Looking for Revolutions with John Holloway (interview with Lucia Sagradini and Jose Chatroussat)


John Holloway is an intellectual with an unusual background. After studying and teaching at the University of Edinburgh, he left to teach at the Universidad Autonoma de Puebla in Mexico. Currently, he encounters and invests the question of forms of revolt and resistance. The experience of the Zapatistas and Subcomandante Marcos inverses his way of thinking and his book Change the world without taking power (2002) reverses the perspective of the State and parties to propose another mode of action. He develops this thematic in Crack Capitalism (2010), which has been translated into many languages (first published by Pluto Press).

This interview was held by Lucia Sagradini and Jose Chatroussat, as part of The Lazlo Reader Second Chances: The Art of Remaking. This special edition features a series of interviews with activists, sociologists and philosophers from around the world on the events that shook the world in the years 2011-2012, from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street. Including Nina Power and Franco Berardi, Saskia Sassen, John Holloway and Sleh Dine Kchouk (Tunisian Pirate Party). This special feature is organized in collaboration with French magazine Multitudes (more details after the interview). 



(Andras Calamandrei – The Unknown)


Lucia Sagradini and José Chatroussat: An intellectual like yourself supports the possibility of reversing the order of things. Are you encouraged today by the revolutions and upheavals that arise in different points of the world?

John Holloway: Yes, of course. The last year has seen a wonderful upsurge of protest and I think it is likely to continue. There is a growing anger throughout the world against the obscenity of a system in which vast accumulations of personal wealth coexist with growing frustration and increasingly difficult living conditions for the vast majority of people.


LS&JC: How do you perceive these revolutions and upheavals?

JH: I see them as a growing roar of ¡ya basta! Enough! we can no longer let the world go on like that. It is not just the injustice of the system, but that the system has a dynamic of constantly accelerating aggression which visibly threatens the whole future of humanity. The protests are saying “don’t push us any further, we no longer accept the logic of a world ruled by money!” Of course that leaves open the question of how to construct an alternative, but when we look beyond the spectacular demonstrations, we see that the world is full of experimental creations of new worlds that follow different logics, that construct different socialities – sometimes by choice, sometimes because people need to construct alternatives just to survive.

LS&JC: In Change The World Without Taking Power, you start the book with the image of the scream that would be the source of action. This image that allows entry into politics involves the question of limits. How do you explain if this meeting takes place or not? Did you imagine other sources of political action, like creativity or invention as source of political action?

JH: The scream is above all a scream of frustrated creativity. This society is built on the systematic negation of our own determination of our doing, the systematic subordination of our activity to a dynamic that we do not control (and that nobody controls). We can think of creativity as the source of revolt if you like, but then it is a creativity that pushes against, that screams its No against the carapace of frustration in which it is entrapped.


LS&JC: As your work, like a breath, makes thinkable the end of capitalism, investing the other types of relationships than those of the parties and the hierarchy of some movements, you are often facing the suspicion or rejection of political organizations. Do you really think completely outside the parties, and if so, how do you imagine the forms of organizations that would allow the social changes needed to build another social project?

JH: I reject political organizations but certainly not political organization. I think organization is crucial: we coordinate our protests, our revolts, our alternative creations. The whole history of anti-capitalist struggle is characterized by the constant struggle to develop forms of organization that articulate people’s anger, their opinions, their dreams and projects, the direction of their common struggles. That is the history of communes and councils and soviets and assemblies: look at Paris at the time of the Commune, look at Russia in 1905 and 1917, look at the Spanish civil war, look at the Zapatistas, or Argentina ten years ago, or Oaxaca in 2006, or the assemblies of the indignados and the occupy movement: it is always the same effort to find genuinely collective expressions of revolt.

It is when these organizational forms become institutionalized that problems start to arise, that there is a growing separation between leaders and led, between dedicated activists and those who are simply in revolt. It is when organization becomes transformed into an organization that a separation emerges between rebellion and everyday life, and that kills any revolutionary possibilities. If, on top of that, the organization is a political party directed towards the state, it tends to incorporate the state form within its own structure and to become oppressive.



(Andras Calamandrei – Los Angeles)


LS&JC: In Crack Capitalism, you insist on the doing, as a fundamental point to stop making capitalism and to break it. Furthermore, you imagine that these alternative practices of beings and their meeting would come to break the system. Can you shed light on this idea for our readers?

JH: Capitalism is a historically specific form of organizing human activity. Our day-to-day activity is determined not from below but from the dominant form of social cohesion and enforced through money. A revolution that does not address and overthrow this organization of human activity is worse than meaningless, as we saw in the case of the Russian Revolution. If we think of the activity that is systematically imposed upon us as labour (abstract labour, Marx called it), then it is clear that our struggle is not the struggle of labour, but the struggle against labour. The Russian revolution was a real triumph of labour, with horrific results.

As it becomes clear that the activities we call labour are literally destroying the world, and as capital shows itself less and less capable of subjecting human activity directly to labour through employment, people are choosing to, and being forced to, develop other forms of activity based on other forms of sociality. Look at all the experimental forms of solidarity and collective action being developed at the moment in response to the crisis of capital, in Greece, in Spain, all over the place. The crisis of capital is the manifest failure to ensure the subordination of our activity to its logic. In that situation only one choice faces us: do we try to strengthen the logic of capital and our submission to it, knowing that that road leads not to endless destruction but to a destruction that could very well lead quite soon to the end of humanity, or do we turn our back on capital and try to construct something else? I think that the latter is the way that more and more people are trying to move. It is very difficult, but I see no alternative.

All these creations-against-the-logic of capital can be seen as so many interstitial ruptures or cracks in the system, and the only way I can imagine a total abolition of the system is through a massive confluence of these multiple cracks. How is this confluence to come about? I don’t know. Not through institutionalisation, I think. It’s better to think of the flows of contagion in terms of resonances. Have a look at the flows of contagion over the last couple of years or so, from North Africa, to Spain, Greece, the United States and so on. Rebellion flows: it is better not to try to lock it into institutional boxes.


LS&JC: How to make these practices become global and to avoid the withdrawal of the changes into borders?

JH: I am not sure that we can make these practices become anything. We can watch these practices flow, we can know ourselves to be part of the flow, we can try to give an added dynamic or direction to that flow by singing, by theatre, by theorising, by organising, but we are no more than part of the social flow of rebellion. Certainly, within our singing-acting-theorising-organising we must try not to be entrapped by national boundaries. That is the greatest danger just now: the conversion of our scream into a national anger (and it is difficult to separate national from nationalist) can lead us to total self-annihilation.


LS&JC: In Crack capitalism, you are explaining that the labour movement is the movement of abstract labour. In your opinion, is it possible to imagine a new ‘labour’ movement, at least in some countries or places, which would be in some way a movement against abstract labour?

JH: We all move against abstract labour, we complain about it all the time, we refuse it whenever we feel that we can. Abstract labour is the dynamic of capitalist attack: work faster, faster, subordinate everything that you do to the logic of capital, the logic of profit. The more violently labour attacks us, the more we try to escape it. That is why the anti-capitalist movement is becoming explicitly more and more a movement against labour. Nowhere more than in the capitalist workplace, whether it be car factory or edufactory: it is in the place of labour that the struggle against labour is most intense.



(Andras Calamandrei – Alert Not Alarm)


LS&JC:  In a talk in 1865, Value, Price and Profit, Marx makes a strong link between the final emancipation of the working class and the struggle for the abolition of the wages system. Critique of labour is the core of your work. Do you think ‘the abolition of the wages system’ is an obsolete issue (or rather an obsolete formulation) or, on the contrary, that it may take place in the outlook for creating cracks here and now and for achieving the emancipation of humanity?

JH: Transformation of the world without abolition of the wages system would be totally meaningless, and worse.


LS&JC:  If the act of thinking the possibility of overthrowing the established order is bearing you, there is probably a near asymmetry with the school of Frankfurt thought arguing that democracy can still be reversed into its opposite. Have you some relationship with this intellectual movement?

JH: Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer and the others are a constant source of inspiration. Adorno’s critique of identity and identitarian thought goes to the very core of anti-capitalism.


LS&JC: How do you understand the coexistence of a growing of extreme right in Europe with, at the same time, the economic organization of Europe around a project that chose finance against individuals?

JH: Capitalist society is built upon antagonism, that is, an assault against us and a refusal by us to accept it. Crisis is an intensification of that antagonism, a time of growing anger. The European governments choose finance (that is, money, capital) against people, because they have no choice, that is what states are: part of the domination of capital. But a time of growing anger is a very dangerous time, because that anger can easily take identitarian forms, national forms, nationalist forms: that is what is happening to some extent, that is the rise of the extreme right. That is why it is so important to focus on rage (the scream), and to try and understand both its potential and its dangers.


LS&JC: Lastly, the comments about the events of the Arab Spring, and also the Indignados’ mobilisations or the Occupy Wall Street movement,  emphasize the importance of the new technical forms of communication in the rise of revolutions. What do you think about this?

JH: The new technical forms of communication are one aspect of the enormous potential of human creativity. Of course we must reclaim them for us and turn them against our masters.


LS&JC: Our deep feeling is that your book, Crack capitalism, opens up a crack by itself through the political ant intellectual conventional landscape. What can you tell us today about the reception of your work, following some meetings and exchanges with your readers? Bound to this point, inspired by questions and objections, in which way do you think to push forward your reflection?

JH: Better for the readers to answer the first question. As to the second question, I am trying to understand the possibilities and impossibilities of the present situation in terms of our Rage against the Rule of Money.


LS&JC: Regarding at this world today, full of deep contrasts and contradictions, are you optimistic?

JH: If I look for hope in a dark night, does that mean that I am optimistic?




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Andras Calamandrei is a Swiss-born artist who divides his time between Florence and Buenos Aires. His embroideries will accompany the interview in The Lazlo Reader: http://www.andrascalamandrei.com/