Monday, 24 September 2012

Crack Capitalism by John Holloway

Crack Capitalism, argues that radical change can only come about through the creation, expansion and multiplication of 'cracks' in the capitalist system. These cracks are ordinary moments or spaces of rebellion in which we assert a different type of doing.

John Holloway's previous book, Change the World Without Taking Power, sparked a world-wide debate among activists and scholars about the most effective methods of going beyond capitalism. Now Holloway rejects the idea of a disconnected array of struggles and finds a unifying contradiction - the opposition between the capitalist labour we undertake in our jobs and the drive towards doing what we consider necessary or desirable.

Clearly and accessibly presented in the form of 33 theses, Crack Capitalism is set to reopen the debate among radical scholars and activists seeking to break capitalism now.

This book can be downloaded in pdf here or here.

A review by Christian Garland, Marxism & Philosophy

John Holloway’s Crack Capitalism, which takes the form of thirty three chapter length theses in eight parts, is a forceful ‘crack’ in the false closure of capitalism, and makes for a formidable contribution to creating the fault lines of rupture that are necessary, and indeed already exist ‘in-and-against’ this world we inhabit but seek to go ‘beyond.’ As Holloway shows very early on, “we negate, but out of our negation grows another-doing, an activity that is not determined by money, an activity that is not shaped by the rules of power.” (3)

The first three sections are a detailed excursion into the nature of ‘being-in-the-world’ that is also simply by its existence ‘against’ ‘things as they are’, for to simply exist, to be is not recognised by capital which only recognises the reproduction of value and the extraction of profit, human beings exist only as instrumental means to that end. In this sense, it is possible to speak of anegative ontology, “there is a movement of refusal-and-other-creation” (6) for as a Philippina domestic worker said recently in relation to her own contestation of the relations of exploitation, “we will fight, we will get stronger …we exist in this world.” As is noted in the first section entitled simply ‘Break’: “the opening of cracks is the opening of a world that presents itself as closed. It is the opening of categories that on the surface negate the power of human doing in order to discover at their core the doing that they deny and incarcerate.” (9)

It is not hyperbolic to say, that the book employs negative dialectics to extraordinary effect: “The method of the crack is dialectical, not in the sense of presenting a neat flow of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, but in the sense of a negative dialectics, dialectic of misfitting. Quite simply, we think from our misfitting.” (9)

Indeed, Crack Capitalism seeks to do just that, to crack capitalism to “break it in as many ways as we can and try to expand and multiply the cracks and promote their confluence.” (11) As Holloway shows with exemplary clarity, “dignity is the unfolding of the power of No.” (19), for against the instrumental and always conditional objectification of human beings there is the negative ontology of “movements of negation-and-creation”. (27) Ontology understood as ‘being-in-the world’, can be said to describe material existence, as the factual observation of social reality ‘as it is’. In recognising that this same social reality is itself not ‘given’, but the result of a very specific material ordering of society, one riven by antagonism and contradiction, and thus it is possible to define a turn against it, to speak of a negative ontology, for in spite of everything, “we are still alive” as Adorno said; we exist and in so doing run up against the reified and deadening social relations of a world we reject and did not choose – for, as the book demonstrates, the urgency of this need to break with the present is felt all the more the longer we are forced to exist within it. In these same efforts to make cracks and see them spread we make attempts toward “another-doing implicit in the No.” (29)

Holloway offers numerous examples in the way of theorising these multiple cracks that can be made in the seemingly impenetrable surface of capitalism, showing that just as we reproduce capital, in everyday social relations, so too can we cease to do so in the refusal of relations of hierarchy and domination. Capital is after all, a social relation that we (are compelled to) reproduce everyday. Crack Capitalism argues that a differentway-of-doing, of being-in-the-world – this world we exist in, but are also against – is possible and everywhere present, frequently in small daily acts which just by their doing, by their very existence, are antagonistic to capital. The book is also well aware however, of the difficulty and imperfect nature of refusal, and existing in an alien world which negates our very being yet feeds ‘vampire-like’ off human subjects who are themselves rendered as objects. Quoting Etienne de la Boetie: “resolve to serve no more and you are at once freed,” Holloway illuminates the nature of our servitude, but clarifies this exhilarating maxim, by noting that it is also nearly impossible, for there is indeed “nothing more common, nothing more obvious [but also] nothing more difficult”. However, as the book shows, to exist in spite of capital and its imperatives and against the infernal continuum of the history it has made and would make for the future, is merely ‘to be’ and so the negation of that which negates us.

There is a different kind of ‘doing’, remaking the world in accordance with one worthy of human beings, one that is not based on objectified, reified – or as Holloway forcefully explains, abstract labour – which enmeshes men and women in an alien and hostile struggle for material (and mental and emotional) survival. In so doing, we can and do, remake the world according to another way of doing and relating to one another, whether this be something as seemingly ‘non-political’ as sitting in the park reading a book, or savouring time with friends or lovers, or engaging in openly and explicitly antagonistic rebellions against the world of money and power. The book adds to Marx’s own recognition that a ‘species-being’ (Gattungswesen) or creative human essence, is what distinguishes human beings from every other species alive. We have the ‘power to’ consciously remake both the form and content of the world, and yet we are prisoners of it. Thus in existing ‘in spite’ of this, and choosing to do what we consider necessary or desirable, and also refusing as far as possible to reproduce the relations of capitalism, we assert our own negative and resistant subjectivity. This subjectivity, this negative ontology, is also the struggle for human dignity. Crack Capitalism makes an immensely important contribution to this project of refusal.

The fourth section of Crack Capitalism is a substantial development of how this doing is rendered into labour and imprisons human beings in the world of capitalism, which they are compelled to (re)produce against themselves as labour, a ‘power over’ and outside themselves if ever there was one. Sections III-VI should be studied by anyone who still cannot grasp the concept of ‘abstract labour’, which, it must be said could include Moishe Postone and his followers. For it is the ‘two fold nature of labour’ where ‘doing’ – the capacity of men and women to consciously remake the world – is made into the onerous and dead weight of abstract labourproductive of value: such is the nature of the capital-labour relation.

The story of the cracks is the story of a doing that does not fit. Into a world dominated by labour. The cracks are mis-fittings, mis-doings.… To put cracks at the centre gives us a different vantage point: we start from that which does not fit in, that which overflows that which is not contained that which exists not only in but also against-and-beyond. (85)

This negativity, against capitalism and all of its social relations of exploitation, hierarchy and domination, may be seen as a negative dialectic, what Holloway has previously called ‘the restless movement of negation’: the collective social subject refusing and breaking – or at least seeking to break – the class relation it remains objectified by. As Holloway shows throughout the course of the book, to think against the world can perhaps most usefully be seen in negative dialectical terms. As such, any reconciliation with the ‘given’ reality of the present is rendered impossible, but no less than this material negation of the existent, it embodies contradiction, rupture, antagonism and refusal: opposing the false assurances of reconciliation and closure promised by positive identity-thinking, the synthetic totality of closure that is capitalism. Against identity-thinking and the spurious naturalisation of fixed social roles, such as gender divisions and the reduction of sexuality to genital sex-as-procreation, Holloway identifies sexual desire, the erotic – Marcuse’s ‘pleasure principle’ – as a uniquely rich process of life-lived-for- its-own-sake, as an end in itself, and not fulfilling any functional instrumentality, which can thus be correctly viewed as a significant, and inherently subversive activity which makes noticeable cracks to the system. Looking at the history of the domestication of sexuality and construction of male-female roles as an example of abstract labour produced against human beings, by human beings, Holloway recognises , “the particular patterns of domination, then are not something that happens to us … but patterns of domination that we create through our activity and the way it is organised.” (123)

Throughout the impressive critical mapping of the struggle against abstract labour, Holloway goes some way to demonstrating the way in which “the antagonism between labour and capital … the abstraction of doing into labour, is also an antagonistic process” (149) for “capitalist production is based both on the abstraction of doing into labour and on the exploitation of labour - abstract labour. Without the abstraction of doing into labour, exploitation would not be possible.” (155)

As the second half of the book shows, capitalism is based on an inherent antagonism and struggle between diametrically opposed material forces. The class struggle is this self-same process, indeed it is the disruption and non-reproduction of capitalist social relations, their refusal and potential rupture in which the future becomes truly unwritten, and a glimpse of a mode of life qualitatively beyond the form it presently takes as it is ‘not lived’. For a social subjectivity must refuse – and does refuse – the objective subsumption of life under conditions of the class relation. Class struggle is the recurrent social antagonism, the material contestation of the capitalist mode of production itself, indeed as Holloway observes, the form of orthodox Marxism that predominated in the twentieth century is now in crisis, and cannot offer anything in the reality we face in the twenty first. This ideology saw the class struggle as “the struggle of labour against capital … when it is doing against labour (and therefore against capital) (157) which is at stake.

Simply by existing within but also against this world of the present, the proletariat – the revolutionary social subject – becomes the inimical contradiction and contravention of what is imposed and demanded by the class relation, the objective necessity and prerequisite for the functioning and reproduction of capital, and so its own dissolution. Indeed, the capital-labour – the class relation for all its apparent opaque abstraction is in fact a very real ‘actually existing’ material relation, something explored in detail in the course of the second half the book. One of the great strengths of Crack Capitalism is its critical exploration of how ‘doing’ is the struggle against abstract labour and the discipline of labour: “the fragility of abstraction … the permanent crisis of capitalism” (178) As Holloway argues, in reference to the original Critical Theory of Horkheimer and Adorno, “Critical theory is crisis theory: the theory of doing as the crisis of abstract labour.” (200) The book concludes with some examples of a practice which can be said to offer examples of what might be seen as an autonomous practice, from simply living for pleasure, and banishing the infernal logic of capital from life, to rebellions both individual and collective that “exist as-resentment, tension-against, rebellion-against, rebellion against ourselves, as menace, as potential.” (221) It is in this continual subversion and rebellion that we become truly ourselves, rediscover our subjectivity against the objectification, the ‘thingification’ of market relations.

Holloway concludes without offering any false assurances, stating “there is no Right Answer, just millions of experiments.” (256) There are many different ways in which it is possible to break capitalism, to open cracks. For we have no prophets, no saviours, “just ourselves.” To break capitalism to rupture and create the ‘real crisis’ Benjamin speaks of , to assert a new way-of-doing, and being that is also, by its very nature antagonistic to capitalism is the means and end of Crack Capitalism, of the ‘present movement’ toward communism.

4 April 2011