review of John Holloway

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Fri May 16 2003 - 09:01:48 EDT

Book Review

John Holloway Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of
Revolution Today (London, Pluto Press  2002)

"Political power grows from the barrel of a gun." (Mao Tse Tung)

As we know from history Mao gained power in China after a long civil
war, including the Long March. At the beginning of 2001 the Mexican
Zapatistas marched from Chiapas to the capital Mexico City. They did not
come to power but spoke in the Mexican parliament and on the Zocalo, the
main square of the Mexican capital.

John Holloway is one of the theoretical backers of the Zapatista
insurgency. In his new book Change the World Without Taking Power - The
Meaning of Revolution Today, he draws a picture of a new form of revolution.

While in Mao's understanding power was located in the military forces of
the capitalist state which had to be defeated by revolutionary firepower
and guerrilla warfare, the Zapatistas, though armed, renounce provoking
a military confrontation with the Mexican army. Instead, they are
promoting the concept of ordinary-therefore-rebellious, a concept that
rejects a view of revolution led by an avant-garde of professional
revolutionaries and the view that revolution is made by taking power.
Their strategy is the strategy of low intensity revolution, a revolution
that changes society from the inside without taking the power but by
destroying the power.

Holloway supports the Zapatista style of uprising by backing this new
understanding of struggle theoretically. His argument is different from
the classical anti-imperialist and revolutionary view of struggle,
preferring "a refusal to accept" (p. 6), a refusal of the daily
experience of exploitation and injustice, whether experienced as direct
injustice - being sacked by a boss - or cognitively perceived - by
knowing about millions of children that have to live in streets, or the
fact that the world's income is unjust distributed. This feeling of
being trapped in an unjust world like "flies caught in the spider's web"
(p. 5) is the energy that fuels resistance. Holloway's "scream" is a
primarily emotional rejection of the capitalist system, because it is in
capitalism that injustice has to be located. The scream proves that 'we
are' and above 'what we are not yet' (p. 7). So the identity of people
who are screaming is first of all a negative identity. It is the
identity of negating the present capitalist state of world society. Its
negativity forbids thinking in terms of classic forms of identity such
as working class, women or race.

Holloway states that old forms of revolutionary theory have been
outdated as they have not brought the success expected and for this
reason places his theory beyond the state and beyond power. He asserts
that former leftist theory whether it was Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Ilich
Lenin or Eduard Bernstein always had as its focus for social upheaval
the taking of state power. Whether it was by elections (Bernstein) or by
revolution (Luxemburg/Lenin), the object of desire was the state. Since
the state is embedded in a network of power relations, the world cannot
be changed by taking state power. The state itself is only a node in the
net, but not equivalent with society.  Holloway maintains that all
"major revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century: Rosa Luxemburg,
Trotzky, Gramsci, Mao, Che" (p. 18) shared this logic. Further on he
asserts that history has shown that this concept has not been successful


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