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Alberto Toscano Mao’s New Nomos? Partisanship, Warfare, Geopolitics * Abstract Carl Schmitt’s 1963 The Theory of the Partisan – followed in 1969 by a retrospective interview on the partisan with the German Maoist Joachim Schickel – features a paean to Mao Tsetung as the culminating figure in a lineage of thinkers, beginning with Clausewitz, who have thought and practiced the disruptive martial figure of the partisan, understood by Schmitt in terms of four criteria: irregularity, mobility, political commitment and finally its ‘telluric’ or territorially grounded character. But the most perplexing aspect of Schmitt’s appreciation has to do with the contrast between Lenin’s revolutionary obliteration of the jus publicum Europaeum and the possibility, to be derived from the ‘telluric’ character of Mao and the Red Army, that a new global nomos might emerge from Mao’s thinking of the relationship between politics, warfare and the international. This presentation will take its cue from Schmitt’s discussion and prolong his encounter with Mao as a thinker of partisanship in terms of three axes of interrogation: the militarization of politics and politicisation of the military; the relative or absolute character of partisanship and enmity; and the geopolitical questions of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and the Third World. In particular, my aim shall be to identify the mechanisms of politicisation and depoliticisation immanent to Mao’s post-Leninist thinking of partisanship – in its militant, military and global dimensions. If we wish to reflect on the vicissitudes of political subjectivity in the Cold War, or even, following a recent coinage by Alain Badiou, to resurrect some its militant bodies, we are obliged to confront one of its most redoubtable legacies: an amalgam of intense commitment and uncompromising enmity, on the one hand, and of instrumental geopolitical calculation, on the other. Needless to say, there is nothing surprising or anomalous about the presence of a wily realism in the most radically transformative of political movements. The ‘angelic’ position – turning away from the moment of Realpolitik for the sake of a dubious purism – has been regarded by most revolutionaries, and many reformers, as an unacceptable capitulation. And yet, it is difficult not to see a grain of truth in the many critical theories of a molar convergence affecting the contenders in the Cold War, be it in Bruno Rizzi’s seminal work on the bureaucratization of the world, the various theories of state capitalism, Debord’s integrated spectacle, and so on – all of which argued for the presence of a simulacra of antagonism whose function was to quash any anti-systemic drives. The role of Communist China, both in the subjective perception and the objective unfolding of the Cold War, of course complicates this question immensely. It troubled – in the experience of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Sino-Soviet Split and later * Paper for the China and the Cold War international workshop held in Bologna 13-15 September 2007. Many thanks to Alessandro Russo and Claudia Pozzana for their invitation, and to Michael Dutton and Chris Connery for their intellectual inspiration. rapprochement with the US – the straightforward teleology of a convergence between two camps, but also presented, through its political doctrines and historical experiences, several remarkable dramatisations of this aporia of the Cold War, between order and commitment, revolution and realism. Much Cold War writing by American observers, for instance in the pages of the journal Military Affairs, posed this problem, albeit in stark and often misleading dichotomies: Was Maoism primarily nationalist or anti-imperialist? Nativist or Leninist? Titoist (even) or internationalist? Did communism trump geopolitical calculation or vice versa? Distant, or seemingly antiquarian, as such discussions may now seem, I would argue that the often tragic entanglement of the geopolitical constraints of state politics, on the one hand, and the requirements of an egalitarian or emancipatory project, on the other, remains a key unresolved legacy of the Cold War, all too easily elided by the self-congratulations of a so-called democratic world that presumes to mediate these two aspects in the best way possible. To explore this aporetic legacy, which neither a blunt realism nor an angelic politics can resolve, I would like to take a detour through an unlikely but instructive attempt to think through the manner in which the Chinese Revolution, and Mao at its helm, responded to the problems of militant subjectivity and global politics in the Cold War: Carl Schmitt’s discussion of Mao in his 1963 The Theory of the Partisan, and his further 1969 ‘Conversation on the Partisan’ with the German Maoist Joachim Schickel (where he notes: ‘I had not yet foreseen that Mao could also have such theoretical and practical meaning in this as it were global context, for the whole world’). In The Theory of the Partisan – delivered by Schmitt as a kind of political offering in Francoist Spain, as the rich discussion of the anti- Napoleon guerrilleros and the paean to Franco’s defeat of the Republican forces as a ‘war of national liberation’ attest – Mao, presented here principally as the author of his several military essays, is a pivotal figure, simultaneously the practical and theoretical culmination of a genealogy of the partisan which begins in the early 1800s in Spain (‘the end and high-point of a precise development from Clausewitz through Lenin to Mao’, as Schmitt says in the ‘Conversation’), and the potential harbinger of a new Nomos of the Earth: a spatial, political and juridical ordering that will neutralise the anarchy which ensued upon the disintegration of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. For Schmitt, Mao is a kind of pharmakon, both the dangerous hyperpolitical figure who perfects a partisan political warfare which leaves no room for organised contests between State and ‘just enemies’ (Justus hostis) and the repository of a hope that the unmooring, the deterritorialisation of a Eurocentric global politics by revolution and decolonisation – in brief, by abstract universalism – will settle into a post-European order of ‘great spaces’, Grossraume. So what does Schmitt mean when he declares that we are faced with ‘an essentially new stage of partisanship, one at whose beginning we find the name of Mao Tse-tung’? I hope that an investigation of Schmitt’s estimation of Mao will permit us – through the specific filter of the partisan, which is to say of the militarization of politics and the politicisation of the military – both to address the aforementioned aporia and to perhaps provide some insight into the tensions and contradictions that inhere in Schmitt’s own thinking, which seeks to combine an insight into politics qua intensity with a distinctly reactionary or counter-revolutionary concern for the primacy of order. In a recent article on Schmitt and the theme of decolonization, Alberto Moreiras has declared that the political ontology implied in the notion of the nomos of the earth deconstructs the political ontology ciphered in the friend-enemy division, and vice versa. They are mutually incompatible. For a determination of the political, either the friend-enemy division is supreme, or the nomos of the earth is supreme. Both of them cannot simultaneously be supreme. The gap between them is strictly untheorizable. If the friend-enemy division obtains independently of all the other antitheses as politically primary, then there is no nomos of the earth. If there is a nomos of the earth, the nomos produces its own political divisions. In contrast to Moreiras, we could argue that Mao, for Schmitt, is precisely a name for that which could come to fill in, through a globally effective political practice, this untheorizable gap, or at least that he is the focus imaginaris for the convergence of ‘proper’ enmity on the one hand, and an international order, on the other. Mao’s particular role will be caught up with the specific manner in which he gives expression to what Schmitt regards as the four co-determining criteria that circumscribe the seemingly boundless problem of the partisan: irregularity, the increasing mobility (or even motorisation) in the conduct of warfare, the intensity of political commitment, and what Schmitt calls, after the Spanish historian Jover Zamora, the ‘telluric’ or earth-bound character of the partisan. Whether Schmitt’s investigation is of use for those who do not belong to the party of order is an open question. But to begin to answer it, we need to hone in on the crucial, be it ambiguous, distinction that governs Schmitt’s treatment of partisanship: the one between Lenin and Mao. Indeed Schmitt himself wishes to grasp even the Sino-Soviet split – then at its peak – in terms of this distinction: ‘The ideological conflict between Moscow and Peking, which has grown ever stronger since 1962, has its deepest origin in the concretely varying [konkretverschiedenen] reality of true partisanship. In this respect, too, the theory of the partisan proves to be the key to recognizing political reality’. 1 Though several authors have pointed to the manner in which the First World War, accompanied by Lenin with notebooks on Hegel’s Science of Logic and Clausewitz’s On War, served as a crucible for Lenin’s development of a unique understanding of partisanship in warfare and politics, it is worth noting that already in one his first writings, a critical review from 1895, Lenin, defining his position against the subjectivist populism of Narodnik sociology and Struve’s objectivist misinterpretation of Marx, made the following declaration: ‘materialism includes partisanship … and enjoins the direct and open adoption of the standpoint of a definite social group in any assessment of events’. According to Schmitt, it is precisely in articulating his position against the ‘objectivism’ of Struve, that Lenin formulates the inexorability of conflict and of a new type of warfare, beyond the system of states and the international legal order of the Jus Publicum Europeum, in which the partisan is both a military and a philosophical figure. Schmitt even goes so far as to describe Lenin’s 1915 notebooks on Clausewitz as ‘one of the greatest documents in world history and the history of ideas’. 2 Key to Schmitt’s reductive and fundamentally inimical portrait of Lenin is that the latter’s thinking is grounded on the notion of ‘absolute enmity’, an enmity that goes beyond the hate-less enmity that Schmitt had originally, if inconsistently, posited as the basis for political distinction. Crucially, Schmitt sees Leninist enmity as absolute because it eliminates all the containments and coordinates provided for enmity by the European states-system. Revolutionary war and justice know of no containment and 1 The Theory of the Partisan, p. 43. 2 Ibid., p. 35. are dominated by only one question: ‘is there an absolute enemy and who is it in concreto?’ With a curious kind of admiration Schmitt notes that Lenin surpassed all other thinkers of Marxism – which Schmitt had elsewhere dubiously sundered into its militant-political and its liberal-economic aspects – precisely in his ‘seriousness about absolute enmity’, and that ‘knowledge of the enemy was the secret of Lenin’s enormous strike power. His comprehension of the partisan rested on the fact that the modern partisan had become the true “irregular” proper, in his vocation as the proper executor of enmity, thus, the most powerful negation of the existing capitalist order’. It is Lenin’s capacity to ally philosophy with the partisan which, according to Schmitt, unleashed ‘new, explosive forces’ and led to the ‘demolition of the whole Eurocentric world’. 3 As Schmitt wistfully remarks, De Maistre had already warned against the ‘real danger, namely an association of philosophy with the elemental forces of insurrection’. It is this alliance or association which engenders the political move from the containment provided by state enmity to Lenin’s global civil war, from the real enemy to the absolute enemy. Thus, we encounter here a crucial problem: Is the world revolutionary a partisan? Does the typology of the partisan really conceal a fundamental caesura? After all, the profound dislocation of legal and political space effected by the Bolshevik permanent global revolution appears to deny any principled role for the fourth criterion, that of the territoriality of the partisan. Lenin, by means of what is presented as a philosophical abstraction, operates a shift from the ‘telluric’ defensive character of the original partisans (the ones who had fought against Napoleon in Spain or Germany), to a concept of the partisan, which, according to Schmitt, generates the situation of widespread and offensive irregularity that threatens to engulf any political order whatsoever. It was the grounded, or telluric, character of partisanship which, according to Schmitt, immunised partisan insurrections ‘from the absolutism of an abstract justice’. It is because of this partisan abstraction, this move from relative partiality and contained enmity to absolute partisanship and global civil war, that Schmitt paints Leninism in much the same tones as Burke painted the ‘epidemical fanaticism’ of the French Revolution, as a levelling war machine that will eliminate the differences (and hierarchies) of production, appropriation and distribution which alone sustain the conservation of order. It is in this respect that 3 Ibid., p. 37. partisanship is, as Rodolphe Gasché perspicuously notes, ‘a historical phenomenon that jeopardizes all political distinctions by precisely making distinction absolute’.4 And philosophy itself, to quote Derrida, thereby ‘represents the properly productive agency of the purely political and hence of pure hostility’. 5 In this respect, Marxism as enacted by Lenin, goes from being the theory which seeks to provide the objective conditions of partisanship to the instrument of the destruction of any order within which partiality and partisanship could be intelligible. The Lenin who we’d seen trying to establish the objectivity of partisan subjectivation becomes – in his thinking of civil war and dual power, in the dissolution of the distinction between order and state of exception – the herald of the collapse of any order within which criteria would be given for distinction or demarcation (which, for Schmitt, are always statist criteria). It is this predicament that Schmitt turns to Mao and the Chinese brand of communist partisanship as the only katechon, or bulwark, against dis-order and absolute enmity. That is because ‘Mao’s revolution is fundamentally more telluric than Lenin’s’, not being led, as Schmitt sinisterly notes, by ‘emigrants’. Not only, but, as Schmitt remarks commenting on the poem of Mao, Kunlun, he presages a new Nomos of the Earth based on large-regional blocs, and forms of ordered, true enmity that resist reduction to a global, absolute enmity. The poem reads as follows: If heaven were my garrison, I would draw my sword And strike you into three pieces: One as a present for Europe, One for America, But one left over for China, And peace would rule the world. The metaphor of cutting and ordering, of a peace founded on the distinction between Grossraume could not but attract the post-war Schmitt, resigned to the collapse of Eurocentrism but continuing his twofold struggle against the abstract universalism of liberalism and communism. In what remains I’d like very briefly to reconsider the 4 ‘The Partisan and the Philosopher’, p. 10. 5 Politics of Friendship, p. 146. politics of China under Mao in terms of the articulation of four criteria and ask whether the idea of a ‘new nomos’ can at all be considered as one of the legacies of Maoism. To the extent that the partisan signals an increasing indiscernibility between the militarization of politics and the politicization of military affairs, the first criterion – irregularity – extends beyond the domain of battle strategies to affect the political field itself. Though, as some military writers have pointed out, the role of irregularity is never total – inasmuch as guerrilla war is joined to ordered strategic offensive in the figure of the mobile war – irregularity points us to a crucial problem arising when the model of the partisan is introjected into the ‘normal’ field of politics – to wit that, in the legal context that preoccupies Schmitt, ‘normative regulation [is] judicially impossible’. Translated into a political vocabulary, this intimates that partisanship undoes any containment of political intensity, opening up the possibility of absolute enmity but also that of a war that is always, at least potentially global and civil: ‘The irregularity of class struggle calls not just the military line but the whole edifice of political and social order into question’. 6 Fighters in the class struggle are thus in a sense caught up in a battle against the nomos, they are antinomic militants. But the question then arises, as it did in the Cultural Revolution, of whether there can be a politics of irregularity, a politics without a pre-given measure that still succeeds in following principles and constructing a line. This is also the issue of the uses of internal strife and the question of violence that inevitably attaches to it, as in the following talk by Mao from July 1967: ‘We must not be afraid of rows. The bigger they are the better. With seven or eight rows things are bound to be sorted our properly and to some effect. No matter what sort of rows there are we must not be afraid of them, because the more afraid we are the more trouble there will be. But we must not shoot. It is bad to shoot at any time’. 7 When we move into the confines of a formed state, after a civil war, is irregularity possible? Can it be framed? Measured? And what are the pitfalls of the reliance on a politicized army for a particular amalgam of regularity and irregularity? The partisan is endowed with a logic of contagion: once a partisan enters the field, as Napoleon already noted, all must behave as partisans – but what are the effects of this deregulation on the political field? 6 Ibid., p. 37. 7 Mao, ‘Talk on Strategic Dispositions’, New Left Review, p. 36. The second criterion, that of mobility also inevitably involves what we could call the introjection of military and strategic concerns into political organization, just as it is driven, as Schmitt recognizes throughout, by an exquisitely political will. Of course, much could be said about mobility in terms of the manner whereby it generates a different space than that of traditional territorial politics, one in which the partisan, endowed with unprecedented flexibility (a key concept in Mao’s military writings), operates, following Schmitt, in a kind of ‘invisible depth’. Above all, mobility can be regarded as a kind of temporalisation of space, as in Mao’s dictum of ‘trading space for time’. Mobility is not simply a technical capacity to master space, but the strategic advantage that comes with rapid changes and relative invisibility, the non-uniformed ‘bearing’ that derive from its irregular status. But what happens when the panoply of partisan precepts which govern the movements of the partisan army permeate the field of ‘peacetime’ political activity? The primacy of psychological strategies and political maneuvers in the conduct of the protracted war is already evident. In a 1958 article on Mao’s military thought in Military Affairs, which focuses on the role of ‘psychological disintegration’ and what the author calls ‘parasitic cannibalism’ (i.e. using the enemy as provider of troops and materiel), the Sian incident – involving the kidnapping and release of Chiang Kai-shek to foment a united anti-Japanese front – is summed up by the author as follows: ‘The Communists had devised a new way to make something out of nothing.’ For Schmitt, this generative function of mobility – what another writer on Mao calls ‘making bricks without straw’ – and its way of making oneself invisible to the enemy extends fully into the political field. Thus, he notes: I am not a Mao-expert such as yourself, but for a number of years he has made a deep impression on me, when I read in Mao that one must let the weeds grow, when one notices that enemy groups are developing in one’s midst. One must let the weeds grow: then it is easier to distinguish, then it is easier to tear them out, and then there is more and better fertiliser. This is interesting for the concept of the political. I imagine that one who could write these sentences, and who has put his seal on enormous and immensely dangerous directives, and that he, when he takes charge of the surveillance of the enemy, says: I am the allotment holder, and this is an instruction for my vegetable garden. You see, this also belongs to this ‘hiding’; I now think, the more our talk on the Chinese proceeds, that mobility is not what we think it is. This suggestion regarding the manner in which Mao’s ‘mobilizes’ the concept of the political, that is, of enmity and hostility, in a novel manner, introduces us to the third criterion, that of political commitment. The role of this element in the formation of a partisan army – which, as Schmitt notes depends on a notion of the party long before it enters into the constitution of a state – cannot be underestimated, and the politicization of the military is of course integral to Mao’s handling of war. But if we link commitment to mobility, we are forced to ask whether the kind of mobility which Schmitt recognizes in Mao is compatible with a form of commitment that could maintain its fidelity to certain collectively shareable, transmissible principles rather than being overdetermined at every step by a mobile, and often unpredictable enmity, and by more or less invisible manoeuvres against the weeds. Once again, the issue is whether the formidably effective dynamic of the partisan can in any sense be moulded, restrained and put to use, or whether its boundlessness, its uncircumscribable and contagious character leads it to undermine the construction of a collective political line. For Schmitt, it is of course the fourth criterion, the telluric or earth-bound figure of the partisan, which is offered as a kind of ‘containment’ of its disruptive mutability. In his hopeful estimation of Mao then, Schmitt seems to throw us back onto the idea of a ‘nativist’, ‘nationalist’, or even ‘’Titoist’ Mao – the kind rather benevolently appearing in American military analyses in the 1970s, which juxtapose Soviet ‘Leninist’ expansionism to Mao’s stress on the self-reliance at the heart of a people’s war – analyses which note the de facto disinterest of the Chinese in directly fomenting world revolution, and the fact that interference is ruled out even in Lin Biao’s text on the people’s war (eventually Deng would promote this view of a non-interfering Chinese communism systematically, with his declarations that China had no tendency to ‘hegemonism’). But Schmitt himself, inasmuch as the telluric criterion serves as the hinge between the discourse on the partisan and the idea of a new nomos, does not limit himself to a rather banal view of Mao as a nationalist. Rather, he depicts the telluric stance within an ongoing global context of conflict as the point of conversion of absolute revolutionary partisanship into real, but determinate, enmity – the precondition for a post-liberal and post-Leninist nomos: The question, however, is whether the enmity can be contained and regulated, that is, whether it represents relative or absolute enmity. The warring party alone must decide this on its own account. For Mao, thinking from the instance of the partisan, the present-day peace is only an apparition of real enmity. Even the so-called Cold War does not put an end to it. This war is, accordingly, not a quasi-war and quasi-peace, but an operation of real enmity, depending on how things stand, with other than openly violent means. Only weaklings and illusionists could deceive themselves about it. 8 But the question that opens up – even if, which is hardly obligatory, we accept this move from Leninist absolute enmity to Maoist real enmity – is that of how, after the completion of a war of national liberation, we articulate the ‘internal’ issues of partisanship (mobilisation, class enmity, contradictions among the people, social and political organisation, campaigns, and so on) with all of those international and geopolitical elements that Schmitt synthesises under the heading of nomos. Some questions suggest themselves at this point: Is the condition for a perpetuation of partisanship within the de facto adoption of a multipolar policy of ‘great spaces’ without? Inasmuch as the partisan is a creature of the party and not the State, according to Schmitt, can it be harnessed to intra-state politics? In other words, how is the partisan ‘framed’? And, if the option of a world revolution is abandoned, or differentially territorialized, what kind of relationships can exist between different partisan movements with comparable principles? To think through these questions, bequeathed by Schmitt’s brief encounter with Mao, is perhaps today to try to reformulate – by recasting the relation between partisanship, war, the state, and the geopolitical – a question which dominated Chinese communist discourse and which has once again come to the fore: What is anti-imperialism? 8 Ibid., p. 42.
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