Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004


NOTE: This comparative piece on the beliefs of Mao Zedong and two French "Maoists", Sartre and Althusser, was my MA Dissertation. :-)










For a brief period during the 1960s and 1970s, a number of European intellectuals adopted, at least in theory, an alignment to Maoism. This process offers the opportunity for gaining insight into the processes whereby ideas, philosophies and belief-systems spread between different national contexts. In this particular case, the flow of ideas is against the direction of dominant power-relations - from the underdeveloped east to the culturally and economically dominant west - so that the process of cultural diffusion can be studied apart from the influence of pressure, coercion and hegemonic 'apparatuses' on ideas. In this situation, it is possible to gain insights into whether ideas are transmitted between different cultural contexts in such a way as to leave them more-or-less intact, or whether their spread is primarily that of a 'surface' set of discourses beneath which underlying assumptions vary and the decontestation, articulation and application of concepts and of their interrelations differs substantially.

A number of European intellectuals, including Bahro and Goldmann, adopted Maoism at some point, but this study will focus on two western European thinkers in particular: Louis Althusser and Jean-Paul Sartre. Highly divergent in their philosophies (Althusser being an anti-humanist 'structuralist' whereas Sartre was a phenomenological existentialist), and therefore providing a varied source-material for comparative purposes, these thinkers nevertheless briefly shared a political adherence to Maoism. In both cases, this alignment was limited to a particular period of their work, and it is on this period that this essay shall focus. Althusser's "Leninist" (i.e. Maoist) period is dated by Margaret A. Majumdar (1995:18) from 1966 to 1975, although Althusser had already praised Mao before this time, dating from the early 1960s (i.e. the period of the Sino-Soviet split). My study focuses on a number of works produced in this period, primarily the essays 'Contradiction and Overdetermination' and 'On the Materialist Dialectic' (originally published in 1962 and 1963 respectively, but dated in English to 1969); his polemical essay, 'Reply to John Lewis', originally published in 1973 (dated here to an English collection of 1984); and the essay 'Lenin and Philosophy' (originally 1968, dated here to 1971). These cover most of Althusser's philosophical work from the period in question.

Sartre's Maoism mostly followed the 1968 uprising in France, but he produced little political work during this period. Whereas Althusser's commitment to Maoism remained mostly theoretical, Sartre took an active role (for an intellectual) in support of some Maoist groups, becoming nominal editor of the Maoist-inspired newspaper La Cause de Peuple and even selling it on the streets after it was banned in 1970 (Thody and Read 1998:152). Thody and Read (1992:150-1) suggest that this turn to Maoism resulted from Sartre's desperation following the defeat of the uprising and particularly the Communist Party's attitude to it, which Sartre saw as a betrayal. Two works provide the main focus for my study of Sartre's thought during this period. The philosophical beliefs on which Sartre's thought in this period is founded were shaped a little earlier, in the Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume I (originally 1960, English translation 1976), and this work forms part of the focus, particularly the sections dealing with philosophy, seriality and the fused group. The second work on which I will concentrate is the English-language collection Beyond Existentialism and Marxism (1974), which consists of essays and interviews originally published in Situations VIII and IX in 1972. In these essays, Sartre discusses French and international politics and the role of intellectuals.

The extent of cultural transmission represented by the Maoist alignments of these thinkers is the main focus of this essay. To this end, I shall compare both thinkers' remarks on a series of selected issues to remarks made on the same or similar issues by Mao Zedong, in his Selected Works and Four Essays on Philosophy, covering a substantial period from the 1920s to the 1960s. I shall not on the whole discuss the politics of French Maoism or the practice of Maoism in China, which is not to say that I believe that these were in any sense mechanical outgrowths of Mao's thought. Indeed, I suspect that such political phenomena contain internal dynamics which render largely irrelevant the intentional interventions of political leaders. The reason for the comparison to Mao is because this provides a basis for establishing whether the ideas (philosophies, conceptions, underlying assumptions) of the Maoist movement, in their most coherent and 'canonical' form, are similar to the ideas of Sartre and Althusser during their 'Maoist' periods. My aim is to establish whether the recognition of parts of their own outlook in Maoism by Sartre and Althusser is a recognition based on a similarity in beliefs or whether it is a "false" recognition resulting from misunderstanding, deliberately or unintentionally selective reading, the mediation of Mao's thought by practical and ideological movements, or factors entirely external to the worldview of Maoism as such. (It is possible, for instance, that others may have been attracted to Maoism by a perceived similarity between the Cultural Revolution and the French, Czech and other uprisings of 1968, which expressed a desire for a continuation of the 'spirit of '68' rather than being attached to Maoism as such).

In attempting this, I recognise the existence of substantial differences in the social context, periodisation, concerns and roles of the three thinkers I am studying. Mao was primarily a political leader who dabbled in philosophy and political theory partly for polemical reasons (but who did not see this as undermining his claims to recognition as a philosopher and theorist), whereas Althusser and Mao were intellectuals active primarily in theoretical work. Mao was the leader of a Communist Party in conditions of armed struggle and, later, of a ruling Communist Party, whereas Althusser and Mao were theorists on the periphery of a Communist Party with which they were becoming increasingly disillusioned and which was already heading down the path of 'Eurocommunism'. Mao is operating in an underdeveloped country, whereas Sartre and Althusser are near the heart of the international system, in a neo-colonial metropole. And while Sartre and Althusser both have access to complex concepts and theories, Mao is working with a more limited theoretical vocabulary. Furthermore, there are no doubt differences between the Chinese and French languages which could produce differences in expression.

Nevertheless, if the beliefs of Mao, Sartre and Althusser rest on a shared conception of the world, there should be some degree of compatibility between them. For this reason, this essay will use a concept of 'fit' to establish comparisons. This concept rests on a model of theory and language as a rhizomatic network, with a number of distinct areas within it, connected in the manner of a patch of potatoes, whatever their exterior appearance of linearity, arboreality or polemicality (cf. Heaton and Groves 1994:128-9). Different pieces of work expressing the same worldview may relate to different countries, questions, opponents or types of action, but if they are part of a single or two closely related belief-systems, it should be possible to put them together in a network of this kind without logical incoherence or a polemical or philosophical split appearing between them. Or to say the same thing another way, where two thinkers believe in a single conception of the world, either of the thinkers' networks should be able to absorb the other's network in its entirety, in principle, without contradicting her or himself and without amending any of their own or the other thinker's views. For instance, a capitalist economist and a management theorist may have different concerns, emphases and areas of thought and activity, but in principle a capitalist economist could absorb a pro-capitalist management theory without amending either this theory or their economic theory. (Whether this particular individual could empirically learn both perspectives accurately is beside the point). Their theories would 'fit' together. Such a strong form of 'fit' is actually quite rare, but if belief-systems are close to one another, some degree of 'fit' should nevertheless be possible. Either some parts of each theory should be capable of 'fit' with the whole of the other, or they should be capable of 'fit' on the basis of relatively little amendment of each other's beliefs (for instance, a management theorist who adopted a theory of globalisation may have to amend nationally-focussed parts of her/his perspective, but could still absorb most of the theory). The important criterion of 'fit' is the structure of belief, rather than the terminology used. I am following Gramsci in maintaining that, although different types of speech and writing and different vocabularies may exist within a conception of the world, if this is indeed a single conception of the world, these beliefs should be 'translatable' between forms of speech and writing and between technical and personal vocabularies (Gramsci 1994:Chapter V). If Sartre and Althusser actually share a conception of the world with Mao, there should therefore be a high degree of 'fit' between their theories and Mao's, with a low level of self-contradiction. If, on the other hand, they have a low level of 'fit' with Mao and their recognition of Mao's conception of the world as similar to their own is false, there should be a large number of self-contradictions and mutually exclusive and incompatible claims, beliefs, assumptions, assertions, arguments and conclusions. If differences between the thinkers rest mainly on differences in context, timing, or issues of concern, the degree of 'fit' should be high. If they rest mainly on holding different conceptions of the world, the degree of 'fit' should be low. I am not assuming here that each thinker has a single, fixed conception which cannot be read differently; the idea of 'fit' is quite compatible with the possibility that, for instance, a 'surplus of meaning' may be present in Mao which is used by Sartre or Althusser to develop his views. The concept of 'fit' is entirely compatible with such a surplus, which would still not render the theories directly contradictory, but rather, relates to the relation between the thinker's will and the works they produce (an issue which falls outside the scope of this essay). The concept of 'fit' also allows for the possibility that Mao's theory may be a less sophisticated version of the others'; if this is the case, there should still be an absence of incoherence and the other differences mentioned above.

There are certain other things which I am not aiming to do in this essay. I am to avoid the type of method adopted by, for instance, Todd (1974). In this comparison of Mao Zedong's beliefs to those of Antonio Gramsci, Todd uses similarities in rhetoric and similar verbal formulations to 'force' the two thinkers together, creating a false unity which covers the difference between the underlying philosophies of the two thinkers. I am also not aiming to produce an assessment of the validity of the three thinkers. To some extent, discussion of this issue is almost unavoidable, since issues such as internal incoherence, bad use of evidence and schematic thought are both issues of validity and issues of underlying beliefs. Also, I do not make any claim to be able to objectively present theoretical material; it will probably be fairly obvious, for instance, that I have little sympathy with ethical asceticism, that I see Sartre's theories as far more thought-provoking than Mao's, and that I dislike regimes of a 'totalitarian' kind. Such issues are not, however, central to this essay, since 'fit' can exist as easily between two 'wrong' theories as between two 'right' ones. I am also not trying to explain why 'fit' or lack of it may occur. Again, I am not aiming for a falsely closed schematism, and I shall not try to avoid discussion of (for instance) the history of the communist movement, the Cultural Revolution or 1968. But the central focus of this essay shall be on the question of whether 'fit' exists, and whether therefore, in this case, ideas have crossed cultural boundaries more-or-less intact.

A few remarks should be added on Mao Zedong's position in the history of thought. In claiming that Mao's thought is comparable to that of Sartre and Althusser, I am not claiming that Mao is in some sense a 'great' thinker or that Sartre and Althusser are mere polemicists. Rather, I am claiming that political leaders, and indeed ordinary people, have a 'philosophy' of sorts which is more-or-less comparable to that of specialist philosophers, albeit less coherent and usually less adequate. Gramsci (1971:323) establishes this in relation to people who have written no directly philosophical works, and who have not formally written anything theoretical. Mao, however, has written four essays on philosophy and numerous others on political theory, 'style of work', culture, journalism and so on, and, while these may not be as coherent or complex as those of Sartre or Althusser, they are nevertheless a basis for comparison. Furthermore, one should not be fooled by Mao's polemical language into believing that he did not take his writings seriously. Not only does he refuse to recognise any distinction between polemic and philosophy (see below), he also urges people to re-read each piece of writing ten times and revising it thoroughly before submitting it for publication (1975:3:66). This is hardly the attitude of someone who sees himself as only producing ideological writings where the precise content is unimportant.

In this essay, I shall focus on only some of the many areas of the highly diverse and wide-ranging theories of the three authors. Firstly, I shall leave aside a number of issues which are dealt with by only one or two of the thinkers, and where there is therefore little basis for comparison (such as Sartre's theory of groups and Mao's theories of warfare). Secondly, I shall also leave aside a number of other areas, which are potentially relevant and a possible subject for further research. These include: the question of the role of intellectuals, education and culture (where Sartre and Althusser both adopt variants on the classical French declass‚ model, whereas Mao adopts a crude instrumentalism), which is too close to the active roles of the three thinkers to allow unproblematic comparison across different roles; the questions of the state and party (where all three thinkers, especially Mao and Althusser, adopt more-or-less substitutionist positions, with Sartre a little more sceptical about institutionalisation), and of democracy, all of which create problems due to the very different political contexts in France and China; the style of the various writers, which, while suggestive of underlying beliefs, is too vulnerable to purely circumstantial amendment; the relationship to Stalinism, which does not lend itself to comparison due to substantial changes over time in the conceptions of all three thinkers; and, perhaps most problematically, the group of concepts around structure/totality/contradiction/ overdetermination/particularity/generality/finality. Although this area is the area where Althusser claims to have borrowed the most from Mao (a claim which in practice covers what I believe to be a substantially different model), the absence of anything like Mao and Althusser's concepts in Sartre's thought made this area impractical for comparison of all three thinkers, and this area has already been dealt with, albeit with an overemphasis on similarities, by Liu (1995). I am confident that the general conclusions which I draw from the areas I do study (philosophy, ethical theory and social theory) also hold for these other areas in those cases where comparisons can be made.

In this essay, I shall bring in concepts from outside the theories of the three thinkers under study so as to interpret their ideas in a manner conducive to comparison. I am not attempting to assess whether the thinkers are authentic 'Marxists', if such a thing exists; nor am I assessing their affinity with the communist movement (although there is clearly a case to be developed here: all three to some extent developed their alignments as 'sidesteps' from Russian-dominated orthodoxy). I shall, however, use concepts like the double-bind, substitutionism and totalitarianism to compare the different theories. In discussing totalitarianism, I believe there is another question to be answered which falls within the boundaries of this essay. It is quite usual for theorists to develop alignments with political projects on the basis of a partial 'fit', but this is usually because political projects only demand a partial 'fit' of their supporters. Maoism, however, demands a total absorption of all its adherents, and does not tolerate partial alignments. One would expect thinkers to find this kind of demand offputting should they consider aligning themselves with Maoism. I shall therefore examine how Althusser and Sartre may be rendered receptive or tolerant towards totalitarianism - and to do so in such a way as to move beyond conservative uses of the concept, which rarely get much further than constructing blanket anathemas on the basis of superficial linguistic similarities. This type of method has the problem that it leads quickly back to quasi-totalitarianism of a McCarthyite type. The inadequacies of this conservative discourse, which quickly renders all dissent 'totalitarian', renders it important to develop more empirically-grounded bases for understanding the links between particular ideas and totalitarianism, and this assessment is one of the subsidiary issues examined here.

A few remarks should be added on the direct relationship between each of the thinkers and Mao's thought. Of the two, Althusser is by far the closer to Mao in terms of the claims he makes to have used or borrowed from Mao's thought. Althusser selectively draws on Mao's thought, particularly in his work on contradiction, which falls outside the scope of this essay. He calls Mao's On Contradiction "remarkable" and sees it as specifying the content of the Marxist dialectic (1969:174, 176, 194). In his reading of it, Althusser reads his own concerns into Mao's, seeing On Contradiction as a work combatting dogmatic deviations (1969:182). He then proceeds to suggest, however, that Mao's work is incomplete and requires that one should "seek out the deeper theoretical reasons behind these claims" (1969:194), and that, while On Contradiction provides new and valid "essential concepts", it is too descriptive and general (1969:94). Whether these statements, which imply that Mao lacks and knows he lacks an underlying philosophy, is valid will be shown in the discussion to come, on philosophy.

Althusser treats Mao very seriously as a thinker, even citing him as an authority when he lacks evidence for a claim (eg. 1969:211). This ranks Althusser as one of the elite of 'official' thinkers in Althusser's model, along with Marx, Engels, Lenin and Gramsci, and in a position surpassing that of, for instance, Bachelard. Althusser also contrasts his "Marxism-Leninism" to John Lewis's "Marxism" (1984:77), an explicitly Maoist terminology. Furthermore (though again dealing with issues largely outside the scope of this essay), Althusser claims to have drawn the idea of "given complexities" from Mao (1969:195). To the extent that this claim relates to issues of schematism and certainty, it will be assessed below.

Several of Althusser's claims rely less on Mao's theory than on a reading of the Chinese Revolution. Althusser reads this as a critique in practice of Stalin's 'deviation' (1984:131-2; Liu 1995:11). Notwithstanding Mao's substantial theoretical writings, and hinting at a desire to hide these writings so as to selectively read the Chinese Revolution, Althusser terms the Chinese case "a silent critique, which speaks through its actions... A critique from afar... A contradictory critique, if only because of the disproportion between acts and texts", and only as a specific form of an underlying tendency (1984:131-2). This approach suggests a desire to read Mao and the Chinese Revolution selectively while constructing a distinct theory separately from them.

The relationship between Mao and Althusser has already been discussed by Liu (1995). According to Liu, "Mao Zedong's works are a significant resource in Althusser's search for alternatives to capitalist modernity with which classical Marxism is locked up" (1995:2). Liu sees Althusser as making a "symptomatic" reading of Mao based on absence as well as presence, and as sharing Mao's project of cultural revolution and underlying beliefs such as determinism and essentialism (1996:2-3; contrast below, on reality and on ethics). He claims that there was "mutual illumination" between Althusser and Mao (1995:10). On this basis, Liu lists a number of similarities between Althusser and Mao (eg. 1995:12). Liu admits, however, that there are problems with this reading, which also depends on Liu's own reading of a concept of alternative modernity into both Mao and Althusser. Thus, many of the links between Mao and Althusser are an "anachronism" (1995:8), and Althusser ignored voluntarist and essentialist elements in Mao's theory (1995:4). As regards the project of 'alternative modernity', my own readings discovered little discussion of this kind of issue in either Mao or Althusser; I discuss their respective projects in more detail below (see the sections on ethics, people and enemy, and practice in particular).

As regards Sartre, his support for the Maoist movement was greater than Althusser's (probably due to his more distant relation to the Communist Party), but his theoretical relations with Mao and Maoism are far less noticeable. There are at least two occasions where he accounts for his commitment to the Maoist cause. One of these (cited Thody and Read 1998:152) gives the reason of a shared attitude to the violence of the oppressed; this is discussed in detail in the section on ethics. In the other (1974:296), Mao describes his commitment to La Cause de Peuple as a radicalization and more than a formal commitment or a commitment to press freedom, but also states that, although he got on well with its activists, he certainly does not entirely share their views, believes they lacked the correct tone, and accuses them of a lack of a link between theory and practice. This suggests a far more indirect relation to Maoism.

Mark Poster comments on Sartre's partial Maoism as follows: "Although he gave his support to the Maoists, he never fully adhered to that movement. Attracted to the Cultural Revolution in China as an example of an advanced democratic politics and sympathetic to the followers of Mao in France, Sartre still held his distance. Unlike other intellectuals who moved from adulating the Soviet Union to idealising Communist China, Sartre viewed the new trend with some restraint. The basis of his reservations about China are not completely clear. It is possible that he did not want to make again the mistake he made about the Soviet Union. Or he may have thought that radical politics in Europe are not served by adhering slavishly to the government of China where social conditions were very different" (1979:117). If either of these views is true, however, and even given Sartre's relatively limited commitment, one could nevertheless expect some degree of 'fit'. Whether this expectation is accurate will be examined below. (It seems, incidentally, that Sartre primarily gave his name, or his 'alienated' self, rather than his whole theory, to causes, in contrast to Althusser who is deeply committed to the Communist movement).

Sartre also discusses China on a handful of occasions. On one of these (1976:161-5), he praises the Chinese government for supposedly trying to solve the problems of food shortage and deforestation. In another, he discusses his attitude to the Cultural Revolution. He sees this event as involving a contradiction and "central discordance between the unleashing of mass initiatives and the cult of the leader" - a perpetual fused group alongside "a hallucinating collective catechism" focussed on the Little Red Book (1976:58). However, he refuses to comment on whether it is doomed to failure by China's scarce resources. "I regard myself as very inadequately informed about the Cultural Revolution", he says, and he then speculates that its motives might actually involve an attempt to return from seriality and bureaucracy to a "perpetual fused group" due to the failure of the Great Leap Forward, and refuses on principle the possibility of mechanical causation. He does not believe that it fits his (positively-loaded) model of the apocalypse, although he admits: "I have not succeeded in understanding the causes of the phenomenon in its totality" (1974:57).This again suggests a somewhat critical reading, although with some sympathy; it is surprising, given the prevalence of terror during the Cultural Revolution, that Sartre should term its groups 'fused' instead of 'pledged'. Liu (1995:18) also sees a single concept of practice running through Sartre, Althusser and Mao; whether their concepts of practice are actually a single concept will be assessed below (see the section on practice). If there is a link between Mao and Sartre, it must be on the level of implicit beliefs; Sartre does not discuss Mao as a thinker on a par with (for instance) Marx or L‚vi-Strauss, whereas Althusser does.

This still leaves the question of the relation between Sartre and Althusser, although this is not a central focus of this essay. Sartre appears to respect Althusser, but only as an adversary (1974:134); Althusser, in contrast, is very hostile to all theories of the type favoured by Sartre. Indeed, his dislike for Sartre and Sartrean theories is a major aspect of Althusser's critique of Sartrean-inspired philosopher John Lewis (see eg. 1984:75). Their political approach is also dissimilar; Althusser wishes constantly to remain within the cultural community of the Communist Party, whereas Sartre, faced with attacks on freedom of research and theory, prefers to be outside. This means that Sartre probably had closer links to the Maoist groups themselves. Since Sartre and Althusser are so different, any 'fit' between both of these thinkers and Mao suggests very strongly that the aspects where it occurs are a major point of similarity whereby eastern-originated beliefs can enter the west. (This model of transmission, incidentally, does not assume that either Althusser or Sartre is getting their ideas directly from Mao; a 'fit' generated by a similar reading of practical events or mediated by French Maoist activists is just as much a case of cultural transmission as a belief directly drawn from Mao).

This essay shall now proceed by examining in turn a number of aspects of the thought of Mao, Althusser and Sartre which provide a basis for comparison, located in the spheres of philosophical, ethical and social thought.


All three of the writers under consideration claim on some level to be philosophers. While this is a fairly obvious self-definition in the cases of Sartre and Althusser, it is also the case for Mao Zedong, notwithstanding his primary orientation to political leadership. Mao appears to see his works on philosophy and culture as philosophical in the full sense, rather than as polemical contributions to philosophical issues. Several central aspects of Mao's theory support this reading, notably his refusal to draw boundary-lines between philosophy and polemic, his theory of philosophy as a servant of politics, the so-called 'unity' he establishes between politics and philosophy, and his belief in the superiority of his own theory over those of specialist philosophers, as demonstrated in his concept of 're-education'. In practice, of course, Mao's philosophy is heavily overborne by polemical elements. It also changes substantially over time while retaining an exterior claim to continuity and integrality. Certain aspects of Mao's thought, such as substitutionism, closure and the 'rectification', become more pronounced over time, as Mao's assessment of the 'concrete' shifts.

Although Mao has an explicit philosophy, developed in works such as On Contradiction and On Practice , it is doubtful whether this is actually foundational in Mao's works. Important philosophical aspects tend to reflect other beliefs and underlying tendencies. For instance, the theory of the principal contradiction provides a basis for Mao's already-existing tendency to divide the world into two sides, a 'People' and an 'Enemy'. Furthermore, Mao himself suggests that philosophy is not foundational, when he states that one needs to study so that one can tell others why one is acting (1975:2:240). This model of theory as rationalisation suggests that the act, and the choice of act, are prior to the formation of philosophy, and therefore suggests that the basis for action lies outside the formal, written philosophy, maybe in some kind of implicit but unexpressed worldview.

For Mao, the issues of philosophy, science and ideology fuse into one another. There are for Mao only two philosophical perspectives, the metaphysical and the dialectical, "which form two opposing world outlooks" (1968:24). This conclusion is based on a device common in Mao's work: the conflation of diverse oppositions, in this case idealism and "vulgar evolutionist" materialim, into a single enemy (1968:24-5). The good side of this dualism is also referred to as "science" and "Marxism" as well as dialectics. Science is assumed to be universally good and convincing. Mao counterposes "scientific analysis and convincing argument" to "dogmatic" criticism (1968:118), and also counterposes science to "traditional dogmas" such as Confucianism and the veneration of ancestors (1975:3:54).

According to Mao, "knowledge is a matter of science, and no dishonesty or conceit whatsoever is permissible" (1968:8). Science is therefore conflated with knowledge and treated as a single, universally accessible truth, the absence of which from a person's beliefs indicates personal flaws such as dishonesty. Science is "honest, solid knowledge"; everythbng else is assumed to be "tricks" (1975:3:22). Everything falls within science; respect for history, for instance, means putting it in its "proper place" as a science (1975:2:381). Science is also fearless, since it embodies truth. "What is scientific never fears criticism, for science is truth and fears no refutation" (1975:3:57). This effectively involves conflating science with power, since even a true belief-system may fear persecution. Mao is inconsistent in his use of this principle, however, since he does imply elsewhere a need to fear 'harmful' ideas and practices.

Science in Mao is identical with Marxism-Leninism, which Mao terms "the scientific world outlook" (1975:4:457). Again, this occurs as a single, true approach which should be adopted without exception. For instance, "everybody" in the party should use the one "Marxist" method (1975:3:62). In an echo of Althusser's theory of the epistemological break, Mao calls Marxism an "unprecedented revolution" in the "history of human knowledge" (1968:29). Marxism-Leninism is "the best of truths, the best of weapons" (1975:3:17), and a "universal truth" (1975:2:380-1), and one must "raise the Marxist-Leninist theoretical level" because "Marxism-Leninism alone is the compass which can guide the Chinese revolution to victory" (1975:1:275). Again, truth in Mao's theory tends to merge with power and success. Furthermore, an aspect of tautology appears: Marxism's usefulness is apparent to Mao mainly because he adopts a "Marxist" standpoint.

The question of standpoint is central to Mao's philosophy. Mao's approach involves an explicit or implicit claim to epistemological privilege for his own standpoint which gives him access to objective reality. There is for Mao always a standpoint or "point of departure" (1975:2:215), sometimes called a "stand" or "position", from which one assesses reality. Usually, this takes the form of a supposed "class" viewpoint, but it can also involve instrumental alignments. One can, for instance, take the "viewpoint of strategy" (1975:2:80), and Mao also claims that the "stand, viewpoint and method" should come from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin (1975:3:21).

Mao counterposes science, Marxism and dialectics to illusions and dogmas, but not to ideology as such. At one point, indeed, he refers to Marxism as an ideology (1975:3:278), and there are other aspects of his theory where ideology is used in a positive sense, such as "ideological education" (1975:4:192). However, the idea of overcoming superstition and wrong beliefs via the light of progress is very strong in Mao. He sees his own conjuncture as a special moment of enlightenment for China, a millenarian or gnostic moment of revelation, "the moment for completely banishing darkness from the world and from China and for changing the world into a world of light such as never previously existed" (1968:19), and also as a peculiarly dynamic era bringing changes more important than centuries of development (1975:2:377).

The core of Mao's philosophy is a reflection theory of knowledge. For Mao, external reality - "particular things" - occurs in human consciousness pre-conceptually, and repeated exposure allows people to "grasp" patterns, "essence", "totality" and the "internal relations of things" (1968:4-5). These two stages are termed perception and rational knowledge. Logical inference, which is "the more important stage... the state of rational knowledge" (1968:5), allows people to arrive at judgements such as that the Communist Party is right. The difference between the two stages is between seeing parts and seeing a totality (1968:6). Rational knowledge is then tested in practice, and the relations between perceptual knowledge, rational knowledge and practice are "the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge" (1968:20). "The perceptual and the rational are qualitatively different" and are united by practice (1968:6). For Mao, Marxism has solved the problem of the development of knowledge once and for all; scientific abstractions "reflect nature" (1968:6). All knowledge is dependent on the present stage of reality. One cannot know something without living it, and one cannot know a historical stage before one is in it (1975:7), leaving people effectively dragged along by a process they cannot fully know. The difficulties with this model do not end with its philosophical primitivity and direct contradiction of most of the findings of the empirical psychology of perception. In a class-divided society, knowledge is presumably limited to each class, throwing doubt on whether any side's view can be total and "correct". The self disappears, particularly regarding the question of self-awareness or self-knowledge. And reflection theory contains substitutionist overtones. If an act which is effective on an object is taken to reflect its essence, it follows that, for instance, an effective propaganda device or campaign of mobilisation actually reflects the social groups on whom it works. Mao, however, is unaware of any problems with his theory, which he terms "the dynamic revolutionary theory of knowledge as the reflection of reality... elaborated... by Lenin" (1975:2:341) - as if Lenin's name renders the theory dynamic and revolutionary.

Perhaps due to the reflection theory of knowledge, Mao treats "reality" constantly as an entirely external set of facts to which one must submit. According to Mao, all scientific "laws" are reflections in our minds of objective reality" (1975:1:190), and scientific abstractions are "objective reality scientifically reflected" (1968:8). He conflates being "reflective" with submitting to reality as if these are inseparable. He argues: "We are not utopians and cannot divorce ourselves from the actual conditions confronting us" (1975:2:35). All of reality is humanly knowable (1968:19). Any truth-claim not fitting objective reality is for Mao unintelligible and open to invalidation. For instance, not writing in a way that reflects reality properly is the same as not knowing the rudiments of writing (1975:3:66). Reality is also for Mao unitary, consisting of a single truth. There is one progressive path, and one must grasp the right links at the right time to progress (1975:3:278). "There is but one truth, and the question of whether or not one has arrived at it depends not on subjective boasting but on objective practice" (1975:2:339). Mao therefore effectively places his claim to validity outside his theory. The one truth is reached by submitting to reality. The aim of analysis is to reveal internal relations of objects (1975:3:61-2): in effect, to get inside the thing. "Facts" exist objectively, "truth" is the "relations" and "laws" which guide them, and one is supposedly able to find these external laws which are "inherent... and not imaginary" (1975:3:22-3). It is supposedly "plain to everybody and beyond all doubt" that one should "proceed from objective realities", derive "laws" from these and then base action on these laws (1975:3:35). This approach, which Mao calls "seeking truth from facts", is supposedly Mao's alternative to claiming infallibility (1975:2:339). Mao apparently conceives of this process occurring without human, social or linguistic intervention, as a direct reflection of external reality. For instance, "We should start from reality and not from definitions"; there are pre-definitional, "actual, undeniable facts" which can simply be asserted to found a discussion (1975:3:74-5). This implies that Mao sees words as directly expressing external facts. A "mistake" occurs when "our subjective arrangements do not correspond to objective reality" (1968:95). What this produces is a kind of inert action. Although Mao states that only human beings can act, a failure to fit objective facts always leads to failure (1975:2:151).

External, objective reality on Mao's model is not restricted to the objects of natural science. Although Mao states that handling human relations is "quite unlike handling inanimate objects or routine matters" (1975:1:188), he also speaks in an externalist way about class and other phenomena, and even about forms of social action. War, for instance, is a thing as well as "the highest form of struggle" (1975:1:180).

In contrast to Mao's method, the main anathema he uses is "subjectivism". To be "subjective" is "not to use the materialist viewpoint" (1968:40), and apparently consists of a failure to submit to the external laws of external things (1968:42). Other supposed errors include "one-sidedness", which involves only seeing part of a contradiction or thing, and superficiality, which means looking "from afar" and not looking closely enough (1968:40-2). Subjectivism occurs in people's style of study, writing, relating and thinking, though sometimes under other labels, such as "sectarianism" and "stereotyped Party writing". Its origins need to be sealed off (1975:3:35-6). One shoud "proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes" (1975:3:18), which leaves practice as a rather pointless activity, although this does not stop Mao making it a central part of his theory. Subjectivism includes a range of specific acts, including "unsystematic" and non-thorough research, "lacking a climate of investigation and study of objective reality", lacking a national focus, studying in a non-instrumental way "purely for the sake of study" instead of for "the needs of revolutionary practice", citing "odd quotations" from the classics instead of adopting their "stand" and "method", acting on how "it seems to me", teaching in a way not directly linked to recent Chinese history (which disseminates "error" and does "great harm"), knowing Ancient Greece better than modern China, not taking party directives seriously enough, and working from feeling or from abstraction (1975:3:18-21). All of these involve the equivalent of shooting at random instead of aiming at a target (1975:3:21). Working from feeling and abstraction are equally invalid since both "ignore the existence of objective realities, and are contentless and meaningless", "without substance", "claptrap" and "bombastic twaddle" and can function only tpo "curry favour" (1975:3:21,23). Subjectivism is a "formidable enemy", "contrary to science and Marxism-Leninism", which needs to be overthrown (1975:3:21). This polemic clearly suggests that Mao is using reality as a closing device, ruling out beliefs which are not his own by invoking "reality" as a way of ending debate. The various attempts to accuse 'subjectivists' of lacking meaningful content are also reminiscent of Pateman's (1975:78) discussion of how people with underdeveloped conceptual capacities cover their failure to understand an idea by invalidating it as Nonsense. Mao uses his concept of reality less to make falsifiable truth-claims than to put his discourse beyond falsification.

This conclusion is also supported by other parts of Mao's work. In discussions of policy, Mao maintains there is one good policy and all others are bad (1975:2:357), and attacks opponents for being "at variance with objective reality" (1968:80). Mao's appeals to reality are less often appeals to particular empirical "facts" used as backing than an unbacked assertion used as a closing device or as symbolic words projecting legitimacy onto whatever they are attached to. For instance, Mao simply asserts that experience confirms the links he draws (1975:2:288). He makes unbacked statements such as: "It has been proved that the practice can only do good and can do no harm whatsoever" (1975:4:191 - a claim which, incidentally, refers to a future which Mao supposedly places outside the knowable). He also uses suxh formulations as a basis for praise: others are applauded for accurately reflecting the actual situation in the mass movements, for instance (1975:4:244). And some of his claims to know are clearly exta-empirical. Take for instance the following: there is "something in the minds of a number of our comrades which strikes one as not quite right, not quite proper" (1975:3:35). Here, Mao is claiming knowledge of the contents of others' minds and of an absolute, shared standard of rightness and propriety - clearly not reflected materialities. Where Mao does use empirical evidence, furthermore, he does so very weakly, usually in the form of a single 'fact'. For instance, the success of a novel by Fadayev alone proves the popularity of a whole genre of literature (1975:3:96), and the success of a single commune proves a theory about all communes (1968:101). Mao's use of evidence is so weak that a string of perfectly valid claims about the 'achievements' of Chinese 'civilisation' through history are so vaguely asserted that they are later outlined and specified by Mao's editors (1975:306, 331).

As a result of this non-empirical attitude to the concept of "reality", Mao frequently makes empirical claims with little empirical basis, frequently against the bulk of what others would consider empirical evidence, backed mainly by an appeal to "reality" or its offshoots (the "concrete", "objectivity", "matter", etc.), and consisting in a doctrinaire and a priori assertive approach. Mao's views about nuclear weapons are a good example. "The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the U.S. reactionaries use to scare people. It looks terrible, but in fact it isn't" (1975:4:100). The reason for this is not located in nuclear physics or international relations, but in a theoretical formulation of Mao's. "The reason is simply this: the reactionaries represent reaction, we [i.e. the 'people'] represent progress" (1975:4:101), as is supposedly shown by the failures of Hitler and Jiang Jieshi. For the same reason, Mao also had a strong belief, around the time of the beginnings of McCarthyism, that the American people would expose the weakness of the American reactionaries (1975:4:101). Later, faced with the 1956 anti-communist campaigns, Mao claimed that "the working class in all countries", rather than being won over by the anti-communists, was being tempered by the struggle against it (1968:123), presumably on the basis of the dogma that the working class is always pro-communist. On the nuclear question again, Mao claimed that a Third World War would win more of the world for socialism, on the basis of a deduction from the supposed outcomes of the last two wars (1968:126). American intransigence is supposedly a "bucket of cold water" to its supporters (1975:4:430). Similarly on population growth, all evidence is surpassed by general claims about 'reality'. "It is a very good thing that China has a big population. Even if China's population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding the solution; the solution is production". "Of all things in the world, people are the most precious. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, as long as there are people, every kind of miracle can be performed. We are refuters of Acheson's counter-revolutionary theory. We believe that revolution can change everything, and that before long there will arise a new China with a big population and a great wealth of products, where life will be abundant and culture will flourish. All pessimistic views are utterly groundless" (1975:4:453-4). This would seem to contradict Mao's belief that reality imposes objective limits, but in this case he ignores this part of his theory and concentrates on a different set of 'evidence': Soviet and Chinese experience, asserted in a non-specified way as supporting Mao's claims, and Marx's theoretical refutation of Malthus, together with what amounts to an act of faith in revolution and an anathematisation of alternative viewpoints. Other examples of the same kind of method include Mao's citation of Stalin's claim that the need for armed struggle is an advantage for China (1975:2:287), his claim that the success of the Chinese revolution shows the superiority of socialism (1968:92), his fierce refusal to countenance the possibility that the land problem could have been a cause of the revolution (1975:4:452) in spite of his own overt propaganda on this subject, and his tooth-and-nail defence of the thesis that anti-imperial resistance is the only way in which the west influenced China's revolution (1975:4:454-5). Thus, Mao's stress on 'reality' is mainly on the level of theory, and does not translate into a stress on the use of empirical evidence, however defined, in his discussions of particular issues. It is also very unusual for Mao to admit anything less than a full understanding of reality, although there are a few exceptions (1975:4:138; 1975:2:376). In general, seeking truth in Mao is a ruthless process of the suppression of alternatives to views asserted as reflecting reality. Rectifying mistakes in science, for instance, means trampling on "sensibilities" (1975:3:50) - and probably more besides.

When Mao develops his concept of reality at all, it is in the direction of turning it into an instantly knowable and known 'concrete'. The concrete in Mao has many of the features of a closed tautology, where the success of something proves its concreteness and this concreteness is the reason for its success. For instance: "The reason why Marxism-Leninism has played such a great role in China since its introduction is that China's social conditions call for it, that it has been linked with the actual practice of the Chinese revolution and that the Chinese people have grasped it" (1975:4:457) - three explanations which actually rephrase the 'fact' they claim to explain. Or to take another example: "Why is it that 'the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile...'? Because that is just how things are in objective reality" (1968:64), and disagreement with this involves reactionary, metaphysical fallacies. This does not explain how Mao knows reality to be this way, but rephrases an active imperative as a statement of fact with the same content. Such tautologies can be redefined indefinitely to encompass whatever argument Mao wishes to make at a given moment, and they are entirely unfalsifiable. Mao also seems to believe that the development of knowledge of reality is a cumulative process: myths disappear with the rise of science because they do not reflect reality (1968:65).

This leaves the problem of where the subject of observer fits into science and philosophy. In contrast to Althusser, Mao does not deny the role of subjects entirely; rather, he adopts something akin to what Sartre terms practico-inert action. People have a dynamic and uniquely human role whereby the subjective is translated into the objective, but this is a constrained role, limited to correct ideas and actions (1975:2:151). Usually, Mao does not address how people fit into his problematic, but when he does, he comes very close to a scientific realist theory (in Bhaskar or Wendt's sense rather than Popper's), explaining the possibility of action through external limits within which full freedom operates. For Mao, the "sole reason" for historical possibility is "the concrete conditions of the time" (1968:66). History provides intransigent external barriers to some forms of action and outcome, such as creating a bourgeois dictatorship in China (1975:2:354-5). In war, for instance, one can "master" the situation by working effectively within external limits (1975:1:190-1); in war and in swimming, one must not overstep objective limits but can act freely within them (1971:2:152). There are, however, other responses to this problem in Mao's thought. One is based on a contradiction of his basic principle that social movement is caused internally. Conditions are seen as directly determinant, as when a "new condition, ignition" causes a bomb to explode (1968:69).

Perhaps most commonly, however, the resolution of this issue is implicit, and occurs via Mao's assertion of his own subjective standpoint as that of objective reality. This does not only occur in Mao's repeated claims to directly know the will of the peasants, people, workers and numerous other groups via the party's consultative organs. It also occurs in the instances where he simply asserts reality with no empirical backing. This belief in the objectivity of his own views also explains why it is so difficult for anyone to make a valid truth-claim in response to Mao on his own terms, and why Mao assumes that others can 'see' what he believes (since it is real or 'concrete'). There are numerous instances which support this reading of Mao, such as the occasions where he writes as if he has access to the whole of reality whereas others have partial conceptions (eg. 1968:102), his accusations of "one-sidedness" in others (eg. 1975:2:62) as if Mao can see all sides, his distrust of power unless it is in his own hands (eg. over bureaucracy), and his use of "sound" and "unsound" to compare his own views to others' (eg. 1975:3:95).

This assumption means that any claim to reflect reality is actually a demand on others to reflect or serve Mao's subjectivity. This also involves the invalidation of other subjectivities. On at least one occasion, Mao is explicit about this: in the division of the world into subjects and objects, objects include opponents who must undergo compulsion (i.e. be treated as objects) before they become subjects capable of transforming the world, and full Communism will occur only when all the people-objects have been coercively turned into subjects (1968:20).

This throws some light on discussions of Mao's ambiguous positions towards essentialism and determinism. Liu Kang sees Mao as oscillating between a voluntarist and subjectivist strategy and an "objectivist and essentialist mode of thinking" (1995:4) running through Mao's models of nature and society, and as having a "fundamental contradiction" in his thought between determinism and anti-determinism (1995:20). Liu admits that Mao's attitude to science is "unabashedly ideological" (1995:21) and that his conception of class struggle is essentialist (1995:19). However, he underestimates the extent of determinism and essentialism in Mao, and his claims of a link to Althusser based on a shared project of 'alternative modernity' (1995:15) rests on the belief that voluntarism ultimately defeats essentialism in Mao. The opposite conclusion seems more likely, although Mao's essentialism is often not classically Stalinist; rather, he invents and creates essences to defend his particular line, usually by artificially dividing reality into good and bad parts and essentialising the good. For instance, he sees democracy as the essence of old Chinese culture, even though he also sees it as awash with "feudal dross" (1975:2:381). Mao is also a strongly economically determinist thinker in theory, though Liu is right here that his practice runs against this determinism, and scientific realist formulations are again apparent. As regards the theory, Mao claims that Marxism, the first and only science in history, was made possible by large-scale industry (1968:3). Central beliefs of Marxism according to Mao include "the dependence of knowledge on social practice", and "Above all, Marxists regard man's activity in production as the most fundamental practical activity, the determinant of all his other activities" (1968:1). Knowledge is all rooted in production and the class struggle: "None of this knowledge can be acquired apart from activity in production" (1968:1-2), and "in class society... every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class" (1968:2-3). Through Marx's doctrinaire method, these kinds of claims can be generalised, through the replacement of backing with alignment claims such as "Marxists hold..." (eg. 1968:3), to particular cases. For Mao, society limits the thinkable, and the progression of ideas is made possible by the progression of production (1968:2-3). Mao's remarks on ideal orientations to love (1975:73-4) clearly show that his commitment to economic mechanicism is quite deep and that he has little time for what one might call "New Left" issues. However, Mao's approach also emphasises practice, transformation and struggle. There is therefore, as in Althusser, a coexistence in Mao of determinism with voluntarism. Unlike Althusser's approach, however, Mao's theory contains little attempt to develop such beliefs or to reconcile them with voluntarist aspects.

Louis Althusser's philosophy contains substantial similarities to Mao's, but at the same time is different in crucial respects. Like Mao, Althusser sees Marxism as both a philosophy and a science (1971:13), although, unlike Mao, Althusser distinguishes these two aspects. Like Mao, Althusser sees Marxism as an all-encompassing system. Marxism opens up new spheres such as art, philosophy and the history of science to scientific investigation (1984:97), and it provides a single, universally necessary method: "Whether we are dealing with something new in the domain of a real practice, or with the foundation of a real practice, we all need the materialist dialectic as such" (1969:173). Also like Mao, Althusser maintains that one can only see truth from a particular standpoint, which he terms "the point of view of class exploitation" and the class viewpoint of the proletariat (1971:8, 1984:78). Unlike Mao, however, this class position expresses itself in Althusser in a purely theoretical way. It does not have to involve direct experience of the life of a particular class, but occurs in the separate sphere of theory as one of two sides in a theoretical struggle, i.e. as "class positions in theory" (1971:8).

The ideology/science division, weak in Mao, is very strong in Althusser (eg. 1971:12). It is a central part of his theory of the epistemological break in the work of Karl Marx (eg. 1969:33-4). Ideology is socially universal, but its relation to science is one of radical rupture, a radical break with "the whole pattern and frame of reference of the pre-scientific (ideological) notions, and the construction of a new pattern" (1969:249). This is not the same as Mao's dualisms, since ideology is assumed to continue alongside science, even into higher-stage Communism. It is rather more like the relation between rational and perceptual knowledge in Mao. Ideology, which can be true, coherent and logical but not knowledge, is a conscious or unconscious reflection of "the 'lived' relations between men and their world" (1969:252), whereas science and knowledge require theory. However, ideology is also an enemy from which science must be defended: everyone agrees on the need to defend real science from "encroaching ideology" (1969:172), science does not invert or transcend ideology but totally and absolutely eliminates it (1969:198), and the concept of ideology is used by Althusser to dismiss concepts such as supersession/Aufhebung (1960:255). Science requires the abandonment of the problematic of ideology, i.e. "the domain in which ideology believes that it is dealing with the real" and "the organic presupposition of its basic concepts, and with this system, the majority of these concepts as well", thereby creating something elementally different, "a new, scientific problematic" (1969:192-3).

Such formulations suggest that Althusser rejects ideology per se, but actually, he sees it as playing an important role. Ideology is a basic practice "essential to the social whole" (1969:191), which includes practicality but is not simply practical (1984:68). It is a direct reflection of a class's being, not "principles of scientific explanation" but rather "merely a projection of its own image of the world, its own aspirations, its own ideal programme" (1969:126). Bourgeois ideology involves a "myth intended to provide a basis... in nature... for the objectives of the bourgeoisie" through a closed, tautological system (1969:124-5). Althusser believes that the political desire to construct ideology precedes the construction of philosophy (1984:75-6), and also that ideological struggle is a field of activity in its own right, autonomous from politics and economics and also from theory. Partly for this reason, Althusser allows for the use of concepts in ideology which are not strictly theoretically valid (1969:214-15). For instance, he endorses the use of humanist rhetoric by the Czechoslovakian revolutionaries of 1968, despite his vehement rejection of humanist theory - apparently because, as an ideological demand, it involves only a surface alignment, a human face but not a humanist body (1984:113).

Already, differences with Mao are beginning to emerge. For Mao, all ideological and polemical pronouncements are directly scientific and philosophical. In establishing a sphere-separation, Althusser has stripped ideological pronouncements of this status. He has established a separation between the pursuit of scientific truth - which, although based on class positions, occurs away from them, in a separate sphere - and the construction of world-views with propagandistic value on the basis of the elaboration of class-being. Furthermore, the relation between the two is not one of service; science must be defended from ideology, but ideology should be tolerated in its own sphere. The similarities are mainly linguistic rather than relating to the form and content of the respective theories.

In addition to distinguishing science from ideology, Althusser also constructs a distinct position for philosophy. Althusser is relatively hostile to philosophy in relation to science. "Something actually does happen in the sciences" because they have an object, whereas philosophy is purely subjective and has no object (1971:56-7), can be neither proven nor disproven, and is a nothingness with no history. The nothingness of philosophy contains, however, a Manichean struggle, a power-struggle over the hierarchy between mind and matter (1971:57-8), in which Althusser sides with matter. Philosophy is therefore a struggle between idealism and materialism, between which there is no middle position or third way, and where nothing really happens except a repetition of nothing (1971:54-6). But philosophy hides from this essence and the necessary partisanship of every philosophy in this struggle, thereby 'denegating' (denying) its real practice (1971:64). Nothing in philosophy is radically new, and there is no epistemological break in philosophy; there is simply an eternal return of the same basic ideas in new, often revolutionary, disguises (1984:107-8). The bourgeois side in philosophy is "dominated by idealism" (1971:69), and philosophy represents, but is not mechanically tied to, politics (1971:65).

Althusser appears to prefer science to philosophy. Whereas science supposedly unites, philosophy can only divide, and can only unite by first dividing (1971:26), and Althusser therefore wants a theory which is "a non-philosophical theory of philosophy" and therefore a step towards a science (1971:27). Philosophy is a "false path" which must be theorised as such to create science; idealism, religion and mysticism are all barriers to the one true path out of philosophy (1971:30). Althusser endorses the belief that Dietzgen, a German proletarian militant, was able to discover dialectical materialism alone, with no aid from philosophy and drawing entirely on experience and common sense (1971:30). Philosophy, Althusser claims, has never existed without science (1971:21), and positive changes in philosophy always tail the development of science (1971:15). At times this comes very close to a strong dualism of Mao's type, as when Althusser contrasts science to "bourgeois interpretations" (1971:7), or Marx to Hegel (1971:6). In theory, however, Althusser rejects the device of categorical oppositions (1971:50).

Beyond philosophical fancies, Althusser postulates, lies reality as it really is, a positive reality hidden behind a veil (1971:37). To access this reality, a process Althusser claims Marx initiated in replacing philosophy with a "new science", one needs a "radical suppression of philosophy", which is a hallucination, mystification, dream and mere ideology which has no history and can only tail the development of real history (1971:37-8). Science, in contrast, is "the real itself, known by the action which reveals it by destroying the ideologies that veil it" (1971:38). The dualism of philosophy/science leads Althusser to see ideas in binary terms, minus the possibility of, for instance, replacing one veil with another. Science in the strict sense is for Althusser a "demonstrative discipline" as opposed to an "aggregate of empirical results" (1971:21). There are certain non-scientific disciplines which use 'scientific' methods abstracted from the objects of these methods (eg. sociology and psychology); these are not sciences but ideologies, since they have only the unity of a technical practice and not unity in fact (1969:171).

Philosophy is not, however, entirely useless for Althusser. It is also "class struggle in the field of social theory" (1984:92). It has no absolute Truth, cannot be 'applied', cannot serve politics and is not a science; but it can modify the balance of forces by altering relations between practices and objects (1984:92). The "nothingness of philosophy... is that of being a dividing line" (1971:62), i.e. the dividing line between ideology and science. Idealism subordinates science to ideology; one should therefore be a materialist, which means serving instead of exploiting science (1971:18). Materialist philosophy defends science from ideology (1971:67). In the union of Marxism with the workers' movement, philosophy becomes revolution (1971:19). Philosophies are ageless and subject to eternal recurrence because of the way classes use them (1984:108). In an approved quote from Lenin, Althusser implies that he believes epistemology, logic and dialectics are the same (1969:175), implying that all good philosophy is basically identical. Furthermore, Althusser maintains that crises in science and philosophy are not real as such but are invented by scientists and philosophers (1971:25).

Here, the similarities with Mao are more apparent. Like Mao, Althusser wishes to submit to reality, and sees subordination to a scientific model as the way to do this. Also like Mao, Althusser sees this model as non-empirical. But there are also important differences, again in areas such as the autonomy of philosophy and its continued utility despite being ideological. This suggests that some shared underlying beliefs coexist with fundamental differences.

The aim of theory for Althusser is to criticise the ruling technical practices in order to establish "the true theoretical practices that socialism, communism and our age will need more and more" (1969:172). In this context, Althusser maintains, the nature of a theory as critical or pre-critical, the clarity or vagueness of categories and the presence or absence of metaphysics are far less important than whether a theory is practiced "as Marx intended, in obedience to what it is" (1971:31-2). This 'what it is' is a product of the internal belief-system of scientists: 'this settlement consists (and this is the decisive point) of the rejection of an ideological theory foreign to the reality of scientific practice, to substitute for it a qualitatively different theory which, for its part, recognises the essence of scientific practice, distinguishes it from the ideology that some have wanted to impose on it, takes seriously its particular characteristics, thinks them, expresses them, and thinks and expresses the practical conditions even of this recognition" (1969:192). The development of scientists' own beliefs does not immediately yield a need for high Theory as opposed to particular theories (such as the theory of relativity); but all practice, including science and politics, will eventually discover the need for Theory to surmount practical difficulties and crises (1969:174-6). The construction of such a "rigorous knowledge" is a new project, pointed tobut not achieved in Marx (1969:175).

Althusser's version of theory is not exclusively material but also includes dialectics. Dialectics is about knowing the contradictory parts after splitting a whole (1969:195), but in Marxism, materialism is primary over dialectics and practice is primary over theory (1984:87). The core of Althusser's project is scientific, providing the theoretical basis for a new science. This science is supposed to directly express and adopt a "strict attitude" towards a reality grasped (a physical term recurring in Althusser) "just as it exists without any foreign admixture" (1971:40). Once established, this science becomes totalitarian: "there can no longer be any question, of imposing on the object even categories which are approximately correct. Then those categories which have nothing further to say are silent, or reduced to silence" (1969:199-200). Even the nearly right is repressed and not tolerated by a theory which supposedly expresses its object, reality, exactly as it really is. Althusser wants to think problems from outside philosophy, as objective and real problems (1971:35). Furthermore, science is timeless and speaks down the ages; Lenin's Materialism and Empirico-Criticism, for instance, is directly a critique of present thinkers (1971:27). Also, scientific language seems to confer on a concept a status as actually real, whereas philosophical language renders it illusory. And Althusser claims reflection of the dogmatic beliefs of scientists - "the 'spontaneous' convictions of scientists about the existence of the objects of their sciences, and the objectivity of their knowledge" (1971:53) - as a legitimating aspect of his own philosophy and Lenin's.

For Althusser, the real is always lurking behind philosophical questions: on the edge of a "simple philosophical work" one is haunted by "very concrete 'questions' - where politics stares you in the face" (1984:132), and behind ideological effects lurk "real problems" (1984:132). And Althusser's claim to speak for this reality is sometimes as straightforward as Mao's. One can know only what exists; what exists is always material and objective, and prior to and independent of the subjectivity which comprehends it (1984:87). Althusser claims direct access to this external reality. Beneath the surface of chaotic effects, there are "forms" which "are perfectly definable and knowable" through empirical science, and which "command the whole" and cause historical events (1969:126). Practice enables one to know, but only to know what already exists (1984:87-8), and one must think particular realities to reach the essence of a practice (1969:177). "Problem and solution can only exist as a function of the adequacy of a model to its object" (1969:121), and one should "face up to concrete reality, to the reality of the history that men are living" (1969:210). Althusser almost parrots Mao's formation that adopting a theory of a primary contradiction is important in order to "face up to concrete reality" (1969:210; and 1971:16). Reality is singular, and therefore, knowledge of it precludes anything else being true. In an approved quote presumably expressing Althusser's view, for instance, Lenin states: "This and this only, is the way the situation developed. This, and this only, is the view that should be taken by a politician who does not fear the truth" (1969:177).

The objects Althusser uses his 'science' to describe are very broad and by no means limited to physical materials. He attempts to externalistically explain "cases like" John Lewis by providing a descriptive, scientistic discourse on how bourgeois ideas might infiltrate Communist Parties (1984:112-14). He treats his interpretations of Marx as if they are objective facts (eg. 1984:105-6). Politics also has a scientific object, the "structured currency" (1969:179) or "situation" (1969:210). History is also treated as a possible object of science, i.e. as having prior objective existence (1984:89), and establishing a science of history requires enormous scientific and practical work. As an externality, history is a process without a subject (1984:83), and social relations are not between human beings at all (1984:84). Far from being easier to understand than nature, history is harder to understand because the masses are separated from it by the illusory belief that they understand it (1984:88). History is treated as an almost physical entity, a "continent", with a "key" offered by Marx (1971:17). Even Marx's work is actually an externality, coming not from Marx but from the class struggle (1984:90). And revolutions occur, not for subjective reasons, but because of objectively revolutionary situations based in necessity (1969:95).

The question of the influence of conceptions of reality on empirical analyses does not come up as often in Althusser as in Mao, since he almost never writes about empirical issues. When he does, however, he shows the same doctrinaire and a priori use of assertion based on reality as a symbolic label as Mao does. For instance, the claim that World War I resulted from monopolisation and finance capital is based solely on Lenin as an authority (1969:95). Another overlap with Mao is over the use of reality-claims as the basis for anathemas. For instance, some problems are "real", whereas others are pre-dialectical and therefore not real (1969:93); it is bad to deny the reality of theoretical practice (1969:192); others are criticised for lacking "proof" in Althusser's (non-empirical) sense (1969:200) and for not asking the right, "concrete" questions (1984:132); and, since the concrete forms of reality are supposed to be universally known, failure to speak of them is an omission (1984:126-7). Also, Althusser treats it as a big issue that others almost never use his kind of model, since his model is based in reality (1984:120). Most probably, the reason for this uniqueness is that the theory was actually founded by Althusser.

In Althusser, however, in contrast to Mao, reality is divided into different spheres and levels, constituting the basis for different sciences: "every scientific discipline is based at a certain level, precisely that level at which its concepts find a content" (1969:127), i.e. at the level at which a particular method fits a real object. If a science sets off from a level other than its own to produce its own possibility, and especially if its object is not a proper object of science, it falls into an epistemological void, vertigo, or fullness (1969:127), all apparently undesirable states. Sartre is one of the thinkers Althusser accuses of this, and he wants to "bar Sartre from" this path (1969:127). Separate spheres are kept rigidly distinct in terms of the science used to engage with them (although they are linked by "overdetermination"). Political practice, for instance, is separate from history and abstractions, having a real object, the "current situation", which is singular: "it was, as the existing world is, the sole concrete possible, the concrete of its currency" (1969:178). It is this sphere-divided reality, and the principles of reality it contains, which renders the multiplicity of effects intelligible (1979:119). Real concepts seem to play a role of patterning and making comprehensible the supposed multitude of microscopic effects, bringing a "transparent reason", essence and role to events and thereby showing their "real and epistemological form", as well as which of the many events are the only truly historical ones (1984:119).

The problem of the role of the scientist, political agent or other subject in a theory where there is no subject is as strong in Althusser as in Mao, especially since Althusser goes even further in his rejection of empiricism and positivism (1971:50 - although Althusser also claims that philosophical language, being indifferent to positions, does not rule out correct views being expressed through empiricist formulae). Like Mao, Althusser wants to restore human action to some extent, and to maintain that individual wills do have some impact (1969:125). Althusser, like Mao, toys with realism, especially the belief that theory is about explaining the possibility of what exists (1969:215). On the whole, however, Althusser is rescued by structuralism and circularity, especially the view of reality as "complex and changing" (1984:79-80) and the concept of relative autonomy. Again, the result is a form of inert praxis: "If the question of 'man' as 'subject of history' disappears, that does not mean that the question of political action disappears. Quite the contrary! This political action is actually given its strength by the critique of the bourgeois fetishism of 'man': it is forced to follow tha conditions of the class struggle. The class struggle is not an individual struggle, but an organized mass struggle for the conquest and revolutionary transformation of state power and social relations" (1984:86). No longer free, but tied to the "mass line" and "mass work" (1984:86) of a substitutionist party, praxis is objectivised into a submission to externality. This "fusion of Marxist theory and the Workers' Movement" is "the most important event in the whole history of the class struggle" and even in human history (1971:15).

Althusser steps back from entirely seeing theory as reflecting reality as such. The belief that ideologies are "merely... phenomena of... material life" is a "deviation - economism", although he has no problem with terming them "reflexes of... actual struggles" (1969:108, 112). The real is beyond description, being related to concepts such as inevitability and thinkability (1969:113). Althusser is not an economic determinist; the infrastructure is not the economy itself but "relations of production, class relations and the forms of the class struggle" (1984:111-12), conceived as external to people but not as material things as such either. And appeals to nature to prove social theories are tautology, not proof, and have only a heuristic and reassuring value (1969:122).

The truth of science does not seem, therefore, to be a direct product of class standpoint in Althusser, although he introduces a kind of psychological standpoint theory to link science to the working class. Revolutionary science exposes exploitation, and this truth "is unbearable for the bourgeoisie and its allies" who are therefore forced to "take refuge" in ideology (1971:8). It is only acceptable to the proletarians who it "represents" (1971:8). Supposedly, the proletariat has recognised science as its own and put it to work in the Workers' Movement (1971:8). This seems, however, to be a substitutionist reference to the Communist Party rather than an empirical claim about the actually-existing working class.

A few more remarks should be made about Althusser's conception of reality. Firstly, his theory of uneven development expresses itself in a concept of survivals, whereby capitalist structures in politics, society, custom, culture, habit and tradition outlast capitalist economics and can even be strengthened by revolution (1969:114-15). This strongly distances Althusser from productivism. Secondly, Althusser's reality includes no concept of Man (1984:85), a concept he sees as necessarily bourgeois (in contrast to Sartre), but it does include "real men", a category which it can only "arrive at" and not start from (1984:85). This is probably again a substitutionist concept, since these 'men' have no voice as such but are simply an end-point. Thirdly, the objectively revolutionary character of a movement is not solely a question of alignment as in Mao, but revolves around whether or not it fuses Marxism with the "Workers' Movement" (1984:125). Fourthly, Althusser effectively takes the stance that what exists is never really new, but at the same time he leaves open the possibility of revolution, placing his theory in self-contradiction. On a critical note, there are several crucial problems Althusser leaves unresolved, including how one can know objectively if one is wholly a product of an external reality, how concepts can express reality if reality itself is essentially indefinable, and also where the desire for knowledge comes from in the first place. Furthermore, minus his conceptual language and moral loading, many of Althusser's claims are very mundane - for instance, that beliefs are linked to but do not mechanically follow economics. Althusser always leaves his own basis somewhat obscure - probably because self-reflection does not fit well with externalism.

Regarding the fit with Mao, Althusser's model of reality overlaps with Mao's on a number of crucial questions, including the claim to express reality as it really is, without conceptual mediation and in contrast to others' mystifications; the lack of much of a link between this type of reality-claim and any direct concern for empirical evidence; the supposed role of rational cognition in structuring otherwise unintelligible events; and the use of such reality-claims as a basis for anathema. But this is partly a rhetorical similarity, and probably a psychological one, affecting language use and closed questions of doctrine but not necessarily specific theorising. On specific issues, the resolution of the externalism/praxis contradiction is more important, and here there is a distinct division. While Althusser does not entirely avoid claiming privileged access to reality and treating his own subjectivity as objectivity, this device is less important than a sphere-specific practicality, scientificity and even empiricity constructed on a structuralist model of overdetermination which, despite Althusser's claims, is wholly alien to Mao's theoretical framework. This approach involves a sharp break with reflection theories of knowledge of the kind strongly used by Mao, and also significant differences in attitudes to practice and debate. It also insulates science and ideology from directly servile relations with economic and political practice. Ultimately, Mao and Althusser's similarity on this subject may primarily be a totalising desire to claim access to exclusive truth and to pre-empt the possibility of being challenged on their own terms by those they perceive as a threat, which has some significance for the question of totalitarianism but little significance regarding the content and nature of the truth-claims they make. Liu (1995:22) is apparently right, however, about the similarity between Althusser's "science" and Mao's "general objective law" as concepts.

Sartre's attitude is to philosophy is quite different. His background is existentialist, and he adopts Marxism largely within existential terms, rather than as an extension of a party-led orthodoxy. Whereas what they see as claims to absolute and scientific status are important for Mao and Althusser in their assessment of Marxism, for Sartre its main attraction is that he believes it does not pursue eternal truths, universal postulates or absolute maxims, but treats history as the "matrix and horizon of theory" (cited Poster 1979:17). He does, however, adopt what Poster calls a "dogmatism" (1979:18) in contrast to his pursuit of an open, critical theory, in his claim that Marxism is insurpassable. Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason is a more-or-less conscious decontestation of Marxism, pushing aside previous versions to give new meanings to Marxist concepts. Althusser and Mao also decontest, but they do so reluctantly, under a veil of orthodoxy, and while hiding guiltily behind selectively-used quotes from the "classics". For Sartre, however, the process is open. He attacks existing "Revolutionaries" because "they have been brainwashed", they "don't want to know the truth" and they "live in a sort of dream-world" (1974:297), and he praises the "lyrical quality" of the uprising of France 1968 while suggesting that it failed to develop a desire for truth (1974:297). Furthermore, he admits to adopting the reverse approach to Marxism on the question of individuals (1976:52), and also to trying to establish the heuristic value of dialectics a priori, whereas Marxists have traditionally done this a posteriori (1976:66).

For Sartre, unlike Althusser and Mao, the dialectic, rather than materialism, is the central aspect of Marxism. The dialectic is a "universal method and universal law of anthropology" (1976:18). Dialectics must reveal "structures, relations and meanings which necessarily elude all positivism" and reveal situations of perfect information intelligible only to dialectical reason to prove its superiority (1976:58). Unlike positivism, dialectics does not reduce the new to the old, but encompasses the "irreducibly new" (1976:58). Furthermore, the dialectic begins, not with external reality, but with individual praxis, and the study of the 'constituted' (i.e. group) dialectic must rest on the individual dialectic. This includes social classes, which "do not have a unique and homogeneous kind of being" but "create themselves on all levels at once" through a complex totalisation (1976:67).

Sartre also rejects other central aspects of Althusser and Mao's philosophies. "Philosophy is dramatic in nature" because man is "an agent and an actor" (1974:11-12), and 'man' (a concept which does not appear to be gender-exclusive) both makes history and is a subject. Sartre believes in a priori postulation rather than realism, which he sees as a self-negating perspective where the world unfolds itself to no-one; postulation includes saying what things must be like for dialectics to be true, as well as transcending and totalising all other rationalities (an open absorption rather than a closed rejection), and a free critique of itself (1976:20-1, 26-7). Sartre also does not agree with assuming we know nothing (which is a basis for the realist elements in Althusser and Mao), a position which is possible only from the position of knowing something; rather, he encourages theorists to "make use of everything that comes to hand" (1976:55). Sartre rejects strongly the irrationalities of positivism (Poster 1979:32-3), which in Sartre's model seems to include analytical structuralist and reflectionist theories. And he refuses throughout to abandon entirely the individual or particular standpoint, which his theory aims to reconstitute rather than to negate.

The only major similarity between Sartre and the other thinkers on the level of philosophy is that, like them, he aims for a theory which forces others to submit to its logic. "If there is a dialectic we must submit to it as the unavoidable discipline of the totalisation which totalises us and grasp it, in its free practical spontaneity, as the totalising praxis which we are" (1976:70), and "the movement by which the practical life of the individual must, in the course of the investigation, dissolve itself into sociological and historical totalisations, does not preserve the translucid interiority of the totalising agent in a new form, which appears as the objective reality of life" (1976:71). "Subjectivity then appears, in all its abstraction, as the verdict which compels us to carry out, freely and through ourselves, the sentence that a developing society has pronounced upon us and which defines a priori our being" (1976:71). This submission, however, is not the same as Althusser's and Mao's; it is reluctant, not celebrated, and occurs alongside a struggle against the very phenomena, such as the practico-inert, which perform the coercing roles. It also, crucially, is a submission which never negates the basic freedom of individual praxis.

Given the centrality of externalist and submissive attitudes to reality in Mao and Althusser, one would expect there to be some similarity in Sartre were there any theoretical 'fit' between the thinkers. There are, indeed, a few occasions where Sartre says things which imply such a position. For instance, he claims that beliefs are produced by the process itself (1976:49). His categories, although abstract, are not analytical or symbolic, he claims, but real (1976:231). Sartre wishes to be a "realist", does not want a "soft" theory and believes there is an underlying logic in reality (1976:37-8). He sees the idea of the thing as the thing revealing its reality via practical instruments and institutions, although he denies that this implies a reflection theory of knowledge (1976:170-1). "We shall also discover", claims Sartre, "multiplicities producing totalised thoughts and acts without reference to the individuals composing them, indeed without their even being aware of it" (1976:76). There is a logic to the real which aids our comprehension of it, even if it remains hidden: "It is true that the intelligibility and objective necessity contained in the whole process sustain and illuminate our knowledge of it; but on the other hand, they remain hidden in so far as they are absorbed by a material content which then reveals them to knowledge through its own temporalisation and as the special rule of its historical development" (1976:159). Sartre also believes that there can be only "one human history with one truth and one intelligibility" (Poster 1976:48), and a single theoretical "world" (1976:203). He states that thought should exteriorise itself to become the natural expression of its object (1976:58), and he also suggests a division between perception and cognition in his statement that there are things one can comprehend but not know (1974:41). And it would not be too far-fetched to describe Volume II of the Critique as a discussion of the concrete.

This is a long way, however, from the claims to scientific status made by Mao and Althusser. For Sartre, the assumption of distance from the world is valid in some sciences but not when "the experimenter is objectively part of the experiment" (1974:274). Sartre attacked scientistic analytical reason for objectivising human traits such as criminality (Poster 1979:27). He maintains that external comparisons from one's own perspective are senseless (1976:141), and that a philosophy which emphasises "what is Other than man" is necessarily misanthropic (1976:181 - a perspective, however, which leaves scientism untouched in relation to nature). When things appear to be occurring apart from human action, this is actually because human action has metamorphosed into things (1976:182). Dialectics, the appropriate method for studying society, is an "infinitely infinite extrapolation" which "is radically different from scientific induction" (1976:18). "Transcendental materialism leads to the irrational" (1976:32), since it turns the rational into a universal law which is simply so, and dialectics itself directs the collection of facts and gives them intelligibility (1976:28). Furthermore, "the only dialectic one will find in nature is a dialectic that one has put there oneself" (1976:31), and the dialectics of nature replace practical rationality and historicity with "blind Necessity" (1976:33) - the implication being that society should be examined with a different method to that used in the natural sciences. Sartre goes even further in his critique of scientism, claiming that positivist reason is necessarily founded on dialectical reason, and that experimental "creation" and analytical projection are synthetic activities (1976:59). The unity of science is created by the action of the scientist (1976:20).

For Sartre, being without meaning and pure matter do not exist in human experience and therefore should not be discussed (1976:180). Sartre's version of materialism involves situating Man in the world of Nature while also maintaining that the world can only be human for us; this is the only way to "transcend the... true but contradictory propositions: all existence in the universe is material; everything in the world of man is human" (1976:180-1). If pure matter existed in human experience, "man would have to be either a god or a stone, and in either case, it would not affect him" (1976:182); it would also render evolution impossible. "Take away man, and things are no longer near or far off - they are no longer things at all" (1974:17). Description, classification and ordering cannot alter this, for "nothing is more human" than such "mathematical Reason" (1974:17). For Sartre, knowledge resides within being so that the two are both identical and interrelated (being is prior) (1976:33-4). The knower is located within the known rather than outside it, and a historical materialism is "necessary" because it is "the same thing to produce it and to have it imposed on one, to live it and to know it"; it can therefore "be true only within the limits of our social universe" (1976:35-6) and not as an absolute. Despite this, dialectics can produce certainty (1976:76). Materialism means that thought must discover its own necessity in the object and the object's necessity in itself, and also implies a relation of interiority or indistinguishability between the self and Other, both "men" and things (1976:36-7; the latter contrasts with the self-enemy relations in Mao and Althusser). Dialectics appears as external to all because it is internal to each; it can only be perceived from within praxis; it cannot impose schemas on objects but should result from their structures; it is a "totalising activity", includes its own critique and transcendence, and is both totally translucid and untranscendably severe (1976:36-9, 47). On science, Sartre remarks that it can only reveal limits produced and discovered by the mind, that one cannot think in exteriority (1976:75) and thate science is an accumulation (1974:53). Furthermore, all things are social facts, significations also have force (1976:179), and explanations should rest in the collection of forces, not a priori synthetic judgements (1976:179). Also: "History is more complex than some kinds of simplistic Marxists suppose"; people must struggle not only against nature, society and other 'men', "but also against his own action as it becomes other" (1976:124). Sartre also criticises other Marxists for models, such as the primacy of productive forces, which encourage atomisation and essentialise reification (1976:97) and for transmuting dialectics into a precise natural law with a predetermined outcome (Poster 1979:28).

Sartre links arguments of the kind used by Mao and Althusser to the condition he terms "seriality" (a non-group collective where the self-as-other is in contradictory relations with others, who are themselves in alterity, making each destructive of the others' effectiveness, such as a market, queue or radio audience). In particular, Sartre attacks phrases relating materiality to materiality without going through human praxis, as in the expression "Tuberculosis impedes production" where humans are lost between microbe and machine, (1976:305), as an outgrowth of seriality. It is even possible for reality to be constituted as a series of series (1976:324). But for Sartre seriality is an escapable (and morally negatively assessed) phenomenon: alienation can be overcome through social change (1976:337).

The issue of empirical discussion does not come up often in Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume I, although Sartre does use empirical demonstrations, including historical examples (eg. the storming of the Bastille), to show the workings of his conceptual models (much in the manner of Mill's corn-dealer). He deals more directly with empirical issues in Volume II and in Beyond Existentialism and Marxism, and in neither case does he make systematic use of reality-labels as a basis for anathematisation. Rather, he tends to interpret historical events in terms of his theories of group-formation.

For Sartre, praxis in materiality comes from a combination of interiority - praxis as totalisation - and exteriority - materiality as passivity (1976:227). As a result, one gets a string of concepts merging materiality with elements of praxis, usually in alterity. There is necessity: the "simultaneous recognition of the same as Other and the Other as same", a chaos-theoretical effect generated by the practico-inert, resulting from man acting on matter and matter on man, as if determined by all but from a distance, the "Other" result of praxis (a result one did not want) and the "negation of freedom in the domain of complete freedom" (1976:223-8), a suffered statute of reifying sociality (1976:318). There is the practico-inert, a feature existing in contradiction with praxis in everyday life (1976:335), involving a subservience to machines or things in which praxis gains the inert character of the thing and loses its transformative capacity. It is a "place of violence, darkness and witchcraft" (1976:318) which is not a dialectical moment but a negation of several dialectics by inversion and deviation, and which involves the thing retaining praxis only as a means to set its "clumsy machinery" in motion (1976:340). There is the organisation, which is an expression of the practico-inert in relation to "social objects" (1976:254) and which similarly replaces free praxis with inert praxis.

There is seriality, the relation between individuals competing for resources in a non-group situation and the only possible link between people where no groups exist (1976:340), i.e. at the practico-inert level (1976:304). In seriality, dispersal creates impotence; each person experiences inertia as confirmed by others' inertia, and meets his own self-as-other as opposing his practice (1976:312). Seriality is a trap (1976:280), which can only create a "false unity" (1976:286), imposes law on the Self without allowing the Self to make law (1976:285), and can only produce "abstract, conceptual" identities (1976:311). It produces violence through collective panic and reaction, due to powerlessness, against the perceived Other (1976:298). Seriality renders relations of production "inhuman" and "a thing" (1976:306-7). It "must be lived at some level as a scandalous absurdity" (1976:260).

There is counter-finality, where the effects of action are contrary to the action itself, as in the case of environmental destruction and pollution (1976:196), and which acts as a driving force of human history by creating a necessity for change (1976:183). There is exigency, where praxis appears as subordination (1976:228), and which involves "materiality animated by the praxis of the other" (1976:248). There is the interiorisation of external inhumanity and non-humanity as anti-humanity (1976:332). There is exis, where people adapt to scarcity by entering a condition of unsatisfied existence (1976:126). There is alienation, as for instance when matter absorbs labour-power and turns it back against everyone (1976:151), thereby constituting 'men' as anti-human or Other. There is atomisation, which renders people capable of being added up at the cost of effects similar to those caused by objects (1976:176). There is interest, where Other-being becomes a "categorical imperative" (1976:197), reifying, making people impenetrable and negating relations of interiority between people (1976:198), a perversion and petrification of praxis by matter in spite of its aim to recover free praxis (1976:219) which produces a false totality "in which man loses himself in order that it can exist" (1976:202), and which massifies, merging people with machines (1976:201). And there are other, similar phenomena besides, including ethical imperatives, physis, institutions, and so on.

For Sartre the proces of people becoming things is not limited to capitalism and is interior, not exterior (Poster 1979:53). Indeed, alterity of some form is seen as unavoidable. It is impossible to exist amongst other people without becoming an object to them and their becoming objects for the self (1976:105). Alterity is also imposed by the structure of matter and the necessity of human relations with it. Sartre's problem is not with alterity as such, but with seeing one's reality as lying in a material object or as a sealed organicism (1976:320). Part of human existence is the interiorisation of objective conditions (1976:49). However, Sartre clearly objects strongly to the present forms of alterity. Since exteriority is mechanical, the organism is forced to become mechanical to survive in it (1976:82), which tends to turn expectations from specificity into generality and therefore Otherness (1976:187) and which inscribes slavery as "the sub-human future of still undetermined individuals" (1976:159) In contrast, Sartre calls for the recognition of others, not as Man in general, but as free people with projects and praxis (1976:112), and for the creation of fulfilled people, who do not yet exist (1976:244).

There is thus very little overlap between Sartre's version of reality and those subscribed to by Mao and Althusser. Despite some formulae expressing similarities, Sartre's model continues to work on the basis of the study of individual praxis, albeit in a constant relation with exterior materiality. He rejects science-based models of social theory and attacks many of the core beliefs of Mao's theory. Furthermore, his conception of materiality is mostly of a string of hybrid entities which are part-material and part-human. And, far from submitting to materiality, Sartre stands for humanity against such phenomena as the "practico-inert" and "seriality", attempting to restore free praxis against material-based phenomena to which Sartre mainly gives a negative moral connotation. There is one major exception to this divergence: theories of nature. Here, Sartre continues to speak of externality (Poster 1979:36). But even here, the convergence is not complete. Writing on the concept of nature, Sartre sees it as a dubious fusion of scientism with religion (1974:235). On the whole, Sartre leaves nature to conceptual frameworks similar to Mao's and Althusser's. But in relation to humanity, society and social action, the study of history, the role of science, the nature of reality, the relation of humans to materiality, the nature of social relations and other questions he regards as principally human, Sartre is almost in polar opposition with Mao and Althusser on most points. And fused concepts of materiality/humanity do not occur in any of the theorists except Sartre.

Therefore, on the questions of general philosophy and theories of reality, there is little basis for assuming a genuine recognition of Maoism by Sartre and Althusser. Althusser uses some similar language and shares some of Mao's surface outlook, but in terms of the development of their theories, the "fit" between them is limited. And, as for Sartre, the "fit" with either Mao or Althusser is almost entirely nonexistent. Sartre has a different theoretical paradigm, a different theory of reality and a different conceptual framework. There is therefore little reason to treat the three thinkers as having a shared philosophy or a shared theory of reality.


Given that Mao adheres to a reflection theory of knowledge, it is hardly to be expected that he would attach great importance to processes of schematisation and conceptualisation. Strangely, however, Mao does see these as very important activities. There is for Mao a need for a transition from perceptual to rational thought which results from an appearance-essence dichotomy. This transition is essentially selective; in order to avoid "empiricism", materialist rationaloism and vulgar practicality, which grasp part of reality but are wrong overall, one should retain some data (the "essential" and "true") while repressing other data (the "dross" or "false"). This simplification does not, Mao claims, mean a split from reality but rather, "reflects objective reality... more deeply, more truly, more fully" (1968:12-13). Although it is "idealist" and wrong to disagree with the perceptual basis of knowledge, perceptual data can be flawed due to its "fragmentary" and "illusory" character (1968:11-12). There is also a model of chaos here: without analysis, there is only a "chaotic and bewildering mass of phenomena" (1975:3:61). Mao is therefore in favour of the de facto imposition of analytical schemas on perceptual data.

Mao specifically endorses "synthesis and systematisation" in political analysis (1975:2:232), although he is supposedly against oversimplification (1975:3:15). Theory is not only about interpreting but about "correctly interpreting" (1975:3:38). For Mao, "analysing the facts" differs fundamentally from "higgledy-piggledy" use of ideas and facts (1975:3:50). The net result is to create a schematic approach which creates a small and closed universe of meaning. Despite this approach, however, Mao continues to claim that the concepts, which result from a de facto selective process by human observers, are objectively real (eg. 1968:39) and as if things spontaneously fall into categories (1975:2:369). The wrong set of schemas, incidentally, is for Mao a failure to analyse at all, i.e. a form of arbitrariness (see 1975:4:459). Mao's systematisation is also an endless, totalitarian process, an "endless spiral" producing ever more "correct" ideas (1975:3:119) and therefore, spiralling ever further into closure and homogeneity.

As part of this schematism, Mao claims to know, apparently a priori, the forms that reality will take. For instance, all knowledge can be divided into only two kinds, knowledge of the class struggle and knowledge of the so-called "struggle for production" (1975:3:39). (In earlier accounts, Mao also adds scientific experimentation, but this disappears at around the time of the "rectification" campaigns against intellectuals). For Mao, "there is nothing in this world except matter in motion, and this motion must assume certain forms" (1968:35). Many of these forms are basic rules of contradiction for Mao. For instance, analysis is always about selecting or discovering a primary contradiction and problem (1975:3:61). Another form reality is assumed to take is that of "laws of development" (1975:3:38), and Mao also treats the binary or dualism as a basic, absolute and ever-present analytical unit (see 1968:47), and insists that history be divided into stages, with the alternative of being labelled a Trotskyite (1975:1:290-1). Another general principle is that "Every quality manifests itself in a certain quantity, and without quantity there can be no quality", so that one should have "a head for figures" (1975:4:379) The treatment of phenomena as products of general laws even goes to the point of re-classifying highly contingent specifics as general laws through the addition of an assumption of universality: for instance, the KMT's acts are turned into a general law that the big bourgeoisie always opposes the development of the Communist Party and prepares for capitulation when fighting in a united front against an imperialist power (1975:2:289). And quantitativism goes as far as quantifying the unquantifiable to establish intuitionist-type balances between, for instance, shortcomings and achievements (1975:4:381). The schematic use of language therefore seems to confer validity on statements in Mao's model. Furthermore, aince Mao adheres to the principle of no right to speak without analysis, this implies that all truth-claims have to be phrased in such terms to gain a platform.

Schematic rigidity leads Mao's theory into a variety of problems. His editors are put in difficulties by an absolute statement that guerrilla war is the primary form of the revolution in China (1975:2:296), a view Mao would later reject as "guerrilla-ism" without admitting to having held it. Mao also ends up dismissing all causal theories as useless theories of bourgeois professors (1975:4:458), claiming that one should know the thoughts of one's audience (1975:3:59), and reclassifying different subjective standpoints as distinct realities (1968:48-9). Such dubious claims result in part from the systematic application of schemas in all fields.

In many ways, Mao's schematism has the classic form of a double-bind, at least when applied interpersonally (as is usually the case, since Mao is polemically active). Originally formulated by Bateson et al as an explanation for schizophrenia, the double-bind has been examined by Trevor Pateman (1975:55-6) as a possible form of repressive discourse, compelling submission by impeding communication. Pateman lists five characteristics, all of which fit Mao's Communist Party to some extent: two or more persons; repeated experience; a primary negative injunction ('Do not deviate from party schemas regardless of perceptions of reality, or be faced with invalidation - no right to speak - as well as symbolic nihilism'); a secondary injunction conflicting with the primary injunction on a more abstract level, and enforced by threatening symbolism ('Do not fail to reflect reality, or you will be punished as a subjectivist') and by a hiding or repression of the injunction as injunction (in this case, 'Do not see this as an interpersonal relation, see it as reality'), and a tertiary negative injunction forbidding escape (the people/enemy division). The only significant difference with this model of the double-bind is that the secondary injunction is not at a high level of abstraction in Mao.

Alongside, and probably connected to, Mao's schematism is a strong belief in "clarity", defined as an extension of systematisation, with clarity meaning the fit between processes and generalisations (1968:32-3), although with overtones that it may may actually mean whether or not Mao personally understands or agrees with a claim. The purpose of philosophical investigation is to "become clear" (1968:23), and agreement with Mao usually comes under labels linked to clarity (eg. 1975:3:164), since Mao, in his own assessment, knows and speaks the "plain truth" (1975:3:64). The most frequent use of the concept, however, is in the negative. Opponents are not "clear-headed" (1975:4:244), lack a "firm grasp of Marxism" (1975:3:55), have a politics which is "harmful" because it "confuses" and therefore "weakens" (eg. 1975:2:360), do not understand Communism (1975:3:94), are "lost in a fog" and "unable to get to the heart of a problem" (1968:53-4), and, in the case of subjectivists, have a "blurred picture" of China (1975:3:21). This treatment of opponents as inadequate or even as victims of incapacities because they disagree clearly suggests a claim by Mao to access to the only true and useful world-view. Not reasoning clearly, Mao claims, makes silly ideas seem plausible (1975:4:452, 454), and his main fear, as in the case of systematisation, is chaos, or, more precisely, "a mess" (1968:100).

As well as claiming to be clear whereas all others are confused, Mao also claims to have a basis for absolute certainty. Anxiety over success is poinless for Mao. "Ignorance of the laws of historical development has given rise to this needless anxiety", since interest-led processes yield certain results and developments to the contrary are of no lasting importance (1975:1:289). Particular conclusions of schemas are therefore beyond even the fear of failure. Mao also assumes the homogeneity of experience - a single taste of pears, for instance (1968:8) - and a single path through history; for instance, a particular solution is always the only solution (eg. 1975:4:381). Anything which is against the single path is not an alternative path but only a barrier.

Perhaps due to his certainty, Mao also believes he knows inevitable future events. Sometimes, this inevitability is read backwards with hindsight - an approach which includes treating one's own past acts as if they were inevitable (eg. 1975:2:376). But Mao also claimed to already know the outcome both during the war against Japan (1975:2:151) and during the war with the Kuomintang (KMT) (1975:4:138). This kind of claim rests partly on a claim to know the essence and telos of both the Self and the Other: "How different is the logic of the imperialists from that of the people! Make trouble, fail, make trouble again, fail again... till their doom; that is the logic of the imperialists... This is a Marxist law... its nature will never change... Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again... till their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic. This is another Marxist law" (1975:4:428; the first and last sets of full stops are Mao's own). Other claims to know the inevitable include the rule, or "resolution", of history (which apparently thinks like a Party committee), to which there is "no exception", that retrogression produces its opposite, "The wheel of history cannot be pushed back", and "suppression" campaigns can only help the Communists and undermine their suppressors (1975:2:414), and the claim that struggle is inevitable in the future (cited Liu 1995:19).

Mao does not explain his basis for assuming the universality of such historical "laws" and their transferability into the future. In part, inevitability seems to be a propagandist tool intended to rally the troops (1975:3:70), although this does not alter its status as a philosophical and scientific belief in Mao's work, and its propaganda value is somewhat doubtful anyway (i.e. why fight in a war one will inevitably win anyway?). Inevitability rests uneasily with another aspect of Mao's theory, which he uses in relation to similar issues: catastrophism. For instance, Mao says that if the 'die-hards' of the KMT win, "the nation will perish" (1975:2:415). Mao does not explain how this can be the case if the KMT is doomed to defeat, although it raises the possibility that, as is typical in double-bound thought, logical type-jumps are common in Mao, and the impossible is equated with the unthinkable.

Perhaps the reason Mao believes in certainty and inevitability is that he sees theoretical "correctness" (conformity to conceptual orthodoxy) as leading inevitably to success. "So long as our Communist ranks are in good order and march in step, so long as our troops are picked troops and our weapons are good weapons, any enemy, however powerful, can be overthrown", argues Mao (1975:3:36), in a discussion about theoretical 'rectification'. Strength, he believes, turns defeat into victory, and mistakes turn victory into defeat (1968:56-7). One succeeds if, and because, one has a good understanding of the laws of a situation, while failure results from misunderstanding, immodesty, opportunism or poor theoretical understanding (1975:2:293). It is therefore for Mao impossible to be right and fail or to be wrong and succeed. Setbacks are always interpreted as a result, not of social problems or the actions of others, but of deviation, and the panacea for this is reasserting the common interest, giving better leadership, and 'educating' - for instance, one can wish away petty-bourgeois individualism if one explains its petty-bourgeois basis (1975:1:112-13). Correct ideas, and only correct ideas, can become a material force which changes the world (1968:134), and failure means that the subjective does not fit the objective and must be made to conform to it (1975:1:187). "We" must always be aware of correct beliefs - the "essentials" - "otherwise we shall make mistakes" (1968:72). After the event, Mao describes failure as "inevitable" (1975:2:371), presumably because ideas were incorrect. Mao declares that military failure always rests on carelessness based on a lack of correspondence with reality (1975:1:188). This explanatory model is also adopted by Mao's followers. His editors, for instance, explain the failure of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom as a result of errors (1975:4:459).

Alongside this conflation of success with correctness, Mao also has an astounding degree of faith that honest discussion will produce finality and correctness, a faith which probably goes alongside an assumption that intractable problems result from dishonesty. "Whenever problems arise, call a meeting, place the problems on the table for discussion, take some decisions and the problems will be solved" (1975:4:318). Wrong views are not completely useless, since "Error is often the precursor of what is correct" (1975:3:24), and there can also be combinations of correct and incorrect views. However, Mao attempts to recuperate such cases for his binary approach. There can be both achievements and failures, but one or the other must always be primary (1975:4:381), he claims.

Mao's conflation of success and correctness has a number of effects in his theory. Firstly, it enables him to turn power into right. If Mao can ensure others fail, or blame them for failure, he can win every debate as well as every power-struggle. If rhetoric or propaganda is effective, Mao can give it a philosophical status as "correctness", since it is successful. Mao's model also tends to conflate questions of theoretical rightness and practical success with questions of personal honesty and integrity and of factional alignment. This tends to create a single, good alignment/approach/theory which is at once honest, successful, correct and orthodox, which means that Mao only has to demonstrate failure on one of these counts to implicitly demonstrate failure on all of them (eg. an unorthodox view is necessarily incorrect, unsuccessful and dishonest). In this context, a closed discourse can be imposed, based on systematisation and schematism, and beyond discursively validated challenge. Mao's schematism is totalitarian in Debord's sense that "Reality as well as the goal dissolve in the totalitarian proclamation: all it says is all there is" (1983:Section 105).

How much of this model does Louis Althusser share? Certainly, Althusser gives a central role to theoretical systematisation, albeit of a somewhat distinct kind. For Althusser, science is anti-empirical due to "the decisive role of scientific abstraction" and "conceptual systematicity" (1971:52). In order to be able to 'think' concrete contents, one needs theory, and theory can only exist in the contents it enables us to think; it should, however, have a general use beyond specific particulars, "a theoretically tempered and tested universality" (1969:217-18). As in Mao, so in Althusser theory is treated as introducing order into the chaos of thought and perception (1971:43), and acting as a protection against a theoretical "void" (1969:123). The role of theory is to explain practice and "simple" reality (1969:210), impying it is not simply a reflection of them. Designating a reality is not explaining for Althusser; explanation requires some degree of incorporation into a pre-existing systematic orthodoxy (see 1984:117-18), so that a concept can be referred back to others within the system. A theoretical problem should, if resolved, give a new knowledge "organically linked to the other knowledges of Marxist theory" as well as dealing with a "really existing difficulty" and occurring in terms "governed by imperative conditions" (1969:164-5). The failure of theory to intervene in science leaves it open according to Althusser to ideologies, such as pragmatism, and thereby to the counter-revolution (1969:254).

Like Mao, Althusser believes in "correctness" in theory (1984:107). He believes that it is important to have at least a hypothesis in 'Marxist' terms for every phenomenon (1984:117-19), and he treats Marxist conceptual orthodoxy as equivalent to practical reality, "an inexhaustible reservoir of 'experiential protocol'" (1969:113). Abstraction for Althusser should be "programmatic" (1969:123) and take the form, not of description or myth, but of an "anatomy" of the world (1969:110). He wants a rigid and closure-creating set of definitions whereby "tolerance must cease" (1969:203). Accused of schematism by John Lewis, Althusser replies that it "expresses its meaning quite well, and briefly" (1984:68-9), and in general, he treats schemas as simplification (1984:102) and the "clearest and purest expression" of worldviews (1984:103). Simplification includes removing certain concepts, since it is always good to lose a concept if another is "more adequate to real practice" (1969:217).

In practice, Althusser uses schematism to make opponents' views easier to defeat (eg. 1984:77) and to create a closed system of discourse in which questions emerge of the kind, How does John Lewis get away with bourgeois idealist philosophising in Communist journals? (1984:110). Althusser's model, like Mao's, implies a single true path from which all else is
'deviation'. There is a solution - the solution - to a problem (1969:121); essential distinctions should always be respected (1984:128); one has to ask a single set of correct questions and is open to criticism if one does not (eg. 1984:121); and concepts which are different to Althusser's and which deviate from orthodoxy are not real concepts but pseudo-concepts, so that, unless one objects to thinking about an issue, one must put it in Althusser's terms (1984:118). Any way of posing a problem other than Althusser's is a "way of not posing the problem" (1984:118). There can in Althusser be tolerance for propagandist uses of incorrect concepts, but tolerance for such use should end at the boundary with "true practice" (1969:199).

Furthermore, the claims Althusser makes for his theory are extensive. His own Theses "are on the side of a scientific understanding of history", motivate new scientific discoveries, and, through categorisation using new concepts, cause an actual fit with reality (1984:96-7). He shares Mao's belief that correctness leads to success to some extent. Deviations and surprises which go against the "exact expression of the dialectic" are "attributable in the last resort to 'ideological errors', that is, to a theoretical deficiency", and they are "always costly, and may be very costly" (1969:169). In the case of the theory of the cult of personality, for instance, Althusser invokes failure - in this case, the success of Trotskyism - as proof of incorrectness (1984:120).

Althusser shares with Mao a strong emphasis on clarity and a tendency to treat others' ideas as "confusion" (and thereby, implicitly, to invalidate them and treat them as impossible discourse). Althusser believes that several issues are reducible to the question of clarity or rigour, and always aims to give concepts a 'strict' or 'rigorous' definition (1969:164). 'Rigour' need not also mean Marxism (1969:198), but it does mean a specific, single vocabulary and a "dividing line" between "true ideas and false ideas" (1971:21). Althusser believes strongly in, and transfers into philosophy, Lenin's theory of the weakest link. He therefore believes in a need for purity and faultlessness, a faultless unity in consciousness and organisation and a chain without weak links (1969:95, 98). Words themselves are either correct or incorrect, and philosophy should fight "against lying words, against ambiguous words; for correct words" (1971:22). This outlook leads to an intransigent and more-or-less totalitarian desire to control: principles should be "grasped and intransigently defended" to avoid a "slip back" into "confusions" (1969:202), and rigour and confusions are directly counterposed (1969:190). The dismissal of opponents on this basis is as widespread in Althusser as in Mao: pure determinism is "meaningless" and "senseless" (1969:113), opponents have "ambiguities and confusions" (1969:116), imprecise thoughts are "confused" (1969:166), other theories generate "confusions, sliding meanings and ideological word-games" (1984:133), conflation of issues across spheres which should be separate is "confusion" (1969:179; 1984:122), and so on. As with Mao, the concept of confusion is treated as objective rather than subjective and used as a general anathema for theories not sharing a particular form. Many of Althusser's claims are undeveloped; for instance, it is not shown that Althusser's theories will stimulate research whereas others' will not. This suggests that Althusser treats confusions as automatically useless and unsuccessful.

Althusser does not claim certainty or inevitability as directly as Mao, but he does use formulations implying a great deal of certainty about his beliefs. These range from the claim that Lenin's philosophy acts according to what it is (1971:67), direct appeals to objective conditions to falsify opponents' theories (eg. 1984:76-7), and forms of discourse which orient to a definite centre, such as the claim that the Bolsheviks were ahead of western European socialist parties in consciousness and organisation (1969:96), a formula which rules out the possibility of Althusser's beliefs being wrong in relation to the western socialists. Another such instance is the raising of questions and issues which imply that others should see what Althusser sees, so that we should be shocked that "Not for a moment does the idea strike John Lewis..." (1984:115), and so that we only need reminding of the correctness Althusser knows: "Need I remind him..." (1969:164).

There is therefore considerable similarity between Althusser's method of systematisation and Mao's. There are, however, important differences. Althusser allows elements of non-totalitarian openness into his approach which contrast with Mao's constant closure. Although he is interested in closing the universe of meaning, Althusser also wants to encourage actual research. He therefore states that there are "risks" to inquiry and that one may find disturbing and unexpected facts which potentially challenge present formulae (1984:119, 127). There is therefore a possibility of schemas being falsified which is largely absent in Mao. Furthermore, Althusser sometimes trespasses from a clarity model of proof to a completeness model, as for instance when he claims validity on the basis that his model can explain more than Hegelian models (1969:217). "Wrong" concepts also have their uses, not only in ideology (see above), but also in indicating a "site", i.e., saying "dig here" (1969:110).

These elements of difference, although less obvious than the similarities, nevertheless demonstrate an important difference. Althusser is to a certain extent a victim of a double-bind rather than an originator, and he is making some efforts to overcome or rebel against it, or at least to insulate his work from it, using the 20th Congress of the CPSU as his pretext. Althusser is a far more reflective theorist than Mao, and his theory includes numerous unorthodox aspects, including borrowings from Freud, Lacan, structuralism and elsewhere (the eternal return of ideas may, for instance, be borrowed from Nietzsche). Althusser therefore formulates a number of concepts which refound the possibility of critical thought within an initially closed paradigm, albeit in a highly contradictory way which does not move beyond orthodoxy in its external form. Such concepts include "relative autonomy", the separation of the theoretical sphere from economics, politics and ideology, the "last instance", "overdetermination", situational specificity, and others. Sphere-separation in Althusser insulates science and parts of culture from direct political servitude, and even the "class struggle in theory" is a separate struggle between philosophers, not subordinate to Party control and the "political" and "economic" moments. Althusser also has a larger sphere of positive, non-polemical theories than Mao, again created in a contradictory way which maintains the orthodoxy it attacks, usually by the device of finding polemical excuses for developing new ideas. On the whole, Althusser starts from a Stalinistic closure similar to Mao's, but he ends elsewhere, albeit in a contradictory way which never entirely breaks with the closure it starts from. Nevertheless, a shared schematism and concern for systematisation and orthodoxy is a possible basis for Althusser's identification with Mao, particularly if he convinced himself that Mao was similarly trying to work beyond the closure and dogmatism of Stalinoid theory and practice. And Althusser also comes close to totalitarianism in Debord's sense - although he steps back from claiming that all possible facts are already covered by his theory.

Does Sartre use schemas and systematisations? The closest element in Sartre's theory is the concept of intelligibility. For Sartre, something's existence can only be shown by rendering it intelligible (1976:194), and the standard of intelligibility is a standard of internal coherence, counterposed to empirical references (1976:141-2). Part of Sartre's aim is to explain the prior intelligibility of the work of Marx (1976:216). Claims about intelligibility in Sartre are often asserted, and appear to involve translation into a particular abstract philosophical language (1976:125), although one comment (1976:139) treats it more like an archaeology of the present through a historical narrative with a goal of drawing rationality from history. Sometimes it involves modes of explanation which project abstract philosophical thought artificially onto other people (eg. 1976:100-1). Sartre refers to his method as "regressive" (1976:119), although he also refers to his approach as building up new elements to see if intelligibility still holds (1976:222). Intelligibility resides in things, not thought, and something can be intelligible even if it lacks the "instruments of thought" to know it (1976:225). In some cases, such as the practico-inert, intelligibility rests on "a few simple, clear principles" (1976:319). Sartre's method also rehabilitates circularity (1976:18), and, while there is little basis for seeing Sartre's dense, almost poetic prose as parallelling Mao and Althusser's belief in clarity, he does share their desire for certainty, mainly of a special, analytical type which he terms "apodicticity".

The concept of intelligibility is not, however, very similar to Mao and Althusser's schematic approaches. Firstly, despite Sartre's claims to be developing Marx's insights, there is little room for orthodoxy in his model. Secondly, he specifically distances himself from the positing of a priori realities, which he terms unintelligible (1976:216-17), and "laboratory-type schematisation", orientations to clarity and similar approaches. "No one has the right to choose between all the diverse significations whose dense sweep constitutes human reality. They have to be there - all of them" (1974:18). Furthermore, there is no basis for certainty and inevitability in relation to the future; the standards by which the future will assess the present are alien, impenetrable and unknown (see Thody and Read 1998:118). There is therefore little basis for comparing Sartre to Mao and Althusser on this basis.

Furthermore, as in Althusser, any claims to total knowledge in Sartre's concepts (such as apodicticity) are undermined by a degree of open-mindedness. For Sartre, even ideologies contain "an element of truth" (1976:26), while in his work on Flaubert, Sartre tries not to defend Marxist orthodoxy but to merge Marxism with psychoanalysis nd sociology (1974:43). And in Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre bases a whole section on the work of Levi-Strauss (1976:479-505). Indeed, criticism of Sartre has tended to be from the opposite angle, that his theory is unable to totalise or objectively assess the validity of claims (Poster 1979:78-9) or that he places too little value on being meaningful to readers (Scruton 1985:189). In the latter case, Sartre is actually on the receiving end of the kinds of discourse Mao and Althusser use against others, albeit from a very different political angle. His theory is also not at present totalitarian in Debord's sense - although it may be aiming for this as a "totalisation" or "universalisation".


Mao, Althusser and Sartre all believe on some level that theory should be linked to social and political struggle, which they see as occurring in class terms. But the ways in which this linkage is conceived are radically different between the three thinkers.

For Mao, the role of theory is instrumental and utilitarian in relation to political practice. Marxist philosophy, "dialectical materialism", has two "outstanding characteristics" - its "class nature" and a "practicality" which sees theory as based on and serving practice. "The standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge", and "only social practice can be the criterion of truth" (1968:4). In a class society, there can only be utilitarianism of classes, and not anything that transcends it. "A thing is good only when it brings real benefit to the masses of the people"; all else serves only the few (1975:3:85). The unity of theory and practice is taken to mean the subordination of theory to practice (eg. 1975:3:21). Every speech, decision and article should "serve a useful purpose"; "all else is of no avail" (1975:3:58). One should "master [Marxist theory] for the sole purpose of applying it" (1975:3:38), and changing the world is the only reason to know it (1968:135; this, incidentally, reinforces a trend in Mao's thought to treat change and struggle as endless, in contrast to his conception of an end-point). One should treat theory as one would treat food (1975:2:380). "The main point of criticism is to point out political and organisational mistakes", and it should "centre on politics" (i.e. a fixed discourse) and never be "subjective" (1975:1:111-12).

Mao's instrumentalism does not end with the role of theory but extends into art, science, politics, literature and the relationship to intellectuals. In addition, "interests" are conceived as determining which theory one should support (1975:1:29), people are seen as precious, but only as a thing and a resource (1975:4:454), and love and hate are treated as instrumental: one loves the proletariat because one shares their fate, but there is "no love or hatred without reason or cause" (1975:3:90-1). Instrumentalism is seen as a central principle without which one cannot raise the Party's theoretical level. Instrumentalism also occurs as an exclusive focus on the immediate: theory must be integrated with the (single) course of the revolution (1975:3:22), and in China, study of Marxism should always be linked to study of the Chinese revolution (1975:3:24).

Does Althusser share this instrumentalism? On the surface, he seems to. For instance, he has a tool-based model of making history (1984:74). He wants to give his theories to "revolutionary philosophers, theoreticians and militants" (1984:95), and he claims that only proletarian militants have understood Karl Marx's philosophy (1971:16), suggesting their primacy over thinkers. He states that philosophy has no Absolute Truth over politics (1984:92), effectively insulating politics from philosophy. At the same time, he politicises philosophy: political critiques produce "inevitable ideological effects" (1984:121), Marx's philosophical changes occurred on a political basis (1971:9;1984:105), every philosophical text is a political intervention in a theoretical conjuncture (1984:115; cf. 110-11; 1969:9), and the spread of bourgeois ideology in Communist Parties and lack of resistance to its spread is for "directly political reasons" (1984:114). Furthermore, Althusser sees his own work instrumentally, as aiming for effects (1984:115).

However, this relation of philosophy to politics is distinct from Mao's straightforward instrumentalism. Philosophy cannot serve politics, Althusser claims (1984:92), and the "unity of theory and practice" cannot be a simple reflective relationship but must be the complex relation of an epistemological break (1969:254). The relation is one between different spheres of activity, with ideology and theory as separate spheres which are relatively autonomous from politics. Relative autonomy means that, although politics is primary over philosophy, philosophy is not the servant of politics (1984:92). Seeing culture or anything else as epiphenomenal is for Althusser "economism or mechanism" (1969:255). Philosophy is a form of class struggle, but it is "class struggle in the field of theory" (1984:67, 104), orienting mainly to the issue of scientific breakthroughs. It is concentrated class struggle in the theoretical field, which is an important field alongside politics and economics (1984:68). The "words" of theory are directly effective in the class struggle, and philosophy has direct consequences in politics as well as theory (1984:69 - a strange position for a radical anti-idealist). Ideological struggle is separate, but also important; indeed, it can hold the central place at a crossroads, determining the victory of progress or regression (cited Liu 1995:9). Philosophy is closely related to the practical and class tendencies of ideology (1984:68). In struggling exclusively in the field of theory, Althusser largely insulates himself from having to serve political forces, and indeed, claims to act without making a practical commitment. In general, the conjuncture in which he intervenes is not practical but theoretical, i.e. the struggle against humanism.

Althusser is highly critical of instrumentalism, which he sees as a product of technical practices, i.e. of an inferior belief-system which treats knowledge externally and is not fully scientific. His critique of instrumentalism is one reason why Althusser believes in a need to import Marxism into the working class: "Left to itself, a spontaneous (technical) practice produces only the 'theory' it needs as a means to produce the ends assigned to it: this 'theory' is never more than the reflection of this end, uncriticised, unknown... a byproduct of the reflection of the technical practice's end on its means. A 'theory which does not question the end whose by-product it is remains a prisoner of this end and of the 'realities' which have imposed it as an end... This point is crucial if we are to identify the most dangerous ideological menace: the creation and success of so-called theories which have nothing to do with real theory but are mere by-products of technical activity. A belief in the 'spontaneous' theoretical virtue of technique lies at the root of this ideology, the ideology constituting the essence of Technocratic Thought" (1969:171).

Theory therefore gains in Althusser's work an almost physical existence as a field of battle. Ideology is a "social reality", socially necessary but a "threat or a hindrance to scientific knowledge" (1969:12), and its false ideas will come to "think for us" if we adopt them (1969:94). There are "events" in theory (1984:102), and a "stake" to be fought over - i.e. effective theoretical development (1984:97) - as well as enemies, such as John Lewis and Jean-Paul Sartre. Philosophy and theory are conceived as having a class character without having to have any direct link or subordination either to the actually-existing working class or to the political leaders Althusser accepts as representing the class in politics.

In this constitution of theory as a form of class struggle, the concept of representation is essential. Althusser sees world outlooks as representing class positions and philosophy as representing world outlooks (1971:18). Philosophy is seen as dividable into strings of theses which are then class-reducible (1984:77-8). There are therefore, Althusser claims, "class positions in theory" (1984:105). Class position, as distinct from class instinct, confirms to the objective reality of the class struggle; it can be reached through education by proletarians, but members of other classes, such as intellectuals, have to be revolutionised to get there (1971:13). Class position becomes an external referent from which theories can be assessed. Only with a proletarian class position can one overcome bourgeois ideology; only from proletarian class positions can one critique bourgeois ideology and acquire a "clear view" (1971:9). The "class position" is the same as "the 'line', the organisation and functioning of the class struggle fought by the Labour Movement" (1984:125). Issues based on class positions in theory are not easy to resolve. For instance, Althusser argues that, if Stalinist deviations were rooted in conceptions of class position and struggle, they cannot have gone away due to patient rectification and denouncement (1984:130-1). Presumably, therefore, issues arising in class struggle in theory can only be resolved in polemical confrontation (a difference in theory, though not necessarily practice, with Mao, who placed great faith in rectification and re-education).

In many ways, the "class" part of Althusser's "class struggle in theory" is less important than the "struggle" part. Althusser views theory as a sphere of collision and conflict between mutually exclusive enemy ideologies, and he even hints (see above) that there is no rational basis for choosing between them. All Althusser's explanations end at a division of the world of theory into good and bad: for instance, of Marx, into what is "special", "specific" and "revolutionary" and what is not (1984:122). Althusser sees himself as fighting against a whole "philosophical language" (1984:123), and in this struggle, there is no 'rationalist' linear progression but only a conflict, where "in order not to be forced to retreat, it is necessary to advance", via "difficulties and struggles", working out and battling for class positions "over and against the enemy" (1984:106-7). Becoming and remaining a Marxist means forever having to break over and over with bourgeois ideology (1984:122). Deviations are such because they contradict the principles of the proletarian class position (1984:123).

In this model, Althusser sees his own kind of philosophy as a single, pure entity under siege from enemy forces. Marxism's positions are "quite exterior" to bourgeois ideology which weighs down, apparently from the outside, on the labour movement and "threatens its most vital functions" (1984:122), and which can even enter Marxism and "menace" it from the inside (1984:125). Bourgeois philosophy exerts a "pressure" even on Marx (1984:105), pushing him backwards from revolutionary positions he has won. No science can insulate itself from the besieging forces of ideology and idealism; a 'pure' science is possible only via a constant struggle against these forces, "a struggle whose reasons and aims can be guided by Theory (dialectical materialism) and guided by it as by no other method in the world" (1969:170-1). Althusser thus claims to stand on one side of an insurpassable divide and to be in what amounts to a theoretical war against enemy forces which he appears to see as stronger than Marxism and science.

Althusser effectively denies the possibility of decontestation across class boundaries; all concepts have a necessary and unchanging class character. Bourgeois concepts are supposedly entirely in place in bourgeois philosophy; it is only in Marxism that they are out of order (1984:126-7). There is a strange lack of asymmetry in Althusser between bourgeois and proletarian philosophies. Marxism has to stay pure and uncontaminated by bourgeois ideology; but bourgeois ideology can pursue its goals by taking its struggle into Marxism itself.

Althusser's assessment of others' views is strongly influenced by his division of the world of theory into opposing camps. Attacks on Lenin's philosophy as pre-critical are dismissed as "overwhelming class pressures on... philosophical traditions" (1971:29). An important polemical focus throughout Althusser's work is humanism, especially Marxist humanism, which he sees (wrongly in the case of Sartre) as denying the existence of class struggle, as well as being liberal humanism with only minor vocabulary changes, lacking "substance" on the "battlefield" of philosophy, and relying on "feeble dissertations on liberty, labour and alienation" (cited Liu 1995:7; Althusser 1984:126). Althusser's rejection of the concept of 'man' rests mainly on his association of it with bourgeois ideology due to the latter's use of this concept (1984:80-86; this seems to be a false syllogism: a always contains b so b is always part of a). Even readings of Marx are divided between bourgeois and proletarian sides (1971:9-10), and interpretations of Marxism other than Althusser's are "bourgeois and petty-bourgeois positions" (1984:122). The world is divided into absolute opposites, which leaves little room for shades of opinion (1971:58). Again, however, the closure is not total; one should not absorb bourgeois philosophy, but should learn extensively from new forms of struggle (1971:9-10).

Althusser unites all opponents under the label "bourgeois". Flaws in philosophy and political 'deviations' always express bourgeois ideology (1971:14), and dabbling in and revision of Marxism is always an effect of bourgeois hegemony (1971:16-17). This infiltration results from the fact that bourgeois ideas are "in power" (1971:17). Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies are united by certain features, such as that they exploit rather than assist science (1971:62), but in their specifics they vary from technocracy to humanism, taking in phenomenology, neo-positivism, existentialism and structuralism. All of these diverse philosophies express a "bourgeois and petty-bourgeois world outlook" which threatens Marxist theory (1971:17). Althusser's opponents are therefore faced with a constant conflation of their views with those of others. Humanism and economism are both "bourgeois", based on a single "essence" of bourgeois thought, a pair where the two poles are "complementary", "organic and consubstantial", born spontaneously of bourgeois economics, law and ideology, with each serving the other - economism as the real social content, and humanism as the veil, "hiding" the quiet victory of economism, a "cover" or "alibi" or "point of honour" for the bourgeoisie (1984:123-5; this argument is supposedly based on the "whole history of the Rights of Man", but is backed specifically only by a paraphrase of Marx). Empiricism and formalism are both idealist and against materialism (1971:25), while positivism is also a form of idealism, since it treats thought as an object - an insidious form which even rendered Engels unable to think (1971:59-60). One also has to be careful of ruling classes' tendencies to "denegate" their rule (1971:67).

Again, there is a strong surface similarity between Althusser and Mao. Althusser shares Mao's importation of class into theoretical debates, and uses some superficially similar formulations. Mao's beliefs on this subject are, however, straightforward. He seems to be repressing the autonomy of theory in order to subordinate it to politics, or, more specifically, to subordinate others' theoretical activity to his own political project. Althusser's views are far more complex, and are marked by a radical rejection of models such as the one Mao uses in practice. Class struggle in theory is autonomous, and the relation between theoretical and political struggle appears to be an analogic relation turned into an assumption of identicality of essence. The theory of "class" struggle, in which class disappears except as a dogmatic assumption, is of structural and probably psychological importance in Althusser's theory, as a motive for writing and as a basis for anathematisation. Althusser uses on a theoretical level devices (such as the labelling of all opponents as "idealist") which occur in Mao on an untheorised, rhetorical level. But on the whole, his theory involves, not a subordination to politics, but an insulation of theory from politics. Many of the devices involved in Althusser's "class struggle in theory" have a similar effect to those discussed above in relation to systematisation: they allow Althusser to develop his thought comparatively freely without requiring him to formally break with orthodoxy. For instance, the idea that class struggle runs through the 'classic' texts of Marxism allows Althusser to take a selective approach to exegesis which his orthodoxy strictly excludes.

What of Sartre? Instrumentalism is not entirely alien to Sartre's perspective; he sees nature as a means to ensure human survival (1971:87) and the state as a class organ (1971:215), for instance. But he does not apply instrumentalism in relation to theory or theorists. If his theoretical activity is to serve practice at all in Sartre, it can do so only indirectly (maybe via the educational activity of intellectuals). Similarly, class struggle occurs in Sartre's theory (contrary to Althusser's claims). Sartre apparently also sees class struggle in partly theoretical terms, as a collision of worldviews between bourgeois analytical reason and proletarian dialectics, as well as seeing violent struggle as a recognition of freedom and a violent negation of necessity (see Poster 1979:89, 108). He devotes considerable space in the Critique of Dialectical Reason (both volumes) to struggles such as the rise of Stalin, the storming of the Bastille, and the creation of groups-in-struggle, from trade unions and revolutionary parties to small battle-groups and "pledged" cells. An entire chapter (1976:Chapter 8) is also devoted to the issue of class struggle. He also apparently believes in a choice at the level of theory between mechanical materialism, Hegelianism and Marxism (see Poster 1979:23), and, in his early work at least, he shares with Althusser a distrust of shades of opinion (1948:7-8). However, Sartre does not bring struggle into theory itself, leaving it more as an object of theoretical investigation. He certainly does not create a dualism between his own and other kinds of philosophy, and he also shows few signs of a siege mentality. Rather, he brings elements of diverse theories into his version of Marxism. And, rather than being double-bound himself, Sartre has an awareness of the problem of the double-bind (see Thody and Read, 1998:116-17).

Instead of instrumentally serving politics or waging a class struggle in theory, Sartre's main orientation in embarking on a theoretical endeavour seems to be to bridge the gap between individual lives and the historical process. Sartre calls the link between each individual's life and human history as the "locus" of his theory (cited Poster 1979:44), with his version of the dialectic rendering each as intelligible in terms of the other. The link is established, in theory and practice, partly through what Sartre terms "totalisation", where one makes sense of one's own life through history and vice-versa. The development of "reflexive and critical consciousness" is achieved through an individual's attempts to understand historical totalisation through her or his own life, "conceived as an expression of the whole" (1976:50-1). This underlying orientation has more in common with Enlightenment projects of revealing Reason than with utilitarian, instrumentalist or struggle-based motivations for philosophical writing. There is a distinct lack of "fit" between Sartre and either Mao or Althusser on this issue.


The concept of practice plays a central role in Mao's theory. For Mao, "all genuine knowledge originates in direct experience" (1968:8), and "human knowledge can in no way be separated from practice" (1968:4). Practice is the most important of the three moments of knowledge, starting perception (1968:12, 135) and existing beyond and more importantly than rational knowledge (1968:14). "Practice is the criterion of truth" (1968:15), and the role of theory is to illuminate it. Marxism is primarily a closed discourse encompassing all practice: "Dialectical materialism is universally true because it is impossible for anyone to escape from its domain in his practice" (1968:15). People spontaneously leap between perceptual and rational knowledge, but it is the translation of these back into practice which shows if beliefs are correct (1968:134-5; Mao then makes a few exceptions for social balances of forces). For Mao, "it is often not a matter of first learning and then doing, but of doing and then learning" (1975:1:190) - a formula which leaves enormous room for submission to what Althusser attacks as technocratic ideology. Correct ideas are formed through repeated transitions from practice to knowledge and back to practice (1968:135), and repeating circles of practice and knowledge raise both to an ever-higher level (1968:20). One should "discover the truth through practice and again through practice verify and develop the truth" (1968:20).

For Mao, all knowledge rests completely on the experience of practice. Knowledge "consists only of two parts" - direct and indirect experience (1968:8-9), absorbed through the senses. Natural science crystallises and philosophy generalises and summarises this knowledge; there is no other kind (1975:3:39). Three kinds of practice (later reduced to two, at the expense of science) produce the sensory basis for knowledge: "the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment" (1968:134). "Man's social practice alone is the criterion of his knowledge of the external world", through the three forms of experiment, class struggle and production, which verify knowledge through results (1968:3). Concepts absent from Mao's theory due to this conception include alienation - practice is always direct and directly effective, and it is not in some sense stolen from us, as in Sartre's theory - and self-knowledge - all knowledge is external and derived from practice, and presumably one cannot know one's own inner state. Mao also believes that one can only know something as part of a struggle to change it (1968:8).

Mao is not entirely consistent on whether practice has to be direct to convey knowledge. Sometimes, he states that, for instance, one has to struggle against deviations to understand them (1975:4:244-5), or participate in a war in order to know it (1968:10), or that learning is a mechanical process where one has to "do things and see things" to learn (1975:4:243), or even that directly experiencing a situation is the only basis for real learning (1975:1:189). At other times, however, Mao states or implies that one can also know and learn from the practice of others. Through studying classic texts, one can learn from the experience of past generations. Scholars can only know indirectly, from the real knowledge of practitioners, Mao states (1968:7) - thereby implicitly conceding that they can know indirectly. The substitutionist policy of 'from the masses, to the masses' rests on a conception in which people learning from each other can make others' experience their own (1975:4:243). Those involved in practical work are, for Mao, supposed to "realize" that their experience is partial and "incomplete", and not "rational" or wholly effective (1975:3:41). Elsewhere, Mao argues that there can be a growth from individual to general knowledge, by generalising one's knowledge and than proceeding to study insufficiently-known specifics (1968:37). Military activity in Mao's model should be based on data collected through reconnaissance, but selected by a proces of "discarding the dross and selecting the essential" (1975:1:188). On at least one occasion, Mao goes even further, suggesting that the "proper and necessary conclusions" can be directly inferred from study (1968:3:23). Faced with a choice, however, Mao tends to privilege direct experience - for instance, generally blaming outside cadres rather than local cadres for disagreements between the two (1975:3:46). On the whole, his model rests on an intuitionist balancing-act merging book-learning with practical experience (1975:3:41) - although Mao's dogmatism means there is only one possible correct balance. This basis for knowledge would seem to indicate a degree of uncertainty which Mao never shows about the possibility of finding the right balance - although there are a very few occasions where absolute correctness is replaced by formulae such as "as correctly as we can" (1968:131).

Mao may never fully develop his view on the relation between one's own practical knowledge and that of others, he does have a complete view on the uselessness of theory without practice. For Mao, "theory becomes aimless when it is not connected with practice. Aimless theory is useless and false and should be discarded", since it does not fit objective reality which is the sole basis of knowledge; one should also point "the finger of scorn" at aimless theorists, who "harm" themselves and others (1975:3:40-1). Mao also attacks so-called "know-it-alls" as useless (1968:8).

Mao's arguments about practice sometimes come close to being ad hominem claims that, for instance, an intellectual cannot make a valid truth-claim against a political actor, regardless of the content of the claim. The immediate actor, or, in practice, the political leader, completely dominates the thinker, and nothing is allowed beyond a certain level of abstraction. Mao defends this method by empirically unfounded claims about the involvement in direct practice - "the practice of the class struggle and scientific experimentation of their time" - of (for instance) Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin (1968:7), as if these people were ordinary workers and practising scientific researchers. It is even less straightforward how Mao himself can claim knowledge on this basis, since for most of his life he was a political leader involved only indirectly in actual struggles - certainly not experiencing battles, production or experiments at a sensory level (with a few exceptions, such as the Long March and Mao's brief dip in the Yangtse River). He seems, however, to put great faith in the reliability of everything he sees. For instance, he sees a superficially united congress as proving the actual unity of the Communist Party (1975:3:271). This presumably left Mao open to various forms of manipulation through the hiding, disguising and misrepresentation of problems.

Mao also provides the beginnings of a guide to how one conducts research to access others' practice and experience. This model follows the general pattern in Mao of not treating empirical issues seriously. One should, he claims, select and intensively study only a few representative members of only a few representative branches. This research should not be observation: it should be combined with offering guidance. This single method of research should be promoted everywhere, and generalities deduced from such specifics (1975:3:117-18). In another model, Mao states that one only need hear from a few ordinary people in the power-laden setting of a public meeting in order to listen and learn from what they say (1975:3:12). These models of research lack both methodological openness and experimental closure, providing a rigid framework at the same time as leaving immense room for the interference of 'confounding variables' - particularly the selections and perceptions of the observer and the machinations of local bureaucrats trying to manipulate the views of their superiors.

Given the de facto lack of a direct (or even elected) voice for immediate practitioners (workers, peasants, scientists) in Mao's political approach and their essentially passive role in his theory, his theoretical emphasis on the basis of knowledge in immediate practice is either very cynical or very na‹ve. Furthermore, the emphasis on practice, like the emphasis on objective reality, has no link to any widespread or systematic reliance on empirical research, however conceived. 'Practice' therefore appears to perform the same role in Mao's theory as objective reality: a general assertion which can be invoked to add symbolic legitimacy to a claim, which Mao can use to mystically transform a knowledge-claim into an expression of the real, but which is primarily used as a dogmatic assertion or basis for anathematisation, a more-or-less contentless hurrah-word with few links to observation, research, or interpersonal engagement.

Althusser to some extent endorses Mao's model of practice. Althusser believes that practice can test: "in action" is the same as "under test" (1969:175). Rational solutions rest in practice (1969:161), and practice brings the future "naturally" into the present (1969:210). Althusser also repeats Mao's formula of the "struggle for production" (1984:92). Althusser also adopts an instrumental model of practice which is broadly compatible with Mao's theoretical instrumentalism. For Althusser, practice always takes the form of the transformation of a raw material into a product via labour using means of production (1969:166-7). This model is apparently economic in origin, but it allows for different specifics, including political, ideological and theoretical practice. All practice involves "men, means and a technical method of utilizing the means" (1969:167). A tool is used on a raw material to produce an intentional result, a process in which there is no telos but rather, "mutations and reconstructions that induce real qualitative discontinuities" (1969:188-9). This model, like Mao's, rules out important possibilities and entire spheres of social life. Presumably, for instance, relationships, whether platonic or sexual, are for Althusser either not a form of practice or should be treated instrumentally.

There are, however, a number of qualifications which distance Althusser's model of practice from Mao's. Firstly, the "criterion of practice" can only test ideas over long periods of time (1984:66); one cannot, as Mao does, directly infer wrongness from a single defeat or failure. Secondly, there is an extra-practical element at work in practice, i.e. whether or not one has theorised one's practice. Change is for Althusser about the "recognition" of position (1984:105), and furthermore, one has to be convinced of the existence of a problem before one can find the will and the way to correctly pose and resolve it (1969:128). Problems can therefore exist in an unrecognised form, and do not appear directly and transparently from practice. Furthermore, Althusser criticises conceptions of practice such as Mao's (without referring to Mao) as creating a "mythological subject" (1969:191).

Perhaps most importantly, Althusser conceives theory as a practice in its own right, with its own raw material, technique and goal. Theoretical practice works on "raw material (representations, concepts, facts) which it is given by other practices, whether 'empirical', 'technical' or 'ideological' (1969:167). Dialectical materialism is the Theory of practice in general, which elaborates from scientific theoretical practice (the opposite to Mao's conception of philosophy as simplifying from practice) to transform the ideological product of 'empirical' practices into scientific truths (1969:168). Far from urging 'doing and then thinking' like Mao, Althusser believes that practice should rest on theory instead of spontaneity, and that theory is the basis for Marxist political practice (1969:168-9). The role of theoretical practice is apparently to produce a qualitatively new "specified scientific generality" (1969:189). Since theory is a distinct practice, it does not need to be referred back to other practices as in Mao, and testing in practice includes, for instance, logical "trial" or "experiment" (1969:181-2). What closure there is in Althusser's theory results not from a dependence on immediate practice but from a stress on a "weakest link" model where one theoretical weakness can cause everything to fall down (eg. 1969:211).

Furthermore, the transformation in theoretical practice occurs entirely within knowledge, a transformation of Generalities 1 (factual conceptions) into Generalities 3 (concepts) using Generalities 2 (theories of the theory-of-relativity type). This is a movement from the abstract or ideological to the concrete or real, and can be either the replacement of ideology with science or a paradigm-shift within science (1969:185). In contrast to Mao, therefore, Althusser denies that science has any direct basis in sensation; rather, it turns practical difficulties into scientific problems and "phenomena" into "facts" (1969:184-5). The product of this transformation is for Althusser always real and concrete, although it appears to be essentially a closed discourse. It should not be confused with the object of concrete-reality, but is a different concrete, the concrete-in-thought (1969:186). The concrete reality is outside thought and never enters into it, and its concrete reflection comes into being entirely separately from it (1969:186). Althusser strongly dislikes all attempts to "return" or "retreat" to a pre-ideological "real" (1969:187). Knowledge and scientific practice are themselves concrete, real and valid (1969:187). Within science, the different aspects are distinct; Generalities 1 and 3 are different, even though a Generality 3 can become a Generality 1 for a new scientific practice (1969:187-8). Generalities 2 should reflect and express practice (1969:169), although the nature of this reflection is somewhat obscure. Generalities 2 are a means of production which define the field of a science and confront its facts (1969:185); they are usually "complex and contradictory" mini-theories and techniques dealing with particular areas, and united in a "theoretically unreflected unity" (1969:184-5). Generalities 1, meanwhile, are not facts or reality but rather "the result of a complex process of elaboration which involves several distinct concrete practices on different levels, empirical, technical and ideological" (1969:191). For instance, the concept "fruit" comes from "dietary, agricultural and even magical, religious and ideological practices in its origins" (1969:191). One could not move much further from Mao's belief that pears have a single, unquestionable taste. Althusser also adds that Generalities 2 have priority over Generalities 1 because they work on them (1969:191).

This still leaves the question of how this "real", but closed discourse nevertheless reflects a reality it cannot access, and in which even the phenomenal has been rendered noumenal. Althusser's answer is solely by assertion: science deproblematises the representation/real relation by producing (positing?) the "non-problematicity of the relation between an object and the knowledge of it", a "non-problematic solution" which only ideology sees as a problem (1969:186). This rests on a reliance on the very 'spontaneous' attitude of scientists which Althusser elsewhere attacks.

Althusser's theory of practice therefore seems to be quite distant in its specifics from Mao, even if some surface formulations are similar. Again, Althusser insulates his own theories from the orthodoxy he maintains, in this case protecting theoretical practice from the "real" and from other practices. There is a similarity between Althusser and Mao to the extent that they both attempt to construct closed discourses on practice which have little direct relation to practitioners such as workers and peasants, and little empirical content. However, Althusser's closure is his own, and is substantially different from Mao's idea of practice as directly relating to the real, albeit with greater similarities to Mao's de facto operative model of practice as a schema within a theoretical framework. If Althusser recognises his own beliefs in Mao over the issue of practice, it is probably only on a surface level of orthodox vocabulary.

Sartre's version of practice is distinct from but has similarities with Althusser's version. For Sartre, praxis (a concept which is the closest the "practice" appearing in Sartre's theory) poses itself as the possibility of transcending everything (1976:247), and it is therefore central to his model of human freedom. If there is such a thing as dialectical reason, argues Sartre, it must be revealed and established via praxis, and it must be one thing "to live it and to know it" (1976:33). This fundamental link between practice and knowledge is a substantial similarity between Sartre, Althusser and Mao. It is only within practice, claims Sartre, that one can find "the new moment of dialectical intelligibility" (1976:160). Free praxis negates matter by reorganising it to meet needs, or at least in order to negate the adversity of matter (1976:333). Sartre's model of praxis also shares with Althusser an assumption of goal-rationality and of tool use, and a "reality" in its own right.

Sartre's "praxis", however, is not typified by the univocal unchallengeability of Mao and Althusser's "practice". The interconnection of praxis with materiality is a part even of free practice for Sartre; the motivations of praxis are never psychological or subjective, but are "things and real structures" revealed through concrete ends, and "the situation is known through the act", "which it motivates and which already negates it" (1976:327). Sartre also sees praxis as primarily motivated by scarcity and the desire to reproduce life. He also maintains that it is fundamentally collective (1976:91). Thus far, Sartre's view is still compatible with either of the other two, but Sartre adds the element, related to his various conceptions of the fusion of subjectivity and objectivity, of praxis almost being stolen from the practitioner by the alien (passive, static) qualities of the object. Therefore, "matter as the receptacle of passivised practices is indissolubly linked to lived praxis" (1976ö168). There is thus a meeting of different elements in praxis: "every praxis is a unifying and revelatory transcendence of matter, and crystallises in materiality as a signifying transcendence of former, already materialised, actions. And all matter conditions human praxis through the passive unity of prefabricated meanings" (1976:169). Although Sartre does not see this encounter between humanity and Otherness as entirely negative, it has its dangers, since "The vampite object constantly absorbs human action" and some materialities tend "to petrify man in order to animate matter" (1976:169) (eg. when already worked matter requires continued action such as repairs to keep it operative). The object can therefore become a "strange living being", and society "in its most concrete moment" becomes "shot through with passivity" (1976:169). This produces phenomena such as the practico-inert, seriality and counter-finality, as well as entities, such as coins and nation-states, which are neither wholly illusory nor wholly material but are a "petrification of an action" (1976:171). A contradictory set of situations therefore ensures, where matter manipulates people, people manipulate each other and people end up in conflict with their own self-in-alterity. People manipulate one another using each other's autonomy, through activities such as shamming (1976:38). Praxis can be manipulated to "lead" 'men' into a "blind future", to reproduce the past in the future and even to lead people to destruction (1976:236). All these manipulations, however, "presuppose that the relation of men to matter and to other men resides above all in doing, as synthetic creative work" (1976:327).

Furthermore, praxis is not in Sartre divisible into spheres or problems with relatively simple internal relations, as in Althusser and Mao. There is a division of sorts in the nature of
human mediation of matter, between "communal, premeditated, synthetic praxis" and "serial" mediation where matter takes on a life of its own and produces counter-finalities (1976:170-1, 173). This implies a division of praxis into a dualism - "the free development of a praxis can only be total or totally alienated" (1976:395) - but it also implies that praxis does not have a single, fixed nature and that it cannot unproblematically be used as a basis for knowledge (since it can be alienated). And, while praxis always involves a choice, the concept of choice is extended beyond its everyday usage. Choices include the interiorisation of exigencies and adoption of pastimes which interiorise class-being (1976:238), adopting a fatalistic outlook which treats the world as unchangeable (see Poster 1979:22), and, on a social level, a society choosing its death toll via the level of funding for medical research (1974:237), and praxis itself involves essentially non-creative activities such as circulation and hoarding (1976:166-7).

Therefore, Sartre's version of praxis is substantially different from Althusser and Mao's conceptions of practice, despite some similarities in vocabulary and doctrine. Althusser and Mao both treat practice as inalienable, directly instrumental, and an unproblematic epistemological basis. Sartre, in contrast, problematises praxis as involving relations of alterity, the loss or stealing of one's project, the inversion of the relation between worker and worked matter, the manipulation of people by each other and by materiality, the transmutation of choice into the choice of exigency or fatalism, and so on. Sartre is also not interested in the invocation of the label "practice" to defend arguments. If he uses any concepts in this way, it is "freedom" and "intelligibility". Sartre's attitude to practice is primarily that of an empirical observer. Praxis is as important in Sartre's theory as in Mao's and Althusser's, but Sartre's attitude towards it, its place in his theory and its relation to humanity and to matter are very different.


The concept of class is fundamental to all three thinkers, but are they using similar conceptions of what "class" is? Mao is very keen on class essentialism; for instance, he maintains that "politics, whether revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, is the struggle of class against class", even when the people acting are individuals such as "revolutionary statesmen" (1975:3:87). Classes are central to history: "Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated... To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism" (1975:4:428). A belief in class struggle is therefore the defining feature of a good (materialist) philosophy for Mao. The concept of the class struggle also runs through his writings on culture, science, practice, military issues and so on. However, he does not specify what he means by "class" in most of these cases. Rather, class categories such as "proletarian", "bourgeois" and "petty-bourgeois" occur repeatedly as anathemas or assertions.

On the whole, Mao's conception of class is not sociological in the sense that he expresses little interest in defining actually-existing social groups and ascertaining their beliefs, mode of being or forms of action. Certain issues which might be called sociological occur from time to time in Mao's theory. For instance, when an issue arises around the different legal status of "rich peasants" and "middle peasants", Mao suggests that class is quantifiable by defining it in terms of the percentage of a peasant's income which comes from exploiting others' labour (1975:4:38). The issue of "class origin" also occurs as one of the "three check-ups" launched during a campaign to improve the quality of party members, alongside two explicitly political criteria, ideology and "style of work" (1975:4:192). It is the only one of the three to transfer directly into the Red Army's version of the check-ups. Mao also sometimes has sociological classes acting as a result of mechanistic causes, such as uprisings being "compelled" by there being "no other way out" except "starvation and death" (1975:4:136; actually, not all starving people rebel). However, issues such as these occur only occasionally, and are raised and dropped at will, apparently depending on their political usefulness.

Far more often, Mao adopts what appears to be a political definition of the term "class", with people being placed in class categories on the basis of their beliefs, political alignments or action. Class categories are frequently split in half to create two classes when a social group falls on two sides of a political division. Examples include the distinction between the "enlightened gentry" and the "evil gentry" (1975:2:418-19) and the "national bourgeoisie" and the "comprador bourgeoisie" (1975:2:320, elsewhere replaced by national versus big bourgeoisie or national versus bureaucratic bourgeoisie), which are then treated as separate classes. There is no difference in wealth or position involved (although one may be assumed); these categories represent the pro-Communist and anti-Communist types of each class. Mao explicitly defines the "national bourgeoisie" by political factors, i.e. its acceptance of the Constitution and of socialist transformation (1968:81). He also uses formulations calling for an alliance of "the workers, peasants, urban petty bourgeoisie and all others who are against imperialism and feudalism" (1976:2:329), which both constitutes a residual category of "others" as a kind of equivalent class and projects a political orientation onto all workers, peasants and so on. Mao also speaks of "the class struggle between the different political forces" (1968:115) and describes actions by political parties as if they are actually actions by their respective class (a classic substitutionist usage), such as terming the KMT "the bourgeoisie" (1975:1:272-4) and describing the KMT-CP alliance as an alliance, not of parties, but of all revolutionary classes (1975:2:375). Although the dictatorship of the proletariat is a class dictatorship, for Mao it is not exercised over other classes as such, but over groups such as "traitors", "reactionaries" and criminals (1975:2:409), which are treated almost as if they are classes. Certain classes, such as the petty-bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat, furthermore, only appear in Mao's theory in the form of anathemas attached to ideas and 'deviations'. Mao also divides the 'masses' up along entirely non-class, political lines. For instance, at one point he claims they are "composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward" (1975:3:118).

Mao's use of class categories is also very flexible, with meanings shifting with political situations. The KMT's section of the bourgeoisie, treated during the period of the united front as the "national bourgeoisie", became by 1947 "bureaucratic-comprador capital" (1975:4:136), and worse still, a bandit gang. Intellectuals hop between being a class and not being a class. And the nature of classes sometimes changes from page to page, for apparently rhetorical reasons. For instance, Mao claims that after the revolution, the national bourgeoisie, despite being among "the people", continue to exploit (1968:82). He then claims that exploitation has been abolished in China (1968:89) - and a few pages later, he returns to the position that it still exists (1968:93). Mao's usage of class labels appears to move with political goals and to be incoherently applied. Another political use occurs in cases where Mao uses class analysis to in effect persuade or demand. The claim, for instance, that the class contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class can be resolved in a non-antagonistic way (1968:82) is phrased in such a way as to suggest that it is primarily an imperative to the workers not to struggle against this class and a threat to the "national bourgeoisie" to obey the Party and let itself be "educated" so that antagonism can be avoided.

Mao's political conception of class includes a conception of the class basis of ideas. This is not, as in Althusser, a distinct conception of struggle in the sphere of theory, but assumes a direct fit between economic, political and ideological class-being. For instance, the rectification campaigns are directed against "petty bourgeois ideas" (1975:3:278). Wrong ideas are treated as class ideas; for instance, some people "still carry a great deal of the muck of the exploiting classes in their heads" (1975:3:94). The label "petty-bourgeois" is particularly favoured by Mao in this context.

This kind of formulation often takes substitutionist forms. In defining the substitutionist form of thought, typical of Stalinist and post-Stalinist bureaucratic regimes, Mandel stresses the point: "the axiom 'the party= the working class' leads to the conclusion that under certain circumstances 'the actually existing working class=the bourgeoisie'" (1992:107). This kind of claim is common in Mao. For instance, he claims that "Among the proletariat many retain petty-bourgeois ideas, while both the peasants and the urban petty bourgeoisie have backward ideas; these are burdens hampering them in their struggle" (1975:3:71). 'Their' struggle is therefore disconnected from their own goals and beliefs. Even in the Party, Mao claims that some people have not joined ideologically because they "are still not very clear on the difference between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie" (1975:3:94), implying that these classes are defined ideologically in relation to the party's beliefs. Occasionally, furthermore, the range of 'proletarian' ideas is further squeezed by the exclusion of ideas Mao associates with another class rival, the "lumpen-proletariat" (1975:3:58). Not surprisingly, the politicisation of the definition of class also eliminates sociological classes as political factors, with the party becoming the main agent on behalf of the popular strata. Classical Marxist beliefs are amended to fit this conception. A state, for instance, can be based on an alliance of classes instead of a class, and a bourgeois state can produce socialism if it is under Communist Party leadership (1975:1:275).

This substitutionism explains how Mao can claim to speak for a variety of class groups. For instance, Mao sees the desire to change the world as directly emanating from the poverty of the working class (1968:126-7), and claims to be able to speak not only for the workers but also for the small and middle peasants, only a minority of whom are supposedly dissatisfied (1968:102; failing to realise this is "failing to analyse this situation"), the "great majority of the nation" (1975:2:251), and even the "majority of industrialists and merchants" (1968:107). Occasionally, Mao has to deal with issues where his supposed supporters are against him. In such cases, he clings to his claim to represent their real interests and will, stating that they are "not yet accustomed to" the new system (1968:95). And, although the masses are not Communist, Mao nevertheless sees them as having a "living Marxism which plays an effective role in [their] lives" (1975:3:79).

In practice, substitutionism involves imposing policies and beliefs on sociological classes, as well as carrying out and legitimating a variety of policies disconnected from the 'masses'. The central forms of discourse working here are the idea of educating classes in their own interest and the idea of war against enemies in the interests of the real "people". The former includes policies such as the "remoulding" of the petty bourgeoisie (1968:115); the latter, those such as the execution of "counter-revolutionaries", which is seen as "absolutely necessary", a "demand of the people" and a necessity in order to develop the productive forces and enable the people to lift their heads (1968:98). In this context, the main significance of class or popular orientations is negative: denying value to that which falls outside one's own side. There is little or no positive role for actually-existing "classes", or non-Party people in any other capacity.

Mao's substitutionism also leads him away from classes and towards nationalism. Class struggle transmutes into national struggle which therefore becomes primary. The "class struggle takes the form of national struggle, which demonstrates the identity between the two" (1975:2:215). This requires that classes, including the 'right' classes, have rights only "within certain limits", that class demands be moderated and that national struggle be taken as the "point of departure for all class struggle" (1975:2:215). In at least some situations, therefore, Mao's substitutionism leads so far from the classes it claims to represent as to replace them with a completely different kind of collective identity.

Does Althusser share this substitutionist and political use of class? Althusser's co-thinker Poulantzas certainly does not, and Althusser is more 'orthodox' than Mao in this respect on some questions, such as the relationship between social progress and the concentration of labour brought about by industrialisation (1969:96), and the centrality of large-scale industry to the revolutionary character of the proletariat (1984:79). But Althusser's use of class concepts, like Mao's, shades over into political definitions. For instance, in an almost exact parallel of Mao's somersaults over the 'national bourgeoisie', Althusser divides the bourgeoisie into "big" and "liberal" segments, clearly conflating social and political aspects (1969:96; he later - 1969:99 - adds a subdivision between big, industrial and financial bourgeois). He also distinguishes the working class from the "lumpenproletariat" (1984:78) and attacks opponents as "petty-bourgeois" (1984:121), sharing Mao's tendency to trap workers in a squeeze between two alien classes, with slippage into either rendering them non-revolutionary and not true workers. He even contrasts "petty-bourgeois" and "Communist" intellectuals (1969:10), as if class and political labels are unproblematically interchangeable and of a single type.

Furthermore, sociological classes disappear as direct agents in Althusser, as in Mao. The class struggle for Althusser is not directly between individual classes, but is a single bipolar struggle between alliances of classes (1971:68). Furthermore, the agent of history is not the working class but the "masses", a complex and constantly changing set of classes, strata and categories involving a unity of exploited classes behind the main class able to offer leadership (1984:78-80; the use of "leadership" hints that the party may actually substitute for the working class in this model). In the Czech uprising, for instance, the masses are seen by Althusser as the main force taking part (1984:113).

Althusser's version of class is if anything more purist than Mao's. He dismisses most of the intermediate strata as useless: peasants are "ignorant" and the petty-bourgeoisie is "oscillating between conformism and anarchic 'leftism'" (1969:96). Althusser uses class labels mainly as a form of anathema as part of his schematic approach. Take for instance the following, tautological question: "when this bourgeois ideological pair penetrates into Marxism... what does it become?" (1984:125). Only the proletariat is above Althusser's ire, and this class is treated mainly in a substitutionist way. In Althusser, however, the substitution is not, except on political issues, a straightforward Party-class substitution. It also occurs in the form of the "class struggle in theory", where the force substituting for the proletariat is not the Party directly but rather, is a set of Marxist intellectuals and theoreticians. Althusser writes of class struggle in theory as if it is a direct extension of class struggle between sociological classes: the same classes active elsewhere, divided into revolutionary and reactionary camps, directly express their "ambition for revenge" through philosophy, by "using" whichever philosophy serves them best (1984:108). Since the actors in theory are not 'actually-existing' workers, this is a form of substitutionism.

There are therefore extensive similarities in the position of class in the theories of Mao and Althusser. Both hover between sociological and political definitions, both come down primarily in favour of the latter, both see ideas as having a direct class character, and both adopt substitutionist formulations where classes are conceived as acting without their actually-existing sociological members having any role. There is some difference, however, in the way this structure of argument is used. For Mao, it is primarily a Party substitutionism, and is used, at least in part, for rhetorical ends. For Althusser, it acts as a motivation, legitimation and basis for theoretical activity for revolutionary intellectuals, including as an insulation against dominant tendencies in the Communist Party. Class remains, however, an area of considerable overlap between Mao and Althusser. (Incidentally, given the exceptionally heated and hostile nature of many polemics between French intellectuals, which Foucault [1991:84-5] calls "exasperated polemics" involving "theatricality and sometimes grotesque formulation", the "class" part of Althusser's formula "class struggle in theory" is by far the more problematic from a contextual perspective).

Classes in Sartre are handled differently to those in Althusser and Mao. Sartre does not assume the prior existence of classes and class struggle, but sets out to demonstrate their existence. His view of the origins and nature of class is either consciously paradoxical or self-contradictory. On the one hand, he sees class being, like all being, as a choice: "One makes oneself a bourgeois or proletarian" (Poster 1979:72). On the other hand, he treats class as occurring as a direct result of material necessity. It occurs as "a prefabricated relation based on instrumentality" (1976:239). The distribution of workers between skilled and unskilled strata and of people between an "elite" and "subhumanity" is a hierarchy experienced as an accident and as resulting directly from materiality itself (1976:240-1). Class is a selection of some for slavery rather than all (1976:157), emerging from the "necessity for society to choose its dead and its underfed" (1976:147; the pessimistic conception of scarcity, which, despite a lack of evidence or a well-argued theoretical basis, runs through Sartre's thought, appears here).

In addition to coming from choice and coming from materiality (though not necessarily incompatible given Sartre's complex models of the interaction of choice, materiality and interpersonal relations), Sartre also sees class as coming to people from others. Class is inorganic common materiality and inert collective being, and comes to people via their comrades and the exploiters, or via both of these plus machines (1976:250-1). Class, along with other serial collectivities, is constituted by the practico-inert field via a false synthesis of beings-in-alterity, as is expressed, for instance, in the language of being born into, springing from or belonging to a class (1976:251-2). Sartre also treats class as prior to individuals in another formulation, where he sees it as imposed by materiality and the crystallised practice of previous generations (1976:232). Elsewhere, he suggests that class positions (in this case, sociological rather than ideational as in Althusser's use of this term) are created prior to individuals, appearing as "destiny" and usually resulting from counter-finality rather than intention (1976:232-3).

Whatever the case of its origins, class is a central part of life for Sartre. He claims that the direct experience of being (for instance) a worker or an intellectual is decisive in relation to perception, and each can discover the other only "within his own situation" (1976:104), as a result of a situation in work or praxis. He also states that someone is defined by what they earn and what they do (1974:291). Class oppression (which is lived by the ruling as well as the subordinate classes) constitutes one's life in its totality; the oppressed are their needs and coincide exactly with their objective reality (1976:232). This is particularly the case for (serialised) workers, whose task allows them neither total mental application nor distraction, only a semi-automatism involving "an explosive mixture of unconsciousness and vigilance" (1976:233). In this sense of 'class', Sartre's model contrasts strongly with Althusser's and Mao's. The mind of the worker is absorbed but not used, and the worker resultantly sinks into passivity (1976:233). Workers (or anyone else) living their class as destiny in this way (including capitalists, for whom the unintended consequences of the totality of capitals are also 'destiny') almost by definition cannot take part in struggle, have a distinct set of ideas or be defined politically.

There is such a thing as class interest in Sartre, but this, too, is distinct from the other thinkers' versions. Interest in Sartre is a negatively loaded concept, similar to seriality, the practico-inert and counter-finality. Workers' interest results from the machine which both creates and negates the worker, with the machine becoming the worker's interest as a "destiny in exteriority" (1976:210). There is also in Sartre, however, a concept of a shared interest of all workers, to which the many workers' interests are irrelevant (1976:210). This general interest is directed, not against the machine, but against the bourgeoisie and practico-inert being, and workers' unification occurs on the basis of it (1976:212). In strikes, workers turn the machine back against the ruling class, and it is in this kind of struggle where workers' interest occurs, not in inert contemplation (1976:212). This inversion of the machine is even enough to invert relations of destiny, making workers' action the destiny of the bourgeoisie instead of the reverse (1976:212). The bourgeoisie also has an interest on the basis of their having created a "single social field", their own, and having a shared identity as men of God who create (1976:212). However, their belief in everyone following their own interest leads to a unity which can only be temporary and mediated by machines (1976:213). Unity in totality only comes to the ruling class as a result of a need to oppose workers' action, which appears as Other to the bourgeoisie and which threaten to create a negative "destiny" for the bourgeoisie either via the socialisation of the means of production or via economic ruin (1976:214; for Sartre, this leads to the paradox that strikes promote innovation). However, these class interests are not equivalent. For the ruling class, "everything becomes Other" (1976:216), including general and specific interests and social relations. Therefore, bourgeois and proletarian "interests" are "constituted on different levels" and are "heterogeneous realities" wrongly grouped under the same name (1976:217). Materiality is still crucial: "The structure of the material equipment alone determines what kind of interests are operative", and "conflicts of interest occur in materiality" (1976:218). Furthermore, interests result from rather than causing conflicts (1976:218-19). Sartre strongly opposes the view that workers are struggling primarily against natural realities (1976:218; this presumably means he would not endorse the formula "struggle for production").

The concepts of "interest" and "conflict" provide a basis for (intermittent) struggle betwen (actually existing) classes in Sartre. "Normally", however, class in Sartre's model is a "series of series", "expressed in the serial, negative practices of abstentionism, defeatism, demoralisation or surrender" (1976:315). It is "other-being", involving an identity as a "humanised thing" exchangeable with a product (1976:316). Its character as other-being and destiny is not changed by social mobility, which simply realises a possibility inherent in one's class position (1976:330-1).

Though the basis of class is serial, Sartre also sees potential for group formation, and therefore for action, within at least some classes, including workers. Impossibility and untranscendability seen through free praxis necessarily appear as "temporary and relative" (1976:329). Praxis responds to conditions by reaffirming praxis in general, "the impossibility of the impossibility of man", the impossibility that present conditions should continue or the impossibility that "I should continue to live like this" (1976:329). This response can sometimes be reincorporated through, for instance, social mobility. But sometimes, it leads to group formation.

The "group which totalises in a praxis" is for Sartre "the other form of class" (1976:316), aside from its seriality. This form emerges from the heart of the passive form, and is the only form of the class which is historically active. The history of the working class is the same as the history of its "objective organisation" (1976:316), and only in very rare, revolutionary moments are whole classes united in action. The working class is "a changing and contradictory reality", a multiplicity of groups involved in activities eroding a common, inert being (1976:316-17). The collective praxis of the groups can only occur "on the basis of a fundamental common-being" which limits and structures it, and there is a constant danger of the groups slipping back into seriality through their reciprocal serial competition or through bureaucracy and inertia, in which they survive either as an institutional reality or as a symbol (1976:317).

Thus, the class as a ready-made agent is not present in Sartre. Indeed, the dialectic of alterity itself prevents the possibility of similar subjective characteristics producing group or class interests directly (1976:204-5). Much of the working class (which appears, therefore, to be a sociological rather than a political category in Sartre, though politics can orient to it) remains in seriality while only some, possibly a small minority, are active in fused or pledged groups. This also affects the relation between class and ideas in Sartre's model. For Sartre, only those workers directly involved in struggle acquire "consciousness" via "wild freedom"; those trapped in seriality are incapable of spontaneity and are not linked to other workers except in a "reified relation" (1974:119-20). The worker can be "saved from his destiny" as a slave of capitalism only via the group, which is "seriality in the seeing-to-be transcended towards an action tending to socialise the common object", and which "practical organisation" makes possible as "a constitutive structure among workers" (1976:309). Seriality and problems related to the political within the oppressed strata also mean that Sartre endorses the creative intervention of intellectuals with an aim of overcoming authoritarian relations within the working class and encouraging workers to develop conceptions of their own role as a "universalisation" (1974:261-3).

In conditions such as those present in the formative years of the working class, groups exist within the class only as a possibility, i.e. by positing the possibility of class totalisation without actually being class totalisation, through (for instance) solidarity at a distance (1976:313). Such groups are endorsed only in a hesitant and partial way by workers. The "unity of the group is lived negatively by everyone as a sort of intermediary between serial inertia and the active organism: everyone is united with the Others, passively but directly, in so far as he is determined as a moment of a total totalisation by the movement of a partial totalisation which, somewhere else, and through a few people, negates the class-gathering as everyone's inert being-there" (1976:314). Between workers and the "groupuscle, through the inert density of the milieu, a synthetic link of univocal interiority (which proceeds from the group to the individual) establishes itself; but at the same time... this relation remains indeterminate (neither negative nor positive), so that the bond of synthetic interiority allows itself to be absorbed by the serial bond of common membership of the milieu" (1976:314). Groupuscles are lived by non-members as the absence but possibility of action. The barrier facing groupuscles is not clashes between workers' interests but the separation of workers and the resulting need for constant serial agitation, which means the group lives its existence as fragility and as a "hysteresis" which is a necessary response to mass passivity (1976:314).

The group-class relation may be complex for Sartre, but class-being puts limits on what groups can do or be which appear to be unsurpassable in Sartre's model. Sartre sees groups representing skilled workers, such as early anarcho-syndicalist organisations, as destined to reproduce what they oppose through a failure to transcend "certain untranscendable structures", a destiny which removes the possibility of unity with unskilled workers. The reason was that the organisations "represented the very life" of the skilled workers. "It was really impossible that the skiled workers, with their superior education, and their greater militancy and effectiveness, who could bring work to a halt by their mere absence, should merge themselves in practice with mass organisations in which the less educated and less militant would have been in a majority" (1976:243). The possibility of unity was doomed by the conflation of skilled work with fulfilled humanity, which appeared "like an iron wall in translucidity" as a barrier to unity, with the skilled workers unable to see the social prefabrication of unskilled workers as incapable of being skilled workers. The discovery of Being is frightening precisely because it reveals without overcoming the constitution of ignorance by Being in this way (1976:244-7). It is not, however, unthinkable for Sartre that such class-based incapacities to perceive could be overcome; it is, rather, very unlikely, since inert Being can be defined "in terms of the practical choice which prevents one from knowing what one is" (1976:247).

Notwithstanding this complex view of the nature of classes, Sartre is not immune to the temptation to use class labels as swear-words. He accuses Foucault of being "the last bulwark of the bourgeoisie" (cited Foucault 1991:85), and he describes the actions of the Jacobins in the French Revolution as if the bourgeoisie itself were acting (eg. 1976:290), suggesting an untheorised step over into political definitions of class. He also adheres to the classical Marxist view of the proletariat as the gravedigger of capitalism, since the industrial proletariat will carry out "the sentence which capitalism passes on itself" (1976:157), an optimism barely compatible with his model of complex serial/group relations within the working class. His attitude to the so-called middle class or petty bourgeoisie is also untheorised and uncritical. He does not define this class in terms of its position, but nevertheless attacks it as an "accomplice to... exploitation" (1974:239) because it supposedly lives off surplus value. Sartre also appears to assume a priori a class character to all groups, as if struggle necessarily takes class forms. Furthermore, Sartre also asserts, on very little basis, that administrative institutions within the oppressed class, notwithstanding their selective role and their corrosion of democracy, cannot become classes (1976:146-7; see also 1974:127-8), leaving him open to the kind of substitutionist self-contradiction epitomised in its most extreme form by his assertion in Volume II of the Critique that the socialist character of the U.S.S.R. can be restored from above by a benevolent leader.

Sartre's theory of class is quite different from Mao and Althusser's theories, and where it overlaps with either (eg. over the importance of industry and concentration to class-formation), it is with the latter rather than the former. Sartre's theory is complex, and he clearly problematises issues, such as class formation and the relation between groups and other members of a class, which are deproblematised in both Mao and Althusser. The structure of his theory is also not substitutionist in the strict sense, since he sees groups separately from classes and does not describe group action as if it were the action of a class. However, some of the conclusions and implications of his theory are similar to substitutionism; since the serial members of the class have no beliefs, action or political role, Sartre ends up supporting groups which claim that the class is already totalised and which may therefore be substitutionist. Some of his formulations (eg. that the history of a class is the history of its organisation) and conclusions (eg. about benevolent reform in Russia) are also more-or-less substitutionist. Other parts of his theory are anti-substitutionist, such as his critique of institutions and his belief in a critical role within the class for intellectuals. However, his pessimistic reading of the state of consciousness and activity of many workers (which leaves out issues of petty resistance, hidden transcripts and unexpressed dissatisfaction) suggests a desperation in which, in the absence of a class as such to align to, Sartre may be tempted to support substitutionist groups. The central motive for Sartre's political alignment is, after all, not class-being but the desire for action.


A central part of Mao's theory is the division of society into two exclusive and all-encompassing sides. The good side is usually designated as "the people", but also occurs under other labels (the masses, the broad masses, the working people, the working class and its allies, and the democratic forces; eg. 1975:2:153, 1975:3:88, 1975:4:137). The bad side is usually termed "enemies", although various subdivisions are also used (imperialists, reactionaries, and the dozens of anathemas used against party and political rivals: revisionists, dogmatists, subjectivists, idealists, die-hards, guerrilla-ists, absolute egalitarians, empiricists, etc.). The chief forces in the revolution for Mao are the revolutionaries and their enemies (1975:4:208), and the latter are usually defined through reference to their being other than the former. For instance, Mao defines reactionaries as being anti-popular (1975:4:427). Mao frequently attaches all other forms of good and bad in his theory to these two sides, sometimes via instrumentalism (see above), and sometimes via definitions. For instance, Mao tends to define democracy as meaning not being anti-communist (1975:4:210). The "people" in Mao is both analytically and ethically prior to its members, and is partly subordinate to an otherwise aimless goal of "victory" or "revolution". The enemy, meanwhile, is apparently ever-present as a category in Mao and the basis for all logic and debate, rather than being a directly empirical or relational entity. Enemies are portrayed in Mao as to all intents and purposes the forces of evil: "something filthy and contemptible, like dog's dung" (1975:2:413). Although it is a primarily conceptual entity, the enemy is assumed to be self-creating in Mao. For instance, some classes "turned into enemies of the people" through their actions (1975:1:271), and the KMT "have declared themselves enemies of the entire Chinese people" through their actions (1975:4:136). Usually, the people and enemy are discussed in class terms, with class definitions being altered to fit such divisions. Occasionally, however, Mao treats the people/enemy division as running through classes and as more important than class (eg. 1975:4:208-9).

The people/enemy distinction is the primary analytical distinction in Mao, and he is deeply critical of any failure to place this distinction above all else (1975:4:381). Along with the achievements/shortcomings division, the revolutionary/counterrevolutionary division is one of the two main lines of distinction one should never forget to draw (1975:4:381). The two sides are locked in a perpetual struggle. Sometimes, this struggle is treated as a practical necessity; for instance, Mao claims that it is only through struggle that imperialists can be forced to treat others as equals (1975:4:427). At other times, it is treated as an almost gentlemanly competition. "Let us... have a contest. If Communism is beaten, we Communists will admit defeat in good grace" (1975:1:362).

Against enemies, one is supposed to struggle constantly, but within the category of the "people", Mao demands unity, which is the basis for the struggle against the enemy. This dichotomy between struggle and unity seems to cover all possible relationships for Mao; for instance, debate is framed within limits set by unity. Mao's "people" are supposed to be united by "one common goal" (1975:3:45). For Mao, "We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity... in the interests of our fight" (1975:2:31). Winning allies is mainly done on the basis of a sharp people/enemy division; the purpose of winning over critics is to isolate enemies (1975:4:209), and the criterion for alliance is activity in the struggle of the moment (eg. 1975:3:202). This people-enemy dichotomy also extends internationally: "As for the imperialist countries, we should unite with their peoples" (1968:131-2). The process of uniting is seen by Mao as mechanically determined and inevitable: "all strata of the people cannot but unite and fight for their very survival" (1975:4:136).

The division between people and enemy is about "drawing a clear distinction", as opposed to the right-and-wrong issues which occur within the people (1968:82-3). People and enemy are defined, like class, mainly on a political basis, in terms of their support for or opposition to a particular Communist Party goal at a given time (1968:80). For instance, during the building of socialism, supporting socialism places one within the "category of the people", whereas opposing, resisting or sabotaging makes one an enemy of the people (1968:80-1). There is an extent to which "people" thereby becomes a weasel-word; statements such as "the people support socialism" are tautologically true, yet the concept is also assumed to designate an empirical mass or majoritarian collective. At times, for instance, Mao speaks of the people as if the category includes all the demographic population of China (1968:88). In part, the gap between these two uses is bridged by substitutionism and by the treatment of the interests of the people as including their re-education for the struggle of the moment (which is, after all, their defining characteristic). For instance, ideological education of the people is a good thing because Mao (on very little basis) believes that it is responsible, through political consciousness, discipline and combat effectiveness, for military victories (1975:4:211, 214, 241), and the basis for unity with "enlightened" people is their undergoing education (1975:210). The term "unite" seems to have a shady side in Mao's theory; it includes attempts to homogenize through re-education (cf. 1975:4:429).

Mao's people/enemy model rests on Manicheanism. The question of counter-revolution is a question of "right" against "evil", and the evil must be watched for and rooted out "with a firm hand" even when it is not immediately apparent (1968:99-100) the absence of visible enemies simply means they are hiding. There are other occasions, too, when Mao codes the people/enemy struggle as good/evil (eg. 1975:2:378). The division between the two sides is absolute: "Either you cooperate with the Communist Party or you oppose it", and "can no longer resist Japan", for instance (1975:2:365). Since the 'people' support the Communist Party, "whoever wants to oppose the Communist Party must be prepared to be ground to dust. If you are not keen on being ground to dust, you had certainly better drop this opposition" (1975:366). This threat, interestingly, is stated as originating not from the Party but from the people, and is dressed up as a knowledge-claim: "Can anyone prove the contrary?" (1975:2:366). On the people's side, too, this is a total struggle in which Mao demands "a war in which the entire people are mobilised", a "total resistance" (1975:2:61). Here, again, the mobilisation seems to be in practice the Party's role, although expressed as the 'people's' belief, since the KMT is supposedly able to hold back this resistance even though "the majority of tha nation" demands it. What is good for the 'people' and its struggle should exist. For instance, "There must be a revolutionary party because the world contains enemies who oppress the people and the people want to throw off enemy oppression". The Party's role is to "lead the people in overthrowing the enemy", which requires "good order" and marching in step (1975:3:35; to Mao's substitutionist mind, it is apparently inconceivable that the actually-existing 'people' could throw off oppression without being 'led'). On the other hand, what the 'masses' (in practice, probably the Party) have no need for should not exist (eg. 1975:3:93). Equality is a good thing if it helps the struggle and a bad thing if it hinders it, and criticism of a personal or subjective nature, "loose and groundless talk" and "suspiciousness" should all be wiped out as detrimental to the struggle (1975:1:110-11). As for phenomena which oppose the people, these "must be destroyed resolutely, thoroughly, and without the least mercy"; certain phenomena and individuals are "evil" and should be "destroyed", and only via this palingenetic moment of destruction can China be saved and construction begun (1975:2:407-8). For Mao, struggle is always a good thing because it turns intermediates into either enemies or friends (1975:2:413); this desire for a world without shades of grey is a central orientation in Mao. Through this process of polarisation, struggle supposedly helps one to move forward and succeed (1975:2:417).

The model of polarisation through struggle is very widespread in Mao beyond its immediate military origins. It occurs, for instance, in medicine: doctors who do not follow Mao's preferred approach are helping high mortality rates (1975:3:186). It occurs in internal Party struggles: all "subjectivism", "dogmatism", "sectarianism" and other such flaws are "evils... like Japanese goods, for only an enemy wishes us to preserve them and continue to befuddle ourselves with them"; they should therefore be boycotted just like Japanese goods (1975:3:49). Otherness within one's own side always becomes enmity for Mao, which is probably a major reason for the prevalence of anathematisation in his works. This also applies to ideas: illiteracy, superstition and witchcraft are "enemies inside the minds of the people" (1975:3:185; this implies an extension of the substitutionist model from classes to the 'people'). Similarly, in military history, Mao claims there are only two kinds of war, just and unjust, which should be supported and opposed respectively (1975:1:183). The enemy also appears as a kind of inversion of the self; for instance, Mao sees bourgeois literature as inverting good and evil (1975:3:91).

Mao uses the concept of the "people" both in a substitutionist way and as a symbolic legitimation similar to "practice" and "reality". The "people" are invoked, without any actually-existing "people" having any kind of say, to ethically and politically legitimate and to render victory inevitable for Mao's specific beliefs. The "nation" in Mao means the difference between success and failure (1975:2:414), and "the Chinese people are bound to win" (1975:2:377). "The people" are invoked to justify Mao's positions on Hungary 1956 and on the suppression of counter-revolutionaries in China (1968:132-3). A Japanese-led peace could not succeed because "the broad masses of the people" would not submit to it (1975:2:153), and "the people... bitterly detest" the KMT's anti-communism (1975:2:377). They also detested "national disunity and chaos", which is why these are gone, never to return (1968:79-80). The "common people... like the Communist Party and do not like 'opposing' it" and they will "show... no mercy" to its enemies (1975:2:366). Due to the 'people', those who try to profit at others' expense will come to no good end, and die-hards cannot remain die-hards forever (1975:2:413). "The movement for constitutional government... will inevitably take the course decided on by the people" (1975:2:414). Mao's assessment of the people/enemy division is also for Mao supposedly shared by "the broad masses" (1968:96), as is his erstwhile support for the Soviet Union (1975:2:64). Opposition from "the people" is credited for the defeat of Rightists in the Party (1968:132-3), and during the war with the KMT, Mao claimed that "The Chiang Kai-Shek government, hostile to the whole people, now finds itself besieged by the whole people" (1975:4:135). Whoever wrote Mao's footnotes has also picked up the habit of referring to Party positions as those of the people (1975:2:272-3). Mao can keep up this claim that the people mystically guarantee his victory for as long as he keeps winning, although it appears to have met some difficulty once he redefined the primary contradiction as being between China and America. Incidentally, Mao also uses similar conceptions when he claims that, whereas others are trying to reshape the movement in their own image, he is trying to reshape it in the proletariat's image (1975:3:95).

The people/enemy division leads to a perpetual advocation by Mao of pairs of practices which are direct opposites, with the choice of one or the other depending on the classification of its recipient as 'people' or 'enemy'. The primary boundary betwen repression and tolerance is therefore a practice of labelling which is disciplinary in Foucault's sense. Prisoners of war should be freed unless they "have incurred the bitter hatred of the masses", in which case they should be executed; landlords should be left alone unless they are "saboteurs" or "organise riots" in which case they should be persecuted (1975:2:446-7); democracy and freedom should be given to revolutionaries and "only" withheld from counterrevolutionaries (1975:3:92); one should never exclude anyone, unless they are "incorrigible" (1975:2:198); the militarisation of the state by the bourgeoisie is bad and fascistic (1975:2:265), but is presumably good in CCP-controlled areas; self-criticism can only be applied within the ranks of the people, and those who can be persuaded should be (1975:4:429-31; this version implies a threat: self-criticise or be excluded); "ruthless struggle" and "merciless blows" are "entirely necessary against the enemy or against enemy ideology" but are "wrong" against "comrades" (1975:3:57-8); and "collaborators" and "traitors" should be excluded from democracy in China, but the forbidding of anti-war oppositions in imperialist countries is worthy only of condemnation (1975:2:56). This model allows room for both hyper-conformity and violent transgression, as well as "peace" and "war", "love" and "hate" and so on, by consigning each to a particular category of people: one transgresses against "enemies" but must conform rigidly within the "people". Occasionally, the people-enemy dichotomy also produces strange inversions. For instance, the adoption of a new set of Principles and Policies supposedly changed the KMT from an enemy organisation to a mass party (1975:2:375).

Mao's theory is unusual in explicitly and unashamedly dividing almost all issues along bipolar lines, into good and bad sides. This is a model which is aptly suited for the totalitarian practice termed Gleichschaltung in Nazi Germany, and apparently nameless in China: the coordination or structural mutation of all organisations into extensions, organs and subordinate parts of the party-state machine, and the suppression of all activities and groups outside these channels. Ir raises the 'stakes' enormously in political struggles, adding a strong element of threat to one of Mao's favourite rhetorical/schematic devices, anathematisation. It also accounts for the tendency for Maoism to turn what one might call nit-picking issues into fundamental issues on which the revolution hinges. The Cultural Revolution rested strongly on such concerns: Isaac Deutscher ridicules the Chinese regime for treating the renaming of streets, denouncement of Shakespeare and Balzac, and refusals by hairdressers and dressmakers to produce "outlandish" haircuts, cowboy jeans or revealing shirts, blouses and skirts as issues on which the restoration of capitalism hinges (1984:212), and Mandel cites Mao's widow Jiang Qing, later to be denounced herself as an enemy of the people, as saying that if the capitalist line prevailed in theatre, capitalist restoration would be inevitable (1992:106). This kind of cumulative radicalisation is a direct outgrowth of the people/enemy dichotomy.

Mao rarely touches on questions of Self and Other except in the form of people/enemy struggles. The people/enemy dichotomy implies that the Self/Same is invariably right and that the Other is invariably different, and this implication is also borne out by the numerous occasions (eg. 1975:3:120) where treats his own subjective beliefs asymmetrically with others' subjective beliefs, treating his own as analyses throwing out the dross and reflecting reality, practice and the will of the people, and others' as subjective whims and fancyings. The fusion of Mao's personal beliefs with the concept of the "people", and of these with class, ideological and Party categories, also implies an extreme fusion of the Self with others on the same side, in which the distinctness of particular people is completely subsumed. And while certain of Mao's phrases, such as "awakening the people" (1975:2:376), imply a formative conception of alterity, others, such as his imperative that everyone should "analyse his own particular case" and "carefully examine himself" (1975:3:68), as if from the outside, imply an active endorsement of alterity and alienation.

Althusser does not make as much use of the people/enemy dichotomy as Mao, but this is mainly because his two-side conception of class struggle (see above) covers much of the same territory. On occasions, his formulations are almost identical to Mao's. For instance, he calls for a rigid separation of the world into two camps: "A political dividing line between the people (the proletariat and its allies) and the people's enemies" (1971:21), a conception which differs from Mao's only in using class instead of a particular struggle as the defining feature of the "people". Similarly, the role of philosophy is to represent the class struggle and help "the people" distinguish between true ideas, which serve the people, and false ideas, which serve the enemies (1971:21). This statement also converges with Mao over the issue of treating positive interventions to educate or persuade as a form of help. Furthermore, for Althusser as for Mao, taking the wrong positions actually helps the enemies (1984:120; the 'evidence' here is that the incorrect official line on Stalin has encouraged the growth of an enemy, Trotskyism).

As in Mao, so in Althusser all persuasion and debate is limited to the in-group established by class and people/enemy divisions. So-called "anti-communist and anti-Soviet elements" - who, incidentally, are 'elements', i.e. things, rather than people in this account - are left aside and not discussed or debated (1984:120). Furthermore, all the various positions excluded by the exclusive bipolar orientation are fused together and treated as being alike. The wrong kind of socialist, such as Trotskyites, are seen as equivalent to bourgeois anti-communists on the grounds that they are "violent" enemies of the Communist Party; the growth of such oppositional forces is unconditionally a bad thing (1984:119-20). As in Mao, so in Sartre opponents within the in-group are labelled as enemies and thereby pushed outside. In a very 'Maoist' manoeuvre, for instance, Althusser labels Sartre as petty-bourgeois and uses this anathema to 'explain' failure (1984:76-7). Marxist humanism is also an enemy within: "this bourgeois point of view is a contaminating agent which can threaten or even overcome the proletarian point of view within Marxism itself" (1984:127). While there may appear to be a difference, furthermore, between Althusser and Mao over whether the defining feature of the dichotomy is class-based or political, in practice this division is reduced by Althusser's sphere-separations and the absence of sociological content from uses of the term "class" in the political and theoretical fields.

As in Mao, so in Althusser the people/enemy dichotomy produces asymmetries in assessment of and action towards others on the basis of a bipolar division, with one side becoming a kind of collective self identical with one's own viewpoints and those Other to this Self becoming enemies worthy only of struggle, and with people/enemy being roughly translatable as good/evil so that what falls outside the in-group is valueless and should be eliminated. Owing to differences in their spheres of operation, however, the expression of this tendency differs in each case. In Mao, it involves policies, whereas in Althusser it mainly involves theoretical categories. For instance, all practice is assumed by Althusser to be revolutionary, politics is only true if it is based on the "class struggle" (1969:199), and the politics of the Other (eg. defence of the status quo) are effectively denied the right to be considered as politics. The closed nature of truth for Althusser as a schematism with equivalence to reality means that he sees his own discourse as having inherent "force", so that others' difficulty in accepting them is exclusively others' problem, not his own. And rhetorical devices which Althusser declares to be false when others use them are treated as valid when Althusser uses them himself. For instance, Althusser criticises John Lewis for counterposing Althusser's views to his own via the device of claiming his own views to be those of Marx; but he then proceeds to compare Lewis's theses to his own by stating his own to be the theses of "Marxist-Leninist philosophy" (1984:77), and he goes even further in actually claiming that his own views are what Marxism-Leninism has always believed (1984:79). Both Althusser's and Lewis's version are similarly based on selective exegesis (as Althusser's theory of the "epistemological break" and the perpetual struggle within Marx's thought effectively admit); Althusser, however, privileges his own by allowing himself forms of argument he denies to his opponents.

There is therefore substantial similarity between Mao and Althusser's models of people and enemy. What differences there are mostly result from Althusser's separation of theory from immediate politics. Althusser's relation to the concepts of self and other is, however, somewhat complex. He believes that consciousness reaches the real only via "what is other than itself" (1969:143), echoing Sartre on alterity. He also claims (as does Mao) to be speaking for, representing or helping the Other in the sense of a class of which he is not strictly speaking a part. But he also - and this is another similarity to Mao - effectively claims that the Other, whether this is other people, nature, "objective reality" or the "concrete", has to speak the orthodox language of the collective Self in order to gain the right to be heard. Radical Otherness - whether in the form of (for instance) nature, which is to be struggled against, vulnerable or deviant people, who should make themselves useful to the struggle, or ideas incompatible with orthodoxy, which are treated as being in the service of the enemy - is always seen as valueless, threatening and deserving of being struggled against and destroyed, unless it can be incorporated through transformation and rectification into the collective Self. As in Mao, furthermore, so in Althusser this renders "nit-picking" issues, such as the use of Hegelian concepts by individual Marxist theorists, as fundamental life-or-death issues for the collective Self.

Sartre's model is similar to Mao's and Althusser's on some points but not others. For Sartre, the relation of human praxes to one another does not automatically resolve itself into a dualism. This relation is indeterminate, and may be antagonistic or cooperative (1976:334). It also includes a variety of forms of relation in alterity, such as seriality, institutions and reciprocity. To take one example, it is the praxis of others which for Sartre turns one's own praxis into an objective demand, producing "a negation of everyone by everyone", and the practico-inert is generated by this process: others try to appropriate free praxis, praxis becomes exis, exis becomes passive activity and passive activity becomes active passivity (1976:320-3). These complex relations also occur in groups. For instance, the fused group overcomes seriality by making the other the arbiter of whether an act will remain isolated (1976:277), since an act in this setting can be copied or ignored.

Furthermore, enmity and unity are not a simple matter for Sartre. The recognition of others' ends as ends implies a "complicity in principle" through a conception of "the organic unity of all human ends", even when one "goes on to combat or condemn" a particular end (1976:101). One projects one's self through others in order to see others' ends and differentiate them from one's own (1976:101). In this context, Mao criticises a fundamental tendency in Mao and Althusser's thought: 'de-personalisation', a so-called "pathological state" in which "man appears as the representative of an alien species because... the link between the patient and his own ends is temporarily broken" (1976:101). New ends are always set against the organic unity of existing ends (1976:101). Also, one never fully sees what the Other sees, i.e. objectivity through the Other's eyes; they have "an object-for-the-other which eludes me" and which confronts the individual "as definite ignorance, as inadequacy", and the self also sees the ignorance of others in relation to its own objectivity (1976:102-3). This would seem to rule out strong dualisms where the views of the Other are dismissed as worthless on the basis of an objective reality or an all-encompassing project contained entirely within the Self, as occurs in Mao.

There is more convergence between Sartre and Mao on the issue of political alignment, although here, too, there is substantial difference. Sartre's beliefs on this subject are by no means a strict dichotomy between people and enemy. According to Mark Poster, Sartre has been "of the left" since World War II, but with "numerous shifts and turns"; he is "by no means a spokesman for the proletariat, much less for Stalinism". Rather, his is "an independent radicalism that sides with the oppressed against the powerful", and he has "aligned himself with the people and... struggles with the oppressed wherever that struggle leads". This means that he seeks only the "revolutionary kernel" in Stalinist Marxism, not its totality, and that he supports a variety of causes usually ignored by Stalinists, such as those of French farmers (1979:9-11). This reading is probably a little overstated; at times, Sartre's alignment to the Communist Party was very strong. But he certainly supports a diverse range of causes and struggles, not limited to traditional 'communist' issues. He identifies strongly with resistance through the ages (Sartre 1974:47-8), adopted causes such as the Algerian rebellion well before the Communist Party, and he even took up causes where his support for those involved was not uncritical and absolute (which may help explain his attitude to Maoism). For instance, his involvement in campaigns around the treatment of 'Baader-Meinhoff Group' members was not based on support for their entire project. Rather, Sartre claims: "They should be treated as revolutionaries whose protest against modern capitalism is justified, even if their methods are not. They should not be treated as common criminals" (cited Thody and Reid, 1998:151). This implies the absence of a simple duality where unjustified tactics are the same thing as enmity. If there is a conception of sides here, it is a far more complex one.

There are, however, occasions where Sartre's support for resistance comes close to Mao's version of a people/enemy division. Due partly to the concept of scarcity, Sartre's model of the fused and pledged groups (his preferred types) rests strongly on the assumption of an enemy (albeit not an objective or eternal one, but a situationally specific one, such as the presence of police attacking a demonstration, or the military forces threatening a massacre which supposedly triggered the storming of the Bastille). Sartre also cites scarcity as the direct root of Manicheanism, where the competitor is conceived as anti-man due to using the same, human capacities to pursue goals incompatible with one's own. His partial support for 'revolutionary terror', which he sees as sustaining the group but also as a step back towards seriality through "recurrence" and "flight" (eg. 1971:291), is also based on this approach. Furthermore, such issues also lead to occasional dualisms of Mao and Althusser's kind in Sartre's work. For instance, he believes in a basic "contradiction between atomic war and people's war" embodying "man's capacity today either to destroy the human species, or to advance towards socialism" (1974:284). He also urges intellectuals to enter and help "the people", by, for instance, combatting paralytic ideologies (1974:257; this 'people', however, may be a totalisation rather than a totality and may contain a plurality, meaning it cannot act as a pole in a dualism).

At another point, however, he calls such dualisms in the "experience of heroism", such as the distinctions between resistance/non-resistance, supporting the French or the Germans during the war, and speaking or not speaking under torture, "a false experience" (1974:34), partly due to the absence of awareness of such issues as alienation and the ruses of history. And in those cases where he does support straightforward people/enemy conflicts, Sartre does not see this as a simple self-other division but as a strange kind of self-inversion. In order to become a "true opposite" able to fight an enemy, one must become one's enemy (1976:60-1). This process contains dangers for Sartre. In a passage from his novel The Prisoners of Altona, Sartre expresses his fears about this. "The beast was hiding, we surprised its glance, suddenly, in our neighbour's inner eye; then we struck him down. Legitimate self-defence. I surprised the beast, I struck it down, a man fell, in his dying eyes I saw the beast, still alive, it was I myself. One and one make one" (cited Thody and Read 1998:117).

There is therefore no asymmetry in analysis of self and other in Sartre, and the problem of people-enemy relations occurs as a problematised issue, not as a basis for classification. Furthermore, Sartre opposes this model on a number of central points. Nevertheless, this issue may suggest a possible basis for Sartre's support for Maoism. The similarities which are present in Sartre's model, combined with his desire to support resistance even if it does not exactly take his own preferred form, and with his belief that partial movements can be supported while one also tries to persuade them to universalise, may remove enough of the barriers impeding support for Maoism to generate a basis for such support. Sartre's practical conclusions may come considerably closer to Maoism than his philosophical beliefs.

As for the broader issue of self and other, this is one of Sartre's central subjects, about which he has a concern unparallelled in Mao or Althusser. In contrast to their assumption of a perfect fusion of the individual in a collective Self, Sartre constantly problematises the self/other relation and inquires into alterity as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Examples include Sartre's discussions of seriality, group formation, mediation by the tool, the practico-inert, the institution and numerous other issues (some of which are discussed above). As in several other areas (such as the concept of class), Sartre problematises, discusses and analyses whereas Mao and Althusser tend to deproblematise, assume, assert or naturalise. This is probably why Sartre's advice to activists is to try to develop rather than simply to serve mas or political beliefs, and it also throws doubt on how far Sartre's identification with Maoism involves a similarity in approach and mindset.


Mao's relation to "common sense" is, in theory at least, uncritical to the point of abasement before it. Mao both praises the common sense of the masses and claims to share and represent it. Take the following example: "We cannot love enemies, we cannot love social evils, our aim is to destroy them. This is common sense; can it be that some writers and artists still do not understand this?" (1975:3:91). In another case, Mao speaks of "the Chinese communists, sharing the common sense of the Chinese people" (1975:3:224). Both of these cases involve an assumption that common sense is always right; but they also involve the claim that common sense is identical to Mao's or the Party's beliefs. Mao also claims that mass beliefs are always right: there can be a complete unity between truth and political partisanship because the truth reflects mass beliefs (1975:3:87). This links Mao's attitude to common sense to the people/enemy dichotomy and the fusion of all forms of good: moral rightness, theoretical correctness, scientific accuracy, success, and political alignment are interchangeable, so common sense views, if represented as those of the 'people', are always right, just, correct, accurate and effective, as well as being accurately reflected by the Party.

Such claims to be reflecting or representing common sense provide a basis, possibly the main theoretical basis, for repression in Mao's theory. For instance, it is supposedly the "demand of the masses" that people who "disrupt public order" should be punished (1968:124). "To be able to carry on their production and studies effectively and to arrange their lives properly, the people want the government and those in charge of production and of cultural and educational organisations to issue appropriate orders of an obligatory nature. It is common sense that the maintenance of public order would be impossible without such administrative regulations" (1968:87), and "Anarchy does not accord with the interests or wishes of the people" (1968:84). This approach sees bureaucracy and authoritarianism, and the repression of unrest of the type which occurred in Hungary in 1956 (which was Mao's polemical target here), as unchallengeably rooted in the 'people's' wishes and common sense. State power is thereby naturalised.

In addition to direct appeals to common sense as such, Mao also relies on naturalisations and appeals to the obvious or self-evident which are also based on common sense as theorised by, for instance, Gramsci (1971). The use of these ideas is essentially repressive, closing discussion. For instance: "Obviously no one can say" that peasants' lives have not improved if official grain production statistics have risen (1968:104 - a strange claim even if the statistics were reliable, since the extra grain might come at the cost of greater work and/or might not actually leave the peasants with more grain after tax and other deductions). Statements that stereotyped writing harms the revolution and the people are "self-evident and require no elaboration" (1975:3:63; here as elsewhere, the people/enemy division means the target of the polemic is left out of those with access to self-evident beliefs). Other versions used include "Everybody knew..." (1975:1:288), "plain to everybody and beyond all doubt" (1975:3:35), and naturalisations such as treating logical steps, or (for instance) lower-level support for high-level decisions, or dictatorship by workers and peasants, as natural (1975:3:76; 1975:4:378, 1975:2:366).

One type of appeal to common sense which Mao uses is aphorisms. This is not simply a matter of rhetoric; Mao claims on principle that one should use "images which are familiar and intelligible to the masses" (1975:3:65), so that, although the specific device of using Chinese aphorisms is presumably specific, the general approach of basing appeals on common sense is universally valid. The use of aphorisms and similar devices in Mao is widespread. For instance, Anglo-French policy in 1939 was like "sitting on top of a mountain to watch the tigers fight"; inter-imperialist conflict involves "lifting a rock only to drop it on one's toes" (eg. 1975:2:264, 1975:2:413); agricultural policy is based on an "old Chinese saying", "If there is food, let everyone share it" (1975:2:357); in war as in chess, "one careless move loses the whole game" (1975:1:184); "nothing in the world is difficult for one who sets his mind to it" (1975:1:190); "To be both wise and courageous one must acquire a method" (1975:1:187); "failure is the mother of success", "a fall into the pit, a gain in your wit" (1968:3), "let me think it over", "How can you catch tiger cubs without entering the tiger's lair?" (1968:9), "I'm not sure I can handle it" (1975:10) and as "We Chinese often say", "Things that oppose each other also complement each other" (1968:68) - all used to 'prove' philosophical points; opponents are "selling dog's meat under the label of a sheep's head" (1975:2:412) and trying to "go south by driving the chariot north" (1975:2:154), as well as writing articles which are "long and smelly" like foot-bindings (1975:3:56), and subjectivists are like reeds and bamboo, "sharp-tongued, thick-skinned and hollow inside", or "top-heavy, thin-stemmed, shallow of root" (1975:3:21). These kinds of aphorisms (which are often invoked rather than demonstrated to be relevant, and which could probably be used to say almost anything) have far more than a rhetorical role in Mao, acting as backing for principles of philosophy and as sole backing for some arguments. Mao also backs up some arguments with reference to fables (eg. 1975:3:101) and other aspects of folklore, as for instance when he likens drab articles to goblins (1975:3:59).

Mao's uncritical attitude to common sense also expresses itself in his attitude to which he calls the 'language of the masses/people'. Mao is very hostile to the "small circles" of individual minds and wants people to "learn from the masses", a process which involves adopting "the language of the common people" (1975:3:64). Mao praises "the rich, lively language of the masses" (1975:3:72) and describes the requirement to use it as a "law" (1975:3:66). Mao attacks artists for daring to criticise mass cultural products (1975:3:78). Revolutionaries "working for the masses" are supposed to study, learn, and presumably to stick to, mass language, since "the people's vocabulary is rich, vivid and expressive of real life" (1975:3:60); in one of these passages, Mao even refers to the 'people's' language as "language", as if no other exists. If popular language is expressive of real life, rhetoric presumably ties thought to real life by connecting it to this language. However, this passage is also revealing in that it shows that Mao does not wish others to learn mass language in order to join the masses; he wants instead for them to substitute for (work for, lead) the masses. Elsewhere, Mao explains indirectly his conception of learning mass language as being not so much to listen as to tell, by endorsing and promoting quotes from Stalin and Dimitrov. These state that the purpose of learning mass language is to communicate decisions and slogans, to speak for the masses as the fighters who reflect their "innermost thoughts", and to make it so the rank and file workers can "understand you, therefore believe in your appeal and be ready to follow you" (1975:3:64-6). The primary relation between the Party and the masses where language is used is for Mao activities such as the distribution of agitational leaflets, the role of which is to show the masses that they are being defended by the party (1975:3:64-5). It is also worth noting that Mao does not stick rigidly to the principle of using everyday language, particularly as regards the accumulation of anathemas (dogmatism, sectarianism, revisionism, etc.) and totalitarian euphemisms (rectification, re-education, etc.), implying that he may be using the term "mass language" in a substitutionist way, to refer to his particular version of Party language.

Mao's attempts to tie his outlook, at least in principle, to mass beliefs do not end with language. Mao also believes that the "life of the people" provides the "materials in their natural form" for activities such as literature and art. These raw materials are "crude" but also "vital, rich and fundamental", "make all literature and art seem pallid by comparison" and are the "only source" of literature and art (1975:3:81). This attitude is linked to Mao's nationalism. In defending common sense from criticism, he plays the nationalist card: versions of art he disapproves of are not only enemy forms but are "foreign stereotypes", contrasting with "the frest, lively Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love" (1975:3:67).

In discussing the relation between intellectuals and the 'masses', Gramsci suggests there are at least two possible approaches: "imposing an iron discipline on the intellectuals so that they do not exceed certain limits of differentiation", or refusing to "leave the 'simple' in their primitive philosophy of common sense" and aiming "rather to lead them to a higher conception of life" (1971:331-2). Mao's attitude to common sense is a straightforward example of the former. Mao aims to take intellectuals and cadres closer to the 'masses' rather than vice-versa (1975:2:382), and this means imposing the use of "simple language" on the former (1975:2:403), as well as demanding that all their meetings, talks, speeches, articles and resolutions be "concise and to the point" (1975:4:380; this may well in practice mean cutting out formulae other than Mao's own and thereby limiting the room for creative interpretation of the type practiced, for instance, by Althusser). In the sphere of culture, Mao counterposes "popularisation" to "raising standards". He sees both as important, but prioritises the former. One should popularise only what is needed by the workers, peasants and soldiers, without regard to the wishes or needs of intellectuals or others (1975:3:80). The decision on what they need is Party-substitutionist; this is already hinted at, and is clearly stated a little later when Mao describes what amounts to a mass demand for propaganda (1975:3:82), as well as when Mao says one needs to know the workers, peasants and soldiers so one can determine what they need to know (1975:3:80-1). The implications for writers and the like is fundamentally repressive. That which does not fit common sense as Mao sees it is ultimately suspect; others' work, which Mao terms "endless pages" of "empty verbiage", should be consigned "to the dustbin" on the basis that "the masses shall not read them" and they must therefore have a sinister ulterior motive to "bluff the na‹ve" (1975:3:56). Mao sees the masses' supposed lack of "hardiness" in reading to be a good thing (1975:3:56-7), an almost direct contradiction of the asceticism and cult of hardiness which operates elsewhere in his theory, and articles should therefore be "shorter and pithier" - unless they happen to be one of the Marxist classics such as Capital, in which case their "substance" renders them immune to criticism on grounds of length (1975:3:56-7). This case shows a large problem with Mao's model: he wants a general principle of following common sense, but he also wants to exempt orthodoxy from criticism.

Mao accepts a role for what he terms "raising standards", but this does not involve active educative efforts by intellectuals; rather, it should only be done in the direction in which the masses are already advancing (1975:3:80). Furthermore, such standard-raising is not to be directly experienced by the masses; it is for the people rather than of the people, based on the principle that, in order to serve the masses, cadres and other functionaries need a higher standard of education, literacy and so on than the masses (1975:3:83). Mao therefore supports the reinforcement of elite-mass differences even while ostensibly trying to eliminate them.

A problem which has already been hinted at above runs through Mao's comments on common sense. He wants to claim to reflect common sense in its entirety, as part of his desire to fuse entirely with "the people". At the same time, however, his orthodoxy, schematism and dogmatic outlook mean that he totally rejects any parts of mass belief which do not fit his own world-view. Rather than admit this problem, Mao classifies whole sections of popular belief to anathema-categories which supposedly place them beyond common sense. Some of these categories, such as the treatment of superstition as the enemy in the minds of the people and of disliked proletarian ideas as petty-bourgeois, have been discussed above. There are other such categories, and other occasions when Mao expresses views which logically imply a critical sttitude to some kinds of common sense dealt with under different labels. Practical 'men', Mao claims, are prone to confuse "partial experience" with "universal truth" (1975:3:42). Furthermore, "men's minds are liable to be fettered by circumstances and habit from which even revolutionaries cannot always escape" (1975:3:101; Mao presumably excludes himself from this rather Althusserian formulation). Prior to Marx's intervention, "Millions of people saw and handled commodities everyday but were so used to them that they took no notice" (1975:3:40). One must learn a specific activity to master it; "customary ways", for instance, must be cast aside to master the art of war (1975:2:154; in this case, sphere-divisions are used to insulate Mao's views from common sense beliefs). There are then all the specific everyday beliefs and practices Mao wishes to eliminate, from an instrumental viewpoint which he claims reflects people's interests. Such beliefs and practices range from 'petty-bourgeois individualism', through 'subjectivism' and 'superficial thinking', to the various practices which he labels 'liberal' or 'subjective' (encompassing everything from pleasure-seeking and gossiping to personal criticism and discussing politics outside meetings), taking in spontaneous peasant resistance (eg. the 'roving bandit' mindset), specialist outlooks, 'decadence', political 'deviations' such as 'sectarianism' and 'revisionism', and any approach which emphasises 'minor' points or 'dross', and more besides. Mao has an almost total lack of any theoretical basis for criticisng everyday beliefs and practices, which, in theory, he glorifies and bases his knowledge- and power-claims on. The gap is partly filled by substitutionism, particularly the claim that party discourse is the discourse of the people, and the conceptual slippage in Mao's theory between the beliefs of empirically-existing people and the 'interests' of the 'people' defined schematically and externally on the basis of the struggle which constitutes the 'people' as a category. Also, Mao's claims to represent mass belief do not stop him urging the use of education to transform the thinking of the masses (1975:3:187).

The substitutionist assumptions which shape Mao's attitude towards popular beliefs, and which underlie the recurrence of this concept of Mao's use of the category of 'people' as a weasel-word (an empirical mass but also a categorical label), are directly expressed on a number of occasions. I have already shown how Mao assumes that 'the people' share his own beliefs (see above). He also assumes that the masses want what Mao thinks they should want, as in the case of the desire for propaganda, and also the supposed demand for revolutionary literature in KMT-controlled areas (1975:3:96). The parts of common sense which Mao endorses are seen as its real essence (see above on the 'democratic' core of Chinese culture) and are posited as leading all other parts. Mao also assumes that, when his beliefs are the same as mass beliefs, the basis for the beliefs is the same in the mass version as in his own: for instance, that mass anti-imperialism is communist rather than nationalist (1975:4:455).

In an even more direct statement of his substitutionism, Mao describes Communist Party ideas as a concentrated form of mass ideas (1975:3:120), a de facto admission of selectiveness ("concentration") combined with a continued claim to unproblematically represent. The relation of the Communist Party to common sense is substitution via systematisation. "In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily 'from the masses, to the masses'. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses...And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge" (1975:119). As this statement demonstrates, Mao sees the transition from mass beliefs to action as necessarily mediated by the Party, which is forbidden to break with common sense ideas but which can pick and choose which ones to develop (or invent, since there is no relation of control, accountability or management whereby the party can be tied to the masses by the masses themselves), and which has exclusive control over convincing people that these versions are in fact their own beliefs. Probably as a result of this conception, Mao sees the changes in China brought about by 'Marxism-Leninism' as resulting from the destruction of the people's passivity of spirit (1975:4:458), not as the Party changing their minds. All it did according to Mao was made active what they already thought.

In addition to substitutionist aspects, Mao's version of mass belief also includes a schematic aspect which involves the attachment of the label 'mass' or 'people's' to phenomena Mao deems to be good by other standards. Referring to the history of a newspaper, Mao states: "Then the paper was rich in content, sharp, pungent and vigorous; it reflected the great mass struggles, it spoke for the masses. I liked reading it very much. But since January this year, when we began to correct 'left' deviations, your paper seems to have lost some of its spirit; it is not clear-cut enough, not pungent enough, has become less informative and does not have much appeal for the reader" (1975:4:244). In this passage, the masses appear mainly as a 'mass' style, which just so happens to be the style which Mao enjoys reading; on the basis of this belief in a mass style (which should be sharp, pungent and clear-cut), Mao claims to be able to speak for "the reader", assess whether something speaks for the masses and pass judgement on whether it accurately reflects struggles. (He also seems blissfully unaware that his own anti-leftist drive could, through a fear of being labelled a deviant, have caused what he sees as a decline in journalism. It is far easier to tread the narrow line between one deviation and another when one is, like Mao, the person setting the standards, rather than someone likely to be victimised under them). Mao suggests that his so-called 'mass' style actually has more to do with his schematic philosophy and his people-enemy dualism than with actual mass beliefs. "We must firmly uphold the truth, and truth requires a clear-cut stand", he claims. All propaganda and newspapers "should be vivid, clear-cut and sharp", expressing a "militant style proper to us, the revolutionary proletariat". The reason is effectiveness in struggle: "A blunt knife draws no blood" (1975:4:245). That the "us" in this case are Party journalists and propagandists further confirms that this is a substitutionist conception, with the 'people's' or 'proletariat's' style actually being a kind of ideal style for Party activists, not an empirical description of readers' preferences or of popular ways of speaking and writing.

Notwithstanding his predominantly substitutionist relationship to mass beliefs, Mao's theory also relies on a number of aspects indebted to "common sense" modes of thought. Intuitionist balancing (provided, of course, that it produces the same result as Mao has reached) is seen as a valid, indeed essential, method. While urging that subjectivists be prevented from using the low theoretical level of the party to gain victories and calling for their activity to be made difficult or even boycotted and disrupted like Japanese-dominated trade, Mao sees a difficulty over how wide the net should be cast. His solution is essentially intuitionist. "Our comrades must develop a good nose for this purpose; they should take a sniff at everything and distinguish the good from the bad before they decide whether to welcome it or boycott it" (1975:3:49). The physical analogy is interesting here: Mao sees the process of selection as being similar to physical sensation. The main difference from intuitionism as such is that Mao assumes that everyone's intuitions will (or should) produce a single outcome. Furthermore, Mao shows little inclination to pursue a critique of parts of common sense even when engaged in polemics against others using common sense devices. Faced with Acheson's constant use of naturalising formulae in relation to capitalism and over a number of issues which Mao directly discusses, Mao does not come close to developing a critique of naturalisation (1975:4:451-8). The closest he comes is an instrumental conspiracy-claim that, as an imperialist, Acheson wishes to avoid discussion of imperialism (1975:4:456). Given Mao's propensity to use any critical or rhetorical device he can find, no matter how contradictory with his own theory, to discredit opponents, this absence suggests that Mao does not have any conception of problems with the forms of thought present in common sense.

To what extent does Althusser's approach to common sense share the characteristics of Mao's approach? Althusser does not directly make claims to represent or reflect common sense at all, and, when he claims a 'mass' or 'proletarian' essence to his beliefs, this is usually based on class interest and 'class struggle in theory' rather than on claims about sharing mass beliefs. However, Althusser does to some extent assume that workers' common sense beliefs are revolutionary. The working class has a "revolutionary instinct", which is also termed a "class instinct" (1971:11-13), in Althusser's theory. This 'instinct' is the reason why Dietzgen (see above) is able to learn Marxism directly, without study; it is also why Althusser reads Dietzgen's essentially commonsensical expressions as 'Marxist'. It is presumably also why a workers' song can be for Althusser "theoretically irreproachable" (1969:193). For Althusser, world outlooks occur spontaneously in everyone; these represent class positions in class struggle. The proletarian world outlook is materialist, whereas the bourgeois world outlook is idealist (1971:18; this provides an 'empirical' basis for the class-being Althusser attaches to ideas; it is never, however, empirically demonstrated). In some circumstances, furthermore, Althusser sees ideology as being directly demystified by experience (1984:120). He also has a conception of clarity, probably based on common sense ideas, which allows him to claim to be speaking "In plain terms" (1969:205) or "as clear as day" (1969:181), on the basis that everyday uses of terms are clear (1984:73). And he comes close to defending the closure which common sense establishes, in his assumption that workers' rejection of a concept proves its rejection by intellectuals to be right (1984:73-4).

Althusser's approach to common sense is not, however, entirely uncritical. He believes for instance that clarity can be an illusion (1984:89), and criticises John Lewis for using language which looks simple but becomes "nasty" on closer examination, so that clarity is a cover for "a nasty obscurity" (1984:73). He also criticises Lewis for the use of expressions such as "everyone knows" and "quite evident" (1984:71 - an implicit but unadmitted criticism also of Mao). Furthermore, for Althusser, "intuitions" should not be opposed, but nor should they simply be parroted; rather, they should be elaborated (1969:182-3). In his reading of Lenin, Althusser stresses a distinction between "real" spontaneity, which should be "sustained and criticised", and the "ideology of spontaneity" which is bourgeois (1969:254), suggesting that a refusal to criticise as well as sustain makes one's approach to common sense bourgeois (i.e. bad). Althusser's belief in a need for theory in order to move beyond 'spontaneity' also recurs elsewhere (1969:168). There is therefore something of a contradiction in Althusser's attitude to common sense, This is shown explicitly in his attitude to reification: hinting at a critique of reification on one page, and then denouncing theories of reification, which by a strange inversion he portrays as naturalising, a few pages later (1984:81-2, 84). The concept of absence as used in Althusser's discussion of problematics (1969:253-4) also touches on the question of naturalisation or reification; in this case, Althusser's response is psychoanalytic.

Most often, Althusser discusses what might be called questions of common sense under the label "ideology". Perceptual 'knowledge' directly apparent to practice is for Althusser "ideology", and therefore untheoretical and not knowledge, even though he also sees it as socially necessary, humanly universal and inevitable even in higher-stage Communism (1969:252). Althusser's use of ideology is a little like Gramsci's theory of organic ideology, whereas beliefs associated with specialised thinkers are classified separately as theory. There is also, however, a conception in Althusser of ideologies as mystification. Ideologies are socially real and organic (1984:11-12), and appear to emerge from one's social viewpoint. The bourgeoisie, for instance, interprets the world from its own standpoint, economistically, as 'performance', 'development' and so on; but another part of its beliefs, humanism, is a "cover" or "alibi" (1984:124), suggesting that organic and manipulative meanings of the term "ideology" coexist and intermingle in an unconceptualised way in Althusser's theory. The second usage is more explicit in another passage where Althusser treats ideologies mechanistically: bourgeois ideology exists because it serves "class interests", cements bourgeois unity and holds the masses under exploitation (1984:88), and there is a "class ideology of history in which the masses 'spontaneously' believe", which is "pumped into them" (mechanically) by the "ruling or ascending class" to serve exploitation and function as a screen between "men" and "real history", i.e. an "ideological and idealist 'smokescreen'" (1984:88-9). The contradiction between these two uses of the term "ideology" is worsened by Althusser's tendency to assume that each social force has only one ideology; in contrast to Gramsci, for instance, he sees the Catholic Church as having a single ideology (1984:88). To defend his orthodoxy, Althusser reinterprets Gramsci to fit his own theory. For instance, he treats Gramsci's concept of common sense as another term for the "dominant ideology" (1984:133 - a formulation which, however, leaves him standing against common sense, at least verbally).

Ideology is treated by Althusser as an important sphere of activity. This part of his theory is strongly influenced by the instrumental model which Althusser assumes to be applicable to all practices (see above), and at times it seems very like a defence of propaganda (and therefore quite compatible with Mao's theories). Leading the masses forwards requires that one must take them "at the word of their consciousness", which one also needs to study; wrong ideas such as utopian socialism and mechanistic Marxism are historically useful as tools on the level of ideology, though new "historical needs" render them irrelevant, and one of the purposes of Althusser's theoretical work is to reach the stage where they can be replaced (1969:104-5, 113). For the time being, however, Althusser accepts the use of imprecise ideas which have a "practical" meaning and so "correspond to a certain degree" with reality and can be used as a "reference point or index" for education and struggle (1969:172), provided the practice is "true". Due to his instrumental model of practice (labour with tools on raw material producing goods), customs, 'spirit', traditions and the like are treated as external realities similar in type to cold and hunger (1969:115). Practical urgency seems to render appeals to common sense and naturalised, uncritical practices acceptable to Althusser in some circumstances, but, in contrast to Mao's explicit beliefs, Althusser has a positive goal of moving beyond common sense at some point. He retains some faith, however, in the capacity of common sense to reach rationality: assuming that it is a form of experience and therefore conforms to Althusser's general model of experience, it should meet 'blockages' to its practice which force it to self-denaturalise or self-demystify and to question its underlying theory and method (1969:176).

Althusser's writings on the ideological sphere diverge from Mao's on several points, but retain substantial similarities overall. Where Althusser diverges most with Mao is over theoretical practice, which Althusser categorises separately from ideological practice. Here as elsewhere, Althusser goes out of his way to insulate theoretical practice from directly political issues, in this case by keeping ideology and its false beliefs at arm's length. The division between theoretical and ideological practice both legitimates propagandistic forms of popularisation and insulates theory from them, while simultaneously divesting it of any need to pursue organicity or popular support. This is shown in the following passage: "Of course, some of these [Hegelian] categories might well be invoked in an ideological context... or in a general exposition intended to illustrate the meaning of given results; as long as it is on this level of ideological struggle, or of opposition and illustration, these categories can be used with very real results in ideological practice (struggle) and in the general exposition of a conception. But this last 'exposition'... must remain within the zone sanctioned by theoretical practice - for in itself it does not constitute a true theoretical practice, producing new knowledges" (1969:199; on ideological practice as not producing knowledge, cf. 1969:202).

Other formulae, such as the "last instance", perform the same insulating role in relation to theoretical practice, distancing Althusser from what is "simply the case" (1984:67-8). Part of the reason for such insulations is probably psychological, an attempt by Althusser to avoid submission to the communist orthodoxy he endorses. Another part, however, is the importance he attaches to theory and philosophy, which he sees as directly effective in relation to popular beliefs. Althusser thinks that it is "quite correct" that philosophy be given an "important place", since the working class needs it (1984:67). Althusser supports this view with the authority of Mao as well as Engels, Gramsci and Lenin - surprisingly, since Mao sees philosophy primarily in functional terms. Althusser's claim that philosophy has direct political effects is not backed in relation to mass beliefs, but this is probably because the claim involves a substitutionist conception of politics. All the political effects Althusser believes philosophy has are Party-based (i.e. it affects situational analyses and their framing, mass lines and mass work) (1984:91-2), supporting this reading. When Althusser says that "to do philosophy" is "to do politics in the field of theory" (1984:67), therefore, he seems to mean that it is to 'do' political substitutionism in the field of theory.

As regards the basis for commonsensical claims in Althusser's own theory, Althusser admits what Mao seems to implicitly believe: that the common sense he orients to is the common sense of a limited in-group of revolutionaries, rather than mass beliefs. Having a shared basis in experiences is very important for Althusser, but the experiences he invokes are those of the Communist Parties alone, which he believes that all communists should share (1984:115-16). These are used as the basis for claims of the "everyone knows" type. In some cases, Althusser makes this link explicit: what Marxism-Leninism argues, either "everyone knows" within Communist Parties, or everyone should know (1984:90, 92), and in another case, Althusser claims that, within the Party, "no-one can deny" one of his beliefs (1984:116). In a further case, he states that "no one (at least, no revolutionary Marxist) can fail to see..." (1984:123; in this case, about humanism aiding economism, his claim is not empirically valid, unless - as may be the case - it is an anathematisation rather than an empirical claim). In other cases, Althusser simply states the appeals to common sense directly, but these are probably also appeals to the communist in-group's collective beliefs. Claims of this kind include "We are all agreed..." (1984:172), "as everyone must know very well" (1984:175), and claims that all revolutionaries share Althusser's views and that everyone should be able to see what he sees (1984:82; 1979:113). For instance, "Everyone" agrees on the need to defend science from ideology (1979:172). Althusser also describes classical Marxist theory as "official" (1969:108) and uses the terms "accepted" and "traditional" (1979:33-4) in relation to Communist Party orthodoxy, which he does not object to being seen as defending. Where Mao makes substitutionist claims to represent the common sense of the people, Althusser admits to an orientation which is, however, quite similar to Mao's in practice: to the internal culture of the communist movement. Althusser's orientation to the sphere-specific "common sense" of particular groups is also suggested by his ambivalent but predominantly positive attitude to the so-called "spontaneous philosophy of the scientists".

There is considerable similarity between Mao and Althusser on the issue of common sense. Like Mao, Althusser makes claims on the basis of a "common sense"; but, as in Mao, this is primarily not mass belief but communist doctrine. Like Mao, Althusser wants to believe that this is somehow linked to the deepest instincts of the working class. Where Althusser differs from Mao is in his willingness to criticise popular beliefs. Even this, however, is phrased in a vocabulary compatible with Mao's, focussing on the supposed dominance of ruling strata through mystified beliefs the class character of which is alien to the people who hold them. Neither Althusser nor Mao has much time for the view that the 'people' might have bad ideas (by whatever standard) on a widespread or deep-rooted level and which are fundamental to the present character of the 'people' themselves. This does not, however, stop both of them ultimately ignoring mass beliefs except when it serves their purposes not to, and concentrating instead on substitutionist projects - albeit in relation to two different substituting groups.

Sartre's relation to common sense is plural and somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, he believes in a form of intuitive thought which results directly from practice. The basis for a single working class, even if divided, rests for Sartre on appeals to "Everyone's experience" against what "no one would dream of arguing" (1976:251). Sartre sees 'intuitive' (common sense) certainty as dialectical, contrasting favourably with systematism (1976:61-2). This prior, dialectical common (or good) sense is in Sartre the basis for the concept of alienation (1976:64): there is a basically sound intuitive conception which is directly linked to praxis and essential being, which is destroyed or displaced by false forms of being. This is demonstrated by a (substitution-prone) description of what one actually sees when one looks at a line or circle (1976:62-3) which, contrary to Sartre's claims, has very little to do with anything which goes on in common sense. Sartre therefore assumes common sense to have a complexity it does not have. Sartre's conception of common sense also includes that dialectical rationality is directly present in praxis which is conscious of itself, an underlying self-knowledge which is not necessarily expressible in words (1976:92-3). On the basis of this conception of common sense, Sartre makes appeals of the kind that "everyone" either does or can understand views such as that machines create 'men' (1976:159).

Sartre seems to see common sense as originating in experience: materiality creates social relations which then become their own idea and place limits on thought (1976:240-1). For Sartre, "everything" is revealed in "simple everyday praxis" (1976:160). This means that, whatever its positive value in Sartre's theory, common sense is affected by the same problems of alterity as, for instance, work. For Sartre, words are "genuine tools of thought" expressing practical activity and active passivity alike, and acting as "replacements for things", "as is only proper"; language is the collective in alterity as a field of serial otherness (1976:304-5).

Like Althusser, Sartre draws a distinction between bourgeois and proletarian (organic) ideologies, which have different characteristics. Bourgeois ideology is seen in manipulative terms. The intellectual, for instance, face "an ideology that is presented to him in the form of confused and elusive thoughts and 'affective' or 'vital' values, so called to magnify their fundamentally irrational character" (1974:250). The ideas of subaltern strata, in contrast, are characterised by an "objective intelligence" which is a product of their point of view and "the one and only radical perspective" on society, even though it is sometimes obscured by bourgeois ideology, "resigned dignity or reformism". Subalterns have a bottom-up "popular mode of thought" which sees society from the lowest and easiest to radicalise levels. They are, and apparently know they are, the victims of the ruling class, which is like a giant statue crashing down onto society: "there is no mutual recognition, courtesy or non-violence... but a panorama of violence endured, labour alienated and elementary needs denied". In order to "see himself as he really is, from below" (which apparently leads to a self-identification as a burden and indirect exploiter), an intellectual has to reject her/his class conditioning and adopt the subalterns' "simple and radical perspective" (1974:256). Sartre therefore believes that intellectuals should adopt mass common/good sense on some level (cf. also 1974:257). Although Sartre also sees intellectuals as having an educative or persuading role (in the full sense of the terms, as opposed to Mao's disciplinary usage of them), this submission to popular beliefs involves many of the same problems as Mao and Althusser's views, such as whether empirically-existing common sense usually takes this radical form, and on what basis one selects 'good' popular beliefs from 'bad'. However, this is not the same as Mao's conception; Sartre is far more concerned about the actual beliefs of subalterns than are Mao and Althusser. (Sartre's uncritical attitude to common sense does, however, lead him to adopt some dubious common sense beliefs; he seems, for instance, to naturalise men's dominance over women in sex and sexuality [1976:233-4]).

This supportive (but not entirely uncritical) attitude to some aspects of common sense is offset by a critical outlook on other aspects. For instance, Sartre claims that "our most elementary patterns of behaviour relate to external collectives as if they were organisms", whereas his own theory rejects this kind of organicism (1976:346, 348). "Obviousness" is a construct of seriality occurring at the moment of the inversion of praxis into practico-inert activity (1976:339). Sartre rejects the belief that learning the language of the masses changes the form of universal knowledge (i.e. a Maoist belief), because he sees the problem of culture as being more complex than this (1974:294). In his discussion of racism and colonialism, Sartre speaks of ideas-in-exis, defining a supposed common interest in stone-like terms via an infinite seriality, with a shared stupidity where the stupidity of each rests on the stupidity of the others, and where the ideas themselves are "unthinkable", operating as categorical imperatives but trapped forever in alterity, "imitated by everyone but never adopted by anyone" (1974:300-1, 303, 310-11). Furthermore, he believes that common sense renders unthinkable a number of his favourite concepts, including man, an abstraction which "never occurs in concrete intuition" (1976:101), and necessity and other-being, which cannot be given in intuition (1976:94, 337), as well as the possibility of imagining a society without scarcity, something which is unimaginable but not logically inconceivable (1976:123). He also rejects naturalisation of social forms: social forms are never entirely natural (1976:120).

To some extent, Sartre tries to resolve this problem through a conception of dual consciousness. Sometimes, he distinguishes intuition from awareness of being-in-alterity which is precisely knowable but inaccessible to intuition (1976:338). Sometimes he returns to the model of pre- and post-alienation being; minus alienation, doing and understanding are indissolubly linked (1976:93; this involves a number of problems, such as the role of language in understanding if doing is directly knowable). Sometimes he treats it in terms which have been paraphrased as true and false consciousness (Poster 1979:43), especially in relation to everyday relations of reciprocity. At other times, he simply sees it as contradictory on many levels (1976:290).

Sartre therefore sees his role partly as involving the elaboration of some aspects of present popular beliefs to the exclusion of others. In one case, for instance, he states that "we all feel this language is correct, but also realise that we cannot explain or justify this feeling" (1976:160). Sartre's project is to explain and justify some such feelings. His project is not simply a subordination to such beliefs, however. The creation of "a revolutionary ‚lan", he states, "requries a long and patient labour in the construction of consciousness", and in this respect, winning a victory for socialism is harder than ever (1974:125).

Sartre also places some of the issues which might be considered questions of common sense into other parts of his theory. For instance, the groups/seriality distinction quite closely parallels Gramsci's common sense/good sense distinction (which also, incidentally, contains hints that group action tends to be based on good sense whereas isolated, "serial" beliefs are more likely to be common sense). This places the issues in spheres which are not present in Mao's theory and which are very limited in Althusser's.

Sartre's conception of common sense contains some of the same contradictions as Mao's and Althusser's, but Sartre handles them in entirely different ways. On the whole, and with a few exceptions, he avoids the temptation to label all beliefs he disagrees with as enemy ideology imposed mechanically, opting instead for more complex analyses based on seriality, alterity and the practico-inert. He also largely avoids constructing a communist in-group substitute common sense on which to base appeals, either explicitly (as in Althusser) or implicitly (as in Mao). Rather, his model tends more towards a selective and pedagogical approach, albeit with an untenably sharp distinction between the 'good' and 'bad' parts resting on a dubious assumption of an underlying, pre-alienation Reason which is entirely enlightened, transparent and at one with itself and the world. This gives Sartre's theory a subtlety on this point which the more strongly class-determined theories of Mao and Althusser, which rest strongly on an assumption of the automatic class-being of some ideas, lack. It also means that there is more basis for contrast than comparison between Sartre and the other thinkers on this point.


The central tenet of Mao's ethical model is a strong moral asceticism which sees endurance, hardship and having to earn what one has as an ethical good, and which opposes on principle everything from the pursuit of pleasure and personal goals to the lack of the correct submissive 'spirit'. Mao makes very widespread use of this conception, which is by no means limited to issues of scarcity. At times, Mao presents his conception in terms of scarcity: one has to "do without... for the time being" what "conditions" do not allow (1975:2:408; cf. 1968:127). However, on the whole the issue of scarcity is irrelevant in forming this concept, for several reasons. Mao does not recognise resource scarcity as a lasting problem (see above on population growth), and places no value on nature or natural resources; however, his asceticism extends indefinitely into the future. Furthermore, his asceticism is not related to immediate need, but to work, and Mao accepts income inequality provided it is based on work differentials. This suggests that his asceticism is ethical in the full sense, and not a practical response to conditions of scarcity. Asceticism is linked to and supports another central ethical orientation in Mao's thought, towards submission and self-negation.

This asceticism occurs throughout Mao's work, in relation to all sections of the population, including Party cadres. Mao's concept of "practicing economy" and "combatting waste" (which only deals with individual waste, not the social-scale waste of planting fields to impress inspectors, leaving seeds to rot because one is too bust with the Three Antis Campaign, or melting one's metal objects to produce non-reusable steel to meet the demands of a steel production campaign aimed to produce more metal objects) involves what amounts to a managerial conception of efficiency and glorifies "hard work and thrift" (1968:127-9). He also sees "hard work without remuneration" as a virtue (1975:2:198), and states, in an ethical imperative disguised as a statement of fact, that "selfishness, slacking, corruption, seeking the limelight, and so on, are most contemptible, while selflessness, working with all one's energy, whole-hearted devotion to public duty, and quiet hard work will command respect" (1975:2:198). The ideal cadre is entirely submissive and ascetic: "competent in work, full of the spirit of self-sacrifice,... steadfast in the midst of difficulties and loyal and devoted in serving the nation, the class and the party... free from selfishness, from individualistic heroism, ostentation, sloth, passivity and sectarian arrogance, and they must be selfless national and class heroes; such are the qualities and the style of work demanded by the members, cadres and leaders of our party" and the spiritual legacy of dead cadres, and "Beyond any doubt, we ought to acquire these qualities, do still better in remoulding ourselves and raise ourselves to a higher revolutionary level" (1975:1:291). Mao appears to mean selflessness almost literally; the self vanishes in Mao's ethical theory almost entirely, leaving the ethical object as a string of external entities conceived as ethically superior to their members. This ethics, furthermore, is so strongly held by Mao as to be beyond all doubt to him, as well as (like so many of his views) being supposedly the will of everyone (at least within the party).

Mao continues in this vein in most of his writings on the role of cadres, a role which, although it involves substituting for the masses, affords no value to the people who hold it. The role of cadres is to be "oxen" for the masses, "bending their backs to the task until their dying day" (1975:3:96). The virtues Mao demands, for both cadres and others, include being "self-sacrificing" and "resolute" (1975:1:274), and he constantly praises enduring hardship as a virtue (eg. 1975:3:76). The Party is supposed to be constantly altered through purges and recruitment on a utilitarian basis, to keep it "healthy" by removing "inferior" and "degenerated" leaders. The main criteria distinguishing the "healthy" from the "degenerated" and "inferior" are "absolute devotion to the cause, contact with the masses, ability independently to find one's bearings and observance of discipline" (1975:3:118), the first and fourth of which are directly self-denying, and the third of which involves an ethic of rugged individualism minus the individualism, entirely compatible with an ascetic work-ethic. Cadres' histories should, urges Mao, be examined to ensure that they fit these criteria. Elsewhere, Mao lists "discipline" and readiness to "work hard" as the central factors, aside from politics, in selecting cadres (1975:2:199), and demands that an individual's admission to the Party be made dependent on their being able to endure hardship (1975:2:302). Mao's ascetic ethics also express themselves in a number of metaphors and similes invoking solidity, such as the party being "steady" whereas opponents "waver", and the party being "as solid as steel" (1975:2:296). The latter reinforces the almost thing-like self-ideal Mao promotes. Mao's ethics celebrates the condition which Sartre (who opposes it) calls exis: the embracing and adaptation to scarcity and hardship.

Mao's asceticism affects other parts of his theory. He wishes to use standards for resource distribution which are surprisingly similar to those of harshly capitalist thinkers such as Herbert Spencer: absolute equality is "a mere illusion of peasants and small proprietors", and Mao's alternative is "to each according to his work", plus the productivist addition of "meeting the needs of the work" (1975:1:111). In part, this appears to result from a conversion of the living standards of workers and peasants in capitalism/colonialism/feudalism from a basis for condemning these systems to a positive value, the core of the revolutionary character of these classes. This is implied by Mao's use of "living conditions" and "outlook" as well as "origin" when specifying people's class (1975:2:322).

Mao's asceticism expresses itself in the condemnation of an astounding range of eveyday beliefs and acts. On one occasion, virtually every form of peasant resistance and a number of other practices besides are lumped together under the label 'liberalism'. "Liberalism" is a bad thing because it causes "a decadent, philistine attitude" and causes "political degeneration" (1975:2:31; the very use of the concept of decadence implies that an ascetic ethics is at work). The kind of things Mao wants to eliminate on the basis of this anathema include refusals to politicise everyday relationships to maintain friendships or peace, criticising in private instead of in public (which is "against the principles of collective life" - which presumably include that all life should be wholly collectivised), to "demand special consideration" or "reject... discipline" or favour one's own opinions over others' (the first of which rules out any addressing of questions of personal vulnerability or need beyond a false, imposed assumption of human homogeneity), to enter into personal disputes, to fail to rebut or report a false view, to fail to propagandise, to work "without a definite plan or direction" or "muddle along" (which rules out most non-bureaucratic forms of work), to be soft on one's own opinions or to take pride in one's achievements (1975:2:31-2). Mao therefore believes that every social relation should take a homogeneous, bureaucratic form; that all other social relations are harmful and should be eliminated; that needs, especially unusual needs, are ethically unimportant; that psychological and personal issues do not have a real, or at least an ethical, existence; and that a whole variety of coping strategies and forms of petty resistance listed by authors such as Scott (1976, 1977) and Guha (1983) as typical of peasant life, such as gossip, rumours, keeping silent around members of dominant groups, and informally working to rule, should be entirely eliminated.

And Mao's words on this subject are not tentative or hesitant: "Liberalism is extremely harmful in a revolutionary collective. It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension. It robs the revolutionary ranks of compact organisation and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organisations from the masses which the Party leads. It is an extremely bad tendency. Liberalism stems from petty-bourgeois selfishness... People who are liberals... approve of Marxism but are not prepared to practise it or practise it in full... they talk Marxism but practise liberalism; they apply Marxism to others but liberalism to themselves... Liberalism is a manifestation of opportunism and conflicts fundamentally with Marxism. It is negative and objectively has the effect of helping the enemy; that is why the enemy welcomes its preservation in our midst. Such being its nature, there should be no place for it in the ranks of the revolution" (1976:32-3). This passage shows the coming-together of a number of Mao's favourite conceptions and their partial decontestation. Anathematisation is used both in the concept of liberalism itself (which is apparently a derivative of the idea of liberal treatment, and has little in common with political-philosophical liberalism), and in the descriptions of it. Labels are used which express self/other asymmetry ("opportunism" as opposed to validly taking opportunities), and the people/enemy dichotomy is invoked. Certain beliefs are also being naturalised in the passage, otherwise the use of terms like 'rob' in relation to 'discipline' would be unlikely to occur. Ethically, however, the most important points here are the way in which Mao defines a 'Marxist' spirit in terms of strictness and harshness in contrast to 'selfishness', tolerance and indulgence, and that his entire ethical system revolves around ethical goods defined, not in terms of actual people, nor actually-existing non-human entities, but in a utilitarian or instrumental framework directed solely at goals conceived as outside the self but not present in the other (who is enemy), in the interests of abstractions such as the struggle, unity and so on. Mao is also assuming that all problems result from intentional, or at least ideational and behavioural, deviations rather than causing them. It is more likely in practice, for instance, that 'liberalism' expresses rather than causing mass alienation, disunity and unwillingness to carry out policies - a possibility ruled out by Mao's dogma that the party always expresses mass wishes. He also assumes that the enemy is encouraging 'liberalism' on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, thereby confirming the location of ethics within the schematic parts of his theory.

This tirade against everyday petty resistance and nonconformism is not isolated in Mao's work. Mao also attacks on principle all "pleasure-seeking" where people want to enjoy themselves rather then work (1975:1:113), suggesting that Mao either opposes all pleasure on principle or opposes all pleasure which is not directly 'earned'. On another occasion, faced with what he labels "arrogance", he demands, "We must keep to our style of plain living and hard work", and produces a list of imperatives which include banning celebrations of leaders' birthdays and demanding that effort never be slackened (1975:4:379-80). In another case, linked to Mao's conception of responsibility as well as his asceticism, he harshly criticises Party journalists for misprints and the like, demanding that the issue be taken extremely seriously. "When misprints appear, we should assemble the entire staff of the paper to discuss nothing but this matter, and tell them clearly what the mistakes are, explain why they occur and how they can be got rid of and ask everyone to give the matter serious attention - after three or five times, this should overcome the mistakes" (1975:4:242). The adoption of complete submission to and unity with one's work means that even such minor mistakes are a major issue deserving great time and resources from Mao's perspective.

To the extent that the Cultural Revolution represented a distinct conception of the world, it was the conception contained in Mao's ascetic morality. Targeting haircuts, dress and the like and attacking most expressions of anything but an ascetic culture (whether these are 'high' or 'low'), the revolution was, according to a quote from a Maoist "hero" emphasised by Deutscher, based on the principle of "high political standards and low living standards" (Deutscher 1984:215). Deutscher, however, sees an economic and geopolitical issue within this: the Chinese regime, faced with isolation and economic underdevelopment, plunging into isolationism and nationalism to avoid the influence of other cultures and to attempt to settle down permanently on the basis of scarcity and 'war communism' (1984:212-17). It is of course possible that such a motive is present but entirely hidden by propaganda; but I have found no evidence of such a basis in Mao's writings. Economic and geopolitical difficulties may have been the proximal causes of the timing of the Cultural Revolution, but the ethical conception on which it is based runs through Mao's thought from much earlier, suggesting a deeper basis in the Maoist 'conception of the world' (which is not, of course, limited to Mao personally). Also, notwithstanding its apparently revolutionary methods, this ascetic ethic has little in common with the popular, particularly youth, dissatisfaction and subcultures which motivated the French, Czech and other uprisings of 1968 and the surrounding years (though it may have channelled the Chinese version of this dissatisfaction). Even before the revolution, Mao sees being disobedient, dissident or disruptive as a bad thing (1975:2:359) - not surprisingly, given his ascetic and submission-based ethics.

Mao's hostility towards certain classes (whether sociological or political in definition) also rests more on his asceticism than on any fundamental dislike of inequality or exploitation. Mao's attacks on the bourgeoisie and other wealthy strata, for instance, are more concerned about their "economic and political flabbiness" (1975:2:289), "selfish" class interests (1975:2:290; the people's interests, although defined solely by the people's wishes, are presumably not selfish for Mao), its "frivolous, dissipated and gluttonous" nature (1975:1:267), the luxuriousness of their lifestyles (1975:2:4141) and the "decadent" character of their statesmen (1975:3:87) than with issues of inequality, exploitation, alienation, exclusion or the needs of workers and peasants. Opponents are similarly condemned for being "lazy-minded" (1975:3:62), based on the same work-oriented ascetic outlook, and Mao has nothing but contempt for those groups who were most impoverished in the pre-revolutionary system, such as the unemployed and vagrants. Although he sees them as forced into illegality, implying that they are victims of society rather than personally degenerate, he makes a string of statements suggesting the latter viewpoint: these strata "lack constructive qualities", "are given to destruction rather than construction", produce "roving-rebel and anarchist ideology" and should be remoulded and guarded against (1975:2:325-6). Mao's version of the revolutionary character of the working class therefore seems to have less to do with its disempowered status than with its supposed acceptance of its subordinate position and the conditions imposed on it. The proletarian spirit is for Mao an ascetic spirit which submits entirely to the demands of the 'whole' and the 'struggle'.

Mao's model also contains what could be termed a cult of work or an Arbeit macht frei conception. He naturalises the relationship between work and receipt of goods and services just as strongly as any pro-capitalist ideologue. Take for instance Mao's statement that solving the problem of food shortages is the same as the problem of unemployment (1975:4:453). This ignores the question of direct production of resources by concentrating on relations of exchange, in a manner similar to mainstream economists. It also naturalises the assumption that income and therefore resources such as food are inextricably linked to work. Thus, Mao's 'solution' to the problem of unemployment is based on giving KMT soldiers and reactionaries who "show repentance" a "chance to earn their living", provided they "make themselves useful" (1975:4:453-4). The very phrase "earn their living" suggests a naturalisation of the work/income relation, while the qualifier suggests that Mao believes that existence should have to be earned through usefulness. It is no wonder some Spencer specialists believe that his theories may have influenced Mao. Mao does not even seem to have a commitment to full employment or a right to work (although in practice, Maoism, like most Stalinist systems, tended to generate full employment through its expansive bureaucratic model of development). To receive a job, one should not only have to be 'useful' and willing to work; every job also demands competence (1975:1:187). And the most Mao is prepared to offer to his critics is a chance to work (1968:109). Enemies lose even this - although, if they are not executed, the chances are that they will end up working anyway, in less voluntary circumstances. Mao also uses the model of earning through suffering beyond the direct question of work when he speaks of paying for experiences with blood (1975:2:292). In this case, there is a parallel with flagellant cults and the like: truth is earned mystically through suffering.

The reason for this is that Mao also supports an extensive system of punishment and 're-education' through labour which has produced what is often called the 'bamboo gulag' of labour camps. In an expression echoing the formulations of the originators of the prison (see Foucault 1977), Mao expresses his support for the idea of "the reform of criminals through labour" (1968:99). It is not 'only' criminals who are subject to this standard disciplinary conception; party leaders who show arrogance are supposed to be sent back into productive work (1968:128-9), capitalists should remould themselves through work (1968:107), intellectuals are pressured or coerced into doing manual labour, and at one point Mao even states that everyone needs "remoulding" (1968:106). This model creates a closed discursive universe on this subject: those who are good already have a desire to work; those who do not should be forced to work instead. The justice, desirability and educative value of work is so far beyond challenge in Mao's discursive universe that it can be imposed without the slightest hesitation.

Fitting in quite neatly with Mao's ethical asceticism is a particularly strong version of the concept of responsibility. Mao stresses the possibility and desirability of setting an example to others (1975:2:197), and this essentially disciplinary distortion of the idea of propaganda-by-deed is a central part of his conception of the role of the party. Mao believes that both collective leadership and personal responsibility are fundamentally important in the party (1975:4:268). He also applies the concept of responsibility in spheres where it is often not extensively used. Writing, for instance, is supposed to be forever constrained by responsibility. Mao specifically states this in his polemic against stereotyped, offhanded, off-the-point and trivial writing, against which he makes a "call to arms" on the basis that it is "apt to stifle" the "revolutionary spirit" (1975:3:62-3). Stereotped writing is opposed because "it is irresponsible and harms people wherever it appears"; Mao also refers to an "insufficient sense of responsibility" a few lines later, and ends with a call to correct "this weak sense of responsibility" (1975:3:62). The basis for these demands for responsibility is an extensive but, given Mao's assumptions, entirely coherent extension of Mill's corn-dealer principle: beliefs projected beyond the individual with the potential to influence others are bound with rings of iron to a duty not to harm, however indirectly. Notwithstanding Liu's claims that Mao represents an 'alternative' modernity, he here quite clearly parallels the silencing seriousness so typical of the worst aspects of western modernity (see Marcuse 1967:68). Mao's concept of responsibility is also expressed indirectly, as for instance in his punitive attitude to opponents (1975:4:358). Probably the basis for Mao's claims that executions and the like are necessary is actually a desire to establish through acts the universality of his model of responsibility.

In case one might be tempted to think that such a strong concept of responsibility means that someone who is incapable of an act should not attempt it, Mao also makes statements to demonstrate how homogeneously his conception is applied, and how little room for human error, failure, or incapacity it contains. For Mao, believing that one is incapable of a task is a personal flaw, resulting from inadequate understanding of a task which itself results solely from a lack of experience. If one gains experience, provided that one is open-minded (presumably within the confines of Party orthodoxy, however) and avoids the flaws of superficiality, one-sidedness and subjectivity, one can learn directly to do any job "with much more courage" (1968:11). Continued failure is presumably evidence, not of incapacity at or unsuitedness towards a task, but solely of deviations and personality flaws such as subjectivism and a lack of courage. Therefore, people can find themselves expected, regardless of their will, to perform tasks they may well know they are incapable of, and held responsible on the basis of a harsh conception of responsibility should they fail to perform them effectively. Whether conscious or not, there therefore seems to be a constant process in Mao of judging people's worthiness or unworthiness from the standpoint of a homogenous model of what everyone should think or be capable of. Those judged unworthy unwittingly find themselves classified among the enemies of the revolution and subject to elimination, punishment and re-education. If, furthermore, one does succeed in a task, one deserves no praise; one has, after all, only fulfilled one's duty. If one nearly succeeds, one has not even done this, and one's mistakes must be rectified. All ethics are subsumed under this concept of duty, and there is no concept either of individual differences or of superorogatory acts.

What is the object of the responsibility Mao sees as so important? Sometimes, he links the issue to the question of nationalism. For instance, the need for a "spirit of responsibility" is seen as essentially derivative from national problems (1975:2:339), and national wars are treated as producing "inescapable duty" (1975:2:196). Most often, it is referred back to Mao's desire that people fuse entirely into a collective totality, a desire which is also an important part of Mao's ethical outlook. Mao wants complete submission to "the interests of the whole" so strongly that anything else is "impermissible"; "we must do away with all manifestations of disunity" (1975:3:44). When the interests of this mythical whole (which comes close to what Gramsci [1971:187] terms a "phantasmagorical" conception of society) come into conflict with the interests of the 'parts', it is the 'part', including particular people, which is sacrificed for the good of the 'whole' (1975:1:221). For Mao, "the part is subordinate to the whole" (1975:1:183), and it is a virtue to subordinate personal interests to party and mass interests at all times (1975:2:198). One should submit wholly to the supposed collective good. "At no time and in no circumstances should a Communist place his personal interests first; he should subordinate them to the interests of the nation and of the masses" (1975:2:198). "A Communist... should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests of the revolution as his very life and subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution... he should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about any private person, and more concerned about others than about himself. Only thus can he be considered a Communist" (1975:2:33). In this case, the abstraction of the collective drifts further from actual people, transmuting into "interests of the revolution", while the "masses" become an abstract concept separate from the people who make up a mass. This may be the basis for Mao's schematic and substitutionist treatment of the "masses", "people" and social class. In practice, incidentally, asceticism may well encourage substitutionism in several ways. Those best able to present their personal goals as the common good by using the schematic language of party orthodoxy will tend to prevail, as will those best able to hide supposed personality flaws and consumption through invisibility and patronage. In practice, Mao's kind of 'collective life' is likely to replace all social relations with power-relations in a single power-structure.

Mao's ethic of abasement before the collective also occurs in the form of criticism and anathema. For instance, various sectional interests are denounced as "selfish", against the interests of the "whole" and against "the spirit of communism" (1975:3:46), while one of the biggest ethical no-no's for Mao is putting one's self before the party (1975:3:44). Mao's entire moral theory rests on the principle of "moral integrity above vulgar interests (1975:2:338), which is largely contradictory with his model of action as principally interest-based (eg. instrumentalist). The negation of the self goes to enormous lengths in Mao. Everything whatsoever must start from the 'masses' (which in practice means from party schemas about what the masses want and need), and "not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned" (1975:3:186). Even altruistic motives are beyond the pale for Mao, since they do not embody a total submission to the collective. The only occasion when Mao admits that people may have important needs deserving of attention is in relation to "care" for cadres in times of illness, poverty, and domestic or other troubles (1975:2:203).

Unsurprisingly given his advocacy of submission to the collective, Mao also celebrates unity as a moral virtue (eg. 1975:4:269). Mao treats this issue as almost being above the question of what unity is about or around. It is treated as a kind of good in its own right. The model of 'unity-criticism-unity' in intra-party debate, for instance, explicitly involves the claim that unity should be the goal and endpoint of all debate. It suggests that unity is the only valid reason for debate and also a limit which debate must not overstep. For Mao, the worst 'crimes' seem to be those which produce disunity in the party (see eg. 1975:3:51). This unity is mostly a unity of schematism, probably because of Mao's assumptions of a direct experiential link between people and 'reality'. For instance, Mao assumes that unity will be achieved provided that people have a shared aim (1975:3:79). Unity in Mao (as used in formulae such as 'unity of theory and practice' [eg. 1975:3:21], 'unity of intent and effect' [1975:3:88], 'unity of politics and art' [1975:3:89-90] and so on) also implies homogeneity, indistinguishability and a relation of dominance of one of the united aspects over the other (eg. theory serves practice, intellectuals in unity with the masses serve the masses, art incorporates prior political criteria, etc.). Unity is a homogeneity involving a "good order" and marching in step, and different people/elements in a unity, such as local and outside cadres, are supposed to "become as one" (1975:3:46). Unity involves the creation of a collective self negating the individual self, through ideological orthodoxy, 'discipline' in action and the subordination of some to others.

Mao's ethics also includes one of the most infamous elements of a totalitarian theory: a cult of purity. The party is supposed to be pure (1975:4:270-1), and "impurities" should be purged from it, including impure class elements (i.e. people of landlord or rich peasant origin), impure ideology and an impure ('bureaucratic') style of work (1975:4:270). Subjectivism is attacked as a "manifestation of impurity in Party spirit" (1975:3:21), and Mao also wants "purity" in the army (1975:4:215). There are also several other moral orientations in Mao which occur on an occasional basis: "maturity" is also used to describe the party as virtuous (1975:4:270-1); the concept of morality is used interchangeably with the concept of morale (1975:4:458); and Mao also makes a virtue of ruthlessness (1975:2:301).

Mao's ethical theory is also heavily affected by his fusion of ethics with success, correctness, truth and so on (see above). For instance, the ethical imperative "everyone must exert himself" is linked mechanically to the likelihood of success (1975:2:415), and if the army "has become united as one man" and "fearless of sacrifice", it also becomes "invincible" (1975:4:215). In these cases, Mao is positing an almost mystical process whereby ethical purity delivers everything. It is probable that this claim underlies many of Mao's other ethical statements (for instance, about 'liberalism' serving the enemy) and that it is a major reason for the thing-like mode of being promoted by Mao's ethics, since the conflation also extends to reflecting reality. To know matter directly, Sartre claims (see above), people would have to be gods or stones; Mao's theory of ethics makes them both at once.

Mao's ethical theory is also heavily affected by his totalitarian belief that his theory covers the whole of what exists. The absence of his particular ethical conception results according to Mao in a complete ethical void, and he makes enormous existential claims on this basis. "Not to have a correct point of view is like having no soul", for instance (1968:109), and those who do not work closely with the masses "lead empty lives" (1975:3:72). He also contrasts "honest work" to "empty fame" (1975:2:404).

Mao also sometimes attaches a positive moral value to violence. War, for instance, is
"the highest form of struggle" where people achieve "victory for themselves" (1975:1:190). Sartre's reading of Maoism, however, as seeing any violence by the working class as profoundly moral is unfounded. Mao's model of moral violence is essentially a disciplinary model. For instance, while Mao has no objection to killings and beatings on grounds of humaneness, he objects to indiscriminate beatings and killings for reasons of 'order' and effectiveness (1975:4:215). It is also worth noting that Mao's version of the collective good contains strong overtones of productivism, with production figures being used, for instance, to 'prove' the existence of progress (1968:93). Furthermore, his conception of the derivation of correct views also has moral overtones, as in the expression "proper and necessary conclusions" (1975:3:23).

Althusser very rarely discusses ethical issues, even indirectly, providing little material for comparison with Mao. Where he speaks of or hints at such issues, however, his conception is very close to Mao's. Althusser believes strongly in "rigour", and treats issues such as having a rigorous conception of Marxist concepts (in contrast to others' "phantoms") with a quasi-moral zeal (eg. 1969:116). His celebration of the Party in the political sphere is based on similar ethical motives to Mao's: Althusser sees the party as valuable because of the place in it of "sufferings", "sacrifices" and "efforts" (1969:179). He also speaks of thinkers such as Galileo, Marx, Spinoza and Lenin "devoting their suffering, if not their lives" (1969:210), a concept of devotion with the same quasi-religious implications as Mao's formulations. Althusser also shares Mao's emphasis on responsibility, stressing the responsibility of leaders (1969:118), portraying his own approach as "responsible" and honest (1984:181), and denigrating his work as "no more than [a] duty" (1984:132). The negative aspect of this is Althusser's vehement hostility to theories of rights, freedom and humanism (eg. 1984:112-13). His critique of these beliefs is almost certainly compatible with Mao's theory and has striking similarities to Mao's attacks on 'liberal' and 'subjective' ideas. Althusser also shares Mao's propensity for using lifestyle arguments to discredit opponents (1984:113-14), even though he is unwilling to discuss his own lifestyle.

Here as elsewhere, however, Althusser's approach diffes from Mao's in the extensive autonomy it gives to the theoretical sphere. The various concepts of work, suffering and so on are sublimated into different forms which soften their usage in practice. For instance, Althusser's duty to work occurs in the context of his theoretical 'practice', and is linked to his conception of theory as a "labour of transformation" (1969:192; cf. 1969:183). Althusser's version of the glorification of force as a good thing (because it can bring things back to their real condition) also occurs in the context of theory (1969:183). And, while Althusser claims to be taking personal risks (1984:67), these risks are entirely those of advancing unpopular, unusual theses which could be wrong and/or could invoke a reaction from others. Although Althusser's ethic is essentially the same as Mao's, therefore, it is also impeded and reduced in significance, both by a tendency not to give it theoretical prominence (hence the low number of references to it), and by a tendency to soften it by applying it mainly to theory as a distinct sphere. In many ways, this is an extension of the process of insulation from his own orthodoxy which occurs throughout Althusser's work. Althusser's ethics continue, nevertheless, to bind him to this orthodoxy, of which the murder of his wife for being a revisionist was almost certainly an expression. Althusser shares absolutely Mao's view that anything beyond orthodoxy is valueless; he is not simply playing at orthodoxy to win support (as is also shown by his breaks from the main beliefs of the French Communist Party of his day). The main difference is that, whereas Mao fuses entirely with this orthodoxy (probably because he partly invents it), Althusser insulates his own work and life from it.

Sartre's ethics, which by the period in question are mainly implicit rather than explicit, are more complex than the other thinkers'. They do share some similarities, although often, these involve different underlying conceptions. For instance, Sartre does not place a positive ethical value on work in its present sense. But he does place a value on praxis and activity, which can be seen as a similar conception. Sartre rejects the concept of ethical value on the grounds that it is rooted in the contradiction between praxis and exigency, with values posing not as praxis laying down its own laws, but as isolation situated at infinity, and with praxis appearing as the "other within immanence", revealing itself only to return to the future as inertia, thereby alienating praxis and returning to the practico-inert (1976:237-8). Overcoming constricting structures requires the disappearance of values, revealing praxis and the domination of matter as "the sole ethical relation betwen people" (1976:248-9).

Values are also in Sartre's theory self-contradictory: "Every system of values rests on exploitation and oppression; every system of values effectively negates exploitation and oppression (even aristocratic systems... in their internal logic); every system of values confirms exploitation and oppression (even systems constructed by oppressed classes... in so far as they are systems); every system of values... contributes directly or indirectly to... allow this particular oppression and exploitation to be negated; every system of values, at the moment of its revolutionary efficacy, ceases to be a system, and values cease to be values", becoming instead "transcended significations" (1976:249). Freedom expresses itself initially in values but negates itself through them. Value in praxis poses "in the false guise of positive fullness which cannot be transcended" (1976:249), i.e. as a (bad) totality rather than a (good) totalisation. Marxism for Sartre is wrong in overemphasising specific theories in discussing values, and Sartre criticises the USSR for being moralist and positing values as absolutes. For Sartre, not even genuine values such as life should be treated as moral absolutes (1976:249). This discussion distinguishes Sartre from the entire Maoist and Althusserian ethical paradigms. Moral systems are multiple, not unitary, and moral values are wrong in terms of their general form according to Sartre. However, Sartre's alternative - to emphasise praxis as the development of its own law - reconnects him in an indirect way to Althusser and Mao's emphases on the moral value of risk and struggle.

There is, however, a fundamental difference in why these thinkers believe in work and struggle. For Mao and Althusser, this attachment is fundamentally life-denying; it is connected to their conversion of humans into thing-like, submissive objects. For Sartre, in contrast, it is life-affirming or life-reclaiming. Any action is better according to Sartre than "a mutism that might appear acceptance", unless it becomes an "alibi" (1974:116). The emphasis on praxis involves the rejection of forms of praxis which involve inertia (i.e. Mao's preferred types), including institutions (such as institutionalised Communist Parties), serial collectives and the practico-inert field. For Sartre, the main aim of politics is "to liquidate the practico-inert field" (1976:305), and even when Sartre supports repressive and coercive measures, this is to overcome conditions such as seriality (1976:290). This is also the basis for Sartre's tentative defence of terror, which, however, he also sees as the beginnings of a return to the practico-inert.

The life-affirming character of Sartre's theory is directly expressed in the following passage: "To experience oneself, to take risks, to discover oneself by discovering things, to change while changing the world: This is to live. What better is there? I would refuse to be a God if it were offered to me. Down to the simple fact of being permanently in danger, there is nothing that cannot be a source of enjoyment" (cited Simont 1992:208). Thus, Sartre's belief in work and risk is not based on an asceticism as such, or a denial of pleasure on principle, as in Mao. Rather, it is based on a celebration and affirmation of life. Existential ethics, which continue to be implicit in Sartre's conception, contain ascetic implications of sorts, but amid a celebration of life incompatible with full asceticism. If Sartre occasionally produces ascetic-sounding views which are compatible with those of Mao and Althusser, this nevertheless results from an underlying ethical conception which is entirely different, and any recognition between them on the basis of such similarities is ill-founded.

Sartre's analysis of terror analyses it as a moral phenomenon. This is an expression of a difference between Sartre and the other thinkers, especially Mao: whereas for Mao moral statements are always prescriptive, referring to the one true morality beyond which everything is undeniably immoral, for Sartre different social groups have different moral systems, and a belief which is wrong can nevertheless be moral in the context of a moral system with which Sartre disagrees. For instance, terror and repression as a bourgeois response to strikes and the like is "a moral as well as a physical reaction: it is justified punishment - or the revenge of the terrorised employers (which amounts to the same thing)" (1976:229). In this response, "values are imposed on the exis of disturbances, and as their punishment" (1976:229). The ambivalence of Sartre's attitude to enemies and the self becoming the thing (see above), furthermore, overshadows all his analyses of terror.

There are, however, some rather ascetic aspects to Sartre's thought, usually expressed in brief flashes. He is hostile to non-functional links between people which are not links in praxis, which he terms "vague interpenetrations" and links to "idealist sociology" (1976:390). He also sees little value in free distribution of goods to "those whom society would otherwise allow to die", since it scarcely improves their lot (1976:139), implying that anything short of the defeat of the practico-inert is valueless. Sartre also continues to use a strongly-held model of responsibility which overlaps somewhat with Mao's and Althusser's, but which again has a different basis. For Sartre, "in the end one is always responsible for what is made of one", even if all one can do about it is assume this responsibility (1974:34-5). The reason for this, however, is unrelated to the submissive collectivism of Mao's ethics. Rather, Sartre sees responsibility as re-creating freedom as a small margin allowing some choice about how one re-exteriorises interiorisations (i.e. what one does with beliefs and characteristics one has gained from outside one's self). The act of saying "I am a thief", for instance, is the first step to becoming something else (1974:365-6). Sartre's model of choice also tends to blame social exclusion on the excluded, conceiving it as a choice not to enter relationships (1976:104).

There is a decidedly repressive aspect to Sartre's theory. "It is evident that completely untrammelled initiatives can lead to a sort of madness. Because the free and anarchic development of the individual - not the social individual of the future, but the free practical organism of today - may not endanger his own reason, but can endanger a society" (1974:59). This repressive aspect is not based on collectivism as such, but on an aspect of Sartre's theory which, while not converging with Mao, creates almost limitless tolerance for suffering and 'imperfections' in the present: the orientation, not to people in the present, but to the creation of a Man in the future. For Sartre, people are not ends in themselves or for one another, but rather, are means to transform the world on behalf of the Other they will become; one should therefore treat both one's self and others in the present as means towards this end (1976:112). One can also support virtually any particular cause in the present on the basis that it helps bring about universalisation, even if the methods of this particularity in the present (such as bombings and guerrilla war) contradict the eventual goals one is pursuing, such as universal peace (1974:248-50). This conception of universalisation and totalisation as replacements for universality and totality is based on the positioning of Sartre's thought on ethics, which Simont detects also in Saint Genet: "Though ethics are impossible in the present state of reality, they are necessary as a horizon or regulatory idea", and one can only criticise Manicheanism in the light of the possibility of a future reconciliation of all 'men' (1992:197). This may increase Sartre's tolerance for totalitarianism and its effects, but it does not link him to Mao's philosophy as such. The harsh negation of both Self and Other in Mao for the supposed good of a phantasmagorical collective Self is a blockage preventing Maoism from developing as a universalisation in ways compatible with Sartre's thought. Teleology without prefiguration often contains the potential for totalitarianism, but there is a big difference between support for war to achieve peace through independence and support for a system which projects universal submission into the future.

One part of Sartre's ethics is the model of fusion represented by the 'fused group'. This is not, however, the submissive fusion into an inert totality or the complete submergence in a collective self which is found in Mao and Althusser. Rather, the self-in-fusion remains nevertheless a self, seeking its realisation through the fusion. Fusion is, furthermore, a totalisation rather than submersion in a totality. Indeed, Sartre is opposed to such totalities. Sartre sees the groups formed in the Cultural Revolution as fused groups, but he also sees Mao's cult of personality and the worship of his thoughts as completely contradicting such progressive aspects (1974:58-9). Relations in the fused group are for Sartre, in the words of Juliette Simont, "neither utilitarian selfishness nor moralism not 'altruism'" (1992:199). The fusion is therefore not a submission to a collective interest or collective self as in Mao; rather, it is a non-contradictory development of freedom for the Self. Sartre is against the totality, exis, inertia and moral imperativity which are such an important part of Mao's ethics.

Sartre's ethics is also marked by a degree of uncertainty. His goal is a transparent, non-alienated relation between 'men'. But he poses as a question whether or not this will ever happen: "to what extent will a socialist society do away with atomism in all its forms? To what extent will collective objects, the signs of our alienation, be dissolved into a true inter-subjective community in which the only real relations will be those between men, and to what extent will the necessity of every human society remaining a detotalised totality maintain recurrence, flights and therefore unity-objects as limits to true unification? Must the disappearance of capitalist forms of alienation mean the disappearance of all forms of alienation?" (1976:307). Notwithstanding the uncertainty about the answer evidenced by the absence of an answer in this passage, Sartre continues to see "the future reinteriorisation of the practico-inert field and its projected dissolution within a perpetually active social organism which, as a concrete totality, will govern both the means of production and production as a whole" (1976:309) as the goal of socialism. This kind of goal is sometimes portrayed as totalitarian (eg. Pellicani, 1981), but it has little in common with Mao's model, since it remains a relation between people and not a self-negation in a greater whole, suggesting that such portrayals are spurious. If there is a link to totalitarianism here, it is due to the distance between the present and the desired future, and therefore, the strong temptation to support any apparently revolutionary movement as a partiality tending to universalise, rather than from the goal itself - although there is also a highly tentative basis for comparison with Mao's treatment of unity as a goal in itself. (This comparison is undermined by the different reasons for pursuing unity in Sartre's and Mao's theories).

Sartre is also sometimes portrayed as an advocate of violence as a good, which links him to certain readings of Mao. This reading is as selective as in the case of Mao, however. Sartre advocates risk, action and practice, and his defence of violence is a goal-driven one based on the assessment of partial forces from the standpoint of universalisation. Violence is therefore necessity rather than a good, and Sartre in this differs little from (for instance) liberals who defend the use of 'force' by the state. Nevertheless, Sartre's support for Maoism partly resulted, according to his own statements, from a recognition of his own view of the violence of the oppressed as emancipatory. Sartre states: "For the Maoists, wherever revolutionary violence stems from the masses, it is immediately and profoundly moral, for the workers, until then the victims of capitalist authoritarianism, become, if only for a moment, the subject and the driving force of their own history" (cited Thody and Read, 1998:152). This may or may not be an accurate depiction of some of the French Maoists, but it is certainly not an accurate description of Mao's ethical outlook. Violence stemming directly from the 'masses' is distasteful for Mao due to its inefficiency, 'anarchy' and 'guerrilla-ism'; rather, Mao pursues a punitive violence similar to that which Sartre outlines (see above) in describing bourgeois versions of terror. This strongly supports the argument that Sartre's recognition of Maoism, at least to the extent that it extended to Mao, was a false recognition.

A further aspect of Sartre's ethics should also be noted. When someone like Roger Scruton accuses Sartre of "paradox-mongering, which provides convenient negatives of all our lived impressions" (1985:189), one has reason to believe that Sartre sees ethics as lying beyond the limits of common sense and outside the boundaries of the closed seriousness and the cult of 'clarity' of much mainstream thought. And sure enough, Sartre tells us that "those who would overcome this regime of alienation" must "diminish the hold of materiality by replacing opacity with tenuity, heaviness with lightness, in other words, they must create an immaterial materiality" (cited Simont 1996:204). A verbose and at times almost literary style, sprinklings of paradox, and so on are all a part of this approach to overcoming alienation.

Therefore, there is little in common between Mao's thought and Sartre's. Sartre opposes many of the things which form lynchpins of Mao's philosophy, while Mao's theory contains few indications of being open to universalisation in Sartre's sense. If there is a basis for recognition of Maoist ethics by Sartre, it is confined almost entirely to the practice and beliefs of French Maoists, Sartre's perceptions of Maoism in China established on an admitted basis of limited knowledge, and superficial similarities in certain orientations (eg. towards work, towards unity, and against 'bourgeois' individualism). Sartre's ethics are in almost every sense distinct from and contradictory with Mao's.


Mao's attitude to language generally takes the form of a strong linguistic fetishism (i.e. the assumption that language is always directly a non-linguistic reality), with Mao refusing to define words on the basis that they directly express reality (see above). For Mao, "Every difference in men's concepts should be regarded as reflecting an objective contradiction" (1968:32). Mao assumes that language directly expresses reality and, as a result, is almost entranced by it. Mao's linguistic fetishism also expresses itself in polemics, where, for instance, Deborin is attacked for using the word 'contradiction' for a concept almost identical to Mao's concept of 'antagonism' (1968:33). Mao also describes language as if there is no selection involved in its use, as in the expression "What is meant by..." (eg. 1968:34) on the few occasions where he deigns to actually define a word.

This attitude is, however, applied inconsistently, suggesting that it partly expresses the asymmetry between self and other which is also found elsewhere in Mao's theory. Mao claims, for instance, that there is "no room... in the ranks of the Chinese Revolution" for "Marxists who make a fetish of formulas" (1975:2:381), at the same time as using language formulaically himself. Presumably Mao's formulae are actually 'concrete realities'. In practice, furthermore, Mao's use of language often veils basically heterodox views in orthodox garb. The "new-democratic revolution", for instance, is an orthodox-looking formula (since Stalinism has always included a concept of the 'democratic revolution'), but Mao's use of this term - which is, as usual, reified and assumes the term exists externally and should be described as such - actually involves whatever characteristics Mao chooses to attach to it (see 1975:2:326-7). This revolution is furthermore the only road to revolution according to Mao.

In theory, however, for Mao, language is treated less as a means to innovate than as a means to create homogeneity. Having a "common language" is important to Mao, even over distinctions such as between big peasants and middle peasants (1975:4:378). There is also an element of this desire in Mao's propagandistic demand that cadres use 'mass' language (see above).

Althusser's attitude to language is similar, although less consistent. There are strong aspects of linguistic fetishism in Althusser. For instance, he sees words as "instruments of knowledge", weapons, explosions, tranquillisers or poisons (1971:21), implying a hypodermic effects model of language. Words represent ideas which represent "the realities of the class struggle" (1971:21). "Occasionally, the whole class struggle may be summed up in the struggle for one word against another word. Certain words struggle amongst themselves as enemies. Other words are the site of an ambiguity: the stake in a decisive but undecided battle" (1971:21). There is one set of correct words; communication and discussion are only possible if they are scientific (1971:23). Certain words, such as humanism and man, are rejected because of their exploitation in the class struggle (1971:22), as if they can never be redefined; others, such as "knowledge", are so fundamental that others are irresponsible and dishonest if they fail to use them (1969:181). Althusser's statement that Feuerbach's concepts of 'man' and 'nature' are mere words (1969:92) also implies that Althusser believes some words can be more than mere words. Althusser also believes in a pre- or non-linguistic essence of beliefs and words: "The word 'man' is not simply a word. It is the place which it occupies and the function which it performs in bourgeois ideology that gives it its sense" (1984:85). Things have an essential name: "one day we really shall have to try and call things by their name, and to do that, as Marxists, we have to look for that name" (1984:116). This implies that language is a 'pointing' activity based on the form 'That is an x' and with the perception of x and its essential being as an x being constituted in advance. It is little wonder that language disappears from most of Althusser's discussion of theory and science.

There are, however, a few occasions where Althusser's linguistic fetishism breaks down, apparently because of the overall complexity of his theory. For instance, Althusser sees humanist terminology as tolerable in some circumstances, when used by ordinary people (1984:113-14), and he also suggests that the significance of words varies between countries (1984:121). However, there is enough similarity to suggest a basic 'fit' with Mao's approach. Althusser also shares another central aspect of Mao's approach to language: the desire to stay within a common Marxist language. Here, however, concepts like "relative autonomy" are used to insulate Althusser's theory from his own orthodoxy. This is also on one level a similarity: Mao also uses orthodoxy to express heterodoxy.

Sartre's model of language is quite distinct from Mao and Althusser's. Sartre attacks the 'arrogance' of schematic approaches which try to limit the diversity of language (see above). He also sees language as ambiguous, designating sometimes objects and sometimes concepts (1976:29). Language is always inadequate in relation to reality, because one cannot know a totalisation which also totalises one's consciousness (1974:41). Superstructures are expressions of the base which appear as distinct from it due to their refraction through language (1976:249). Furthermore, there is no pre-linguistic reality; human interrelations based on language "actually exist at every moment of human History", and these must not be atomised even as a predisposition towards Others (1976:99). Sartre also uses an instrumental model of words as "genuine tools of thought" as "replacements for things", and as a material like iron or marble (1971:182). This last aspect is closer to Mao and Althusser's perspective, but is still somewhat distinct: a tool requires an active rather than a reflective relation between language and objects.

Althusser believes strongly in a reliance on what he terms 'ordinary', as opposed to 'technical', language. This may seem strange given his neologism-heavy vocabulary, and his usage of the term 'ordinary' seems actually to imply a literary use. Writers can only rely on ordinary language, which, unlike technical language, always contains a maximum of misinformation. As a structured totality, language has more 'materiality' than, for instance, numbers, and ordinary language contains an "overflow" of concepts and "misinformative features". Furthermore, unlike technical language, ordinary language is produced as Other, apparently due to its phatic function (1974:279).

There is thus little similarity or 'fit' between Sartre and either Mao or Althusser on the question of language, although there is considerable overlap between Althusser and Mao.


Probably as a result of his belief that correctness guarantees success (see above), Mao believes in a thesis he calls the "unity of motive and effect". This particular conflation involves the assumption that effect always has a cause in intent, with intent taken to include the holding of incorrect ideas. The unity of motive and effect means judging effects by motives and vice-versa. In practice this means judging unintentional failure as if it were intentional. "The criterion for judging subjective intention or motive is social practice and its effect" (1975:3:88). For instance, all acts which opposes the nation, the masses, science or the Party "proceed from the motive and produce the effect of undermining unity" (1975:3:89). Mao distinguishes this from the 'mechanical materialist' failure to see intent; actually, the only difference from this conception is the addition of the word 'motive' as an epiphenomenon of effect. Intent is seen as an issue of 'stand'; one cannot have the right standpoint and fail in effect through not being good at expressing oneself, since a person with good intent always corrects their mistakes (1975:3:93). Failing to act on a report is treated by Mao as wilful opposition to it (1975:3:67), and Mao also makes a number of claims about the supposed actual significance of others' acts (eg. 1975:3:77) which actually derive motives from effect, as well as using models such as the people/enemy dichotomy which assume the 'unity' of motive and effect. The conflation of motive and effect has a number of effects (which a 'Maoist' reading would have to assume were intended, but which are more likely to be unconscious or unintended). In human terms, the effects are disastrous; people are denied the capacity to honestly fail and every accident or incapacity is seen as treachery. In theoretical terms, Mao reduces people to the status of perfect mechanical transmitters, or rather, he punishes existing people for not fitting this ideal. Furthermore, the intent/effect 'unity' puts both Mao's and his opponents' legitimacy entirely outside their theories, in a realm of 'effects' which can only be invoked, and which is usually simply assumed. Furthermore, reducing intent to effect is a handy evasion of the problem of engagement with others' views.

Althusser does not directly state that he believes in a 'unity of motive and effect' or something similar, but he shares Mao's outlook in that he infers intent from effect. Althusser sees all philosophy as having a hidden goal (such as mystification), and he portrays this goal not in terms of na‹ve or unwitting effects but in terms of actually acting for a "political interest" in relation to "practical ends" one is trying to "gain" (1984:91). For Althusser, it "means little" whether such processes are conscious or not, since "it is not consciousness which is the motor of history, even in philosophy" (1984:91). People are therefore effectively blamed for unconscious impulses, which almost render us as transmitters whose will is inactive. Speaking of humanists, Althusser argues: "They may be personally honest. They may even, like Sartre, want to 'help' Marxism and psychoanalysis. But it is not their intentions that count. What counts are the real effects of their philosophies in the sciences" (1984:94). On some occasions, Althusser simplistically reads bad faith into others' theoretical gaps (eg. 1984:74). He also states that the "deep reasons for a rupture" are "not the reasons we admit, but those that act" (1969:192; reasons apparently act apart from human beings, even though Althusser is radically anti-idealist), and that one compares and proves philosophies by comparing their effects (1984:92-3), and he uses arguments based on the effects of theories frequently (eg. 1979:203). He also claims that non-effect is also effect, on the basis of the belief that it provides obstacles to knowledge (1984:94).

At this point, one might expect Althusser to demonstrate the effects of theories, but these effects remain posited throughout his theory. These effects are conceived in different terms in different places, putting 'proof' on shifting sands. The theoretical effects of philosophy are treated at different times as relating to the whole of social practice (1984:92), the social and political fields (1984:90-1), and science, in terms of producing so-called "scientific discoveries" (1984:93), i.e. new "knowledges" in the form of views compatible with orthodoxy (see above). The supposed straightforward choice ("You have the choice!", "Need I say more?") between Lewis's theses and Sartre's is based on an asserted claim of class effects: Lewis and Sartre's theses "directly or indirectly serve the political interests of the bourgeoisie", whereas Althusser's "directly help the working class" and will contribute to its revolutionary success (1984:99). It is hard to see how these claims can be either proven or falsified. Similarly with regard to the political effects of humanism, which Althusser sees - and claims that "you do not have to be a great thinker to see" - as causing workers to see themselves as all-powerful 'men', refusing on this basis to resist and thererfore demobilising mass organisations; such views thererfore "disorient" and "disarm" (1984:94). Althusser's hypodermic-effects model of philosophy is at its most straightforward here; it is hard to imagine, for instance, Sartre, who falls within the boundaries of Althusser's 'humanism', either reaching enough workers to have such effects, or, if it did, to demobilise in this way. It is equally possible to argue that humanism mobilises by triggering discontent with the present, inhuman conditions of workers and others, whereas Althusser's views demobilise because workers leave politics to the Party and theory to the philosophers and therefore adopt a passive role in history. The crucial points are that Althusser's views on these points are not empirically based and that it is hard to see how they could be proven or falsified.

There is thus substantial similarity between Mao's model of intent and effect and Althusser's model. Sartre's model on the whole does the exact opposite of this, stressing unintended effects generated by alterity, counter-finality, the practico-inert and so on. Indeed, the whole basis of the concept of counter-finality is that effects tend to turn against intent or motive. There is, however, a small amount of overlap in Sartre's tendency to read intent into all psychological facts (1974:42), his attacks on pacifism and the like as 'petty-bourgeois' because of their inverted effects (1974:252-4), and his belief that it is always good to assume responsibility even for acts which are caused by social conditioning (see above). This overlap may be enough to provide a basis for a 'false' recognition, but Sartre's theory on the whole has an entirely different attitude to intent and effect compared to Mao and Althusser.


The texts in the various areas do not generally support the thesis that Mao shares a conception of the world with either Althusser or Sartre. The 'fit' in both cases is highly limited where it exists at all. Very frequently, Althusser and Sartre find themselves in direct contradiction with Mao's beliefs; at other times, the implications of the theories are wildly variant. In the case of Althusser, there is at least a surface 'fit' on some issues, and substantial overlap on others. But whereas Mao's theory subordinates all else to politics, Althusser's project rests on the construction of a separate theoretical sphere which is insulated from politics, economics and ideology. Where Althusser shares Mao's views, they are often (to use one of his own terms) displaced into the theoretical field. As regards Sartre, his alignment to Maoism must come from something almost entirely outside theory. He agrees with Mao on only a handful of issues, and starkly disagrees with him on many more. Perhaps the conclusions would be different had this essay examined different areas such as contradiction; even here, however, Althusser seems to create similarity with Mao only by reading his writings selectively and 'symptomatically'. Althusser selectively reads Mao whereas Sartre admits his differences with Maoism while still supporting the movement, but the recognition in both cases, to the extent that Mao's thought can be established as a point of comparison, is 'false'.

The conclusions for cultural transmission are therefore somewhat 'relativist'. If the case discussed here is typical, ideas which move across substantial cultural difference are likely to be amended or reinterpreted to harmonise them with their new cultural environment, and political allegiances across international borders, at least in the pre-'globalisation' period, are likely to involve quite different conceptions of the world, with only parts of the vocabulary and some of the practical conclusions being similar. This conclusion should only be tentative, however; this study only covers a small part of a very large issue.

Even 'false' recognition requires its bases, and in these cases the basis seems to differ. For Althusser, Mao seems to be recognised as a fellow post-Stalinist who promotes heterodox views while adhering to an orthodox method. Althusser also reads a number of his views into Mao. For Sartre, the issue is more about 'universalisation' and a desire for a political alignment. Faced with a political spectrum alien to his concerns, and disillusioned with the Communist Party, Sartre turned to Maoism as a partial movement which was nevertheless the best available, in the hope that he could guide it towards 'universalisation'. Althusser is a doctrinaire thinker, and sees in Mao a doctrine he can use within the orthodoxy from which he insulates himself; Sartre is an outsider who jumps at any glimmer of hope, however faint. In each case, the issue is less about why they agree with Mao than about why psychological and theoretical barriers to supporting totalitarianism were not present. In Althusser, the barriers seem to have been destroyed by his intent-led ethics, his cult of orthodoxy, his claims to know 'reality' directly and his schematic dogmatism. In Sartre, the issue is more complicated but seems to include the acceptance of particularities which can be universalised, the belief in the impossibility of ethics in the present and a desperation to overcome seriality and the practico-inert. In both cases, but particularly Althusser, the issues of ethical theory and intent and effect seem to be central. In Mao, the ethical moment seems to be foundational; in Sartre and Althusser, it is subsidiary but may well be the foundation for political alignment.

The issue of relations with the Communist Party falls outside the scope of this essay, but it seems fairly prominent as a cause. The issue of the need for a party and the use of substitutionist terminology occurs to some extent in both theorists and particularly in Althusser. Both Althusser and Mao had, by the time they became Maoist, split with the Communist Party leadership, albeit over different issues: Sartre over the betrayal of the 1968 uprisings, Althusser over the infiltration of 'humanist' ideas into the party leadership. Both had presumably become convinced during their period of supporting the Party that all other alternatives apart from it were doomed to failure, and had undergone the inculcation of beliefs that all reformisms are a dead end, libertarianism a petty-bourgeois distraction, anarchism an unthinkable monstrosity, Trotskyism a fascistic dead-end in the service of the CIA, and whatever other selective truths, half-truths and outright lies the Party leadership used to retain its exclusive claims to allegiance. Suddenly stripped of their One Church, the easiest sidestep, requiring the least adjustment, was into Maoism, a parallel ideology sharing almost all the characteristics of Russian-style Stalinism. Althusser took this sidestep enthusiastically; Sartre remained hesitant, and devoted far more attention to finding an alternative path out of a Stalinism he had probably never quite absorbed.

Areas where there is next to no 'fit' between the three include the issues of free thought and intellectual independence. Mao is opposed to any thought outside the constraints of Party doctrine, and this position is all the harsher for the fact that he can convert his own heterodoxies into new orthodoxies. Althusser consciously accepts this orthodoxy, but he seems to be constantly trying on some level to insulate his own thought from this orthodoxy. Devices such as the 'last instance', sphere separation and overdetermination all perform this role to some extent, and the separation and resultant 'displacement' is present in some form in virtually all the areas discussed above. Quite probably, Althusser was constantly fighting a psychological battle with his own double-bound Stalinist superego, a battle he was finally and tragically to lose. Sartre, meanwhile, is a vehement defender of intellectual freedom, and, on the whole, of personal freedom, provided it is not ruined by the practico-inert, seriality and counter-finality. It is his own sense of being oppressed which he identifies with the oppression of others. 'Anti-capitalist' group People's Global Action demand: "If you come only to help me, you can go back home. But if you consider my struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together" (PGA 2000:9). By this criterion, only Sartre of the three could expect not to be on his way home. On this basis and others, Sartre's support for Maoism should probably not be taken too seriously. His support seems to focus on the French Maoists and is limited to non-political issues. However, some of the issues which lead Sartre to support Maoism should serve as warning beacons: non-prefigurative conceptions oriented to the future, for instance.

Mao took his 'Marxism' from the west and made it Chinese; when it returned to the west, it was as a French, intellectualised discourse. The paradox, however, is that Mao's project could not possibly coexist peacefully, let alone productively, with his erstwhile supporters'. A regime based on Mao's principles would not allow the independent intellectual projects or even the education for universalisation involved in Sartre's project, or the autonomous theoretical sphere present in Mao's. A Sartrean intellectual would not allow the dominance of a Maoist project, for they would have to warn workers to beware totalities, institutions, and the political. And an Althusserian intellectual could not possibly allow the imposition of a Maoist instrumentalism, badly-thought-out ideology and political subordination on the sacrosanct world of science and theory. The lack of 'fit' does not help to explain why Althusser and Sartre might have 'recognised' their own projects in Mao, given this radical incompatibility; but it does at least help to isolate some of the factors which it did not result from.


In this essay, I have copied the use of terminology by the thinkers I was studying with regard to the concepts of 'man' and 'men'. Occasionally I have substituted gender-neutral terms such as 'people'. Where I use, or cite others as using, 'man' or 'men', I assume it to have a gender-neutral meaning and not to explicitly involve sexism.

My use of inverted commas is as follows. Where I am quoting from a referenced work, I use double inverted commas. Where I am using inverted commas for any other reason, such as to contest a particular concept or to denote a quote within a quote, I use single inverted commas.


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