Deleuze and Guattari contrast the state-form with another type of assemblage which they call the ‘war-machine’. This is one of the most curious concepts invented in the course of A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and also one of the most widely misunderstood. It is a concept which is betrayed by its name since it has little to do with actual war and only a
paradoxical and indirect relation to armed conflict. It should not be confused with what is commonly understood by ‘the war-machine’.1 The real object of Deleuze and Guattari’s war-machine concept is not war but the conditions of creative mutation and change. Consider the links between the war-machine and lines of flight or deterritorialisation. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the effectuation of such lines always requires the intervention of a war-machine:
the assemblage that draws lines of flight is of the war-machine type. Mutations spring from this machine, which in no way has war as its object, but rather the emission of quanta of deterritorialization, the passage of mutant flows (in this sense all creation is brought about by a war-machine).
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:229–30)
Becoming is also a kind of metamorphosis, particularly when it is defined as a becoming-minoritarian which affects only elements of the majority (see Chapter 4, pp. 80–3), and the assemblages which institute and sustain such becomings are also of the war-machine type. Given that its primary object is not war, even though as we shall see below it maintains a necessary synthetic relation to war by virtue of its antipathy to the striated space of apparatuses of capture, it might be preferable to think of this type of assemblage not as a war-machine but as a machine of metamorphosis. A metamorphosis machine would then be one that does not simply support the repetition of the same but rather engenders the production of something altogether different.
As rhizomatic or qualitative multiplicities which function to produce lines of flight or deterritorialisation, metamorphosis machines would be the conditions of actualisation of absolute deterritorialisation and the means by which relative deterritorialisation occurs: ‘they bring connections to bear against the great conjunction of the apparatuses of capture or domination’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:423, emphasis added). As abstract machines of mutation and change, assemblages of the war-machine type may be actualised in a variety of different material domains: they can appear in thought as well as in material practices of resistance to capture. Such a machine might take the form of a new invention or process in a given technological phylum, a new individual or collective affect in the stratum of desire, or a revolutionary judgement or new branch of jurisprudence in the law. Machines of this kind can emerge in any domain or stratum of the social field so long as they are propagators of smooth space: ‘an “ideological”, scientific or artistic movement can be a potential war-machine, to the precise extent to which it draws, in relation to a phylum, a plane of consistency, a creative line of flight, a smooth space of displacement’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:422–3).
In their initial characterisation of the war-machine, Deleuze and Guattari present it as a general name for those social assemblages that are outside and hostile to the state. The war-machine is the Other in relation to the state-form. Defined as a process of capture and constitution of a field of interiority, the state necessarily implies a domain external to itself. Every time there is an insurgency of some kind against the state, whether this takes the form of revolution, riot, guerrilla warfare or civil disobedience, ‘it can be said that a war-machine has revived, that a new nomadic potential has appeared, accompanied by the reconstitution of a smooth space or a manner of being in space as though it were smooth’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:386). In these terms, assemblages of the war-machine type support all those processes that remain outside the forms of state and all those movements that resist the process of capture. Historically, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, there have been two main kinds of non-state social machine: large-scale global or ecumenical organisations, such as religious or commercial networks, and local groups or marginal communities which continue to affirm the nature and rights of segmentary societies against the organs of state power. No less than the different kinds of state-form, organisations of both the ecumenical and marginal kind are always present in any given social field. Moreover, both of these non-state organisations are different in kind from the forms of state. Deleuze and Guattari argue for the radical exteriority of the war-machine in relation to the state-form: ‘In every respect, the war-machine is of another species, another nature, another origin than the state apparatus’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:352). They provide examples of this difference drawn from Indo-European and African mythology as well as epistemology: even the history of natural sciences such as mathematics and geometry provides them with material for a distinction between state and nomad science (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:361–74). Alternatively, the difference between these two kinds of assemblage might be supposed to appear in the different ways in which a body can increase its power. As an apparatus of capture, the state-form represents a purely quantitative or linear model of increase of power. It involves the incorporation of other bodies, either because their substance feeds the powers of the capturing body, or because their powers may be added to its own. By contrast, the metamorphosis machine represents a more qualitative or multi-dimensional model of increase of power: ‘it comprises something other than increasing quantities of force’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:422).
However, their primary description of the difference between state and war-machine type assemblages is in terms of the different kinds of space or spatial determination associated with each: ‘Smooth space and striated space—nomad space and sedentary space—the space in which the warmachine develops and the space instituted by the state apparatus—are not of the same nature’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:474). Smooth space is
Deleuze and Guattari’s term for the heterogeneous space of qualitative multiplicity, while striated space is the homogeneous space of quantitative multiplicity. Smooth space is a rhizomatic or ‘patchwork’ space in which local regions are juxtaposed without reference to an overarching metric principle or directionality. It is a fluid space of continuous variation, characterised by a plurality of local directions. The terms ‘smooth’ and ‘striated’ are taken from the composer Pierre Boulez who uses them to differentiate two kinds of musical space (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:477). In the final plateau, ‘1440: the smooth and the striated’, Deleuze and Guattari provide a number of examples of this opposition drawn from fields as diverse as art history, physics, mathematics and textile manufacture. In geometrical terms, the difference may be expressed in terms of an inversion in the relationship between points and lines: striated space treats the line as something between two points, as in Euclidean geometry. By contrast, smooth space gives priority to the line and treats points simply as relays between successive lines. Moreover, the lines themselves are different in each case. In the case of smooth space, they are locally directional with open intervals, whereas in striated space they are subordinate to a global dimensionality and have closed intervals. Striated space ‘closes a surface, divides it up at determinate intervals, establishes breaks, whereas a smooth space involves distribution across a surface, by frequency or along paths’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:481, trans. modified).
We saw in Chapter 3 how Deleuze’s Nietzschean conception of philosophy as the invention of ‘new possibilities for life’ implies an evaluative distinction between the reactive power of incorporation or capture and the active power of transmutation or metamorphosis. In the same manner, the differences between striated and smooth space must also be understood in evaluative terms. Smooth spaces are the geometrical equivalent of lines of flight or deterritorialisation. Although they do not in themselves amount to spaces of pure freedom, it is nevertheless in these spaces that political struggles undergo transformation or their goals are displaced. The emergence of smooth spaces is a condition under which ‘life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:500). However, in accordance with the complexity that is always present in the Deleuzian structure of evaluation, we must always assess what kind of smooth space we are dealing with: is it one that has been captured by state forces or one that results from the dissolution of a striated space? Does it allow more or less freedom of movement? Above all, we should never believe ‘that a smooth space will suffice to save us’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:500). The fundamental antipathy between war-machine and state derives from their relations to two incompatible kinds of space. In each case, this is a constitutive relation. It follows from the essence of the state as a machine
of capture that it creates homogeneous and measurable or striated spaces. The constitution of a milieu of interiority implies the drawing of boundaries and the installation of common measures which enable the determination of similarities and differences: ‘One of the fundamental tasks of the state is to striate the space over which it reigns’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:385). By contrast, war-machine assemblages are metamorphosis machines which propagate smooth space. The fundamental tendency of the war-machine lies in this active relation to smooth space: the warmachine is ‘in its essence the constitutive element of smooth space, the occupation of this space, displacement within this space and the corresponding composition of peoples: this is its sole and veritable positive objective (nomos). To increase the desert’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:417, trans. modified).
The antipathy between state and war-machine is in turn the basis of Deleuze and Guattari’s account of how war can result from an assemblage which has no necessary relation to war. It is precisely when contact occurs between these two modes of being that conflict erupts and the warmachine’s affinity with absolute war is actualised. By ‘war’, Deleuze and Guattari understand the use of force in order to achieve the annihilation or capitulation of enemy forces (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:417). It follows that not every collective use of force or regime of violence constitutes ‘war’: the forms of limited or sporadic violence practised within or between non-state societies do not amount to war in this sense (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:447–8). It also follows that the state, no more than the war-machine, does not have a necessary relation to war. In support of this thesis, Deleuze and Guattari invoke the work of anthropologist Pierre Clastres, who argues in Society against the state (Clastres 1977) that in some primitive societies war-like activity is a means of preventing concentrations of power which may give rise to forms of state (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:357–9). They also draw upon Clausewitz, both in order to reinforce their thesis that the state has no necessary relation to war and also for their concept of war itself. In his classic treatise On War (Clausewitz 1958), Clausewitz distinguished between the Idea of ‘absolute war’ and the actual wars undertaken by states in pursuit of their political objectives. Understood in these Kantian terms, absolute war is like a pure flow of violence, the goal of which is the annihilation of an enemy. States can be more or less good conductors of this flow, but there is no essential relation to war on the part of states. Deleuze and Guattari’s argument is not that the state is fundamentally benign, but rather that it disposes of a different regime of violence. In and of itself, the state relies upon a structural or lawful violence, a violence of capture, whose institutional manifestations are juridical and penal institutions of capture and punishment such as police and prisons. For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari argue, the essential characteristic of state violence is that
it consists in capturing while simultaneously constituting a right to capture…There is lawful violence wherever violence contributes to the creation of that which it is used against, or as Marx says, wherever capture contributes to the creation of that which it captures.
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:448)
We shall argue below that the capture of colonial territory by European states is a paradigm of lawful state violence. But even within the modern forms of state, as Foucault and others have pointed out, the juridico-penal system contributes to the constitution of the very criminal underclass against whom it is overwhelmingly deployed and the punishment of some citizens is integral to the constitution of all as equal subjects before the law.
Assemblages of the war-machine type are defined by their tendency to propagate smooth space. They may engage in war, but this is a synthetic rather than an analytic feature of the war-machine. It is only by default that war-machines become engaged in war. This default is triggered by the encounter with states, since as apparatuses of capture, these are by nature hostile to the extension of smooth space. Only when its fundamental strategy is thwarted by contact with the state does the conduct of war become an objective of the war-machine. To the extent that state apparatuses resist the tendency of the war-machine to increase smooth space, war-machines must undertake their annihilation as a secondary consequence of the pursuit of their primary objective. The synthetic relation of the war-machine to the flow of pure war becomes actualised and the warmachine becomes a conductor of total war directed against the state. War is not essential to the war-machine considered as an abstract machine of pure exteriority and metamorphosis. But the fact that the war-machine is defined by its constitutive relation to smooth space implies a fundamental antipathy to the apparatus of capture and striated space. Actual war is triggered by the encounter between forms of state and war-machine. In other words, war is at once both accidental to the nature of the warmachine and inevitable, since the forms of state and war-machine are coeval elements of any social field. To the extent that assemblages of the war-machine type coexist alongside apparatuses of capture, war remains a contingent but inevitable feature of the social field. The war-machine therefore has a ‘supplementary’ relation to the conduct of war, in Derrida’s sense of the term ‘supplement’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:417).
War is therefore not a basic principle of Deleuzian social theory, but a result of the inevitable conflict between two contradictory modes of being. At the same time as war becomes the object of the war-machine, the state in turn is compelled to appropriate its own war-machine. Throughout Plateau 12 ‘1227: Treatise on nomadology—the war-machine’, Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between the war-machine in so far as it has been
appropriated and turned into a military apparatus of the state, and the war-machine in its ‘natural’ state, external and unrelated to the stateform. From the point of view of universal history, they suggest, the appropriation of forms of war-machine has been one of the most important tasks undertaken by states. This appropriation takes a variety of forms, from the annexation of a warrior caste or the employment of mercenaries to the creation of modern professional armed forces. In all cases, however, the relationship between the state and war-machine is fraught with danger. As examples drawn from Dumézil’s studies of Indo-European mythology and Shakespeare’s Richard III attest, the mutual suspicion of the statesman and warrior is widely borne out in myth and in history. In turn, the persistence of this antagonism testifies to the exteriority of these two assemblages. Contemporary cinema also provides many examples of the mutual suspicion between warriors and servants of the state. In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz is a soldier formerly in the service of the state who has surrendered to the flow of total violence and become a war-machine outside the control of the military apparatus. As a warrior gone out of control, he has become a threat to the overriding political objectives of the conflict which can no longer be tolerated.2