This Mao text in question is somewhat longish (it can be found here). It is composed of 12 sub-sections, of which the longest is the first. To kick things off, it might be useful to proceed with one chunk of this paper at a time.
I should add that I'm certainly no Mao scholar, and have only a fairly vague familiarity with his ideas. I encourage anybody whose more familiar with Mao to add a few thoughts below.
The first section is entitled 'Two types of contradictions differing in nature'. In a nutshell, Mao summarises these as follows:
We are confronted with two types of social contradictions -- those between ourselves and the enemy and those among the people. The two are totally different in nature.
Contradiction appears to have been at the heart of Mao's philosophy long before this particular speech. In an essay from 1937, Mao wrote a more 'theoretical' treatise on contradiction and revolutionary theory, which can be found here. The present paper, however, is an attempt to apply the theory to the post-revolutionary situation of Communist China. The broader context is that of the ascent of Khrushchev, the denunciation of Stalin, and the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.
Whilst the notion of contradiction has a fairly long history in the philosophical canon - it is absolutely central to Aristotle's metaphysics - Mao is using the concept in a way that draws from Hegel, via Marx and Lenin. Contradiction in Mao seems to ultimately refer to the opposition of classes.
Mao begins by defining just who are 'the people', and who is 'the enemy':
At the present stage, the period of building socialism, the classes, strata and social groups which favour, support and work for the cause of socialist construction all come within the category of the people, while the social forces and groups which resist the socialist revolution and are hostile to or sabotage socialist construction are all enemies of the people.
As Mao later concedes (sort of), this view is rather rigid and binarist, and some individuals are bound to be mis-categorised within these two positions. One can imagine mischievous deconstructionists seeking an excluded third-term that might undermine this opposition.
Mao avers that his government 'is one that genuinely represents the people's interests', but that 'there are still certain contradictions between this government and the people'. Mao goes on to enumerate these, and distinguishes between contradictions that are antagonistic or not:
The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic.
Mao believes that this contradiction can be overcome:
But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods. However, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie will change into a contradiction between ourselves and the enemy if we do not handle it properly and do not follow the policy of uniting with, criticizing and educating the national bourgeoisie, or if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy of ours.
With a hint of Spinoza's 'determinatio est negatio', Mao makes much of the need to draw 'a clear distinction between ourselves and the enemy'. Class struggle is the basis for all questions of morality, or 'right and wrong', as Mao puts it. Determining right and wrong when dealing with 'the people' is an entirely different matter to resolving disputes between the government and the 'domestic and foreign reactionaries' and the other enemy classes.
Mao explains that the purposes of China's dictatorship, 'led by the working class', are manifold: first and foremost, the dictatorship resolves contradictions by suppressing the 'internal enemy', then, the dictatorship wards off external counter-revolutionary influence. The dictatorship, according to Mao, nonetheless has a democratic component, as it is based on the worker-peasant alliance. Mao is quite explicit in insisting on the need for civil rights and freedom within society, but has a rather centralised notion of what this entails:
But this freedom is freedom with leadership and this democracy is democracy under centralized guidance, not anarchy. Anarchy does not accord with the interests or wishes of the people.
Mao does not elaborate upon this point, and unless a reader knows something about the original, it is difficult to establish whether Mao means 'anarchy' in terms of the political ideology, or is simply using the word to indicate generalised disorder and lawlessness.
Interestingly, and problematically, Mao then makes several references to the 1956 Hungarian uprising. The first reference occurs merely in passing, and serves as an opportunity for Mao to critique the conceits of 'Western parliamentary democracy' and the two-party system:
[T]his so-called two-party system is nothing but a device for maintaining the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie; it can never guarantee freedoms to the working people. As a matter of fact, freedom and democracy exist not in the abstract, but only in the concrete. In a society where class struggle exists, if there is freedom for the exploiting classes to exploit the working people, there is no freedom for the working people not to be exploited.
For me, the above passage is the high point of the paper thus far. Mao relates the above to traditional Marxist critiques of 'democracy' - namely, that it is part of the superstructure, and that democracy and freedom are relative, rather than absolute. Many readers who agree with Marx's fundamental ideas may largely agree with Mao, up to this point. However, he quickly reminds us that 'democracy is correlative with centralism and freedom with discipline'. In fact, they are not merely 'correlative', as Mao goes on to indicate that they are indispensable for the socialist project.
Mao attempts to distance this centralism and discipline from sheer authoritarian coercion:
All attempts to use administrative orders or coercive measures to settle ideological questions or questions of right and wrong are not only ineffective but harmful. We cannot abolish religion by administrative order or force people not to believe in it. We cannot compel people to give up idealism, any more than we can force them to embrace Marxism. The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the democratic method, the method of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education, and not by the method of coercion or repression.
This latter point is interesting, and I'd very much like to hear from anyone who can shed some light on it. Mao alludes to something in 1942 (perhaps another speech or paper?) that encapsulated the formula 'unity - criticism - unity'. Again, I'd like to hear what others have to say about this critical method, which for Mao is a means of resolving contradictions peacefully. Again, Mao insists of the importance of carefully handling contradictions, lest there be a Chinese version of the 'Hungarian incident'.
Mao goes on to make some more general remarks about the nature of contradiction. He admits that the failure to draw accurate distinctions between friend and foe has led to some mistakes. He reiterates that 'Marxist philosophy holds that the law of the unity of opposites is the fundamental law of the universe', a view that may challenge radicals who prefer their Marx de-Hegelised. Contradictions within capitalist society result in acute conflicts, and these can be resolved on by way of socialist revolution. Contradictions within a socialist society are fundamentally different in character.
Mao repeatedly stresses the importance of managing contradictions competently, and draws our attention to the fact that Chinese socialism was then in its infancy, and reportedly plunged into rapid industrialisation. Mao lists his aims, and I could not but be struck by the contemporary resonances of one of them - the 'battle against nature'! I wonder if, in industrial China today, whether nature is badly losing this battle.
This concludes the long first section of the speech. It's interesting that Mao doesn't criticise any particular Soviet leaders explicitly, though I wonder if particular references may have alerted his audience at the time.
Anyway, please have a read of the first section of Mao's speech, and hopefully we can have a discussion about some of these points.