Commissioned as part of Let's Get Together and Call Ourselves an Institute

Philosophy for the Masses

Cultural Fronts and Public Spheres

Benjamin Noys

The problem I want to begin with is a situation in which we face proliferating rules and instructions and, at the same time, we are constantly called to resist the imposition of rules. The distance between ever-expanding range of audits and resulting league tables and the hostility to ‘health-and-safety gone mad’ is small as these are two sides of the same coin of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. We live in a state of what the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze called ‘continuous modulation’ in which we are never finished with anything and subject to ongoing trial, in the Kafka sense.1 This is ‘continuous professional development’, ‘lifelong learning’, and all the other forms of constantly instructing us. At the same time, as we know, such modulation encourages constant escape from being subject to rules, evident in the various fantasies of privatization and ‘independence’ as the means to flee regulation. We face a situation of multiplying regulation and multiplying resistance, but that resistance often takes equivocal forms – desiring to escape to a ‘purified’ market rather than escape from it.2

To focus this problem of instruction and education, in a situation where we are called to ‘lifelong learning’ and encouraged to distrust ‘experts’ of all sorts, I want to explore the problem of philosophy and art as mass practice. To do this I want to turn to some past instances of the attempt to ‘massify’ philosophy and art as a practice, which are linked to the problem of politics. These involve the attempt to relate to a mass political practice, of what Michael Denning has called the ‘labouring of culture’.3 This means, as he explains, the turn to labour and the worker as people who can think and produce culture, as well as the issue of how we might produce a culture of labour. In the case of philosophy, this involves an attempt to engage with philosophy as a practice and in the case of art to the engagement with politics.

I have two examples from Britain or more precisely England, from different ends of the class spectrum: a labourer attempting to become a communist philosopher and a middle-class writer attempting to become a communist artist. My final example is that of the engagement with Maoist thought in China during the Cultural Revolution. Here, again, is an attempt to put philosophy into practice and to live by a communist philosophy. These examples I want to look at might be considered as practices of what Foucault called, when discussing late Antiquity, ‘care of the self’.4 They speak to a practice of philosophy that was not just attuned to thinking but, as with the Stoics, was also concerned with our conduct in the world. These are not just a matter of ‘Western’ philosophy, but such thinking as practice was shared in many Ancient traditions of thought. The Cynics, according to Plutarch, admired the asceticism of Indian ‘gymnosophists’, or holy men.5 This is the heritage of philosophy as a practice that is reactivated in the attempt to conduct and develop a ‘mass philosophy’.

This practice is not just one of obeying rules or instructions, but of trying to live them. This attempt challenges the usual images of ‘totalitarian’ communism as the production of obedient followers who will subject their lives unthinkingly to the party, as in the demand that 2+2 = 5 if the party says so of Orwell’s 19846. What I want to explore is a series of practices that negotiate this problem of instruction and politics, not to recommend them or simply celebrate them, but to turn to them to think through the problem of instructions and rules, and philosophy and art, in a time which seems remarkably allergic to such concepts. This articulation of mass practice also links to mechanisms to transmit such practices, not just the Party, but also the cultural front and the public sphere. The problem we are looking at is not just one of instruction, but also transmission and engagement.


Diaries, Dancing and Dialectics

My first instance is one detailed by Catherine Feely in her article on the diary of the builders’ labourer Frank P. Forster.7 Feely explains how Forster relied on the work of the communist philosopher (and worker) Joseph Dietzgen (1828–1888) to develop a self-taught practice of dialectics in daily life. The result is a moving, complex, and amusing account of thinking of life with and as dialectics. To deal with one of Forster’s primary concerns, meeting women, Feely quotes the following passage from his diary: ‘Believes it essential to take up dancing in order to associate more freely with the opposite sex. This conclusion reached after reading Dietzgen’s The positive outcome of philosophy’.8 A rank-and-file communist, Forster tried to bridge the gap between individual experience and collective political experience. The dance of the dialectic was also a dialectics of dancing.9

In the diaries, especially from the period of 1934 to 1938, Forster details how his reading in communism helped fashion a thinking communist self. The importance of Dietzgen’s writing was not only that it was some of the only communist writing available in English, but also that it formed a bridge between life and ideas. Dietzgen’s dialectic was one between external reality and the formation of ideas to grasp that reality. Criticized by Lenin for possible idealism, Feely argues that Dietzgen’s emphasis on ideas held strong appeal for self-educated working people. In the various ‘little Moscows’ across South Wales, Scotland and Britain Dietzgen’s work formed an essential part of the curriculum.10 We could note Jacques Rancière’s point about how nineteenth-century workers claimed philosophy as the means of resistance to being regarded as ‘unthinking’.11 In a similar fashion, it was Dietzgen’s emphasis on ideas and thinking that appealed to manual workers wishing to escape the condition of being unthinking ‘hands’. A classic statement of such a condemnation can be found in Robert Graves’s White Goddess (1948), his well-known work on poetic myth:

… we are now at the stage where the common people of Christendom, spurred on by their demagogues, have grown so proud that they are no longer content to be the hands and feet and trunk of the body politic, but demand to be the intellect as well – or, as much intellect as is needed to satisfy their simply appetites.12

This condescending statement, published shortly after the postwar election of a Labour government, shows the persistence of the ‘classical’ desire that workers ‘stay in their place’.

Forster’s diary was a space in which he record his thoughts as emerging from a dialectic with his experience and try to achieve what he called ‘correct thinking’. Forster’s reading drew not only on Dietzgen but also popular psychology in his attempt to negotiate his sexual desire (his ‘sex impulse’) and his ‘inferiority complex’. We can already see the truth of Auden’s claim that Freud was no ‘no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion’. To take up dancing, a skill, was to also become closer to women. Dietzgen helped build Forster’s confidence and might be regarded as an instance of alternative ‘self-help’, alternative to the capitalist forms of self-help that can be traced from Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help of 1859, an equivocal work written by a former Chartist that was both individualist and critical of wealth, to the New Age guides of today.

Living in conservative Chester with intermittent contact with a small number of fellow communists Forster’s diary and ‘practice of care for the self’, to use Foucault’s phrase, was a mode of sustaining himself in difficult circumstances. Here it was not so much a matter of communist ‘instruction’, or of a ‘manual’ or ‘guidebook’ that had to be imposed on the self, but a reading that encouraged dialectical reflection and thought to order experience. In this case, Forster’s reading is almost an individual support-system, a way of living as a thinker and communist in an isolated situation in which the connection and possibility of a philosophical (and communist) life is made through texts.


‘Change of Heart’

My second example is Edward Upward, a writer, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) between 1934 and 1949, and a lifelong revolutionary and internationalist until his death in 2009. He left the CPGB due to its postwar embrace of the reformist Labour party government, and its refusal to stick to revolutionary and Leninist principles (as detailed in his 1969 novel The Rotten Elements). Upward was a close friend of Christopher Isherwood, with whom he wrote fantasy stories in the world of ‘Mortmere’, but Upward struggled to integrate his writing and his political commitment. Here the struggle is between artistic practice and ‘regulations’ that guide a political practice. This struggle is reflected in Upward’s fiction, and in the fact he published so little. Upward’s first novel, Journey to the Border (1938), tells the story of his political commitment. In the novel, a tutor to an upper-class family goes with them for a day at the races and after a series of surreal experiences decides his task is to break with them and politically commit to communism. The modernist and grotesque elements of the novel, concentrated in the tutor’s fantasies about the wealth and glamour of the upper-class racegoers, are treated as ‘sickly make-believe’.13

This ‘solution’ of how to write as a communist proved short-lived. Upward is fascinating because, as Glyn Salton-Cox suggests, he saw ‘that his own interiority was entirely constituted by his bourgeois class’.14 It would be Upward’s struggle with his own identity and with literary form that would become crucial to his attempt to fashion a communist artistic self. Upward’s self-loathing, his anguish about his capacities and class position, which would lead to mental breakdown, are central to his own reflections on writing in his notebooks. In a parallel fashion to Frank Forster communism was an intensely personal matter, in the sense that we would later become familiar with in the notion the ‘personal is political’. In his notebooks Upward wrote: ‘I must live before I can write. And my living also must be revolutionary, or else it will contradict and damage my writing. So my first duty is to live as a communist’.15

This struggle is related in his 1969 novel The Rotten Elements, as Upward, in the figure of the character Alan Sebrill, negotiates his dispute with the Communist Party and his difficulty in squaring his poetry with his politics. As Sebrill says of himself, ‘he had sacrificed poetry to the Party’.16 In the novel Sebrill tries to write poetry but is constantly concerned that it is bourgeois, as he says: ‘The fact is that after I joined the Party in the thirties I found poetry more difficult to write each year.’17 The difficulty becomes one of conforming to a socialist realism that will portray the future of socialism, especially in the context of a Britain with a relatively quiescent working class. Sebrill states: ‘he’d felt any vitality of style in them [his poems] would have been a departure from socialist realism’.18 In the end, Sebrill experiences another breakdown after leaving the party, involving ‘hypochondriacal fears, persecutory imaginings about his colleagues, [and] bodily shudderings as if he were a ship which was being struck by storm waves’.19 In a remarkable scene, to calm his fears, Sebrill ‘found he could stop his trembling by thinking of Stalin and by speaking the name Stalin, repeatedly but not quite aloud, much as a religious believer might have called on the name of God’.20

The torturous process by which Upward tried to live as a communist, including his breakdowns and suffering, suggest the difficulty of this ‘internalisation’ of the ‘rules’ (in the case of Socialist Realism). In The Rotten Elements Upward constantly tries to embark on writing poetry before becoming aware that it is ‘bourgeois’ and trying to write a poetry for the Party and for communism. His failure to do that leaves him constantly in between, in which he cannot write ‘poetry’ (as in bourgeois poetry) and cannot write ‘political poetry’. What is interesting here is that the Party cannot provide a guideline that satisfies Upward and so the ‘rules’ or ‘guidance’ are internalised as impossible demands. Even after he leaves the Party, his resultant breakdown suggests he still cannot rationalise artistic production for a communism without the Party.


‘To Change the Human Being’

My final example is the most contentious and controversial. This is the texts written by Chinese communist workers, soldiers and peasants on the study of philosophy published in English in 1971.21 In China, some of these writings were circulated in Zhexue Yanjiu (Philosophical Research) in 1965.22 These are essays on the application of Mao-Tse Tung thought to the problems of everyday life. In the words of the Peking Review:

Citing such examples, the editorial praises these writings for being vivid and down-to-earth, combining theory and practice and offering a host of fresh ideas. They are indeed easily understood and stand in sharp and striking contrast to philosophical research which is divorced from reality, or thesis writing which is swaddled in abstract thoughts. The emancipation of philosophy from the classroom and bookish knowledge will yield unprecedentedly rich material for the further development of dialectical materialism.23

They are easy to mock, if not to be horrified by. They illustrate the hyper-voluntarism of the Cultural Revolution (or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution), and the notion of ‘changing man’ and reforming thought that can appear utterly totalitarian.

My aim is not to ‘redeem’ these texts, but nor is it to simply dismiss them. Deeply problematic as they are, they are another instance of the application of thought in everyday life and the attempt to create a new way of life and human being. Alain Badiou points out the desire for ‘revolutionization’ and the aim ‘to change the human being in what is most profound’, within the Cultural Revolution.24 For Badiou, Mao’s thought was not a ‘dogmatic catechism’, but used to ‘clarify and invent new behaviours in all sorts of disparate situations that were unfamiliar to us’.25 This also speaks to the dimension of ‘global Maoism’, of Maoism as what Alessandro Russo calls ‘a worldwide political configuration’,26 with the translation and distribution of these texts and, especially, the Little Red Book, across the world in the 1960s and 1970s.27

When we are speaking of philosophy, we are speaking of ‘Mao Tse-tung Thought’,28 especially Mao’s two famous essays on philosophy: ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘On Practice’. It is noteworthy that after the Cultural Revolution the policy in philosophy was to restore reading of the classics of ‘Dialectical Materialism’, obviously as a reaction to the idolatry of Mao’s ‘thought’.29 Guy Debord acidly noted, in 1967, that ‘If every Chinese has to study Mao, and in effect be Mao, this is because there is nothing else to be. The dominion of the spectacle in its concentrated form means the dominion, too, of the police.’30 Yet, as Russo states, ‘Mao said that philosophy should leave the libraries and the classrooms and become a “weapon in the hand of the masses”’.31 Mao, in his conversation with Red Guard leaders in 1968, was sceptical of the value of university education, especially in philosophy:

For what is the study of philosophy worth? Is the philosophy something that one can learn in the college? If one has never been a worker or a peasant and goes to study philosophy, what kind of philosophy is that?32

The epigraph to this collection of writings is also from Mao, with his suggestion to ‘Liberate philosophy from the confines of the philosophers’ lecture rooms and textbooks, and turn it into a sharp weapon in the hands of the masses.’33

I want to choose one of these texts that might seem to invite a comic reaction: ‘Dialectics Applied in Driving Safely’,34 by Hsueh Hsiang-tung, a member of a transport company of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It should be remembered that the PLA was one of the leading organisations promoting the dissemination and study of Mao’s thought. The central point of the essay is the necessity of the recognition of ideological struggle and politics to this activity. The way to avoid accidents, it is argued, is to grasp the ‘laws’ of the activity and this involved the creation of a ‘living map’ of the routes to be taken.35 This is the necessity of preparation, which is unsurprisingly cast in military form where potential accidents are potential attacks. Conditions are also considered and, again, the central role of the human will is emphasised. A recognition of duty to the people is seen as the key factor in avoiding accidents, which is certainly true. Finally, the issue of experience is discussed, in which the relationship between inexperience and experience in driving is seen as something developed over time and requiring careful balance.

This particular example focuses very much on Mao’s view of strategy rather than what we might call directly philosophical thought (as do some of the other essays). It does show, however, the attempt to apply philosophy in a living way. An anonymous sympathetic blogger, at the site with the striking title ‘M-L-M Mayhem!’, suggests while it is easy to dismiss these essays as ‘bad philosophy’, and they are regularly held-up as such, they do represent the attempt to break with ideological forms and ‘massify philosophy’.36 ‘In this context, dialectics are not an abstract philosophical problem but a concrete engagement with the concrete world.’37 They are attempts to break down the division between intellectual and manual labour and:

these essays are not concerned with making academic arguments, they are attempts on the part of workers and peasants to interpret the meaning of their labour and, after this act of interpretation (which is the moment of philosophy), attempting to apply what they have examined to their objective experience in order to change their circumstances.38

The author notes the ‘over-reliance’ on Mao’s thinking is problematic, leading to the potential for the ‘cult of personality’ and the lack of philosophical thinking as a critical practice.39 At the same time, this is an experiment in the pursuit of ‘mass philosophy’ by those who, classically, have been excluded from philosophy.40

Again, without wanting to make facile comparisons we can note this division persists and the attempts to ‘massify’ philosophy in the UK often amount to little more than ‘The School of Life’, the various projects that emerge out of the HEFCE ‘impact’ agenda, or various online teaching ‘centres’. While problematic, in their orientation to a neoliberal capitalist ‘care of the self’, even these ‘experiments’ indicate a popular desire for philosophy. After all, as we have known since Plato’s Symposium, philosophy begins as a desire. The difficulty, I would suggest, is the ‘individualization’ at work in these experiments, in which the transmission of philosophy becomes a personal matter, a matter of cultural capital. Philosophy only retains a connection to labour in the sense of a work on the self, but this work is oriented towards overcoming the status of worker into a new ‘educated’ identity that can be traded on the market. More usefully, we could also note the various reading groups and blogs that do or did try to attempt some engagement with philosophy as a mass practice related to the political. Here we could note the episodic nature of such experiments, which while trying to relate to a ‘mass’ politics often remain minority affairs. In the case of such a fiercely anti-intellectual country as England, different treatments would have to be offered for Scotland and the other countries in the union, this work has had some salutary effect. A small public sphere has been formed and the ‘voices’ from this sphere have had some success in entering into more ‘mainstream’ debates (although we could add this is an interesting effect of the fracturing of the mainstream and withdrawal of funding from arts and other public bodies that have to rely on ‘cheap’ talent).

The ‘massification’ of philosophy, and one could say similar things about art, is also one effect of the expansion of higher education and of uneven increases in ‘leisure time’ as a result of unemployment, precarious work patterns, and longer periods of retirement. We can see a strange situation, that I sketched in my introduction, of a double bind in which forms of intellectual and artistic labour are encouraged as modes of ‘self-realization’ at the same time they are mocked and dismissed unless they can be integrated within an entrepreneurial justification. The resonances of the Cultural Revolution are certainly disturbing in this context and it remains profoundly problematic. Slavoj Žižek has even suggested that ‘the final result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution is today’s unheard-of explosion of capitalist dynamics in China’.41 The shattering of traditional authority paved the way for capitalism’s own solvent effects. This is, perhaps, too neat and too cynical in the sense that while a failure such an experiment did take place in the ‘massification’ of philosophy.42 Certainly, as I have just sketched, I do not think we can say current conditions have resolved the problem of the division of intellectual and manual labour, even if this is now fractured and inflected in new ways and forms.


Conclusion: After the Party

One obvious point is that all these experiments relate to the party-form. Such party-forms are, in the present moment, extinct, absent or exhausted. Jacques Derrida had already noted, in 1993, that ‘A reflection on what will become of Marxism tomorrow, of its inheritance or its testament, should include, among so many other things, a reflection on the finitude of a certain concept or of a certain reality of the party’.43 In the language of Alain Badiou and Sylvain Lazarus, the party-form appears to be a ‘saturated sequence’,44 and for Badiou this is signalled by the Cultural Revolution being the ‘last revolution’.45 The Cultural Revolution, in its bombardment of the ‘centre’ and in the momentary emergence of the commune form in Shanghai, signals the end of the party-form and, for Badiou and Lazarus, the need to invent a new form of political organization. In the field of communization theory the exhaustion of the party-form is tied to the exhaustion of programmatism, the foundation of politics on positing an antagonistic workers’ identity opposed to capitalism. The mutation of the capital relation, which abandons this internal antagonist, results not in despair but in the hope of a new communizing form of activity that will abolish the identity of the worker. While very different conclusions are drawn, we can see the parallel with Badiou. We could also add Hardt and Negri’s notion of the multitude, Berardi’s notion of the cognitariat, and various other forms of insurgent subjectivities, all map a collapse of the party-form.

There is, of course, no necessary reason to conclude that due to the collapse of one particular form of the party, what Lazarus would call the ‘Bolshevik mode’,46 all need for party and organization has faded. Jodi Dean’s call to reinvent the party or Rodrigo Nunes’s exploration of ‘horizontal Leninism’, suggest a complex set of possibilities that do not simply fall on party/not-party divide.47 This rapid sketch, however, is to provide the context for the issue of instructions, rules and forming experiments in mass philosophy, artistic practice and political subjectivities in a context where organization and form are weak. What we might call the cultural work of communist instruction lacks the party and its related forms – unions, book clubs, reading groups and summer schools.48 This is not to say none of these things exist, but they exist in fragmentary and ‘private’ forms, driven by particular initiatives and not, usually, in a sustained and coordinated way. This is all a long-winded way of saying we live in a very different context for massifying philosophy.

The issue, then, is not only a contemporary ‘allergy’ to instruction, which is a central ideological thrust of neoliberal capitalism, but also the hollowing out of what Kluge and Negt called ‘the proletarian public sphere’.49 The lifeworld in which these experiments took place is gone. This does not mean, however, that the animating concerns have. In a very different way, which I have been critical of, contemporary left accelerationism, with its concern for hegemony and proposals for ‘left-wing think tanks’, has spoken to the concern for structure, organization and cultural education. The fact that such demands now, after an initial ‘revolutionary’ moment, tend to run through the Labour Party, the unions, and the existing media sphere, suggest both a desire to address the problem and the limits we confront.

This is issue is what I once, in a rare moment of optimism, formulated to myself as the problem of the ‘popular front without a party’. I was referring to those problematic but mass cultural experiments of the communist parties and fellow travellers in the 1930s known as the ‘popular front’. Obviously, ‘without a party’ refers to the lack I have sketched and I was thinking of the moment of blogging and the initial Zero Books that seemed to start to articulate an alternative (if not quite proletarian) public sphere. Moments pass, as Guy Debord always insisted.50 Perhaps this is also why I am not inclined to express my optimism too loudly. The problem remains, signalled in the title of this project (in the word ‘institute’) and signalled by the fact we are here discussing it.


1 Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October 59 (1992): 3–7, p.5.

2 Benjamin Noys, ‘The Grammar of Neoliberalism’, in Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside, ed. Joshua Johnson (Hong Kong: [NAME] Publications, 2013), pp.36–54.

3 Michael Denning, The Cultural Front (London and New York: Verso, 2011); Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (London and New York: Verso, 2004).

4 Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1988).

5 Robert Dobbin (ed.), The Cynic Philosophers: From Diogenes to Julian (London: Penguin, 2012).

6 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, intro. Thomas Pynchon (London: Penguin, 2003). ‘In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it’ (p.92). See also, Matthew Taunton, ‘2 + 2 = 5: the politics of number in writing about the Soviet Union’, Textual Practice 29.5 (2015): 993–1016.

7 Catherine Feely, ‘From Dialectics to Dancing: Reading, Writing and the Experience of Everyday Life in the Dairies of Frank P. Foster’, History Workshop Journal 69 (2010): 91–110.

8 Ibid., p.92.

9 For an informative discussion of Marx and dancing (and dialectics), see: David Riff, ‘Was Marx a Dancer?’, e-flux 67 (2015):

10 Feely, ‘From Dialectics to Dancing’, p.98; for a broader discussion of these cultures, see Marcus Barnett, ‘The World within a World’, Jacobin (2018):

11 Jacques Ranciére, Proletarian Nights (London and New York: Verso, 2012).

12 Quoted in Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (London: Virago, 1996), pp.163–4.

13 Edward Upward, Journey to the Border, intro. Stephen Spender (London: Enitharmon, 1994), p.64.

14 Glyn Salton-Cox, ‘Literary Praxis Beyond the Melodrama of Commitment: Edward Upward, Soviet Aesthetics, and Leftist Self-Fashioning’, Comparative Literature 65.4 (2013): 408–428, p.410.

15 Qtd. in Glyn Salton-Cox, ‘Literary Praxis’, p.411.

16 Edward Upward, The Rotten Elements (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p.86.

17 Ibid., p.188.

18 Ibid., p.184.

19 Ibid., p.178.

20 Ibid., p.175.

21 Selected Essays on the Study of Philosophy by Workers, Peasants and Soldiers (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1971).

22 ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ Philosophical Writings’, Peking Review 9.6 (4 February 1966), p.29:

23 Ibid.

24 Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, trans. David Macey and Steve Corcoran (London and New York: Verso, 2015, p.77, p.78.

25 Ibid., p.78.

26 Alessandro Russo, ‘Did the Cultural Revolution End Communism?’, in The Idea of Communism, ed. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Zizek (London and New York: Verso, 2010), pp.179–194, p.182.

27 See Robin D. G. Kelley and Betsy Esche, ‘Black Like Mao: Red China and the Black Revolution’, Souls 1.4 (Fall 1999): 6–40.


29 Sylvia Chan, ‘Revolution in Higher Education’, in China: The Impact of the Cultural Revolution, ed. Bill Brugger (London: Croom Helm, 1978), pp.95–125.

30 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), p.42 (#64).

31 Russo, ‘Did the Cultural Revolution End Communism?’, pp.192–93.

32 Alessandro Russo, ‘The Conclusive Scene: Mao and the Red Guards in July 1968’, positions: east asia cultures critique 13.3 (Winter 2005): 535-574, p.558.

33 Selected Essays.

34 Selected Essays, pp. 49–58.

35 Ibid., p.50.

36 ‘On Attempts to Massify Philosophy’, M-L-M Mayhem!, 9 December 2011:

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 the over-reliance on “immortal Mao Zedong Thought”, which was then the codification of marxist theory aimed at people who, probably for the first time in their life, were just encountering philosophy. And as much as the codification might have been a good entry point into dialectical thinking, the fact that it was wed to the figure of Mao Zedong could lead to the confusion between a person and a philosophical system––we are generally wary these days, and for good reason, of cults of personality. Ibid.

40 Jacques Rancière notes that this exclusion of workers from philosophy dates back to Plato, who argues that the workers, ‘people with iron souls’, cannot be communists or philosophers. See Jacques Rancière, ‘Communists without Communism?’, in The Idea of Communism, ed. Costas Douzinas and Salvoj Zizek (London and New York: Verso, 2010), p.170.

41 Slavoj Žižek, ‘Mao Zedong: the Marxist Lord of Misrule’, (2006):

42 Alain Badiou dismisses this claim as ‘just window-dressing’ (The Communist Hypothesis, p.209).

43 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994), p.127.

44 Sylvain Lazarus, The Anthropology of the Name, trans. Gila Walker (Delhi: Seagull Books, 2015).

45 Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, p.79.

46 Sylvain Lazarus, ‘Lenin and the Party, 1902–November 1917’, in Lenin Reloaded, eds. Sebastian Budgen et al. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), pp.255–268.

47 Jodi Dean, Crowds and Party (London and New York: Verso, 2016); Rodrigo Nunes, ‘It Takes Organizers to Make a Revolution’, Viewpoint Magazine, 9 November 2017:

48 It is interesting to note, as Michael Denning points out (in The Cultural Front), that the ‘labouring’ of US culture by ‘the cultural front’ was often castigated as middle-brow and kitsch. Something of the same charges and problems echo also in the contemporary ‘massifications’ of philosophy.

49 Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt, Public Sphere and Experience: Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere (London and New York: Verso, 2016).

50 Avant-gardes have only one time; and the best thing that can happen to them is to have enlivened their time without outliving it. After them, operations move onto a vaster terrain. Too often have we seen such elite troops, after they have accomplished some valiant exploit, remain on hand to parade with their medals and then turn against the cause they previously supported. Nothing of this sort need be feared from those whose attack has carried them to the point of dissolution.

Guy Debord, Complete Cinematic Works, trans. and ed. Ken Knabb (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2003), p.182.