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

Edit and destroy

So a big part of editing is jettisoning schematic routines from the word hoard that seem to have been dumped into a chapter for want of anything new to say. Out with them. Burroughs used to claim in interviews that you should get rid of the writing you think is your best. It is not the best, it is bad – the worst (imagine this said in that midwestern drawl). I dunno if he really meant it as more than a mockery of ‘how to’, but if its good enough to say twice, then its probably worth just saying just the once – hence my irritation when I catch myself summarising something I’d said before, and, worse, see it over and over in the ZZizzle. So, out damn spot, out. This para is hereby cut from Panto Terror today (and saved for later):

when Derrida does come to mention Marx in this book on Rogues – it is a surprise he takes so long – it is to call again for that New International that kept just one ‘spirit’ of Marxism while favouring the United Nations, declarations on Rights and the International Criminal Court Page 87. This is in not clearly, or even not in any way a spirit of Marx unless it be that spirit that appears as 4 gallons of Brandy exchanged for a bible or 2O yards of Linen in the opening 200 pages of Das Kapital. There is reason to be facetious – Derrida’s recommendations and the causes he supports, however worthy it might be to defend Mandela, do not appear Marxist in character. They do not depend upon any recognisably Marxist analytic

For all there is to learn from Derrida, banging on about him being a bourgeois French philosopher probably is a fairly mundane point, and I already made it in the Bad Marxism book. Snip snip snip – getting closer.

Where’s Friday?

I have started to gather my notes for the next lecture on Marx tomorrow. Here is what I had last year on Robinson. To which I hope to add some more this evening…

Spivak uses the occasion of Derrida saying ‘hello to Marx’ (Spivak 1995:78) to make some key points about women in the contemporary condition of financialised capitalism, and offer a reading of Assia Djebar’s Far From Medina and the ghosts of many women that must be retrieved from this text on Islam. I am not able to engage with Fatima, like Spivak I am ‘no Islamic scholar’, and anyway you must read both Spivak and Djebar. I also consider Spivak more interesting on finacialisation and women than anyone else writing on this. It is curious that few Marxists take this up, as class conscious ‘future socialists’ we cannot ignore the need to work through such questions, as we shall. Spivak insists:

‘According, then, to the strictest Marxian sense, the reproductive body of woman has now been “socialized” – computed into average abstract labor and thus released into what I call the spectrality of reason – a specter that haunts the merely empirical, dislocating it from itself. According to Marx, this is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that she can dislocate him herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labor, recognize that, in the everyday, es spukt. It is only then that the fetish character of labor-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism’ (Spivak 1995:67-8)

In Capital, the tale of Robinson is used to show that the operations of use-value are not somehow prior or isolated from exchange as relations of production. Even alone, Robinson calculates. It is not an innate nature, but a social condition (that can be changed).

‘The first example is Robinson Crusoe, to demonstrate that the relations of production can be known even in a situation of “pure” use-value’ (Spivak 1995:76)

Immediately before this, in search of Ghosts, Derrida finds that the translation occludes the literal ghost in referring to the ‘magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour so long as they take the form of commodities’ (Marx 1867/1970:76 L&W Pen-169, Derrida 1993/1994:164). Necromancy substitutes for spuk and Derrida wants to stress the apparition, that the ghost is something like Marx’s familiar, that he wants to exorcise and retain.

But Spivak notes that Derrida ‘goofs a bit’ here:

‘the passage quoted on page 164 [by Derrida] does not directly refer to the socialist future, as Derrida seems to think. Marx’s point is that simply to see the relations of production clearly is no big deal’ (Spivak 1995:76)

It may be worth thinking through whyo the charaters are here, and who appears on stage and who not – remember Hamlet’s father saying ‘I am dead’? Well, what of Robinson, and indeed Friday? Why is it important that Friday not be mentined? Clearly that Marx wants to say that even the isolated Robinson on his Island makes his objects according to a social code, not as an isolated individual. We are all social, even when it seems not. This is a key to anthropology isn’t it? But more, Pawler shows that Marx works this story up more and more over time. He explains that it is the bourgeois isolated individual that Marx has in mind, writing of ‘Robinsonades’ in The Poverty of Philosophyand again in the Grundrisse, the allegory in Capital is more developed than its first appearance, where ‘every man is a hermit and produces only for himself’ (Prawler1978:134). By the time of the Grundrisse ‘Robinsonaden’ offer ‘not the image of some primitive social organization, but as so clear a view of tendencies inherent in English society of the eighteenth century that they can serve as a symbolic adumbration of that society’s future. On closer examination the loneliness of Robinson Crusoe becomes a symbol for social alienation in the ‘civil society’ of the nineteenth century” (Pawler 1978:275-6). By the time of Capital Robinson is keeping a set of books, listing his possessions, and working out the sums of his own labour time, and presumably that of the unfortunate Friday. Here Pawler suggests Marx has found in Robinson the ‘character-type of “economic planners” in general and the “true-born Englishman” in particular … [and] … affords a simple model of economic activities in a setting in which the value of an object can be directly proportional to the quantity of labour expended upon it, undistorted by market considerations’ (Pawler 1978:335). Friday is not mentioned, yet would no doubt fit well and has often been recalled by postcolonial revision

The discussion of Robinson on his Island, as an English book-keeper, is Marx having his fun. The next moment we are to ‘transport ourselves from Robinson’s island, bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in Darkness’ where the hierarchy of serf and lord, compulsory labour, services, payments in kind, entails a society where the social relations are personal, and ‘not disguised under the social relations between the products of labour’ (Marx 1867/1970:77L&W). We need not go back to examine the different forms of common property, though Marx shows he has the scholarship to do this, but we can see the distribution of the work and consumption of produce in the peasant family is not one organized by commodities, but subject to arrangements of age, sex, the seasons, a spontaneously developed division of labour, etc.

Then, suggesting something different, but not yet the only possible difference, Marx asks us to ‘picture to ourselves, for a change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common’ (Marx, 1867/1970:78 L&W), social labour-power and social product, planned distribution, surplus consumed according to – in this, again not the only possible assumption – and distributed according to input of labour-time.

‘The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labour and their products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and with regard not only to production but also to distribution’ (Marx 1867/1970:79 L&W)

There may be different forms in which this distribution is organized, according to the level of development of the productive forces, and a future communism would not assume distribution according to labour time but rather to each according to need, yet this scenario where production has stripped off its ‘mystical veil’ [this veil stuff is from Schiller’s The Bell, as Prawler shows, 1978:322) and is ‘consciously regulated’ in ‘accordance with a settled plan’ comes only at the expense of ‘a long and painful process’ (Marx 1867/1970:80 L&W). Marx’s point in the next pages is to show that the commodity as bourgeois form has everything reversed – like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing who things ‘reading and writing come by nature’ (Marx 1867/1970:83 L&W Pen.177, D.98).

Also want to read Ian Watt ‘Robinson Crusoe as Myth’ Essays in Criticism 1 1951 95-119…

Aside

Re-read Spivak’s Ghostwriting for this week’s lecture on Capital.

Spivak uses the occasion of Derrida saying ‘hello to Marx’ (Spivak 1995:78) to make some key points about women in the contemporary condition of financialised capitalism, and offer a reading of Assia Djebar’s Far From Medina and the ghosts of many women that must be retrieved from this text on Islam. I am not able to engage with Fatima, like Spivak I am no Islamic scholar, and anyway you must read both Spivak and Djebar. I also consider Spivak more interesting on fianacialisation and women than anyone else writing on this. It is curious that few Marxists take this up, as class conscious ‘future socialists’ we cannot ignore the need to work through such questions, as we shall. Spivak insists:

‘According, then, to the strictest Marxian sense, the reproductive body of woman has now been “socialized” – computed into average abstract labor and thus released into what I call the spectrality of reason – a specter that haunts the merely empirical, dislocating it from itself. According to Marx, this is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that she can dislocate him herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labor, recognize that, in the everyday, es spukt. It is only then that the fetish character of labor-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism’ (Spivak 1995:67-8)

In Capital, the tale of Robinson is used to show that the operations of use-value are not somehow prior or isolated from exchange as relations of production. Even alone, Robinson calculates. It is not an innate nature, but a social condition (that can be changed).

‘The first example is Robinson Crusoe, to demonstrate that the relations of production can be known even in a situation of “pure” use-value’ (Spivak 1995:76)

Immediately before this, in search of Ghosts, Derrida finds that the translation occludes the literal ghost in referring to the ‘magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour so long as they take the form of commodities’ (Marx 1867/1970:76 L&W Pen-169, Derrida 1993/1994:164). Necromancy substitutes for spuk and Derrida wants to stress the apparition, that the ghost is something like Marx’s familiar, that he wants to exorcise and retain.

But Spivak notes that Derrida ‘goofs a bit’ here:

‘the passage quoted on page 164 [by Derrida] does not directly refer to the socialist future, as Derrida seems to think. Marx’s point is that simply to see the relations of production clearly is no big deal’ (Spivak 1995:76)

The discussion of Robinson on his Island, keeping books, being a proper Englishman, is Marx having his fun. The next moment we are to ‘transport ourselves from Robinson’s island, bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in Darkness’ where the hierarchy of serf and lord, compulsory labour, services, payments in kind, entails a society where the social relations are personal, and ‘not disguised under the social relations between the products of labour’ (Marx 1867/1970:77L&W). We need not go back to examine the different forms of common property, though Marx shows he has the scholarship to do this, but we can see the distribution of the work and consumption of produce in the peasant family is not one organized by commodities, but subject to arrangements of age, sex, the seasons, a spontaneously developed division of labour, etc.

Then, suggesting something different, but not yet the only possible difference, Marx asks us to ‘picture to ourselves, for a change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common’ (Marx, 1867/1970:78 L&W), social labour-power and social product, planned distribution, surplus consumed according to – in this, again not the only possible assumption – and distributed according to input of labour-time.

 ‘The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labour and their products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and with regard not only to production but also to distribution’ (Marx 1867/1970:79 L&W)

There may be different forms in which this distribution is organized, according to the level of development of the productive forces, and a future communism would not assume distribution according to labour time but rather to each according to need, yet this scenario where production has stripped off its ‘mystical veil’ [this veil stuff is from Schiller’s The Bell, as Prawler shows, 1976:322) and is ‘consciously regulated’ in ‘accordance with a settled plan’ comes only at the expense of ‘a long and painful process’ (Marx 1867/1970:80 L&W). Marx’s point in the next pages is to show that the commodity as bourgeois form has everything reversed – like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing who things ‘reading and writing come by nature’ (Marx 1867/1970:83 L&W Pen.177, D.98).

Spivak, 1995 Ghostwriting, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2. (Summer), pp. 64-84

Burning Books

In a commentary written not long before Derrida’s death, an elaboration of a keynote address he gave to a conference to inaugurate the Helene Cixous archive of the Bibliothéque Nationale, there is a definition of the library as a place ‘devoted to keeping the secret but insofar as they give it away’. It may be a twisting of the archival intention to read this quote without its context (Derrida is examining Cixous’ dreams of a certain Gregor) but the passage continues in a way that does suggest to me something of a primal scene for knowledge: ‘Giving a secret away may mean telling it, revealing it, publishing it, divulging it, as well as keeping it so deeply in the crypt of a memory that we forget it is there or even cease to understand and have access to it’ (Derrida 2003/2006:20). All through the book Derrida meditates on the library as a repository of secrets and certainties (certes as anagram), and more prosaically as a collection of boxes of papers, books, notes, sometimes objects, in a corridor, a room, an attic or a basement – and in the end suggests that there should be no Cixous archive without an ‘active research centre’ (83), which will be open to scholars throughout the world, and which would work, on this archive deposited in the BNF, wondering how it could be otherwise (87).

To think of an active library today might be a good way to take up the questions of ordering and protocols that Derrida had earlier set out in ‘Archive Fever’, but to do so would take a longer reading than I have time for (and anyway, see my chapter on that book in ‘Bad Marxism’).The thing is that the archive always already orders its secrets, as Derrida was at pains to point out. What I want to do is consider how it could be otherwise, and how in the French suburbs over the last week the criticism of books was generalized quite spectacularly as the burning of the library at Villiers Le Bel, ten miles from the centre of Paris: ‘burned books littered the floor’ according to one breathless report.

Of course the burning of books has its own charged and charred history, just as have the incidents (incendiary incitements) that led the youth of Paris to address the library in this critical mode. I am interested in the way scholars have addressed, or not addressed, these ‘street riots’. Derrida, about the same time as he was writing in praise of libraries, was also worrying about the youth that Sarkozy would later call racaille (rabble), but whom Derrida preferred to call voyous (Rogues). Here is the prescient, but somewhat problematic stereo-typing by JD:

‘The word voyou has an essential relation with the voie, the way, with the urban roadways [voire], the roadways of the city or the polis, and thus with the street [rue], the waywardness [dévoiement] of the voyou consisting in making ill use of the street, in corrupting the street or loitering in the streets, in “roaming the streets”, as we say in a strangely transitive formulation … Today the voyou sometimes roams the roadways [voies] and the highways [voiries] in a car [voiture], that is, when he or she is not stealing it or setting it on fire’ (Derrida Rogues 2005:65).

More on this inflammatory bon mot by Derrida and also on related street stuff here and here.


But – if you have now returned – what would be the way to navigate the convoluted questions of spontaneity and theory that arise here yet again (Lenin, Luxemburg). The urban uprising as a critique of books is an old tale, no doubt retold about Villiers le Bel after the night of November 25 by the theorists of polite politics who were looking elsewhere on the day. Police shot up in what seems a coherent tit-for-tat rapid response to the hit and run killing of Moushin (15) and Larami (16). Respontaneity is premeditated. There is already a theory of organization and action in play, far away from the book depository and its contemplative-juridical-tactical sermonizing.

In the UK a list might start with Notting Hill, Brixton, Toxteth, Manningham, Oldham, Bradford as one set of street level responses. Armed patrols, stop and search, custody deaths, profiling, detention as another – scaled up internationally on TV as war, rendition, kidnapping, death. In between, the routine bureaucratic arabesques of finance, health, education, workplace and housing scandals. At the high profile ends of hypocrisy we have the pomp and circumstance of Westminster, and the bad faith of humanitarian bombing campaigns. Pretension and war – both for democracy, gloss for the news.

So I am also collecting other tales of those who burn books. Send me your ashes. Nazi bonfires. Freud’s dream of burning books. Eco’s novel: ‘The Name of the Rose’, the Alexandria library, Somerset Maugham’s ‘Razors Edge': great film starring Bill Murray whose quest for knowledge leads him down mines and up mountains, where he finally burns his texts to survive (see pic); the 1946 Tyrone Power version is good too. Have you ever burnt a book? Kafka destroying his notes, Bradbury’s ‘F’451′. And of course the Rushdie controversy – which starts in India but commentators keep on locating it in Bradford because that burning book image was so evocative…

Shall we keep now an archive of burnt books knowing that the protocols are already inscribed ‘in annals of fire’ (even in the fare future-past of Battlestar Galactica, the mentat Roslin cherishes her singed faux bible)?

Certainly the car yards are full of burned out hulks. Perhaps Mike Davis can be the librarian with his witty turns of phrase – see a commentary on his car bomb stories over at ‘Subtopia: A field guide to military urbanism‘.

More to come on this…