Napoleon advancing on Madrid

Text: Napoleon enacts his civil code in conquered Spain / The conservative population responds with rebellion / The figure of the partisan is born / Carl Schmitt, the forefather of American neo-conservatives, takes the situation in Madrid as a point of departure for his analysis of the most aggressive antagonist of governmental authority / Left-wing theorist Oskar Negt reports - -

Text: NAPOLEON ADVANCING ON MADRID / Oskar Negt on Carl Schmitt and the PARTISANS

Alexander Kluge: Napoleon is advancing on Madrid. In his text about the partisan, Carl Schmitt provides us with a description of this event. What is happening, what kind of situation are we looking at?

Oskar Negt: Well, it’s a situation where two armies in formation are facing off in a very traditional sense, with symbols, uniforms, and an appropriate level of organization. The Spanish army is defeated and surrenders, and everything is proceeding according to the norms …

Kluge: They capitulate.

Negt: … of international war. Napoleon seems to be fully satisfied with the developments. He conquered the Spanish continent. But now something happens that is surprising to Napoleon: His army is attacked by farmers and …

Text: Oskar Negt, writer

Kluge: They are ambushed at night.

Negt: They are ambushed. This army in Spain suddenly has to deal with attacks that they were not prepared for. Because they can’t really identify their enemy.

Text: Declaration of the Code Civil

Kluge: Even though Napoleon had just enacted the Code Civil. He granted the farmers the abolition of serfdom.

Negt: Of course. He had introduced the Code Civil in Spain, and he was very surprised to see that it wasn’t readily accepted by the entire population – because the civil code had something for everyone, including the farmers.

Kluge: He brought European civilization to a medieval country. Similar to the introduction of democracy in Iraq, if you will.

Text: Desastre de la Guerra (Goya)

Negt: Exactly. In that sense, it’s a social conflict where people are fighting from a position of powerlessness – but in a way that is extremely irritating to the organized army and exhausts a lot of energies.

Kluge: In the middle of the night, the partisans kill French soldiers, most of whom are actually from Westphalia or Italy. And during the day, the soldiers execute partisans – or people accused of being partisans – to make a public statement. They are in need of some kind of counter-terror.

Negt: The era of reprisals begins, and the reprisals are excessive. They execute hostages, for the first time in such a military context. And that’s what prompts Carl Schmitt to ask: What is a controlled war? Like, a …

Text: Carl Schmitt (1888-1985)

Kluge: A professional war, so to speak.

Negt: Yes, a professional war. Is it about framing the soldier as justus hostis, as public enemy? Schmitt says that means he needs to wear uniform and display his weapons. But the strength of the partisans is precisely that they …

Kluge: … do not march in parades …

Negt: They don’t parade, they don’t wear uniform, and they most certainly don’t openly display their weapons.

Kluge: They are party members. That’s what partisan means, and they carry that in their hearts.

Negt: They fight by defending themselves against an enemy who invades their lives, even if it’s in an indirect way. Initially, this army doesn’t actually have a presence in the countryside but focuses on the big cities. Just like the march on Moscow was crucial for the Russia campaign, and then, surprise …

Kluge: The fates are decided in the countryside where the lines of communication are running. And these lines are interrupted.

Negt: And what emerges is a kind of terror of small groups, of farmers …

Kluge: And the responding counter-terror.

Negt: The counter-terror.

Kluge: Which undermines Napoleon’s authority more than any lost battle could.

Negt: In that sense, Spain marks the beginning of his demise, not Prussia. Carl Schmitt says very accurately that the Prussian Army is not prepared for partisans. Even their resistance against Napoleon maintains its official character. The peace treaty of Tauroggen is still part of a traditional practice of war.

Kluge: But an asymmetry is created by the fact that actual normal people who are difficult to spot are facing off with an explicitly and publicly marked army. The “official” army can only lose, although there is …

Negt: But the partisans also cannot win.

Kluge: They cannot win. It’s a stalmate.

Negt: And that’s why the battles are so extremely violent, because the main goals on both sides make a peace accord impossible. You can’t enter a peace agreement with partisans, you can only negotiate conditions for a truce.

Kluge: Why is that so different in the case of partisans during the Chinese civil war against the Japanese? Or in Vietnam, where the concept of the partisan takes on a very different color?

Negt: The Long March of the Chinese … it’s not a coincidence that Mao Zedong relied on such partisan troops but then proceeded to establish the Red Army – an actual army is formed.

Kluge: It has an official, professional core.

Negt: A professional core, a professional organization, professional leaders.

Text: Oskar Negt, writer

Kluge: And the rule is always: The fact that they have relationships with neighboring countries makes them capable of achieving peace on the one hand, and difficult to beat on the other. For example, they have the support of the Soviet Union.

Negt: Exactly. Neighborly relations. And in that sense the movement is anchored in the population. The Long March and the Chinese Red Army basically depend on the population. Which means that the expansion of the territory they conquer is always tied to a collective development of law and order. That means these territories, the conquered territories are constituted based on revolutionary law, or some kind of law anyway. And there is always some kind of legal structure.

Kluge: That means liberated territories.  

Negt: Liberated territories.

Kluge: And it’s not just a matter of the armed forces showing up, but also the driving force behind the legislation process …

Negt: Legislation and labor processes are promoted and organized … but of course that is the case neither for the network of partisans fighting in 1812 Russia against Napoleon nor in Spain. Those partisans are merely defending the old places and their rights. They are conservative.

Kluge: And after they have forced Napoleon to retreat from Spain, and the war has been decided by third actors – the English and so on …

Negt: The old forces …

Kluge: … they cannot hold the liberated territories. So you could say that the fates are not going to be decided in favor of the partisans as long as the power hierarchy is decided by gunfire. However, if the source of power is not gunfire but conviction, if it leads to the constitution of a new order …

Negt: The desire for liberation simply has to take into consideration the traditional structures of the own country if they want to establish their rule.

Kluge: In that regard, the oath, the “Rütlischwur,” the alliance of cities and cantons in Switzerland against the oppressors --

Text: Rütlischwur (1291)

Negt: It’s revolutionary because it has lasting consequences, because it establishes a new order.

Kluge: Which persists to this day. To this day, and the emerging political structure even adopts a neutral, non-aggressive position. Even if initially the entire country functions as an army.

Negt: The history of Switzerland is a strange development. There are indeed elements of the partisan at play, because Switzerland’s defensive forces rely on the mobilization of the farmer as partisan. There are detailed instructions telling the farmer how to behave. It’s no different from the Spanish partisan. But the Swiss partisan has a constitution. He is a farmer and a free man. The same is not true for the Spanish farmers. And that’s why the act of liberation is successful as long as the enemy is kept from entering the country. They are already defending a free constitution.

Text: The term partisan is not much in use anymore

Kluge: Today, in the 21st century, you barely see references to the idea of the partisan. Could you analyze contemporary movements based on Carl Schmitt’s definition of the concept?

Negt: The nuanced distinctions have been lost. The differences between guerillero, partisan, terrorist … all that has been subsumed under the concept of the terrorist, and I think that is very dangerous. Because guerilleros and partisans have very different ideas about how to fight, and terrorists are really not partisans in the sense of a Spanish or Russian partisan.

Kluge: Because they are not backed by the population. Which means they have different motivations, highly abstract motivations, and they develop different, abstract fighting strategies …

Negt: And I mean … also in regard to World War II. Carl Schmitt talks about the Second World War and the significance of the partisan fight. That is true to a certain extent for Russia as well, and yet their partisan forces have always been connected to an organized army. That means, ultimately it was the Red Army that emerged as victor over Germany, not the partisans, who were able to interrupt traffic and supply routes, but could not conquer and defend any territories.

Kluge: You mean the difference is – we are only talking about historical concepts here – the difference is the backup from the population and the defense of something connected to their own space, their own cultural values, their imagination. That connection is already broken, partly broken in the case of the Red Army Fraction. The partisan is not merely a representative anymore, a warrior representing the population in the sense that he’s simply defending his own sphere.

Negt: I think this is what distinguishes the partisan in the traditional sense – it is not a coincidence that traditional partisans are farmers, who own their own land, who are fighting to defend the farm at their back.

Kluge: In their own country. And that would be different from a civil war how?  

Negt: A civil war involves clear formations. That means in a civil war, there is always going to be a certain parity in regard to the engagement with violence and power. It’s not possible for one group, one sect …

Text: NAPOLEON ADVANCING ON MADRID / Oskar Negt on Carl Schmitt and the PARTISANS