Category Archives: Mao

Nat Winn: Our enemies are human: Mao against Carl Schmitt

From Nat Winn at Kasama Project:

Posted by Nat Winn on Thursday, 10 April 2014 in Theory

I wrote this essay around the time when the Iraq war was in full gear. I post it hear as part of the dialogue that we have had recently on Kasama about revolutionary strategy and communist orientation, particularly the recent pieces by Enaa on Blanqui and his Rock beats scissors piece.

Here I look at the German political philosopher and jurist Carl Schmitt and his ideas about the distinction between friend and enemy and contrast them to Mao’s understanding of friends and enemies and the actual experience of the Chinese revolution. Carl Schmitt had a strong influence on the Nazis and at one point joined them as they rose to power. Some leftists have argued that there are things we can incorporate from his prolific body of work but this has been contested by others like Zizek. Some of that is touched on here.  

The paper was an academic paper, though I was never too good at sticking to academic concerns. At the time I wrote it part of my goal was to persuade academics to look more at Mao tse-tung’s political theory (something still needed) and that comes out a bit at the end of the piece. I was also just coming into familiarity with thinkers like Zizek and Badiou. Believing the piece still has some theoretical value, I’m posting the pieces here slightly edited from its original edition, warts and all. I think the points made about the period of the Iraq War regarding how we can conceive of friend and enemy still hold up in today’s international situation.

 by Nat Winn

 

This essay is a response to a challenge posed by the Marxist cultural studies scholar John Hutnyk to Jacques Derrida in his book Bad Marxism – Capitalism and Cultural Studies.(1) My understanding of Hutnyk’s book is that it is a challenge to left scholars to develop theory that can be used in practical struggles against capitalism. Particularly he calls for a new Marxism, a Marxism that “declares itself open to critique.”(2)

In a book, then, that challenges many of the theoretical currents on the academic left; Hutnyk explores Derrida’s engagement with Carl Schmitt and Mao Tse-tung in Derrida’s book The Politics of Friendship.(3) In looking at the evolution in Schmitt’s conception of the friend and enemy distinction as the essence of the political from The Concept of the Political to Theory of the Partisan, Derrida makes the assertion that “With Mao Tse-tung it (the myth of the national and autochtonomous partisan) represents a new stage in the history of the partisan, and therefore in the process of rupture with the classical criteriology of the political and that of the friend/enemy grouping.”(4) Hutnyk’s problem with Derrida around this engagement is Derrida’s reluctance to dig deeper into this “rupture” and engage with its theoretical consequences and usefulness. Instead Derrida focuses on the role of technologies in conceptualizing the political and Hutnyk argues that this leads to a determinism centered on speed. Hutnyk poses the challenge to Derrida:

Why speak so much of Marx and so much less of Mao if Mao’s ‘partisan rupture’ is so important even as a critique of Schmitt? In the Politics of Friendship, where Derrida talks of the technological speed break of the new partisan, instead of knowing who the enemy is, and other certainties, he seems to accept that ‘today’ cannot be understood. He is content to make an aside about being ‘ready to listen to this screaming chaos of the “voiceless”’ Voiceless because of an uncertainty, chaos because to ‘talk politics’ one must swallow ‘all the assurances of clear cut distinctions”’ and so, I guess like Mao, know who is ‘the enemy’ at any given time. Derrida is reluctant to do this, and instead of – as might have been expected – making some comment on Mao’s essay ‘On Contradiction’, which at the very least applies some dialectical sophistication to the ‘assurances’, offers rather a further extended aside devoted to computer espionage bugs, spy networks, cryptography, cybercrime and the ‘hopeless debate’ in the US about communications technology and privacy.(5)

My essay seeks to go where Hutnyk feels Derrida did not. It will examine the evolution in Schmitt’s conception of the friend/enemy distinction and the partisan in relation to this evolution. It will then look at Mao’s understanding of the friend/enemy distinction and how this differed from Schmitt’s understanding. In comparing these conceptions it will also compare the metaphysical existentialist methodology of Schmitt and the dialectical materialist methodology of Mao.

Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political

 The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.(6)

This sentence sets the framework for Schmitt’s concept of the political in his classic work The Concept of the Political. For Schmitt this was a criterion and not a substantial definition or one with content. The friend/enemy distinction corresponded to the antithesis of other “relatively independent criteria” such as good and evil in the moral sphere or beautiful and ugly in the sphere of aesthetics.(7) Furthermore, any antithesis, be it religious, moral, economic, or ethical that is strong enough to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy transforms the antithesis into a political one.(8) Schmitt points to the example of Marxists who take the class struggle seriously and are able to win people to consider the capitalist as an enemy. When this happens the antithesis between classes ceases to be economic and becomes political. Also if a religious group begins to wage wars against other religious communities it thus becomes a political entity.(9)

 For to the enemy concept belongs the ever present possibility of combat…The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing…War is the existential negation of the enemy.(10)

The Concept of the Political  was written when Schmitt still held to the concept of decisionism. Whoever was able to control the ability to conduct or stop a war constituted….

- See more at: Kasama project

Mango Mao

mangomaoMango Mao – in his article in Public Culture Michael Dutton documents the gift of mangoes made by delegates from pakistan/Burma/Africa/SEAsia (?) as ‘tribute’ to Mao. These mangoes were memorialised in hundreds of thousands of commemorative badges. (The link is only to the first paragraphs - I will try to heist the pdf in due course). Mangoes are, as metaphors go, juicier than NATO bombing campaigns (obscure joke for SC and DW).

Against Blind Faith in Learning

Mao on Professors in 1958 (22 March) talks at Chengtu (p116-7 Talks and letters):

 … of entering into the spirit of it, or really understanding it’ (p117).

 

best bit:

… ‘Naturally, we cannot go out tomorrow and beat them up … we have to make friends with them’

 

✪ 11 more notes on ‘the disturbances™ in London’

The first 11 notes were here.

12. It is too easy to complain that the ‘rioting’ youth are merely obsessed with trainers and plasma TV. To say this misses the point, but it is more difficult for journalists to parse the process by which circulation, valorization, exchange, value extraction, surplus labour, alienation, and the fetishism that disguises social relations as relations between things operates. The ‘reporter-campaigner’ press is no longer on the job.

13. The insurrectionary youth seem to understand better than most what these goods are – theirs. They grasp the fetish character of commodities and the theft of property as time. In a radical way, the youth grasp, and break, the distinction between use value and exchange value. Fat cat neoliberals have thrived off expropriation, but now as the roosting pigeon heads homeward, with them having mortgaged the future to short-term gain, they seem perversely ignorant of causes. The sorry spectacle has them flapping about trying to fix the leaks where they see their interests and profits must be defended, as ever with a bolstered repressive apparatus, and having ransomed everyone else for their sorry survival.

14. In this context, jokes about ‘aggressive forms of late night shopping’ (ex cop on TV) are hypocritical ventriloquy of ruling class ideas, in that nearly every ‘older’ person I’ve heard talking about this first wishes the youth had a ‘cause’ (like they do!) but then wants to know where to buy one of these cheap hot plasmas, though without having to go to Tottenham for the pick up. Distorted and alienated interests are interests nonetheless – they are not the interests of Capital. Cut through this phantasmal comedy and it’s illusions of civic responsibility, morality and myths of political representation – contemporary Capital is nothing less than theft and plunder and should be hounded into the annals of history.

15. Lack of role models! The role models aren’t Kate Middleton and knowing what she wore, nor Beckham and his grooming products – the parade of privilege and property has them only as a window-dressing facade. The weapons trade, the mining industry, the micro-processing and conductor sweatshops, the off-shore processing zones, the anti-union, tax-free, labour intensive low-wage hell camps… These are the role models, also critiqued by the broken windows – the targets are tangential, but the sentiment is shared. Some are making the connections, and they are not just crusty old Marxists.

16. The youth hate the cops with good cause. Deaths in custody is a trigger, but stop and search, surly attitudes, bus dragnets, corruption, payola and more are not endearing plod to anyone. Defending prime property while letting lesser capital burn is an outrage, but expected given where we are just now in the volatile process of cyclical accumulation. The valorisation/conversion of expropriated surplus value through circulation within a stag-flationary recession that favours write-offs and fire-sales (primark, tkmaxx, budget airlines, and now many so-called ma-and-pa shops) means petit bourgeois traders suffer while big capital strives to recoup what minimal profit can be scarpered away before the fire sale season ends. The super rich survive, only slightly singed by scandals (dear Rupert), to then pounce to buy up the scorched earth as a bloody trophy upon which a new phase of accumulation is inaugurated. Class and location maps onto race and privilege to differentiate the cartography of valorised capital under this restructuring, so-called ‘crisis’ we are all in together. Some zones of manufacture and circulation entail very small margins with very large numbers – ahh, plastic goods – and if this mode of production, and a sharp end understanding of it, isn’t political, then what is?

17. The technique is refined in war. Invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and gleeful opportunism after the Arab spring (Cameron visits an arms fair) follows the model of army and camp followers. The cowboy corporations rush to provide security services, building contracts, democracy-capacity-building workshops…

18. We do not necessarily need commodity chain analysis or a critique of colonial history to understand that here and there, local and global are co-constituted in an embrace of death. Seems like only the politicians have a vested interest in saying this is not political – and they criminalise all youth, and all revolutionary zeal, with the same golden Bullingdon toilet brush (I am still reeling at Boris Johnson’s image of Britain as ‘a broken washing machine with black fluid leaking out the back’ – even disavowing this version he reveals his gutter mind).

19. The looting is not political because the youth pick up on a general discontent, it is not political because police tactics are repressive and biased and will be extended on the back of this, it is not political because parenting and family values have been lost back in some nostalgic fantasy of the good war, it is not political because the cuts to services mean there’s nothing else for the youth to do. It is political because all of the above make it an insurrection. Our very own intefada part one.

20. It is not a blind passages a l’acte, comrade Žižek. In his book on violence, Žižek says (after the deaths of Bouna Toure and Zyed Benna on October 27, 2005 and the thousands of cars set alight): ‘the fact that there was no programme behind the burning Paris suburbs is thus itself a fact to be interpreted’ (Žižek 2008:64). That this might be described as a ‘blind acting out’ seems itself ironic and myopic, even when SZ is correct to mock the sociological ‘search for deeper meaning or messages hidden in these outbursts’ (Žižek 2008:65), especially if these searches are undertaken from the comfort of the television viewing room. Žižek himself spends two further pages explaining that the youth wanted to be recognized as French, and yet locates this events in a particular and peculiar way. I expand the parameters of the quotation already used earlier:

“The Paris riots need to be situated in a series they form with another type of violence that the liberal majority perceives as a threat to our way of life: direct terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. In both instances, violence and counter-violence are caught up in a deadly vicious cycle, each generating the very forces it tries to combat. In both cases we are dealing with blind passages a l’acte, where violence is an implicit admission of impotence. The difference is that, in contrast to the Paris outbursts which were a zero-level protest, a violent outburst which wanted nothing, terrorist attacks are carried out on behalf of that absolute meaning provided by religion” (Žižek 2008:69).

We cannot be sure Žižek has understood Paris here, nor should we be detained by his assertion that religion is the absolute designation of terrorism, but the ascription of ‘nothing’ as the meaning of the Paris riots certainly suggests some problems with commentary.

21 Media reportage as the official line, paving the way for more cops, more repression, less commentary, less critique – we have long known the idea of the independent campaigning journalist reporter has been swallowed up by embedded, churnalistic, press release and sub-tabloid eaves-dropper automatons. Recycled heavy rotation police reports and edits (let me see more of Mayor Johnson being hounded out of Clapham by rightly angry shopkeepers). That this 24 hr news cycle stresses recycle of items is just yet another cut in the stagflationary moment.

22. The ‘Lumpen R Us’. Well, not quite, but it does not hurt to have an aspiration. In his early text ‘A Report from Hunan’ Mao praises the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ (Mao Selected Works Vol 1 p29). The ‘riff raff’ are the ‘utterly destitute’ lumpen peasantry who we find in China as:

“completely dispossessed … People who have neither land nor money, are without any means of livelihood, and are forced to leave home and become mercenaries or hired labourers or wandering beggars” (Mao Vol. I P 32)

Mao then provides a detailed report on the achievements of these peasants as revolutionaries able to transform an uprising into Red self governance. Mao’s ‘Report from Hunan’ is a great example of engaged reportage and it provides a more balanced evaluation of lumpen elements. His amusingly titled section ‘“Its Terrible” or “Its Fine”’ is equally judicious. Mao is praising the ways the peasants had banded together to dominate the landed gentry in Hunan, how their organisation established the basic conditions for a defence of the gains, and the template for the pattern of protracted guerrilla war. His unconditional approval for the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ is unstinting in its praise for the violent suppression of counter-revolutionaries. He does not ever want to say they ‘go too far’ when they defend the revolution (Selected Works Vol. I).

Thus – build the revolution…

11 more points soon

The first 11 notes were here.

The best 11 you should know by heart – the point is to change it.

Mao: Its Terrible or Its Fine.

In Report from Hunan Mao praises the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ (Mao Vol 1 p29). The ‘riff raff’ are the ‘utterly destitute’ lumpen peasantry who we find in China as:

“completely dispossessed … People who have neither land nor money, are without any means of livelihood, and are forced to leave home and become mercenaries or hired labourers or wandering beggars” (Mao Vol. I P 32)

Mao then provides a detailed report on the achievements of these peasants as revolutionaries able to transform an uprising into Red self governance. Mao’s ‘Report from Hunan’ is a great example of engaged reportage and it provides a more balanced evaluation of lumpen elements. His amusingly titled section ‘“Its Terrible” or “Its Fine”’ is equally judicious. Mao is praising the ways the peasants had banded together to dominate the landed gentry in Hunan, how their organisation established the basic conditions for a defence of the gains, and the template for the pattern of protracted guerrilla war. His unconditional approval for the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ is unstinting in its praise for the violent suppression of counter-revolutionaries. He does not ever want to say they ‘go too far’ when they defend the revolution (Selected Works Vol. I).

Thus – build the revolution…

[✪ or is this just building the Internets? - word press just tells me 'This is your 1,000th post. Whiz-bang! This post has 270 words'. Happy thousandth bit of trinketization! Nice its a Mao one.]

Mao on writing

In  1942 Mao Tse Tung addressed a Yenan meeting on the topic of ‘Stereotyped Party Writing’ and the role of writing within revolutionary activity. Developing an earlier essay on the Party’s style of work, he presented eight points of criticism against the boring eight part essays of ‘stereotyped party writers’ — using “poison as the antidote to poison” (Mao Selected Works, Vol 3 p.56). His indictments are as follows:

• against the filling of endless pages with verbiage, against the writing of long and empty articles that few if any will read. “We are in the midst of a war, and we should learn how to write shorter and pithier articles” (Mao SW3:56).

• against writing that strikes a pose in order to intimidate people. “Some stereotyped party writing is not only long and empty, but also pretentious” (Mao SW3:57). It is important to explain concepts, and to avoid the patronising attitude that privileges intellectual work over other activities. The difficulty entailed in this at the same time at which educational work is considered of utmost importance must be kept in constant tension.

• against writing that “shoots at random, without considering the audience” (Mao SW3:58). “Some comrades, however, are shooting without a target, shooting at random, and such people are liable to harm our work” (Mao SW3:42). “We must propagate materialism and dialectics” (Mao SW3:49)

• against “drab language … [against writing that is] wizened and ugly … without a shred of vigour or spirit” (Mao SW3:59).

• against complicated sets of headings that do nothing to attend to the problems under discussion,that name rather than analyse. Mao says: “In order to solve a problem it is necessary to make a systematic and thorough investigation and study. This is the process of analysis … and it is needed; otherwise, faced with a chaotic and bewildering mass of phenomena, you will not be able to discern where the problem or contradiction lies” (Mao SW3:61).

• against irresponsible writing which harms people wherever it appears.

• against writing which jeopardizes the revolution. If you have observed little, do not write. If you have nothing useful to say, do not write. Similarly, if there is something to be said, something you have observed, you must write.

• against the poisons of subjectivism and sectarianism, which harms the organisation and the work of people sympathetic to communism. Subjectivism, as described by Mao in a 1942 essay Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, includes a muddled separation of ‘theory and practice’ in which those who constantly talk about this link are the very ones guilty of maintaining the separation. “How is Marxist-Leninist theory to be linked with the practice of the revolution?” Mao asks. If the Marxist-Leninist method of dialectical materialism is “an arrow” to be shot at the target of the revolution, then those people who “stroke the arrow fondly, exclaiming, ‘What a fine arrow! What a fine arrow!’ bet never want to shot it” are the most harmful. “These people are merely connoisseurs of curios and have virtually nothing to do with the revolution” (Mao SW3:42). Sectarianism within the oganisation and against cadres of other like-minded organisations is “usually wedded to the doctrine of ‘me first’” (Mao SW3:44) and indicates an individualist pride that does not always help — “After reading a few Marxist books, such comrades become more arrogant instead of more modest, and invariably dismiss others as no good without realizing that in fact their own knowledge is only half-baked” (Mao SW3:48).

[From an internal communist party discussion paper written in 1992 - only recently decoded by the compatibility services of Mac OSX!]

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