[OPE-L] Toni Negri on John H's _Change the World Without Taking Power_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Sep 17 2006 - 06:16:45 EDT


Toni Negri on John Holloway's Change the World Without Taking Power


John Holloway's Change the World Without Taking Power
Toni Negri

  [Translator's note: The following review of John Holloway's Change the
World Without Taking Power appears as an "Addenda" to Chapter 13 of
Global: Biopower and Struggles in a Globalized Latin America, a book
co-authored by Antonio Negri and Giuseppe Cocco's (Italian political
scientist currently residing in Brazil) and distributed in Spanish by
Paidos, Argentina. Due to the nature of Negri's writing and certain
ambiguities made possible by the Spanish in which it first appears, this
translation remains preliminary and we would welcome any suggestions for
changes. Translation by El Kilombo Intergaláctico.]

Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway is a beautiful but
strange book. Its paradox consists of the fact that, in his critique of
Italian operaismo (the method of which is the basis of our book), Holloway
considers dialectical Marxism (what he calls "the problem of form") as
predisposed to assume the fetishistic character of the world (this is his
reality principle), and at the same time as capable of proposing an
antagonistic foundation for action. In practice, however, Holloway
considers reality only from its fetishistic side while critiquing
operaismo-attacking it for having employed dialectics-exclusively from its
antagonistic side. With this in mind, where is the principle for action
within Holloway's perspective?

Let us develop this thought. The words that Holloway uses are very harsh.
According to him, operaismo would be a "radical democratic" theory and
consequently (according to the traditional polemic), neither working class
nor revolutionary because it is incapable of understanding Marxist
dialectics as the discovery of the radical negativity of the world. But
Holloway belongs only partially to this tradition-one towards which he
shows much respect, if at times irreverence. Here we will see how.

Holloway presumes all figures of power as solely and exclusively
fetishistic figures. Each moment and each form in which power is
expressed, even if it is in an antagonistic manner, never achieves its
independence due to the effect of its fetishistic form; proletarian
potentiality always remains homologous [to capitalist potestas]. Well
gentlemen, there is nothing to be done, the universe is black. If you are
a communist and you rise to power, you become (for this very reason) a
fascist. Only the refusal is a revolutionary moment.

Beyond the refusal, beyond "the scream" of the oppressed, reality is
completely thingified, dialectics triumphs and its eventual negativity is
affirmed. (Allow us to observe the ambiguous similarity that is revealed
here between the Lucakacsian figures and all the postmodern tonalities of
negativity: the marginal in the style of Derrida, "naked life" according
to Agamben, etc.). But Holloway never speaks of these; perhaps he does not
know them sufficiently.

In addition, Holloway demonstrates a rather ambiguous relation to
Foucault: he is fascinated by but simultaneously incapable of
incorporating within the horizon of Foucaultian differences (better said,
in the indifferent horizon of "resistances") the productive potential of
antagonism (in Foucault's own language "the production of subjectivity").
In the face of the articulated dynamic of Foucaultian resistances,
Holloway puts forward the pure reaffirmation of absolute antagonism, the
"scream" of the exploited. Note Bene: Holloway confronts the degradation
that the concept of the dialectic suffers in the tradition of Engels and
in the late Soviet Marxist perspective, where it practically becomes
something of a natural law; despite this, Holloway believes he can
liberate himself of these difficulties in purely negative terms. We will
see the political effects of this choice further on.

Let us go on to examine Holloway's critique of operaismo. What Holloway
will not accept in any case is the constitutive power that operaismo
attributes to the force of labor and, in general, to the class struggle.
Holloway interprets this attribute [of a constituent power] as belonging
to a constituted power that functions so as to taint the value of labor
and the figure of political liberty. It is evident then, according to this
perspective, that the concept of exploitation can hardly be posed.
Holloway's polemic extends against the concept of self-valorization
[autovalorizzazione] (as he finds it elaborated in the work of Harry
Cleaver). This said, one has to recognize that Holloway is headed down the
wrong path-he is getting ahead of himself: here, the fetishistic form of
Marxian dialectics (interpreted in the manner of Backhaus and taken up
again by Holloway) suffocates all dialectical elements, especially those
which remain antagonistic (and it matters little that this is not
Holloway's intention). All that remains is fetishism, that is, a tragic
form of the real that can never be reclaimed. To reclaim it would be the
absolute event, "The Revolution!"

Let's return to the critique of operaismo. Here, the contradiction that
was mentioned above becomes apparent in its entirety. Holloway attacks the
constituent perspective of operaismo by characterizing it as
"functionalist." But functionalism, as we understand it, avoids the
contradictions of capitalism; it neutralizes them and it takes on
dialectics as the sublimation of contradictions and differences.
Functionalism is a heresy to materialism because it uses dialectics
linearly, glorifying within it only the element of resolution. With
respect to this presumed functionalism, operaismo simply turns this
picture upside down; the antagonistic pressure of the force of labor
(exactly because dialectics was pushed aside) does not avoid but rather
deepens the contradictions. This deepening of contradictions has two
effects. The first is to accentuate the consistency of the subjects (i.e.
labor force, proletariat, class, multitude) and to impress upon this
subjective reality a continual process of metamorphosis, a dispositif of
ontological transformation. Second, and consequently, there arises the
effect of pushing the subject (labor force, proletariat, class, multitude)
each time further outside of capital-exodus is precisely the result of
this process. It is a process nonetheless, a struggle, not a utopia, an
indefinite lineage, not one that has been concluded, real, not dreamed.

For the above reasons, what Holloway cannot accept is this: the dialectic,
which is a weapon of capital, simultaneously becomes in his hands a death
sentence for labor. We are then victims of this unsolvable tonality, that
is, unsolvable from its own interior-a solution that can come only from
outside. Our objection: if this were true, if these were the given
conditions, the revolution would not be constituent power, but rather a
mystical event.

In other places it becomes very clear that in his insistence on the
impossibility of (or better yet, on the incorrect procedure which allows)
identifying elements or dispositifs of "constituent power" within the
"refusal of work" -that is, elements of liberation within the process of
the emancipation from work-Holloway obstructs any dynamic perspective of
the class struggle and thus bangs his head up against the so-called
concrete history of socialism. That is, Holloway cannot avoid giving the
class struggle an institutional figure. However, it is obvious that the
class struggle (as Holloway would like it) is a constituent process that
can never come to an end. But our problem is not to bring it to an end or
to close it. Neither is our problem that of leading this struggle to some
kind of naturalist figure, or to the repetition of the same. Rather, our
effort is that of developing, articulating, metamorphosing class relations
in new consistencies of the potential of the proletariat (or of the
multitude), of the different polarities of class struggle.

The misfortune of Holloway's reasoning lies in his radical rejection of
all structural and ontological relations between reform and revolution.
This becomes all the more dangerous today, the very moment at which
sovereignty is no longer able to remain concentrated in the unity of power
but rather must accept duality, and thus the relation between movements
and "governance," at the very nature and fundamental horizon of the
institutions themselves. This is as Gramsci (not Togliatti's Gramsci, the
real Gramsci-the Leninist) had already, to the contrary, taught us.

It is beyond doubt that Holloway's position has the merit of no longer
attempting to simply vindicate the dialectic [dialectical Marxist]
tradition but rather promoting the fundamental effectiveness of all
communist alternatives. There is, in reality something very Zapatista
about Holloway's discourse. Yet, we think that what Holloway calls the
"problem of form," or the problem of fetishism, is reduced in his
discourse to more of a moral or ethical category than that of a critique
or a politics. It was already difficult to be in agreement with the
analogous theoretical and political positions produced by the dialectical
philosophy of the communist left of proletarian Europe during the 1930's,
but it is impossible to accept these positions within the biopolitical
reality of the central and/or peripheral countries of the 21st century,
that is, during the century of Empire. No one can deny
fetishization-ontological corruption and its practical consequences-it
both effects and negates the classed subject, in this way making the dream
of a "rebirth" all the less possible.

Operaismo owes its dignity to the fact of never having dissolved the
concept of revolution within that of reform; it owes its efficacy, on the
other hand, to the fact of always having resolved the concept of reform
within that of revolution, and also to the fact of having understood that
within this nexus [reform-revolution], the autonomy/independence of the
proletarian subject that was formed in the relations of production was
rejoined with the exodus from the relations of capital. That is, this
subject [labor] has the capacity to destroy, along with exploitation, the
very existence of classes themselves.

Holloway's line represents the best of the opposition to attempts by a
certain institutional Latin American left to flatten within the categories
of nation and development the relation between biopower and biopolitical
potential. Yet, it remains limited by its negative dialectical framework.
Negativity is not just a mere "scream;" it is rather, desire, a
multitudinary necessity to continuously affirm joy, peace, and communism.


  1.. "El Kilombo Intergaláctico" - http://www.elkilombo.org/

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