Seeing Through: John Holloway’s Crack Capitalism

This is another instalment in the series on “emptiness” as “seeing through” the institutional facades that construct the power of capital and the corporate state. The following is an excerpt from Sociologist John Holloway’s Crack Capitalism, a follow-up to his popular book, Changing the World Without Taking Power. Both are available for free download as pdfs. The following passage asks us to “see through” the seemingly solid walls of the systems that entrap us, to look for the cracks in the wall, which are the crises of capitalism. We are encouraged, as the siddhas of old, to “walk through walls” of mental and social imprisonment that are not so solid.

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This is the story of ordinary people, some of whom I know, some of whom I have heard of, some of whom I have invented. Ordinary people: rebels, revolutionaries perhaps. ‘We are quite ordinary women and men, children and old people, that is, rebels, non-conformists, misfits, dreamers’, say the Zapatistas in their most profound and difficult challenge of all. (John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, pp. 5-6).

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. In Marx’s terms, it is critique ad hominem, the attempt to break through the appearances of a world of things and uncontrollable forces and to understand the world in terms of the power of human doing. 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, a dialectic of misfitting. Quite simply, we think the world from our misfitting.

The method of the crack is the method of crisis: we wish to understand the wall not from its solidity but from its cracks; we wish to understand capitalism not as domination, but: from the perspective of its crisis, its contradictions, its weaknesses, and we want to understand how we ourselves are those contradictions. This is crisis theory, critical theory. Critical/crisis theory is the theory of our own misfitting. Humanity (in all its senses) jars increasingly with capitalism. It becomes harder and harder to fit as capital demands more and more. Ever more people simply do not fit in to the system, or, if we do manage to squeeze ourselves on to capital’s ever-tightening Procrustean bed, we do so at the cost of leaving fragments of ourselves behind, to haunt. That is the basis of our cracks and of the growing importance of a dialectic of misfitting.
(John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 9).

This book offers a simple answer: crack capitalism. Break it in as many ways as we can and try to expand and multiply the cracks and promote their confluence. (John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 11).

It is in the interstices that the ‘ordinary people’ who are the heroes of this book are to be found. . . .In other words, social change is not produced by activists, however important activism may (or may not) be in the process. Social change is rather the outcome of the barely visible transformation of the daily activities of millions of people. We must look beyond activism, then, to the millions and millions of refusals and other-doings, the millions and millions of cracks that constitute the material base of possible radical change. (John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, pp. 11-12).

In both of these cases, the No is backed by an other-doing. This
is the dignity that can fill the cracks created by the refusaI. Th original No is then not a closure, but an opening to a different activity, the threshold of a counter-world with a different logic and a different language. The No opens to a time-space in which we try to live as subjects rather than objects. These are time or spaces in which we assert our capacity to decide for ourselves what we should do – whether it be chatting with our friend , playing with our children, cultivating the land in a different way, developing and implementing projects for a critical education. These are times or spaces in which we take control of our own lives, assume the responsibility of our own humanity.

Dignity is the unfolding of the power of No. Our refusal confronts us with the opportunity, necessity and responsibility of developing our own capacities.

(John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 19).

Dignity, the movement of negating-and-creating, of taking control of our own lives, is not a simple matter: it is, we said, a dark liquid bubbling up from a lake of possibility. To give positive solidity to what can only be a moving of refusing and creating and exploring can easily lead to disillusion.

The cracks are always questions, not answers.

It is important not to romanticise the cracks, or give them a positive force that they do not possess. And yet, this is where we start: from the cracks, the fissures, the rents, the spaces of rebellious negation-and-creation. We start from the particular, not from the totality. We start from the world of misfitting, from th multiplicity of particular rebellions, dignities, cracks, not from the great unified Struggle that simply does not exist, nor from the system of domination. We start from being angry and lost and trying to create something else, because that is where we live, that is where we are. Perhaps it is a strange place to start, but we are looking for a strange thing. We are looking for hope in a dark night. We are trying to theorise hope-against-hope. This is surely the only subject matter of theory that is left.

(John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 19).

All of these people reject, in one way or another, the determination of their activity by money and oppose to that logic another concept of doing, an other-doing, which they seek to determine themselves, individually or collectively. They try to do what they themselves consider desirable or necessary. Of course this is not pure self-determination, because what we consider desirable or necessary is affected by the society in which we live and because we do not control the environment in which we act, but it is a drive towards social self-determination, it is a push not only against but also beyond the determination of our lives by capital.

(John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 22).

In each of these cases, the cracks, the spaces or moments in which we reject external authority and assert that’here and now we rule, are outgrowths of more limited struggles. We come up against the limits of the system, and the anger that is inherent in any conflict drives us beyond those limitsto assert a different logic, a Iogic (or perhaps anti-logic) of self-determination. The logic of demands give way to the simple assertion of our own rule.

(John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 23).


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