Untangling the Ball of String: Keeping Imperialism as the Primary Contradiction

A primary part of being a Maoist-Third Worldist is acknowledging that imperialism is the primary contradiction in the world. The largest problem facing the world is First World imperialism or empire grinding Third World people into the deepest of poverty and the greatest heights of suffering. The local or comprador capitalist wields less power in society than the imperialist country does. Even the local capitalist of the Third World has some gripe against the foreign bourgeois as it undermines his ability to carry out investment to some degree in his own country. He can do nothing about it because the foreign bourgeois have access to immensely greater capital power. The local capitalist even has his privileged position in the economic order because of imperialist rule.

In Marxism we understand that the goal is to abolish capitalism as it opens the door for true equality. Capitalism, a system predicated on inequality cannot achieve such a goal. The system abhors any idea of equality among people, even sex and race. Money represents the social value generated by society, wielding it is power in that same society. If this is unequal, how can there be equality in anyway shape or form? The wealth gap will always remain creating a divide in society that will perpetuate the existing racism, sexism and homophobia. Differences in housing i.e. gentrification causes living standard variations and triggers all other kinds of inequality. Such as access to education, quality of medical care, job opportunities, etc.. All of this stems from inequality of wealth. This is why we seek to liberate people from capitalism, because true equality cannot come from a system of inequality.

As long as the productive relations of capitalism and its corresponding social relations exist, equality cannot be achieved. It is impossible to achieve and leads to nothing but utopian liberalism. It perpetuates the idea that we just have to alter what we have now in order to make it more comfortable. It sends a very clear message that revolution is not necessary when you can simply “nerf” society making it more pleasant for minority groups. This completely de-incentivises revolutionary struggle as it promotes the idea that change can be achieved within the existing system. All victories under capitalism are hollow, all victories meaningless.

This is one very good reason why First World people are not revolutionary. Their lives are very comfortable to the point where they do not wish to engage in revolution. The act of engaging in revolution would in fact lower their quality of life, eliminate many privileges they have. You cannot expect a $60,000 a year construction worker to give up his job, pension, truck and home to fight for “more”. Aside from the point that they have too much as it is, this person will not fight because they live too well, to the point where revolution would have a severely negative effect on it.

This demonstrates to us that First World people cannot be counted on to fight in a revolutionary manner against capitalism. The reason why First Worlders have it so well is because of the benefits they receive from imperialism. It is this truth that makes the First World “proletariat” lack any revolutionary potential. Even if revolution were to happen there would be a great transfer of wealth back to the Third World where it was stolen from. The extremely high living standards could not be maintained in an equitable distribution of wealth.

The death of capitalism must be the priority. To defeat capitalism we must destroy imperialism. Imperialism cannot be defeated by First World people because they will not fight because they benefit from it. The First World must liberate itself. Marxists in the First World have a duty, if they’re honest, to assist the struggles of the Third Word. Be it through moral support, support for theory by engaging in debate, or sending money and weapons. To do anything less is to spit in their faces. We all have some little thing we can do, even if it is just moral support by acknowledging imperialism as the primary contradiction and raising awareness of it.

This privileged position in the First World makes the “working class” in the First World unrevolutionary. This privilege is perpetuated by imperialism. As a result imperialism becomes the primary contradiction, exploiter countries and oppressed countries. Even as far back as the days of Mao it was recognised, although not in the same form, that imperialism was the primary contradiction.

Primary and Secondary

When studying the problem of the particularity there are two points we must remember to look at for analysis: the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction.

In the process of the development of a complex thing there is a principal contradiction. This one contradiction has the ability to develop, influence the existence of, and/or determine other contradictions in the process.

When American imperialists launched their war against Iraq, Iraq and the imperialists became the principal contradiction. The various rival (in contradiction) groups temporarily unite as a force against the invaders. Sunni and Shiite militants who normally fight each other, began to work together.1 2 The new primary contradiction of Iraq/US Imperialism influenced and altered the contradictions between normally rival militant groups.

Mao saw the necessity of this when he offered a temporary alliance with Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists against the Japanese imperialists. The Japanese aggression against China became the primary contradiction and altered the contradiction between the Nationalists and the Communists. Because there was also a contradiction between US and Japanese imperialism, it influenced/altered the US capitalist contradiction with communism, in which they gave weapons to communist forces to fight the Japanese. Once the Japanese were defeated, the principal contradiction became the nationalists against the communists once again. This also led to the US contradiction with communism reverting back to where it was. (But not in the same way once the US had armed them.)

When dealing with a complex process we must identify the primary contradiction, then identify the secondary or subordinate contradictions that will be influenced by the primary one. This is the method used by Marx in studying capitalist society.

To use Mao’s own words:

“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.”3

Ignoring the Primary Contradiction

Some organizations proclaim that there is no primary contradiction, instead they see all contradictions as equal. To them the fight against all forms of oppression are equal to that of imperialism. They are not claiming that imperialism is unimportant, they are claiming that sexism, homophobia, racism and transphobia are equal to imperialism. Those who believe this claim, believe that all these aspects are a part of fighting for liberation, which they indeed are. To them the struggle against imperialism goes hand in hand with the liberation of various minority groups. While this is the end goal of revolution, they are not on par with imperialism. They believe that by putting imperialism first it means ignoring other issues like women’s rights. There is a reason why they think this. They have claimed that other Marxist groups have gone soft and neglected women’s rights and the rights of various minority groups. Depending on what organization they are referring to this may be true.

What they are getting wrong is that the fight against imperialism already has such secondary contradictions in its view to be dealt with. These other issues are a part of the struggle. In no sense according to Marxist and even Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theory are they to be ignored. Just because some groups may or may not be ignoring them doesn’t justify placing all contradictions with the same importance. Maoism already holds that the fight of such various groups is a part of the anti-imperialist struggle.

During the battle for the liberation of China from imperialism and capitalism, the Communist Party of China made it important that women be liberated while the war was going on. Women left their families and joined the communists to avoid arranged marriages. Some men joined the communists so that they could get married. In that time if you couldn’t pay a dowry for a wife, you were not going to be able to get married. Women were granted the ability to file for divorce and keep custody of children. During the redistribution of land in the course of land reform during the war, feudal landlords were thrown off their property and women for the first time were being offered ownership of it. Prostitution became virtually non-existent in such areas because women would rather till their own land and own their own means of production. Very clearly in the history of Marxist revolutionary struggle there has been the liberation of such oppressions while the struggle was taking place. This idea that including these other struggles along with anti-imperialism is a new thing is simply preposterous.

Just because some poorly organized First Worldist group is terrible to women, it doesn’t mean imperialism as the primary contradiction must be abolished.

No one is claiming that the struggle for minority groups and women is unimportant.4 No Marxist revolution in history has claimed that they are a waste of time and should be ignored. This position held by some Third Worldist groups presents itself as though it is a new contribution when it is not. There is no need to create the theory which includes the promotion of the struggles of minorities in revolution.

How it is Reactionary?

There is a very clear reactionary element in removing imperialism as the primary contradiction. If by their own logic not having sexism, homophobia, etc. as primary, up front and equally important to imperialism, it means it isn’t being done; then not having imperialism as primary must mean it is being ignored. If we take their ideology as true this is where it leads us to.

There is a very clear reactionary element in removing imperialism as the primary contradiction. If by their own logic not having sexism, homophobia, etc. as primary, up front and equally important to imperialism, it means it isn’t being done; then not having imperialism as primary must mean it is being ignored. If we take their ideology as true this is where it leads us to.

From a tactical and logical stand point imperialism must be the primary contradiction. Without achieving anti-imperialist struggle, anti-capitalist struggle cannot happen. If anti-capitalist revolution does not take place, then the struggle against sexism, homophobia, racism, transphobia etc. cannot be achieved. There can be no abolishment of these other forms of oppression unless the society is transformed into one that makes it possible. You cannot build the new society free of “the old evils” unless you lay the foundation and have the space in which to do it. Without this place in which to build the new society the greatest of efforts in the rights of various minorities and women will be fruitless as they will never materialize.

In the fight to bring revolution we come from a disadvantaged position. The global poor has little resources to draw from. Those of us in the First World who are globally class conscious have little in terms of resources as well. If nothing can truly be built or liberation be achieved without defeating imperialism, why should we allocate resources away from it? By no means am I suggesting that those rights of minorities and women be ignored and left undefended. I am saying that we should have resources mostly allocated towards defeating imperialism then capitalism. If the defeat of capitalism is the only way to achieve victory then it should most certainly be given the highest priority. Not allocating adequate resources to it is to simply waste those resources and effort on a goal that can’t be achieved. The act of refusing to have imperialism as the primary contradiction is doing a disservice to those who are exploited and oppressed, by almost seemingly sabotaging their liberation.

I see little value in placing the struggles of First World trans, women etc. ahead of imperialism. Since we already know that people in the First World benefit from imperialism, those same groups benefit off of the suffering and exploitation of other trans, women etc. in the Third World. To hold this line of imperialism not being the principal contradiction you’re siding with First World minority over a Third World minority. Their struggle drags resources, consciousness and manpower away from ending the struggle which can liberate those same groups. By choosing the First World groups over imperialism they are increasing and sustaining the oppression of Third World people including those same groups. This actually enhances the strength of First World oppression, it is entirely a antithesis to Third Worldism.

What is all this Really?

This (in truth) First Worldist line of placing all struggles equal to that of imperialism removes dialectics from Marxist theory and replaces it with intersectionality. This entirely flies in the face of Marxist theory and rejects the philosophic and scientific power of dialectics. Dialectical materialism forms the structure of Marxism as a revolutionary science. To remove this is to purge the skeletal structure of Marxism. This intersectionality acts a tool of the reactionary postmodernist mindset of social justice warriors. While all things interact, they do not see how different identities and material forces can contradict and more importantly, mutually influence each other. Removing this, it shackles the hands of the Marxist analysis reducing it to an unscientific view.

This view held by people who don’t hold the idea of a single primary contradiction see the problem as one lump of balled up string, crisscrossing back through itself over and over. Their tactic of treating all contradictions as equally important is like pulling on all the string that is on the surface of the ball at once. This will only make the ball tighter, not undo it. Intersectionality sees just this, one ball that must be tugged on from all sides in order to be undone. With dialectics we see the ball of string and unravel the knot, pulling on the appropriate piece through the correct one, resolving the contradictions until we are left with one piece of string in a straight line. Dialectics, not postmodernism, is a science of social change that can provide us with a course of action to resolve the problem. To chose this all contradictions as equal, is essentially intersectionality, or to simply hit out in all directions.

When one sees the plan as attacking from all sides at once they end up engaging in opportunism. It is impossible to literally attack all issues simultaneously, particularly if you’re a small group in the First World. They’ll end up attacking whatever issue they like, or think they have an advantage at, they will strike at whatever is easiest for them. This opportunism makes up the anarchist struggle, they too see all problems as being relatively equal and must be attacked all at once. This is why anarchists engage in nonsense such as cross dressing as a form of struggle, breaking windows, veganism, forming communes in the imperialist core. Nothing here threatens capitalism or imperialism. This is the essence of opportunism, to think valid all methods of struggle when many are fruitless. The strategy of undoing the binds of oppression is lost in favour of whatever struggle best fits the schedule and lifestyle of the First Worlder, whatever is convenient for them. Or whatever the flavour of the week is.

This line of thinking is nothing new. Seeing all contradictions as one lump like intersectionality is not new territory. This kind of thinking has been propounded by the New Left, Herbert Marcuse and people like Michel Foucault. They are not being original in anyway.

The effect is presenting the First Worlder with methods of “struggle” that aren’t struggle at all. Capitalism isn’t abolished by engaging in veganism. It isn’t destroyed with gender identity blogs on tumblr and other social media. Going around and smashing windows at a protest isn’t going to collapse the system. Going “off the grid” in communes isn’t going to bring down imperialism by not engaging in the economy. Given this, we often end up with people who don’t tug on a single piece of string at all let alone an incorrect one or many of them. Imperialism is defeated by a concentrated effort resisting it, not activism like a chicken with its head cut off.

I think not having imperialism as the principal contradiction is a copout for not fighting imperialism first. It’s opportunism to jump on the bandwagon of less important issues because they’re easier and require much less effort. They don’t need to be radical at all, they can just play at being radical. It makes it possibly to just tail any issue rather than lead an effort to destroy imperialism inside the imperialist core. Instead of fighting imperialism they can argue for minimum wage, same sex marriage, protections for transgender people, combating racism; things like that which are already being done by the Democratic Party. No Marxist group should be reducing itself to the level of uselessness of the CP-USA or anarchist struggle. This kind of New Left thinking is a danger to global liberation.

I think it’s very easy to just cast aside fighting imperialism for much safer methods of struggle when you’re not the one being victimized by imperialism. The very real suffering of billions is vastly more important than First World liberal “struggle”. Only First World people could have the luxury of not engaging in real struggle, which is the whole point of being Third Worldist to begin with, to rejecting that reactionary unwillingness to fight. It’s easy to claim imperialism is not the primary contradiction and work on gender identity, or veganism when you’re not the ones being killed by imperialism, and in fact benefitting from it.

To liberate all peoples of the world capitalism must come to an end. It can only be defeated by destroying imperialism. There is no reason why we can’t begin to end racial, gender, national, etc. oppression through the anti-imperialist struggle. But without the primary goal of abolishing capitalism, all those efforts will be for nothing, and their goals cannot be reached. Without this central task accomplished there will be liberation for no one.

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1. The Sunni-Shia Divide – Council on Foreign Relations

2. This is basically true, but it is a little bit more complicated. The various rival (in contradiction) groups temporarily unite as a force against the invaders. Sunni and Shiite militants who normally fight each other, began to work together. In Iraq, the whole reason it is split today is because sectarianism is won out. In the end they didn’t really unite as they should have. Al-Qaeda’s whole strategy wasn’t to unite, but to create a civil war and make the USA leave. It was planned to make Iraq such a mess that the USA would give up. The Sunni tribes revolted against Al-Qaeda and joined the imperialists because Al-Qaeda was so sectarian. They drove much of the Sunnis middle forces into the imperial arms. This is why you have Sunni Iraq and Shia Iraq split. Now we have ISIS and the Baathists versus Shia.

3. Mao Tse-tung, On Contradiction, The Principal Contradiction and The Principal Aspect of A Contradiction

4. It should be noted that some groups have disregarded the rights of homosexuals as in the case of a German Maoist group, Neue Einheit, who openly rejected homosexuality. The RCP-USA also denounced homosexuality as a product of bourgeois decadence. But these groups were not and are not doing revolution. Actually revolution has always considered the needs of such minorities. Homosexuality is of course an exception given times past in different eras. They are not however ignored now. Marist theory includes the liberation of all people.

Homophobia as proof of phony communism, MIMPrisons

RCP’s Anti-Homosexual Line: Why Held So Long and Stubbornly?, Kasama Project