[OPE] Capitalism cracked

From: <glevy@pratt.edu>
Date: Mon Nov 15 2010 - 08:34:24 EST


(A review of John H's book in the CPGB journal: not
surprisingly it's very critical. / Jerry)

Worker 841 Thursday November 11 2010 Capitalism crackedAndrew Coates
reviews John Holloway's &lsquo;Crack capitalism&rsquo; Pluto Press,
2010, pp320, £16

How do we make a &ldquo;break&rdquo;
with the &ldquo;world ruled by money, by capital&rdquo;? In *Crack
capitalism* we learn there are spaces in between &ldquo;exploitation,
and injustice&rdquo; where we can find thousands of
&ldquo;interstitial&rdquo; fissures. Where
we can see that communism
is &ldquo;an immediate necessity, not a future stage of
development&rdquo; (p26). Can we &ldquo;scream &lsquo;No&rsquo; so
loud&rdquo; to bring it about? For John
Holloway, from Walter
Benjamin&rsquo;s *Jetztzeit* (now-time) &ldquo;moments of
creativity&rdquo;, we can begin &ldquo;walking through a looking
glass&rdquo; into a &ldquo;world
that does not exist&rdquo; (p36).

John Holloway is Irish-born and by training a lawyer. For 20
years he has
been an internationally known, Mexican-based academic
&lsquo;anti-globalisation&rsquo;, pro-Zapatista activist. He
refuses point-blank to
accept the world as it is. In *Change the
world without taking power* (2002)
Holloway stated that the
&ldquo;starting point of theoretical reflection&rdquo; is
&ldquo;opposition, negativity, struggle&rdquo;. We begin not with left
organisation, but &ldquo;a scream of refusal&rdquo;.
Leninism, social democracy, &lsquo;the
party&rsquo; - any type of
state-centred political activity - are dead-ends.
Instead, through
this yelling, we assert our &lsquo;anti-power&rsquo;, a &ldquo;drive
social self-determination&rdquo;.

admires the Zapatistas. Their uprising in Chiapas (south-east of
Mexico) and council-based organisation of a quasi-autonomous territory
the nearest to a model he offers. In *Change the world* he
claimed their
strategy &ldquo;does not have the state as its focus,
and that does not aim at
gaining positions of power&rdquo;. They
showed that one could &ldquo;change the world
without taking
power&rdquo;. Short on the details of their successes (or mention
Mexico&rsquo;s more pressing problems at the time, from the end of PRI
rule to
Narco-trafficking), we were told that they were
&ldquo;ordinary-therefore-rebellious&rdquo;. They illustrate the
importance of direct
democracy, of do-it-yourself politics, as
opposed to party-building focused
on capturing political power, the
central &ldquo;state illusion&rdquo; of the left for
the last

*Crack capitalism* is Holloway&rsquo;s latest version
of the same argument. Its
first &lsquo;thesis&rsquo; (small chapter)
cites La Boétie (1530-63). In his youth, this
friend of
Montaigne wrote the *Discours sur la servitude volontaire*. The
essay is a landmark. It tried to explain why people came to endure, even

accept, tyranny. People are subjugated at birth; they think
arbitrary power
normal and put up with every indignity and cruelty.
The weight of custom and
religion bolsters the autocrat. He diverts
unrest by laying on public
entertainment - &ldquo;*les farces, les
spectacles, les gladiateurs*&rdquo;. Above all,
for La
Boétie, the ruler was the head of a pyramid of violent minions,
holding a monopoly of violence.

Yet, the 16th century author
said, ultimately despotism is our own creation,
propped up by our
tacit consent. By withdrawing this support it would be
We could &ldquo;resolve to serve no more&rdquo; - and, thus, we would
free. The *Discours* alludes to some (unnamed) French royal
tyrants, and the
bloodthirsty henchmen must have been still around
(he died just as France
entered 35 years of wars of religion). This
is no doubt one reason why the
essay was not, prudently, published
until 13 years after La Boétie&rsquo;s death.

Boétie&rsquo;s call to &ldquo;stop making the tyrant&rdquo; (but
not his explanation of how
we become servile), is Holloway&rsquo;s
starting point: &ldquo;We can refuse to perform
the work that
creates the tyrant&rdquo; (p7). Capitalism is the modern despot we
should stand aside from. Holloway makes no allusion to the historical

context of the *Discours*, or tries to unpick its complex
including the obvious fact that not obeying was too
risky a strategy for La
Boétie himself. Everything is reduced
to one portentous statement: serve no

capitalism* is generous with examples of &ldquo;ordinary people&rdquo;
that show
such a &ldquo;movement of
refusal-and-other-creation&rdquo;. These &ldquo;rebels, not victims&rdquo;

include, apart from overtly political activists, the Birmingham car
who spends his evenings on an allotment. Amongst a host of
other local
heroes there is the girl in Tokyo who spends her day in
the park, reading
rather than going to work, and the young Frenchman
who is devoted to
building dry toilets. They are as devoted to doing
something different to
the &ldquo;labour that creates capital&rdquo;
as the activist out in the jungle
determined to &ldquo;organise
armed struggle&rdquo;.
Abstract labour

capitalism* binds these homely tales to a version of Marxism. Its
roots lie in the theory of commodity fetishism and abstract labour, as

developed in the 1920s Soviet Union in II Rubin&rsquo;s *Essays on
Marx&rsquo;s theory
of value* and the writings of Evgeny Pashukanis,
who extended Marx&rsquo;s
critique of political economy to law and
the state. For these writers the
legal system, government and
administration were completely moulded by
value-production. Holloway takes Rubin&rsquo;s emphasis on the
of impersonalisation or equalisation of labour&rdquo;
- abstract labour - as the
template for all social relations.
&ldquo;The state by its very form, and
independently of the content
of its action, confirms and reproduces the
negation of subjectivity
on which capital is based. It relates to people not
as subjects, but
as objects or - and this amounts to the same thing - as
reduced to the statues of mere abstraction&rdquo; (pp58-59).

The &lsquo;state-derivation&rsquo; debate of the 1970s illustrates these
Holloway&rsquo;s first publications drew on them in
opposition to Marxist
theorists, like Nicos Poulantzas, who
developed an explanation of the
&ldquo;relative autonomy&rdquo; of
politics and ideology. In Poulantzas&rsquo;s later efforts
the state
was a &ldquo;condensation of class struggles&rdquo; and ideology was the
where the dominant links of &ldquo;knowledge and power&rdquo;
were challenged by
opposing class forces.

Holloway both
denies these conflicts their individual specificity and
their ultimate tie to the fight of labour against capital. In *Crack
capitalism* politics and ideology are always immediately reduced to the

dance of commodities. Instead of labour class struggles, we have the
against entering the process - work, &lsquo;abstract
labour&rsquo; - in the first place.
To engage in the state, or try
to &lsquo;capture&rsquo; power (or adopt the strategy of
mixing direct and representative democracy in a &lsquo;transition to
socialism&rsquo;) is to succumb to the tunes of capital. Rebellion has
to find
&ldquo;another melody&rdquo; for our own ball. Instead we
should encourage, &ldquo;collective
coming-to-eruption of long
stifled volcanoes&rdquo;, resting on the refusal to
serve no more

Abstract labour and the fight against it dominate everything.
One wonders
why Marx bothered to write his studies of the
revolutions of 1848, and the
1870-71 French civil war. Or went into
the details of how states, political
parties (including those with
such &lsquo;fetishes&rsquo; as support for rival
Orleanists and legitimists), class and power blocs (apparently
&lsquo;above&rsquo; them, as with Louis Napoleon) were formed. Or wasted
his time
drawing portraits of individual politicians. Why Marx
engaged in the
delicate work of helping create and sustain the First
International. His
efforts to unite &lsquo;labour&rsquo; (that is,
those who fought for better conditions
for &ldquo;the subordination
of our doing to alien control&rdquo; (p157) with the full
gamut of
19th century labour movement opinion, ranging from anarchists,
moderate social democrats, left republican revolutionaries to
&ldquo;every kind&rdquo;
of socialist, is another mystery. He was no
doubt fooling himself in
thinking that &ldquo;political struggle is
the struggle to take state power&rdquo;
(p158). All he really needed
to do was announce that workers should no
longer participate in
&lsquo;abstract labour&rsquo;. We can see that only the 19th
anarchists rival Holloway&rsquo;s &lsquo;political indifferentism&rsquo;.

Expressive totality

The basic flaw of *Crack capitalism*
is that it places us in what Louis
Althusser called an
&lsquo;expressive totality&rsquo;. That is, a concept of capitalism
in which &ldquo;each part is *pars totalis*, immediately expressing the
whole that
it inhabits in

process of abstraction is always present, giving rise to immediate

contradictions that express the general nature of capital. Holloway
&ldquo;One form of doing, labour, creates capital, the basis
of the society that
is destroying us. Another form of doing, what we
calls simply &lsquo;doing&rsquo;,
pushes against the creation of
capital and towards the creation of a
different society&rdquo;
(p85). Everything derives from the dialectic between
&lsquo;doing&rsquo; and &lsquo;abstract labour&rsquo;.

that Holloway is without criticisms of those often seen as part of the
same &lsquo;autonomist&rsquo; camp. He opposes the idea that the economy
is so
solidified around abstract labour that it cannot be
challenged. We can
refuse to submit to it. But he does not see any
positive revolutionary
subject emerging from the process either. To
him the Italian &lsquo;autonomist&rsquo;
theories of Paul Virno,
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri believe in the
&lsquo;multitude&rsquo;, &ldquo;diverse forces of social
production&rdquo;. To them the multiple
contradictions with
post-Fordist capitalism and the world polity of empire
form the
basis of a &ldquo;new political agent&rdquo;.

Holloway by
contrast asserts: &ldquo;The post-operaista, post-structuralist
theories extend into the crisis of abstract labour the thought-prison
was part of the domination of abstract labour.&rdquo; So that
&ldquo;What gets lost is
the crack, the ek-statis of concrete doing,
the standing out-and-beyond of
useful doing from abstract labour
...&rdquo; (p193). Even the German Krisis group,
who get good marks
for their work on the crisis of &lsquo;society of labour&rsquo; faced
with automation, fail to dig at the &ldquo;two-fold character of
labour&rdquo;. That is,
between doing and abstraction. To Holloway,
all these theorists cannot see
that the opposition to abstraction is
always negative: &ldquo;Revolution is not
about destroying
capitalism, but about refusing to create it&rdquo; (p252). Which
another way of saying that the contradiction between abstraction/doing in

every aspect of our lives, everyday, directly, leads us to
&ldquo;stop making
capitalism&rdquo; and to &ldquo;make&rdquo; ...
well, what?

Certainly not socialist and Marxist political
parties. They are thoroughly
tainted by the drive for political
power. Daniel Bensaïd has observed of
John Holloway&rsquo;s
earlier writing, that &ldquo;he has reduced the luxuriant history
the workers&rsquo; movement, its experiences and controversies to a single

march of statism through the

*Crack capitalism* does nothing but reproduce this caricature.
Parties are
riddled with hierarchy - because of their adaption to
statism and the lure
of changing the world &ldquo;from above&rdquo;.
Their totalising strategies focus on the
state, which is in fact a
&ldquo;false, illusory totality&rdquo; (p206). Exit electoral
party-building or, to put it another way, talking to the wider public,
and organising amongst the masses and working class in a structured way.

There are only minor internal problems left for other ways of
Those with some experience of them would disagree: the
&lsquo;tyranny of
structurelessness&rsquo; or, more commonly, sheer
futility are heavy obstacles to
their progress.

capitalism* is in many senses timeless. Its dialectic has unravelled
since the dawn of the production of exchange value. Yet there are some

present-day references. Capitalism &ldquo;is in its deepest crisis
for years&rdquo;
(p250). The fall in the rate of profit is,
apparently, due to &ldquo;a failure to
subordinate ourselves to the
degree that capital demands of us&rdquo; (p151). In
the age of
globalisation national politics are less important than they
The state, we are no doubt surprised to learn, is a national form,
when capitalism is international.

Holloway does not discuss
what this implies, that political movements should
strategies that take account of the reality of inter-state bodies
(the European Union, for example). Or that programmes and not yells and

cracks are needed to build a social base and bring about the kind of

transformation of politics that could begin a transition to
communism/socialism. Indeed how and through which structures socialists

would &ldquo;socialise the means of production and abolish wage
labour&rdquo; (*ibid*)
on an international level is not discussed.
Though for some things &ldquo;some
form of global coordination would
be desirable in a post-capitalist society&rdquo;
(p210). On that
little more can be said. There is, at the moment, no &ldquo;right
answer&rdquo; to the question of what is to be done. Instead there are
of experiments&rdquo; for those who wish to be
&ldquo;against-and-beyond capital&rdquo;

perhaps we should return to our allotments, to our parks, to our dry
toilets, and keep scrambling around looking for cracks.


1. J Holloway, S Picciotto (eds) *The state and
capital: a Marxist debate
* London 1978.
2. L Althusser
*Reading Capital* London 1975, p17.
3. &lsquo;Commodity fetishism
and revolutionary subjectivity&rsquo;, a symposium on
Holloway&rsquo;s *Change the world without taking power* in *Historical

Materialism* Vol 13, No4, 2005.

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Received on Mon Nov 15 08:36:22 2010

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