War politics, politics war—each ‘continues’ the other: ‘After several decades, the victory of the Chinese people’s democratic revolution, viewed in retrospect, will seem like only a brief prologue to a long drama.’footnote1

Every strategy, even a generalized one, is a limited instrument. He who sets this limit distinguishes a time of war from a time of peace and masters their inter-connection, the two-way traffic relating one to the other. Strategy is a particular but exemplary case of the theory of struggle, of ‘contradiction’, in which Mao Tse-tung thinks the entire life of society.

Thermonuclear weapons have proved ‘non-decisive’ in the framework of classical strategy. This could indicate either the subordinate character of the use of the atomic threat, or the end of classical strategy. To exclude this second alternative it is necessary to show that the ‘ultimate’ weapon is not the foundation for a political decision that might simply be substituted for the strategic decision.

War is thought with the aid of a particular instrument: a matrix in which ‘objective’ factors only intervene as a function of the ‘reciprocal action’ of the opponents, the intersection of their strategies. Mathematicians note that this model is valid not only for armed conflict; they extend it for example to the economy, especially to conflict between monopolies.footnote2 Thus we find a principle of intelligibility that is valid for every relation of forces in general. Forces cannot be defined in isolation; each is not in itself a (physical or statistical) quantity, and cannot be considered separately at first and added to the others later (non-additivity). To analyse forces is always to relate them together.

Consideration of the relation logically precedes every inquiry bearing on observable reality, because the former organizes the latter. For reasons of method, when he proceeds to an ‘analysis of the classes in Chinese society’,footnote3 Mao Tse-tung starts with the question ‘Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?’: the inter-relation of forces governs every analysis of concrete forces. This method opposes ‘external’ causality and ‘internal’ causality: ‘The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing . . . Social development is due chiefly not to external but to internal causes’.footnote4 Strategy offers an example of such a pre-eminence of the relation over the forces it connects together: the various factors producing strength and weakness only act within the ‘contradiction’ between the opponents. ‘In war, offence and defence, advance and retreat, victory and defeat are all mutually contradictory phenomena. One cannot exist without the other. The two aspects are at once in conflict and in interdependence, and this constitutes the totality of a war, pushes its development forward and solves its problems’.footnote5

This approach is valid generally: it characterizes a ‘world outlook’. The action of external forces is a function of the ‘internal’ conflict in which they intervene. Mao Tse-tung’s originality lies in the conclusions he is able to draw from this affirmation. If forces only exist in a relation, they may be present there virtually. Strategy bases the superiority of defence on the relation of forces, and the latter cannot be observed since they have to be ‘awakened’, organized. Observation only verifies strategy post festum, when the latter is successful. ‘In history, such absolute superiority rarely appears in the early stages of a war or a campaign but is to be found towards its end’.footnote6 Thus strategy must be true before it has been verified, like all theory: ‘Generally speaking, those (ideas) that succeed are correct and those that fail are incorrect, and this is especially true of man’s struggle with nature. In social struggle, the forces representing the advanced class sometimes suffer defeat not because their ideas are incorrect, but because, in the balance of forces engaged in struggle, they are not as powerful for the time being as the forces of reaction’.footnote7 The same is true of ideas and theories, whose truth is ‘specific’ and cannot be confirmed or invalidated by immediate observation: ‘Throughout history, new and correct things have often failed at the outset to win recognition from the majority of people and have had to develop by twists and turns in struggle. Often correct and good things have first been regarded not as fragrant flowers but as poisonous weeds. Copernicus’ theory of the solar system and Darwin’s theory of evolution were once dismissed as erroneous and had to win through over bitter opposition’.footnote8

The internal/external distinction extends the type of intelligibility first encountered in strategy to every form of thought. Forces only exist within a relation, which must be reflected in themselves. The forces may as yet be no more than virtual: the truth of a theory does not depend on observation pure and simple, but organizes the latter, delimiting its scope and validity. The connection between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’ is not conceived as an exchange between ideas and facts—for observable facts are prior constructs, and this construction has a ‘specific’, ‘internal’ truth. As opposed to the ‘realism’ of vulgar Marxism, Mao Tse-tung’s thought, like all theory, claims to be true before it has been realized, and to be realizable because it is true.