Alberto Toscano by tyndale


									Alberto Toscano
Mao’s New Nomos? Partisanship, Warfare, Geopolitics *

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

    The Theory of the Partisan, p. 43.
    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

    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

    ‘The Partisan and the Philosopher’, p. 10.
    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

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?

    Ibid., p. 37.
    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

         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?

    Ibid., p. 42.

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