In this polemic by the OCR of Mexico, which is in Demarcations #4, they discuss both the material basis and the ideological basis for internationalism. The material basis being the fact that there’s a whole world system and not just a bunch of different systems within different particular countries, all self-contained, that somehow then interact with each other on the foundation of their essential self-containment. So that’s the material basis of internationalism. There’s the operation of the system of imperialism on a world scale. It operates economically, and that has real effects on people, sometimes even driving people in the millions from one country all the way to other parts of the world (coming from Nepal, or someplace else, they end up working in Bahrain, in 120 degree weather, dying in the heat). And this world system operates not only economically but also politically and diplomatically. It operates militarily. All that, on a world scale, in an overall and fundamental sense, is setting the stage for what we have to do—setting the stage, as the principal aspect, in dialectical relation with the struggles of various kinds that this gives rise to—and, above all, the revolutionary struggles of the masses of people, especially as they are led by conscious and organized communist forces.
But then the OCR polemic also speaks about the ideological basis for internationalism (the ideological basis meaning the way, or method, of thinking). Mao made the point in one of his important philosophical works, “On Contradiction,”40 that it is the internal contradictions within a thing that provide the basis for it to change. He gave the example of an egg and a stone: an egg, at the right temperature, can produce a living being, but a stone cannot. Why? Because of the internal contradictions and dynamics within the one and the other. Because of its internal nature, a stone does not have the basis to produce a living being, and no matter how much you heat it up, it’s not going to produce one. Mao used this as an example to illustrate that internal contradictions are the basis for change within a thing. And he made the point, using this same example, that the temperature that might be applied to an egg can be the immediate cause of change, it is an external condition which can be a cause of the change, but it’s not the fundamental basis for the change. It’s like heating up water. The reason water can turn into steam is because of the internal nature of, and the internal contradiction within, water. The heating is the immediate cause of the change, while the internal nature of water is the basis for the change. So this was an important point made by Mao. But, unfortunately, at times he applied this in a kind of one-sided way, beyond the point where it was correct. Let me put it this way: Even while Mao was fundamentally internationalist, there was a tendency in Mao to say that each country has its own internal contradictions and that’s the fundamental basis for revolution within that country. He was applying the principle that the internal contradictions are the basis for change—which is a correct and very important principle, and something that was not clearly grasped and acted upon in the communist movement up to that point (it’s not that there was no understanding of that, but there was still a lot of unclarity about that). But the problem is that, in the era of capitalist imperialism, internal contradiction applies differently.
This is another one of those complexities—there are different levels of the organization of matter. A country, to put it simply, is one level of the organization of matter—countries and the people in them (and everything else in them) are made up of matter in motion, in many different forms. The world arena, the world as a whole, is another level of the organization of matter. So, in one sense, or on one level, the internal contradictions within a country are the basis for it to change, but in turn that country is part of a larger whole, the larger world, and it’s the internal contradictions of that larger world as a whole which are, in the final analysis, more determining, even of what happens within a particular country.
To illustrate this, an example that’s used in this polemic by the OCR of Mexico is the human body, and the different levels of the organization of matter in the human body (this example was used in an article of mine, “‘Crises in Physics,’ Crises in Philosophy and Politics,”41 which is found in Demarcations #1, and it was also used in this OCR polemic). The human body is made up of a lot of different cells, and it’s made up of different organs—the liver, the kidney, the heart, and so on and so forth. Each of those particular levels of the organization of matter have their own internal contradictions—kidneys have their own internal contradictions, livers have their own internal contradictions, the same with the heart, and so on. But, in turn, they’re part of a larger body, and what is happening to that larger body (or the person as a whole) is, in an overall sense, more determining of what happens even to those internal organs than just the internal contradictions of those internal organs themselves. Now, here’s the complexity of it, once again: it’s not like the internal organs don’t affect the body as a whole. If you have contradictions that cause your heart to fail, it’s obviously going to affect your whole body. And the same with other organs, like your liver or your kidney. So there is, once again, a contradictory, a dialectical, relation. But overall, the body—the person as a whole—interacting with the larger environment, is the entity that is most determining; the contradictions within that body are mainly what determines what happens to the body as a whole, even though, at a particular time, what’s happening to a particular organ of the body—based on its internal contradictions, in interaction with the rest of the body and with the larger environment—can become the concentration point of what’s happening to your body as a whole, just like a particular country in the world can become the concentration point of the contradictions in the world.