Mao on Contradiction

“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.”

The most developed systematic exposition on dialectical analysis so far has been that put forward by Mao Tse-tung in his essay ‘On Contradiction’ in Mao Tse-tung, Five Essays on Philosophy, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977.

Some very important distinctions made by Mao are between:


(a) Contradiction exists in the process of development of all things and in the process of development of a thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end.

(b) The contradictions in different things have their own particularities. These are what distinguishes one thing from other things. These particularities can only be ascertained by means of concrete investigation.


(a) The basic, fundamental contradiction of any phenomenon constitutes its very essence. For example the basic contradiction of capitalism is that between the social organisation of production and the private ownership of the means of production and remains so throughout the entire course of development of capitalist society.

(b) The different principal contradictions deriving from the basic contradiction and which at the successive stages of development of a phenomenon determine and influence the development of the other contradictions in that phenomenon. For example the most important contradictions deriving from the basic contradiction in capitalism are those between the relations of production and the forces of production; between capital and labour; between bourgeois ideology and proletarian ideology. During a period of sharp class struggle the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie could be the principal one because it is determining the particular course of development of the other contradictions. During a period of serious economic crisis the contradiction between the relations of production and the forces of production could become principal.


The principal aspect of a contradiction at a particular time determines its course of development during that period. For example under capitalism in the contradiction between bourgeois ideology and proletarian ideology the former is normally principal but with a radicalisation of proletarian consciousness brought about by the sharpening of major contradictions the latter can become principal.


For example, the relations between the owners and the managers of a business firm are usually fairly non-antagonistic but in some circumstances, e.g. falling profitability, can become more anatgonistic.


The contradictions internal to a phenomenon are normally the causes of its course of development while the contradictions external to the phenomenon are the conditions of its development. For example, the international financial crisis which broke out in 2008 was brought about by the development of the internal contradictions of various banks and financial institutions in countries such as the USA and the UK.. The financial systems of some other countries such as Greece and Portugal were destabilised by the impact of financial failures in the former countries, i.e. external contradictions became principal.

In analysing any particular, concrete contradicion these questions should be asked:

1. What are its two aspects?

2. What is its principal aspect?

3. Has this aspect always been principal and will it be so in the future?

4.In what forms is it reflected in human consciousness?

5.In what ways are its two aspects interdependent?

6.What forms does the struggle between the two aspects take?

7.Is it in a state of relative rest or conspicuous change?

8.What conditions are influencing its present state?

9.What stages of development has it passed through and what stage is it at now?

10.Is it antagonistic or non-antagonistic and is it likely to change in this respect?

11.How can it be resolved?

12.What connections does it have with other contradictions?