...... Mao Zedong: the Marxist Lord of Misrule

...........Slavoj Zizek

[space] nav gif nav gif nav gif nav gif nav gif nav gif nav gif

One of the most devious traps which lurk for Marxist theorists is the search for the moment of the Fall, when things took the wrong turn in the history of Marxism: was it already the late Engels with his more positivist-evolutionary understanding of historical materialism? Was it the revisionism AND the orthodoxy of the Second International? Was it Lenin? [1] Or was it Marx himself in his late work, after he abandoned his youthful humanism (as some "humanist Marxists" claimed decades ago)? This entire topic has to be rejected: there is no opposition here, the Fall is to be inscribed into the very origins. (To put it even more pointedly, such a search for the intruder who infected the original model and set in motion its degeneration cannot but reproduce the logic of anti-Semitism.) What this means is that, even if - or, rather, especially if - one submits the Marxist past to a ruthless critique, one has first to acknowledge it as "one's own", taking full responsibility for it, not to comfortably get rid of the "bad" turn of the things by way of attributing it to a foreign intruder (the "bad" Engels who was too stupid to understand Marx's dialectics, the "bad" Lenin who didn't get the core of Marx's theory, the "bad" Stalin who spoils the noble plans of the "good" Lenin, etc.).

The first thing to do is then to fully endorse the displacement in the history of Marxism concentrated in two great passages (or, rather, violent cuts): the passage from Marx to Lenin, as well as the passage from Lenin to Mao. In each case there is a displacement of the original constellation: from the most forward country (as expected by Marx) to a relatively backward country - the revolution "took place in a wrong country"; from workers to (poor) peasants as the main revolutionary agent, etc. In the same way as Christ needed Paul's "betrayal" in order for Christianity to emerge as a universal Church (recall that, among the 12 apostles, Paul occupies the place of Judas the traitor, replacing him!), Marx needed Lenin's "betrayal" in order to enact the first Marxist revolution: it is an inner necessity of the "original" teaching to submit to and survive this "betrayal," to survive this violent act of being torn out of one's original context and thrown into a foreign landscape where it has to reinvent itself - only in this way, universality is born.

So, apropos the second violent transposition, that of Mao, it is too short either to condemn his reinvention of Marxism as theoretically "inadequate," as a regression with regard to Marx's standards (it is easy to show that peasants lack the substanceless proletarian subjectivity), but it is no less too short to blur the violence of the cut and to accept Mao's reinvention as a logical continuation or "application" of Marxism (relying, as is usually the case, on the simple metaphoric expansion of class struggle: "today's predominant class struggle is no longer between capitalists and proletariat in each country, it shifted to the Third versus the First World, bourgeois versus proletarian nations"). The achievement of Mao is here tremendous: his name stands for the political mobilization of the hundreds of millions of anonymous Third World population whose chores provide the invisible "substance," background, of historical development - the mobilization of all those which even such a poet of "otherness" as Levinas dismissed as "yellow peril" - see, from what is arguably his weirdest text, "The Russo-Chinese Debate and the Dialectic" (1960), a comment on the Soviet-Chinese conflict:

The yellow peril! It is not racial, it is spiritual. It does not involve inferior values; it involves a radical strangeness, a stranger to the weight of its past, from where there does not filter any familiar voice or inflection, a lunar or Martian past. [2]

Does this not recall Heidegger's insistence, throughout the 1930s, that the main task of Western thought today is to defend the Greek breakthrough, the founding gesture of the "West," the overcoming of the pre-philosophical, mythical, "Asiatic" universe, to struggle against the renewed "Asiatic" threat - the greatest opposite of the West is "the mythical in general and the Asiatic in particular?" [3] It is THIS Asiatic "radical strangeness" which is mobilized, politicized, by Mao Zedong's Communist movement. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel introduces his notorious notion of womankind as "the everlasting irony of the community": womankind "changes by intrigue the universal end of the government into a private end, transforms its universal activity into a work of some particular individual, and perverts the universal property of the state into a possession and ornament for the family." [4] In contrast to the male ambition, a woman wants power in order to promote her own narrow family interests or, even worse, her personal caprice, incapable as she is of perceiving the universal dimension of state politics. How are we not to recall F.W.J. Schelling's claim that "the same principle carries and holds us in its ineffectiveness which would consume and destroy us in its effectiveness." [5] A power which, when it is kept at its proper place, can be benign and pacifying, turns into its radical opposite, into the most destructive fury, the moment it intervenes at a higher level, the level which is not its own: THE SAME femininity which, within the close circle of family life, is the very power of protective love, turns into obscene frenzy when displayed at the level of public and state affairs... In short, it is OK for a woman to protest the public state power on behalf of the rights of family and kinship; but woe to a society in which women endeavor directly to influence decisions concerning the affairs of state, manipulating their weak male partners, effectively emasculating them... Is there not something similar in the terror aroused by the prospect of the awakening of the anonymous Asian crowd? They are OK if they protest their fate and allow us to help them (through large scale humanitarian actions...), but to directly "empowers" themselves, to the horror of sympathizing liberals who are always ready to support the revolt of the poor and dispossessed, on condition that it is done with proper manners...?

Georgi M. Derluguian's Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus [6] tells the extraordinary story of Musa Shanib from Abkhazia, the leading intellectual of this turbulent region whose incredible career passed from Soviet dissident intellectual through democratic political reformer and Muslim fundamentalist war leader up to respected professor of philosophy, his entire career marked by the strange admiration for Pierre Bourdieu's thought. There are two ways to approach such a figure. The first reaction is to dismiss it as local eccentricity, to treat it with benevolent irony - "what a strange choice, Bourdieu - who knows what this folkloric guy sees in Bourdieu...". The second reaction is to directly assert the universal scope of theory - "see how universal theory is: every intellectual from Paris to Chechenia and Abkhazia can debate his theories..." The true task, of course, is to avoid both these options and to assert the universality of a theory as the result of a hard theoretical work and struggle, a struggle that is not external to theory: the point is not (only) that Shanib had to do a lot of work to break the constraints of his local context and penetrate Bourdieu - this appropriation of Bourdieu by an Abkhazian intellectual also affects the substance of the theory itself, transposing it into a different universe. Did - mutatis mutandis - Lenin not do something similar with Marx? The shift of Mao with regard to Lenin AND Stalin concerns the relationship between the working class and peasants: both Lenin and Stalin were deeply distrustful towards the peasants, they saw as one of the main tasks of the Soviet power to break the inertia of the peasants, their substantial attachment to land, to "proletarize" them and thus fully expose them to the dynamics of modernization - in clear contrast to Mao who, in his critical notes on Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR (from 1958) remarked that "Stalin's point of view /.../ is almost altogether wrong. The basic error is mistrust of the peasants." The theoretical and political consequences of this shift are properly shattering: they imply no less than a thorough reworking of Marx's Hegelian notion of proletarian position as the position of "substanceless subjectivity," of those who are reduced to the abyss of their subjectivity.

As is well-known among those who still remember Marxism, the ambiguous central point of its theoretical edifice concerns its premise that capitalism itself creates the conditions for its self-overcoming through proletarian revolution - how are we to read this? Is it to be read in a linear evolutionary way: revolution should take place when capitalism fully develops all its potentials and exhausts all its possibilities, the mythic point at which it confronts its central antagonism ("contradiction") at its purest, in its naked form? And is it enough to add the "subjective" aspect and to emphasize that the working class should not just sit and wait for the "ripe moment," but to "educate" itself through long struggle? As is also well-known, Lenin's theory of the "weakest link of the chain" is a kind of compromise-solution: although it accepts that the first revolution can take place not in the most developed country, but in a country in which antagonisms of the capitalist development are most aggravated, even if it is less developed (Russia, which combined concentrated modern capitalist-industrial islands with agrarian backwardness and pre-democratic authoritarian government), it still perceived October Revolution as a risky break-through which can only succeed if it will be soon accompanied by a large-scale Western European revolution (all eyes were focused on Germany in this respect). The radical abandonment of this model occurred only with Mao, for whom the proletarian revolution should take place in the less developed part of the world, among the large crowds of the Third World impoverished peasants, workers and even "patriotic bourgeoisie," who are exposed to the aftershocks of the capitalist globalization, organizing their rage and despair. In a total reversal (perversion even) of the Marx's model, the class struggle is thus reformulated as the struggle between the First World "bourgeois nations" and the Third World "proletarian nations." The paradox here is properly dialectical, perhaps in the ultimate application of Mao's teaching on contradictions: its very underdevelopment (and thus "un-ripeness" for the revolution) makes a country "ripe" for the revolution. Since, however, such "unripe" economic conditions do not allow the construction of properly post-capitalist socialism, the necessary correlate is the assertion of the "primacy of politics over economy": the victorious revolutionary subject doesn't act as an instrument of economic necessity, liberating its potentials whose further development is thwarted by capitalist contradictions; it is rather a voluntarist agent which acts AGAINST "spontaneous" economic necessity, enforcing its vision on reality through revolutionary terror.

One should bear in mind here the fundamental lesson of the Hegelian "concrete universality": the universal necessity is not a teleological force which, operative from the outset, pulls the strings and runs the process, guaranteeing its happy outcome; on the contrary, this universal necessity is always retroactive, it emerges out of the radical contingency of the process and signal the moment of the contingency's self-Aufhebung. One should thus say that, once the (contingent) passage from Leninism to Maoism took place, it cannot but appear as "necessary," i.e., one can (re)construct the "inner necessity" of Maoism as the next "stage" of the development of Marxism. In order to grasp this reversal of contingency into necessity, one should leave behind the standard linear historical time structured as the realization of possibilities (at the temporal moment X, there are multiple possible directions history can take, and what actually takes place is the realization of one of the possibilities): what this linear time is unable to grasp is the paradox of a contingent actual emergency which retroactively creates its own possibility: only when the thing takes place, we can "see" how it was possible. The rather boring debate about the origins of Maoism (or Stalinism) oscillates around three main options: (1) the "hard" anti-Communists and the "hard" partisans of Stalinism claim that there is a direct immanent logic which leads from Marx to Lenin and from Lenin to Stalin (and then from Stalin to Mao); (2) the "soft" critics claim that the Stalinist (or, prior to it, Leninist) turn is one of the historical possibilities present in Marx's theoretical edifice - it could have turned otherwise, yet the Stalinist catastrophe is nonetheless inscribed as an option into the original theory itself; (3) finally, the defenders of the purity of the "original teaching of Marx" dismiss Stalinism (or already Leninism) as a simple distortion, betrayal, insisting on the radical break between the two: Lenin and Stalin simply "kidnapped" Marx's theory and used it for purposes totally at odds with Marx. One should reject all three versions as based on the same underlying linear-historicist notion of time, and opt for the fourth version, beyond the false question "to what extent was Marx responsible for the Stalinist catastrophe": Marx is fully responsible, but retroactively, i.e., the same holds for Stalin as for Kafka in Borges's famous formulation: they both created their own predecessors.

THIS is the movement of "concrete universality," this radical "transubstantiation" through which the original theory has to reinvent itself in a new context: only by way of surviving this transplant can it emerge as effectively universal. And, of course, the point is not that we are dealing here the pseudo-Hegelian process of "alienation" and "des-alienation," of how the original theory is "alienated" and then has to incorporate the foreign context, re-appropriate it, subordinate it to itself: what such a pseudo-Hegelian notion misses is the way this violent transplant into a foreign context radically affects the original theory itself, so that, when this theory "returns to itself in its otherness" (reinvents itself in the foreign context), its very substance changes - and yet this shift is not just the reaction to an external shock, it remains an inherent transformation of the same theory on the overcoming of capitalism. This is how capitalism is a "concrete universality": it is not the question of isolating what all particular forms of capitalism have in common, their shared universal features, but of grasping this matrix as a positive force in itself, as something which all actual particular forms try to counteract, to contain its destructive effects.

The most reliable sign of capitalism's ideological triumph is the virtual disappearance of the very term in the last 2 or 3 decades: from the 1980s, "virtually no one, with the exception of a few allegedly archaic Marxists (an 'endangered species'), referred to capitalism any longer. The term was simply struck from the vocabulary of politicians, trade unionists, writers and journalists - not to mention social scientists, who had consigned it to historical oblivion." [7] So what about the upsurge of the anti-globalization movement in the last years? Does it not clearly contradict this diagnostic? No: a close look quickly shows how this movement also succumbs to "the temptation to transform a critique of capitalism itself (centered on economic mechanisms, forms of work organization, and profit extraction) into a critique of 'imperialism'." [8] In this way, when one talks about "globalization and its agents," the enemy is externalized (usually in the form of vulgar anti-Americanism). From this perspective, where the main task today is to fight "the American empire," any ally is good if it is anti-American, and so the unbridled Chinese "Communist" capitalism, violent Islamic anti-modernists, as well as the obscene Lukashenko regime in Belarus (see Chavez' visit to Belarus in July 2006), may appear as progressive anti-globalist comrades-in-arms... What we have here is thus another version of the ill-famed notion of "alternate modernity": instead of the critique of capitalism as such, of confronting its basic mechanism, we get the critique of the imperialist "excess," with the (silent) notion of mobilizing capitalist mechanisms within another, more "progressive," frame.

This is how one should approach what is arguably Mao's central contribution to Marxist philosophy, his elaborations on the notion of contradiction: one should not dismiss them as a worthless philosophical regression (which, as one can easily demonstrate, relies on a vague notion of "contradiction" which simply means "struggle of opposite tendencies"). The main thesis of his great text «On Contradiction» on the two facets of contradictions, "the principal and the non-principal contradictions in a process, and the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction," deserves a close reading. Mao's reproach to the "dogmatic Marxists" is that they "do not understand that it is precisely in the particularity of contradiction that the universality of contradiction resides":

For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie ant the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.
When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position.

This is Mao's key point: the principal (universal) contradiction does not overlap with the contradiction which should be treated as dominant in a particular situation - the universal dimension literally resides in this particular contradiction. In each concrete situation, a different "particular" contradiction is the predominant one, in the precise sense that, in order to win the fight for the resolution of the principal contradiction, one should treat a particular contradiction as the predominant one, to which all other struggles should be subordinated. In China under the Japanese occupation, the patriotic unity against the Japanese was the predominant thing if Communists wanted to win the class struggle - any direct focusing on class struggle in THESE conditions went against class struggle itself. (Therein, perhaps, resides the main feature of "dogmatic opportunism": to insist on the centrality of the principal contradiction at a wrong moment.) - The further key point concerns the principal ASPECT of a contradiction; for example, with regard to the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production,

the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role.

The political stakes of this debate are decisive: Mao's aim is to assert the key role, in the political struggle, of what the Marxist tradition usually refers to as the "subjective factor" - theory, superstructure. This is what, according to Mao, Stalin neglected: "Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things, not people. /.../ /It speaks/ only of the production relations, not of the superstructure nor politics, nor the role of the people. Communism cannot be reached unless there is a communist movement."

Alain Badiou, a true Maoist here, applies this to today's constellation, avoiding the focus on the anti-capitalist struggle, even ridiculing its main form today (the anti-globalization movement), and defining the emancipatory struggle in strictly political terms, as the struggle against (liberal) democracy, today's predominant ideologico-political form? "Today the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It's called Democracy." [9] What, today, prevents the radical questioning of capitalism itself is precisely the belief in the democratic form of the struggle against capitalism. Lenin's stance against "economism" as well as against "pure" politics is crucial today, apropos of the split attitude towards economy in (what remains of) the Left: on the one hand, the "pure politicians" who abandon economy as the site of struggle and intervention; on the other hand, the "economists," fascinated by the functioning of today's global economy, who preclude any possibility of a political intervention proper. With regard to this split, today, more than ever, we should return to Lenin: yes, economy is the key domain, the battle will be decided there, one has to break the spell of the global capitalism - BUT the intervention should be properly POLITICAL, not economic. Today, when everyone is "anticapitalist," up to the Hollywood "socio-critical" conspiracy movies (from The Enemy of the State to The Insider) in which the enemy are the big corporations with their ruthless pursuit of profit, the signifier "anticapitalism" has lost its subversive sting. What one should problematize is the self-evident opposite of this "anticapitalism": the trust in the democratic substance of the honest Americans to break up the conspiracy. THIS is the hard kernel of today's global capitalist universe, its true Master-Signifier: democracy. [10] - Mao's further elaboration on the notion of contradiction in his "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People"(1957) also cannot be reduced to its best-known feature, the rather common sense point of distinguishing between the antagonistic and the non-antagonistic contradictions:

The contradictions between ourselves and the enemy are antagonistic contradictions. Within the ranks of the people, the contradictions among the working people are non-antagonistic, while those between the exploited and the exploiting classes have a non-antagonistic as well as an antagonistic aspect. /.../ under the people's democratic dictatorship two different methods, one dictatorial and the other democratic, should be used to resolve the two types of contradictions which differ in nature - those between ourselves and the enemy and those among the people.

One should always read this distinction together with its more "ominous" supplement, a warning that the two aspects may overlap: "In ordinary circumstances, contradictions among the people are not antagonistic. But if they are not handled properly, or if we relax our vigilance and lower our guard, antagonism may arise." The democratic dialogue, the peaceful co-existence of different orientations among the working class, is not something simply given, a natural state of things, it is something gained and sustained by vigilance and struggle. Here, also, struggle has priority over unity: the very space of unity has to be won through struggle.

So what are we to do with these elaborations? One should be very precise in diagnosing, at the very abstract level of theory, where Mao was right and where he was wrong. Mao was right in rejecting the standard notion of "dialectical synthesis" as the "reconciliation" of the opposites, as a higher unity which encompasses their struggle; he was wrong in formulating this rejection, this insistence on the priority of struggle, division, over every synthesis or unity, in the terms of a general cosmology-ontology of the "eternal struggle of opposites" - this is why he got caught in the simplistic, properly non-dialectical, notion of the "bad infinity" of struggle. Mo clearly regresses here to primitive pagan "wisdoms" on how every creature, every determinate form of life, sooner or later meets its end: "One thing destroys another, things emerge, develop, and are destroyed, everywhere is like this. If things are not destroyed by others, then they destroy themselves." One should give Mao his due at this level: he goes to the end in this direction, applying this principle not only to Communism itself - see the following passage, in which Mao accomplishes a gigantic ontological "leap forward" from the division of atomic nucleus into protons, anti-protons, etc., to the inevitable division of Communism into stages:

I don't believe that communism will not be divided into stages, and that there will be no qualitative changes. Lenin said that all things can be divided. He gave the atom as an example, and said that not only can the atom be divided, but the electron, too, can be divided. Formerly, however, it was held that it could not be divided; the branch of science devoted to splitting the atomic nucleus is still very young, only twenty or thirty years old. In recent decades, the scientists have resolved the atomic nucleus into its constituents, such as protons, anti-protons, neutrons, anti-neutrons, mesons and anti-mesons.

He goes even a step further and moves beyond humanity itself, forecasting, in a proto-Nietzschean way, the "overcoming" of man.

The life of dialectics is the continuous movement toward opposites. Mankind will also finally meet its doom. When the theologians talk about doomsday, they are pessimistic and terrify people. We say the end of mankind is something which will produce something more advanced than mankind. Mankind is still in its infancy.

- and, even more, the rise of (some) animals themselves (what we consider today as exclusively human) level of consciousness:

In the future, animals will continue to develop. I don't believe that men alone are capable of having two hands. Can't horses, cows, sheep evolve? Can only monkeys evolve? And can it be, moreover, that of all the monkeys only one species can evolve, and all the others are incapable of evolving? In a million years, ten million years, will horses, cows and sheep still be the same as those today? I think they will continue to change. Horses, cows, sheep, and insects will all change.

Two things should be added to this "cosmic perspective"; first, one should remember that Mao is here talking to the inner circle of party ideologists. This is what accounts for the tone of sharing a secret not to be rendered public, as if Mao is divulging his "secret teaching" - and, effectively, Mao's speculations closely echo the so-called "bio-cosmism," the strange combination of vulgar materialism and Gnostic spirituality which formed occult shadow-ideology, the obscene secret teaching, of the Soviet Marxism. Repressed out of the public sight in the central period of the Soviet state, bio-cosmism was openly propagated only in the first and in the last two decades of the Soviet rule; its main theses are: the goals of religion (collective paradise, overcoming of all suffering, full individual immortality, resurrection of the dead, victory over time and death, conquest of space far beyond the solar system) can be realized in terrestrial life through the development of modern science and technology. In the future, not only will sexual difference be abolished, with the rise of chaste post-humans reproducing themselves through direct bio-technical reproduction; it will also be possible to resurrect all the dead of the past (establishing their biological formula through their remains and then re-engendering them - at that time, DNA was not yet known...), thus even erasing all past injustices, "undoing" past suffering and destruction. In this bright bio-political Communist future, not only humans, but also animals, all living being, will participate in a directly collectivized Reason of the cosmos... Whatever one can hold against Lenin's ruthless critique of Maxim Gorky's the "construction of God (bogograditelk'stvo)," the direct deification of man, one should bear in mind that Gorky himself collaborated with bio-cosmists. It is interesting to note resemblances between this "bio-cosmism" and today's techno-gnosis. - Second, this "cosmic perspective" is for Mao not just an irrelevant philosophical caveat; it has precise ethico-political consequences. When Mao high-handedly dismisses the threat of the atomic bomb, he is not down-playing the scope of the danger - he is fully aware that nuclear war may led to the extinction of humanity as such, so, to justify his defiance, he has to adopt the "cosmic perspective" from which the end of life on Earth "would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole":

The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system.

This "cosmic perspective" also grounds Mao's dismissive attitude towards the human costs of economic and political endeavors. If one is to believe Mao's latest biography, [11] he caused the greatest famine in history by exporting food to Russia to buy nuclear and arms industries: 38 million people were starved and slave-driven to death in 1958-61. Mao knew exactly what was happening, saying: "half of China may well have to die." This is instrumental attitude at its most radical: killing as part of a ruthless attempt to realize goal, reducing people to disposable means - and what one should bear in mind is that the Nazi holocaust was NOT the same: the killing of the Jews not part of a rational strategy, but a self-goal, a meticulously planned "irrational" excess (recall the deportation of the last Jews from Greek islands in 1944, just before the German retreat, or the massive use of trains for transporting Jews instead of war materials in 1944). This is why Heidegger is wrong when he reduces holocaust to the industrial production of corpses: it was NOT that, Stalinist Communism was that. [12]

The conceptual consequence of this "bad infinity" that pertains to vulgar evolutionism is Mao's consistent rejection of the "negation of negation" as a universal dialectical law. In explicit polemics against Engels (and, incidentally, following Stalin who, in his "On Dialectical and Historical Materialism," also doesn't mention "negation of negation" among the "four main features of Marxist dialectics"):

Engels talked about the three categories, but as for me I don't believe in two of those categories. (The unity of opposites is the most basic law, the transformation of quality and quantity into one another is the unity of the opposites quality and quantity, and the negation of the negation does not exist at all.) /.../ There is no such thing as the negation of the negation. Affirmation, negation, affirmation, negation in the development of things, every link in the chain of events is both affirmation and negation. Slave-holding society negated primitive society, but with reference to feudal society it constituted, in turn, the affirmation. Feudal society constituted the negation in relation to slave-holding society but it was in turn the affirmation with reference to capitalist society. Capitalist society was the negation in relation to feudal society, but it is, in turn, the affirmation in relation to socialist society.

Along these lines, Mao scathingly dismisses the category of "dialectical synthesis" of the opposites, promoting his own version of "negative dialectics" - every synthesis is for him ultimately what Adorno in his critique of Lukacs called erpresste Versoehnung - enforced reconciliation - at best a momentary pause in the ongoing struggle, which occurs not when the opposites are united, but when one side simply wins over the other:

What is synthesis? You have all witnessed how the two opposites, the Kuomintang and the Communist Party, were synthesized on the mainland. The synthesis took place like this: their armies came, and we devoured them, we ate them bite by bite. /.../ One thing eating another, big fish eating little fish, this is synthesis. It has never been put like this in books. I have never put it this way in my books either. For his part, Yang Hsien-chen believes that two combine into one, and that synthesis is the indissoluble tie between two opposites. What indissoluble ties are there in this world? Things may be tied, but in the end they must be severed. There is nothing which cannot be severed.

(Note, again, the tone of sharing a secret not to be rendered public, the cruel-realistic lesson that undermines the happy public optimism...) This was at the core of the famous debate, in the late 1950s, about the One and the Two (are the Two united into One, or is the One divided into Two?): "In any given thing, the unity of opposites is conditional, temporary and transitory, and hence relative, whereas the struggle of opposites is absolute." This brings us to what one is tempted to call Mao's ethico-political injunction - to paraphrase the last words of Beckett's L'innomable: "in the silence you don't know, you must go on severing, I can't go on, I'll go on severing." [13] This injunction should be located into its proper philosophical lineage. There are, roughly speaking, two philosophical approaches to an antagonistic constellation of either/or: either one opts for one pole against the other (Good against Evil, freedom against oppression, morality against hedonism, etc.), or one adopts a "deeper" attitude of emphasizing the complicity of the opposites, and of advocating a proper measure or the unity. Although Hegel's dialectic seems a version of the second approach (the "synthesis" of opposites), he opts for an unheard-of THIRD version: the way to resolve the deadlock is neither to engage oneself in fighting for the "good" side against the "bad" one, nor in trying to bring them together in a balanced "synthesis," but in opting for the BAD side of the initial either/or. Of course, this "choice of the worst" fails, but in this failure, it undermines the entire field of the alternative and thus enables us to overcome its terms.

The first one to propose such a matrix of divisions was Gorgias. His On Nature, or the Non-existent (the text survived only in summary form in Sextus Empiricus, and Aristotle's On Melissus, Xeonphanes, and Gorgias) can be summed up in three propositions: (a) Nothing exists; (b) If anything existed, it could not be known; (c) If anything did exit, and could be known, it could not be communicated to others. If there ever was a clear case of the Freudian logic of the borrowed kettle (providing mutually exclusive reasons), this is it: (1) Nothing exists. (2) What exists, cannot be known. (3) What we know, cannot be communicated to others... But more interesting is the repeated "diagonal" mode of division of genre into species: Things exist or not. If they exist, they can be known or not. If they can be known, they can be communicated to others or not. Surprisingly, we find the same progressive differentiation at the opposite end of the history of Western philosophy, in the XXth century sophists called "dialectical materialism." In Stalin's "On Dialectical and Historical Materialism," when the four features of dialectics are enumerated:

The principal features of the Marxist dialectical method are as follows:
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole /.../.
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development /.../.
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard the process of development as a simple process of growth, where quantitative changes do not lead to qualitative changes, but as a development which passes from insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open' fundamental changes' to qualitative changes; a development in which the qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, taking the form of a leap from one state to another /.../.
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying away and something developing; and that the struggle between these opposites /.../ constitutes the internal content of the process of development.

First, nature is not a conglomerate of dispersed phenomena, but a connected whole. Then, this Whole is not immobile, but in constant movement and change. Then, this change is not only a gradual quantitative drifting, but involves qualitative jumps and ruptures. Finally, this qualitative development is not a matter of harmonious deployment, but is propelled by the struggle of the opposites... The trick here is that we are effectively NOT dealing merely with the Platonic dieresis, gradual subdivision of a genus into species and then species into subspecies: the underlying premise is that this "diagonal" process of division is really vertical, i.e., that we are dealing with the different aspects of the SAME division. To put it in Stalinist jargon: an immobile Whole is not really a Whole, but just a conglomerate of elements; development which does not involve qualitative jumps is not really a development, but just an immobile stepping at the same place; a qualitative change which does not involve struggle of the opposites is not really a change, but just a quantitative monotonous movement... Or, to put it in more ominous terms: those who advocate qualitative change without struggle of the opposites REALLY oppose change and advocate the continuation of the same; those who advocate change without qualitative jumps REALLY oppose change and advocate immobility... the political aspect of this logic is clearly discernible: "those who advocate the transformation of capitalism into socialism without class struggle REALLY reject socialism and want capitalism to continue," etc.

There are two famous quips of Stalin which are both grounded in this logic. When Stalin answered the question "Which deviation is worse, the Rightist or the Leftist one?" by "They are both worse!", the underlying premise is that the Leftist deviation is REALLY ("objectively," as Stalinists liked to put it) not leftist at all, but a concealed Rightist one! When Stalin wrote, in a report on a party congress, that the delegates, with the majority of votes, unanimously approved the CC resolution, the underlying premise is, again, that there was really no minority within the party: those who voted against thereby excluded themselves from the party... In all these cases, the genus repeatedly overlaps (fully coincides) with one of its species. This is also what allows Stalin to read history retroactively, so that things "become clear" retroactively: it was not that Trotsky was first fighting for the revolution with Lenin and Stalin and then, at a certain stage, opted for a different strategy than the one advocated by Stalin; this last opposition (Trotsky/Stalin) "makes it clear" how, "objectively," Trotsky was against revolution all the time back.

We find the same procedure in the classificatory impasse the Stalinist ideologists and political activists faced in their struggle for collectivization in the years 1928-1933. In their attempt to account for their effort to crush the peasants' resistance in "scientific" Marxist terms, they divided peasants into three categories (classes): the poor peasants (no land or minimal land, working for others), natural allies of the workers; the autonomous middle peasants, oscillating between the exploited and exploiters; the rich peasants, "kulaks" (employing other workers, lending them money or seeds, etc.), the exploiting "class enemy" which, as such, has to be "liquidated." However, in practice, this classification became more and more blurred and inoperative: in the generalized poverty, clear criteria no longer applied, and other two categories often joined kulaks in their resistance to forced collectivization. An additional category was thus introduced, that of a subkulak, a peasant who, although, with regard to his economic situation, was to poor to be considered a kulak proper, nonetheless shared the kulak "counter-revolutionary" attitude. Subkulak was thus

a term without any real social content even by Stalinist standards, but merely rather unconvincingly masquerading as such. As was officially stated, 'by kulak we mean the carrier of certain political tendencies which are most frequently discernible in the subkulak, male and female.' By this means, any peasant whatever was liable to dekulakisation; and the subkulak notion was widely employed, enlarging the category of victims greatly beyond the official estimate of kulaks proper even at its most strained. [14]

No wonder that the official ideologists and economists finally renounced the very effort to provide an "objective" definition of kulak: "The grounds given in one Soviet comment are that 'the old attitudes of a kulak have almost disappeared, and the new ones do not lend themselves to recognition.'" [15] The art of identifying a kulak was thus no longer a matter of objective social analysis; it became the matter of a complex "hermeneutics of suspicion," of identifying one's "true political attitudes" hidden beneath deceiving public proclamations, so that Pravda had to concede that "even the best activists often cannot spot the kulak." [16]

What all this points towards is the dialectical mediation of the "subjective" and "objective" dimension: subkulak no longer designates an "objective" social category; it designates the point at which objective social analysis breaks down and subjective political attitude directly inscribes itself into the "objective" order - in Lacanese, subkulak is the point of subjectivization of the "objective" chain poor peasant - middle peasant - kulak. It is not an "objective" sub-category (or sub-division) of the class of kulaks, but simply the name for the kulak subjective political attitude - this accounts for the paradox that, although it appears as a subdivision of the class of kulaks, subkulaks is a species that overflows its own genus (that of kulaks), since subkulaks are also to be found among middle and even poor farmers. In short, subkulak names political division as such, the Enemy whose presence traverses the ENTIRE social body of peasants, which is why he can be found everywhere, in all three peasant classes. This brings us back to the procedure of Stalinist dieresis: subkulak names the excessive element that traverses all classes, the outgrowth which has to be eliminated.

And, to go back to Gorgias, one should read his argumentation in the same way. It may appear that Gorgias proceeds in three consequent divisions: first, things either exist or not; then, if they exist, they can be known or not; then, if they can be known, we can communicate this knowledge to others or not. However, the truth of this gradual subdivision is again the repetition of one and the same line of division: if we cannot communicate something to others, it means that we "really" do not know it ourselves; if we cannot know something, it means that it "really" does not exist in itself. There is a truth in this logic: as already Parmenides, Gorgias's teacher and reference, put it, thinking (knowing) is the same as being, and thinking (knowing) itself is rooted in language (communication) - "The limits of my language are the limit of my world."

The lesson of Hegel (and Lacan) is here that one should turn this dieresis around: we can only speak about things that DON'T exist (Jeremy Bentham was on the trace of this in his theory of fictions) - or, more modestly and precisely, speech (presup)poses a lack/hole in the positive order of being. So not only we can think about non-existing things (which is why religion is consubstantial with "human nature," its eternal temptation); we can also talk without thinking - not only in the vulgar sense of just inconsistently babbling, but in the Freudian sense of "saying more than we intended," of producing a symptomatic slip of the tongue. So it is not that even if we know something, we cannot communicate it to others - we can communicate to others things we don't know (or, more precisely, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, things we don't know we know, since, for Lacan, the unconscious as une bévue is un savoir qui ne se sait pas). This is why the Hegel-Lacanian position is neither that of Plato nor that of his sophist opponents: against Plato, one should assert that we not only can talk about things that we do not understand-think, but that we ultimately talk only about them, about fictions. And, against sophists, one should assert that this in no way devalues truth, since, as Lacan put it, truth has the structure of a fiction.

So where does Mao fall short here? In the way he opposes this injunction to severe, to divide, to dialectical synthesis. When Mao mockingly refers to "synthesizing" as the destruction of the enemy or his subordination, his mistake resides in this very mocking attitude - he doesn't see that this IS the true Hegelian synthesis... that is to say, what is the Hegelian "negation of negation"? First, the old order is negated within its own ideologico-political form; then, this form itself has to be negated. Those who oscillate, those who afraid to make the second step of overcoming this form itself, are those who (to repeat Robespierre) want a "revolution without revolution" - and Lenin displays all the strength of his "hermeneutics of suspicion" in discerning the different forms of this retreat. The true victory (the true "negation of negation") occurs when the enemy talks your language. In this sense, a true victory is a victory in defeat: it occurs when one's specific message is accepted as a universal ground, even by the enemy. (Say, in the case of rational science versus belief, the true victory of science takes place when the church starts to defend itself in the language of science.) Or, in contemporary politics of the United Kingdom, as many a perspicuous commentator observed, the Thatcher revolution was in itself chaotic, impulsive, marked by unpredictable contingencies, and it was only the "Third Way" Blairite government who was able to institutionalize it, to stabilize it into new institutional forms, or, to put it in Hegelese, to raise (what first appeared as) a contingency, a historical accident, into necessity. In this sense, Blair repeated Thatcherism, elevating it into a concept, in the same way that, for Hegel, Augustus repeated Caesar, transforming-sublating a (contingent) personal name into a concept, a title. Thatcher was not a Thatcherite, she was just herself - it was only Blair (more than John Major) who truly formed Thatcherism as a notion. The dialectical irony of history is that only a (nominal) ideologico-political enemy can do this to you, can elevate you into a concept - the empirical instigator has to be knocked off (Julius Caesar had to be murdered, Thatcher had to be ignominously deposed).

There is a surprising lesson of the last decades, the lesson of the West European Third Way social democracy, but also the lesson of the Chinese Communists presiding over what is arguably the most explosive development of capitalism in the entire history: we can do it better. Recall the classical Marxist account of the overcoming of capitalism: capitalism unleashed the breath-taking dynamics of self-enhancing productivity - in capitalism, "all things solid melt into thin air," capitalism is the greatest revolutionizer in the entire history of humanity; on the other hand, this capitalist dynamics is propelled by its own inner obstacle or antagonism - the ultimate limit of capitalism (of the capitalist self-propelling productivity) is the Capital itself, i.e. the capitalist incessant development and revolutionizing of its own material conditions, the mad dance of its unconditional spiral of productivity, is ultimately nothing but a desperate flight forward to escape its own debilitating inherent contradiction... Marx's fundamental mistake was here to conclude, from these insights, that a new, higher social order (Communism) is possible, an order that would not only maintain, but even raise to a higher degree and effectively fully release the potential of the self-increasing spiral of productivity which, in capitalism, on account of its inherent obstacle/contradiction, is again and again thwarted by socially destructive economic crises. In short, what Marx overlooked is that, to put it in the standard Derridean terms, this inherent obstacle/antagonism as the "condition of impossibility" of the full deployment of the productive forces is simultaneously its "condition of possibility": if we abolish the obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get the fully unleashed drive to productivity finally delivered of its impediment, but we lose precisely this productivity that seemed to be generated and simultaneously thwarted by capitalism - if we take away the obstacle, the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates... And it is as if this logic of "obstacle as a positive condition" which underlied the failure of the socialist attempts to overcome capitalism, is now returning with a vengeance in capitalism itself: capitalism can fully thrive not in the unencumbered reign of the market, but only when an obstacle (the minimal Welfare State interventions, up to the direct political rule of the Communist Party, as is the case in China) constraints its unimpeded reign.

So, ironically, THIS is the "synthesis" of capitalism and Communism in Mao's sense: in a unique kind of the poetic justice of history, it was capitalism which "synthetized" the Maoist Communism. The key news from China in the last years is the emergence of large-scale workers movement, protesting the work conditions which are the price for China rapidly becoming the world's foremost manufacturing place, and the brutal way the authorities cracked down on it - a new proof, if one is still needed, that China is today the ideal capitalist state: freedom for the capital, with the state doing the "dirty job" of controlling the workers. China as the emerging superpower of the XXIth century thus seems to embody a new kind of capitalism: disregard for ecological consequences, disregard for workers' rights, everything subordinated to the ruthless drive to develop and become the new superpower. The big question is: what will the Chinese do with regard to the biogenetic revolution? Is it not a safe wager that they will throw themselves into unconstrained genetic manipulations of plants, animals and humans, bypassing all our »Western« moral prejudices and limitations?

This is the ultimate price for Mao's theoretical mistake of rejection "negation of negation," of his failure to grasp how "negation of negation" is not a compromise between a position and its too radical negation, but, on the contrary, the only true negation. [17] And it is because Mao is unable to theoretically formulate this self-relating negation of form itself that he gets caught in the "bad infinity" of endless negating, scissions into two, subdivision... In Hegelese, Mao's dialectic remains at the level of Understanding, of fixed notional oppositions; it is unable to formulate the properly dialectical self-relating of notional determinations. It is this "serious mistake" (to use a Stalinist term) which led Mao, when he was courageous enough to draw all the consequences from his stances, to reach a properly nonsensical conclusion that, in order to invigorate class struggle, one should directly open up the field to the enemy:

Let them go in for capitalism. Society is very complex. If one only goes in for socialism and not for capitalism, isn't that too simple? Wouldn't we then lack the unity of opposites, and be merely one-sided? Let them do it. Let them attack us madly, demonstrate in the streets, take up arms to rebel - I approve all of these things. Society is very complex, there is not a single commune, a single hsien, a single department of the Central Committee, in which one cannot divide into two.

This notion of dialectics provides the basic matrix of Mao's politics, its repeated oscillation between "liberal" openness and then the "hard line" purge: first, allow the proverbial "hundred flowers to blossom," so that the enemies will actualize and fully express their reactionary hidden tendencies; then, once everyone's true positions are clearly articulated, engage in a ruthless struggle. Again, what Mao fails to do here is to proceed to the properly Hegelian "identity of the opposites," and to recognize in the force the Revolution is fighting and trying to annihilate its own essence, as is the case in G.K.Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, in which the secret police chief organizing the search for the anarchist leader and this mysterious leader at the end appear to be one and the same person (God himself, incidentally). And did Mao himself ultimately not play a similar role, a role of secular God who is at the same time the greatest rebel against himself? What this Chestertonian identity of the good Lord with the anarchist Rebel enacts is the logic of the social carnival brought to the extreme of self-reflexion: anarchist outbursts are not a transgression of the Law and Order; in our societies, anarchism already IS in power wearing the mask of Law and Order - our Justice is the travesty of Justice, the spectacle of Law and order is an obscene carnival - the point made clear by the arguably greatest political poem in English, "The Mask of Anarchy" by Percy Shelley, which describes the obscene parade of the figures of power:

And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.

Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw -

This identity is difficult to assume, even in cinema. Although V for Vendetta was praised (by none other than Toni Negri, among others) and, even more, criticized for its "radical" - pro-terrorist, even - stance, it does not go to the end: it shirks from drawing the consequences from the parallels between Sutler and V, the totalitarian dictator and the anarchist-terrorist rebel. The "Norsefire" party is, we learn, the instigator of the terror it is fighting - but what about the further identity of Sutler and V? In both cases, we never see the live face (except the scared Sutler at the very end, when he is about to die): Sutler we see only on TV-screens, and V is a specialist in manipulating the screen. Furthermore, V's dead body is placed on the train with the explosives, in a kind of Viking funeral strangely evoking the name of the ruling party: Norsefire. So when Evey is imprisoned and tortured by V in order to learn to overcome fear and be free, is this not parallel to what Sutler does to the entire English population, terrorizing them so that they get free and rebel? This is the lesson that the film fails to draw: the Chestertonian lesson of the ultimate IDENTITY between V and Sutler.

And is not this Hegelian-Chestertonian shift from the criminal transgression of Law and Order to Law and Order itself as the highest criminal transgression directly enacted by Mao himself? This is why, while setting in motion and secretly pulling the strings of the self-destructive carnival, Mao nonetheless remained exempted from its shifts: at no moment was there ever a serious threat that Stalin (or Mao) himself should be ritualistically deposed, treated as "yesterday a king, today a beggar" - he was not the traditional Master, but the "Lord of Misrule":

In the European Middle Ages it was customary for great households to choose a 'Lord of Misrule.' The person chosen was expected to preside over the revels that briefly reversed or parodied the conventional social and economic hierarchies. /.../When the brief reign of misrule was over, the customary order of things would be restored: the Lords of Misrule would go back to their menial occupations, while their social superiors resumed their wonted status. /.../ sometimes the idea of Lord of Misrule would spill over from the realm of revel to the realm of politics. /.../ the apprentices took over from their guild masters for a reckless day or two, /.../ gender roles were reversed for a day as the women took over the tasks and airs normally associated only with men. / Chinese philosophers also loved the paradoxes of status reversed, the ways that wit or shame could deflate pretension and lead to sudden shifts of insight. /.../ It was Mao's terrible accomplishment to seize on such insights from earlier Chinese philosophers, combine them with elements drawn from Western socialist thought, and to use both in tandem to prolong the limited concept of misrule into a long-drawn-out adventure in upheaval. To Mao, the former lords and masters should never be allowed to return; he felt they were not his betters, and that society was liberated by their removal. He also thought the customary order of things should never be restored. [18]

Is, however, such a "terrible accomplishment" not the elementary gesture of every true revolutionary? Why revolution at all, if we do not think that "the customary order of things should never be restored?" What Mao does is to deprive the transgression of its ritualized, ludic character by way of taking it seriously: revolution is not just a temporary safety valve, a carnivalesque explosion destined to be followed by a sobering morning after. His problem was precisely the lack of the "negation of negation," the failure of the attempts to transpose revolutionary negativity into a truly new positive Order: all temporary stabilizations of the revolution amounted to so many restorations of the old Order, so that the only way to keep the revolution alive was the "spurious infinity" of endlessly repeated negation which reached its apex in the Great Cultural Revolution. In his Logiques des mondes, Badiou elaborated two subjective attitudes of countering an event: the "reactive subject" and the "obscure subject." [19] Insofar as one is ready to assume the risk of obscenely designating the reintroduction of capitalism into China a kind of event, one can claim that the Cultural Revolution and the Revisionism identified by the name "Deng Hsiao-Ping" stand, respectively, for the obscure and the reactive subject: Deng orchestrated the re-integration of capitalism into the new Communist China, while the Cultural Revolution aimed at its total annihilation and was as such precisely what Badiou calls un désastre obscur. Badiou himself concedes that the final result of the Cultural Revolution was a negative one:

it all began when, between 1966 and 1968, saturating in the real the previous hypotheses, the Red Guardist high-school pupils and students, and then the workers of Shanghai, prescribed for the decades to come the affirmative realization of this beginning, of which they themselves, since their fury remained caught into what they were raising against, explored only the face of pure negation. [20]

One should make a step further here: what if the Cultural Revolution was "negative" not only in the sense of clearing up the space and opening up the way for a new beginning, but negative in itself, negative as an index of the IMPOTENCE to generate the New? In this precise sense, there effectively IS a parallel between the Cultural Revolution and the Stalinist purges at their decisive moment, when Stalin made a risky move of directly appealing to the lower rank-and-file members themselves, soliciting them to articulate their complaint against the arbitrary rule of the local Party bosses (a move similar to the Cultural Revolution) - their fury at the regime, unable to express itself directly, exploded all the more viciously against the personalized substitute targets. Since the upper nomenklatura at the same time retained its executive power also in the purges themselves, this set in motion a properly carnivalesque self-destructive vicious cycle in which virtually everyone was threatened. Another aspect of the spiraling vicious cycle were the very fluctuations of the directives from the top as to the thoroughness of the purges: the top demanded harsh measures, while at the same time warning against excesses, so the executors were put in an untenable position - ultimately, whatever they did was wrong. If they did not arrest enough traitors and discover enough conspiracies, they were considered lenient and supporting counterrevolution; so, under this pressure, in order to meet the quota, as it were, they had to fabricate evidence and invent plots - thereby exposing themselves to the criticism that they are themselves saboteurs, destroying thousands of honest Communists on behalf of the foreign powers... Stalin's strategy of addressing directly the party masses, co-opting their anti-bureucratic attitudes, was thus very risky:

This not only threatened to open elite politics to public scrutiny but also risked discrediting the entire Bolshevik regime, of which Stalin himself was a part. /.../ Finally, in 1937, Stalin broke all the rules of the game - indeed, destroyed the game completely - and unleashed a terror of all against all. [21]

One can discern very precisely the superego dimension of these events: this very violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members bears witness to the radical self-contradiction of the regime, i.e. to the fact that, at the origins of the regime, there was an "authentic" revolutionary project - incessant purges were necessary not only to erase the traces of the regime's own origins, but also as a kind of "return of the repressed," a reminder of the radical negativity at the heart of the regime. The Stalinist purges of high Party echelons relied on this fundamental betrayal: the accused were effectively guilty insofar as they, as the members of the new nomenklatura, betrayed the Revolution. The Stalinist terror is thus not simply the betrayal of the Revolution, i.e. the attempt to erase the traces of the authentic revolutionary past; it rather bears witness to a kind of "imp of perversity" which compels the post-revolutionary new order to (re)inscribe its betrayal of the Revolution within itself, to "reflect" it or "remark" it in the guise of arbitrary arrests and killings which threatened all members of the nomenklatura - as in psychoanalysis, the Stalinist confession of guilt conceals the true guilt. (As is well known, Stalin wisely recruited into the NKVD people of lower social origins who were thus able to act out their hatred of the nomenklatura by arresting and torturing high apparatchiks.) This inherent tension between the stability of the rule of the new nomenklatura and the perverted "return of the repressed" in the guise of the repeated purges of the ranks of the nomenklatura is at the very heart of the Stalinist phenomenon: purges are the very form in which the betrayed revolutionary heritage survives and haunts the regime...

This brings us back to the central weakness of Mao's thought and politics. Many a commentator has made ironic remarks about the apparent stylistic clumsiness of the titles of Soviet Communist books and articles, such as their tautological character, in the sense of the repeated use of the same word (like »revolutionary dynamics in the early stages of the Russian revolution,« or »economic contradictions in the development of the Soviet economy«). However, what if this tautology points towards the awareness of the logic of betrayal best rendered by the classic reproach of Robespierre to the Dantonist opportunists: "What you want is a revolution without revolution?" The tautological repetition thus signals the urge to repeat the negation, to relate it to itself - the true revolution is »revolution with revolution,« a revolution which, in its course, revolutionizes its own starting presuppositions. Hegel had a presentiment of this necessity when he wrote, "It is a modern folly to alter a corrupt ethical system, its constitution and legislation, without changing the religion, to have a revolution without a reformation." [22] He thereby announced the necessity of the Cultural Revolution as the condition of the successful social revolution. What this means is that the problem with hitherto revolutionary attempts was not that they were »too extreme,« but that they were not radical enough, that they did not question their own presuppositions. In a wonderful essay on Chevengur, Platonov's great peasant Utopia written in 1927 and 1928 (just prior to forced collectivization), Fredric Jameson describes the two moments of the revolutionary process. It begins with the gesture of radical negativity:

this first moment of world-reduction, of the destruction of the idols and the sweeping away of an old world in violence and pain, is itself the precondition for the reconstruction of something else. A first moment of absolute immanence is necessary, the blank slate of absolute peasant immanence or ignorance, before new and undreamed-of-sensations and feelings can come into being. [23]

Then follows the second stage, the invention of a new life - not only the construction of the new social reality in which our utopian dreams would be realized, but the (re)construction of these dreams themselves:

a process that it would be too simple and misleading to call reconstruction or Utopian construction, since in effect it involves the very effort to find a way to begin imagining Utopia to begin with. Perhaps in a more Western kind of psychoanalytic language /.../ we might think of the new onset of the Utopian process as a kind of desiring to desire, a learning to desire, the invention of the desire called Utopia in the first place, along with new rules for the fantasizing or daydreaming of such a thing - a set of narrative protocols with no precedent in our previous literary institutions. [24]

The reference to psychoanalysis is here crucial and very precise: in a radical revolution, people not only "realize their old (emancipatory, etc.) dreams"; rather, they have to reinvent their very modes of dreaming. Is this not the exact formula of the link between death drive and sublimation? Therein resides the necessity of the Cultural Revolution clearly grasped by Mao: as Herbert Marcuse put it in another wonderful circular formula from the same epoch, freedom (from ideological constraints, from the predominant mode of dreaming) is the condition of liberation, i.e., if we only change reality in order to realize our dreams, and do not change these dreams themselves, we sooner or later regress to old reality. There is a Hegelian "positing of presuppositions" at work here: the hard work of liberation retroactively forms its own presupposition.

It is ONLY this reference to what happens AFTER the revolution, to the "morning after," that allows us to distinguish between libertarian pathetic outbursts and true revolutionary upheavals: these upheavals lose their energy when one has to approach the prosaic work of social reconstruction - at this point, lethargy sets in. In contrast to it, recall the immense creativity of the Jacobins just prior to their fall, the numerous proposals about new civic religion, about how to sustain the dignity of old people, and so on. Therein also resides the interest of reading the reports about daily life in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, with the enthusiastic urge to invent new rules for quotidian existence: how does one get married? What are the new rules of courting? How does one celebrate a birthday? How does one get buried?... [25]

At this point, the Cultural Revolution miserably failed. It is difficult to miss the irony of the fact that Badiou, who adamantly opposes the notion of act as negative, locates the historical significance of the Maoist Cultural Revolution precisely in the negative gesture of signaling "the end of the party-State as the central production of revolutionary political activity" - it is here that he should have been consequent and deny the evental status of the Cultural Revolution: far from being an Event, it was rather a supreme display of what Badiou likes to refer to as the "morbid death drive." Destroying old monuments was not a true negation of the past, it was rather an impotent passage à bearing witness to the failure to get rid of the past.

So, in a way, there is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the final result of Mao's Cultural Revolution is today's unheard-of explosion of capitalist dynamics in China. That is to say, with the full deployment of capitalism, especially today's "late capitalism," it is the predominant "normal" life itself which, in a way, gets "carnivalized," with its constant self-revolutionizing, with its reversals, crises, reinventions. Brian Massumi formulated clearly this deadlock, which is based on the fact that today's capitalism already overcame the logic of totalizing normality and adopted the logic of the erratic excess:

the more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normalcy starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening of normalcy is part of capitalism's dynamic. It's not a simple liberation. It's capitalism's own form of power. It's no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it's capitalism's power to produce variety - because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay - as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorises affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relational field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It's very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there's been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance. [26]

There IS thus, beyond all cheap jibes and superficial analogies, a profound structural homology between the Maoist permanent self-revolutionizing, the permanent struggle against the ossification of State structures, and the inherent dynamics of capitalism. One is tempted to paraphrase here Brecht, his "What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?", yet again: what are the violent and destructive outbursts of a Red Guardist caught in the Cultural Revolution compared to the true Cultural Revolution, the permanent dissolution of all life-forms necessitated by the capitalist reproduction? It is the reign of today's global capitalism which is the true Lord of Misrule. No wonder, then, that, in order to curb the excess of social disintegration caused by the capitalist explosion, Chinese officials not celebrate religions and traditional ideologies which sustain social stability, from Buddhism to Confucianism, i.e., the very ideologies that were the target of the Cultural Revolution. In April 2006, Ye Xiaowen, China's top religious official, told the Xinhua News Agency that "religion is one of the important forces from which China draws strength," and he singled out Buddhism for its 'unique role in promoting a harmonious society," the official formula for combining economic expansion with social development and care; the same week, China hosted the World Buddhist Forum. [27] The role of religion as the force of stability against the capitalist dynamics is thus officially sanctioned - what is bothering Chinese authorities in the case of sects like Falun Gong is merely their independence from the state control. (This is why one should also reject the argument that Cultural Revolution strengthened socialist attitudes among the people and thus helped to curb the worst disintegrative excesses of today's capitalist development: quite on the contrary, by undermining traditional stabilizing ideologies like Confucianism, it rendered the people all the more vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of capitalism.)

This capitalist reappropriation of the revolutionary dynamics is not without its comic side-effects. It was recently made public that, in order to conceptualize the IDF urban warfare against the Palestinians, the IDF military academies systematically refer to Deleuze and Guattari, especially to Thousand Plateaux, using it as "operational theory" - the catchwords used are "Formless Rival Entities", "Fractal Manoeuvre", "Velocity vs. Rhythms", "The Wahabi War Machine", "Postmodern Anarchists", "Nomadic Terrorists". One of the key distinctions they rely on is the one between "smooth" and "striated" space, which reflect the organizational concepts of the "war machine" and the "state apparatus". The IDF now often uses the term "to smooth out space" when they want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders. Palestinian areas are thought of as "striated" in the sense that they are enclosed by fences, walls, ditches, road blocks and so on:

The attack conducted by units of the IDF on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as "inverse geometry", which he explained as "the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions". During the battle soldiers moved within the city across hundreds of metres of overground tunnels carved out through a dense and contiguous urban structure. Although several thousand soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas were manoeuvring simultaneously in the city, they were so "saturated" into the urban fabric that very few would have been visible from the air. Furthermore, they used none of the city's streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as "infestation", seeks to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. The IDF's strategy of "walking through walls" involves a conception of the city as not just the site but also the very medium of warfare "a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux. [28]

So what does it follow from all this? Not, of course, the nonsensical accusation of Deleuze and Guattari as theorists of militaristic colonization - but the conclusion that the conceptual machine articulated by Deleuze and Guattari, far from being simply "subversive," also fits the (military, economic, and ideologico-political) operational mode of today's capitalism. - How, then, are we to revolutionize an order whose very principle is constant self-revolutionizing? This, perhaps, is THE question today, and this is the way one should REPEAT Mao, re-inventing his message to the hundreds of millions of the anonymous downtrodden, a simple and touching message of courage: "Bigness is nothing to be afraid of. The big will be overthrown by the small. The small will become big." The same message of courage sustains also Mao's (in)famous stance towards a new atomic world war:

We stand firmly for peace and against war. But if the imperialists insist on unleashing another war, we should not be afraid of it. Our attitude on this question is the same as our attitude towards any disturbance: first, we are against it; second, we are not afraid of it. The First World War was followed by the birth of the Soviet Union with a population of 200 million. The Second World War was followed by the emergence of the socialist camp with a combined population of 900 million. If the imperialists insist on launching a third world war, it is certain that several hundred million more will turn to socialism, and then there will not be much room left on earth for the imperialists.

It is all too easy to dismiss these lines as empty posturing of a leader ready to sacrifice millions for his political goals (the extension ad absurdum of Mao's ruthless decision to starve tens of millions to death in the late 1950s) - the other side of this dismissive attitude is the basic message: "we should not be afraid." Is this not the only correct attitude apropos war: "first, we are against it; second, we are not afraid of it"? There is definitely something terrifying about this attitude - however, this terror is nothing less than the condition of freedom.


[1] Along these lines, some Western Marxists attributed Stalinism to Russia's belonging to the sphere of the "Asiatic mode of production," seeing it as a new form of "Oriental despotism" - the irony being that, for traditional Russians, the exact opposite hold: "It was always a Western fancy to see Lenin and Stalin as 'Oriental' despots. The great Russian tyrants in the eighteenth and the twentieth century were Westernizers." (Lesley Chamberlain, The Philosophy Steamer, London: Atlantic Books 2006, p. 270)

[2] Emmanuel Levinas, Les imprévus de l'histoire, Fata Morgana 1994, p. 172.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Schelling's Treatise on Human Freedom, Athens: Ohio University Press 1985, p. 146.

[4] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977, p. 288.

[5]F.W.J. Schelling, Die Weltalter. Fragmente. In den Urfassungen von 1811 und 1813, ed. Manfred Schroeter, Munich: Biederstein 1979, p. 13.

[6]Georgi M. Derluguian, Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 2005.

[7]Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, London: Verso, 2005.

[8] op. cit.

[9] Alain Badiou, "Prefazione all'edizione italiana", in Metapolitica, Napoli: Cronopio, 2002.

[10] And are the latest statements of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt not a kind of unexpected confirmation of this Badiou's insight? Following a paradoxical necessity, their very (focusing on) anti-capitalism led them to acknowledge the revolutionary force of capitalism, so that, as they put it recently, one no longer needs to fight capitalism, because capitalism is already in itself generating communist potentials - the "becoming-communist of capitalism," to put it in Deleuzian terms...

[11] Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, New York: Knopf 2005.

[12] Heidegger is also wrong in his letter to Marcuse, comparing holocaust to the 1946-7 deportation of Germans from Eastern Europe - Herbert Marcuse was right in his reply: the difference between the fate of Jews and the Eastern European Germans was, at that moment, the thin line that separated barbarism from civilization.

[13] Samuel Beckett, Trilogy, London: Calder Publications 2003, p. 418.

[14] Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow, New York: Oxford University Press 1986, p. 119.

[15] Conquest, op.cit., p. 120.

[16] Ibid

[17] No wonder, then, that, when he describes the «democratic method of resolving contradictions among the people," Mao HAS to evoke his own version of, precisely, "negation of negation," in the guise of the formula "unity-criticism-unity": "starting from the desire for unity, resolving contradictions through criticism or struggle, and arriving at a new unity on a new basis. In our experience this is the correct method of resolving contradictions among the people."

[18] Jonathan Spence, Mao, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1999, p. xii-xiv.

[19] Alain Badiou, Logiques des mondes, Paris: Éditions du Senil 2006, p. 62-70.

[20] Badiou, op.cit., p. 543-544.

[21] Ibid

[22] G.W.F. Hegel, Enzyklopaedie der philosophischen Wissenschaften, Hamburg 1959, p. 436.

[23] Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time, New York: Columbia University Press 1994, p. 89.

[24] Jameson, op.cit., p. 90.

[25] Was Che Guevara's withdrawal from all official functions, even from Cuban citizenship, in 1965, in order to dedicate himself to world revolution - this suicidal gesture of cutting the links with the institutional universe - really an ACT? Or, was it an escape from the impossible task of the positive construction of socialism, from remaining faithful to the CONSEQUENCES of the revolution, namely, an implicit admission of failure?

[26] Brian Massumi, "Navigating Movements," in Hope, ed. Mary Zournazi, New York: Routledge 2002, p. 224.

[27] See the report "Renewed Faith," Time, May 8 2006, p. 34-35.

[28] Eyal Weizman, "Israeli Military Using Post-Structuralism as 'Operational Theory'," available online at www.frieze.com.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

© lacan.com 1997/2006
Copyright Notice. Please respect the fact that this material in LACAN.COM is copyright.
It is made available here without charge for personal use only. Available only through EBSCO Publishng, Inc.
It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.