We see now in these times a great number of mass movements springing up and struggling for particular causes. A new generation of activists forming and struggling against ever more specific issues. For almost any social issue affecting anyone in the United $tates today you will find some type of movement underway to combat it. From racism, sexism, religious intolerance, wages, to police brutality, prison reform and sentencing reform, etc.
These kinds of issues have more or less always existed here in the United $tates and mass movements have more or less always accompanied them. However, not much has been accomplished. Every one of these issues and forms of oppression continue to plague society, with some of them becoming even more acute. Of course, to many, much has appeared to have changed; with some reforms made and concessions given, the great tactic of pacification and distraction has been utilized. But after generations of struggle and "victories" (reforms) why is it that these problems continue to exist?
These things are like weeds: you can chop them down and it may appear as if they have been removed or cut so low that they are no longer perceived as problems, but they grow right back because the roots were not ripped out. This leaves one mowing the same patch of weeds week after week.
All social movements that aren't struggling to eliminate the root cause of these forms of oppression are only battling non-principal contradictions. This doesn't mean that these issues aren't important, it just means that they are merely effects of the principal contradictions, not their cause. They are by-products of the system that, like weeds, constantly reproduces itself so long as its base remains intact.
What is the base from which these non-principal contradictions originate? It is the mode of production: capitalism. It is the economic base that created and perpetuates these forms of oppression people continue to fight. What people continue to fight is the superstructure that protrudes from the base. But these types of struggles will be an eternal one if we continue to fight what appears to be the cause of oppression instead of its essence.
Karl Marx's scientific study of history, and sociology in particular, allowed him to demonstrate how our material conditions determine our social relations with each other. Let's hear Marx putting forth this concept:
"Assume a particular state of development in the productive faculties of man and you will get a particular form of commerce and consumption. Assume particular stages of development in production, commerce, and consumption and you will have a corresponding social constitution, a corresponding organization of the family, of orders or of classes, in a word, a corresponding civil society. Assume a particular civil society and you will get particular political conditions which are only the official expression of civil society."
So goes the materialist conception of history. But we don't have to take Marx's word for it. We can analyze history and see for ourselves how each different stage of development of the productive forces and the mode that these forces were subsumed produced its own social relations peculiar to that mode of production. And with that, its own contradictions, whether they be manifested in culture, class, gender, "race," etc. This demonstrates that our material relations have been the basis of our relations.
This is the concept of the base (mode of production) producing the superstructure (social relations, politics, laws, ideology, morality, desires, etc.). We use this concept to show that a lot of the forms of oppression that we struggle against are produced by the nature of the economic foundation that we are dominated by. It has produced and continues to reproduce these contradictions. Now it is systemic. If we are ever going to end racism, sexism, imperialism, mass imprisonment, poverty, hunger, etc., then we have to eliminate the thing that causes them.
Our movements must consolidate their efforts to attack the base. We have the valence, we just need to help the people make these connections. Everything is connected in some way to the economic base, its mode of production and distribution. Capitalism's system of "all against all" has created these contradictions we face. With colonialism, imperialism, and especially now with neo-colonialism, many new contradictions and forms of oppression have sprung up that can cloud our vision. But we can't continue to concentrate great amounts of our energy and resources in fighting the non-principal contradictions that don't target the system directly.
It is of course understood that at certain moments a nation's contradictions that were non-principal before, or perhaps even non-existent, can become principal contradictions. For example, in China before/during Mao's revolution Japanese imperialism was the principal contradiction, but afterward new contradictions became acute due to the ever-expanding nature of global capitalism.
In Vietnam before/during Ho Chi Minh's liberation movement against French colonialism, for the people of Vietnam colonialism was the principal contradiction. Then came the fight against U.$. imperialism which quickly became the principal contradiction. But these were particular contradictions, not general ones.
Imperialism is an appendage of capitalism. When the courageous and determined guerilla fighters of Vietnam defeated U.$. imperialism, they did not end imperialism. They only ended U.$.-Vietnam imperialism.
The point is that while forms of oppression like imperialism can seem like the principal contradiction to certain nations at certain times, it can never truly be the principal contradiction overall. Even when China fought Japanese imperialism, and to them it was the principal contradiction, in the grand scheme of things it was not; it was the interests that caused imperialism.
Imperialism can not truly be defeated until the imperialist nations/empires undergo an internal revolution and the economic interests that drive imperialism cease to be. So long as global capitalism and the capitalist global market persists, imperialism will always exist in some form; it will only be shifted from one nation that defeats imperialism onto another, and that cycle will continue.
To rid all oppressed nations of imperialist aggression we've got to rid the imperialist nations of the mode of production (capitalism) that makes imperialism necessary.
Of course, we must always continue to demonstrate against the by-products of capitalism, the non-principal contradictions. But in doing so we have to consolidate these movements and establish a consensus of consciousness so that while we continue to fight everyday oppression we can also understand that the fight is really much bigger and we have to all know what the cause of these forms of oppression is.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a great explanation of the nature of capitalism and why reformist and even individual anti-imperialist battles don’t result in the immediate end of oppression. To do that, it's important to define the principal contradiction within any struggle. The principal contradiction is the thing that will push forward a struggle the most. It is the highest priority contradiction, the one that revolutionaries must focus their energy on. It is the string we can pull to unravel the whole situation. And so it's the most important contradiction to focus on right now.
As this author points out, in revolutionary war, as with the ones in Vietnam and China, the principal contradiction is between the imperialist occupying force and the oppressed masses. In the world today overall we see the principal contradiction as between the imperialist countries and the nations they oppress and exploit. In prison we can identify the principal contradiction in a particular situation. For instance when there is an ongoing battle between imprisoned lumpen orgs then the principal contradiction in that prison might be between two lumpen organizations. That doesn't mean it will be the principal contradiction forever. If we achieve peace between the warring lumpen groups, the new principal contradiction may be between the lumpen and the state.
We agree with this writer on the fundamental importance of the contradiction of capitalism. We say that the class contradiction, which under capitalism is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is the fundamental contradiction. This means it underlies all other contradictions within class society. As this author points out, this is an important guiding principle because it helps us understand why one successful revolution in one country won't lead to the end of all oppression, even within that country. This doesn't, however, mean that class is always the principal contradiction. In fact, as noted above, the principal contradiction in the world today is between imperialist countries and the exploited countries. And even within U.$. borders we see the principal contradiction as between the oppressor and oppressed nations.
By evaluating every situation scientifically we can figure out what is the most important contradiction to focus our energy on. And in this way we can best push forward the revolutionary movement.