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On Practice and Contradiction

The writings that underpinned the Chinese revolution, introduced by Slavoj Žižek.
These early philosophical writings underpinned the Chinese revolutions, and their clarion calls to insurrection remain some of the most stirring of all time. Drawing on a dizzying array of references from contemporary culture and politics, Žižek’s firecracker commentary reaches unsettling conclusions about the place of Mao’s thought in the revolutionary canon.


  • How We Wrote Armed Insurrection

    The first English-language edition of Armed Insurrection was translated from French and Germany by Quintin Hoare and published by New Left Books in 1970, as "classic document" of the Third Period. Written in 1928 under the direction of the Agitprop division of the Comintern, the book was to be a tactical manual for insurrection — containing detailed studies of uprisings in Reval (Tallinn), Hamburg, Canton (Guangzhou), and Shanghai — to be used by communists around the world. 

    A work of illegal propaganda written by a collective of Comintern military and political specialists (a group which included Palmiro Togliatti and Ho Chi Minh), the book's authorship was attributed to the pseudonym "A Neuberg." In the excerpt below, published as a preface to the NLB edition, one member of the "Neuberg" group — Erich Wollenberg, a KPD functionary and military leader of the Bochum rising in North Germany in 1923 — explains the process of the book's composition, identifies the authors of some of its sections, and highlights some distortions to the accounts contained within it and the motivations behind them.   

    1. Background

    In the spring of 1928 Piatnitsky [An Old Bolshevik who was liquidated during the Stalinist purges (1936-8)], the Organizing Secretary of the Comintern, called me into his office. I was at that time on the technical staff of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, in charge of its military bureau, and taught in the military schools in which German communists were trained as specialists in insurrection.

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  • The Cultural Revolution and Depoliticization

    Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the "May 16 notification" and the commencement of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Below we present an excerpt from the first chapter of Wang Hui's The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity, which considers the Cultural Revolution and the Chinese 1960s in relation to the depoliticization that was to follow.  

    (1966 French-language edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Via Wikimedia Commons.) 

    Chinese commentators have been curiously absent from international discussions about the Sixties, despite the fact that the Cultural Revolution was so central to that tumultuous decade. This silence, I would argue, represents not merely a rejection of the radical thought and practice of the Cultural Revolution but a negation of China’s whole “revolutionary century” — the era stretching from the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, which ended the monarchic rule, to around 1976. The century’s prologue was the period running from the failure of the wuxu or Hundred-Day Reform in 1898, initiated by the Guangxu Emperor and his supporters, to the 1911 Wuchang uprising, the triggering event for the Republican Revolution; its epilogue was the decade from the late 1970s through to 1989. During this whole epoch the French and Russian Revolutions were central models for China, and orientations toward them defined the political divisions of the time. The New Culture movement of the May Fourth period (roughly 1915–1921), which rejected Confucian values in favor of a new Chinese culture based in democratic and scientific principles of the West, championed the French Revolution and its values of liberty, equality and fraternity; first-generation Communist Party members took the Russian Revolution as a model, criticizing the bourgeois character of 1789. Following the crisis of socialism and the rise of reform in the 1980s, the aura of the Russian Revolution diminished and the ideals of the French Revolution reappeared. But with the final curtain-fall on China’s revolutionary century, the radicalism of both the French and the Russian experiences had become a target of criticism. The Chinese rejection of the Sixties is thus not an isolated historical incident, but an organic component of a continuing and totalizing de-revolutionary process.

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  • Alain Badiou: "Mao thinks in an almost infinite way"

    Fifty years ago, on 16 May 1966 Communist leader Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution. Badiou's apparently "unrepentant" Maoism has been one of the most controversial, if misinterpreted, elements of his thought. Badiou is interviewed on the question by an anonymous Chinese philosopher, maintaining that Mao continues to provide a model for dialectical thought, if not for a historical project. Visit LEAP to read the original piece in full.

    ILLUSTRATION / Wang Buke

    A Dialogue Between a Chinese Philosopher and a French Philosopher

    Some time ago, French philosopher (and venerable Maoist) Alain Badiou traveled to China to speak to a Chinese philosopher. Though his or her name appears to have been lost in the ashes of time, the transcript of this alleged meeting remains, and bears a noted resemblance to a series of conversations Badiou had with Lu Xinghua, a contentious proponent of the theorization of Chinese contemporary art. A restaging of this dialogue this past December in New York, with an actress as the skeptical interlocutor, provided a window into Continental philosophy’s most ardent Orientalist fantasies—and an hour or two of solid dialectical entertainment.

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