This question-and-answer session on Mao Zedong’ essay, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, is the second episode in the ongoing ND Online series on Mao for the whole of December 2020. Mao Serye is part of the continuing study program by Anakbayan-Europa through its ND Online School.

On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People

Second Episode of Mao Serye of the ND Online School of Anakbayan-Europa
Initial questions by Host Anghelo Godino
Answers by Jose Maria Sison
12 December 2020

1. In our last episode, we discussed Mao’s “On Contradiction”. Today we will discuss “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”. Can you please provide us the context of the time that this speech was delivered by Mao?

JMS: Mao wrote “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” in 1957. China had won total victory in the people’s democratic revolution in 1949 and passed through the period of consolidation and rehabilitation from 1949 to 1952 and had carried out the first five-year plan for the basic socialist transformation of Chinese economy from 1953 to 1957.

Mao pointed out that there were still classes and class struggle in China. The class contradictions among the people are non-antagonistic and must be handled correctly so that that they do not become antagonistic. The term people encompassed the basic toiling masses of workers and peasants and the middle social strata, including the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. There were contradictions among these social classes and strata as well as within every class and within every stratum on ideas and methods of developing socialism.

At the same time, there are antagonistic contradictions between the people and the counterrevolutionaries. There must be clear evidence against them for criminal activity so that mistakes can be avoided. There are only a few counterrevolutionaries because of the achievements of China in socialist revolution and construction. Criminal activity of counterrevolutionaries or enemies of the people must be differentiated from the free and honest expression of ideas and views among the people.

Chinese socialist poster: After the revolution’s nationwide victory, the people’s army remains a powerful pillar of the masses’ power in the people’s democratic republic.

2. In this speech, Mao tackles the contradictions that existed even after the party has seized political power. One such contradiction is the contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class. It is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic. How can this be transformed into a non-antagonistic one in the transformation to socialism?

JMS: Before 1957 there was a state policy on the the national bourgeoisie to accommodate their investments and entrepreneurial and managerial skills in joint state-private corporations and to allow them to earn dividends according to their investments. But in 1957 there was already a policy for the national bourgeoisie in the joint-private corporations to receive fixed interest on their investments and no longer dividends as their share of corporate profits.

Contradictions involved differences regarding the disposition of the profits of the joint state-private corporations and the role of national bourgeois entrepreneurs and managers who were retained to run the enterprises efficiently. The national bourgeoisie had a dual class character. It retained its exploitative class character and yet complied with state policy of socialist industrialization. There were contradictions arising from the dual class character of the national bourgeoisie but they were non-antagonistic and could be resolved through non-antagonistic methods, such as discussions, reasoning, persuasion and education.

The policy of the socialist state was to integrate the productive assets and entrepreneurial and managerial abilities of the national bourgeoisie, to dissolve the national bourgeoisie with its exploitative character in stages and to prevent it from increasing its exploitative character. In the meantime, the socialist state made sure that the profits made would be divided for the following purposes: fixed interest payment to the national bourgeois, improvement of the wage and living conditions of the workers, accumulation fund for the expansion of the enterprise, provision of social services, administration and tax for the state.

The Communist Party and the trade unions made sure that the the rights and interests of the working class were upheld, protected and promoted first of all even while the entrepreneurial and managerial abilities of the national bourgeois were availed of, subject to their reeducation in socialism and also subject to the education and training of more Party cadres and the workers in socialist management and the students in science and engineering and other related fields in order to become the Red experts in socialist construction.

3. The dictatorship of the Proletariat is needed to safeguard socialist construction. It uses democratic centralism as a form of governance. Could you discuss democratic centralism? How does it work and why is this type of leadership important in paving the way to socialism?

JMS: The dictatorship of the proletariat is upheld in the socialist constitution and is needed to guarantee the building of socialism and the continuance of socialist revolution and construction to achieve the ultimate goal of communism. With the Communist Party leading the socialist state in the form of the people’s democratic republic, it follows and applies the principle and method of democratic centralism in making and implementing decisions.

Democratic centralism is centralized leadership on the basis of democracy. The establishment of the facts, reports and recommendations come from the basic level of the Party, the Party branches and the masses. Decisions move up from lower to higher levels of the Party organs of leadership, Party organization and state organs for further consideration and decision-making until they reach the central levels of Party and state leading organs where decisions are taken in the making of national policies and plans.

The policies and plans are carried out and tested in practice by the lower levels of the Party, state and the people and on varied territorial scales. All the time the Party at all levels study and learn from the developing situation and is open to the reports, advice, criticism and supervision of the masses and the allies among the people. The democratic basis for centralized decision-making never stops.

4. The formula of “unity – criticism – unity” is the democratic method of resolving contradictions among the people. Can you give an example of how contradictions are resolved through this formula?

JMS: In making criticisms, we should be motivated by a desire to strengthen unity and improve the work and style of work for the benefit of the people along the revolutionary line of socialism. The criticism is meant to advance the revolutionary work and struggle and bring about about a higher level of unity among the people, within the Party and the socialist state.

Criticisms arise when there are problems that need to be resolved because they are hampering or damaging revolutionary work and struggle. They are meant to present problems that must be analyzed and solved in order to improve the work and accelerate the advance of the revolutionary struggle. Criticisms can also arise from contradictions or problems on how to raise the level of development to a new and higher level.

When criticisms are made, these must be subjected to discussion and the methods of analysis, reasoning and persuasion are used. They therefore result both in the advancement of work and struggle and in raising the level of revolutionary consciousness and education. Raising the level of knowledge through criticisms and discussions means raising the level of practice. This is in accordance with materialist dialectics.

Chinese socialist poster: The Party remains immersed among the masses of the people in their daily lives. All the time the Party at all levels study and learn from the developing situation and is open to the reports, advice, criticism and supervision of the masses and the allies among the people. The democratic basis for centralized decision-making never stops.

5. Contradictions in socialist society are fundamentally different from those in the old societies, such as capitalist society. What are the basic contradictions in a socialist society?

JMS: In socialist society, there are non-antagonistic class contradictions between the working class and the peasantry and within each of these classes with regard to benefits and allocation of resources. There are also class contradictions between the proletariat and the urban petty bourgeoisie and within this social stratum.

Especially among the intellectuals, the culture of the old society and the international bourgeoisie can still exercise an influence on them. Within the Communist Party, there can be petty bourgeois elements who have not fully remoulded themselves as communists and they are liable to express subjectivist and opportunist ideas. If not properly restricted and directed towards dissolution, the national bourgeoisie can enlarge its exploitative class interest and even seize power.

It has been demonstrated in the rise of modern revisionism and subversion of socialist societies that the influence of the old exploitative classes can persist or be revived if the intelligentsia and the Party cadres themselves do not engage in continuous proletarian revolutionary education concerning classes and class struggle and thus degenerate because they become alienated from the masses and become obsessed with increasing their bureaucratic privileges and emulating the international bourgeoisie.

6. Does exploitation still exist in a socialist society? What kind of exploitation and how does it differ in a capitalist society? How do we gradually eradicate exploitation?

JMS: So far in history, socialism has arisen as a result of the struggle between armed revolution and armed counterrevolution in countries not as advanced economically as the most powerful imperialist powers. Thus, after the revolutionary proletariat overthrows the bourgeois state, it has to adopt transitory measures, like the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union from 1922 onwards and reform measures in China from 1949 onwards to give concessions to the lesser types of exploiters so that they can contribute to the quickest possible economic recovery instead of compelling them to flee or to do sabotage.

The commanding heights of the economy like the landed estates, strategic industries, the main sources of raw materials and the principal means of transport and communications, are immediately taken over by the state. But to revive and maintain the economy, concessions are made to certain elements in society that have an exploitative character, like the small and medium entrepreneurs and traders and the rich peasants.

Concessions were given to these under the NEP in the Soviet Union until socialist industrialization and the cooperativization of agriculture were carried out through the series of five-year plans under Stalin. In China, concessions were also made to such lesser types of exploiters after then properties of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists were confiscated. The national bourgeoisie was accommodated in joint state-private corporations in order to absorb its assets and redirect these to socialist construction.

And capitalist-roaders like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping wanted to prolong the concessions to the national bourgeoisie indefinitely. In fact, after the defeat of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Dengist capitalist-oriented reforms and opening up to the world capitalist system restored capitalism in China and aggrandized the bourgeoisie as the ruling class.

7. According to Mao, counterrevolutionaries must be eliminated wherever found, mistakes must be corrected whenever discovered. What are the ways to eliminate counter-revolutionaries?

JMS: Indeed, counterrevolutionaries must be eliminated so that the socialist state is secure and consolidated. But the revolutionary party and the people must be judicious in carrying out the policy of eliminating the counterrevolutionaries. They must be arrested, detained, tried and punished for criminal acts on the basis of evidence.

The mass movement is necessary to isolate the counterrevolutionaries. But due process must be followed in trying and punishing proven counterrevolutionaries. The Communist Party, the state organs and the people must be able to distinguish those who criticize and speak honestly against certain policies and actions and those who are really counterrevolutionaries. Mistakes must be avoided and when they occur these must be corrected immediately and the victims must be rehabilitated.

8. With the rural population comprising the majority, the role of peasants has a most important bearing on the development of our economy and the consolidation of our state power. China had successes in peasant cooperatives. Can you tell us what are cooperatives and how important is this in building socialism?

JMS: Indeed, the peasants have a decisively important role in the development of the socialist economy and consolidation of state power. They are the majority of the people and are the main democratic force. And they are the producers at the agricultural base of the socialist economy which ensures the food supply of the entire people and also provides major raw materials for light industry. Cooperativization is used by the socialist society to raise the level of economic and social development of agriculture and the peasant masses.

Starting in 1952, the development of agricultural cooperatives went through three stages in China. The first stage was characterized by mutual aid teams, involving the temporary sharing of labor and some capital by individual households as the basic unit of ownership and production. The mutual aid teams were further organized in 1954 into agricultural producers’ cooperatives. The tools, draft animals, and labor were shared on a permanent basis. Cooperative members retained their land ownership but contributed this to a common land pool.

By the end of 1956 the transformation of mutual aid teams into agricultural cooperatives was completed. Most of the cooperatives had became advanced producers’ cooperatives or collectives. The members of the cooperatives no longer earned personal income on the basis of shares of land owned. Instead, collective farm net income was divided among members mainly on the basis of labor contributions. The average cooperative was made up of 170 families and more than 700 people.

The third stage of cooperativization was the organization of the people’s communes during the Great Leap Forward. The people’s communes were successful in overcoming the imperialist embargo, the abandonment of economic projects by the Soviet Union, and the natural calamities. They fulfilled the objective of the Great Leap Forward in developing collectivized agriculture as the complement of socialist industry and they also stimulated the growth of rural industries and capital construction in the rural areas. But the imperialists and the Dengist counterrevolutionaries attack the Great Leap Forward as a complete disaster despite the sustained high yield of the communes since the bumper crop of 1962.

9. In consolidating cooperatives, there are certain contradictions that remain to be resolved, such as those between the state and the cooperatives and those in and between the cooperatives themselves. What are these and how do we resolve them?

JMS: The Chinese socialist state recognized the uneven development of the cooperatives and differences in the productivity of advanced, middle and backward cooperatives and thus adjusted its tax and requisition policy accordingly. The purpose of the tax policy was to support state operations, assist the backward cooperatives and the development of industry. And the requisitioning of agricultural products had the purpose of having sufficient stocks as raw materials for manufacturing as well as sufficient food supply to cover shortfalls due to natural disasters. The state made sure that the tax and requisitions allowed the peasant masses to improve agricultural production and raise their standard of living.

The Communist Party and the socialist state provided the direction, the planning and the financial and technical means for developing a certain level of cooperativization to a new and higher level. They also developed state farms. They made it a point to develop agriculture as the base of the socialist economy to produce food for the growing Chinese population and raw materials for light industry even as they also developed heavy and basic industries as the leading factor in the development of the entire socialist economy.

10. What will happen to landlords after the Party has seized political power? How about small landlords and rich peasants?

JMS: After the Communist Party wins state power in a semicolonial and semifeudal country like China of the past and the Philippines at present, the people’s democratic revolution is basically completed and the socialist revolution can begin. But the Communist Party proceeds at an accelerated rate to complete land reform as a bourgeois democratic measure in order to satisfy the peasant hunger for land and institute cooperativization as a socialist measure at the soonest possible time in connection with completing land distribution to the landless peasants.

The land of the landlords is confiscated for free distribution to the landless peasants. In the case of landlords who have not committed crimes and not violently opposed the revolution, they can be given the opportunity to have a source of livelihood and live a comfortable life commensurate to their ability and education. The rich peasants can be given the opportunity to contribute their land and means of production to the cooperatives and become cooperative members according to the rules.

11. In the building of a socialist society, everybody needs remoulding—the exploiters and also the working people. How do we ensure the remoulding of the bourgeoisie? How about the intellectuals?

JMS: Of course, the toiling masses of workers and peasants must continue to remould themselves. It is in their class interest that they raise the level of their revolutionary consciousness and activity in order to uphold, defend and carry forward the socialist revolution and construction. It is their own duty to themselves as well as the duty of the Communist Party to make sure that they further remould themselves through further revolutionary education and mass mobilization, especially because they own and control the instruments of production, education and culture.

It is a matter of course that those who belong to the exploiting classes of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists are deprived of the right to be voted and to vote for others to public office as well as of other civil rights that can allow them to regain political power. But if they have not committed crimes, they are tolerated, allowed to earn a living and own nonexploitative property and they can opt to be educated to support socialism.

The national bourgeoisie, the intellectuals and the rich peasants are encouraged to remould themselves. There are study courses on socialism outside of the universities and in various places and fields of social activity. The educational system is required to provide socialist education to all the students at various levels. The mass media and so many types of cultural activities can be instruments of socialist education and culture.

Chinese socialist poster (1964): Young intellectuals remould themselves among the masses in China’s socialist countryside.

12. What kind of contradictions exist with the national minorities, and how should we resolve them? This is also important in the Philippines with a lot of national minorities.

JMS: The national minorities have managed to retain their autonomy, ancestral domain and their cultural characteristics by resisting effectively previous social systems and regimes. The socialist state has to respect their right to self-determination, ancestral domain and culture. It must give them the time and opportunities to raise their own level of economic, social, political and cultural development.

The national minorities occupy and live in large areas which are fertile and rich in natural resources. The socialist state should not be like the foreign corporations, the reactionary puppet state and the local exploiting classes that grab land and the natural resources from the national minorities. With their full knowledge and consent, the availment of the land and resources in their ancestral domain must benefit them first, ahead of the rest of the Filipino nation.

13. “Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” and “long-term coexistence and mutual supervision”. What do these slogans mean?

JMS: According to Mao himself, “Literally the two slogans—let a hundred flowers blossom and let a hundred schools of thought contend—have no class character; the proletariat can turn them to account, and so can the bourgeoisie or others. Different classes, strata and social groups each have their own views on what are fragrant flowers and what are poisonous weeds.” The variety of schools of thought and works of art and culture can contend and flourish so long as the principles of China’s socialist constitution is the basis and framework.

The principles are as follows: 1) Words and deeds should help to unite, and not divide, the people of all our nationalities; 2) They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to socialist transformation and socialist construction; 3) They should help to consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, the people’s democratic dictatorship; 4)They should help to consolidate, and not undermine or weaken, democratic centralism; 5) They should help to strengthen, and not shake off or weaken, the leadership of the Communist Party; and 6) They should be beneficial, and not harmful, to international socialist unity and the unity of the peace-loving people of the world.

Mao also explains “long-term co-existence and mutual supervision” in the following words:

The slogan “long-term coexistence and mutual supervision” is also a product of China’s specific historical conditions. It was not put forward all of a sudden, but had been in the making for several years. The idea of long-term coexistence had been there for a long time. When the socialist system was in the main established last year [1956], the slogan was formulated in explicit terms. Why should the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democratic parties be allowed to exist side by side with the party of the working class over a long period of time? Because we have no reason for not adopting the policy of long-term coexistence with all those political parties which are truly devoted to the task of uniting the people for the cause of socialism and which enjoy the trust of the people.

“On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People,” June 1957


The original text source is at PRISM editors corrected a few typo errors. The video version is available on Facebook Live at:
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