Re: [OPE] Capitalism cracked

From: John Holloway <>
Date: Mon Nov 22 2010 - 11:58:06 EST

Many thanks for this, Gerry,


El 15/11/10 13:34, "" <> escribi:

> (A review of John H's book in the CPGB journal: not
> surprisingly it's very critical. / Jerry)
> Weekly
> 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,
> starvation
> 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
> and
> &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
> political
> 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
> towards
> social self-determination&rdquo;.
> Holloway
> admires the Zapatistas. Their uprising in Chiapas (south-east of
> Mexico) and council-based organisation of a quasi-autonomous territory
> is
> 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
> of
> 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
> century.
> *Crack capitalism* is Holloway&rsquo;s latest version
> of the same argument. Its
> first &lsquo;thesis&rsquo; (small chapter)
> cites La Botie (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
> Botie, 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
> overthrown.
> We could &ldquo;resolve to serve no more&rdquo; - and, thus, we would
> become
> 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 Botie&rsquo;s death.
> La
> Botie&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
> implications,
> including the obvious fact that not obeying was too
> risky a strategy for La
> Botie himself. Everything is reduced
> to one portentous statement: serve no
> more.
> *Crack
> 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
> worker
> 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
> *Crack
> 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
> capitalist
> value-production. Holloway takes Rubin&rsquo;s emphasis on the
> &ldquo;process
> 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
> subjects
> reduced to the statues of mere abstraction&rdquo; (pp58-59).
> The &lsquo;state-derivation&rsquo; debate of the 1970s illustrates these
> themes.
> 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
> place
> 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
> criticises
> 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
> battle
> 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
> Poulantzas,
> 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
> (p225).[1]<>
> 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
> dynasties,
> 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
> century
> 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
> person&rdquo;.[2]<>The
> process of abstraction is always present, giving rise to immediate
> contradictions that express the general nature of capital. Holloway
> writes:
> &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;.
> Not
> 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
> that
> 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
> is
> 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 Bensad has observed of
> John Holloway&rsquo;s
> earlier writing, that &ldquo;he has reduced the luxuriant history
> of
> the workers&rsquo; movement, its experiences and controversies to a single
> march of statism through the
> ages.&rdquo;[3]<>
> *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
> work,
> 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
> organising.
> 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.
> *Crack
> 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
> were.
> 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
> develop
> 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
> &ldquo;millions
> of experiments&rdquo; for those who wish to be
> &ldquo;against-and-beyond capital&rdquo;
> (p256).
> So
> perhaps we should return to our allotments, to our parks, to our dry
> toilets, and keep scrambling around looking for cracks.
> *Notes*
> 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
> John
> Holloway&rsquo;s *Change the world without taking power* in *Historical
> Materialism* Vol 13, No4, 2005.
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Received on Mon Nov 22 23:37:49 2010

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