Politics after Clausewitz, By Which I Mean Politics Today

“A party, which . . . does not carry on systematic, all-embracing underground work . . . is a party of traitors and scoundrels.” 

Vladimir Illich Lenin, Problems of the Third International (1919)

When Lenin says “systematic, all-embracing underground work,” he means the work of a criminal conspiracy.   The work is hidden “underground” because it is illegal, and the work is a conspiracy because it is not only hidden, but because it is also “systematic,” and “all-embracing.” Lenin’s general proposition, therefore, is that every serious political party has an underground wing, and that every party that doesn’t have an underground wing is not a serious political party.

It is, rather, an unserious sham party of “traitors and scoundrels.”

* * * * *

Lenin is here drawing the corollary of Clausewitz’s famous dictum that “war is the continuation politics by other means.”  The corollary is that “politics is a continuation of war by other means.”  As the conservative geopolitical theorist Robert Strausz-Hupé explained to a Congressional committee in 1958, Lenin was a careful student of Clausewitz, and like every careful student of Clausewitz, Lenin came to the realization that,

“There is no difference between cold and hot war.  There is no essential difference between military and political means.  They are all [and only] instruments of conflict, leading [or failing to lead] to the same objective of power accumulation.”*

* * * * *

After Clausewitz, a serious political party knows that it has the single objective of power accumulation, and that it must therefore use any and every means that help it to achieve that objective.  Some of these means are above ground and “political”; some of these means are underground and “militant.”  Sometimes it will struggle in a “hot war” fought by means of bullets and bombs; sometimes it will struggle in a “cold war” fought by means of politics and propaganda.

After Clausewitz, a serious political party does not ask whether a means to power is right, or legal, or sporting, or gentlemanly.  After Clausewitz, it asks only whether a means is expedient. 

This is because it wants to win. This is why it is ruthless.

* * * * *

“Those who cannot coordinate illegal forms of the struggle with legal ones are very poor revolutionaries.” 

Vladimir Illich Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1921)

Lenin was crafty enough to understand that ruthlessness means a willingness to use any means necessary, and that ruthlessness therefore includes a willingness to use means that are legal, respectable and above-board.  Because a serious political party aims to win, it is not too pure to engage in criminal conspiracy—and neither is it too pure to engage in legal politics and public institutions.

Lenin called the second sort of purists “left wing communists” and denounced their addiction to cloak-and-dagger criminal conspiracy as “an infantile disorder.”  A good revolutionary works to win, and, when it is expedient, is not too pure to put away his his Molotov cocktails and become a professor, a politician, or even a policeman.

A poor and “infantile” revolutionary just wants to play the part of a bomb-throwing revolutionary.  But as Lenin says:

“Communists, in all countries, must display a maximum flexibility in their tactics.”**

Maximum flexibility means they must be ruthless enough to push the cause by any means necessary.  If it is expedient to throw a Molotov cocktail or assassinate a diplomat, a good revolutionary is not trammeled by bourgeois scruples.  If it is expedient to pass legislation or teach sixth-grade social studies, a good revolutionary does what it takes.  A good revolutionary knows that Lenin is right when he says,

“It is necessary to combine legal (open) and illegal (underground) work.”***

* * * * *

“For the whole of the Communist problem is to be able to convince the backward, to work in their midst, and not to set up a barrier between us and them, a barrier of artificial childishly ‘Left’ slogans.”

Vladimir Illich Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1921).

A serious political party has a political and militant wing.  It also has an army of undercover agents who disguise their affiliation with the party, perhaps even from themselves.  As Lenin makes clear in the line just quoted, the first requirement of an undercover agent is that he keep his sympathies undercover, and to keep his sympathies undercover he must learn to use new slogans that do not scare the “backward” yokels he is trying to convert.

After Clausewitz, a serious political party sends undercover agents to convert the backward yokels, understanding that those backward yokels are on guard against the old slogans but defenseless against new slogans.  After Clausewitz, politics is a continuation of war by other means, and a serious political party is greatly advantaged in power accumulation if its unserious opponent is still fighting yesterday’s war.

*) Communist Strategy of Protracted Conflict (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958), p. 9

**) Vladimir Illich Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder (Detroit: Marxian Education Society, 1921), pp. 101, 98

***) Vladimir Illich Lenin, “Problems of the Third International (New York: Contemporary Publishing Associates, 1919), pp. 17-18.

7 thoughts on “Politics after Clausewitz, By Which I Mean Politics Today

  1. I don’t believe any American political party has the determination or revolutionary spirit of Lenin. As with most bureaucracies, the incentive becomes to keep things the same, and to react to external events in a way that returns things to normalcy. After the COVID procedures endured more than 6 months they acquired bureaucratic inertia and now we may never be rid of them, because systems have built up which rely on things staying the same.

    That means that any deliberate evil must have some other explanation than conspiracy, and I have a long running theory that it is merely emergent behavior. Everyone down the chain follows the next man up the chain because of the belief that he knows what he is doing. Everyone up the chain tries to maintain the appearance that he knows what he is doing to the people down the chain so that he can keep his job and so keep things the same. Again, with the COVID procedures, what began as, I suspect, a “hey I think this would work–sure lets try it” scenario, suddenly became a race to back-rationalize decisions and maintain the illusion that anyone knows what they are doing.

    It just so happens that in order to keep things as the same as possible, you have to have power.

    Nothing will change until a cataclysm destroys the status quo such that it is unrecoverable or until a revolutionary spirit like Lenin takes control of things–or both.

    One final thought: I was recently given a copy of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and the introduction written by someone who presumably knows about these things called out Clauswitz directly, saying that Clauswitz’ utilitarian ruthlessness was moderated in Sun Tzu’s work which aimed to minimize damage and harm. Morality, in other words, is a moderating influence on war and so on politics also. It also means that Moral men get trammeled by immoral men who have power and desire to keep things the same, so it follows that there would be no moral men in politics today.

    • To use the old communist lingo, a party is full of “useful idiots.” Lenin understood and wrote about ways that designing men could use the “emergent” movements of the herd. The old Catholic writers made clear that most men in the Masonic conspiracy didn’t really know they were in the conspiracy. I’ve never read Sun Tzu but Clausewitz is not wed to brutality. That’s the point of his doctrine that war is just a continuation of politics. He is wed to expedience, or doing whatever it takes. If a bouquet of flowers will do the trick, then a bouquet of flowers it is.

  2. @Scoot:

    The Democrats / Ruling Cabal are an amateur theatrical company in the boonies cf. Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Granted. But all they have to be is better Leninists in their understanding of Power than their gormless opponents. They don’t have to be Good. Just Better. And they are. Which is easy.

    The Glass Half Full here is that it wouldn’t take all that much competence to out-Lenin the public-facing clowns. The Three Letters might be another story though.

  3. When we balk at the ruthlessness that God undertakes when he executes judgment. We have to remember that evil in its corruption is ruthless itself. And that the most ruthless evil is what tends to prevail over less ruthless evil.

    The more vile evil tends to displace the less vile evil in a sort of perverse survival of the fittest.

    Therefore when God totally destroys people aside from a few righteous believers when evil is filled to the brim. God is probably seeing all possibilities of evil that might escape that judgment which cannot be allowed.

    Mercy exists in so much as it is unnecessary to destroy people totally like in the case of the Midianites which Israel waged war against and the Royal Houses(by restricting killing to all the males of that House) that God directed future kings to destroy outside of active righteousness on the part of those spared(women and children).

  4. I wonder if you’ve read “Achever Clausewitz” by René Girard (trans and published in english as “Battling to the End”)? It is an extraordinary work in which Girard contrasts Clausewitz’ understanding of reality which is, like war, a duel of reciprocity that tends towards apocalyptic extremes, against Hegel’s dialectic of struggle, which tends towards reconciliation and progress. Girard concludes that Clausewitz was by far the more profound and prophetic thinker of the mundane world; he nevertheless contrasts the reciprocity of violence with the positive mimesis called for by Christ (forgiveness, charity, due process/avoidance of false accusations etc.), as the only thing holding back (katechon) this apocalypse.

    Fascinating book, worthy of several re-reads.

    • No, I’ve never read it, but I agree that Hegelian synthesis is bunk. It is not altogether clear how we are to bring forgiveness into the mundane. If I repeatedly forgive a man for trying to murder me, he will sooner or later succeed.

      • Indeed, the message of the New Testament is that the mundane world will come to a fiery, murderous end. But one’s *prudential* efforts to hold it back – including defending oneself from injustice, casting away the obstinate sinners and rendering punishment for crimes – will not be in vain, in the world to come. Positive mimesis without limit was only perfected in the God-man who willingly suffered death in consequence. Although we are called to imitate Him as sons of God, we also remain finite and imperfect creatures, doing what we can. How much better, at least, that you were not the murderer!

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