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(en) The commoner #7 - Cyril Smith Review: John Holloway ANTI-POWER VERSUS POWER Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today.

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 18 Jul 2003 08:03:32 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Two of the chief characteristics of the world of the new millennium
directly negate each other. On the one hand, in the wake of the
collapse of the Russian Revolution, ?everybody knows? that
?capitalism is here to stay?. No matter how anyone feels about it, the
power of capital is part of the furniture of social life. At the same time,
everybody feels totally at odds with the way they live. Nothing is as it
should be. This is not how we should live.

This vitally important book seeks a way forward which sets off from
the conflict between these two attitudes.

The starting point of theoretical reflection is
opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that
thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the
that is the conventional image of the thinker. We start
from negation, from dissonance. (p. 1)

Holloway goes on to analyse this negativity with some care. I believe
such an examination is essential for the movement usually called
?anti-globalisation?. This tendency?s lively opposition to ?what is?
expresses what Holloway calls ?the scream?, instinctive opposition to
what exists. But - let?s be frank - the movement has not been very
good at explaining itself to itself. Rejecting the formulas of the old
?leftism? - and this is its great strength - it has tended to cop out of the
tedious chore of thinking through what it is doing. (If there are
exceptions to this allegation, I haven?t encountered them.) What can
take the place of the old, worn-out slogans and rigid ?theories??
Nothing at all, many say. We are better off without any replacement
ideas. Change the World? is just what we need: it should force us to
take up the tasks of intellectual housekeeping.

Holloway restates in new and illuminating ways some of the
fundamental ideas of Karl Marx, freed of the falsification known as
?Marxism?. In his second chapter, ?Beyond the State??, he examines
and firmly rejects the almost universal way that socialism used to be
understood. We were all convinced that the way forward was to ?take
state power?, and then to use this power to do good things for
everybody else, getting rid for ever of ?the evils of capitalism?.
Holloway kicks this notion to pieces and jumps heavily on its
companion conception that what is needed is to ?build a party?. ?What
is at issue?, says Holloway,

is not who exercises power, but how to create a world
based on the mutual recognition of human dignity, on
the formation of social relations which are not power
relations. (pp. 17-18)

Apparently simple ideas like this are often just uttered as anarchistic,
pious hopes for a better world. Holloway, however, takes them
seriously, investigating just what we mean by power and why it is at
the heart of the way we live. We have to see that power is not
something given, not a thing but an activity, something people do. And
?before the doing comes the scream. It is not materialism that comes
first. It is negativity?. That is precisely what we mean by ?changing the

Next, we have to grasp that ?doing? is meaningless without the power
to do. When some people have power over others, the victims have
been deprived of the ?capacity to do?. ?Power-over?, which is the
denial of ?power-to?, ?is never individual: it is always social? (p.28).
But this means that we have uncovered the way that

the power-to that exists in the form of power-over, in
the form, therefore, of being denied, exists not only as
revolt against its denial; it exists also as material
substratum of denial. (p. 35)

Now come three chapters, 4, 5 and 6, in which Holloway elaborates
and generalises Marx?s central concept of ?fetishism?. It was only in
the Second Edition of Capital, in 1873, that Marx set out his account
of ?The Fetish-character of Commodities?, in the final Section of
Chapter 1. As Holloway says, this idea, central to Marx?s whole
notion of capital, was largely ignored by ?Marxism?, even by Engels. In
Holloway?s language,

the force of the concept lies in that it refers to an
unsustainable horror: the self-negation of doing?. The
sundering of doer from done is inevitably the sundering
of the doer himself. The production of an alien object is
inevitably an active process of self-estrangement?.
The rupture of the doer from the done is the negation of
the doer?s power-to. The doer is turned into a victim?.
Alienation is the production of humans who are
damaged, maimed, deprived of their humanity. (p. 74)

Holloway is now led to what he calls ?the tragic dilemma?: ?the urgent
impossibility of revolution?.

How can we live in a society based on
dehumanisation? But how can we possibly change a
society in which people are so dehumanised?

Rejecting both the hopelessness of postmodernism, and the Leninist
party-state-power solution, Holloway is left with a third approach:

To try to understand and thereby to participate in the
force of all that which exists in antagonism, in the form
of being denied. (p. 77)

Fetishism and alienation are terms which the so-called ?social
sciences? have tried to run off with. Of course, they take them to refer
to ?phenomena?, given, accomplished facts, topics for PhD theses.
Holloway emphasises that they are, in fact processes, activities,
which are continually being imposed on us and against which we
struggle. Once capitalism is a going concern, fetishism means that
struggle to get rid of it is futile, say the professors. But, says

the movement of fetishisation can only be understood
in terms of an anti-movement, a movement of
anti-fetishisation. Fetishism is a process of
fetishisation, a process of separating subject and
object, doing and done, always in antagonism to the
opposing movement of anti-fetishisation, the struggle
to reunite subject and object, to recompose doing and
done. (p. 89)

It is in this context that Holloway takes up the ideas of Lukacs. While
appreciating some features of History and Class Consciousness,
Lukacs? inability to escape from the Party notion is shown to mean

he failed in his attempt to provide a theoretical and
political answer to the revolutionary dilemma, to the
?urgent impossibility of revolution?. (p. 87)

Holloway?s short chapter 6 is very important. It deals with the
meaning of criticism as ?the theoretical voice of the scream?. (p. 114)
Marx?s critiques of religion, of philosophy, of the state, of socialism
and of political economy are aspects of anti-fetishism. Above all,
Holloway shows that they counter the way that ?theory? usually views
the world, as if from the outside, with a conception of critique as the
realisation that we, the critics, are ourselves being criticised.

To criticise is to recognise that we are a divided self.
To criticise society is to criticise our own complicity in
the reproduction of that society. That realisation does
not weaken our scream in any way. On the contrary, it
intensifies it, makes it more urgent. (p. 117)

The concept of fetishism implies a negative concept of
science. If relations between people exist as relations
between things, then the attempt to understand social
relations can proceed only negatively, by going against
and beyond the form in which social relations appear
(and really exist). Science is negative. ? The truth of
science is the negative of the untruth of false
appearances. (p. 118)

But in the tradition of ?scientific Marxism?, science is positive, its
?objectivity? excluding all ?subjectivity?. Holloway takes up some
standard texts of Engels, Kautsky and Lenin to show the theoretical
and political consequences of this falsification of Marx. He is able to
point to its effects even on Rosa Luxemburg?s work, and to show how
Marx?s chief work, Capital, came to be read as a piece of economics.
It was inevitable that ?Marxists? like this almost totally ignored
Marx?s account of fetishism. (I would also mention their avoidance of
all discussion of Section 3 of Chapter 1, the ?Forms of Value?, as

The great attraction of orthodox Marxism remains its
simplicity. It provided an answer to the revolutionary
dilemma: a wrong answer, but at least it was an
answer. It guided the revolutionary movement to great
conquests that, in the end, were not conquests at all,
but dreadful defeats. (pp. 138-9)

Holloway has now set out the way of thinking which allows us to talk
about changing the world. His Chapter 8, ?The Critical-Revolutionary
Subject?, asks who is going to change the world? In this context, he
examines the problem of class.

Class struggle ? is the struggle to classify and against
being classified at the same time as it is,
indistinguishably, the struggle between constituted
classes. ? We do not struggle as being working class,
we struggle against being working class, against being
classified. Our struggle is not the struggle of labour, it
is the struggle against labour. (pp. 143-4)

That is the only way that revolution can be understood: as the
self-emancipation of the working class. Chapter 9 can then discuss the
?material reality of anti-power?, a reality which cannot be seen if we
look for it with the concepts of positive science, that is, with the
concepts of power. Holloway?s criticism of the ?autonomist? ideas of
Antonio Negri turn on this aspect. (I personally find the form of these
criticisms rather too polite for my taste, but this might reflect my own

In Chapter 10, Holloway looks at the role of the crisis of capital.
?Marxism? used to see the problems of the economic system as
background music which sets the tone for class relations. Holloway?s
approach replaces this mechanical view with one founded on the
fundamentally antagonistic nature of the social relation, capital.

We are the crisis, we-who-scream, in the streets, in
the countryside, in the factories, in the offices, in our
houses; we, the insubordinate and non-subordinate
who say No!, we who say Enough!, enough of your
stupid power games, enough of your stupid
exploitation, enough of your idiotic playing at soldiers
and bosses; we who do not want to exploit, we who do
not have power and do not want to have power, we
who still want to have lives that we consider human,
we who are without face and without voice: we are the
crisis of capitalism. The theory of crisis is not just a
theory of fear but also a theory of hope. (p. 203)

That brings us to the final Chapter, ?Revolution??

If crisis expresses the extreme dis-articulation of
social relations, then revolution must be understood, in
the first place, as the intensification of crisis. (p. 204)

We are not talking about a single cataclysmic event, after which
humanity can begin. Holloway?s understanding of revolution is as

the explicit unification of constitution and existence,
the overcoming of the separation of is and is-not, the
end of the domination of dead labour over living doing,
the dissolution of identity. (p.215)

Holloway does not apologise for not giving us cut-and-dried definitions,
a programme, a blue-print for a better world, nor does he need to. Such
formulae would contradict what he sees as the problem. He ends the
book without a conclusion and, engagingly, without a full-stop.

A few words of criticism: I feel that he leaves certain other aspects of
Marx?s work in the hands of the ?Marxists?, and this might lose some
elements of great value. I think that he avoids setting his conceptions
of revolution in a broader historical context. Maybe this is a reaction to
the mechanical notions we ?Marxists used to call ?historical
materialism? (not Marx?s phrase, of course). But Marx does have a
concept of human history as a continual struggle, first, in its most
primitive shape, then inevitably caught up in the bonds of class
struggle, and finally discovering the way to escape, the path to
?universal human emancipation?. Maybe such notions are implied in
this book, but I couldn?t see them.

Anyway, what Holloway has given us represent a huge advance and I
hope that its stimulating lessons will find a response in living struggle.

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