Antagonistic Contradictions

M. Mitin, Dialectical Materialism,

vol. I, Moscow, 1931, pp. 148 – 150.


In capitalist society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are opposites which are external and hostile to one another. However, these classes are indissolubly connected to each other in the economic structure of capitalism, and the presence of one class is a condition for the existence of the other. Just as it is not possible for capitalism to exist without the bourgeoisie, it cannot exist without the proletariat. The creation by the working class, which has been deprived of the means of production, of surplus value for a bourgeoisie which buys its labor power, and of the exploitation of [p. 149] labor power by the bourgeoisie which owns the means of production, is a single process that conditions the very existence of capitalist society. At the same time, the relative character of this unity, “mutual penetration”, is obvious: by no means is there any unity of interests of both classes. It is not the coinciding of class interests, but, on the contrary, their struggle which is the basis of social development. The strengthening of the proletarian state, as Comrade Stalin points out, prepares the conditions for its withering away in the future. The strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the future withering away  of the state in this way are not external opposites. The strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat is identical with the preparation of its future withering away. It would be the greatest mistake, however, to forget the opposition of these stages and merely identify the two processes, to consider that with the withering away of the proletarian state results directly from its strengthening.

            At bottom, contemporary mechanism, Menshevist idealism and views like it [1] fundamentally distort the correct Leninist understanding of the unity and mutual penetration of opposites. Mechanists, from Dühring to Comrade Bukharin, regard every kind of opposites found in a unity as forces external to one another, oppositely directed against one another. The mechanists identify every unity of opposites, every contradiction, with external contradictions, with antagonisms of hostile forces, while they explain the coexistence of these forces and the preservation of the contradiction as the equilibrium of opposites. Engels ridicules Dühring’s trivial conception of oppositely directed forces. Lenin pointed out to Comrade Bukharin, while reading his Economics of the Transition Period, that it is incorrect to identify contradiction and antagonism, that under socialism, for example, class antagonisms will disappear, [2]   but contradictions between nature and society, and between the relations and forces of production will still occur.

            Antagonism is a particular aspect of a contradiction, in which the sides are related to each other as irreconcilable extremes.

            The best example of antagonism of a social character is the class contradictions between exploited and exploiting classes. But in a dialectical understanding of  contradictions, we also have to look for and find the possible inner connections even between antagonistic opposites, since otherwise any protracted coexistence of these extremes in one object, phenomenon, society, etc., would be unthinkable (see above, the example of the bourgeoisie and working class). The antagonism of dying capitalism and of socialism, born in revolution, permeates the entire transitional epoch. That is no less true of the early stage, of the restoration period, the stage of the NEP.

            Lenin regarded it as possible to use the method of state capitalism, controlled by the dictatorship of the proletariat, to use the bourgeoisie the NEP in order to increase and develop the production forces under conditions of their complete subordination to proletarian laws, at the same time limiting and supplanting them. The period [p. 150] of socialist reconstruction and the offensive of socialism on every front sets out the task of the liquidation of the kulaks as a class, of the abolition of the remainder of capitalism in economics and in people’s consciousness: The antagonism of capitalist elements and the socialist order already makes their further coexistence impossible, and class struggle intensifies. Right opportunism, which identifies antagonisms and contradictions, and which describes contradictory development as equilibrium of antagonistic forces, has emerged with a sermon of reconciliation, of the equilibrium of the struggling forces, and of capitalist and socialist sectors, and of the theory of the damping down of class struggle in the Soviet economy in the process of this “balancing” of the sectors.

            Menshevism and Menshevist idealism also distorts a correct understanding of the unity of opposites. Menshevist idealism understands it as “flexibility, subjectively applied,” as sophistry and eclecticism. They view the unity of opposites as their eclectic conjunction. Menshevist idealism, departing from the Leninist formulation of the law of the unity of opposites, outlines a completely mechanistic scheme, according to which at the beginning, we have difference, then opposition, and then contradiction. They do not understand that contradiction already resides in each difference. Like Plekhanov, they limit the universal character of the law of contradictory development. Meanwhile, Lenin, on the contrary, emphasizes the conditional, temporary, relative character of the unity, identity, and mutual penetration of opposites, and the absolute character of their mutual negation, of the mutual exclusion of opposites, of their struggle, which is the source of development.

[1] Literally, this says “contemporary mechanism, Menshevik- and menshevizing idealism…” “Menshevizing idealism [men’shevistvuyushchii idealism]” was a term, coined by J. V. Stalin, referring to the group of Soviet philosophers headed by A. M. Deborin. The term suggests that the views of the Deborin group were similar to the anti-revolutionary viewpoint of the Russian Mensheviks. Deborin and several others in his group had been Mensheviks before the 1917 revolution. Deborin was removed from his post as editor of the Bolshevik philosophy journal Pod Znamenem Marksizma [Under the Banner of Marxism] in 1931. The author of the present text was a member of a group of philosophers called the “young Stalinists,” who were instrumental in bringing about the Bolsheviks’ rejection of the views of the Deborin group. –trans.

[2] “Antagonism and contradiction are not at all the same thing. In socialism, the first will disappear, but the latter will remain.” This is a comment that Lenin wrote in the margin of his copy of N. Bukharin’s book Ékonomika Perekhodnogo Perioda [Economics of the Transition Period], Moscow, 1920. Bukharin had written “Capitalism is an antagonistic, contradictory system,” p. 43. Leninskii Sbornik [Lenin Miscellany], N. Bukharin, B. Molotov, and M. Savel’ev, editors, Moscow-Leningrad,, 1929, vol. 11, p. 357, reprinted in Leninskii Sbornik [Lenin Miscellany], vol. 40, Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow, 1985. This marginal note was often cited in Soviet philosophical discussions of contradiction in the 1930s. It is also used in Mao Zedong’s essay “On Contradiction.” –trans.

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