Not long after the end of World War II, Comrade Mao Zedong put forward his famous thesis, "All reactionaries are paper tigers."(1) This thesis armed the people of China ideologically, strengthened their confidence in victory and played an exceedingly great role in the People's War of Liberation. This thesis is still relevant today and we would be wise to heed its message.
Comrade Mao Zedong regarded imperialism and all reactionaries as paper tigers. This thesis is a fundamental strategic concept for the revolutionary people. Since the Second Revolutionary War, Mao Zedong repeatedly pointed out: "Strategically, with regard to the whole, revolutionaries must despise the enemy, dare to struggle against him and dare to seize victory, at the same time tactically with regard to each part, each specific struggle, they must take the enemy seriously, be prudent, carefully study and perfect the art of struggle and adopt forms of struggle suited to different times, places and conditions in order to isolate and wipe out the enemy, step-by-step."(1)
Year's later, comrade Mao stated that: "Just as there is not a single thing in the world without a dual nature (this is the law of the unity of opposites), so imperialism and all reactionaries have a dual nature - they are real tigers and paper tigers at the same time. In past history, before they won state power and for some time afterwards, the slave owning class the feudal landlord class and the bourgeoisie were vigorous, revolutionary and progressive, they were real tigers. But with the lapse of time, because their opposites - the slave class, the peasant class and the proletariat - grew in strength step-by-step struggled against them more and more fiercely these ruling classes changed step-by-step into the reverse, changed into reactionaries, changed into backward people, changed into paper tigers. And eventually they were overthrown or will be overthrown by the people. Even in the face of the last decisive struggles waged by the people, the reactionary, backward, decaying classes retained this dual nature. On the one hand they were real tigers, they devoured people by the millions and tens of millions. The cause of the peoples struggle went thru a period of difficulties and hardships and along the path there were many twists and turns. To destroy the rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism in China took the Chinese people more than a hundred years and cost them tens of millions of lives before the victory of 1949. Look! Were these not living tigers, iron tigers, real tigers? But in the end they changed into paper tigers, dead tigers, bean curd tigers. These are historical facts."(2)
So there you have it. Comrade Mao all those many years ago held that the Chinese people would be victorious in their war of liberation. This wasn't hopeful idealism on Mao's behalf, it wasn't that the Chinese people and Mao really, really, really wanted liberation for themselves, that they just knew if only they kept on struggling they'd someday achieve liberation. No! It was through the correct practice of dialectical materialism that the Chinese people were able to finally cast the yoke of imperialism off into the sea. This is something that many bourgeois scholars just can't grasp. Dialectical materialism is something the bourgeoisie either doesn't correctly understand or they don't want to understand exactly how Mao and the CCP were able to lead the Chinese people to victory against insurmountable odds or how comrade Mao was able to become such a brilliant military strategist.
However, for us to really get the full understanding of the "paper tiger" thesis put forward by Mao, and in order to see how it is still relevant today, we must dive head first into the subject of dialectical materialism.
When comrade Mao stated "just as there is not a single thing in the world without a dual nature,"(3) he was referring to the law of the unity of opposites. The law of the unity of opposites, that is the law of contradiction in things, is the basic law of materialist dialectics. Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects. Dialectical materialists hold that a thing is made up of its being and of its opposite, this means that no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation. The basic meaning of this would be, for example, that from its very inception and all through its existence where there is light there is also darkness, because without the darkness there can be no light, because they are both mutually dependent, and in order for one to exist its opposite must also be.
So the persyn who is "good" or who does what is morally right can also be "bad" and do what is considered morally wrong. This is another example of the unity of opposites, nothing in this world is immutable.
So now that we know what the basic meaning of the law of the unity of opposites is we know exactly what Mao was talking about when he said, "Just as there is not a single thing in the world without a dual nature, so imperialism and all reactionaries have a dual nature." What he meant by this is that even though the imperialists, and the reactionaries were strong and terrible looking at one point in hystory, they were also weak and vacillated in another point in hystory, and furthermore it was our job (the people's) by our will and our struggle to form the correct strategic point of view to see the imperialists and reactionaries as paper tigers and know that we can defeat them in the end. However, because of this paper tiger's dual nature, we must also be aware that this tiger can also be a real tiger and can defeat us if we don't respect him tactically.
Now some of you who are familiar and experienced with materialist dialectics will right away say, "wait a minute, the law of contradiction says that the motive force of a thing is internal and not external." Yes, this certainly is true. The condition of change is internal and not external, however the law of contradiction also shows us that there is antagonism inherent in things, which basically means that from its very inception antagonism exists as the struggle of opposites, as contradiction, but not until the contradiction develops into open antagonism in a thing does it push development forward and resolve itself. So first however we must find the principal contradiction, and only by finding the fundamental contradiction can we find the principal contradiction and get along with the business of resolving it.
We already know that the fundamental contradiction on a global scale is the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat, and that the principal contradiction on the international level is imperialism vs. the Third World. In Amerika the principal contradiction is the oppressor vs. oppressed nations. So how do we resolve the principal contradiction in the united $tates? Once again, this is possible by a things dual nature (society), and if society has a dual nature then it has to have two opposing, yet equally dependent, aspects. In this case it would be the oppressor nation (euro-Amerikkkans) vs. the oppressed nations (Brown, Black, etc). So how do we resolve the principal contradictions in the united $tates? Just as the imperialists and the oppressor nation has their tiger, we too can have a tiger and defeat theirs. However, this is once again only possible when the struggle of opposites reaches its point of open antagonism, and to know when this happens we must take careful watch of the situation and always keep the concrete analysis of concrete conditions acutely in mind.
At this point in hystory our so-called "tiger" is non-existent — it is neither a real tiger nor a paper tiger. It is a dead tiger. What is meant by this is that we as a collective (Brown, Black, etc.) have been continuously colonized and oppressed by capitalism/imperialism and we are almost helpless to stop it from destroying us and our cultures. Yet, hystory teaches us that imperialism and the ruling classes have never been able to completely wipe out all traces of a nation or its people, even though it has come pretty damn close and continues to advance.
Therefore our only choice, if we are to survive the anarchy and destruction of capitalist construction, is to get to constructing ourselves. We must build this "People's Tiger", and the first step to building this internal force which will push development forward will be in the unification of the people. This means building a united front for a united struggle against the oppressors.
Unity evolves from the inside out. This begins with the revolutionization of our consciousness, our minds. First we change the way we think, then we apply this to our material conditions and in the way we interact with others, this is how we change our surroundings. This applies to all peoples of all societies, especially that society within a society, that society separated by the rest of the people, separated by concrete and steel - This is unity from the inside out in all its glory.
Power to the People!
Long live the Maoist Internationalist Movement!
Long live the United Soldiers from Within!
1. "Talk with the American Correspondent Anna Louise Strong" August, 1946, Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung, Foreign Language Press: Peking, 1971, p.345.
2. Ibid. p. 346.
3. Mao Zedong. On Contradiction.