The Tragic Community: Friedrich Nietzsche and Mao Tse Tung

This Address, a thesis on global governance, was presented at a Conference in Shanghai, China on June 10th, 2014.  It has been published in Turkish by Istiraki in September 2014 and in English in The Agonist, in its ‘Nietzsche and Tragedy’ edition, for the Spring of 2014.转疯了:《重论毛泽东》你前所未闻的毛泽东事迹与评论  (Chinese translation) was published in China on 15 August 2015. The Address seeks to clarify the meaning of a global, poly-centric ‘Democratic Community’ through an original and novel dialogue between Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Mao Tse Tung’s August, 1937 essay, ‘On Contradiction’, together with an untimely engagement with Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) and his original advocacy of a global Democratic Communism.




With those two gods of art, Apollo and Dionysus, we link our recognition that in the Greek world there exists a huge contrast, in origins and purposes, between visual (plastic) arts, the Apollonian, and the non-visual art of music, the Dionysian. Both very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict with each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful offspring, in order to perpetuate for themselves the contest of opposites which the common word “Art” only seems to bridge, until they finally, through a marvelous metaphysical act, seem to pair up with each other and, as this pair, produce Attic tragedy, just as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian work of art.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872

Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end. (II)

By the former we mean that contradiction exists in and runs through all processes from beginning to end; motion, things, processes, thinking — all are contradictions. To deny contradiction is to deny everything. This is a universal truth for all times and all countries, which admits of no exception. (III)

Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction (1937)

Mao’s Ontology and Early Greek Thought

Contradiction, for Mao, abides at the heart of all things – within each particular being and amidst the universality of the cosmos, or the All. Contradiction is the existence of all things – the birth, life and death of all things, and of the incessant re-birth of all particular kinds of thing, or being. Contradiction consists in, and gains its immense power from, a unity of opposites. Mao describes this disunited, or dialectical, unity of opposites:

The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist. (Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction, II)

Contradiction is the modus essendi, modus existendi and modus operandi of all things. It is the reality, actuality and existence of all things. The primary axiomatic significance of the universality of contradiction, a notion confirmed for Mao by Hegel and Marx, is that change is ubiquitous to all things, and thus, nothing can or will ever remain the same.

Contradiction, as the root of change, it must be remembered, therefore, entails that all arrangements, whether they be scientific, philosophical, political, economic and cultural are subject to the insurmountable necessity of change, and are merely the temporary manifestations of contradiction, of the ‘dialectical’ unity, or struggle, of opposites.

One of the most powerful consequences of this philosophy of existence, that of contradiction, is that all things come into being or pass away through a struggle of opposites. This consequence assures us that not only is the current state of affairs a product of history, but that it will also pass away in this struggle, that it too will have its own history.  Hegel and Marx, long before Mao, had each placed contradiction at the heart of their systems of philosophy and history. Hegel appropriated contradiction, this ancient notion, from the early Greek thinkers, as a means for an explanation of the development of the stages of history up to the end of history which was that of Hegel’s own life and death within the Prussian state.

Contradiction, in this Hegelian sense, is productive – Hegel tells us that we must ‘think contradiction’. He appropriated this notion in this non-analytic sense from Heraclitus (with Hölderlin and Schelling). Indeed, as I will show, the relationship between Nietzsche’s contest between Dionysus and Apollo and Mao’s indication of ‘contradiction’ finds its family resemblance in their own respective rootedness in early Greek thought and its topography of the ‘unity of opposites.’

The meaning of ‘contradiction’, as it is used in Mao – given his Marxian, Leninist and Hegelian ancestors – is a ‘dialectical’ contradiction, which, in its various manifestations in Hölderlin, Schelling, Schlegel, Niethammer, and Hamann, among others, is an early German romantic appropriation and interpretation of the early Greek notion of the logos as a unity of opposites. This appropriation was also the cradle in which Nietzsche was raised.

From the perspective of Heraclitus, the logos as the dynamic, productive ‘unity of opposites’ is comparable to the post-Kantian conception of contradiction and ‘dialectics’, especially as much of post-Kantianism was a renaissance for early Greek thought.  In this context, there would be a productive contradiction between the unity of opposites Dionysus and Apollo, and it is precisely productive since it is a unity of ‘opposites’.  This does not, however, limit Nietzsche to the entire range of other features of Hegelian philosophy. 

We are delving in the current writing into the Western re-appropriation of the early Greek philosophers in the Romantic and Post-Romantic periods, Nietzsche and Hegel being two of the original explorers.  We delve, moreover, since the questions of these periods, and the revolution of thought which had occurred, are still our own questions and our own revolutionary habitat in which we struggle.

It should be made clear that this sense of the term ‘contradiction’ is an analytically impossible situation, from a post-Aristotelian context as its logic merely focuses, as Carnap did in his unenlightened criticisms of Heidegger, upon mere negation, in its static sense.  The early German (and with Coleridge, Shelley, British) Romantic notion of contradiction, dialectics, on the contrary, engenders movement, which is a development that is also linked to their radically temporal criticism of Spinoza and his static Absolute.

In this way, we are looking at Mao through the lens of Nietzsche and amidst the habitat of the early Greek pagan philosophers, seeking to comprehend ‘contradiction’ in its non-analytic and ‘dialectical’, or perhaps ‘ecstatic’ sense (which after all comes from the early German romantic poet-philosopher Hölderlin) so as to better comprehend our finite, human existence, and perhaps, be capable of a marvelous ‘metaphysical act’ of our own .

One must think contradiction, Hegel said.  Marx, on the other hand, not only employed contradiction to explain history as the history of class struggle, but also deployed contradiction as a prospective strategic tool for the navigation of the revolutionary process in its infancy.  That which both of these seminal thinkers share, however, is not only the notion that all things are imbued with contradiction, but that at some point, however, there would emerge a state of affairs in which contradiction would be overcome or resolved.

For Hegel, as mentioned, the contradiction was resolved with the emergence of the Prussian state as the symbol of the ‘end of history.’ For Marx, however, the end state or eschatological resolution of contradiction, conceived as the birth of a new humanity, of authentic human history, is that historical ‘telos’ of communism, that movement which will tear down the prison bars and allow a new world to be born.  Yet, this notion of ‘telos’ is neither that of Aristotle, as in his Physics, not that of Hegel’s ‘end of history.’ Instead, Marx envisions the death, end (telos) of capitalism, and the beginning of an authentic human history (a classless society), one still operating ‘dialectically’ (ala praxis), but without the particular contradiction of capital, or the social relation of class exploitation.  It is not entirely clear however if Marx truly overcomes the Christian heritage of the West and its notion of salvation.  He at once writes that communism is a movement of destruction, and a state of affairs in which alienation is resolved.  Yet, that cannot mean that dialectical contradiction is dissolved, but that it acquires a different quality with the transformation of the social relations of production.  History does not just simply end, but indeed, only begins for the first time.

Mao, in contradistinction to these thinkers, did not believe that contradiction could ever be resolved in this way, or that contradiction is merely an indication of a state of change that will at some point come to an end according to the providential destiny of a final cause or goal (Telos). This notion that contradiction cannot be overcome, indeed, that it is the very ‘truth’ itself comes very close to Georges Bataille, who writes in his posthumous novel The Dead Man, ‘I believe that truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction.‘ (The Deadman, Penguin, 2012) This quote, not published until 1967, is reminiscent of Bataille’s 1929 dispute with the Surrealist Andre Breton, who, also being a Trotskyite Marxist, expelled Bataille from the Surrealist Group in the Second Surrealist Manifesto, advocating what he poetically intimated as an ‘Icarian’ overcoming of contradiction, one speculated through the philosophy of Hegel.

Bataille, on the contrary, held, against such a notion of ‘system’, of reconciliation, that there would always be a dissident remainder, a ‘sovereign’, abject (Kristeva) power of ‘base matter’ that was indigestible to ‘system,’ and thus, that any notion of complete and finished (perfected) ‘system’ is merely an Apollonian illusion.  Such an illusion is grounded upon the false and in fact dangerous, nihilistic notion of the grand synthetic overcoming of contradiction (which in this case is the Dionysian).

As Mao had written in his 1937 essay, in agreement with Bataille, contradiction abides in each particular and amidst the universal All, and that without it, not only would nothing exist, but also nothing would continue to exist. The ‘unity of opposites’, as the early Greek thinkers held, is the condition for all life, but not on the model of sexuality with the synthesis being the child, but as that which Nietzsche affirms as the tension of a bow which is at the heart of all things, and which will propel us toward our target in the future. Mao writes:

What is meant by the emergence of a new process? The old unity with its constituent opposites yields to a new unity with its constituent opposites, whereupon a new process emerges to replace the old. The old process ends and the new one begins. The new process contains new contradictions and begins its own history of the development of contradictions. (Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction, II)

For Mao, there is never a time, a history, beyond contradiction – no life, culture, state, science or philosophy which is without contradiction, and consists of these contradictions, the temporary resolutions of which not only account for revolutionary change, but also give rise to a new circumstance of contradiction. For Mao, contradiction would even subsist in the political economic state of communism, and within the communist party itself.

It is in this way that Mao parts ways with thinkers such as Hegel and Marx to the extent that their respective philosophies remain within the Western Judeo-Christian paradigm of salvation, of the telos or eschatology of repose.  I think it is a valid question, the relation between Marx and teleological thinking, but as I have said, the telos has to mean the end of capitalism as in the death-knell of capitalism, and that communism cannot be an end state without contradictions, since for Nietzsche and Mao, and the Early Greeks, without the tension of the bow, there can be no life.  Perhaps, we could allow Marx to make a distinction between alienated and non-alienated states of contradiction.  For Mao, such a permanent resolution of contradiction would be to surrender to the ever-present possibility of death. A life, culture, and state dies when there is no longer the affirmation and cultivation of contradiction and diversity.

In his departure from the ultimately static philosophies of Hegel and Marx, Mao remains ever more faithful to the original notion of the ‘unity of opposites’ of the early Greek thinkers, such as Heraclitus and Empedocles – and to Nietzsche. Or, perhaps, it could be suggested, in light of the fact that at the time of the early Greeks there was not yet a clear severance between East and West, that Mao remains faithful to the originary impulse of philosophy that is also incarnated in the philosophy of the Tao. There are many similarities between Taoism, early Greek thought, and Mao’s open-ended dialectical notion of contradiction. Contradiction always remains, just as the play of the Yin and Yang and the ‘unity of opposites’ are always the condition of reality, actuality and existence.

That which these perspectives share is the resolute affirmation of the tragic condition of human existence, an affirmation that is not only without either the cowardice of escapism or the weariness of an exhausted desire for repose, for sleep, for death, but actively struggles against these nihilistic forces. It should be remembered that contemporary Western philosophy has long since rejected the contradictory state of affairs of its origins, and with its laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle, it systematically designates the unity of opposites and of dialectical contradiction as states of error, falsity.

It is such a logical impasse, that of the foundational exclusion of the ‘middle’, of the in between of contradiction, which primarily reveals the current diremption and discordance between the East and the West with respect to thought, science, culture and political theories and practises. Yet, after all is said and done, such a state of affairs is itself a state of contradiction, and of struggle, whether Western analytical or identity philosophy accepts it or not. That which is essential for Mao is the thoughtful enlightenment entailed in this notion of the universality of contradiction, and of the interaction of thought and material conditions manifest in praxis.

For, while contradiction will never disappear, even in the postulated communist society, that which is essential is the ability to discern contradictions on a universal and particular scale, and to be able to act on the basis of this discernment. A society which recognizes the necessity of change is a tragic community, but one, once having this enlightenment, can gaze at the wreckage of history and say, with Nietzsche, ‘Thus, I willed it!’, a community which can map the complex network of contradiction that is the topography for the navigation of a community throughout its tenuous and uncertain existence. For while being may determine thought, the latter itself is necessary and has its own power.

Nietzsche’s Aesthetics as a Philosophy of Tragic Existence

It is in this context that we enter into the main topic of this essay, although glimpses and hints can be traced in the previous discussion. This topic is the explicit interface between Mao and Nietzsche, who share the primary tenets of the essence of a historical, tragic community and of the conditions for emergence, development, transition, revolution, and demise (and possible rebirth where conditions apply). The text that most concurs with this line of thought is Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy.

While this text is usually associated with the academic discipline known as ‘aesthetics’ – and thus, not with any enquiry into the ‘serious’ discernment of the complex contradictions of existence – this association may be primarily due to the limited and, as Heidegger suggests, decadent state of aesthetics in the modern world, where it is narrowly associated with artworks and the intellectual culture of the art industry. In fact, the original meaning of ‘aesthetics’ – a word promoted by Baumgarten – is that of aesthesia, which concerns the ability to perceive, of sensibility, within the conditions of space and time.

Kant still held firm to this notion in the Transcendental Aesthetic of his Critique of Pure Reason, and in his Critique of Judgement, where he designated the aesthetic as the temporal, imaginal domain of existence, the self-suppression of which in the struggle of the sublime, leads to pure reason itself (a pure reason that still must be supplemented by the necessary horizons of possible experience, which are those of space and time).

Considered in this light, Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy is a philosophy of tragic existence, a philosophy of existential contradiction which articulates the birth, life and death (and possible rebirth) of a culture or human state of affairs. In his seminal work, Nietzsche is ostensibly concerned with the birth of the specific art form of ancient Greek tragedy, of tragic poetry and tragic drama. For Nietzsche, such a pre-eminent form of artistic, human expression is possible due to a temporary resolution, a brief marriage, of the contradictory ‘natural artistic forces’ of the Dionysian and the Apollonian.

As we have seen from the quote at the head of the essay, Nietzsche traces the genealogy of the emergence of this unique culture (which was also associated with the birth of originary philosophy in the early Greek thinkers) and the tragic death of this culture with the Socratism of the ‘theoretical man’ which was the imposition of order over exuberant life, of mere form over matter, of control over the risk of uncertainty, of repetition over creativity. Since these are forces of nature, and that the suppression of the Dionysian by the Apollonian is symptomatic of a particular historicity and condition of a specific culture, it is clear that Nietzsche’s intention is not merely to remain on the level of ‘aesthetics’ in the modern sense.

Nietzsche contends that tragedy begins with the chorus, which is the community itself in its musical, intoxicated ecstasy of the Dionysian dance of existence. It denotes the celebration and affirmation of the community in the eroticism and interconnectedness of human life and the life of the cosmos, the life of which is always constituted by the unity of opposites. In the specific case of ancient Greek tragedy, the central contradiction emerges with the rise of the Apollonian, of the individuation of the tragic hero and of the authentic beginning of drama proper. That which this dramatic moment intimates is that which Walter Burkert has referred to as the ‘orientalisation’ of ancient Greek culture around the 6th century B.C.

Burkert, in his The Orientalizing Revolution, exhibits the life of the Dionysian East which had infiltrated the rigid Doric culture of the Homeric West, and it was this marriage of opposites, of East and West that gave rise to one of the greatest revolutions of culture and the emergence of one of the most profound art forms, that of tragedy. If we consider in this context Nietzsche’s Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, we can also contend that this marriage of opposites also gave rise to tragic philosophy itself – the philosophy of tragic existence, one, as we have already indicated, that is shared by the early Greeks, Taoism, Nietzsche and Mao.

From a philosophical perspective, tragic thought intimates the emergence of the singular individual from out of the community, to live and eventually to succumb to the limits of finitude and thus to return to the community, to the site of primordial creativity. In light of the notion of tragedy, and hence tragic existence, the Dionysian gives rises to the Apollonian, only for the Apollonian to return to the primordial womb of the Dionysian. In the mythography of Dionysus, a god of wine and of vegetation, the deep essence of the community abides during the incessant rising and falling of the individuals, just as the leaves of the tree bud, grow, but soon wither and die, returning back to the earth.

Yet, the tree, even in the time of winter, of death remains alive, and with the spring, gives rise again to the myriad singularities of the leaves. A philosophy of tragic existence is one that acknowledges and affirms this eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, one that is rooted in the tragic community and one that does not seek an escape from this mortal coil.

For Nietzsche, the culture and philosophy of the tragic Greek community died with, as I have suggested, the emergence of the ‘theoretical man.’ That which constitutes this emergence is the tyrannical suppression of the Dionysian, of the community, by an Apollonian which no longer recognizes either its origin in the Dionysian community, or its confinement in the tragic cycle of the eternal recurrence of the same. This Apollo, the one who has extirpated his half-brother Dionysus, seeks to escape the mortal coil, the fate of the singular with respect to the tragic community.

Nietzsche called Christianity ‘Platonism for the people,’ and its significance in the context of our current discussion is the foundation of a culture – Western, Roman culture – which seeks to suppress the Dionysian, to exalt the individual and the salvation of the individual soul – it replaces uncertainty with faith, tragedy with comedy, which unlike the terrible destination of the tragic, sets forth a predictably happy ending. In this way, the culture of the merely Apollonian is the culture of the dream, of the redemptive artwork which shields the individual in an illusion which suppresses any acknowledgement of the terrible truth of existence and the insurmountability of death and uncertainty.

Deleuze suggested some time ago that the capitalist West is a pathological culture of a necessary schizophrenia, a culture of the dream which has become dis-associated with Reality. The illusion of such a state of affairs is orchestrated by that which Adorno designates as the Culture Industry and Chomsky indicates as the ‘manufacture of consent’, of the ceaseless reproduction of necessary illusions. That which this society of the spectacle (Guy Debord) indicates is an Apollonian culture which has become divorced from the social context of the community, of the tragic, Dionysian horizon of human existence.

Such a pathology should serve as a warning to the ‘history of the present.’ (Foucault) A culture, for instance, which cultivates the new contradictions of the empty formalism of Apollonian individuality and private ownership will become increasingly divorced from its roots in the community and will respond to the dissociative disturbances amongst the people (due to the neglect of the heterogeneous community) with ever increasing ‘theoretical’ and homogenising forms of command, control and suppression – it will lead and has led to fascism and various totalitarian configurations.

On the other hand, the philosophy of tragic existence will also serve as a warning to social and cultural forms which suppress individuality and its freedom of creation and expression. We must remember that the tragic culture of the early Greeks, and of philosophy in the tragic age of the Greeks, arose due to the fateful marriage of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, of the community and the individual, the life-giving contradiction of which constitutes the tragic community as such.

Mao and Nietzsche both acknowledged the necessary contradiction of the Dionysian and the Apollonian as the natural forces which give birth to the tragic community, a community of honesty and health, one capable of charting the course of stormy seas due to its openness to truth, creativity, free expression, and the social context and finitude of human existence. Mao and Nietzsche both counsel that one must overcome oneself until he or she can teach the teacher, to achieve the enlightenment of ‘thinking for oneself’ (Kant) and the dignity of one whose existence, while only temporary, participates in the grand culture of a great society.

The Two Paths

Robert Frost describes two paths in his 1920 poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, two possibilities that beckon from the future, but are only seen through a glass darkly. As with Hölderlin, Heidegger and Bataille, our existence is that of a radical temporality, of finite human existence standing out amidst the openness of perspective.  Not only is contradiction at the heart of all things, but uncertainty also – each decision that is made will necessarily have unpredictable, perhaps irretrievable, consequences. Let us first listen to Frost’s poem:

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

No one can know the truth of tomorrow. That is why it is vitally important that decisions be made wisely, with thought, and with the consultation of all others who are involved in a situation.

A decision concerning the introduction of capitalist property relations, for instance, is one that cannot be taken lightly.

One is at the fork in the road, one looks down each way far as he can, but one does not know the future. The wrong decision could lead to catastrophe, dissension, and the loss of that which is essential to the life of the people and community.

From a global perspective, it would seem that the world is plainly constituted, agitated by a complex web of contradictions, of conflict and incommensurability. National, political economic, geo-political differences and contestations, but yet, there is an essential cooperation, and even a mixture of ideas that stray from the pure ideological stereotypes.

In this way, much of the stable Western economies practice State involvement, there are welfare provisions, but, the tide continues to turn as the Right targets these last ‘socialistic’ aspects, which are now under threat as capitalism arrives at its latest stage, that of oligarchy, a new enclosure.

On the other hand, China, ostensibly a communist country has experimented successfully with intensive capital growth through the market-oriented reforms of Deng Xiaoping since 1978, yet, is predictably experiencing many of the negative results of industrialism which Europe and America discovered in the last century, i.e., environment degradation, income inequality, labour disputes, and the spectacle of Chinese billionaires.

These new contradictions, arising out of the transformation of the Chinese economy after the death of Mao, have the potential of being exploited by rivals and enemies alike, such as the USA, Japan, and the KMT in the ‘Republic of China’ in Taiwan. This surely the case in the ongoing Occupy Central protests which defy history itself in their Hollywood fantasy of an idyll of democracy which clearly exceeds not only the agreed framework of the ‘Basic Law’ in the PRC, but also the current norms of many Western democracies.  This is not even to mention Western involvement in these protests, just as there was direct involvement of the West in the coup d’etat and subsequent civil war in Ukraine.  The danger, of course, is that these contradictions may return China to the state of chaos, conflict and civil war that was widespread before 1949. Such a defense of the revolution comes from the voices of the Chinese New Left. One often does not know what one had until he or she has lost it.

For the time being, the Communist Party will continue to guide these global developments, but it is vital that they do not forget that they are still socialists. Many of the solutions to problems of the West actually lie in socialist ideas and practices, and the Chinese should be aware that they have much more to offer the West than another bail-out.  Indeed, it is only a very small percentage of the population (1%), who in the West have ever benefited from capitalism.   It would be best to remain at least somewhat sceptical of the smiling, shiny, happy faces in the cultural propaganda. We have all seen Triumph of the Will.

It would be a shame if China lost its soul to capitalism, a ‘system’, though contradictory like all other things and states of affairs, operates in a manner that is not ultimately subject to democratic control, to the control of the people, in whatever manner they may choose to organise themselves, including Confucianism.

The problem, of course, is that the demos, the workers, do not own the capital, and can never technically own capital, since capital itself is a relation of domination and exploitation. State and private capitalism behave according to the logic of a cancer cell. Such systems need to be abolished, swept from the earth.

Perhaps in a world which is built out of contradictions, and one at such a crossroads, we should dare to choose the path of the road that is less trodden – that of a truly Democratic Community – democratic global governance – developing a grand dialectical synthesis of the best aspects of the Global paradigms for social, political and political economic life.

To take the road less trodden – that of a community of the people, as in the ancient Greek demos, in which all would be secure in the peace of mind that each has a stake and a voice in the community – a community owned and lived by the people (perhaps, an ‘Athens without Slavery’, facilitated by a coherent system of employee/worker ownership and direct self-management at the point of production ).

Such a genuine advance can and will only occur on a global scale. Such a perspective would moreover be quite fitting in light of the fact that all of the major problems of our era are not only global in nature, but will require all of the members of the global community to solve them.

We can accomplish this Global Alternative, however, only in the act of building an international democratic community of the people. one in which each person has a genuine stake, voice and capacity for action, just as all the others.

In his unwisely neglected 1843 Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which can be read productively with his other 1844 Paris Manuscripts, Marx called democracy the ‘generic constitution’ in the context of his seminal development of an explicit philosophy and political economy of  ‘Democratic Communism’, a non-alienated way of life (shared ownership) in which true democracy would be the same as true communism.  Marx writes:

Democracy relates to all other forms of the state as their Old Testament. Man does not exist because of the law but rather the law exists for the good of man. Democracy is human existence, while in the other political forms man has only legal existence. That is the fundamental difference of democracy.


Furthermore it is evident that all forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy.

Now, Marx is not speaking here of some empty shell of a capitalist-controlled formal ‘Western democracy’, a regime which locks out the vast majority of its people from any actual self-government, but Democracy as a cooperative and class-less human existence, liberated from the corruption of class hegemony.

This notion of a Democratic Communism is not a new idea, but was, among other incarnations, an organisation and movement, The Democratic Communist Circle, to which Bataille, who I mentioned above, belonged in the 1930’s until he shifted his activity to fight against fascism with Andre Breton in the organisation Contre Attaque in 1937.

The common ownership of our democracies – a true people’s communism – will resolve this long lasting and damaging contradiction of the private ownership of the means of production, and as democracy, will allow for a dynamic and real-time navigation of a society in perpetual becoming.

Of course, as Nietzsche and Mao have warned us, there will always arise new contradictions. But, we will have at least overcome one of the most threatening and festering of the myriad contradictions, that manifested in the reckless and barbaric atrocities of global capitalism, authoritarian governments with pseudo-democratic human facades, illegitimate ‘regimes’ which have tarnished by their actions the very word ‘democratic’ – which, once again, does not mean Lockean private property or capitalist ownership, or oligarchy, or monarchy – but means, in its truth, the rule of the people.

Nietzsche said once in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, that mankind did not yet have a goal, that mankind has always built some great work that transcends itself as a people or a community, like the Great Wall of China, for instance.

Today, I have set forth another such goal for mankind, one for a global, multilateral (poly-centric), Democratic Communist society of governance and cooperation for peaceful development and life.

Under the slogan, perhaps, of the ‘Democratic Community of the World’.



Lenin is surely mistaken in his contention, in the context of his debate with advocates of the factory committee movement, anarchists and the rural social revolutionaries (all of whom he suppressed by April 1918), in his The State and Revolution that the future of communism would be identical with ‘anarchy’. He conceived of a process by which the state would be seized, the bureaucracy smashed, and a dictatorship of the proletariet would be established. This dictatorship, led by the Communist Party, would remain in force until the disappearance of class contradiction. With this disappearance, the state would ‘wither away’. With this ‘withering away’, (perhaps Lenin’s interpretation of Marx’s vision of communism as a ‘free association of producers’) Lenin contends that the goal is the same as the anarchist, but that the means (the dictatorship of the proletariat) will diverge until the contradiction of class is overcome.

And, thus begins the history of Leninist communism and the questionable and ironically Neo-liberal theory of the ‘withering away of the State.’ This formulation is based, for Lenin, upon his contention that the state is merely but necessarily a symptom of class differentiation.

Since, however, for Mao, contradiction is endemic to social reality, there would never be the withering away of governance per se. In place of a state that is based upon the contradiction of class, there would instead emerge the varied and evolving historical, human forms of life of the democratic community.

Human governance, as an endemic reality, is brought into attunement with the radical temporality of historicity.

The question for pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary societies alike becomes that of democratic governance and the historical and flexible character of such an organisation which would not only observe the event of founding, of the revolutionary character of a new form of life of common ownership, but also one which would prepare for and encourage the self-determination and self-expression of new generations with their own aspirations for the future.


Go to: The Ends of the British State in Planet Magazine: The Welsh Internationalist

Go to: “They Destroy, We Create: The Anti-Austerity UK Alliance” in Planet Magazine: The Welsh Internationalist

Go to: Athens Without Slavery: The Battle For Europe – Syriza and the New European Left

Go to: Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

Go to: The Politics of the Imperfect: Building A Different World

Go to: Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets, with Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou

Go to: Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh

Go to: The Laughter of Dionysus: Bataille and Derrida on Joyce

Go to: Wales in the European Union

Go to: UKIP and the Politics of Disruption

Go to: Divided We Fall: Plaid Cymru and the Green Agenda

Go to: Discovering Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales

Go to: Dylan Thomas in Exile

Go to: Whispers of a Forgotten Nation – The Writings of Dr D. Ceri Evans

 Go to: Edward Snowden on Walden Pond

Go to: Of the Feral Children: A Mayan Farce (Novel, 2012)

References and Further Reading

Adorno, Theodore. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, Routledge, 2001.

Bataille, Georges. ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism,’ Visions of Excess, University of Minnesota, 1985.

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7 thoughts on “The Tragic Community: Friedrich Nietzsche and Mao Tse Tung

  1. Maybe you would like to read “Capital should be in Solid Hands”

    Question: I would think selection/evolution is a more productive view of the world then contradiction, which always tends to a binary view of “good” and “evil”. But I have not found a proper analysis on the relation between the two.

    Remark: I somehow can’t tick “Notify me of new comments via email”

    1. Contradiction, which traces it lineage to the early Greeks and their notion of the ‘unity of opposites’, is meant to indicate an antagonistic and unsustainable relation which propels events forward in the development of novel situations of contradiction. Contradiction is life, and has no necessary relationship with the notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, which Nietzsche has shown, arose with monotheism: Judaism and Christianity, and continued by Islam. The ‘solution’ you offer, especially your denial of contradiction (of class), would seem to be a corporatist argument which, in the current historical situation, would amount to a form of fascism, however allegedly beneficent. China offers a completely different solution and has introduced and maintained its use of markets only in an anti-imperialist context, a strategy which will be maintained during (but perhaps not for the entirety of) the period of ‘primary socialism.’ I do not believe that ‘enlightened elites’ are the solution to our current Western dilemmas as long as Western capitalism/imperialism exists and continues to function as a permanent war economy. Working people in the West must liberate themselves in a strategic alliance with other international struggles and nations of good faith. BRICS is such a coalition of nations of good faith.

      1. “Good” and “evil” are just examples although in the christian-humanist context of this society most other contradictions tend to get translated into good (proletariat) and evil (bourgeoisie). Also it is not quite clear if it’s not better to speak of inconsistencies or oppositions but that’s beside the point. Despite the promise of eternal motion by Mao there is the idea of a synthesis as a “goal” albeit not a definitive one, spawning a new contradiction. So the birth of a communist society (without state) as a synthesis is not one of the possible outcomes but the only one.

        In contrast, systems-theory just sees systems with a better or worse fit to the outside world. When a system (for instance an economic system) with a better fit (to society as a whole) comes into being, this will replace the old one. But this is not a necessary outcome. It could be that the other systems making up the social total adapt themselves in other ways and takes away any “need” for change in the economic system. It could be that the whole total of social systems breaks down and throws us back in the middle ages. Or it could be that (for a long time) nothing much changes, although that seems rather unlikely. In this view political action for real change, though not impossible, is much harder to think about.
        I think Gramsci has the most advanced insights on this.

        I do not deny class differences and exploitation in all kind of sorts. I don’t see, even in the long term, ways to entirely do away with them. The necessary precondition that all man are born equal will not happen anytime soon. And maybe it’s even not desirable, reading Houellebecq.

        Maybe most importantly I don’t see the coalition you have in mind happen. The workers in the West nowadays don’t form a proletariat with the minimum of consciousness necessary for propelling itself forward as a political entity. Not even when a helpful middleclass group would form a vanguard. The working class has been dumbed down, split up in time and space and for another part been “elevated” to the lower middleclass. As for the other groups they should ally themselves with, I fear there is even less common ground for the necessary communication.

        Somehow I now can tick mail-notification, hope it works.

      2. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I would like to point out that my essay is clear that there will always be governance and that history will consist in the democratic evolution of the highly complex web of contradictions that is historical human existence – I am rejecting Lenin’s notion of the ‘withering away of the State’ as it was formulated in State and Revolution. I see no problem with your systems theory approach, but I think that capitalism is contradictory in a sense that is toxic (a-systematic) and unsustainable – un-adaptable – and that China has much more potential, especially in the BRICS alliance. To show you the next step of my thinking, after the essay on Nietzsche and Mao, please see my The Politics of the Imperfect: Concrete Needs, Concrete Situations, and Concrete Actions which precisely lays out the interim strategy for the alliance I merely indicated in The Tragic Community.

  2. There is a lot I could say about your follow-up blog even if I haven’t read it completely (I have to say they are a bit longish, even for me :))
    I think it better to continue with some remarks here.
    (1) There is and will be no “global struggle”. You cannot simply add regional struggles together.
    (2) You start with stating the uniqueness and fundamental equality of each human being. As stated above this is an impossible assumption in the here and now, leading to a false optimism about the possibilities.
    (3) I don’t see any signs of democratic development within the Chinese society. And certainly not one superior to the parliamentary system, even how rotten and primitive the latter is.
    (4) A total planning of economy maybe is possible nowadays but not democratically manageable and thus undesirable. The market, if controlled well, is by far the most democratic mechanism. But this means that some kind of capitalism has to be accepted. And the category of profit cannot be done away with completely.

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