Preoccupying: John Holloway

July 3, 2012

John Holloway is a philosopher, lawyer, Marxist-oriented sociologist and author of numerous books including ‘Change the World Without Taking Power’, ‘Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism’ and ‘Crack Capitalism’. John has lived in Mexico since 1991, and his work is associated with the Zapatista movement. He currently teaches at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of Puebla.

Occupied Times: In your recent work, you propose that one method to change the world without taking state power is to ‘crack’ capitalism. What do you mean by this?

John Holloway: Occupy. Reclaim the world wherever we are. Say “No, we refuse the logic of capital, we will do things our way. We refuse a world shaped by the logic of money and profit. We shall create a different sociality, a different way of connecting our creativities.” That is what we do all the time. We cannot take over the whole world at once, but we are doing it interstitially, creating cracks in capitalist domination. Cracks are not defined spaces: they open up, expand, run, join up, get filled in, break the surface again.

OT: Are there any successful examples of this method? When and where has capitalism been cracked; and have these cracks managed to spread (or get filled back in)?

JH: I don’t think of it as a method, but as a way to picture what we are already doing and suggest that we need to keep on doing it more and more. To live in the aggression that is capitalism is to resist, to rebel, to try to create spaces that are sheltered from the onslaught. Sometimes these spaces, or cracks, or dignities, are spectacular, like the Zapatista uprising, sometimes more modest like the St Paul’s occupation or Grow Heathrow, sometimes just individual walkings in the wrong direction, refusals-and-creations. Cracks are everywhere, sometimes very different from one another, but it is important to see the lines of continuity, because the lines of continuity are lines of potential, hidden trails of gunpowder.

The cracks spread all the time – look at the flow of indignados and occupies over the last year, and yes they often get filled back in (the Egyptian elections, for example) but they burst out again. Domination without resistance is hard to imagine.

OT: From labour to leisure, mass media to social networking, the capitalist dynamic is apparent in almost every aspect of our lives. In light of this, is it not unreasonable to believe that alternative (perhaps ‘anti-capitalist’) spaces could be ‘cracked’ beyond the efforts of fringe activists?

JH: Of course it’s unreasonable. It’s much easier to say that there is no way out, that we are doomed to ride the dynamic of capital until the end of humanity, probably not very far away. That’s much easier, just not very helpful. But in fact I see the cracks as being deeply ingrained in our everyday lives, even when we’re not very conscious of them. We try all the time to create qualitatively different social relations, relations that do not go with the flow of money, relations that we call dignity or love or comradeship or solidarity. The challenge is to start from there, from the ubiquity of revolt, and see how these flows of revolt can gather the force necessary to break the system. The answer is not obvious, but I see no way of conceiving of revolution other than as the recognition, creation, expansion, multiplication and confluence of cracks.

OT: The  Occupy movement has been criticised for its failure to articulate a solution to what the Financial Times suggested was a “capitalism in crisis”. Are these criticisms fair? Do you believe Occupy should have produced an alternative vision to our current predicament?

JH: But the Occupy movement does articulate a solution: by occupying, by constructing forms of direct democracy, by creating different ways of relating to one another. That is the only possible solution. Perhaps they mean that the Occupy movement should articulate suggestions for reconstructing capitalism, possibly for making a fairer capitalism. But why should we articulate suggestions for reconstructing a system which, even in its most attractive versions (Bolivia, Venezuela, perhaps), constitutes an attack against humanity and against the conditions of human existence? Let the destroyers themselves think how they want to destroy, that is hardly for us to propose.

OT: Is it possible for a movement in the global North today to escape state mechanisms of co-option and move towards a credible, alternative anti-politics of resistance?

JH: TINA. There is no alternative. We just have to break through capitalism before capitalism annihilates humanity.

OT: The Zapatista movement seems to be one of the very few able to create a sustainable decision-making structure wherein power rests with the ‘bottom’, rather than moving upwards. Why do you believe other movements which have attempted to replicate this model have not been as successful?

JH: Certainly the Zapatistas have special conditions, with their long established peasant communities, but what I find very striking is the degree to which horizontalism has become part of the culture of protest all over the world. The Yo Soy 132 student movement which has suddenly arisen here in Mexico in the last few weeks is very clear in its rejection of leadership structures and its adoption of assemblies as the basic form of organisation, giving it a structure very similar to all the Occupy and indignado movements of the last year or so. That this form of organisation is going to have contradictions and difficulties is clear: it moves against the dominant forms of organisation in the world, against the vertical practices and assumptions of capitalism.

OT: Much of your work focuses on differentiating abstract labour from concrete labour. Why is understanding labour as a unified concept problematic?

JH: The rejection of labour (that is, abstract or alienated labour) is central to our everyday experience. We want to do things, but we want to do what is meaningful for us, and in the way that makes sense to us, not to spend our lives doing things just because that will give us money (and, directly or indirectly, generate profit for someone else). The conflict between these two types of activity runs through our daily lives and when we create a crack or an occupy, a space of negation-and-creation, we are pitching the what-and-how of what we want to do against the what-and-how of capitalist labour. If we have a unified concept of labour, we gloss over this antagonism between these two types of activity, and we lose the real force of the push for a different world. I think Marx was right in insisting on the crucial importance of what he called the two-fold character of labour, but it is a distinction that got sidelined within the Marxist tradition.

OT: In the light of this, would it be fair to say that workfare schemes in the UK could be considered the byproduct of a left that “seems determined to lock us firmly into capital and close down all alternatives”?

JH: Yes. I think that as long as we think only in terms of capitalist labour-employment, we close down the possibilities of going beyond capitalism. Hope depends on our capacity to create a different way of living, a different way of doing.

OT: You suggest that a broader “grammar of anti-capitalism” connects our efforts to crack capitalism. But what are the prospects of such a grammar gaining currency among ‘the 99%’ when our channels of communication are dominated, distorted and coerced by a grammar more in tune with the commercial interests of corporate media?

JH: The antagonism is there all the time. Capital attacks us and we resist in whatever way we can. Part of the constant attack is the attempt to pretend that they are not attacking us, but the attack goes on and becomes more and more violent and destructive, and there are limits as to how much it can be hidden. So I don’t think we should give too much importance to the power of the media. But certainly part of the struggle against capital is developing our own forms of communication, our own anti-grammar of resistance and revolt. That is what we are doing at the moment, isn’t it?

OT: We like to think so! When all is said, done and “cracked” – what next?

JH: If all is said and done, there is nothing left to say and do. But if everything is cracked – as it is, because there is no corner of existence where capital reigns supreme, free of our drive in the opposite direction – then there is a whole world to say and do, a whole world to create, a whole world to which we must collectively give birth. Fortunately, we no longer know exactly how this can be done. It is a creation we are creating, a multiplicity of paths we make by walking, and we walk asking. The question “what next?” never goes away.