How To Exterminate the Intellectual Caste
I. – Introduction
Identifying the target and annihilating it; the guiding principle is clear and precise. Circumstance, including how one’s faculties are arranged and directed within it, brings the complexity and obscurity. But the principle remains, and may serve to guide attention and action even in the most obscure of circumstances.
Human thought is a hunting faculty; its labyrinthine layerings belie this. They amount to a misdirection ploy designed to immobilize the quarry prior to its slaughter.
The question arises then: what does the slaughter of specialized castes of thinkers – the intellectual workers – portend, given that their claims to pre-eminence in this faculty was only ever a stake? Given that the association of a caste with a fundamental trait could only ever be one of any number of passing arrangements within the journey of humanity at large?
The answer can only be revealed in the deed, for the necessary purpose of the hunt is the kill.
This, in a word, is progress, which is predicated on the destruction of that which has been.
More practically speaking scale matters in all this, in human terms. The arrangement of human societies, hunting practices, through social stratification and specialization requires destruction and reordering at structural levels if we are to meaningfully engage with the question of how thought can be reintegrated. The annihilation of intellectual castes provides a readymade and common-sense point of entry; destruction of quantity may be a means of releasing new qualities.
It is the specifics of how to do this which count, specifics which only instruct to the extent that the operative-of-change invests in them, gives sustained attention to them, and develops and connects their underlying dynamics and dormant potentials. This essay is just a gateway to further study for the reader, and makes no claims to be more than a modest collation, a small fragment in this process. While citing ideologies it endorses none, remaining ideologically neutral-eclectic, and recognizing only that ideology is an important factor in choreographing action. The examples it gives belong to the mass industrial era, the era-of-scale par excellence, but this is not to imply that the subject is limited to any given time and place, only that they are close to hand, and are therefore quick and effective to use for our core objectives.
The examples given are far from pure in functional intent with regards to the intellectual caste annihilatory principle, and to varying degrees instrumentalize it within historically limited terms. The extraction of functional value is however the very purpose of this essay, and it should be borne in mind that adaption, disciplined limitation, within the parameters of a given historical moment may be a mechanism for achieving goals beyond its own terms. Purity of intent must be assessed in relation to effectiveness of execution and, regardless of our limited perspective in any specific situation, the force of this effectiveness itself propels us beyond the confines we assert we are operating from. Power is greater than knowledge.
Likewise the methodology in this essay is power-oriented, consciously aiming for narrative coherence in its selected historical case studies, so as to draw forth key questions and construct re-applicable models memorably for the reader. This text is a set of mental hooks.
The reader seeking reassuring signals of methodological quiescence must find this elsewhere, from the historian. Methodical arrangement is a time-honored form of excellence, but ransacking is meritorious when fitted to its own task. The reader is exhorted to ransack this text in turn, subject it to extreme prejudice, and discard everything that is unworthy of moving them towards that which is greater. The person is the source, not the text.
In one regard the success of this essay would be in its being entirely rejected in favor of learning from direct contact, higher learning, given Clausewitz’s warning that
A…fault in criticism is the misuse of historical examples, and a display of great reading or learning…facts of the most heterogeneous description, brought together out of the most distant lands and remote times and heaped up, generally distract and bewilder the judgment and understanding without demonstrating anything; for when exposed to the light they turn out to be only trumpery rubbish, made use of to show off the author’s learning. (Clausewitz 2008, 140)
Farmers plough noisily, hunters stalk silently. When the soil is exhausted and can bear no more crops, the ever-thinner strains of ever-greater yields, then “farmer” will mean prey or carrion, and the earth will drink bodies where they fall. The truths within silence will birth from this.
This essay does not aspire to innovative analysis, much less to tactical innovation, but merely presents a few cases that may prove instructive for the committed reader.
Disclaimer: this essay is for informational purposes only.
II. – Aktion
We begin our study with the Intelligenzaktion in Poland, the program to exterminate the Polish intelligentsia carried out by the Nazi regime during the 1939-45 war, deftly summarized in The Black Book of Poland:
Nowhere is the real aim of the German authorities in Poland shown so clearly as in the field of culture…The following, in a few words, are these aims in the field of culture:
The destruction of the Polish intellectual classes: i.e. Polish scholars, professors, teachers, writers, artists, lawyers, engineers and doctors, by their murder or by torturing the great majority of them to death in concentration camps and by depriving the remainder of their livelihood (The Polish Ministry of Information 1942, 443).
the overall design being “to reduce the Poles to a people of slaves, to destroy their intellectuals, and their sense of tradition – anything that might give them a way to organize against Germany” (Bergen 2009, 105).
A relatively fluid term, the Intelligenzaktion comprised formal and informal application of terror and murder in various phases, most notably the initial wave carried out by Einsatzgruppen (mobile paramilitary police units within the SS chain of command, tasked with targeted mass killings) as part of Operation Tannenberg, and by some reckonings spanned the entire period of occupation (Lukas 2012, 9). Working to a list of 61,000 Poles to be rounded up and killed (Snyder 2011, 126) the operation convulsed the occupied land with mass-killings in forests and public executions in town and city squares, swiftly penetrating the prestigious seats of learning when, in November 1939, the SS “arrested almost 200 professors and fellows of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow – one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Europe – and of the Polytechnic and sent them to Sachsenhausen. Many of them died.” (Lukas 2012, 8-9). Its second phase as a formally constituted operation was the A-B Aktion (Ausserrordentliche Befriedungsaktion/extraordinary pacification action), initiated in the Spring of 1940, “the target being the Polish elite, 30,000 of whom were incarcerated, and at least 6,500 instantly murdered” (Bloxham 2009, 174). Total death toll in the formal actions may have reached 50,000 (Snyder 2011, 127).
The German nationalist motivations behind this action are beyond the discussion of our study; what concerns us is the processes and methods used, including their capacity for re-application in comparable contexts, or adaption to other contexts. The original context is of course part of the picture, and this includes the array of tactical considerations around employment of ethno-nationalism as an operative fiction for the purposes of large-scale annihilation of intellectual specialists, including its notoriously incendiary motivational power and its self-imposed limitation to the restricted canvas of an imagined community; but these concerns should not be placed in the way of our actual subject matter, the how-to. That the Intelligenzaktion was not anti-intellectual, but anti-Slavic, does not invalidate all aspects of its operation in pragmatic terms, which in the event do not belong to any supposed historical in-group, however dogmatically agents assert its exclusivity.
Ironically the limited goals of the German ethno-nationalist program with regards to anti-intellectualism per se, the goal being to ethnically cleanse Polish territory for future colonization, may enhance the methodological rigor in this case. The very instrumentalization of the anti-intellectual action by an ethno-nationalist agenda makes for a very pure methodology of caste-slaughter within the limited confines it sets itself, because it wants to make that annihilation total within the zone-of-limitation. Restriction facilitates clarity of purpose, which accompanies technical excellence, this being the disciplined limitation referred to earlier. At the risk of muddying this with speculation such a limited crucible of action could be compared to the Maoist concept of the liberated area, which has potential to be re-applied to the program of intellectual caste annihilation.
In broad-stroke terms what the above speculation means is that total war applied in surgical manner could be the optimum configuration for the caste annihilation under discussion.
Technically speaking then, firstly excising a social sector is a hard task, and requires an able strike force. This is the bottom line for applied violence, and fidelity to this should be maintained alongside the many other considerations that emerge when planning and executing action (Bourke 1999, 57-90). Civilization bestows on us a huge reservoir of conditioned humanity through which targeted force may be applied (Arendt 2006, 135). Hyperprocesses of coercion, inducement, and suggestion are the stock-in-trade for designers of applied violence. These are the primary terms of engagement, the background in relation to which other maneuvers are set, and into which they must recede should a break in continuity of force-application at a critical moment develop.
The German national-state and its war-machine, close to peak condition in 1939 industrial-era terms, provides a sound case-study for how adaption to complexities of macro-social violence might segue with targeting of the intellectual social caste. It should however be recognized that a so-called ‘decapitation strike’ on intellectuals within a context of geopolitical upheaval had recent precedent in the 1915 “Red Sunday” targeting of Armenian intellectuals, which signaled the escalation towards systematic genocide (Akçam 2007, 135, Bloxham 2005, 83). Nevertheless, the 1939-45 German occupied Polish crucible speaks most directly to the increasingly entangled terrains in which future actions may occur, as a “laboratory where they could experiment with methods of administration and exploitation” (Lukas 2012, 7), and of course mass-murder.
With surprising conformity to the experimental roots of fascism, its cult of speed and darkly sincere affectation of war as cleansing action, blitzkrieg is the key to the Polish action, and the carrying out of the Intelligenzaktion within it (Bergen 2009, 103). Blitzkrieg provides the necessary seismic unlocking of the situation. The dizzying speed maximizes potential for ‘the fog of war’ in which unprecedented ruptures may be created, albeit that the swiftness of the onslaught may actually narrow the window-of-opportunity for creating ruptures which last, those that force a society into sustained crisis, eventually tipping entire structures into new formations.
The rapid social engineering that immediately went into effect in Poland required the efforts of deeper organs of the state than those that blasted open the territory, most importantly agencies which could employ intelligence quickly and effectively. True to its totalitarian intentions the Nazi regime had been developing many such interlocking organs; in addition to army and standard administrative bureaucrats, the new organs of state representing an amalgam of total policing with military-political methods were rapidly imported into conquered territory. The cutting-edge in occupied Poland was the combined forces of security police/Sipo (the administrative combination of criminal police with secret police/Gestapo) and the SD (the intelligence agency of the SS), which “were responsible for the identification and apprehension of political enemies” (Bloxham 2009, 175). Under the overall umbrella of the SS these investigative-executive bureaus represent an embryonic expression of totalitarianism as a method of complete political control, gestating within the increasingly powerful shadow-state of the SS (in which they were subsidiary) (Mazower 2009, 232-3). What is crucial to understand about this situation is how the theatre of war enables consolidation and expansion of honed tools of state which may affect deep strikes into the social body, whereas in more placid times the force of inertia stifles these developments.
Worth mention is the SD corporate culture, integral to its fervent technocratic methods, in which staff “saw themselves as self-disciplined members of a highly centralized elite” (Mazower 2009, 234), fed by its policy of recruiting “heavily in the universities, ensuring a supply of young lawyers, sociologists and philologists, many with freshly minted doctorates” (Mazower 2009, 234).
At the risk of being precious, worth consideration is how nascent intellectual coteries might be destroyed from the inside, as well as exterminated from the outside, one method to achieve this being to harness them to that very task of extermination; staffed with a large contingent of SD personnel “it was in Poland that the Einsatzgruppen were to fulfil their mission as “ideological soldiers” by eliminating the educated classes of a defeated enemy. (They were in some sense killing their peers: fifteen of the twenty-five Einsatzkommando commanders had doctorates.)” (Snyder 2011, 146)
Thus the totalitarian contradiction whereby the attempt to reform humanity for a freshly designed world, fit for purpose to the industrial age (which requires destruction of supposedly decadent and regressive forces along the way), tending to compound many of the oppressive aspects of that age, may be only a backdrop to the genuine engineering of the hollowed-out technocratic personality that occupies any given social position (Traverso 2003, 77-9). In the case of the intellectual they may have become a functionary to an agenda rather than an expert in knowledge, the title and procedures of the role being retained, but the purpose and the lived reality having reversed.
These academically qualified scions of the new order were however significantly less effective at killing intellectuals than their Soviet counterparts, the NKVD, then purging eastern Poland under their own occupation. Einsatzgruppen killed on a more ad-hoc basis, letting egregious social elements leak away (Snyder 126-7). As the war progressed eastward the Einsatzgruppen would increasingly come into alliance with local forces, assimilating into the murky internecine politics of the east European hinterlands (Bloxham 2009, 281-2, Mazower 2009, 450-1). The Polish Intelligenzaktion signaled the entry into marriage of this bastion of rationalist industrial modernity with its antediluvian shadow. Applied intelligence must draw as much from the ancient well of intersecting vendettas as from the well tabulated filing cabinet.
The reality is that even the most efficient military-bureaucratic seek-and-destroy machine is a dragnet, and a dragnet is never truly comprehensive. The target sector inevitably secretes itself within the social body and reconfigures, thus emphasizing that genocide provides the most plausible model for success, within its own restricted horizon of ambition, which is hardly satisfactory.
And yet, thanks to the information revolution the global surveillance network allows for a dragnet of an unprecedentedly fine gauge. And where technology leads, the mind tends to follow. With global populations living in an ongoing data blizzard, both increasingly conscious of macropolitical and economic forces controlling them as well as thoroughly capitulated to them, there is diminishing need for a mediating caste of specialized intellectual parasites (Gramsci 1971, 281), albeit that fitful resurgences before final dissolution would be the historical norm. A temporary association between the mass and the technical operators of macro-control systems, including public-facing showmen, may gradually or suddenly dislodge the sector from its burrow, allowing deeper war to flourish unencumbered by courtiers and heralds who mistake themselves for combatants.
If a slow and messy elimination procedure proves necessary then the grinding apparatus of attrition must expand and rhizomate.
III. – Condor
Cold War era Latin America lacks the solid center of our previous example, but is all the more relevant for that reason. Narrative tools such as ‘Cold War’ enable the normalization of war as a permanent state, allowing for the integration of sociopolitical and economic organization with ‘security’ to consolidate and become formally recognized as a principle of social life, a mantle subsequently taken by ‘the war on terror’. Narratively speaking war is everywhere, always happening now, so machinations of the secret state against its own citizens as well as foreign nationals are necessary. The words of Augusto Pinochet, “I do not believe that this has been a real victory over Marxism. Marxism is like a ghost, it is very difficult to catch, even impossible to trap” (Euro Television Productions Studio 1973), indicate this approach to conflict as endless and boundless, the concept of victory itself even having become obsolete.
The many techniques of counterinsurgency applicable to so-called times of emergency fundamentally rely on the idea of ‘the enemy within’, and from the securitization of the world, its increasing infiltration into everyday life, “the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ politics of repression” (Barhono de Brito 1994, 345) can be fused. Stealing into the storytelling that is humanity’s principal addiction is the sense that the social sphere itself is one long purge, with myriad alliance-groupings waiting in the wings for their time in the killing-zone.
The geographic and procedural extent of the interconnected web of action under consideration has a convenient handle in Operation Condor, the transnational covert-operation aimed at intelligence-gathering and assassination, of which Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Peru were participants, and behind which the patronage of the USA was massively influential (McSherry 2002, 38-60). Formalized in 1975, and effective into the 1980s, its most significant dominions are Chile and Argentina.
The Chilean coup of 1973, accompanied by mass detention and selected torture and murder of political opponents and suspects, can and did serve as inspiration and model for others. In addition to the estimated 3,216 people disappeared and killed in Chile, mass-detention, torture, and political repression, 2% of the population were driven into exile (Quay Hutchinson et al. 2014, 435-6). The various Argentinian military regimes were exceptional for their sustained application of state violence; the National Reorganization Process (el Proceso) regime Dirty War of 1976-83, in which number of deaths and disappearances may amount to 30,000 (Al Jazeera 16 April 2019), was prosecuted with particular vehemence.
Without the focused genocidal intent that drove the Intelligenzakion the actions here remain more limited in the terms of our objectives. In Chile the sweep carried away a high proportion of professionals of all hues, but alongside many others, evident from the outset during the coup itself: “the firing went on all the following day, along with reports of the targets attached – the Pedagógico, the leftist education school of the University of Chile; the Sumar textile factory, the working class districts of San Miguel, the “Red Country,” the shantytowns…near the Cordillera” (Winn 2002, 449)
The Argentine sequence is more compatible with our area of concern, beginning on 29th July 1966, ‘The Night of the Long Batons’, almost a decade prior to the Operation Condor era. The night and its aftermath are exemplary in showing how state violence can be applied to a social sector:
On the evening after the inauguration, police invaded the University of Buenos Aires, where communists had taken control of the student government. During the notorious “Night of the Long Clubs” (Noche de los Bastones largos), the dean, assistant dean, several of the faculty, and more than two hundred students at the Faculty of Exact Sciences were battered unmercifully and forced to run a gauntlet between two rows of policemen who clubbed them with rifle butts as they passed. (Lewis 1993, 14)
This was prelude to a systematic regulatory assault on the structures themselves when “the regime of General Juan Carlos Onganía (1966-70) attacked the scientific and university communities, and again during the Proceso when universities and research institutes were purged. Once more exile became the fate of many intellectuals.” (Lewis 1993, 15). Extending into more widespread cultural suppression through strict censorship and institutional neglect (Lewis 1993, 16, see also Lehman and Logan 1990, 253) the overall nature and effect of the regime in the terms we are considering can be bluntly summed up: “these policies resulted in the complete degradation of intellectual activities” (Lewis 1993, 17).
However even the above sustained campaign should be viewed as a component, one aspect of a more fundamental social resculpting. It is necessary to comprehend that the Latin American examples are fundamentally anti-leftist, and not view them through the lens of the intellectual annihilatory principle, in order to expose the deeper implications of the model, which can then service that very principle. Once again, the tendency of ideological limitation to generate intensive research and development of re-applicable lethal structures and procedures holds.
That violent social purgation was only a corollary of a program of technological and economic modernization within the neoliberal model, the “new institutional order” (van der Ree 2007, 142, see also Silva 2009, 139, and Nouzeilles & Montaldo 2002, 395), a subsidiary phenomenon in a wider process of social remodeling, lessens it in one respect, but expands it in others. The hidden advantage is the insinuation of precisely targeted violence into the design of the program for social change. In the Chilean “military’s authoritarian political and neoliberal economic projects through which its leaders sought to permanently inoculate Chile against future revolutionary experiments and statist policies” (Quay Hutchinson et al. 2014, 433) it is the ambition of “permanent inoculation” that is worth attention. The use of force in the evolution of a socioeconomic system produces new forms for isolating and annihilating social elements systemically, which become permanent features of that system, in other words a cross-assimilation between methodologies of targeted murder and social management. In Argentina’s case “violence was more than a manifestation of minority radicalism; increasingly endemic in a society on the border of political collapse, terror was linked to formal political, military and police groups and institutions” (Barhono de Brito 1994, 345). An infrastructure and set of mechanisms is established for eliminating human action that works against the design of the system; naturally, when the original goal of the system atrophies, in this case neoliberal modernization, the infrastructure of applied force may be repurposed.
The actual techniques on offer from the Latin American case are a litany of coercive violence and intimidation: mass detention, indefinite detainment without trial, death squads, kidnapping, torture of targets in their own homes and in secret detention centers, rape and sexual assault, summary extra-judicial murder, seizure of orphaned children of murdered targets, secret disposal of bodies, withholding of information (CONADEP 1986). Many detailed techniques are well documented, for example the use of sexual degradation by the Chilean DINA, who maintained “dogs trained to rape”, extending to inserting vermin into the vaginas of female targets, as described in Dr. Sheila Cassidy’s testimony: “they put a mouse, or a rat, up her vagina; you know absolute sort of really the pit of bestiality” (Bain 1999). Such fine detail deserves special attention, the literature on the subject providing an invaluable resource in this regard.
The systematic and improvisational blending of human ingenuity with brutal cruelty is designed to create a climate of fear, but this is only in relation to the larger principle of sustainability of control exerted through regimes and policies in a political context where the boundary between war and peace is gone. This is encompassed matryoshka-like by the even greater context of ideological contestation to define what is freedom or slavery, which in fact masks an assertion that these visions of life as terms of reference are irrelevancies. The context of the irrelevance of freedom and slavery applies to all participants to the system of order, regardless of station; by the terms of its dictates everyone becomes a functionary within the structure, and as functionary they do not have the integrity necessary to be slave, nor free. The human lacks capacity for integrity because it is neither end-in-itself nor origin for initiative, it is an instrument of structure.
From the consequent structural integrity of control comes potential longevity, particularly relevant to a world where the meshing of civilian life with technological and logistical police-state apparatus has become increasingly standard; this world. The stability of this police-state model may be close to optimum for the purposes of enacting a sustained and possibly permanent purge.
One especially beneficial aspect of Operation Condor is cross-border co-operation between regimes, so that the target (individual, affiliate-groups, or entire social sectors) increasingly has nowhere to escape to, travelling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but unable to evade the surveillance that makes them continually subject to detention and liquidation (McSherry 1999, see also BBC 27 May 2016). Closing the loophole of exile and flight by building a transnational infrastructure of information gathering, containment, and murder is increasingly plausible thanks to globalization. Despite its Cold War origins Operation Condor appears increasingly well-tailored to the digital age.
What emerges from the above picture is a vision of human affairs, from macropolitics to psychological conditioning, which resembles dirty war; dirty war emerges paradigmatically as synonymous with human organization itself, explaining the corruption and brutality that are hallmarks of human history, and casting the historical account as post-rationalizing duplicity in service to established, clandestine, and latent agendas.
Such understanding comes perilously close to the aestheticized fatalism that is virtually indistinguishable from certain modes of intellectualism itself, the tenured fatalism of ghettoized intellect. However if one avoids falling under the glamour of the aesthetics of power, and resists fetishizing the capacity of these aesthetics to proliferate across minds, the mechanisms at work in particular instances are often well-crafted, made to measure, and ready for action.
Even in the most stabilized societies grandstanding commentators, an increasingly prevalent type of intellectual, know that without meaningful connection to an infrastructure of applied force they are safe only as long as they are tolerable to those who are connected. What is most pertinent is the psychological basis of such grandstanding, which is the result of a disconnected and exposed position. The attempt to create a human-shield through corralling a mass of weak social agents around a cause, the strategic equivalent of throwing up a makeshift barricade, may be an act of desperation, but in manipulating the malleable it does evidence an understanding of the terms of the engagement. With careful handling such manipulators may be recruited and put to use; if so then the aforementioned fatalism may prove the most important psychological quality of all, as they will understand from the outset their own disposability.
IV. – Zero
The April 17th 1975 social experiment inaugurated by the Khmer Rouge upon its occupation of Phnom Penh in Cambodia is pre-eminently fitting for the purposes of our study. The Khmer Rouge championed the existential purity of the peasantry and held an unremittingly harsh antipathy to the established social order, directed with particular intensity at the educated. The social purgation of intellectuals genuinely aspired to comprehensiveness, occurring within a national shock-treatment program that left almost two million dead, approximately 25% of the population (Locard 2005, 121). The program, involving emptying the cities, closing the borders, abolishing religion, money, traditional schooling, markets, and personal property, imposing forced labor and collectivization of social and work life (largely eradicating family life), subjecting the entire populace to invasive political indoctrination, and routinely torturing and killing high volumes of people suspected of opposing or obstructing the regime and its ideology (Clayton 1998, 1-2, Ngor 2003, 210-215) evidences the scope of action that can be taken when determined cadre are well-positioned and don’t hesitate.
It might, disingenuously, be pointed out that the Khmer Rouge leadership were themselves intellectuals, as if this indicated something fundamental, but professional revolutionaries have established for some time that the situation in which the struggle occurs is a tool with which to destroy and remake it, and as the revolutionary is part of that situation they become sacrificable to the goal if the cause requires it. Those who orchestrate a reign-of-terror know this well; they are self-realized as “instrument of history…proceeding in secrecy with incandescent revolutionary tasks.” (Chandler 1999, Brother Number One 6).
A complex ideological and geopolitical web of influence informed the Khmer Rouge valorization of the socially uncorrupted peasantry, primarily the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Chandler 1999, Brother Number One 73, 133-4). Yet notwithstanding this influence (and also noting the suspect intent behind why certain episodes of mass killing are highlighted and others passed-by) (Fein 1993, 796-823) Democratic Kampuchea justly earns its mythic status and practical credentials as a roadmap for implacably and relentlessly implemented social-engineering, a guiding-star in the annals of industrial-era man-made cataclysm. Socially speaking the country was razed to stubble.
The self-mythologizing emphasis on ‘independence mastery’, the policy of self-sufficiency and revolutionary self-determination (Chandler et al. 1988, 171), in Democratic Kampuchea was at once a commonplace propaganda tool for projecting the regime as self-created and uniquely positioned as a vanguard, and also a true indicator of the regime’s exemplary single-mindedness to effect social change, come what may. It proved these credentials in action (Procknow 2014, 371, Clayton 1998, 3-4).
In Democratic Kampuchea not only were all intellectuals automatically associated with the corrupt and exploitative old order, and therefore targets for annihilation, having smashed all the structures of that order there was nowhere to hide. Famously, even the wearing of spectacles, associated with education and privilege within the old order, was cause for suspicion (Pina e Cunha 2014, 47). The regime was constantly on the alert to the slenderest means for enemies to reform and reinfiltrate. Having sliced through the nets of complexity the vehicle was sufficient to the purpose.
Alongside ideology, just as essential to achieving the results obtained was a gestalt of circumstance, which enabled the sweeping away of entire city-populations into tightly controlled crucibles of applied force in the countryside. These zones of tight control were initially funneled-into and pre-prepared by an extremely rapid mass-scale death march, which demolished the social and material props upon which the target population maintained its coherence (Yathay 2000, 20-35).
Key to the lesson is how the coming into alignment of a relatively weak and marginal political force in a situation of underlying long-term instability (like the surrounding region Cambodia was destabilized by macropolitical conflicts playing out, in Cambodia’s case notably through relentless aerial carpet-bombing) (Kiernan 1996, 24) may demand of the suddenly ascendant force action of the most radical nature. The virulence of the Khmer Rouge anti-urban and anti-bourgeois stance stands out in hindsight, but the immediate circumstances of the time and place indicate a profound tactical truth. Where a stronger force would be likely to attempt consolidation of its conquests, the realistic assessment by the Khmer Rouge that it simply could not control the city necessitated the immediate forced-displacement of urban populations (McIntyre 1996, 731) and institution of a program of action for the populace, this largely comprising digging irrigation and drainage systems for forthcoming rice crops.
Such circumstances may seem fortuitous, difficult to anticipate, and tactically even more difficult to engineer. However, with the projected instabilities of mass-industrial civilization increasing due to depletion of resources, mass migration, breakdown of social contracts due to wealth disparity combined with increasing information access, environmental fluctuation, and so on, such anomalous conjunctions, black swans, may become more probable; although preparedness is essential the most powerful weapon for the agent-of-change may be capacity to wait until the world arrives.
Operationally intrinsic to the effectiveness of Khmer Rouge programmatic rigor was the genuineness of its power-base in the peasantry (Chandler 1999, Voices from S-21 32); the claims of the cause and the methods of organization were aligned. The rapidity of mass forced-displacement was mirrored by a similar rapidity with which the Khmer Rouge army of peasant shock-troops surged from rural bases to strike the city. Living profoundly separate lives from urban centers, the alienness of peasant soldiers to the notional social centers provides a useful social disjuncture and reservoir of implacability when they are suddenly thrust to prominence (Yathay 2000, 18), especially when battle-hardened by long-term guerrilla warfare. The cities meant little to these soldiers, and their powers-of-endurance made them ideally suited to overseeing the forced-labor micro-regimes, where these regimes effectively doubled as death-camps.
Moreover, by the time cadre took over they were not just indifferent, but charged with intense hostility to city people:
Khmer Rouge ideology helped manufacture urbanites into an “other” marked as corrupt and targeted for revenge. City people were not only capitalist exploiters, they also were not quite “real Khmer” – instead they represented a hated enemy who should be “crushed” by class ardor and fury.” (Hinton 2005, 79)
The regime slogan “to keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss” (Pran 1997, 13) was de-facto guiding principle in the forced labor camps/collective farms, but stands in contrast to the policy goal of a socioeconomic great leap forward for the nation, where agricultural productivity would be maximized, leading in due course to a second wave of industrial development (Chandler et al. 1988, 44-106). The mass-death illustrates the competing agendas of socioeconomic development and ideologically-driven social purgation, in one set of terms wastage of a vast amount of workers, in another comprehensive destruction of atrophic social elements, historically a far from novel arrangement (Snyder 2011, 21-58). This combination of the drive to ideological purity with the schematics of social management typify state totalitarianism, which distinguishes it in design-terms from the kleptocratic rapacity of the plantation system, which ultimately worships by the rule of bookkeeping; for political visionaries working in the field of historical construction timely mass die-offs are a happy accident, so to speak.
It would be remiss of any regime however to allow killing to become a mere outcome of the tidal patterns of the planned economy, when the totalitarian approach creates opportunity for far greater murderous precision. One enhanced characteristic of the vanguardist total state is the tendency to so-called paranoia as a means to facilitate purging (Chandler 1999, Voices from S-21 41-46). This is worth exploring from a tactical perspective. The groundwork requires developing and implementing ideology which aspires to be a complete explanation of the nature of the social-structures we inherit and live within (Hinton 2005, 30), and which assumes authority to prescribe a program in which human thought and action is directed towards the most necessary change to these structures. The better the ideological system is designed the more able it is to represent supposed deviation from the program as a betrayal of humanity itself, a betrayal of its definitive needs and imperatives; it is the sabotaging of the necessary. With a methodology for control this rigorous, the psychological term paranoia is too limited; it is not dysfunctional, as the psychological term paranoia implies, but a fully-functioning socioexistential program, positively asserted within the nexus and trajectory of human affairs (Kiernan 2001, 195). Certainly absurdities occur through forced confessions, patently fabricated denouncements, show-trials, and so on, but to characterize the method as clownish and naïve is to overlook the results achieved, results which are strategically calculated. It is better to arrest, torture, and kill the innocent, than to risk allowing an enemy to escape (Panh 2003), or more precisely the very fact that a person is under suspicion establishes that their positive worth to the cause has not been demonstrated in how they function, and in operational terms they have become obstruction, so that to kill them is to cut ones losses; simply put it is the calculation of human life in the terms of resource or liability.
Implementation through the peasant cadre tasked with on-the-ground rule of the collective human-resources of the country is the organizational stroke of genius, the integration of theory and practice was personified in the rule of the peasant-warrior; it lived, breathed, and enforced.
Like the specific sociopolitical circumstances leading to April 17th 1975, Year Zero, invoking the power of peasants as military-political force may seem anomalous, given rapid industrial development globally. Therefore it should again be stressed that the unsustainability of the global extraction, manufacture, and trade system, a system that has necessitated urbanization and mass literacy, is arguably its most defining feature; the potential rapid dissolution of infrastructure, in tandem with the hugely expanded human population in the industrial-era, may make steering human resources the cutting edge of future conflict, and clinging to technological warfare increasingly precarious. When power descends from the signal-fields of the stratosphere and rises from the cable nets and bunkered servers to re-enter those who occupy the earth’s surface the force they will possess will be matchlessly tsunamic. The possibility that the opportunity to shape the fabric and to carve the destiny of humanity at unprecedented scale will emerge, and the axiomatic-truth that some ready force or other will be most advantageously placed to strike if this occurs should therefore be given due consideration.
Democratic Kampuchea demonstrates the magnitude of force that an ideologically-driven organization can conjure and orchestrate within a window-of-opportunity, a force that can bend, shape, and pulverize entire societies. The accurate assessment that inherent to the experiment is its patent unsustainability, that in managerial terms it is notable for its failure and therefore largely functions as a distorting myth (Kiernan 2001, 189-190, Panh 2013), does not invalidate the lesson, in fact that very unsustainability may point to the fundamentals upon which the myth of managerialism rests; it exalts the experiment rather than invalidates it. From the larger perspective what appears as aberrant and transient from within history may be part of a wider process of history itself shattering, a fissure through which deeper substrata of reality can be encountered. In industrial-era revolutionary parlance it is the system collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, in this case the entire system of control and management in which humanity has enmeshed itself, beyond which is primal and original reality, “truth stripped of its cloak of time” (Conrad 1973, 69).
Whether at the specific historical breaking-point, or over the enduring conflict-of-attrition that is history itself, it is the proposal of this document that extermination of intellectuals promises exceptional scale-of-effect for force applied in any event.
V. – Afterword
This essay is written from a ludic structuralist perspective. At time of writing ludic structuralism remains a nascent discipline, therefore this afterword provides one brief account of what it is, or might be, for readers unfamiliar with the approach.
In the context of this essay ludic structuralism is diagnosis of, and prescription for, historical consciousness, however as it is by nature mercurial and mutational no definitive account of the approach is, or could be, suggested.
As a paradigm, ludic structuralism is ideally suited to generating ‘how-to’ manuals (as well as texts that may seem to be about something, when they are designed to affect something, the ‘how-to’ being demonstrative rather than declarative). Utility might seem the obvious reason to draft a treatise such as this, dealing with applied force, targeted mass-killings, and so on, given the speculated forthcoming collapse of industrial civilization and the fracturing of the ideological consensus that will precede it, which will entail a bitter civil-war among ideological specialists (i.e. we are currently pre-rationalizing a human social phase of extreme conflict). However utility is only an enabler of new qualities of being, which in their fullest realization will be ludic. Analysis is both a tactical front in the unleashing of ludic potential, ludic prowess, and also a form of it – it is desirable.
Everything being contingent and constructed (or rather interpenetrating and transformative, it being an active and participatory process, not passive and reactive), including one’s own position, orientation, and semblance of self, then everything is material, material in the sense of that which is employed by a writer, artist, playwright etc. Modes of engagement become elements on the palette, so to speak, materials to be used when navigating and choreographing the experience and the event of contact, in its operative military sense, meaning the point at which forces engage in the theatre of war, likewise applicable to lovers’ embrace. Ludic structuralism presupposes this point of contact as synonymous with the ground of being, with reality, and the character and depth of how one engages is then the scope and power of this being in its irreducible specificity.
More prosaically ludic structuralism as deviant conceit and programmatic advance emerges from the sustained instrumentalizing of creativity among those formally categorized and ranked in the cultural sector of the overdeveloped world; it is a breakthrough from this instrumentalization.
In its most immediate effect ludic structuralism is the exposure of the fallacious conflation between cultural structuralism and humanitarianism, in the socially-redemptive sense of the latter term, which is deeply embedded in this sector, a conflation that is only maintainable in an environment of accelerated superficiality and cultural dislocation.
Agents who look through this baseless device, noting the intent to establish conformity of opinion, will realize that the implication of instrumentalizing creativity towards an end, social redemption for example, is that instrumentalization per se is itself a pre-eminent tool for creativity, and may be turned towards to some other end, or more dangerously stochastic still, its potentials may simply be experimented with towards any composed purpose on a canvas which is potentially unlimited.
Humanitarianism in its deep sense, divested of its managerial fantasies masquerading as emancipation, is ludic, evident no less in its august terrors than its casual frivolities, should these be distinct in the first instance.
Capering in blends of Epicureanism and asceticism, technocratic master-planning and abandonment in ecstatic festival, commingled degrees of efficacy of ends and means are composed for their amusement value, for novelty, drollness, limpidity, and so on. Even collapse, failure and ignominy are available as potentials and strategies. Thus in existence is brought forth essence, the taste and texture of life as it is entered into, and by which it enters, with nothing standing above or outside this, least of all the illusions of the human staked in the terms of their own action and design.
The structure we are a part of is also our plaything, the process through which greatness is emblazoned is also its destruction. As long as one gives everything, it’s all there for the taking, atavistic and Promethean.
— Om Lekha