Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 5 understood – shadow over contemporary political conduct in the nations that constitute the liberal-democratic West. Of all the strands of modern political theorising that may be said to influence current Western political conduct, it was Mao, above all, who articulated and put into practice ideas of so-called cultural warfare. Key to the idea of culture war is the understanding that the space to be conquered to gain and retain power is not necessarily the physical battlefield but the intangible sphere of the mind. The Maoist conception of the strategic utility of the mind, and its capacity to be moulded towards the waging of cultural warfare, presents some interesting challenges to traditional Western notions of strategic formulation, as this essay will endeavour to show. Discerning the Strategic Dynamics Although the notion of culture war is not new, its salience has heightened since 2016, and turned into actual violence in the United States and the UK in May/June 2020. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the US city of Minneapolis was the immediate cause of the violence. Arguably, however, it was the long-term consequence and logical escalation of forces that had been brewing in US and UK polities for the better part of six decades. The manifestation of the culture war took the form of riots and civil disturbances across US cities, as well assaults upon public statues, heritage sites and icons. In non-violent form culture war continues in the felt need to ‘decolonise’ the alleged structures of oppression, from the secondary and tertiary curriculums of schools and universities to libraries, health services, the police, the armed forces, and to just about everything. The motive towards cultural iconoclasm and the impetus to destroy an inconvenient past is something that should concern strategic theorists. After all, the role of strategic theory is to render explicit what is implicit in our social surroundings by identifying the purpose and the means that impel political actors towards actions that seek to fulfil ideological goals.[i] Yet few analysts, have sought to uncover the strategic dynamics at work in the culture war currently convulsing Anglophone institutions. Looking at the philosophical creed that seeks confrontation with the Anglo-American liberal democratic project, we see the work of the radical Left, a broad movement dedicated to advancing notions of social egalitarianism that ultimately has no interest in the preservation of the existing structures of society. Unlike the constitutional or social democrat Left, the radical Left does not accept the legitimacy of the current capitalist democratic order. It is prepared to engage with the structures of that order to exploit its fault lines and expose its weaknesses with a view to overthrowing it. How to advance towards the new social order has seen radical Left theorists develop a profound interest in matters of strategy, often attending carefully to the methods necessary to bring about the conditions for revolution. The strategy of cultural warfare on the part of the contemporary radical Left comprises an amalgam of many different strains of thought, fromVladimir Lenin to Antonio Gramsci, to Herbert Marcuse. However, this essay focuses on the underappreciated influence of Mao Tse-tung’s thinking on the strategy of cultural warfare in the West. Maoist ideas of revolutionary war have filtered intoWestern political discourse ever since the late 1930s when Chinese communist forces, holed up in the caves of Yenan in the remote Shensi province after the Long March, attracted the attention of sympathetic American journalists, like Edgar Snow and Anne Louise Strong, eager to broadcast Mao’s struggles to the wider world. During this period Mao and his acolytes scrutinised the failures of former Communist strategy, extending back to the 1920s, which had initially sought to stimulate revolution through urban uprisings, before being forced out of its Kiangsi Soviet and onto the Long March in 1934/35. It was in Yenan that Mao and his comrades cultivated their vision of the revolutionary persona necessary to withstand the rigours of long-term political struggle. The victory of the communists in 1949, but especially the impact of the Cultural Revolution after 1966, drew further Western adherents, who were attracted to Maoist ideas of revolutionary purification. Mao’s thinking had a particular impact upon a generation of French intellectuals that, in part, constitute what is often termed the New Left – Alain Badiou, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, among others. The NewLeft looked to sources of inspiration like Mao to reinvigorate communist thinking from its moribund condition following the revelations of Stalinist excesses in the Soviet Union. Largely via their reflections, Maoist ideas of cultural struggle arrived upon the shores of American campuses in the late 1960s. And never left. Dissecting the direct and indirect intellectual influences of Maoist thought on Western radicalism reveals, as this essay discloses, a very different construction of the strategic realm than that which has traditionally constituted the basis of Western political conduct. Maoist Thought Confronts Western Strategic Formulation The principal difference in strategic approach resides in the Maoist conception of the self and its manipulation as a latent source of power. As Philip Short wrote: ‘Stalin cared about what his subjects did (or might do); Hitler, about who they were; Mao cared about what they thought’.[ii] How the mind could be moulded towards revolutionary ends was to become highly influential upon the theorists of the New The Strategy of the Mind: Maoism and Culture War in the West David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith