Mao on Dialectical Materialism

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Text of Mao on Dialectical Materialism


    - o n *C H I M A



    Edited by m c K m o i i T


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    O r i"C H I N A





    MAO ZEDOnO onDIALECTICALMATERIALISMWritings on Philosophy, 1937

    Edited by NICK KWIGHT


    N.E. Sharpe, Inc.Armonk, Hew York London, England

  • Copyright 1990 by M. E. Sharpe, Inc.

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, M. E. Sharpe, Inc. 80 Business Park Drive, Armonk, New York 10504.

    Available in the United Kingdom and Europe from M. E. Sharpe, Publishers, 3 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8LU.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Mao, Tse-tung, 1893-1976.[Selections. English. 1990]Mao Zedong on dialectical materialism ; writings on philosophy,

    1937 / edited by Nick Knight.p. cm. (Chinese studies on China)

    Translations from Chinese.Includes bibliographical references.ISBN 0-87332-682-21. Dialectical materialism. I. Knight, Nick. II. Title. IIL Series.

    B5234.M35M3413 1990181M1



    Introduction: Soviet Marxism and the Development of Mao Zedongs Philosophical Thought

    The Lecture Notes on Dialectical Materialism

    During the early Yan'an Period, Mao Zedong wrote in draft form a number of philosophical essays which have had in their post-Liberation versions an enormous impact on Chinese Marxism. These essays. On Practice and On Contradiction, are rightly regarded, alongside a number of other documents by Mao, as the cornerstone of the variant of Marxism which has developed in China.i For those interested in the development of the thought of Mao, and the emergence and development of Chinese Marxism, these essays represent a crucial starting point.

    However, another lengthy text on philosophy written at exactly the time (July, August 1937)^ that Mao penned On Contradiction and On Practice has only ever been published in post-Liberation China in neibu form (that is, as a confidential, internal Party document and not for general circulation). This is a document entitled Dialectical Materialism (Lecture Notes).'^ While it is not true that this text has been left "to the gnawing criticism of the mice" by the Chinese as was once suspected in the West, and indeed has been published on several occasions as study material for cadres and academics,"^ it is certainly the case that the Chinese hold Dialectical Materialism in much lower regard than the "celebrated philosophical essays ^ On Contradiction and On Practice. Indeed, when questioned on his authorship of Dialectical Materialism by Edgar Snow in 1965, Mao feigned ignorance of it, although his denial of authorship


    was not categorical.^ The Chinese view of D ialectica l Materialism, its origins and contribution to Chinese Marxism, has thus been an ambiguous one, and I will return subsequently to a more detailed analysis of the contemporary Chinese evaluation of this document.

    While the Chinese perspective on Dialectical Materialism has been ambiguous, a very negative judgement has been rendered by Western scholars as fragments of the text have become available in the West from the early 1960s. Doolin and Golas, for example, declared Dialectical Materialism to be "a rambling, vague attempt at philosophical discourse".^ Similarly, Wittfogel argues that this essay indicates Mao's "inability to expound comprehensively the concepts inherent in Hegelian-Marxist dialectics", and that it can be regarded as a manifestation of Mao's "peculiar conceptual limitations".* A further example is Cohen's view that Dialectical Materialism is "primitive and philosophically erroneous" and "sheds revealing light on his incompetence as a philosopher".^ Some years later and following Mao's interview with Edgar Snow referred to above, John E. Rue rehearsed the known evidence (both conceptual and historical) relating to Dialectical Materialism and came to the conclusion that Mao "probably did not write it at all", that it may have been a forgery "planted by Mao's old enemies in the CCP" to discredit

    A lone dissenting voice is that of Stuart Schram who found it hard to take seriously the view "that Mao's text was a mass of crude blunders". Schram's judgement was based on the fact that Dialectical Materialism was heavily dependent on Soviet philosophical texts of the 1930s (an issue we will return to), and that the philosophical level of the essay was therefore at least the equal of that to be found in these sources, Schram also argues that it is a mistake to regard the three philosophical essays - On Practice, On Contradiction, and D ialectical Materialism - as written separately and for different purposes; they belong, rather, "to a single intellectual enterprise, namely Mao's attempt to come to terms with the philosophical basis of Marxism from the time he was first exposed to it in July 1936 until the Japanese attack of September 1937 turned his attention to more practical th in g s" .T h e implication of this judgement is


    that Dialectical Materialism must be given due consideration in the attempt to understand the origins and development of Mao's philosophical thought; not only was this text contemporaneous with On Contradiction and On Practice, many of the concepts contained in it emerge and are evident in these other better known essays and in his subsequent writings. I will argue below the validity of Schram's judgement that these three essays represent a "single intellectual enterprise", and will suggest that a more constructive and less dismissive analysis of the philosophy contained in Dialectical Materialism is consequentlycalled for than it has hitherto received.

    The opportunity to attempt this more detailed and constructive analysis has been made possible by the publication in Chinese of a number of versions of the complete text of Dialectical Materialism. Prior to the early 1970s, Mao scholars were constrained to make their judgements on the basis of fragments of the larger work. The judgements rendered by Wittfogel, and Doolin and Golas, for example, were based on analysis of Chapter 1 only;i3 and Schram's position was founded on an examination of Chapter 1 and sections 1-6 of Chapter 2M Since the early 1970s, however, two seemingly complete versions of Dialectical Materialism have been p u b l i s h e d . xhe first appeared in Mao Zedong ji (Collected Writings of Mao Zedong), an edited collection published in Japan under the auspices of the Japanese Mao scholar Takeuchi Minoru; the second appeared in 1984 in the supplement^y volumes of the Mao Zedong ji. The discovery and publication of this latter version is significant in a number of important respects. First, it is very clear from a comparison of this document with that published in the early 1970s in the Mao Zedong ji that there are a number of differences between the two texts. Indeed, the annotations appended to the translation which appears below indicate over ninety variations between the texts. Many of these are minor variations, for example, the alteration of a word or phrase; others are more significant and include redrafting of several sentences. Such variations indicate that Dialectical Materialism was revised in the early to mid-1940s prior to its republication in the two sources drawn on in the supplements to the Mao Zedong ji. Whether Mao himself was responsible for this revising and editing remains a matter of conjecture, but it is certainly probable that at the very least he


    gave his blessing to editorial changes made to the text by others. Consequently, it is now clear that the text of D ialectical Materialism has its own history in which a number of versions have appeared. This history includes: the creation of the text in 1937 involving heavy reliance on Soviet philosophical sources and writings of the influential Chinese Marxist philosophers Li Da and Ai Siqi,i^ its complete publication in 1938,1^ publication of fragments in 1938 and 1 9 4 0 , its revision during the early 1940s, its republication in a number of sources in 1944 and 1946,20 and its publication as a neibu document in post- Liberation China in 1958 (complete text),2i in 1960 (text divided into extracts),22 in 1972 (Chapter 3 only),23 and in 1982 (complete text).24 Dialectical Materialism also circulated during the Cultural Revolution in a compilation entitled Mao zhuxi wenxuan [Collected Essays of Chairman Mao].25 The links in the history of Dialectical Materialism are thus much less shrouded in mystery than was hitherto the case, and reveal that the text which was originally written in July and August of 1937 (and republished in 1958 and 1982 in that form) has appeared in other versions. The comparison and analysis of textual variations in Maos writings constitutes an important component in the development of Mao studies; for, as John Bryan Starr has suggested, until Mao scholars are able to work from a definitive set of Mao texts, interpretations and judgements rendered by them will unavoidably be based on an uncertain empirical foundation.26 The textual comparison of the different versions of Dialectical Materialism and the other texts on philosophy which appear in translation in this volume represents a modest contribution to the larger project of compiling a definitive corpus of the Mao texts.

    The version of Dialectical Mat