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(en) Alt. Media: Can We Change The World Without Taking Power? by John Holloway

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 24 Apr 2005 12:28:42 +0200 (CEST)

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1. I don't know the answer. Perhaps we can change the world without
taking power. Perhaps we can not. The starting-point - for all of us, I
think - is uncertainty, not knowing, a common search for a way forward.
2. We are searching for a way forward, because it becomes more and
more clear that capitalism is a catastrophe for humanity. A radical change
in the organisation of society, that is, revolution, is more urgent than ever.
And this revolution can only be world revolution if it is to be effective.
3. But it is unlikely that world revolution can be achieved in one
single blow. This means that the only way in which we can conceive
of revolution is as interstitial revolution, as a revolution that takes
place in the interstices of capitalism, a revolution that occupies
spaces in the world while capitalism still exists. The question is how
we conceive of these interstices, whether we think of them as states
or in other ways.

4. In thinking about this, we have to start from where we are, from
the many rebellions and insubordinations that have brought us to
Porto Alegre. The world is full of such rebellions, of people saying
NO to capitalism: NO, we shall not live our lives according to the
dictates of capitalism, we shall do what we consider necessary or
desirable and not what capital tells us to do. Sometimes we just see
capitalism as an all-encompassing system of domination and forget
that such rebellions exist everywhere. At times they are so small that
even those involved do not perceive them as refusals, but often they
are collective projects searching for an alternative way forward and
sometimes they are as big as the lacandon jungle or the argentinazo
of three years ago or the revolt in Bolivia just over a year ago. All of
these insubordinations are characterised by a drive towards
self-determination, an impulse that says "No, you will not tell us
what to do, we shall decide for ourselves what we must do."

These refusals can be seen as fissures, as cracks in the system of
capitalist domination. Capitalism is not (in the first place) an
economic system, but a system of command. Capitalists, through
money, command us, telling us what to do. To refuse to obey is to
break the command of capital. The question for us, then, is how do
we multiply and expand these refusals, these cracks in the texture of

5. There are two ways of thinking about this.

a) The first says that these movements, these many insubordinations,
lack maturity and effectiveness unless they are focussed, unless they
are channelled towards a goal. For them to be effective, they must be
channelled towards the conquest of state power - either through
elections or through the overthrowing of the existing state and the
establishment of a new, revolutionary state. The organisational form
for channelling all these insubordinations towards that aim is the

The question of taking state power is not so much a question of
future intentions as of present organisation. How should we organise
ourselves in the present? Should we join a party, an organisational
form that focuses our discontent on the winning of state power? Or
should we organise in some other way?

b) The second way of thinking about the expansion and
multiplication of insubordinations is to say "No, they should not be
all harnessed together in the form of a party, they should flourish
freely, go whatever way the struggle takes them." This does not mean
that there should be no coordination, but it should be a much looser
coordination. Above all, the principal point of reference is not the
state but the society that we want to create.

6. The principal argument against the first conception is that it leads
us in the wrong direction.

The state is not a thing, it is not a neutral object: it is a form of social
relations, a form of organisation, a way of doing things which has
been developed over several centuries for the purpose of maintaining
or developing the rule of capital. If we focus our struggles on the
state, or if we take the state as our principal point of reference, we
have to understand that the state pulls us in a certain direction. Above
all, it seeks to impose upon us a separation of our struggles from
society, to convert our struggle into a struggle on behalf of, in the
name of. It separates leaders from the masses, the representatives
from the represented, it draws us into a different way of talking, a
different way of thinking. It pulls us into a process of reconciliation
with reality, and that reality is the reality of capitalism, a form of
social organisation that is based on exploitation and injustice, on
killing and destruction. It also draws us into a spatial definition of
how we do things, a spatial definition which makes a clear distinction
between the state's territory and the world outside, and a clear
distinction between citizens and foreigners. It draws us into a spatial
definition of struggle that has no hope of matching the global
movement of capital.

There is one key concept in the history of the state-centred left, and
that concept is betrayal. Time and time again, the leaders have
betrayed the movement, and not necessarily because they are bad
people, but just because the state as a form of organisation separates
the leaders from the movement and draws them into a process of
reconciliation with capital. Betrayal is already given in the state as an
organisational form.

Can we resist this? Yes, of course we can, and it is something that
happens all the time. We can refuse to let the state identify leaders or
permanent representatives of the movement, we can refuse to let
delegates negotiate in secret with the representatives of the state. But
this means understanding that our forms of organisation are very
different from those of the state, that there is no symmetry between
them. The state is an organisation on behalf of, what we want is the
organisation of self-determination, a form of organisation that allows
us to articulate what we want, what we decide, what we consider
necessary or desirable. What we want, in other words, is a form of
organisation that does not have the state as its principal point of

7. The argument against taking the state as the principal point of
reference is clear, but what of the other concept? The state-oriented
argument can be seen as a pivoted conception of the development of
struggle. Struggle is conceived as having a central pivot, the taking of
state power. First we concentrate all our efforts on winning the state,
we organise for that, then, once we have achieved that, we can think
of other forms of organisation, we can think of revolutionising
society. First we move in one direction, in order to be able to move in
another: the problem is that the dynamic acquired during the first
phase is difficult or impossible to dismantle in the second phase.

The other concept focuses directly on the sort of society we want to
create, without passing through the state. There is no pivot:
organisation is directly pre-figurative, directly linked to the social
relations we want to create. Where the first concept sees the radical
transformation of society as taking place after the seizure of power,
the second insists that it must begin now. Revolution not when the
time is right but revolution here and now.

This prefiguration, this revolution here-and-now is above all the drive
to self-determination. Self-determination cannot exist in a capitalist
society. What can and does exist is the drive towards social
self-determination: the moving against alien determination,
determination by others. Such a moving against determination by
others is necessarily experimental, but three things are clear:

a) The drive towards self-determination is necessarily a drive against
allowing others to decide on our behalf. It is therefore a movement
against representative democracy and for the creation of some form
of direct democracy.

b) The drive towards self-determination is incompatible with the
state, which is a form of organisation which decides on our behalf
and thereby excludes us.

c) The drive towards self-determination makes no sense unless it
includes as its central point the self-determination of our work, our
activity. It is necessarily directed against the capitalist organisation of
work. We are talking, therefore, not just of democracy but of
communism, not just of rebellion but of revolution.

8. For me, it is this second conception of revolution that we have to
concentrate on. The fact that we reject the state-centred conception
does not mean obviously that the non-state centred conception does
not have its problems. I see three principal problems, none of which
is an argument for reverting to the idea of taking state power:

a) The first issue is how to deal with state repression. I do not think
the answer is to arm ourselves so that we can defeat the state in open
confrontation: we would be unlikely to win and anyway it would
involve reproducing precisely the authoritarian social relations we are
fighting against. Nor do I think that the answer is to take control of
the state so that we can control the army and the police forces: the
use of the army and police on behalf of the people obviously comes
into conflict with the struggles of those who do not want anyone to
act on their behalf. This leaves us with trying to find other ways of
dissuading the state from exercising violence against us: this may
have to involve some degree of armed resistance (as in the case of the
Zapatistas), but must surely rely above all on the strength of the
integration of the rebellion into the community.

b) The second issue is whether we can develop alternative doings
(alternative productive activity) within capitalism, and to what extent
we can create an alternative social nexus between activities, other
than value. There are many experiments that point in the direction of
some sort of solution (the fábricas recuperadas in Argentina, for
example) and the possibilities will obviously depend on the scale of
the movement itself, but this remains a major problem. How do we
think of a social determination of production and distribution that
moves from the bottom up (from the interstitial revolts) rather than
from a central planning body.

c) The third issue is the organisation of social self-determination.
How do we organise a system of direct democracy on a scale that
goes beyond the local level in a complex society? The classic answer
is the idea of councils linked by a council of councils to which the
councils send instantly recallable delegates. This seems basically
correct, but it is clear that even in small groups the operation of
democracy is always problematic, so that the only way in which direct
democracy can be conceived is as a constant process of
experimentation and self-education.

9. Can we change the world without taking power? The only way to
find out is to do it.
Copied from infoshop.org

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