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Documento 272 Mao, the Great Dialectician* Alain Badiou

As everyone will see from reading the texts published by Brumaria in this book, Mao distinguishes himself from all other 20th century revolutionary leaders by the clarity and subtlety of his dialectical thought. Without a doubt he is the great dialectician of the communist movement. This was already noted by Bertolt Brecht in his journal following his enthusiastic reading of the text On Contradiction. It is also the reason for which my friend of that period, Sylvain Lazarus, decided to name the actions of the Chinese communists under the direction of Mao the dialectical mode of the political when he set about to classify that which he called the historical modes of the political. In the following lines I would like to show how this dialectic functions within the fundamental example of the theory of war. Above all, I would like to extract from Maos strategic concepts the kernel of a philosophy in action [en acte], which will prove to be extremely complex. During the Cold War, a great question was the transformation of the relationship between war and peace. Have atomic weapons radically changed this relationship? And what were the means of a new form of peace? The direction of the Chinese Communist Party has been profoundly divided with regard to these points, especially during and after the Korean War. Maos position can be summarized in three points: 1. Against Khrushchev, we must affirm that we are always in a period of imperialist war. 2. Against the idea of the modernization of the Chinese army, following the model of imperialist armies, we must affirm that we are always in a period of peoples war, and that the paradigm of military organizations is a political one, and not a technical one. 3. Against the theory of terrorist use of new technical means, we must affirm that the dialectics of war and peace, and the subordination of the first to the second, is contained in the doctrine of strategic defensive. We know that Maos convictions find their roots in the very beginning of his revolutionary life. This is why I now return to the experiences of the twenties. My goal is to explain once more, and I hope in a new fashion, why these experiences defined the core of what we can name the Maoist determination of the relationship between war and politics, and finally the core of a dialectical thinking of revolutionary action. I call truth-body the concrete and material existence of the becoming of a new truth in a determinate world. Truths can be of different types. There exist, for example, political truths, artistic truths, scientific truthsWhen there is some evidence that something like a new process, a creative one, appears in the classical fields where truths exist, we have the intellectual possibility to search the conditions of possibility of this existence. I name this kind of question and knowledge a subjective induction. For a subjective induction, we have, with respect to a determinate world, to answer the question: Why can a truth-body exist in this world? Just as Mao, on October 5, 1928, asked, in a famous report: Why is it that Red Political Power can Exist in China? So this text of Mao, and in fact many others, is formally a subjective induction. What is it that Mao calls Red Political Power? It is the prolonged existence in certain rural zones of a revolutionary force held together by a very small number of communist militants. We are clearly dealing with a material composition, a new body, by means of which the revolutionary process begins to produce the truth of contemporary China. Maos approach is really inductive. He begins with a paradoxical remark: there are small liberated zones in China. And, as hell declare:

Prologue by Alain Badiou included in Mao Tse-tung, On Contradiction, Madrid, Brumaria, 2012.

The long-term survival inside a country of one or more small areas under Red political power completely encircled by a White regime is a phenomenon that has never occurred anywhere else in the world. We must shed light on this paradox by referring back to the historical conditions of the world China, to the sites that appear within it. Such is the nature of the question Why? when applied to the existence of a truth-body. Maos characterization of the world China-in-the-twenties describes a dialectical singularity. China is neither a stable imperialist country, where the long-term existence of a local revolutionary power is obviously impossible, nor a colonized country, subject to the direct dictatorship of established predators supported by a military administration. China, according to Mao, is under the indirect domination of imperialism, and thus finds itself disputed, divided, dismembered into zones of influence of imperialisms allied to different local despots. We could say that the world China-in-the-twenties offers a disparate topology of imperial and national intensities, an almost infinite kaleidoscope of territories traversed by forces which are opposed to one another. Whence the existence of intermediate non-controlled zones, refuges for dissidents, such as the region of the Chingkang mountains would be for Mao and his troops in the years 192729. This localization of political appearing in the China of the twenties is reinforced by the decentralized and anarchic character of agrarian production. There is, as Mao says, a local agrarian economy, and not a single capitalist economy for the whole country. This weakness of the market represents a great advantage for the rebels. It makes it possible, if one manages to enlist the local peasants, to find in politically and militarily poorly controlled districts the means of subsistence. This description localizes political intensities in a discontinuous manner. The world is delivered over to a kind of anarchy of political appearing: all that augments, on the condition that an event imposes its trace, the chances of the dialectical constitution of a truth-body. But this spatial condition is not by itself sufficient. We must have also a temporal or evental condition. Subjective induction identifies the trace of an event and thinks the space (or the place) of the new present. The site that Mao localizes in the world according to which China historically appears in the twenties is of course tributary with regard to the great event of 1911: the collapse of centralized imperial power and the advent of the republic. But it cannot be simply identified with this break. In effect, after 1912, under the name of Republic, we are essentially faced with a long sequence of military anarchy, in which, Mao writes: the various cliques of old and new warlords have waged incessant wars against one another, supported by imperialism from abroad and by the comprador and landlord classes at home This anarchy overdetermines the positive factors of the environing historical world: in such a decomposition of reactionary authorities, the path of a revolutionary army is marked out all the better. Besides, by stimulating all those who wish to reunify China and protect it from post-feudal banditry, it underlies what Mao calls the democratic bourgeois revolution of 192627, which is the true evental reference for the truth-body in the making whose historical name will be Red Army. The revolutionary cycle that composes the site from which the question of a new body is posed (red political power) stretches from 1924 to 1927. It includes the Canton insurrection just as much as the peasant insurrections of Hunan. The trace of this site is without doubt the statement: The Chinese people can and must unify and entirely revolutionize its country. This is a statement that includes within it the idea that the fate of China cannot be put into the hands either of foreign powersincluding of course the Japanese invaderor of military cliques, nor indeed of corrupted politicians or, finally, of the official direction of the national movement, embodied by Chiang Kai-shek. But which elements of the world are virtually incorporable into the new body? Maos response is unequivocal: in a massive way, these are the poor peasants, a certain number of workers from the provinces of the Centre and South, and some intellectuals won over to communism. They have proven their proximity to the new political path through potent uprisings, by the creation of an extended network of syndical organizations and peasant unions, such that in numerous districts in these provinces the political power of the peasants has existed.

We have here a new localization of that which, within the particularly non-classical world of twentieth-century China, will offer an unprecedented political body its chance. Mao remarks that the regions where China's Red political power has first emerged and is able to last for a long time have not been those unaffected by the democratic revolution [of 26-27]. That is why from October 1927 onwards, Mao will install the embryo of his army and the communist cadres that follow it in the Chingkang mountains, as an immediate acknowledgment of the many revolutionary episodes in the region (the insurrection in Nanchang in August 1927, the autumn harvest uprising). Through a series of successive filterings, subjective induction allows us to think the place in which the new present is constituted, what we could call the space of the new time. Can we describe all these elements as the constitution of an unified body? Certainly not. On the contrary, subjective induction considers the immanent heterogeneity of the body. What Mao leads into the mountains is a kind of flotsam and jetsam, since the insurrections of 1927, from Canton to Nanchang, all failed, faced as they were with the bloody determination of the white generals, Chiang Kai-shek included. The enumeration that Mao makes of the ingredients of what is nonetheless the embryo of the future Red Army, the one that will seize power in Beijing twenty years later, is rather picturesque: (1) troops formerly under Yeh Ting and Ho Lung in Chaochow and Swatow; (2) the Guards Regiment of the former National Government at Wuchang; (3) peasants from Pingkiang and Liuyang; (4) peasants from southern Hunan and workers from Shuikoushan; (5) men captured from the forces under Hsu Keh-hsiang, Tang Sheng-chih, Pai Chung-hsi, Chu Pei-teh, Wu Shang and Hsiung Shih-hui; and (6) peasants from the counties in the border area. Faced with this hodgepodge, Mao is worried, and understandably so. He is well aware that workers and peasants may be found within it, but also dclass figures, ex-thieves, dubious folk, basically what the Marxist tradition calls elements of the Lumpenproletariat. He begs the Party Committee to send him workers from the coal mines of Anyuan. Nevertheless, he also knows that in the final analysis, these disparate elements can incorporate themselves into the Red Army, to the extent that they are compatible with it. And what guarantees that they are compatible is that they come from the localized revolutionary insurrections in China in the years 1924 to 1927. How we can evaluate the consistency that the new body, the red political power, is supposed to have? Mao responds as follows: through permanent discussion, assemblies, political education. What is decisive is that [soldiers, whatever their origins] know that they fight for themselves, for the working class and the peasantry. But, more subtly, the cohesion of the body Red Army, upon which depends the fact that the new present is subjectivated as an entirely new idea of politics and revolution, rests on the capacity of those who compose this body to expose its singularity to others. In other words, to work on new incorporations. The figure that surges up here is that of the soldier-militant, suited to Maos theses according to which the Red Armyand not the Communist Party aloneis charged with the political tasks of the revolution. That is why the non-military organization of soldiers, named committee, has a twofold function: to represent the interests of those who have accepted, under the sign of the Idea of the country, to incorporate themselves into the new body, but also, to illuminate all those who they meet regarding the political subject of which this body is the body: Each company, battalion or regiment has its soldiers' committee which represents the interests of the soldiers and carries on political and mass work. Any compatibility of the elements of a body is thus subjected to the test of an internal evaluation (what are the links between an element and other elements of the same body?) and an external evaluation (what is the action of an incorporated element in the world in which the body surges up?). The unity of these two evaluations is the dialectical dynamic of the cohesion of bodies; it deserves the name of dialectic of the subject, if by subject we mean the global orientation of the truth-process, or, if you want, the direction of the body. Beyond the norms of the composition of the truth-body, we can also examine its action, from the point of view of the singularity of the world. We have said that in the China of the twenties, political intensities are distributed according to a dispersive topology. This fact

concerns the local and active possibility of the new political body. In such and such a place, such and such points, the constituted body must treat the local parts of the world, and this treatment concerns the real of the body: the subjective becoming of a new truth, and therefore the appearing of this truth in a world. Mao, in 1927, localized the body Red Army in certain regions of China, namely the Hunan-Kiangsi border area, and within this small space he proposed a classification of points for the active existence of the Red Army. There is in effect the military question, the land question, the question of political power, the question of party organization, the question of the character of the revolution and the question of the location of our revolutionary base. We can quickly see that these six chapter headings overlap with six points, all of which are the object of bitter debates. They are points in the strict sense, that is, matters about which there are two orientations, such that to choose one of them affects the totality of the world in which the subject-body Red Army advances. For example, the question of party organization filters the entire local situationthe world Chingkang mountainsthrough the opposition between, on the one hand, the hypothesis of a solid maintenance of red political power, rooted in the population and practicing strategic defense, and, on the other, the alternation, when the enemy attacks, of propositions of the fight to the death kind and propositions (which according to Mao are subjectively identical) of the take flight kind. The character of the revolution names the classic debate of the twenties regarding the Chinese revolution: is it a proletarian revolution, as in Russia, or a democratic-bourgeois revolution? The location of our revolutionary base touches on the topological dimension of every political process. Must the principal organs of red power, and its army in particular, hold the center of the mountainous region, or go south, where the terrain is more favorable? This is the point around which the first open rebellion of Mao against the Party will develop. The Party Committee for the Hunan province decides on the second hypothesis. Convinced that subjective factors (the support of the peasants) prevail over objective benefits (the nature of the terrain), and subjected to a dilemmaeither disregard instructions or go headlong into defeatMao chooses disobedience. Let us develop in greater detail the structure of two points, which are of great interest for a complete understanding or Maos practical dialectics. Concerning the expression military question, it is important to understand the following point: in the periods of the temporary stabilization of the enemy campof respite in the civil wars between generalsis it necessary to persevere on a line of division of the red forces and of adventurous advances? Or must one resolutely stick to strategic defense? Influenced by the insurrectionalism of the Stalinist envoys of the International, some push for an offensive at all costs. Mao, throughout his twenty years of life as a partisan, or as a head of an insurgency, will effectively privilege the organization of the defensive. Or, more precisely, having affirmed that the rules of military action all derive from a single fundamental principle: strive to conserve your forces and annihilate those of the enemy, Mao never ceases to note that if the offensive decides the outcome of the war, defensive capacity determines its political consistency. The famous Long March itself is simply an epic consequence of this perspective. It represents an immense strategic retreat, aiming, at the cost of terrible sacrifices, to conserve what is essential: the existence of a truth-body, of a political Red Army. And it too only owed its existence to the very conflictual treatment of the military question, when Mao and his partisans opposed all those who refused the withdrawal. Mao proposed a striking formula in this regard: When we abandon the territory, it is in order to conserve that territory. Its certainly in this intellectual context that Mao can affirm, during the Cold War, first that we, the communists, dont want war, and second that we are not afraid of it, even if its an atomic war. Its because our invincibility is not at the level of technical means or of aggressive opportunities, but is enclosed in the conceptual framework of strategic defensive, and that this framework is a political one. The very essence of the revolutionary war is the possibility of a red political power. The political power in the territory where the subject-body exists poses, albeit on a small scale, the questionwhich was decisive throughout the history of the USSR and the Peoples Republic of Chinaof the dialectical links between the State and the Communist Party. Certainly this question is the most important for us, after the complete failure of the Soviet Union, which was based on something like a Party-State, a fusion of the State-Power

and the Party, a fusion of political determination of the Party and bureaucratic action of the State. How can a political organization of the power itself, which is neither identified to a separated State nor to the communist party, exist? From the very beginning, this was Maos fundamental question. And he perfectly knew the great difficulties in the becoming of a solution. In the liberated zones, executive committees are set up everywhere, elected in mass meetings of sorts. Now, not only are these committees often made up of skilled speakers with no real conviction (Mao says, and I know from personal experience how right he is, that in such meetings intellectuals and careerists easily prevail), but what is more the organs of the Party, wishing to simplify their work, conduct a lot of their business above the heads of the committees. The dual form of this point is particularly clear: either one concentrates the totality of the capacity for decision in the hands of the Party leaders, or one endows popular power with a militant reality, in the form, conceived by Mao, of councils of delegates from the workers, peasants, and soldiers. For forty years, from the Chingkang mountains to the Cultural Revolution, from the mountain councils of the peasants (1927) to the workers Commune of Shanghai (1967), Mao, nursing a profound distrust of Party bureaucracy, will ceaselessly though without a definite success, it must be saidtreat the point without making the easiest choice: the Party concentration of power, the sovereignty of the cadres, the Stalinist maxim, when the line is fixed, the cadres decide everything. Whence the support he sought on the side of the peasant movement, of rebellious workers, of the youth, and also of the army. Let us not forget that already in 1927 Mao writes that democracy in our army is an important weapon for undermining the feudal mercenary army and argues for military egalitarianism: Officers and men receive equal treatment, soldiers are free to hold meetings and to speak out; trivial formalities have been done away with; and the accounts are open for all to inspect. In the point constituted in the fabric of historical circumstances by the contradiction between Party-State and popular movement in the world of twentieth-century China, Mao most often sought to contradict the Stalinist fate. To each point there corresponds a meticulous examination, by Mao, of the resources available for its treatment in the subject-body to which he himself is incorporated: the Peoples Army, the Party, and the peasants as components of the paradoxical survival of red political power. We can follow how this theory of the efficacious parts and organs is clarified, point by point, by looking at three examples: 1. In what concerns military power, the efficacious part of the body is composed on the one hand by the regular army, on the other by so-called local forces: Detachments of the red guards and insurrectional detachments of workers and peasants. It therefore possesses no immediate unity. The organ in the proper sense is the strategic capacity of articulation of the two components, since the singularity of this body (an army that is not that of a State, but of a politics) derives from not being reducible to the simple appearance of a unified executive power. The organ is thus a principle, for which Mao provides the following general principle: The principle of the Red Army is the concentration of forces and that of the Red Guard, the dispersion of forces. 2. We have seen that the putting in place of a new type of peoples power makes a point of the fact that it counterpoised to the easy authority of the Party. The efficacy for the treatment of this point is obviously on the side of popular actors, if needs be against the Party cadres. But it is generally inactive, for a reason that Mao identifies with great acuity and which has lost none of its force. That is because the popular masses tend to turn to authorities, they have little taste for a political commitment that would devour their already limited time: People want to resolve problems without excessive worries, and they dont smile upon the democratic system [the councils of delegates] with all of its complications. Today the questions Why would I go to this meeting, to this assembly? Why should I be a militant, when my objective life is already so full of constraints? still remain the principal obstacles to the worker and popular deployment of a democratic politics from which electoral professionalism and the parties of the Capital have been extirpated.

Maos solution is a classical one: the efficacious part can only be organically realized if the link between reunions and actions is patent. An organ of popular power is to be found in the conditions of the movement: [There will be a peoples power] when this power will have proven its efficacy in revolutionary struggle, when the masses will have understood that it is capable of mobilizing to the best effect the forces of the people and to give them the greatest possible aid in their fight. In brief, in the Maoist vision, the political truth-body can only organically treat the point of the peoples power / Party power in the circumstances of a mass movement, struggle and battle. It is incapable of treating it positivelylacking an appropriate subjective determination to do sounder conditions of inertia or peace. Perhaps we are still there. In any case, on this point, which, on its own terms, remains unresolved, this Maoist politics encountered the danger of its own reactive subject, and then of the becoming-obscure in which, in its extreme forms (the Khmer Rouge and the Sendero Luminoso)it was shipwrecked. 3. The Party, as we have said, is confronted with its immanent scission between the opportunistic tendency (if things go badly, one disbands, if they go well, one charges forward without reflecting), on the one hand, and the difficulty of holding a line that articulates local offensive onto a strategic defense, on the other. That is its point. The efficacious part with regard to this point is the hard core of experienced revolutionaries. In effect, when the political body becomes visible and distributes the subjective present that it grounds, the Party, regarded as the most refined expression of the subject, grows exponentially. It is into the Party that the masses incorporate themselves. But many of these joiners are careerists. As soon as the winds change, they betray: As soon as the White terror struck, the careerists defected and acted as guides for the counter-revolutionaries in rounding up our comrades, and the Party organizations in the White areas mostly collapsed. It is therefore important that experienced revolutionaries control membership. Finally, the efficacious part of the body, with regard to the point under consideration, is the purge, with its attendant clandestineness, its ordeals, its selections and its obligatory education: After September the Party carried out a drastic house cleaning and set strict class qualifications for membership. [In several districts] Party organizations were dissolved and a re-registration was undertaken underground organizations have been built up to prepare the Party for carrying on its activities when the reactionaries come. Thus the organ is what is capable of focusing the efficacious part on itself, in order to pass the point to the side of the duration of the present, be it to the detriment of enthusiastic numerical extension: Though greatly reduced in numbers, the membership has gained in fighting capacity. All of these examples show that in the end, in the case of a political body that carries a new subject (in this instance the Chinese Red Army) and creates, through the consequences of its act, a new truth (in this instance Maoist politics as the paradigm of peoples war), the treatment of a point demands corporeal constraints tied to its immanent organicity: the principle of concentration / dispersion, the duration of local victories, movementist subjectivity, purging. We know that all this is probably insufficient to solve the problems at a great scale. But we also know that we find here, in Maos work, a creative novelty concerning the most important problems of contemporary politics. In philosophical terms, we know that point by point, a truthbody reorganizes itself, making ever more singular consequences appear in the world, consequences which subjectively weave a truth about which it can be said that it will render eternal the present of the present. And that is properly the fundamental dialectical relationship between action and thinking, or, if we use more classical terms, between the truth of theory and the efficiency of practice.