What is the principal contradiction?     What is the Principal Contradiction?
The Key Contradictions Facing Society as a Whole

Most of this web site has been apolitical. Dialectics applies to everything, so there is no need to use political examples of dialectical processes. In fact, I have consciously avoided political examples because they can be so controversial.

However, one of the strengths of dialectics is that it is an analytical tool that helps clarify political forces and the need for alliances and broad strategies. If our goal is to improve human conditions, we should use every tool at our disposal. So let's see where an analysis of the contradictions facing humanity leads us. As always, I welcome your comments at dialectic4kids@igc.org

Identifying a principal contradiction requires defining a goal. What should our goals as a society be? Addressing basic human needs of health, jobs, housing, and social services (education, transportation, water, sanitation, etc.) are pretty obvious starters. Meeting these needs takes, and will take, a lot of hard work, human ingenuity and organization. For example, providing clean water is a huge issue all around the world that involves scientists, engineers, technicians, construction and maintenance workers, politicians, and the cooperation of all the citizenry of a region. As another example, providing a nutritious food supply is extremely complicated, involving nature's obstacles such as droughts and freezes, human short-sightedness such as soil or aquifer depletion, and even our instincts, which often tell us to eat foods that are not healthy--doughnuts anyone? In addition the distribution of land and market economic forces often leave out the poor. Without effective government action mass starvation is a serious problem.

I think most people would agree that we human beings do have the ability to provide clean air, clean water, adequate food and shelter for everyone. The question is how to do it. There are difficult issues of overpopulation, urbanization, inadequate education, and poor public health and disease control, which have to be figured into the solutions. Unfortunately, the goal of meeting basic human needs has often been outweighed by powerful competing goals such as accumulating wealth and power by individuals.

To choose the principal contradiction facing society as a whole today, we have to select the main goal. Above all the goals already listed, I think that survival of the human race must be our number one goal. Given the objective of promoting human survival, I think the following three issues pose the most serious threats to the human race today.

Which is the Principal Contradiction?

On all of the issues listed above --nuclear weapons, global warming, and rich vs. poor-- the U.S. government stands as the main obstacle to progress. As noted, the U.S. has overturned the anti-ballistic missile treaty and refused to sign the climate change protocols. In September, 2002, U.S. President Bush openly declared that the U.S. feels it has the right to launch aggressive, pre-emptive strikes--a clear violation of the U.N. Charter, and he did, in fact, attack Iraq without justification in 2003, and continues to occupy the country illegally, even with a new president. In addition some of the unconscionable actions of the U.S. include:

I feel that this contradiction is the principal one--the U.S. vs. the rest of the world. The mass demonstrations around the world in the face of the U.S. attack on Iraq began forging a united peace movement, building its strength against the U.S. war machine. Until we, i.e. the people of the U.S. and the world, get the U.S. government to change its policies, the other contradictions cannot be resolved. It is possible that, like other imperial powers in history, the U.S. will overextend its reach and come to a catastrophic demise. Given the U.S. nuclear arsenal, however, this could be a disaster for the whole world. I hope that those of us who are intent on resolving the contradictions facing the world today are able to peacefully turn the U.S. around, at least to where it accepts its responsibilities as one member of a community of nations.

The U.S., with its educated population, technological creativity, its diversity as home to a cross section of nationalities, and its history of democratic participation could play a very positive role in a world with a truly federated government, one which controls nuclear weapons, protects the environment and ensures that all humans have their basic needs met.

There are some positive trends in the world. Nearly all of Latin America has elected leaders opposed to the U.S. domination of that region. On the issue of climate change the entire world seems willing to take serious action, if the U.S. will join the effort. Fortunately, with the victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 election, the U.S. now has a president who at least pays lip service to the issues of nuclear disarmament, global warming, and worldwide poverty. This is a big change from the Bush administration which identified "terrorism" and "evil" as the principal contradiction in the world (or "main enemy" as they would say). Such priorities were a boldface reflection of the U.S. goal of maintaining hegemony internationally. Accordingly, the U.S. has built its star wars program and military arsenal, while continuing arms sales around the world. And, although Obama is a breath of fresh air compared to Bush, he has made no significant change in the neoliberal economic policies which have led to the current worldwide economic depression. These policies have not reduced poverty and the neoliberal policies oppose trade unions, environmental controls, and other regulatory reforms necessary to improve the quality of life around the world.

Therefore, the task remains to build a united movement for peace, for eliminating the use of fossil fuels, and for creating social justice. The challenge is enormous, but so are the stakes. Failure to resolve these contradictions could well prove suicidal for the human race.

How to Make a Difference

Dialectics teaches that there will not be a fundamental change in U.S. policy unless the forces pushing for such a change become powerful enough to overcome the forces supporting the current U.S. policy. Hopefully the many examples in this web site show that a qualitative change can only come about when quantitative changes--bit by bit--build up to a turning point. Doing this will require a movement of many millions of people, conscious that the government is headed in the wrong direction, and willing to push it in the direction of peace, environmental sustainability, and social justice.

The election of Obama is a very positive step, but change requires more than electoral politics--civil rights groups, peace groups, unions, women's groups, gay/lesbian/transgender groups, disability rights groups, environmental groups, senior's groups, supporters of public schools, advocates of national health care, neighborhood activists, and many more have to build a movement capable of changing the course of U.S. politics.

Change does require electoral politics as well, however. The Democratic Party, while not at all pure in its efforts for disarmament, environmental controls, and combating poverty, does promote more reasonable policies than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party won a slim control of the U.S. Congress in 2006 and solidified that control in 2008. It is important to hold the Democrats accountable to the progressive platform on which they were elected, and to continue to work for the defeat of reactionary Republicans and conservative Democrats alike.

It is vital that an active citizenry push the Democratic Party to resolve the contradictions facing humanity. One way to do this is to support the Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus in Congress. Voices like Congresswoman Barbara Lee stand against the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Politicians cannot be expected to lead the movement for change. They will take action when the movement is strong enough to force them. Otherwise they will feel that they are out on a limb without enough support for qualitative change.

I don't support efforts at creating a third party in the U.S. at this time. Such efforts, in the U.S. "winner take all" electoral system generally lead to electing Republicans. The last time a third party won national elections was on the eve of the U.S. Civil War when Lincoln won with the fledgling Republican Party with less than 40% of the vote in 1860. I feel it makes more sense to run progressive candidates in the Democratic Primary; if they win, go all out for them in November. If they don't, hold your nose and vote for the Democrat over the Republican (in most cases).

Demonstrations, letter writing campaigns, boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, media campaigns, and electoral work are all part of the process. The key is to keep "your eye on the prize", i.e. to change U.S. policy with regard to nuclear war, global warming, and poverty. All progressives need to unite in these efforts.

People all around the world can help bring this change about, because the U.S. cannot survive as a complete outcast in the world. Those of us in the United States have a special obligation to turn our government around since we are in the best position to do this.

Dialectics doesn't provide a blueprint about how to make the necessary changes, but it does show that change is possible, and inevitable. By building the forces that can prevent nuclear war, stop global warming, and promote social justice we can all build a better future. If these problems are solved, we can all move on to new principal contradictions--there are no shortage of problems to solve. Wouldn't it be great if the principal contradictions in the world were around questions of art, music, or sports? Actually, in the case of the World Cup, some people may feel that is the principal contradiction already! :-)

For more information on global politics, please check the following web sites:

Alliance for Global Justice
Z Magazine

For more about U.S. Politics:
The American Prospect
In These Times

and tune in to KPFA radio at KPFA,

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