Historical Genealogies: War Machine, the State, Capitalism

Jude H
10 min readJul 1, 2022

The publication of Anti Oedipus, the first volume of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia, led to a sort of critical revolution. The two Frenchmen proposed an alternative lens that, while being fairly obscure and difficult to follow, was incredibly original and groundbreaking. Mediating between orthodox as well as neo-Marxist and Freudian ideas, they fabricated “schizoanalysis”, surpassing while encompassing both former ideologies. 8 years later, in 1980, they published volume 2: A Thousand Plateaus. This work not only built upon and arguably compacted the ideas of the previous volume, but also proposed a multitude of new ideas and hypotheses.

The conception of the state-form and its power in relation to historical materialism and schizoanalysis had been explored in Anti-Oedipus, but in A Thousand Plateaus, they expressed “the political problem” of the day through the hypothesis of the war machine. This problem was that of revolution. How can revolutionary forces and their organizations/actions avoid being directly or indirectly modeled by the state and its ideology, or simply whatever ideology they side with under the self-supposition of said state-form?

The ‘aim” of the war machine, coupled with the concepts of nonadology and nomadism, was not this simple. It not only aimed at addressing this problem but also, and more directly, of rethinking Socialism and doing away with capitalism, of furnishing a pure movement of revolution that aimed not at peace or terror.

The state-form not only functions by way of self-supposition but also a political monopoly. This “control” is twofold: It represses internal dissension, reducing it to the private level, to the level of disagreement rather than war, and delimits war to inter-state boundaries. The power of the state essentially appropriates the power of the war machine, in the case in which “war” finds itself embedded in the historical genealogy of the state. However, the hypothesis of the war machine makes it clear that the power of war holds the capacity to detach itself from the state form, as it is not intrinsically linked. Thus, the war machine exists within state power and makes up the conflictual interactions that form a heterogenesis, producing the power to escape and attack the state.

A key facet of the war machine is its anti-historicity. Historical origins are dominated and written from the perspective of civilization. This origin not only represses nomadism but also results in the self-civilization and continual perpetuation of sedentism. This precise perspective is what restricts the thinking of nomadism to the sense of the civilization it lacks or the civilization it threatens. Thus in the rethinking of the nomad, it must not be opposed to the state, and the state must not be defined by sedentary aspects. These relationships are better thought of in terms of exteriority and interiority. Nomadology is the “opposite” of history because history tends to lack heterogeneity, being written from the point of view of a unitary state apparatus. It does not suffice to think of the war machine as external to the state, although it is true, it must also be thought of as autonomous or independent: Pure exteriority while the state makes up the form of interiority, which has the tendency to overdetermine habits of thought and psychological function.

The reason Deleuze and Guattari take Genghis Khan as example is to demonstrate the multifaceted aspect of a nomad war machine. One that establishes its own civilization or era through, in this case, the material destruction of imperialism, while maintaining its formal exteriority through material state destruction. The way in which Deleuze and Guattari think of exteriority and interiority pulls away from Hegel, another important thinker of the state, as Hegel proposes that any form of exteriority always exists relative to the form of interiority in the Philosophy of Right. Hegel acknowledges the heterogeneity of states and exterior/interior forms but does not pose this in contradiction to the universality of the state concept. The universality is what defines the interiority, while the dynamics of exterior and interior, in which war takes place, all rest in the field of this universality. The state form is proposed as essentially inescapable, and it is the most harmful step Hegel took in its self presupposition

The war machine should not be defined in such totality but rather, keeping in line with Deleuzian ontology, a process populated by nomads and nomad forms (empirical singularities). The war machine is not simply war, but can take form in an artistic, religious, technological, etc. movement. As soon as this movement distances itself from the state's interiority, it continually forms a war machine, making up the phenomenon of war, which is defined heterogeneously hand in hand. A war machine is what draws a line of flight from a form of interiority, a classification, a totality, a phylum, a state, etc. This comes with an important loss of stability and a flourishing of creativity.

In this general analysis, Deleuze makes an insistence on land and territory. This is because it founds the concepts of smooth or striated spaces. The process of nomadism is one that undoes the striation on the land that had once been delimited and essentially coded, while the state works to create the concept of law, a limit, establishing rationality and differentiating all levels of activity taking place on it. The process Deleuze favors essentially creates an unlimited space that is difficult to be captured, to an extent at which the space is reduced in importance to a conflation with the movements that occur there. Take for example the Arabs of Damascus and Mesopotamia in their fight to reclaim the Hejaz. The idea of establishing a solid-state formation was not on the horizon. Their culture was tribal by nature and held certain radically anarchist characteristics when disregarding certain religious fundamentals. They united in order to fight for the Arab existence in Hejaz, but not to establish a state, or one state. In this sense their conception of nationality was fluid and episodic, forming a nomadic and smooth space with their land while simultaneously fighting the empire/state.

The job of a state is not only to combat nomadism but to control movement, forming a set of laws, rights, regulations, etc. over a certain exterior, striating and internalizing it. And when a state fails, it adopts the characteristics of a war machine directed against the smooth space. War as a concept is typically realized to be politically determined. This is not, however, carried out in order to sustain political structures, but rather to generally represent certain political relations. The differences between wars and affairs are determined by the state conditions and their relationships, and these (pre)exist independently from the event of war. The military organization proper to a state exists due to its appropriation of a once separate war machine, and it is for this reason that the state historically has had large distrust in its military institutions, as a war machine is inherited extrinsically in every case, and the inherent tendency of a war machine coheres with its abstraction from political relations. It is important to note that concepts such as these remain so easy to observe but difficult to conceptualize due to the state apparatus and the grasp it has on our habits of thought and consciousness.

War is only ever integrated into political structures as a means to an end, the end being whatever political goals happen to exist. The war machine, however, is distinct positively from the war itself, and this is exposed by the extensive intricacies in its method of state-appropriation. It is important to note that the war machine does not take war as an object, but rather the collective organization and composition process of smooth space. A state, however, unlike the war machine, rests difficult to conceptualize without a military apparatus and confrontations of different political wills. War tends to rise due to confrontation between the war machine and the structure that threatens to impose over and dominate it, and thus the war machine makes it an objective to eradicate the state in line of flight.

The state form has a tendency to over determine its appropriation of the war machine in their encounter, establishing the presence of its own necessity, which does allow the war machine to, in turn, maintain autonomy, as was demonstrated by the Arabs in the Hejaz. Deleuze and Guattari chose Genghis Khan in exposition to refer to the pure exteriority of his power. Genghis Khan waged war successfully against centralized Chinese imperialism, while his successors founded new empires and reversed the war machine against the nomads. It is also worth mentioning that, as has been outlined already, the war machine does have its place and use in oppressive forces as well as revolutionary forces, which is the reason for which the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari have been utilized by the Israeli military in their more specifically guerrilla tactics of overtaking Palestinian land. What comes as a result of state appropriation is typically confused with its means of appropriation, for example, military and juridical dynamics of governance. Meanwhile, this remains untrue, and it is these that are dependent on the apparatuses of capture. This is primarily rooted in the governance of land and territory as well as the norms of residency, migration, circulation, and the establishment of the tax and monetary system in light of the exploitation of surplus labor in the structure of work. These have been historically developed in fashion that combines territorial belonging to military service as well as tax and property paying. This leads to the monetization of the economy while uptaking imperial surplus in territorializing military warriors. This was concretely developed by the time the major wars of religion had ceased and the bourgeois class had changed character, through a class promotion by a structured monetary economy. Deleuze and Guattari’s historical-machinic materialism can thus be seen as a selective extension of the Marxian analysis of primitive accumulation of capital, extending it to state power in the light of degrading pre-capitalist modes of production.

“State power” is the power of repression, and its internalization and collision with policing and legality lead to a twofold conclusion. The state becomes more embedded in social structure with a decrease in violence, while simultaneously accumulating war power and sovereignty on an international scale. Deleuze and Guattari’s subversion of Marx is essentially an outline of the relationship between the genealogy of capital in society and the military in the state.

Naturally, the logic of the war machine has evolved in the last half-century, specifically in tandem with changes in the schema of global capitalism. For one, military technology had had significant changes, and the strategic objectives at play in wars extended no longer simply to military functions but also to infrastructure, economy, population moral, etc. Essentially, the means and object of total war in the war machine become unlimited in their connection to capitalism. Just as capitalism overcodes the social field, the war machine becomes implicated in the investment of constant capital for military means and variable capital in the population. A proposition of the “global war machine” leads Deleuze and Guattari to a new conception of the state in relation to totalitarianism and fascism. The global war machine is one in which political goals become subordinated to the unconditioned and autonomous process of war. It claims autonomy as the state apparatus diminishes in importance in light of the party and war. This case came to be especially true with the National Socialist State in Nazi Germany, which demonstrates the slight distinction between fascism and totalitarianism, with fascism being more heavily involved with the war machine. Totalitarianism is a pure state affair while fascism is an unlimited process of building a totalitarian state through war machine imperialism. The national socialist party had mobilized its entire population in war as well as population ideology in the overall aim/process, it had converted its state economy into a war economy, and the state only now serves as an agent of acceleration towards destruction or annihilation in war. This is the reason that thinkers such as Deleuze and Guattari and Paulo Virilio conceive of fascism as a suicidal process. Hitler himself had made the primacy of war over any typical state or population concerns apparent in his doctrine. The war machine meets capitalism when the powers of states themselves became increasingly insignificant or decentralized during the rise of industrial capitalism and war economies hand in hand. The war machine essentially becomes the object of capitalization, while the state remains to manage certain relations of production and capitalist economic/social disequilibrium on a national scale. The state does indeed remain while a trans-state global capitalist monopoly develops at increasing rates, and the war machine becomes embedded in complexes that interact in continuity with one another but do not exist with respect to a national border or state, and thus traverse them.

The war machine is no longer subordinated to the political but this new era creates an inversion in which the war machine is subordinated to global capitalism. The “goals” are now immediately economic. This is heavily involved in the Marxian analysis, as capitalism is conceived of as the process that attempts to produce as much surplus value as possible while establishing no exterior limit to its autonomous process of accumulation. Capitalism’s limits exist in imminent interiority, as, for example, the limits in production of surplus-value and in accordance with the rate of exploitation of labor, and the limits in the absorption and exploitation of said surplus-value represented as excess capital leading to economic crises. The originality of capitalism, however, rests in its capacity to overcome all of these self-imposed limits through constant expansion, essentially destroying previous limits and displacing them further on a larger scale. An example of this expansion would be new markets, new methods of production, increasing investment, etc. The war machine that once took the object of combatting or destroying an enemy now flows in the process of capitalist accumulation, continually displacing its limits. This “global capitalism” that is described forms a smooth space, but as the state does remain to this present day, striation is worth mentioning as it remains in the state organization of capital.

The war machine, incarnate in the military links between industrial and financial sectors, now takes as its object the displacement of the value bounds of present capital in order to depreciate its value and form new capital and is important in the process as the assurance of security and order/disorder of the global capitalist axiomatic. These processes typically mirror each other, and in this ever-changing schema, war is left in a confusing and insecure state. The task of the army and military has been transferred from simply exterior to interior, making it difficult to distinguish the “enemy”, as military technology is now utilized for civil governance and control. There now remains one unified enemy, but this enemy is difficult to localize and assumes a multiplicity of possible forms. Defense strategies in France have been explicitly declared to be dealing with exterior defense but also interior ones, including economic, political, or even moral domains. The enemy now becomes abstract and the state along with its policing is thrown into a state of perpetual insecurity.

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