is only a duplication of Iraq’s various Hajajs. It is the whole culture which needs to change and the psyches of Iraqi individuals, which have been conditioned to fear democracy and freedom and worship oppressors and tyrants, need to be reconstructed. Without achieving this there will be no hope for democracy and real freedoms. And to achieve this Iraq needs decades not years.

2. Stability and conflict in Iraq and the region: Anti-freedom fascists lament destabilisation in Iraq and Middle East if the US stays. Do you remember Arab League’s claim that the gates of hell would open if the US attacked Iraq? But is there a grain of truth in this?

In fact without the presence of US’s forces, Iraq will degenerate into anarchy and civil war. Already Saudi-backed Wahabiis are attacking the Shi’a in Baghdad. Syrian-backed Saddam’s non-Iraqi Fedayeen are doing the same. Iran will definitely support Badr Shiite army. This will draw other countries into the conflict. These developments will cause destabilisation of Iraq and the region and not the presence of US forces. Perhaps some cynics say: But it is the presence of US in the first place which has created this chaotic situation. This situation, first, is not chaotic. It is a natural process of readjustment after thirty years of a fascist minority Sunni rule in Iraq and the brutal oppression and enslavement of the Shiite and other non-Baathi Iraqis. Second: Was the region safe with Saddam? Does any one imagine that there will be genocide of Kurds, eight years of Iraq-Iran war and the invasion of Kuwait with the presence of Americans? But why didn’t Arab League and Arab and Islamic states intervene to stop the carnage of eight years of the Iraq-Iran war? Why did all Arab states especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states pour billions of dollars to support Saddam’s racist Qadissiya war against Iran? Was this for the stabilisation of the region and the progress and prosperity of Iraqi people?

In fact what the tribal dictatorial regimes of the Middle East are afraid of is freedom and democracy. These words will sooner or later enter the daily usage of Arab street language and this will be more dangerous to the regimes than Saddam’s Scud missiles or American bombs.

3. The protection of Kurdish people: The Kurdish leaders took a great risk by allying themselves unequivocally and courageously with the US and putting their army under the American command. There was always the risk of Saddam’s retribution including the use of weapons of mass destruction. But it seems that there was a secret agreement between Turkey and Saddam by which Saddam’s regime left Kurdistan and the Kurds to Turkey to deal with. Information published by the Sunday Times (13 April 2003) from secret papers of Iraq’s general security in Baghdad indicate that Iraqi authorities were certain that Turkey would invade Kurdistan “as soon as the US attacks Iraq.” Also Iraqi information minister comic Sahhaf in reply to a question about the Kurds said, “We are not worried about the North. We have a special plan for the North.”. It seems that the special plan was a secret coordination with Turkey.

However, the Kurds now are in a very sensitive and serious position. They remain in a great danger as long as the dictatorial anti-Kurd regional governments stay in power. Pan-Arab nationalistic media are already conducting an ongoing campaign of racial hatred and aggressive disinformation against the Kurds. Iran has “sleeping” armed Islamic groups in Kurdistan which it can provoke, arm and use to destabilise and undermine Kurdish administration in Kurdistan. Without the US’s presence Turkey will find no difficulty in creating a crisis and find an excuse to attack liberated Kurdistan. Even within Iraq, Kurdish secular government will be greatly suspected, despised and even threatened even by Shiite groups calling for an Islamic state or at least a great role for religion in the running of the affairs of the state which, in the last analysis, means abolishing democracy, human rights, free thoughts and rights of women.

In fact the new situation and the role of Kurds in overthrowing dictatorship in Iraq has mapped out the reality and size of the Kurdish nation in the Middle East. Worried about the impact of Kurdish freedom in South Kurdistan on their colonised and enslaved Kurds, the states of Turkey, Syria and Iran will use any means at their disposal individually and collectively to undermine Kurdish freedom and roll back the wheel of history. But this is no longer the history of Kurdish people alone. It is also the history of the US’s project of liberation and democratisation in the Middle East. Will the US betray the Kurdish people and thus belie its own ideas and ideals? Will it leave alone the people who with great courage, commitment and dignity fight side by side with American soldiers for liberation of their land and democracy in the Middle East? The US should be true to its mission of liberation and democracy. Then it will find in the Kurdish nation, not only the six millions of South Kurdistan but also the whole 40 million Kurdish people in the Middle East as well as Kurds in Diaspora, the most reliable and courageous long-term allies and friends.

4. Protecting Iraqi democracy from regional intervention and influence:

Would it have been possible to liberate Germany alone from Nazism if the rest of Europe had been already Nazi states? Wouldn’t these states do everything in their power to undermine Germany’s freedom again? This is a hypothetical question for the benefit of comparison. The US’s project of liberation and democracy in Iraq will collapse as soon as its forces leave Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, other Arab countries as well as Iran and Turkey will do everything in their power to influence, buy, blackmail and undermine any democratic government not protected by foreign forces. It would not be impossible to cook a coup and reverse the wheels of history to the Saddamite old order. There were supposedly seven million Baathist members. Even if ten per cent of these were really indoctrinated and committed, it would be possible with outside support to regroup them. Perhaps Saddam or his sons, if they are still alive, would have another chance to be this time resistance fighters with the help of Arab regimes!

In short it would be extremely foolish for the Americans not only to leave Iraq but not to pursue their democratisation project in the Middle East.

5. Political correctness and realpolitik: Many people still out of residual ideological anti-imperialism and fashionable anti-Americanism call irresponsibly, without understanding historical reality and globalisation process, for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq claiming that the existence of US’s forces will harm Iraqi people and their independence, self-government and progress.

Of course the Americans are not so naïve as to listen to preachers of doom. Realpolitik means the American army will stay. If some people think this means endangering Iraq’s independence, they should not just play with words. We should analyse and understand essences and realities. What is independence? What did Iraqi independence under Saddam and previous dictatorial Arab regimes mean? Whose independence was that? Was Iraq really independent of world imperialism? Who installed Saddam and transformed him into a monster?

On the other hand the concept of independence on a small planet crowded with interdependent states has always been a relative one and never a real one for any country including the US. Is Britain an independent country? Aren’t there US military bases here unapproved by British parliament? Aren’t there US bases in Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, etc.? Does this mean these countries are not independent? So why shouldn’t there be US’s bases in Iraq. Definitely there should be US’s military bases in Kurdistan. That is the only hope of survival and freedom for Kurdish people.

Iraq’s real independence and prospect of progress and prosperity depend on the long-term existence of US’s military forces. An additional positive outcome of this will be ensuring peace and stability associated with prospects of democracy and freedom in the whole Middle East.

6. The national security and interests of the US: The US cannot afford to start all this process and military operations all over again as a tragic farce once, for example, Syria will act as a rogue state seeking weapons of mass destruction and indulging in the oppression and genocide of Kurdish people, or when Iran joins North Korea in the production of nuclear weapons and oppression of non-Persian nations or when Saudi’s Wahabism continues to supply ideology, money, weapons and training to terrorists such as Ansar al-Islam all over the world.

Mr Donald Rumsfeld called France and Germany old Europe. This, in a sense, is true. But there is also old America and new America. There was old America of Kissinger, Ford and Reagan who supported fascism, dictatorship and persecution and genocide of minorities all over the world in a way that contradicted all the values of freedom, human rights and democracy which US is proud of and aims to propagate in the world. In this article I mean new US: a great superpower that does not hesitate to topple dictatorships and fight fascists and terrorists for a world in which the values of freedom and democracy will be universal and non-compromising.


INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………………………….. vii


The US and the Kurdish nation in the Middle East: Old games

or new horizons? 1 ………………………………………………………….3

The US and the Kurdish nation in the Middle East: Old games

or new horizons? 2 ………………………………………………………..11

PART TWO AFTER SEPTEMBER 11 ……………………………………23

Is there really a war in Afghanistan? What is it for? …………….25

Who is Bin Laden? And what is Mr Blair’s Mission? ………….. 29

Tony Come Home, the kids need you and America is kidding

you? …………………………………………………………………………… 38

The New War Order ……………………………………………………….42

The tale of two Talibans: Afghanistan & Turkey ………………… 46

The moment of truth: Who rules the world? …………………….. 50

US after September 11: Towards a workable international

doctrine for a new world order! ………………………………………. 54

US after September 11: Towards a workable international

doctrine for a new world order! ………………………………………..59

US after September 11: Towards a workable international

doctrine for a new world order! Part III ……………………………..62

Do you really want to stop the war? ………………………………….72

Culture and Repression: the case of the Middle East sociopolitical

order ………………………………………………………………..78

PART THREE AMERICA IN IRAQ ………………………………………..87

The real Kurdish view! ………………………………………………….. 89

The story of a war dictated by foe friends: the spoiled child

who stabbed America in the back! …………………………………102

There is nothing wrong with a prolonged war of liberation! .. 113

No to the United Nations! Yes to the United Democratic

Nations! …………………………………………………………………….. 115

With friends like these, will anyone need enemies? ………….. 118

Tip of the iceberg, but will the pro-Saddam mob ever feel

ashamed? …………………………………………………………………..120

US’s military forces should stay in Iraq …………………………..122

American policy in Iraq: the dialectics of occupation and

liberation – I …………………………………………………………………131

American policy in Iraq: Dialectics of occupation and liberation

– II ……………………………………………………………………………..141

American policy in Iraq: Dialectics of occupation and liberation

– III …………………………………………………………………………….150

American policy in Iraq: Dialectics of occupation and liberation

– V ……………………………………………………………………………..163

Did BBC kill David Kelly on behalf of Saddam? ………………..167

Paul Bremer’s Interview with Asharq Al-Awsat 31 January

2004. …………………………………………………………………………172

Will Paul Bremer be allowed to turn Bush’s liberation mission in

the Middle East ……………………………………………………………178

From massacre in Madrid to carnage in Qamishli: Fact and

fiction …………………………………………………………………………183

President Bush should not leave Iraq an unfinished business

again! …………………………………………………………………………188

The two state solution: Divide and democratize! ………………195

Paul Bremer: A man living in a cloud-cuckoo-land ……………202

Death in Darfur, Decadence in Democracies! ………………… 209

De-liberation: Bremer’s legacy and post-Bremer choices ….217

President Bush and the World War Four of liberation? …….. 225

Rules of Engagement



More Rules of Engagement here

Posted by keza at 2007-10-10

The purpose of this forum is as a place for serious, high-level discussion about what it means to be progressive and left-wing in the 21st century.

I used the adjective “high-level” purposely.

We expect contributors to make a serious attempt to engage with the issues raised in the thread they are participating in. There are many forums on the internet in which serious debate/rational argument is not the norm and almost anything goes.

Here we have an expectation that people will actually attempt to argue their position by using both logic and evidence (as well as by making a real attempt to express themselves clearly).

Certain things are unacceptable:

(1) Jumping into a thread and just asserting a viewpoint with no attempt to argue for it.

Posting a supporting link from somewhere else on the internet is not an argument. It is fine to post links but when doing so we generally expect them to be accompanied by a clear and thoughtful comment about the relevance and importance of the link to the topic at hand.

(2) Posting comments which are at best tangentially related to the topic of the thread you are posting in.

These sorts of comments are not only distracting but also disruptive to the integrity of the thread. Generally they are an attempt to change the subject rather than respond to a good argument posted previously.

(3) Repeating the same thing over and over while ignoring counter arguments.

This is a form of trying to win by shouting. We expect people to read (and respond to) what others have to say and also to take the time to read any links to relevant material which form part of these posts.

(4) Distorting what an opponent has said in order to attack it (the straw man fallacy)

Recently Steve Owens was complaining because I deleted a post of his which consisted of just a single sentence and a link.

This was Steve’s ‘response” to the 5 thoughtful and detailed posts which had constituted the thread up until then. The link did not have any obvious connection to these earlier posts and Steve made no attempt to explain why he thought it made some sort of contribution to the discussion.

He says that he just wanted to post “interesting news about Iraq” , that perhaps we need a special thread devoted to interesting news snippets about Iraq, and also that my motive for deleting his post may have been because I “wouldn’t want links to news items that showed either gross mismanagement by the forces of occupation or the spread of cholera or for that matter mercenaries firing into crowds.”

I’ll paste in what Bill had Barry had to say in response to all this:

Bill wrote:

(quoting Steve…) “I can understand why people dedicated to the prosecution of the war wouldn’t want links to news items that showed either gross mismanagement by the forces of occupation or the spread of cholera or for that matter mercenaries firing into crowds. All these things are developments in Iraq this is a thread about developments in Iraq go ahead Keza delete this. Orwell always said you would”

This gratuitous and deliberately misleading insult needs to be deleted / edited out of  Steve’s post (along with this reply)

It’s always better to provide an explanatory comment / meaningful explanation with a link. That is a request to lift your standard of discussion and not evidence of our lack of willingness to discuss. In general this is what supporters of this site do when providing links.  If you are too lazy to do that then the message will be deleted / moved to junk

The real issue here is that some people treat LS as a site where they “sniff and piss” rather than a place to have real debate.

Steve, why don’t you  repost to meet these guidelines (ie. add in your links again to your comment and take out your nonsense) and then see if is deleted then, before complaining about our “Orwellian” behaviour.

Calling Planet Peace Movement 2014


Once more the people of Earth are calling planet peace movement!

by Patrick Muldowney

The first batch of chemical weapons (CW) recently left port in Syria and given there is a large scale civil war in progress (with all the life and death logistical problems that implies) the compelled program for their destruction is virtually right on schedule! If this continues and there is no reason to think it won’t – the Syrian CW disarmament will be completed in the next 6 months and so a question arises; what manner of progressive would not agree that disarmament is a very good thing?

This good result, is unambiguously not thanks to the efforts of any western ‘peace movement’ or ‘anti-imperialist left’. Indeed not one organized grouping identifying as radically left has made any positive contribution to this part of the process of disarming the Assad regime. All of the ‘3 letter’ groups opposed (even if they verbally or theoretically denounce the Baathist / Alawite regime of the Assad dynasty, and naturally they mostly do so) the very real military threats – when they were made by the reluctant Obama and were imminent – that brought about this capitulation of the Assad regime.

But the reality – and everyone knows this – is that no cruise missile threat no good outcome!

The chemical weapons disarmament now in progress, is the direct result of the aggressive placement of military forces and the clear understanding by the Assad tyranny that these forces would be used in a very substantial way to destroy his air power, command and control and seriously and quite unpredictably disrupt his regime’s war effort against the democratically minded Syrian peoples’ and others that oppose him.

The exact military force that ‘cruise missile Marxists’ like me have advocated the use of, since the earliest stages of this struggle for democratic rights, has been put before the regime and this threat of force has brought about this good result.

If I, as a revolutionary democrat complain now it’s because this military force could just as well have been used much earlier, after for example the more minor use of these chemical weapons. Or when we ‘cruise missile Marxists’ first called for NATO intervention in the NFZ style manner of war that liberated the Libyan people!

In retrospect, it’s plain to see that such an intervention would have spared the lives of a great many Syrians, so it would qualify as a humanitarian intervention; as well as an intervention for the furtherance of the obvious revolutionary goals of transforming this tyranny into another garden variety (by ME standards) bourgeois democracy.

We might all note in passing that sparing Syrian lives is clearly of no real concern to the current POTUS and ditherer in chief Barack Obama. This ‘historical blockage’ of a political leader, is hardly much more than a shameless, self-promoting waste of eight years, as has been demonstrated often enough by comparison to the Syrian policy proposals put forward in contrast by his rival, and the once alternate candidate for POTUS – John McCain. As is now being revealed by the once insider people like Defence Sec., Robert Gates. Gates had to cope with this Administration’s lack of commitment to any war of liberation!

Anyway, it is a reasonable estimate that 120,000 plus casualties have been inflicted on Syrians as a direct result of the resistance to their peaceful democratic demands. The war and its casualties are the result of the intransigence of the regime. That tyrannical regime is well known to be a less murderous tyranny than the Saddam Hussein variety was. Everyone knows Saddam got away with the Halabja mass-murder with nary a threat to his CW back in 1988! How the world has changed.

Right across the western world confused left’s, and the pseudoleftists are currently peculiarly silent while they understand, or ought to, that this disarmament, AFTER the attack that killed perhaps 100th of the total 120,000 is NOT IN THEIR NAME.

The chemical weapons are being destroyed as a result of a threatened and more than credibly imminent ‘cruise missile’ response, which Obama belatedly was shamed into ordering. There was a way to prevent that attack and that was to comply with the U.S. demands for the orderly and verifiable CW disarmament now underway. Having overreached with the attack, Assad had no better choice available than to preserve his Air Force etc..

This ‘cruise missile’ Marxist really does believe that all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

I accept that not only is the struggle to rid the world of tyrannies necessarily protracted (and political unit by political unit variable in the how and when) I think it reasonable to remind people that by the time this CW disarmament task is completed, it is likely that a further 20-30,000 Syrians will be dead from the continuation of the conventional methods used. At that point absolute casualty numbers may well be running neck and neck with those sustained over eleven years in the warfare required to liberate and launch the bourgeois democratic revolution for the peoples’ of Iraq.

That number in Syria will have been achieved in ⅓ the time required for the more difficult task in the larger country of Iraq! Events in Iraq may unfold altering that trajectory, but what are the political demands that could bring the fighting to a stop in either country? What politics ought to be sought by radical democrats to win the war and stop the killing in both of these countries?

In six months time, there still won’t be an end in sight to the protracted war in either country, but in Iraq the democratic forces have been fighting off the front foot for years, while in Syria the regime still has all its ‘toys’ – except the chemical one’s responsible for only 100th of the casualties anyway. This is progress. Unfortunately, Assad got a pretty good deal as he continues to ethnically cleanse and cut out and try to build a holdable enclave.

When this issue came to a head last August, The North Star (TNS) a site deliberately set up to foster real debate among leftists after the events of Libya demonstrated to the site’s founder Pham Binh, (PB) that such a site was required, the site imploded.

TNS essentially collapsed under the strain and was ‘re-launched’ after some not so behind the scenes numbers crunch. The relaunched project was essentially a fraud. There is no longer debate to be had at TNS, more on that later.

Specifically, TNS 2, after a dishonest play against PB and quite blatant repudiation of its original raison d’etre for a broadly inclusive site for discussion and debate has imploded in the dishonest repudiation of that required debate and many people have been censored and banned etc., by the new owners.

To be frank, TNS fell into a madness of juvenile pseudoleftism and the bog standard censorship, found across the spectrum at Neverland ‘socialist’ sites, again unfolded with the boringly predictable results that saw the site abandoned by anyone worth a cracker. The new owners can now talk to themselves and the usual no-hopers in the usual echo chamber manner. The behaviour and consequent numbers are now on record to tell the tale. But as I said I will return to that topic later.

Back in the Middle East next ‘door’ to Syria, the Iraqi army is currently surrounding Fallujah, and the Sunni ‘tribe’ irregular troops are assisting the elected government to retake the city and capture or kill as many Al Qaeda forces they can get hold of.

Back over the border up in Aleppo, the FSA type elements are also taking on Al Qaeda types. Further north, the Turkish government;

‘…has removed 350 police officers from their posts in the capital Ankara, following a corruption probe targeting people close to the government.’

and Turkish politicians are fist fighting in the parliament.

John Kerry is doing his best to put pressure on Netanyahu, eight years after Sharon actually left the scene, and less than a decade after the Zionist state led by him pulled all it’s settlers and troops out of the Gaza strip.

So all troops and settlers are finally out of Sinai, Gaza and Lebanon (invaded under ‘defence’ minister Sharon back in 1982).  The war for greater Israel goes on with the Syrian Golan Heights still occupied; Palestinian East Jerusalem; and the West Bank still occupied – BUT these days the U.S. President – since GWB – no longer calls these areas ‘disputed territory’ but occupied territories!

Clearly U.S. interests are not served in continuing the failed war for Greater Israel. Clearly the U.S. even under Obama, is putting pressure on the Israeli government, and the embarrassing ‘settlement’ project. The blatant racism of Zionism has slowly united world opinion against the project for greater Israel launched in 1967.

For my money, a complicated circle of revolutionary transformation has now closed and western political and military power led by the U.S. has played a leading role in the process. U.S., and other NATO forces are busy in Jordan, both training and equipping ‘FSA’, or equivalent fighters and the bloody war launched by Assad grinds on.

The casualties mount right across the region but provided the U.S. and NATO don’t threaten to destroy Assad’s airpower, the western ‘peace’ movement will stay quiet about the arms and training provided to the FSA.  In other words – provided this war is conducted in the most incompetent and costly (in terms of casualties to the Syrian democratic peoples’) manner – as a slow burn against a well supplied tyranny – the pseudoleft will stay in Neverland.

Obama may yet get the Netanyahu government to finalize the defeat and his supporters will delude themselves with his great achievements, but whatever unfolds US interests spelt out under GWB when he declared the territories occupied and not disputed are now clear enough. The general direction is not going to change, and the general pressure will continue to grow!

Earth Calling Planet Peace Movement 2005

This piece is edited 2014, and presents the interim argument made over the war in Iraq in 2005 after it became clear that the initial bleatings of anti-war opponents was proving to be wrong.

by Patrick Muldowney

struggling to be green

Reprinted from Lastsuperpower 2005

All ‘left’ opponents of the illegal liberation of the Iraqi peoples’ have reasoned from the first that the war was really about oil (one way or another)and so the war was to be opposed because of this obscene reason. Every peace activist seems to know ‘viscerally’ that oil has something to do with the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq. But none, of this blood is for oil!

In the west we have observed via the usually anti-Bush mass-media the Iraqi elections and the period of negotiations in the process that formed a government. It became clear that the major political parties in Iraq were and are unmistakably ‘stand alone’ forces, free from any suspicion of being U.S. puppets. It was always clear that any puppets could not be elected in any free and fair process.

Yet western anti-war activists, who (like me) generally knew nothing much about Iraq have been basing their analysis on the proposition that the U.S would be installing puppets. This is now demonstrably not the case. This is not a straw-man argument it is fundamental to all the carrying on about oil. Now only people on planet peace movement could think this, unless one thinks that U.S. war aims have failed and been abandoned already.

The vast bulk of ‘peace activists’ are sophisticated enough to realise that in this century the U.S. could not directly seize the oil and place it under direct U.S. ownership or control. If the U.S. was to keep actual control of the oil, despite formal Iraqi control, independent Iraqi politicians serving the national interests of Iraq would be anathema to such an undertaking. Yet that is who is running Iraq now, independent Iraqi politicians serving interests internal to Iraq.

It is now also widely known, that the parties constituting the interim government want to be rid of Coalition forces ASAP. (despite being grateful for their current assistance). Iraqi leaders are openly talking about the final withdrawal and scheduling the draw down of front line troops, region by region. What is possible, or more accurately optimal for that withdrawal, given the Iraqi military requirements for soldiers, technicians, trainers etc., is apparently thought to be about two years time.

The Iraqi political parties that were ever going to draw any size of the popular vote were never going to be puppets. The Sunni political forces that have as yet remained outside the electoral process, now want in on the next stage will of course further compound the problem the peace movement faces. The current government is not a U.S. puppet and the next government that will contain some of those who did not participate this time will be even more clearly independent.

Thus we can conclude that the U.S. will not be setting up bases in Iraq. (even bases comparable to those in Germany where the politicians are not puppets either) The U.S. may have some sort of presence in Iraq, but a bourgeois democracy in Iraq implies suspicion of the U.S. and these Iraqi parties will be both grateful for the help, and distanced from the great friend of Israel, America.

Most western anti-war campaigners (excusing any genuine pacifists that I simply can’t be bothered arguing with) would have at least theoretically supported Iraqis taking up arms to overthrow the Baathists but could not support the actual war launched by the U.S..

Apparently the anti-war campaigners would overwhelmingly have supported a revolution from below to overthrow the law and order that existed in Iraq. Well my question is; when will you admit that something is worth defending now, and is MUCH better than what went before?

An illegal war was launched against a lawful tyranny and this tyranny was unlawfully overthrown. Then along came the world’s international law making body, the UN Security Council (NB the victors of WW2), and after the fact they declared that the occupation was then the lawful authority. Naturally, ‘the revolution made the law, the law did not make the revolution’. That is what revolutions do! Now an election process has been conducted under the new lawful authority and it is not seriously disputed as to who the Iraqi interim government now is.

This brings about a massive problem for leftists who say that they would have supported a civil-war to overthrow the fascist Baathists. For leftists, there is such a civil-war going on now! Fortunately there are a couple of hundred thousand heavily armed soldiers that are on the Iraqi peoples’ side and they will definitely win.

“Those wishing to make the “more lives ultimately saved”, argument will need to make their comparisons with the number of civilians likely to have been killed had Saddam Hussein’s reign continued into 2003-2004, not in comparison to the number of deaths for which he was responsible in the 1980s and early 1990s…”

No we don’t! This regime was entirely variable in kill rate until overthrown. Trying to overthrow such a regime from an essentially unarmed position would have amounted to having been set up for mass slaughter. Leftists are about winning and overthrowing tyranny not about gloriously laying down our lives in the interest of any juvenile theory that requires people to overthrow their own tyrants unarmed and single-handedly.

Let’s look at some trends in Iraq and around the world. Western, society does not have such an awful death toll as is currently occurring in Iraq. Nor was any period during the reign of Saddam comparable to what we have in the west. That’s why the term tyranny is applied and why everyone worth talking to wants it overthrown. So the important question arises: Is Iraq now moving towards modernity and the lower death toll implied or away from it? Will more elections be held, and will the Coalition eventually withdraw?

Reflect on WW2. Did the U.S. occupy Germany to steal German coal? Did they withdraw? Is Germany (let alone Japan and Italy) part of the modern world again? What would make people think that sixty years later the people of the world would put up with U.S. imperialists nicking Iraqi oil at the cost of two endless sets of body bags?

The old regime was overthrown by an illegal invasion, yet is anyone not supportive of Saddam or the Jihadists now under the impression that the new Government of Iraq is itself illegal? The Interim Government is the body set up to generate a constitution and hold a referendum to approve that constitution, and then hold an election for a further even more representative legitimate government. Are they legitimate revolutionary goals and thus the interim Government worthy of support and assistance?

Humpty cannot be put back together again, so what’s to be done other than acknowledge the revolutionary transformation from a political system run by a lawful tyrant to a new system that runs via a new (for Iraq) electoral system? That’s not any sort of evolutionary transformation it’s a revolutionary transformation.

How should we think about moving ourselves and the heroic people of Iraq further along the path of the bourgeois democratic revolution? Would the situation be improved if all coalition troops were withdrawn now? The colonial era has “Gone with the wind” and it requires determined blindness not to see it. Yet we are still fed what amounts to an endless stream of the war is all about oil.

I wrote the following notes to an anti-war acquaintance just before the U.S. elections.

“I am glad that my side is on the offensive and gearing up for major battles once the U.S. elections are over. It may well be that Osama Bin Laden bombs polling booths or whatever during the U.S. elections. Whatever the outrage next perpetrated my side should remain on the offensive, as standing on the defensive loses wars. All the descendants of the enlightenment and forces of modernity are not about to lose this one!

Just sticking my neck out for a moment, I think Bush will win now that Bin Laden has intervened to try to cause another Madrid effect. The Yanks will do the opposite, and allow Bush to continue. We will know soon enough who is to do the gnashing of teeth. Anyway Kerry is locked in on the main game.

It is time to accept that Saddam’s regime would never have changed organically and evolved from within, so there was always going to be a war.

Let 100 Flowers Blossom and 100 Schools of Thought Contend.

Water lilies

From Lastsuperpower by Arthur 2006

Hi Rosa, I just read right through your 14,200 word summary and was struck by the following among the caveats at the end:
“…it is fundamental to my project that if I cannot explain myself in ordinary language, then not even I understand what I am attempting to say!** **And that is why this Essay will need to be re-written many, many times.”

I admire the enthusiasm with which you are tackling the problem of why allegedly marxist tendencies have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful and have degenerated into peurile sects adequately ridiculed in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. But I would say they have as little grasp of dialectical materialism as they do of anything else. A classic illustration can be found in another thread here re Spelling out the Drain the Swamps theory – where a dalek challenged to concretely analyse concrete conditions is reduced to simply frothing at the mouth together with the following complete “dialectical” argument for not trying to change the status quo.

“My answer to all your stuff is that the internal contradictions in any entity will be worked out by the usual dialectical processes. The nature of what is to be born from the internal struggle will be determined by the resolution of the internal contradictions. No amount of outside pressure nor outside influence will have any effect on that which is to emerge.”

Since we are at least in agreement about the complete uselessness of the “philosophy” of the various peurile sects it might be useful to engage in dialogue. But you would need to tackle the concrete issues we are discussing (eg Iraq) in ordinary language. From passing references scattered throughout your material it appears that you share much the same political views as the “dialecticians” you reject as fraudulent. That ought to give you pause for thought.

We hold opposite views on concrete political issues so discussing those concrete issues ought to be more productive. If you read the thread linked above from the beginning, and the links within it, you will find plenty of material that shows the connection between our different political views to yours and our different philosophical views concerning dialectical materialism to yours. Your account of the Background to this project is much easier to follow than your summary. I was struck by your remark:

“…if truth be told, some {Stalinist Dialecticians} (Russian or Chinese) display a far more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of “the dialectic” than do many {Orthodox Trotskyists} – Ilyenkov and Oizerman come to mind here. Another: Alexander Spirkin’s analysis of the Part/Whole relation, here.”

I can at least agree with you there. Ilyenkov is worth reading. (BTW please fix the broken link to Spirkin.)

Frankly I don’t have time at the moment to read much more of your 600,000+ words work. But I will quote this, as an explicit welcome to a site that DOES want to be contradicted:

“Nevertheless, for all their avowed love of “contradictions”, DM-theorists do not like to be contradicted – especially “internally”, as it were, by a comrade. In fact, they reject all attempts at doing this (which is rather odd given their commitment to the belief that progress can only occur this way). So here is a nice conundrum: if all progress and change does indeed result from “internal contradictions, then the pages that follow, which uncover the many that lie at the heart of dialectics, should be warmly welcomed by the DM-faithful. Indeed, if improvement and development can come about in no other way, then these pages ought to be well-received by those committed to “dialectical” change. That they won’t be well-received should therefore count as one of the opening “contradictions” exposed at this site: DM stands refuted as much by its own unwillingness to be contradicted (internally or externally) as it is by the fact that this situation is not likely to change.”

Our experience is that they simply don’t want to argue with us. Occasionally, like the dalek, one of them turns up and expresses his indignation without any attempt to understand what we are actually saying or to directly respond to any replies – the minimum courtesy required for argument. Given your background, you will find much to contradict here. Please go right ahead! But please, avoid the language you use in bantering with your fellow sectarians and just argue with us about how to analyse and change the world in ordinary language that anyone can understand.

Historical Materialist Dialectics

DaVinci vitruviawith_pyramid

Question “The only experience that I have with dialectics is a horrible essay that I had to write at university about Mozart and Beethoven. I’ve never really understood what dialectics means, except that it’s a great word to use when pretending to be intellectual over a cup of coffee. Most other people don’t really seem to understand the concept either, but would prefer not to admit it. I know this as I regularly drop it into conversations and no one has pulled me up on it yet.. see emperor’s new clothes post!”

Dialectics – What is it, what are examples of it?

by Keza 2004

I mentioned in The relation between materialism and idealism topic that materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett doesn’t mention the word dialectics – so in reading Dennett I’ve been looking out for what language he uses when describing concepts that are dialectical.

I’ve found one instance – he uses words like paradoxical to describe the problem and then in detailing his solution says things like, “this is not paradoxical at all”

An example is that Mother Nature / Evolution has no foresight and yet has managed to create humans who have foresight.

• Re: progress and dialectics

Posted by keza at 2004-12-28

The best laid plans of mice and men…. if practically everything that we do results in something not intended then why do we plan, why do we struggle, why do we try to move the world in a certain direction?

When Engels wrote that consciously willed actions often result in quite unintended consequences I think he was disputing the Hegelian idea that history is “the gradual realisation of ideas”. His point was that what happens in history comes about not as a direct result of abstract ideas, wishes, intentions (and so on) but is governed by ‘inner laws’ – ie what is possible (and therefore real and rational) in a given epoch. Movements don’t arise just because someone comes up with a good or bad) idea and manages to convince lots of people to follow them. Movements for change arise out of material conditions – the possibility for change is present and that opportunity is seized. The ideology in which the movement is clothed is (somewhat) secondary.

“The distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production … and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic — in short, ideological — forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”


Marx: Contribution to the Critique of Political Philosophy (1859)

An example is the idea of “equality” in the bourgeois democratic revolution. The idea that “all men are created equal” stood in direct opposition to the feudal belief that all men are most definitely not created equal. The growth of capitalism made it not only possible but also necessary for the idea that rulers are made rather than born to take hold. Thus on a conscious level the motivation for bourgeois revolution was belief in ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ but at a more fundamental level, the revolution was driven by the necessity to liberate the productive forces from the constraints of feudalism. That reason (or motivation) was only dimly appreciated however.


Friedrich Engels wrote in 1893 that:

“Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces.

I don’t think this means that bourgeois revolutionaries didn’t really believe in liberty, equality, fraternity – or that the battles they fought weren’t really for these things. We all know (except perhaps for the pseudo left) that as a result of the democratic revolution we have freedoms and rights that were hardly even dreamed of previously. However the ideas themselves weren’t the driving force – these ideas could only take hold because the material conditions were crying out for them (so to speak).

I think what bothers a lot of people is the feeling that perhaps this means that what they as individuals actually do doesn’t really matter – that somehow we are all carried along by a tide of “underlying forces” , that we are seized by ideas rather than seizing them ourselves etc etc. Engels refuted this when he said “freedom is the recognition of necessity” (Anti Duhring?) … once we come to understand “how things work” – “the rules of the game” then we do have a real chance of using our understanding to influence the course of history. Engels’ Letter to Franz Mehring in Berlin is interesting in this respect.”

He starts by pointing out that both he and Marx tended to neglect the role of ideas/ consciousness in bringing about change…

“Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. That is to say, we all laid, and were bound to lay, the main emphasis, in the first place, on the derivation of political, juridical and other ideological notions, and of actions arising through the medium of these notions, from basic economic facts. But in so doing we neglected the formal side – the ways and means by which these notions, etc., come about – for the sake of the content. This has given our adversaries a welcome opportunity for misunderstandings and distortions…..”

and later:

“Hanging together with this is the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent historical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction. These gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once an historic element has been brought into the world by other, ultimately economic causes, it reacts, can react on its environment and even on the causes that have given rise to it.”

No time to write any more now!! I’ll finish with a quote I quite like though:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living…. “
(Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napolean)

end Keza

Posted by kerrb at 2004-12-19 01:54 AM

More about the usefulness of dialectics, being a bit more specific about it than in my previous reply to sally.

1) socialist / not socialist dialectic

A few years ago (maybe 20) I went to a debate where someone from the pro-Soviet so called communist party was arguing that the Soviet Union was still a socialist country. This person was so wrapped up in the details and scope of his argument that I could see that no single point could be made in question time that could possibly persuade him that he might be wrong. I wanted to support the case that the Soviet Union wasn’t socialist and so was racking my brains for a question that might get through, if not to the speaker, then at least to the audience.

What I thought of and asked the pro-Soviet speaker was: ” Are there any possible circumstances that might arise in the future which would persuade you that the Soviet Union was no longer socialist?”

To the amusement and bemusement of some of the audience, he replied, “No, the Soviet Union will always be socialist”

2) progressive / reactionary dialectic

I think a similar sort of point can be made to the pseudo-left in connection to the US invasion of Iraq.

In my view it’s pretty straightforward that the US has led a campaign to overthrow the fascist government of Saddam Hussein and is now proceeding to help Iraqis create a democratic government. That has to be progressive.

Because historically US Imperialism has been very reactionary, as exemplified by the Vietnam war and much more, there are now many people in the world who seem incapable of conceptualising that the US could possibly do something progressive. It’s always possible for these people to point to bad things that the US does – there is no shortage of examples.

Maybe part of the problem is that they have an ingrained black and white, non dialectic world view, which implicitly denies the very possibility that the US could do something progressive.

I’m not saying that thinking dialectically is a substitute for studying the details of processes in detail – including the details of what the Soviet Union became historically and the details of what is happening in Iraq and the Middle East. But that having the concept of dialectics (the coexistence of opposites in things) might help prevent falling into the rigid black and white thinking illustrated in the two examples above. If some people can’t even conceptualise that it might be possible for US Imperialism today to do something progressive then no amount of detail is going to change their mind about Iraq. Their thinking is dogmatically stuck at another level to do with their whole world view. I’m arguing that studying dialectics is useful because it helps us keep our minds open to these possibilities.

Here’s a paragraph from Dennett:

“One of the standard (and much needed) correctives issued to those who study evolution is the old line about how natural selection has no foresight at all. It is true, of course. Evolution is the blind watchmaker, and we must never forget it. But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Mother Nature is well supplied with the wisdom of hindsight. Her motto might well be “If I’m so myopic, how come I’m so rich?” And while Mother Nature is herself lacking in foresight, she has managed to create things – us human beings, preeminently – who do have foresight, and are even beginning to put this foresight to use in guiding and abetting the very processes of natural selection on this planet. I occasionally encounter even quite sophisticated evolutionary theorists who find this paradoxical. How could a process with no foresight invent a process with foresight? One of the main goals of my book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” was to show that this is not paradoxical at all. The process of natural selection, slowly and without foresight, invents processes or phenomena that speed up the evolutionary process itself – cranes, not skyhooks in my fanciful terminology – until the souped up evolutionary process finally reaches the point where explorations within the lifetime of individual organisms can affect the underlying slow process of genetic evolution, and even, in some circumstances, usurp it.”
– Freedom Evolves, page 53

So, this illustrates that one can think dialectically without formally studying dialectics or even using the word dialectic. Dennett’s ability to do this would presumedly arise out of his deep study of the science of evolution combined with his materialistic philosophy.

In dialectical language no foresight and foresight would constitute a unity of opposites and in the process of development one can transform into the other. I think this way of looking at it is preferable to Dennet’s apparent paradox that turns out not to be a paradox.

But it’s probably more important to really study the topic deeply (in this case, evolution) than just to be able to spout the magic words. But I also believe that it’s important to study dialectics itself (Mao, Hegel etc.) because this creates an awareness or sensitivity to possibilities of things turning into their opposite that we otherwise might not even notice – it has the potential to make our thinking more fluid and flexible.

end post

Posted by kerrb at 2004-12-19

Dialectics is the co-existence of opposites in everything, nature, mind, society. I’ll explain by reference to something said in The Emperor’s New Clothes thread:

Think of all the people scared to speak in public, or scared to admit how they feel about something, or someone! I know for a fact that my private side is very different from my public face. So in my opinion this is a ‘problem’ that stretches right across the board, it’s not just in intellectual circles. People in general are afraid to speak their minds! Me too, so afraid that I don’t want to post this, but I will anyway.

What you are saying here is full of dialectics IMO. You talk about fear of speaking out and feeling compelled to speak out coexisting in your mind. Both of these opposites co-exist side by side. In some circumstances the fear might be stronger and you don’t speak. In other circumstances the compulsion to speak out might be stronger.

I think it’s fair to say that these opposite tendencies exist in everybody and so we are talking about something that is universal.

So, by contrast, what would be a non dialectical way of looking at this? We might view some people as always speaking out, the sort of people we wish would shut up sometimes. We might view other people as never speaking out, the sort of people that we don’t know what they are thinking. We might form black and white opinions about people with these extreme tendencies and as a result lose our curiosity, for example, not notice that a normally garrulous person has gone quiet in certain circumstances.

But of course there are no people like either of these two extremes. Although some people speak too much and others hardly at all these are just tendencies across the spectrum of possibilities. In reality, the two opposite tendencies coexist within everyone.

I’ve just taken one example of dialectics here from something you wrote in order to explain the idea. But whatever you are thinking about or studying I would argue that you can always conceptualise opposites that coexist within that thing. At the least I think it’s a very handy way to think about things because it can open up new ways of looking at something.


Mao relaxing in mountains

On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing

July 1937

[There used to be a number of comrades in our Party who were dogmatists and who for a long period rejected the experience of the Chinese revolution, denying the truth that “Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action” and overawing people with words and phrases from Marxist works, torn out of context. There were also a number of comrades who were empiricists and who for a long period restricted themselves to their own fragmentary experience and did not understand the importance of theory for revolutionary practice or see the revolution as a whole, but worked blindly though industriously.

The erroneous ideas of these two types of comrades, and particularly of the dogmatists, caused enormous losses to the Chinese revolution during 1931-34, and yet the dogmatists cloaking themselves as Marxists, confused a great many comrades. “On Practice” was written in order to expose the subjectivist errors of dogmatism and empiricism in the Party, and especially the error of dogmatism, from the standpoint of the Marxist theory of knowledge. It was entitled “On Practice” because its stress was on exposing the dogmatist kind of subjectivism, which belittles practice. The ideas contained in this essay were presented by Comrade Mao Tse-tung in a lecture at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yenan.]

Before Marx, materialism examined the problem of knowledge apart from the social nature of man and apart from his historical development, and was therefore incapable of understanding the dependence of knowledge on social practice, that is, the dependence of knowledge on production and the class struggle.

Above all, Marxists regard man’s activity in production as the most fundamental practical activity, the determinant of all his other activities. Man’s knowledge depends mainly on his activity in material production, through which he comes gradually to understand the phenomena, the properties and the laws of nature, and the relations between himself and nature; and through his activity in production he also gradually comes to understand, in varying degrees, certain relations that exist between man and man. None of this knowledge can be acquired apart from activity in production.

In a classless society every person, as a member of society, joins in common effort with the other members, enters into definite relations of production with them and engages in production to meet man’s material needs. In all class societies, the members of the different social classes also enter, in different ways, into definite relations of production and engage in production to meet their material needs. This is the primary source from which human knowledge develops.

Man’s social practice is not confined to activity in production, but takes many other forms–class struggle, political life, scientific and artistic pursuits; in short, as a social being, man participates in all spheres of the practical life of society. Thus man, in varying degrees, comes to know the different relations between man and man, not only through his material life but also through his political and cultural life (both of which are intimately bound up with material life).

Of these other types of social practice, class struggle in particular, in all its various forms, exerts a profound influence on the development of man’s knowledge. In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.

Marxists hold that in human society activity in production develops step by step from a lower to a higher level and that consequently man’s knowledge, whether of nature or of society, also develops step by step from a lower to a higher level, that is, from the shallower to the deeper, from the one-sided to the many-sided. For a very long period in history, men were necessarily confined to a one-sided understanding of the history of society because, for one thing, the bias of the exploiting classes always distorted history and, for another, the small scale of production limited man’s outlook.

It was not until the modern proletariat emerged along with immense forces of production (large-scale industry) that man was able to acquire a comprehensive, historical understanding of the development of society and turn this knowledge into a science, the science of Marxism.

Marxists hold that man’s social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world. What actually happens is that man’s knowledge is verified only when he achieves the anticipated results in the process of social practice (material production, class struggle or scientific experiment). If a man wants to succeed in his work, that is, to achieve the anticipated results, he must bring his ideas into correspondence with the laws of the objective external world; if they do not correspond, he will fail in his practice.

After he fails, he draws his lessons, corrects his ideas to make them correspond to the laws of the external world, and can thus turn failure into success; this is what is meant by “failure is the mother of success” and “a fall into the pit, a gain in your wit”. The dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge places practice in the primary position, holding that human knowledge can in no way be separated from practice and repudiating all the erroneous theories which deny the importance of practice or separate knowledge from practice.

Thus Lenin said, “Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.” [1] The Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism has two outstanding characteristics. One is its class nature: it openly avows that dialectical materialism is in the service of the proletariat. The other is its practicality: it emphasizes the dependence of theory on practice, emphasizes that theory is based on practice and in turn serves practice. The truth of any knowledge or theory is determined not by subjective feelings, but by objective results in social practice. Only social practice can be the criterion of truth. The standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge. [2]

But how then does human knowledge arise from practice and in turn serve practice? This will become clear if we look at the process of development of knowledge.

In the process of practice, man at first sees only the phenomenal side, the separate aspects, the external relations of things. For instance, some people from outside come to Yenan on a tour of observation. In the first day or two, they see its topography, streets and houses; they meet many people, attend banquets, evening parties and mass meetings, hear talk of various kinds and read various documents, all these being the phenomena, the separate aspects and the external relations of things. This is called the perceptual stage of cognition, namely, the stage of sense perceptions and impressions.

That is, these particular things in Yenan act on the sense organs of the members of the observation group, evoke sense perceptions and give rise in their brains to many impressions together with a rough sketch of the external relations among these impressions: this is the first stage of cognition. At this stage, man cannot as yet form concepts, which are deeper, or draw logical conclusions.

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 cognition, 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. Proceeding further, by means of judgement and inference one is able to draw logical conclusions. The expression in San Kuo Yen Yi, [3] “knit the brows and a stratagem comes to mind”, or in everyday language, “let me think it over”, refers to man’s use of concepts in the brain to form judgements and inferences. This is the second stage of cognition. When the members of the observation group have collected various data and, what is more, have “thought them over”, they are able to arrive at the judgement that “the Communist Party’s policy of the National United Front Against Japan is thorough, sincere and genuine”.

Having made this judgement, they can, if they too are genuine about uniting to save the nation, go a step further and draw the following conclusion, “The National United Front Against Japan can succeed.” This stage of conception, judgement and inference is the more important stage in the entire process of knowing a thing; it is the stage of rational knowledge. The real task of knowing is, through perception, to arrive at thought, to arrive step by step at the comprehension of the internal contradictions of objective things, of their laws and of the internal relations between one process and another, that is, to arrive at logical knowledge.

To repeat, logical knowledge differs from perceptual knowledge in that perceptual knowledge pertains to the separate aspects, the phenomena and the external relations of things, whereas logical knowledge takes a big stride forward to reach the totality, the essence and the internal relations of things and discloses the inner contradictions in the surrounding world. Therefore, logical knowledge is capable of grasping the development of the surrounding world in its totality, in the internal relations of all its aspects.

This dialectical-materialist theory of the process of development of knowledge, basing itself on practice and proceeding from the shallower to the deeper, was never worked out by anybody before the rise of Marxism. Marxist materialism solved this problem correctly for the first time, pointing out both materialistically and dialectically the deepening movement of cognition, the movement by which man in society progresses from perceptual knowledge to logical knowledge in his complex, constantly recurring practice of production and class struggle.

Lenin said, “The abstraction of matter, of a law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short, all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely.” [4] Marxism-Leninism holds that each of the two stages in the process of cognition has its own characteristics, with knowledge manifesting itself as perceptual at the lower stage and logical at the higher stage, but that both are stages in an integrated process of cognition. The perceptual and the rational are qualitatively different, but are not divorced from each other; they are unified on the basis of practice. Our practice proves that what is perceived cannot at once be comprehended and that only what is comprehended can be more deeply perceived.

Perception only solves the problem of phenomena; theory alone can solve the problem of essence. The solving of both these problems is not separable in the slightest degree from practice. Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment. In feudal society it was impossible to know the laws of capitalist society in advance because capitalism had not yet emerged, the relevant practice was lacking. Marxism could be the product only of capitalist society.

Marx, in the era of laissez-faire capitalism, could not concretely know certain laws peculiar to the era of imperialism beforehand, because imperialism, the last stage of capitalism, had not yet emerged and the relevant practice was lacking; only Lenin and Stalin could undertake this task. Leaving aside their genius, the reason why Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin could work out their theories was mainly that they personally took part in the practice of the class struggle and the scientific experimentation of their time; lacking this condition, no genius could have succeeded. The saying, “without stepping outside his gate the scholar knows all the wide world’s affairs”, was mere empty talk in past times when technology was undeveloped.

Even though this saying can be valid in the present age of developed technology, the people with real personal knowledge are those engaged in practice the wide world over. And it is only when these people have come to “know” through their practice and when their knowledge has reached him through writing and technical media that the “scholar” can indirectly “know all the wide world’s affairs”. If you want to know a certain thing or a certain class of things directly, you must personally participate in the practical struggle to change reality, to change that thing or class of things, for only thus can you come into contact with them as phenomena; only through personal participation in the practical struggle to change reality can you uncover the essence of that thing or class of things and comprehend them. This is the path to knowledge which every man actually travels, though some people, deliberately distorting matters, argue to the contrary.

The most ridiculous person in the world is the “know all” who picks up a smattering of hearsay knowledge and proclaims himself “the world’s Number One authority”; this merely shows that he has not taken a proper measure of himself. Knowledge is a matter of science, and no dishonesty or conceit whatsoever is permissible. What is required is definitely the reverse–honesty and modesty. If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the structure and properties of the atom, you must make physical and chemical experiments to change the state of the atom. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution.

All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. But one cannot have direct experience of everything; as a matter of fact, most of our knowledge comes from indirect experience, for example, all knowledge from past times and foreign lands. To our ancestors and to foreigners, such knowledge was–or is–a matter of direct experience, and this knowledge is reliable if in the course of their direct experience the requirement of “scientific abstraction”, spoken of by Lenin, was–or is–fulfilled and objective reality scientifically reflected, otherwise it is not reliable.

Hence a man’s knowledge consists only of two parts, that which comes from direct experience and that which comes from indirect experience. Moreover, what is indirect experience for me is direct experience for other people. Consequently, considered as a whole, knowledge of any kind is inseparable from direct experience. All knowledge originates in perception of the objective external world through man’s physical sense organs. Anyone who denies such perception, denies direct experience, or denies personal participation in the practice that changes reality, is not a materialist. That is why the “know-all” is ridiculous.

There is an old Chinese saying, “How can you catch tiger cubs without entering the tiger’s lair?” This saying holds true for man’s practice and it also holds true for the theory of knowledge. There can be no knowledge apart from practice.

To make clear the dialectical-materialist movement of cognition arising on the basis of the practice which changes reality–to make clear the gradually deepening movement of cognition–a few additional concrete examples are given below.

In its knowledge of capitalist society, the proletariat was only in the perceptual stage of cognition in the first period of its practice, the period of machine-smashing and spontaneous struggle; it knew only some of the aspects and the external relations of the phenomena of capitalism. The proletariat was then still a “class-in-itself”.

But when it reached the second period of its practice, the period of conscious and organized economic and political struggles, the proletariat was able to comprehend the essence of capitalist society, the relations of exploitation between social classes and its own historical task; and it was able to do so because of its own practice and because of its experience of prolonged struggle, which Marx and Engels scientifically summed up in all its variety to create the theory of Marxism for the education of the proletariat. It was then that the proletariat became a “class-for-itself”.

Similarly with the Chinese people’s knowledge of imperialism. The first stage was one of superficial, perceptual knowledge, as shown in the indiscriminate anti-foreign struggles of the Movement of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the Yi Ho Tuan Movement, and so on.

It was only in the second stage that the Chinese people reached the stage of rational knowledge, saw the internal and external contradictions of imperialism and saw the essential truth that imperialism had allied itself with China’s comprador and feudal classes to oppress and exploit the great masses of the Chinese people. This knowledge began about the time of the May 4th Movement of 1919.

Next, let us consider war. If those who lead a war lack experience of war, then at the initial stage they will not understand the profound laws pertaining to the directing of a specific war (such as our Agrarian Revolutionary War of the past decade). At the initial stage they will merely experience a good deal of fighting and, what is more, suffer many defeats.

But this experience (the experience of battles won and especially of battles lost) enables them to comprehend the inner thread of the whole war, namely, the laws of that specific war, to understand its strategy and tactics, and consequently to direct the war with confidence. If, at such a moment, the command is turned over to an inexperienced person, then he too will have to suffer a number of defeats (gain experience) before he can comprehend the true laws of the war.

“I am not sure I can handle it.” We often hear this remark when a comrade hesitates to accept an assignment. Why is he unsure of himself? Because he has no systematic understanding of the content and circumstances of the assignment, or because he has had little or no contact with such work, and so the laws governing it are beyond him.

After a detailed analysis of the nature and circumstances of the assignment, he will feel more sure of himself and do it willingly. If he spends some time at the job and gains experience and if he is a person who is willing to look into matters with an open mind and not one who approaches problems subjectively, one-sidedly and superficially, then he can draw conclusions for himself as to how to go about the job and do it with much more courage.

Only those who are subjective, one-sided and superficial in their approach to problems will smugly issue orders or directives the moment they arrive on the scene, without considering the circumstances, without viewing things in their totality (their history and their present state as a whole) and without getting to the essence of things (their nature and the internal relations between one thing and another). Such people are bound to trip and fall.

Thus it can be seen that the first step in the process of cognition is contact with the objects of the external world; this belongs to the stage of perception. The second step is to synthesize the data of perception by arranging and reconstructing them; this belongs to the stage of conception, judgement and inference. It is only when the data of perception are very rich (not fragmentary) and correspond to reality (are not illusory) that they can be the basis for forming correct concepts and theories.

Here two important points must be emphasized. The first, which has been stated before but should be repeated here, is the dependence of rational knowledge upon perceptual knowledge. Anyone who thinks that rational knowledge need not be derived from perceptual knowledge is an idealist. In the history of philosophy there is the “rationalist” school that admits the reality only of reason and not of experience, believing that reason alone is reliable while perceptual experience is not; this school errs by turning things upside down.

The rational is reliable precisely because it has its source in sense perceptions, other wise it would be like water without a source, a tree without roots, subjective, self-engendered and unreliable. As to the sequence in the process of cognition, perceptual experience comes first; we stress the significance of social practice in the process of cognition precisely because social practice alone can give rise to human knowledge and it alone can start man on the acquisition of perceptual experience from the objective world. For a person who shuts his eyes, stops his ears and totally cuts himself off from the objective world there can be no such thing as knowledge. Knowledge begins with experience–this is the materialism of the theory of knowledge.

The second point is that knowledge needs to be deepened, that the perceptual stage of knowledge needs to be developed to the rational stage–this is the dialectics of the theory of knowledge. [5] To think that knowledge can stop at the lower, perceptual stage and that perceptual knowledge alone is reliable while rational knowledge is not, would be to repeat the historical error of “empiricism”.

This theory errs in failing to understand that, although the data of perception reflect certain realities in the objective world (I am not speaking here of idealist empiricism which confines experience to so-called introspection), they are merely one-sided and superficial, reflecting things incompletely and not reflecting their essence.

Fully to reflect a thing in its totality, to reflect its essence, to reflect its inherent laws, it is necessary through the exercise of thought to reconstruct the rich data of sense perception, discarding the dross and selecting the essential, eliminating the false and retaining the true, proceeding from the one to the other and from the outside to the inside, in order to form a system of concepts and theories–it is necessary to make a leap from perceptual to rational knowledge. Such reconstructed knowledge is not more empty or more unreliable; on the contrary, whatever has been scientifically reconstructed in the process of cognition, on the basis of practice, reflects objective reality, as Lenin said, more deeply, more truly, more fully.

As against this, vulgar “practical men” respect experience but despise theory, and therefore cannot have a comprehensive view of an entire objective process, lack clear direction and long-range perspective, and are complacent over occasional successes and glimpses of the truth. If such persons direct a revolution, they will lead it up a blind alley.

Rational knowledge depends upon perceptual knowledge and perceptual knowledge remains to be developed into rational knowledge– this is the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge. In philosophy, neither “rationalism” nor “empiricism” understands the historical or the dialectical nature of knowledge, and although each of these schools contains one aspect of the truth (here I am referring to materialist, not to idealist, rationalism and empiricism), both are wrong on the theory of knowledge as a whole. The dialectical-materialist movement of knowledge from the perceptual to the rational holds true for a minor process of cognition (for instance, knowing a single thing or task) as well as for a major process of cognition (for instance, knowing a whole society or a revolution).

But the movement of knowledge does not end here. If the dialectical-materialist movement of knowledge were to stop at rational knowledge, only half the problem would be dealt with. And as far as Marxist philosophy is concerned, only the less important half at that. Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world. From the Marxist viewpoint, theory is important, and its importance is fully expressed in Lenin’s statement, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” [6]

But Marxism emphasizes the importance of theory precisely and only because it can guide action. If we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeonhole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance. Knowledge begins with practice, and theoretical knowledge is acquired through practice and must then return to practice. The active function of knowledge manifests itself not only in the active leap from perceptual to rational knowledge, but–and this is more important–it must manifest itself in the leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice.

The knowledge which grasps the laws of the world, must be redirected to the practice of changing the world, must be applied anew in the practice of production, in the practice of revolutionary class struggle and revolutionary national struggle and in the practice of scientific experiment. This is the process of testing and developing theory, the continuation of the whole process of cognition. The problem of whether theory corresponds to objective reality is not, and cannot be, completely solved in the movement of knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, mentioned above.

The only way to solve this problem completely is to redirect rational knowledge to social practice, apply theory to practice and see whether it can achieve the objectives one has in mind. Many theories of natural science are held to be true not only because they were so considered when natural scientists originated them, but because they have been verified in subsequent scientific practice. Similarly, Marxism-Leninism is held to be true not only because it was so considered when it was scientifically formulated by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin but because it has been verified in the subsequent practice of revolutionary class struggle and revolutionary national struggle. Dialectical materialism is universally true because it is impossible for anyone to escape from its domain in his practice. The history of human knowledge tells us that the truth of many theories is incomplete and that this incompleteness is remedied through the test of practice.

Many theories are erroneous and it is through the test of practice that their errors are corrected. That is why practice is the criterion of truth and why “the standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge”. [7] Stalin has well said, “Theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illumined by revolutionary theory.” [8]

When we get to this point, is the movement of knowledge completed? Our answer is: it is and yet it is not. When men in society throw themselves into the practice of changing a certain objective process (whether natural or social) at a certain stage of its development, they can, as a result of the reflection of the objective process in their brains and the exercise of their subjective activity, advance their knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, and create ideas, theories, plans or programmes which correspond in general to the laws of that objective process.

They then apply these ideas, theories, plans or programmes in practice in the same objective process. And if they can realize the aims they have in mind, that is, if in that same process of practice they can translate, or on the whole translate, those previously formulated ideas, theories, plans or programmes into fact, then the movement of knowledge may be considered completed with regard to this particular process. In the process of changing nature, take for example the fulfilment of an engineering plan, the verification of a scientific hypothesis, the manufacture of an implement or the reaping of a crop; or in the process of changing society, take for example the victory of a strike, victory in a war or the fulfilment of an educational plan.

All these may be considered the realization of aims one has in mind. But generally speaking, whether in the practice of changing nature or of changing society, men’s original ideas, theories, plans or programmes are seldom realized without any alteration.

This is because people engaged in changing reality are usually subject to numerous limitations; they are limited not only by existing scientific and technological conditions but also by the development of the objective process itself and the degree to which this process has become manifest (the aspects and the essence of the objective process have not yet been fully revealed). In such a situation, ideas, theories, plans or programmes are usually altered partially and sometimes even wholly, because of the discovery of unforeseen circumstances in the course of practice.

That is to say, it does happen that the original ideas, theories, plans or programmes fail to correspond with reality either in whole or in part and are wholly or partially incorrect. In many instances, failures have to be repeated many times before errors In knowledge can be corrected and correspondence with the laws of the objective process achieved, and consequently before the subjective can be transformed into the objective, or in other words, before the anticipated results can be achieved in practice. But when that point is reached, no matter how, the movement of human knowledge regarding a certain objective process at a certain stage of its development may be considered completed.

However, so far as the progression of the process is concerned, the movement of human knowledge is not completed. Every process, whether in the realm of nature or of society, progresses and develops by reason of its internal contradiction and struggle, and the movement of human knowledge should also progress and develop along with it.

As far as social movements are concerned, true revolutionary leaders must not only be good at correcting their ideas, theories, plans or programmes when errors are discovered, as has been indicated above; but when a certain objective process has already progressed and changed from one stage of development to another, they must also be good at making themselves and all their fellow-revolutionaries progress and change in their subjective knowledge along with it, that IS to say, they must ensure that the proposed new revolutionary tasks and new working programmes correspond to the new changes in the situation. In a revolutionary period the situation changes very rapidly; if the knowledge of revolutionaries does not change rapidly in accordance with the changed situation, they will be unable to lead the revolution to victory.

It often happens, however, that thinking lags behind reality; this is because man’s cognition is limited by numerous social conditions. We are opposed to die-herds in the revolutionary ranks whose thinking fails to advance with changing objective circumstances and has manifested itself historically as Right opportunism. These people fail to see that the struggle of opposites has already pushed the objective process forward while their knowledge has stopped at the old stage.

This is characteristic of the thinking of all die-herds. Their thinking is divorced from social practice, and they cannot march ahead to guide the chariot of society; they simply trail behind, grumbling that it goes too fast and trying to drag it back or turn it in the opposite direction.

We are also opposed to “Left” phrase-mongering. The thinking of “Leftists” outstrips a given stage of development of the objective process; some regard their fantasies as truth, while others strain to realize in the present an ideal which can only be realized in the future. They alienate themselves from the current practice of the majority of the people and from the realities of the day, and show themselves adventurist in their actions.

Idealism and mechanical materialism, opportunism and adventurism, are all characterized by the breach between the subjective and the objective, by the separation of knowledge from practice. The Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, characterized as it is by scientific social practice, cannot but resolutely oppose these wrong ideologies. Marxists recognize that in the absolute and general process of development of the universe, the development of each particular process is relative, and that hence, in the endless flow of absolute truth, man’s knowledge of a particular process at any given stage of development is only relative truth. The sum total of innumerable relative truths constitutes absolute truth. [9] The development of an objective process is full of contradictions and struggles, and so is the development of the movement of human knowledge.

All the dialectical movements of the objective world can sooner or later be reflected in human knowledge. In social practice, the process of coming into being, developing and passing away is infinite, and so is the process of coming into being, developing and passing away in human knowledge. As man’s practice which changes objective reality in accordance with given ideas, theories, plans or programmes, advances further and further, his knowledge of objective reality likewise becomes deeper and deeper. The movement of change in the world of objective reality is never-ending and so is man’s cognition of truth through practice. Marxism-Leninism has in no way exhausted truth but ceaselessly opens up roads to the knowledge of truth in the course of practice.

Our conclusion is the concrete, historical unity of the subjective and the objective, of theory and practice, of knowing ant doing, and we are opposed to all erroneous ideologies, whether “Left” or Right, which depart from concrete history.

In the present epoch of the development of society, the responsibility of correctly knowing and changing the world has been placed by history upon the shoulders of the proletariat and its party. This process, the practice of changing the world, which is determined in accordance with scientific knowledge, has already reached a historic moment in the world and in China, a great moment unprecedented in human history, that is, the moment for completely banishing darkness from the world and from China and for changing the world into a world of light such as never previously existed.

The struggle of the proletariat and the revolutionary people to change the world comprises the fulfilment of the following tasks: to change the objective world and, at the same time, their own subjective world–to change their cognitive ability and change the relations between the subjective and the objective world. Such a change has already come about in one part of the globe, in the Soviet Union. There the people are pushing forward this process of change. The people of China and the rest of the world either are going through, or will go through, such a process.

And the objective world which is to be changed also includes all the opponents of change, who, in order to be changed, must go through a stage of compulsion before they can enter the stage of voluntary, conscious change. The epoch of world communism will be reached when all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world.

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.


1. V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s The Science of Logic”. Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 205.

2. See Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, in two volumes, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1958, Vol. II, p. 403, and V. I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, ring. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1952, pp. 136-4.

3. San Kuo Yen Yi (Tales of the Three Kingdoms) is a famous Chinese historical nova by Lo Kuan-chung (late 14th and early 15th century).

4. V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s The Science of Logic”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 161.

5. “In order to understand, it is necessary empirically to begin understanding, study, to rise from empiricism to the universal.” (Ibid., p. 197.)

6. V. I. Lenin, “What Is to Be Done?”, Collected Works, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1961, Vol. V, p. 369.

7. V. I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, p. 141.

8. J. V. Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism”, Problems of Leninism, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1954, p. 31.

9. See V. I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, pp. 129-36.

Transcription by the Maoist Documentation Project.
HTML revised 2004 by

Selected Works of Mao Ts

On Contradiction



August 1937

[This essay on philosophy was written by Comrade Mao Tse-tung 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 delivered as lectures at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yenan, it was revised by the author on its inclusion in his Selected Works.]

The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics. Lenin said, “Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects.” [1] Lenin often called this law the essence of dialectics; he also called it the kernel of dialectics. [2] In studying this law, therefore, we cannot but touch upon a variety of questions, upon a number of philosophical problems. If we can become clear on all these problems, we shall arrive at a fundamental understanding of materialist dialectics. The problems are: the two world outlooks, the universality of contradiction, the particularity of contradiction, the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction, the identity and struggle of the aspects of a contradiction, and the place of antagonism in contradiction.

The criticism to which the idealism of the Deborin school has been subjected in Soviet philosophical circles in recent years has aroused great interest among us. Deborin’s idealism has exerted a very bad influence in the Chinese Communist Party, and it cannot be said that the dogmatist thinking in our Party is unrelated to the approach of that school. Our present study of philosophy should therefore have the eradication of dogmatist thinking as its main objective.


Throughout the history of human knowledge, there have been two conceptions concerning the law of development of the universe, the metaphysical conception and the dialectical conception, which form two opposing world outlooks. Lenin said:

The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation). [3]

Here Lenin was referring to these two different world outlooks.

In China another name for metaphysics is hsuan-hsueh. For a long period in history whether in China or in Europe, this way of thinking, which is part and parcel of the idealist world outlook, occupied a dominant position in human thought. In Europe, the materialism of the bourgeoisie in its early days was also metaphysical. As the social economy of many European countries advanced to the stage of highly developed capitalism, as the forces of production, the class struggle and the sciences developed to a level unprecedented in history, and as the industrial proletariat became the greatest motive force in historical development, there arose the Marxist world outlook of materialist dialectics. Then, in addition to open and barefaced reactionary idealism, vulgar evolutionism emerged among the bourgeoisie to oppose materialist dialectics.

The metaphysical or vulgar evolutionist world outlook sees things as isolated, static and one-sided. It regards all things in the universe, their forms and their species, as eternally isolated from one another and immutable. Such change as there is can only be an increase or decrease in quantity or a change of place. Moreover, the cause of such an increase or decrease or change of place is not inside things but outside them, that is, the motive force is external. Metaphysicians hold that all the different kinds of things in the universe and all their characteristics have been the same ever since they first came into being. All subsequent changes have simply been increases or decreases in quantity. They contend that a thing can only keep on repeating itself as the same kind of thing and cannot change into anything different.

In their opinion, capitalist exploitation, capitalist competition, the individualist ideology of capitalist society, and so on, can all be found in ancient slave society, or even in primitive society, and will exist for ever unchanged. They ascribe the causes of social development to factors external to society, such as geography and climate. They search in an over-simplified way outside a thing for the causes of its development, and they deny the theory of materialist dialectics which holds that development arises from the contradictions inside a thing.

Consequently they can explain neither the qualitative diversity of things, nor the phenomenon of one quality changing into another. In Europe, this mode of thinking existed as mechanical materialism in the 17th and 18th centuries and as vulgar evolutionism at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. In China, there was the metaphysical thinking exemplified in the saying “Heaven changeth not, likewise the Tao changeth not”, [4] and it was supported by the decadent feudal ruling classes for a long time. Mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism, which were imported from Europe in the last hundred gears, are supported by the bourgeoisie.

As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing.

There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes.

Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism. It is evident that purely external causes can only give rise to mechanical motion, that is, to changes in scale or quantity, but cannot explain why things differ qualitatively in thousands of ways and why one thing changes into another.

As a matter of fact, even mechanical motion under external force occurs through the internal contradictoriness of things. Simple growth in plants and animals, their quantitative development, is likewise chiefly the result of their internal contradictions.

Similarly, social development is due chiefly not to external but to internal causes. Countries with almost the same geographical and climatic conditions display great diversity and unevenness in their development. Moreover, great social changes may take place in one and the same country although its geography and climate remain unchanged. Imperialist Russia changed into the socialist Soviet Union, and feudal Japan, which had locked its doors against the world, changed into imperialist Japan, although no change occurred in the geography and climate of either country.

Long dominated by feudalism, China has undergone great changes in the last hundred years and is now changing in the direction of a new China, liberated and-free, and yet no change has occurred in her geography and climate. Changes do take place in the geography and climate of the earth as a whole and in every part of it, but they are insignificant when compared with changes in society; geographical and climatic changes manifest themselves in terms of tens of thousands of years, while social changes manifest themselves in thousands, hundreds or tens of years, and even in a few years or months in times of revolution.

According to materialist dialectics, changes in nature are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in nature. Changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society, that is, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between classes and the contradiction between the old and the new; it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives the impetus for the supersession of the old society by the new.

Does materialist dialectics exclude external causes? Not at all. It holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes. In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken, because each has a different basis. There is constant interaction between the peoples of different countries. In the era of capitalism, and especially in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, the interaction and mutual impact of different countries in the political, economic and cultural spheres are extremely great.

The October Socialist Revolution ushered in a new epoch in world history as well as in Russian history. It exerted influence on internal changes in the other countries in the world and, similarly and in a particularly profound way, on internal changes in China. These changes, however, were effected through the inner laws of development of these countries, China included. In battle, one army is victorious and the other is defeated, both the victory and the defeat are determined by internal causes The one is victorious either because it is strong or because of its competent generalship, the other is vanquished either because it is weak or because of its incompetent generalship; it is through internal causes that external causes become operative.

In China in 1927, the defeat of the proletariat by the big bourgeoisie came about through the opportunism then to be found within the Chinese proletariat itself (inside the Chinese Communist Party). When we liquidated this opportunism, the Chinese revolution resumed its advance. Later, the Chinese revolution again suffered severe setbacks at the hands of the enemy, because adventurism had risen within our Party. When we liquidated this adventurism, our cause advanced once again. Thus it can be seen that to lead the revolution to victory, a political party must depend on the correctness of its own political line and the solidity of its own organization.

The dialectical world outlook emerged in ancient times both in China and in Europe. Ancient dialectics, however, had a somewhat spontaneous and naive character; in the social and historical conditions then prevailing, it was not yet able to form a theoretical system, hence it could not fully explain the world and was supplanted by metaphysics. The famous German philosopher Hegel, who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, made most important contributions to dialectics, but his dialectics was idealist.

It was not until Marx and Engels, the great protagonists of the proletarian movement, had synthesized the positive achievements in the history of human knowledge and, in particular, critically absorbed the rational elements of Hegelian dialectics and created the great theory of dialectical and historical materialism that an unprecedented revolution occurred in the history of human knowledge. This theory was further developed by Lenin and Stalin. As soon as it spread to China, it wrought tremendous changes in the world of Chinese thought.

This dialectical world outlook teaches us primarily how to observe and analyse the movement of opposites in different things and, on the basis of such analysis, to indicate the methods for resolving contradictions. It is therefore most important for us to understand the law of contradiction in things in a concrete way.

For convenience of exposition, I shall deal first with the universality of contradiction and then proceed to the particularity of contradiction. The reason is that the universality of contradiction can be explained more briefly, for it has been widely recognized ever since the materialist-dialectical world outlook was discovered and materialist dialectics applied with outstanding success to analysing many aspects of human history and natural history and to changing many aspects of society and nature (as in the Soviet Union) by the great creators and continuers of Marxism–Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; whereas the particularity of contradiction is still not dearly understood by many comrades, and especially by the dogmatists.

They do not understand that it is precisely in the particularity of contradiction that the universality of contradiction resides. Nor do they understand how important is the study of the particularity of contradiction in the concrete things confronting us for guiding the course of revolutionary practice. Therefore, it is necessary to stress the study of the particularity of contradiction and to explain it at adequate length. For this reason, in our analysis of the law of contradiction in things, we shall first analyse the universality of contradiction, then place special stress on analysing the particularity of contradiction, and finally return to the universality of contradiction.

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.

Engels said, “Motion itself is a contradiction.” [5] Lenin defined the law of the unity of opposites as “the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society)”. [6] Are these ideas correct? Yes, they are. The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist.

Contradiction is the basis of the simple forms of motion (for instance, mechanical motion) and still more so of the complex forms of motion.

Engels explained the universality of contradiction as follows:

If simple mechanical change of place contains a contradiction, this is even more true of the higher forms of motion of matter, and especially of organic life and its development. … life consists precisely and primarily in this–that a being is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly originates and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to an end, and death steps in. We likewise saw that also in the sphere of thought we could not escape contradictions, and that for example the contradiction between man’s inherently unlimited capacity for knowledge and its actual presence only in men who are externally limited and possess limited cognition finds its solution in what is–at least practically, for us–an endless succession of generations, in infinite progress.

… one of the basic principles of higher mathematics is the contradiction that in certain circumstances straight lines and curves may be the same….

But even lower mathematics teems with contradictions. [7]

Lenin illustrated the universality of contradiction as follows:

In mathematics: + and – . Differential and integral.

In mechanics: action and reaction.

In physics: positive and negative electricity.

In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.

In social science: the class struggle. [8]

In war, offence and defence, advance and retreat, victory and defeat are all mutually contradictory phenomena. One cannot exist without the other. The two aspects are at once in conflict and in interdependence, and this constitutes the totality of a war, pushes its development forward and solves its problems.

Every difference in men’s concepts should be regarded as reflecting an objective contradiction. Objective contradictions are reflected in subjective thinking, and this process constitutes the contradictory movement of concepts, pushes forward the development of thought, and ceaselessly solves problems in man’s thinking.

Opposition and struggle between ideas of different kinds constantly occur within the Party; this is a reflection within the Party of contradictions between classes and between the new and the old in society. If there were no contradictions in the Party and no ideological struggles to resolve them, the Party’s life would come to an end.

Thus it is already clear that contradiction exists universally and in all processes, whether in the simple or in the complex forms of motion, whether in objective phenomena or ideological phenomena. But does contradiction also exist at the initial stage of each process?

Is there a movement of opposites from beginning to end in the process of development of every single thing?

As can be seen from the articles written by Soviet philosophers criticizing it, the Deborin school maintains that contradiction appears not at the inception of a process but only when it has developed to a certain stage. If this were the case, then the cause of the development of the process before that stage would be external and not internal. Deborin thus reverts to the metaphysical theories of external causality and of mechanism. Applying this view in the analysis of concrete problems, the Deborin school sees only differences but not contradictions between the kulaks and the peasants in general under existing conditions in the Soviet Union, thus entirely agreeing with Bukharin. In analysing the French Revolution, it holds that before the Revolution there were likewise only differences but not contradictions within the Third Estate, which was composed of the workers, the peasants and the bourgeoisie. These views of the Deborin school are anti-Marxist. This school does not understand that each and every difference already contains contradiction and that difference itself is contradiction. Labour and capital have been in contradiction ever since the two classes came into being, only at first the contradiction had not yet become intense.

Even under the social conditions existing in the Soviet Union, there is a difference between workers and peasants and this very difference is a contradiction, although, unlike the contradiction between labour and capital, it will not become intensified into antagonism or assume the form of class struggle; the workers and the peasants have established a firm alliance in the course of socialist construction and are gradually resolving this contradiction in the course of the advance from socialism to communism. The question is one of different kinds of contradiction, not of the presence or absence of contradiction. Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end.

What is meant by the emergence of a new process? The old unity with its constituent opposites yields to a new unity with its constituent opposites, whereupon a new process emerges to replace the old. The old process ends and the new one begins. The new process contains new contradictions and begins its own history of the development of contradictions.

As Lenin pointed out, Marx in his Capital gave a model analysis of this movement of opposites which runs through the process of development of things from beginning to end. This is the method that must be employed in studying the development of all things. Lenin, too, employed this method correctly and adhered to it in all his writings.

In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz. the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all the contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the [summation] of its individual parts, from its beginning to its end.

Lenin added, “Such must also be the method of exposition (or study) of dialectics in general.” [9]

Chinese Communists must learn this method; only then will they be able correctly to analyse the history and the present state of the Chinese revolution and infer its future.


Contradiction is present in the process of development of all things; it permeates the process of development of each thing from beginning to end. This is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction which we have discussed above. Now let us discuss the particularity and relativity of contradiction.

This problem should be studied on several levels.

First, the contradiction in each form of motion of matter has its particularity. Man’s knowledge of matter is knowledge of its forms of motion, because there is nothing in this world except matter in motion and this motion must assume certain forms. In considering each form of motion of matter, we must observe the points which it has in common with other forms of motion. 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. There are many forms of motion in nature, mechanical motion, sound, light, heat, electricity, dissociation, combination, and so on. 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.

The sciences are differentiated precisely on the basis of the particular contradictions inherent in their respective objects of study. Thus the contradiction peculiar to a certain field of phenomena constitutes the object of study for a specific branch of science. For example, positive and negative numbers in mathematics; action and reaction in mechanics; positive and negative electricity in physics; dissociation and combination in chemistry; forces of production and relations of production, classes and class struggle, in social science; offence and defence in military science; idealism and materialism, the metaphysical outlook and the dialectical outlook, in philosophy; and so on–all these are the objects of study of different branches of science precisely because each branch has its own particular contradiction and particular essence.

Of course, unless we understand the universality of contradiction, we have no way of discovering the universal cause or universal basis for the movement or development of things; however, unless we study the particularity of contradiction, we have no way of determining the particular essence of a thing which differentiates it from other things, no way of discovering the particular cause or particular basis for the movement or development of a thing, and no way of distinguishing one thing from another or of demarcating the fields of science.

As regards the sequence in the movement of man’s knowledge, there is always a gradual growth from the knowledge of individual and particular things to the knowledge of things in general. Only after man knows the particular essence of many different things can he proceed to generalization and know the common essence of things.

When man attains the knowledge of this common essence, he uses it as a guide and proceeds to study various concrete things which have not yet been studied, or studied thoroughly, and to discover the particular essence of each; only thus is he able to supplement, enrich and develop his knowledge of their common essence and prevent such knowledge from withering or petrifying. These are the two processes of cognition: one, from the particular to the general, and the other, from the general to the particular.

Thus cognition always moves in cycles and (so long as scientific method is strictly adhered to) each cycle advances human knowledge a step higher and so makes it more and more profound. Where our dogmatists err on this question is that, on the one hand, they do not understand that we have to study the particularity of contradiction and know the particular essence of individual things before we can adequately know the universality of contradiction and the common essence of things, and that, on the other hand, they do not understand that after knowing the common essence of things, we must go further and study the concrete things that have not yet been thoroughly studied or have only just emerged.

Our dogmatists are lazy-bones. They refuse to undertake any painstaking study of concrete things, they regard general truths as emerging out of the void, they turn them into purely abstract unfathomable formulas, and thereby completely deny and reverse the normal sequence by which man comes to know truth. Nor do they understand the interconnection of the two processes in cognition– from the particular to the general and then from the general to the particular. They understand nothing of the Marxist theory of knowledge.

It is necessary not only to study the particular contradiction and the essence determined thereby of every great system of the forms of motion of matter, but also to study the particular contradiction and the essence of each process in the long course of development of each form of motion of matter. In every form of motion, each process of development which is real (and not imaginary) is qualitatively different. Our study must emphasize and start from this point.

Qualitatively different contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods. For instance, the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is resolved by the method of socialist revolution; the contradiction between the great masses of the people and the feudal system is resolved by the method of democratic revolution; the contradiction between the colonies and imperialism is resolved by the method of national revolutionary war; the contradiction between the working class and the peasant class in socialist society is resolved by the method of collectivization and mechanization in agriculture; contradiction within the Communist Party is resolved by the method of criticism and self-criticism; the contradiction between society and nature is resolved by the method of developing the productive forces.

Processes change, old processes and old contradictions disappear, new processes and new contradictions emerge, and the methods of resolving contradictions differ accordingly. In Russia, there was a fundamental difference between the contradiction resolved by the February Revolution and the contradiction resolved by the October Revolution, as well as between the methods used to resolve them.

The principle of using different methods to resolve different contradictions is one which Marxist-Leninists must strictly observe. The dogmatists do not observe this principle; they do not understand that conditions differ in different kinds of revolution and so do not understand that different methods should be used to resolve different contradictions; on the contrary, they invariably adopt what they imagine to be an unalterable formula and arbitrarily apply it everywhere, which only causes setbacks to the revolution or makes a sorry mess of what was originally well done.

In order to reveal the particularity of the contradictions in any process in the development of a thing, in their totality or interconnections, that is, in order to reveal the essence of the process, it is necessary to reveal the particularity of the two aspects of each of the contradictions in that process; otherwise it will be impossible to discover the essence of the process. This likewise requires the utmost attention in our study.

There are many contradictions in the course of development of any major thing. For instance, in the course of China’s bourgeois-democratic revolution, where the conditions are exceedingly complex, there exist the contradiction between all the oppressed classes in Chinese society and imperialism, the contradiction between the great masses of the people and feudalism, the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the contradiction between the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie on the one hand and the bourgeoisie on the other, the contradiction between the various reactionary ruling groups, and so on. These contradictions cannot be treated in the same way since each has its own particularity; moreover, the two aspects of each contradiction cannot be treated in the same way since each aspect has its own characteristics.

We who are engaged in the Chinese revolution should not only understand the particularity of these contradictions in their totality, that is, in their interconnections, but should also study the two aspects of each contradiction as the only means of understanding the totality. When we speak of understanding each aspect of a contradiction, we mean understanding what specific position each aspect occupies, what concrete forms it assumes in its interdependence and in its contradiction with its opposite, and what concrete methods are employed in the struggle with its opposite, when the two are both interdependent and in contradiction, and also after the interdependence breaks down.

It is of great importance to study these problems. Lenin meant just this when he said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. [10] Our dogmatists have violated Lenin’s teachings; they never use their brains to analyse anything concretely, and in their writings and speeches they always use stereotypes devoid of content, thereby creating a very bad style of work in our Party.

In studying a problem, we must shun subjectivity, one-sidedness and superficiality. To be subjective means not to look at problems objectively, that is, not to use the materialist viewpoint in looking at problems. I have discussed this in my essay “On Practice”. To be one-sided means not to look at problems all-sidedly, for example, to understand only China but not Japan, only the Communist Party but not the Kuomintang, only the proletariat but not the bourgeoisie, only the peasants but not the landlords, only the favourable conditions but not the difficult ones, only the past but not the future, only individual parts but not the whole, only the defects but not the achievements, only the plaintiff’s case but not the defendant’s, only underground revolutionary work but not open revolutionary work, and so on. 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. When Sun Wu Tzu said in discussing military science, “Know the enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat”, [11] he was referring to the two sides in a battle. Wei Chengi [12] of the Tang Dynasty also understood the error of one- sidedness when he said, “Listen to both sides and you will be enlightened, heed only one side and you will be benighted.”

But our comrades often look at problems one-sidedly, and so they often run into snags. In the novel Shui Hu Chuan, Sung Chiang thrice attacked Chu Village. [13] Twice he was defeated because he was ignorant of the local conditions and used the wrong method. Later he changed his method; first he investigated the situation, and he familiarized himself with the maze of roads, then he broke up the alliance between the Li, Hu and Chu Villages and sent his men in disguise into the enemy camp to lie in wait, using a stratagem similar to that of the Trojan Horse in the foreign story. And on the third occasion he won.

There are many examples of materialist dialectics in Shui Hu Chuan, of which the episode of the three attacks on Chu Village is one of the best. Lenin said:

… in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and “mediations”. We shall never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity.[14]

We should remember his words. 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).

This way of doing things is bound to lead to trouble. The reason the dogmatist and empiricist comrades in China have made mistakes lies precisely in their subjectivist, one-sided and superficial way of looking at things. 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.

Not only does the whole process of the movement of opposites in the development of a thing, both in their interconnections and in each of the aspects, have particular features to which we must give attention, but each stage in the process has its particular features to which we must give attention too.

The fundamental contradiction in the process of development of a thing and the essence of the process determined by this fundamental contradiction will not disappear until the process is completed; but in a lengthy process the conditions usually differ at each stage. The reason is that, although the nature of the fundamental contradiction in the process of development of a thing and the essence of the process remain unchanged, the fundamental contradiction becomes more and more intensified as it passes from one stage to another in the lengthy process.

In addition, among the numerous major and minor contradictions which are determined or influenced by the fundamental contradiction, some become intensified, some are temporarily or partially resolved or mitigated, and some new ones emerge; hence the process is marked by stages. If people do not pay attention to the stages in the process of development of a thing, they cannot deal with its contradictions properly.

For instance, when the capitalism of the era of free competition developed into imperialism, there was no change in the class nature of the two classes in fundamental contradiction, namely, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or in the capitalist essence of society; however, the contradiction between these two classes became intensified, the contradiction between monopoly and non-monopoly capital emerged, the contradiction between the colonial powers and the colonies became intensified, the contradiction among the capitalist countries resulting from their uneven development manifested itself with particular sharpness, and thus there arose the special stage of capitalism, the stage of imperialism.

Leninism is the Marxism of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution precisely because Lenin and Stalin have correctly explained these contradictions and correctly formulated the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution for their resolution.

Take the process of China’s bourgeois-democratic revolution, which began with the Revolution of 1911; it, too, has several distinct stages. In particular, the revolution in its period of bourgeois leadership and the revolution in its period of proletarian leadership represent two vastly different historical stages. In other words, proletarian leadership has fundamentally changed the whole face of the revolution, has brought about a new alignment of classes, given rise to a tremendous upsurge in the peasant revolution, imparted thoroughness to the revolution against imperialism and feudalism, created the possibility of the transition from the democratic revolution to the socialist revolution, and so on. None of these was possible in the period when the revolution was under bourgeois leadership.

Although no change has taken place in the nature of the fundamental contradiction in the process as a whole, i.e., in the anti-imperialist, anti- feudal, democratic-revolutionary nature of the process (the opposite of which is its semi-colonial and semi-feudal nature), nonetheless this process has passed through several stages of development in the course of more than twenty years; during this time many great events have taken place– the failure of the Revolution of 1911 and the establishment of the regime of the Northern warlords, the formation of the first national united front and the revolution of 1924-27, the break-up of the united front and the desertion of the bourgeoisie to the side of the counterrevolution, the wars among the new warlords, the Agrarian Revolutionary War, the establishment of the second national united front and the War of Resistance Against Japan.

These stages are marked by particular features such as the intensification of certain contradictions (e.g., the Agrarian Revolutionary War and the Japanese invasion of the four northeastern provinces), the partial or temporary resolution of other contradictions (e.g., the destruction of the Northern warlords and our confiscation of the land of the landlords), and the emergence of yet other contradictions (e.g., the conflicts among the new warlords, and the landlords’ recapture of the land after the loss of our revolutionary base areas in the south).

In studying the particularities of the contradictions at each stage in the process of development of a thing, we must not only observe them in their interconnections or their totality, we must also examine the two aspects of each contradiction.

For instance, consider the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Take one aspect, the Kuomintang. In the period of the first united front, the Kuomintang carried out Sun Yat-sen’s Three Great Policies of alliance with Russia, co-operation with the Communist Party, and assistance to the peasants and workers; hence it was revolutionary and vigorous, it was an alliance of various classes for the democratic revolution. After 1927, however, the Kuomintang changed into its opposite and became a reactionary bloc of the landlords and big bourgeoisie. After the Sian Incident in December 1936, it began another change in the direction of ending the civil war and co-operating with the Communist Party for joint opposition to Japanese imperialism. Such have been the particular features of the Kuomintang in the three stages. Of course, these features have arisen from a variety of causes.

Now take the other aspect, the Chinese Communist Party. In the period of the first united front, the Chinese Communist Party was in its infancy; it courageously led the revolution of 1924-27 but revealed its immaturity in its understanding of the character, the tasks and the methods of the revolution, and consequently it became possible for Chen Tu-hsiuism, which appeared during the latter part of this revolution, to assert itself and bring about the defeat of the revolution.

After 1927, the Communist Party courageously led the Agrarian Revolutionary War and created the revolutionary army and revolutionary base areas; however, it committed adventurist errors which brought about very great losses both to the army and to the base areas. Since 1935 the Party has corrected these errors and has been leading the new united front for resistance to Japan; this great struggle is now developing. At the present stage, the Communist Party is a Party that has gone through the test of two revolutions and acquired a wealth of experience.

Such have been the particular features of the Chinese Communist Party in the three stages. These features, too, have arisen from a variety of causes. Without studying both these sets of features we cannot understand the particular relations between the two parties during the various stages of their development, namely, the establishment of a united front, the break-up of the united front, and the establishment of another united front. What is even more fundamental for the study of the particular features of the two parties is the examination of the class basis of the two parties and the resultant contradictions which have arisen between each party and other forces at different periods.

For instance, in the period of its first cooperation with the Communist Party, the Kuomintang stood in contradiction to foreign imperialism and was therefore anti-imperialist; on the other hand, it stood in contradiction to the great masses of the people within the country–although in words it promised many benefits to the working people, in fact it gave them little or nothing.

In the period when it carried on the anti-Communist war, the Kuomintang collaborated with imperialism and feudalism against the great masses of the people and wiped out all the gains they had won in the revolution, and thereby intensified its contradictions with them. In the present period of the anti-Japanese war, the Kuomintang stands in contradiction to Japanese imperialism and wants co-operation with the Communist Party, without however relaxing its struggle against the Communist Party and the people or its oppression of them.

As for the Communist Party, it has always, in every period, stood with the great masses of the people against imperialism and feudalism, but in the present period of the anti-Japanese war, it has adopted a moderate policy towards the Kuomintang and the domestic feudal forces because the Kuomintang has pressed itself in favour of resisting Japan. The above circumstances have resulted now in alliance between the two parties and now in struggle between them, and even during the periods of alliance there has been a complicated state of simultaneous alliance and struggle. If we do not study the particular features of both aspects of the contradiction, we shall fail to understand not only the relations of each party with the other forces, but also the relations between the two parties.

It can thus be seen that in studying the particularity of any kind of contradiction–the contradiction in each form of motion of matter, the contradiction in each of its processes of development, the two aspects of the contradiction in each process, the contradiction at each stage of a process, and the two aspects of the contradiction at each stage–in studying the particularity of all these contradictions, we must not be subjective and arbitrary but must analyse it concretely. Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction. We must always remember Lenin’s words, the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.

Marx and Engels were the first to provide us with excellent models of such concrete analysis.

When Marx and Engels applied the law of contradiction in things to the study of the socio-historical process, they discovered the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, they discovered the contradiction between the exploiting and exploited classes and also the resultant contradiction between the economic base and its superstructure (politics, ideology, etc.), and they discovered how these contradictions inevitably lead to different kinds of social revolution in different kinds of class society.

When Marx applied this law to the study of the economic structure of capitalist society, he discovered that the basic contradiction of this society is the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of ownership. This contradiction manifests itself in the contradiction between the organized character of production in individual enterprises and the anarchic character of production in society as a whole. In terms of class relations, it manifests itself in the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Because the range of things is vast and there is no limit to their development, what is universal in one context becomes particular in another. Conversely, what is particular in one context becomes universal in another. The contradiction in the capitalist system between the social character of production and the private ownership of the means of production is common to all countries where capitalism exists and develops; as far as capitalism is concerned, this constitutes the universality of contradiction.

But this contradiction of capitalism belongs only to a certain historical stage in the general development of class society; as far as the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production in class society as a whole is concerned, it constitutes the particularity of contradiction. However, in the course of dissecting the particularity of all these contradictions in capitalist society, Marx gave a still more profound, more adequate and more complete elucidation of the universality of the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production in class society in general.

Since the particular is united with the universal and since the universality as well as the particularity of contradiction is inherent in everything, universality residing in particularity, we should, when studying an object, try to discover both the particular and the universal and their interconnection, to discover both particularity and universality and also their interconnection within the object itself, and to discover the interconnections of this object with the many objects outside it. When Stalin explained the historical roots of Leninism in his famous work, The Foundations of Leninism, he analysed the international situation in which Leninism arose, analysed those contradictions of capitalism which reached their culmination under imperialism, and showed how these contradictions made proletarian revolution a matter for immediate action and created favourable conditions for a direct onslaught on capitalism.

What is more, he analysed the reasons why Russia became the cradle of Leninism, why tsarist Russia became the focus of all the contradictions of imperialism, and why it was possible for the Russian proletariat to become the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. Thus, Stalin analysed the universality of contradiction in imperialism, showing why Leninism is the Marxism of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, and at the same time analysed the particularity of tsarist Russian imperialism within this general contradiction, showing why Russia became the birthplace of the theory and tactics of proletarian revolution and how the universality of contradiction is contained in this particularity. Stalin’s analysis provides us with a model for understanding the particularity and the universality of contradiction and their interconnection.

On the question of using dialectics in the study of objective phenomena, Marx and Engels, and likewise Lenin and Stalin, always enjoin people not to be in any way subjective and arbitrary but, from the concrete conditions in the actual objective movement of these phenomena, to discover their concrete contradictions, the concrete position of each aspect of every contradiction and the concrete interrelations of the contradictions. Our dogmatists do not have this attitude in study and therefore can never get anything right. We must take warning from their failure and learn to acquire this attitude, which is the only correct one in study.

The relationship between the universality and the particularity of contradiction is the relationship between the general character and` the individual character of contradiction. By the former we mean that contradiction exists in and runs through all processes from beginning to end; motion, things, processes, thinking–all are contradictions. To deny contradiction is to deny everything. This is a universal truth for all times and all countries, which admits of no exception. Hence the general character, the absoluteness of contradiction.

But this general character is contained in every individual character; without individual character there can be no general character. If all individual character were removed, what general character would remain? It is because each contradiction is particular that individual character arises. All individual character exists conditionally and temporarily, and hence is relative.

This truth concerning general and individual character, concerning absoluteness and relativity, is the quintessence of the problem of contradiction in things; failure to understand it is tantamount to abandoning dialectics.


There are still two points in the problem of the particularity of contradiction which must be singled out for analysis, namely, the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction.

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.

For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie ant the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.

In a semi-colonial country such as China, the relationship between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions presents a complicated picture.

When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position. So it was in China in the Opium War of 1840, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Yi Ho Tuan War of 1900, and so it is now in the present Sino-Japanese War.

But in another situation, the contradictions change position. When imperialism carries on its oppression not by war, but by milder means–political, economic and cultural–the ruling classes in semi-colonial countries capitulate to imperialism, and the two form an alliance for the joint oppression of the masses of the people. At such a time, the masses often resort to civil war against the alliance of imperialism and the feudal classes, while imperialism often employs indirect methods rather than direct action in helping the reactionaries in the semi-colonial countries to oppress the people, and thus the internal contradictions become particularly sharp. This is what happened in China in the Revolutionary War of 1911, the Revolutionary War of 1924-27, and the ten years of Agrarian Revolutionary War after 1927. Wars among the various reactionary ruling groups in the semi-colonial countries, e.g., the wars among the warlords in China, fall into the same category.

When a revolutionary civil war develops to the point of threatening the very existence of imperialism and its running dogs, the domestic reactionaries, imperialism often adopts other methods in order to maintain its rule; it either tries to split the revolutionary front from within or sends armed forces to help the domestic reactionaries directly. At such a time, foreign imperialism and domestic reaction stand quite openly at one pole while the masses of the people stand at the other pole, thus forming the principal contradiction which determines or influences the development of the other contradictions. The assistance given by various capitalist countries to the Russian reactionaries after the October Revolution is an example of armed intervention. Chiang Kai-shek’s betrayal in 1927 is an example of splitting the revolutionary front.

But whatever happens, there is no doubt at all that at every stage in the development of a process, there is only one principal contradiction which plays the leading role.

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 funding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved. This is the method Marx taught us in his study of capitalist society. Likewise Lenin and Stalin taught us this method when they studied imperialism and the general crisis of capitalism and when they studied the Soviet economy. There are thousands of scholars and men of action who do not understand it, and the result is that, lost in a fog, they are unable to get to the heart of a problem and naturally cannot find a way to resolve its contradictions.

As we have said, one must not treat all the contradictions in a process as being equal but must distinguish between the principal and the secondary contradictions, and pay special attention to grasping the principal one. 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.

But this situation is not static; 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.

We often speak of “the new superseding the old”. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe. The transformation of one thing into another, through leaps of different forms in accordance with its essence and external conditions–this is the process of the new superseding the old. In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing. It can thus be seen that the nature of a thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction, the aspect which has gained predominance. When the principal aspect which has gained predominance changes, the nature of a thing changes accordingly.

In capitalist society, capitalism has changed its position from being a subordinate force in the old feudal era to being the dominant force, and the nature of society has accordingly changed from feudal to capitalist. In the new, capitalist era, the feudal forces changed from their former dominant position to a subordinate one, gradually dying out. Such was the case, for example, in Britain and France. With the development of the productive forces, the bourgeoisie changes from being a new class playing a progressive role to being an old class playing a reactionary role, until it is finally overthrown by the proletariat and becomes a class deprived of privately owned means of production and stripped of power, when it, too, gradually dies out.

The proletariat, which is much more numerous than the bourgeoisie and grows simultaneously with it but under its rule, is a new force which, initially subordinate to the bourgeoisie, gradually gains strength, becomes an independent class playing the leading role in history, and finally seizes political power and becomes the ruling class. Thereupon the nature of society changes and the old capitalist society becomes the new socialist society. This is the path already taken by the Soviet Union, a path that all other countries will inevitably take.

Look at China, for instance. Imperialism occupies the principal position in the contradiction in which China has been reduced to a semi-colony, it oppresses the Chinese people, and China has been changed from an independent country into a semi-colonial one. But this state of affairs will inevitably change; in the struggle between the two sides, the power of the Chinese people which is growing under the leadership of the proletariat will inevitably change China from a semi-colony into an independent country, whereas imperialism will be overthrown and old China will inevitably change into New China.

The change of old China into New China also involves a change in the relation between the old feudal forces and the new popular forces within the country. The old feudal landlord class will be overthrown, and from being the ruler it will change into being the ruled; and this class, too, will gradually die out. From being the ruled the people, led by the proletariat, will become the rulers. Thereupon, the nature of Chinese society will change and the old, semi-colonial and semi-feudal society will change into a new democratic society.

Instances of such reciprocal transformation are found in our past experience. The Ching Dynasty which ruled China for nearly three hundred years was overthrown in the Revolution of 1911, and the revolutionary Tung Meng Hui under Sun Yat-sen’s leadership was victorious for a time. In the Revolutionary War of 1924-27, the revolutionary forces of the Communist-Kuomintang alliance in the south changed from being weak to being strong and won victory in the Northern Expedition, while the Northern warlords who once ruled the roost were overthrown.

In 1927, the people’s forces led by the Communist Party were greatly reduced numerically under the attacks of Kuomintang reaction, but with the elimination of opportunism within their ranks they gradually grew again. In the revolutionary base areas under Communist leadership, the peasants have been transformed from being the ruled to being the rulers, while the landlords have undergone a reverse transformation. It is always so in the world, the new displacing the old, the old being superseded by the new, the old being eliminated to make way for the new, and the new emerging out of the old.

At certain times in the revolutionary struggle, the difficulties outweigh the favourable conditions and so constitute the principal aspect of the contradiction and the favourable conditions constitute the secondary aspect. But through their efforts the revolutionaries can overcome the difficulties step by step and open up a favourable new situation; thus a difficult situation yields place to a favourable one. This- is what happened after the failure of the revolution in China in 1927 and during the Long March of the Chinese Red Army. In the present Sino-Japanese War, China is again in a difficult position, but we can change this and fundamentally transform the situation as between China and Japan. Conversely, favourable conditions can be transformed into difficulty if the revolutionaries make mistakes. Thus the victory of the revolution of 1924-27 turned into defeat. The revolutionary base areas which grew up in the southern provinces after 1927 had all suffered defeat by 1934.

When we engage in study, the same holds good for the contradiction in the passage from ignorance to knowledge. At the very beginning of our study of Marxism, our ignorance of or scanty acquaintance with Marxism stands in contradiction to knowledge of Marxism. But by assiduous study, ignorance can be transformed into knowledge, scanty knowledge into substantial knowledge, and blindness in the application of Marxism into mastery of its application.

Some people think that this is not true of certain contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect; in the contradiction between theory and practice, practice is the principal aspect; in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, the economic base is the principal aspect; and there is no change in their respective positions. This is the mechanical materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist.

But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” [15] When a task, no maker which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy.

When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also–and indeed must–recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.

In studying the particularity of contradiction, unless we examine these two facets–the principal and the non-principal contradictions in a process, and the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction–that is, unless we examine the distinctive character of these two facets of 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 distinctive character or particularity of these two facets of contradiction represents the unevenness of the forces that are in contradiction.

Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium. Moreover, it is these concrete features of a contradiction and the changes in the principal and non-principal aspects of a contradiction in the course of its development that manifest the force of the new superseding the old. The study of the various states of unevenness in contradictions, of the principal and non-principal contradictions and of the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction constitutes an essential method by which a revolutionary political party correctly determines its strategic and tactical policies both in political and in military affairs. All Communists must give it attention.


When we understand the universality and the particularity of contradiction, we must proceed to study the problem of the identity and struggle of the aspects of a contradiction.

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.

Lenin said:

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. [16]

What does this passage mean?

The contradictory aspects in every process exclude each other, struggle with each other and are in opposition to each other. Without exception, they are contained in the process of development of all things and in all human thought. A simple process contains only a single pair of opposites, while a complex process contains more. And in turn, the pairs of opposites are in contradiction to one another.)

That is how all things in the objective world and all human thought are constituted and how they are set in motion.

This being so, there is an utter lack of identity or unity. How then can one speak of identity or unity?

The fact is that no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation. Without its opposite aspect, each loses the condition for its existence. Just think, can any one contradictory aspect of a thing or of a concept in the human mind exist independently? Without life, there would be no death; without death, there would be no life. Without “above”, there would be no “below”) without “below”, there would be no “above”. Without misfortune, there would be no good fortune; without good fortune, these would be no misfortune. Without facility, there would be no difficulty) without difficulty, there would be no facility.

Without landlords, there would be no tenant-peasants; without tenant-peasants, there would be no landlords. Without the bourgeoisie, there would be no proletariat; without the proletariat, there would be no bourgeoisie. Without imperialist oppression of nations, there would be no colonies or semi-colonies; without colonies or semicolonies, there would be no imperialist oppression of nations. It is so with all opposites; in given conditions, on the one hand they are opposed to each other, and on the other they are interconnected, interpenetrating, interpermeating and interdependent, and this character is described as identity.

In given conditions, all contradictory aspects possess the character of non-identity and hence are described as being in contradiction. But they also possess the character of identity and hence are interconnected. This is what Lenin means when he says that dialectics studies “how opposites can be … identical”. How then can they be identical? Because each is the condition for the other’s existence. This is the first meaning of identity.

But is it enough to say merely that each of the contradictory aspects is the condition for the other’s existence, that there is identity between them and that consequently they can coexist in a single entity? No, it is not. The matter does not end with their dependence on each other for their existence; what is more important is their transformation into each other. That is to say, in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects within a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite. This is the second meaning of the identity of contradiction.

Why is there identity here, too? You see, by means of revolution the proletariat, at one time the ruled, is transformed into the ruler, while the bourgeoisie, the erstwhile ruler, is transformed into the ruled and changes its position to that originally occupied by its opposite. This has already taken place in the Soviet Union, as it will take place throughout the world. If there were no interconnection and identity of opposites in given conditions, how could such a change take place?

The Kuomintang, which played a certain positive role at a certain stage in modern Chinese history, became a counter-revolutionary party after 1927 because of its inherent class nature and because of imperialist blandishments (these being the conditions); but it has been compelled to agree to resist Japan because of the sharpening of the contradiction between China and Japan and because of the Communist Party’s policy of the united front (these being the conditions). Things in contradiction change into one another, and herein lies a definite identity.

Our agrarian revolution has been a process in which the landlord class owning the land is transformed into a class that has lost its land, while the peasants who once lost their land are transformed into small holders who have acquired land, and it will be such a process once again. In given conditions having and not having, acquiring and losing, are interconnected; there is identity of the two sides. Under socialism, private peasant ownership is transformed into the public ownership of socialist agriculture; this has already taken place in the Soviet Union, as it will take place everywhere else. There is a bridge leading from private property to public property, which in philosophy is called identity, or transformation into each other, or interpenetration.

To consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dictatorship of the people is in fact to prepare the conditions for abolishing this dictatorship and advancing to the higher stage when all state systems are eliminated. To establish and build the Communist Party is in fact to prepare the conditions for the elimination of the Communist Party and all political parties. To build a revolutionary army under the leadership of the Communist Party and to carry on revolutionary war is in fact to prepare the conditions for the permanent elimination of war. These opposites are at the same time complementary.

War and peace, as everybody knows, transform themselves into each other. War is transformed into peace; for instance, the First World War was transformed into the post-war peace, and the civil war in China has now stopped, giving place to internal peace. Peace is transformed into war; for instance, the Kuomintang-Communist co-operation was transformed into war in 1927, and today’s situation of world peace may be transformed into a second world war. Why is this so? Because in class society such contradictory things as war and peace have an identity in given conditions.

All contradictory things are interconnected; not only do they coexist in a single entity in given conditions, but in other given conditions, they also transform themselves into each other. This is the full meaning of the identity of opposites. This is what Lenin meant when he discussed “how they happen to be (how they become) identical–under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another”.

Why is it that “the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another”? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite. Reflected in man’s thinking, this becomes the Marxist world outlook of materialist dialectics.

It is only the reactionary ruling classes of the past and present and the metaphysicians in their service who regard opposites not as living, conditional, mobile and transforming themselves into one another, but as dead and rigid, and they propagate this fallacy everywhere to delude the masses of the people, thus seeking to perpetuate their rule. The task of Communists is to expose the fallacies of the reactionaries and metaphysicians, to propagate the dialectics inherent in things, and so accelerate the transformation of things and achieve the goal of revolution.

In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another. There are innumerable transformations in mythology, for instance, Kua Fu’s race with the sun in Shan Hai Ching, [17] Yi’s shooting down of nine suns in Huai Nan Tzu, [18] the Monkey King’s seventy-two metamorphoses in Hsi Yu Chi, [19] the numerous episodes of ghosts and foxes metamorphosed into human beings in the Strange Tales of Liao Chai, [20] etc.

But these legendary transformations of opposites are not concrete changes reflecting concrete contradictions. They are naive, imaginary, subjectively conceived transformations conjured up in men’s minds by innumerable real and complex transformations of opposites into one another.

Marx said, “All mythology masters and dominates and shapes the forces of nature in and through the imagination; hence it disappears as soon as man gains mastery over the forces of nature.” [21] The myriads of changes in mythology (and also in nursery tales) delight people because they imaginatively picture man’s conquest of the forces of nature, and the best myths possess “eternal charm”, as Marx put it; but myths are not built out of the concrete contradictions existing in given conditions and therefore are not a scientific reflection of reality.

That is to say, in myths or nursery tales the aspects constituting a contradiction have only an imaginary identity, not a concrete identity. The scientific reflection of the identity in real transformations is Marxist dialectics.

Why can an egg but not a stone be transformed into a chicken? Why is there identity between war and peace and none between war and a stone? Why can human beings give birth only to human beings and not to anything else? The sole reason is that the identity of opposites exists only in necessary given conditions. Without these necessary given conditions there can be no identity whatsoever.

Why is it that in Russia in 1917 the bourgeois-democratic February Revolution was directly linked with the proletarian socialist October Revolution, while in France the bourgeois revolution was not directly linked with a socialist revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871 ended in failure? Why is it, on the other hand, that the nomadic system of Mongolia and Central Asia has been directly linked with socialism?

Why is it that the Chinese revolution can avoid a capitalist future and be directly linked with socialism without taking the old historical road of the Western countries, without passing through a period of bourgeois dictatorship? The sole reason is the concrete conditions of the time. When certain necessary conditions are present, certain contradictions arise in the process of development of things and, moreover, the opposites contained in them are interdependent and become transformed into one another; otherwise none of this would be possible.

Such is the problem of identity. What then is struggle? And what is the relation between identity and struggle?

Lenin said:

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute. [22]

What does this passage mean?

All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute.

There are two states of motion in all things, that of relative rest and that of conspicuous change. Both are caused by the struggle between the two contradictory elements contained in a thing. When the thing is in the first state of motion, it is undergoing only quantitative and not qualitative change and consequently presents the outward appearance of being at rest. When the thing is in the second state of motion, the quantitative change of the first state has already reached a culminating point and gives rise to the dissolution of the thing as an entity and thereupon a qualitative change ensues, hence the appearance of a conspicuous change. Such unity, solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidity, attraction, etc., as we see in daily life, are all the appearances of things in the state of quantitative change.

On the other hand, the dissolution of unity, that is, the destruction of this solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidity and attraction, and the change of each into its opposite are all the appearances of things in the state of qualitative change, the transformation of one process into another. Things are constantly transforming themselves from the first into the second state of motion; the struggle of opposites goes on in both states but the contradiction is resolved through the second state. That is why we say that the unity of opposites is conditional, temporary and relative, while the struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute.

When we said above that two opposite things can coexist in a single entity and can transform themselves into each other because there is identity between them, we were speaking of conditionality, that is to say, in given conditions two contradictory things can be united and can transform themselves into each other, but in the absence of these conditions, they cannot constitute a contradiction, cannot coexist in the same entity and cannot transform themselves into one another. It is because the identity of opposites obtains only in given conditions that we have said identity is conditional and relative. We may add that the struggle between opposites permeates a process from beginning to end and makes one process transform itself into another, that it is ubiquitous, and that struggle is therefore unconditional and absolute.

The combination of conditional, relative identity and unconditional, absolute struggle constitutes the movement of opposites in all things.

We Chinese often say, “Things that oppose each other also complement each other.” [23] That is, things opposed to each other have identity. This saying is dialectical and contrary to metaphysics. “Oppose each other” refers to the mutual exclusion or the struggle of two contradictory aspects. “Complement each other” means that in given conditions the two contradictory aspects unite and achieve identity. Yet struggle is inherent in identity and without struggle there can be no identity.

In identity there is struggle, in particularity there is universality, and in individuality there is generality. To quote Lenin, “. . . there is an absolute in the relative.” [24]


The question of the struggle of opposites includes the question of what is antagonism. Our answer is that antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites.

In human history, antagonism between classes exists as a particular manifestation of the struggle of opposites. Consider the contradiction between the exploiting and the exploited classes. Such contradictory classes coexist for a long time in the same society, be it slave society, feudal society or capitalist society, and they struggle with each other; but it is not until the contradiction between the two classes develops to a certain stage that it assumes the form of open antagonism and develops into revolution. The same holds for the transformation of peace into war in class society.

Before it explodes, a bomb is a single entity in which opposites coexist in given conditions. The explosion takes place only when a new condition, ignition, is present. An analogous situation arises in all those natural phenomena which finally assume the form of open conflict to resolve old contradictions and produce new things.

It is highly important to grasp this fact. It enables us to understand that revolutions and revolutionary wars are inevitable in class society and that without them, it is impossible to accomplish any leap in social development and to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and therefore impossible for the people to win political power. Communists must expose the deceitful propaganda of the reactionaries, such as the assertion that social revolution is unnecessary and impossible. They must firmly uphold the Marxist-Leninist theory of social revolution and enable the people to understand that social revolution is not only entirely necessary but also entirely practicable, and that the whole history of mankind and the triumph of the Soviet Union have confirmed this scientific truth.

However, we must make a concrete study of the circumstances of each specific struggle of opposites and should not arbitrarily apply the formula discussed above to everything. Contradiction and struggle are universal and absolute, but the methods of resolving contradictions, that is, the forms of struggle, differ according to the differences in the nature of the contradictions. Some contradictions are characterized 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.

As already mentioned, so long as classes exist, contradictions between correct and incorrect ideas in the Communist Party are reflections within the Party of class contradictions. At first, with regard to certain issues, such contradictions may not manifest themselves as antagonistic. But with the development of the class struggle, they may grow and become antagonistic. The history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union shows us that the contradictions between the correct thinking of Lenin and Stalin and the fallacious thinking of Trotsky, Bukharin and others did not at first manifest themselves in an antagonistic form, but that later they did develop into antagonism.

There are similar cases in the history of the Chinese Communist Party. At first the contradictions between the correct thinking of many of our Party comrades and the fallacious thinking of Chen Tu-hsiu, Chang Kuo-tao and others also did not manifest themselves in an antagonistic form, but later they did develop into antagonism. At present the contradiction between correct and incorrect thinking in our Party does not manifest itself in an antagonistic form, and if comrades who have committed mistakes can correct them, it will not develop into antagonism.

Therefore, the Party must on the one hand wage a serious struggle against erroneous thinking, and on the other give the comrades who have committed errors ample opportunity to wake up. This being the case, excessive struggle is obviously inappropriate. But if the people who have committed errors persist in them and aggravate them, there is the possibility that this contradiction will develop into antagonism.

Economically, the contradiction between town and country is an extremely antagonistic one both in capitalist society, where under the rule of the bourgeoisie the towns ruthlessly plunder the countryside, and in the Kuomintang areas in China, where under the rule of foreign imperialism and the Chinese big comprador bourgeoisie the towns most rapaciously plunder the countryside. But in a socialist country and in our revolutionary base areas, this antagonistic contradiction has changed into one that is non-antagonistic; and when communist society is reached it will be abolished.

Lenin said, “Antagonism and contradiction are not at all one and the same. Under socialism, the first will disappear, the second will remain.” [25] That is to say, antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites; the formula of antagonism cannot be arbitrarily applied everywhere.

We may now say a few words to sum up. The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook. It represents a great revolution in the history of human knowledge. According to dialectical materialism, contradiction is present in all processes of objectively existing things and of subjective thought and permeates all these processes from beginning to end; this is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction.

Each contradiction and each of its aspects have their respective characteristics; this is the particularity and relativity of contradiction. In given conditions, opposites possess identity, and consequently can coexist in a single entity and can transform themselves into each other; this again is the particularity and relativity of contradiction.

But the struggle of opposites is ceaseless, it goes on both when the opposites are coexisting and when they are transforming themselves into each other, and becomes especially conspicuous when they are transforming themselves into one another; this again is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction.

In studying the particularity and relativity of contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions and to the distinction between the principal aspect and the non-principal aspect of a contradiction; in studying the universality of contradiction and the struggle of opposites in contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the different forms of struggle.

Otherwise we shall make mistakes. If, through study, we achieve a real understanding of the essentials explained above, we shall be able to demolish dogmatist ideas which are contrary to the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and detrimental to our revolutionary cause, and our comrades with practical experience will be able to organize their experience into principles and avoid repeating empiricist errors. These are a few simple conclusions from our study of the law of contradiction.

1. V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy” Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 249.

2. In his essay “On the Question of Dialectics”, Lenin said, “The splitting in two of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section 3 ‘On Cognition’ in Lassalle’s book on Heraclitus) is the essence (one of the ‘essentials’, one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics.” (Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 357.) In his “Conspectus of Hegel’s The Science of Logic”, he said, “In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This grasps the kernel of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development.” (Ibid., p. 215.)

3. V. I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”, Coaected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 358.

4. A saying of Tung Chung-shu (179-104 B.C.), a well-known exponent of Confucianism in the Han Dynasty.

5. Frederick Engels, “Dialectics. Quantity and Quality”, Anti-Duhring, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1959, p. 166.

6. V. I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, pp. 357-58.

7. Frederick Engels, op. cit., pp. 166-67.

8. V. I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 357.

9. Ibid., pp. 358-59

10. See “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War”, Note 10, p. 251 of this volume.

11. See ibid., Note :, p. 249 of this volume.

12. Wei Cheng (A.D. 580-643) was a statesman and historian of the Tang Dynasty.

13. Shui Hu Chuan (Heroes of the Marshes), a famous 14th century Chinese novel, describes a peasant war towards the end of the Northern Sung Dynasty. Chu Village was in the vicinity of Liangshanpo, where Sung Chiang, leader of the peasant uprising and hero of the novel, established his base. Chu Chao-feng, the head of this village, was a despotic landlord.

14. V. I. Lenin, “Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Present Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin”, Selected Works, Eng. ed., International Publishers, New York, 1943, Vol. IX, p. 66.

15. V. I. Lenin, “What Is to Be Done?”, Collected Works, Eng. ed., FLPH, Moscow, 1961, Vol. V, p. 369.

16. V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s The Science of Logic”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, pp. 97-98.

17. Shan Hai Chug (Book of Mountains and Seas) was written in the era of the Warring States (403-221 B.C.). In one of its fables Kua Fu, a superman, pursued and overtook the sun. But he died of thirst, whereupon his staff was transformed into the forest of Teng.

18. Yi is one of the legendary heroes of ancient China, famous for his archery. According to a legend in Huai Nan Tzu, compiled in the 2nd century B.C., there were ten suns in the sky in the days of Emperor Yao. To put an end to the damage to vegetation caused by these scorching suns, Emperor Yao ordered Yi to shoot them down. In another legend recorded by Wang Yi (2nd century A.D.), the archer is said to have shot down nine of the ten suns.

19. Hsi Yu Chi (Pilgrimage to the West) is a 16th century novel, the hero of which is the monkey god Sun Wu-kung. He could miraculously change at will into seventy-two different shapes, such as a bird, a tree and a stone.

20. The Strange Tales of Liao Chai, written by Pu Sung-ling in the 17th century, is a well-known collection of 431 tales, mostly about ghosts and fox spirits.

21. Karl Marx, “Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy”, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Eng. ed., Chicago, 1904, pp. 310-11.

22. V. I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 358.

23. The saying “Things that oppose each other also complement each other” first appeared in the History of the Earlier Han Dynasty by Pan Ku, a celebrated historian in the 1st century A.D. It has long been a popular saying.

24. V. I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow, 1958, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 358.

25. V. I. Lenin, “Remarks on N. I. Bukharin’s Economics of the Transitional Period” Selected Works, Russ. ed., Moscow-Leningrad, 1931, Vol. XI, p. 357.

Transcription by the Maoist Documentation Project.
HTML revised 2004 by
Selected Works of Mao TseTung

“Women who drive give birth to children “with clinical disorders of varying degrees.”

Saudi women drivers detained

“Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan said campaigners should put “the mind before the heart and emotion, and look at this issue with a realistic eye.”” These comments are by a Saudi psychologist asserting that driving affects women’s ovaries and can lead to their children having health problems. This sentiment has outraged Saudi women in the conservative Muslim country, 11,000 of which have signed a petition protesting a de facto ban on women driving.

Saudi women are buckling up for social change. Meanwhile, writers such as Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood urges his 97,000 twitter followers to grope women who dare occupy public space. Or clerics who believe that women driving is evil no less. In places like Saudi Arabia victims of crime are often punished rather than the perpetrator. Saudi women activists were recently jailed for assisting a starving woman locked in her home. Think recent weirdo American hostage crimes and know that this kind of thing is not an aberration in near/Sharia societies and also that providing assistance to the vulnerable regularly brings medical professionals/social workers etc., into the harsh spot light of the black shirts that rule the streets. And what about this? “Saudi Arabia hopes to put imprisoned Al-Qaeda militants on the right path and make them drop their thoughts of jihad by offering them spa treatments, exercise and counseling at a new luxurious rehabilitation facility in the capital, Riyadh.”

The country’s first female law firm in Saudi Arabia will certainly have its hands full.


The country’s first female law firm has opened its doors to protect women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, two months after its founder along with three other female lawyers were granted licenses to practice law in the traditionally patriarchal kingdom.

Now Saudi women can seek help, advice and legal aid from Bayan Mahmoud Al Zahran, the first Saudi woman lawyer who launched the female law firm in Jeddah.

Zahran told Arab News that her law firm is ready to fight for the rights of Saudi women and relate women’s cases to the court, a task which her male counterparts at times cannot understand or handle.

“I believe women lawyers can contribute a lot to the legal system. This law firm will make a difference in the history of court cases and female disputes in the Kingdom. I am very hopeful and thank everyone who supported me in taking this historical step,” Zahran said.

The lawyer also stressed that she is eager to work on labor cases and business disputes involving women but will work with both genders.

“Our activity is not restricted to cases involving only women. Saudi Arabia’s legal system treats men and women equally and a lawyer has the right to represent men and women,” Zahran told Al Arabiya News Channel on Thursday.

The launch was attended by a number of Saudi officials and members from the NGO community, including Mazen Batterjee, vice president of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce.

Batterjee stressed the importance of Shariah law Saudi courts, adding that female attorneys should follow the restrictions of the court for hijab while presenting themselves before a judge.

Zahran’s father, Sheikh Mahmoud Al-Zahran, praised his daughter’s efforts.

“We are very proud of our daughter who stands firm for protection of women’s rights. This will help all women who couldn’t go and speak to male lawyers about their problems,” he said.

Zahran hopes that her firm’s example will lead to more female lawyers.

“This is a very positive step toward the Saudi court and justices as right now, we are four female lawyers who got the license, but I am hopeful that in future, the number will increase,” she added.

Bayan Zahran, Jihan Qurban, Sarra Al Omari and Ameera Quqani became the first female legal representatives in Saudi Arabia in October, when the country issues licenses, allowing them to change their status from legal consultants to attorneys, thus lifting the ban imposed on female law graduates to practice.

The initial plan of the justice ministry was to allocate licenses to family status cases, but the final decision did not impose any limits on fields of law practice.

Conditions to obtain the license are the same for men and women and include a university degree in law and three years of training.

Women in the ultra-conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia usually maintain a traditional place inside the household. Many details in the lives of Saudi women are closely regulated by Sharia law derived from the Koran.

Every adult woman is required to have a close male relative as her ‘guardian’, who is authorized to make a number of decisions on a woman’s behalf, including the right to travel, to start a business, and study at university. Saudi women are prohibited from driving, and are required to cover themselves in public, among other restrictions.

Last October, Saudi women embarked on unprecedented protest measure, by defying kingdom’s de facto ban on women driving by getting behind the steering wheel.

As part of the October 26th Women’s Driving Campaign, around 60 women got behind their vehicles, some brave enough have even posted their experience on YouTube.

The declaration on the website has been signed by over 11,000 women.

“Physiological science and functional medicine [found that driving] automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis,” Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al Luhaydan, judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, said in reaction to the issue.

He added that the women who drive give birth to children “with clinical disorders of varying degrees.”

Many Saudis have expressed their anger in Twitter, mocking the Sheikh’s “great scientific discoveries.”