¡Que se vayan Todos!

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John Holloway

 

 

1. In the last nine months, since 11 September, the scream becomes sharper, more strident. It is the horror of what we see around us: the bombs falling, the violence against immigrants, the 35,000 children who die of curable diseases each day, the blind arrogance of the capitalists and their politicians, the pressures on all of us to give up our dreams of a world of dignity, the real danger that we, our children or grandchildren will be present when capital finally destroys humanity. To all this we can only scream NO!. NO is the foundation of the grammar of rebellion, the grammar of revolt, the grammar of revolution.

This relationship that we call capital, this absurd relationship based on the negation of the social character of doing, this absurd sick relationship built upon the fact that a small number of people say “this is mine, mine, mine – touch it and I will kill you” and they do, This horrible, horrible relationship that we have endured for hundreds of years, this relationship is killing us, killing humanity in all the meanings of the word. Now we must learn from all those women who, in the face of nasty, oppressive relationships that have lasted too long, have had the courage to say: “Fuck off! Go! Get out! Leave me in peace to get on with life as I think fit!” “¡Que se vayan todos!” as the people in Argentina put it, “Get out all of you!” Not just the government, but all the politicians, not just the politicians but their capitalist friends, not just the friends but all capitalists, all capital.

There is no possible defence of capitalism left. Probably there are very few people left in the world who think capitalism is a good way of organising social relations: many think that there is no alternative, some think that it is in their interests, most simply take it for granted. But it is obvious that capitalism is a disaster. So how do we say “Goodbye, go, get out.”? How do we go beyond Argentina? How do we make sure that capitalists and their politicians really go away, not just in Argentina but in all the world, not just for a few days of crisis but for good?

2. This is the question of revolution. The word is unfashionable, but still important. It is important because revolt cannot survive unless it becomes revolution, real social transformation. In an interview last year during the zapatista march, Subcomandante Marcos said that the zapatistas were rebels, not revolutionaries. “Porque un revolucionario se plantea fundamentalmente transformar las cosas desde arriba, no desde abajo, al revés del rebelde social. El revolucionario se plantea: Vamos a hacer un movimiento, tomo el poder y desde arriba transformo las cosas. Y el rebelde social no. El rebelde social organiza a las masas y desde abajo va transformando sin tener que plantearse a cuestión de la toma del poder.” (Proceso, 11 de marzo de 2001). He is quite right in criticising the old concept of revolution, right in rejecting the idea of taking power. And yet, and yet revolt or rebellion cannot be maintained unless it leads to revolution, unless it leads to radical social transformation. Forcing a president to resign may be important, but it is not enough. Fighting for dignity is important, but it is not enough, we want to create a society based on the mutual recognition of dignity.

We are forced back to the old question of revolution. But we cannot give the old answers. The old answers have been shown to be wrong. Conquering the state, whether by parliamentary or by violent means, does not create an emancipated society. The problem is not to take power but to emancipate, recover or construct our own power.

3. To think about how we can go on beyond revolt, how we can really change the world, we must distinguish between two types of power.

On the one hand is our power, the power to do, to create (creative power). This power is inevitably social. Our doing is always part of a social flow of doing, whether we recognise it or not. In a context like this, the social character of doing is clear, but also when I sit at home and write at my computer, it is obvious that what I do is made possible not only by the writing and thinking of many others, but by the doing of the people who made the computer, put the electricity in the house, taught me to read, produced the food that gave me the energy to write, and so on. My doing is part of a patchwork of doing, a flow of doing through time and space in which the doing of each acquires a social validity in relation to the doing of others.

In capitalism, doing continues to be social but the sociality is fractured. Capital is a process of separation. Capital is the separation of the done from the doing and its conversion into private property. The capitalist breaks the social flow of doing, in which the done of some people flows into the doing of others; he tears the done from the social flow and says “this is mine, this is my property!” But this means that everyone else is cut off from that social flow, from the sociality of doing. The done which is now capitalist property is the precondition of our doing, since our doing depends on connecting to that which has been done by others. The only way we can have access to the sociality of doing is by going to capital and selling our labour power, or by accepting in some other way the rules imposed by capital in the interests of its self-expansion. Capital, by seizing the done and converting it into private property, has become the gatekeeper to the sociality of doing. To live, to be human, we depend on access to that sociality: that is what forces us into submission time and time again. To put it in the words of the young Marx, capital is the gatekeeper to our species-being: to live we are forced to go through capital’s gate.

Power, then, has two opposed senses. On the one hand is our power, power-to, creative power, which is a movement of uniting, of integrating my doing into the social flow of doing. On the other hand is capitalist power, power-over, instrumental power, which is a movement of separating, of dividing the done from the doing, of separating my doing from the social flow. The two movements are quite different. Class struggle is fundamentally asymmetrical.

4. What is the role of the state in all this? The old concept of revolution effectively confuses the state with sociality. But today there is no excuse for confusing the state with sociality. On the contrary, it is part of the fracturing of the sociality of doing. The state is a false form of sociality which is based upon the prior separation of people from sociality. In other words, the separation of politics and economics, upon which the existence of the state is based, consolidates the separation of people from the social flow of doing by the private appropriation of the done, before then constructing a new sociality based upon that separation. Not only that, but the state exists only as one of a multiplicity of states. The false community which each state represents is at the same time a brutal, violent separation from the community of doing as a whole, which can be understood only as a global flow of doing. To see the violence of the state as a process of the fracturing of the global flow of doing, to understand the state (all states) as a brutal process of separation, we need only look at what happens at the borders of this and every other state.

It used to be thought that taking state power was at least a step towards the recovery of the sociality of doing. That is not the case. The state in every moment of its being is a process of separation, a fracturing of the sociality of doing. The revolutionary transformation of society cannot pass through the state. In order to maintain the impetus of revolt, we must look elsewhere.

5. Capital stands as gatekeeper to the social flow of doing. It stands there and bars our access to the immense (material and spiritual) richness of human doing, it bars the way to our dignity, our humanity, our species being. How can we circumvent the gatekeeper, flow around him, cock a snook at him, treat him as a figure of fun and contempt, make him an irrelevant laughing-stock? We do not want to replace one gatekeeper with another, whether we call it the state or the party. We want direct access to the sociality of doing, to construct a sociality which has no gatekeeper. That is what revolution means. Revolution is not about taking state power but about winning direct access to the sociality of doing. That is what the survival of revolts such as the argentinazo of last December depends upon.

What I have said is a question: it is not an answer. I do not know what the answer is, and in any case revolution can only be a question, not an answer, a continuation of revolt, not its pacification. Nevertheless, there are some points that follow from this way of posing the question.

Firstly, revolution can only flow from revolt, can be understood only as the continuation of revolt. The process of revolt itself generates new forms of sociality, new forms of bringing together the doing of people. An exciting example of that is the asambleas barriales in Argentina at the moment.

For revolt to survive, however, we need more than just new forms of deliberation. There must also be new forms of bringing together our material doing, collective forms of survival that mean that we do not have to go and sell our labour power to capital. The system of barter that is currently flourishing in Argentina, the interchange of different forms of work, is obviously a rudimentary but important form of developing a sociality that does not go through capital’s gate.

But clearly this is not enough. We do not want to live in poverty. The aim of revolution is to relate directly to the richness of the social flow of doing, not to cut ourselves off from it. Perhaps this is the most difficult. We develop community projects or alternative forms of production or activity and think of them as a space that we must protect: often such projects become inward-looking. Perhaps we should think of such projects not as a space but as a time and put all our energy into projecting them outwards. The real challenge is how we develop such projects materially, how we connect with the richness of social doing without passing through capital. It is clear that the strength and impact of the Zapatista movement, for example, depends on the fact that, from the beginning, it has refused to limit itself to being an identitarian indigenous movement but has projected itself into a world of struggle to build alternatives to capitalism. What it has not succeeded in doing is finding a way of connecting directly with the material richness of social doing in such a way as to significantly alter the living conditions of the people. Is there any way of doing this without directly confronting private property and the violence that protects it? There has to be.

It used to be said that the transition from capitalism to communism, unlike the transition from feudalism to capitalism, could not be interstitial, that there was no way in which communism could grow within the framework of capitalism. This idea gives support to the concept of revolution as a Great Event and of course to the idea of the revolutionary party as the Leader of the Great Event. This ignores the fact that revolution is inconceivable unless that which does not yet exist already exists, and it does exist, antagonistically and contradictorily, in the alternative sociality which is so deeply rooted in our everyday lives, in love, in friendship, in solidarity, in a million forms of co-operative doing, in all that we have learnt from the zapatistas to call Dignity. The elaboration of these embryonic forms of direct sociality is the process of revolution. Revolution, then, is a process: but this does not mean that it is gradual in the traditional sense, because part of the process is the breaking with capitalist homogenisation of time and indeed with all the linearities of capitalism.

Revolution is about flowing around the capital-gatekeeper, making fun of him, showing him to be sick and stupid. This means leaping to another dimension both in our thought and in our actions, breaking through the categories of capitalism. In this we cannot stand still, for the gatekeeper responds all the time to repair the fence, to integrate our struggles into capitalist forms. For us there can be no formula, no recipe, for struggle is necessarily constant experiment, constant invention, a constant moving beyond the horizons of capitalist thought. In this both the zapatista movement and the anti-globalisation movement has been remarkably successful in recent years.

What gives us hope in all this is not that history is on our side: it is not. History seems to be leading us rapidly to the annihilation of humanity, and there is no certainty at all that we shall win. What gives us hope is the knowledge that we are the only gods, we are the only creators. Capital depends on us for its existence, depends absolutely on appropriating and exploiting our power-to-do. Very often, left thought allows capital to set the agenda and restricts itself to criticising the ills of capitalism. That is a mistake, for it concedes power to capital unnecessarily. We must not allow capital to set the agenda, for we are the only creative force. Capital, poor fool, runs after us saying “this is mine, this is mine” whenever we create something new – think of Napster, to take an obvious example. Let us think, rather, of how we go ahead, of how we brush aside this horrible relationship that still spoils our doing. Let us think of how we build on the struggles in Argentina, not by showing solidarity with the people of a far country, but so that we too can say “¡Que se vayan todos! Get out of our way, capital!”

 

 

Note :

Some of the points in this argument are developed much more fully in my book, Change the World without taking Power, Pluto Press, London, 2002 (ISBN 0745318630 for paperbacks and 0745318649 for hardbacks). To order, visit the Pluto website: www.plutobooks.com

John Holloway is a professor in sociology in the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. He has written widely on Marxist theory. His recent books include Change the World without taking Power, Pluto Press, London, 2002 and Zapatista! Reinventing revolution in Mexico (edited with Eloína Peláez), Pluto Press, London, 1998.

 

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