Changing the World Without Taking Power
An Interview with John Holloway
[John Holloway, political scientist at the Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Mexico and one of the best-known analysts of the zapatista rebellion, titled his 2002 book "Changing the World Without Taking Power". This interview originally published in: graswurzelrevolution 283, November 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.graswurzel.net/283/holloway.shtml.]
Graswurzelrevolution: John, you were a discussant twice within a year on podiums in Germany at the BUKO 2002 and at the 2003 Attac summer academy. This is evidence that you preach to the converted among German leftist academics with your book "Change the World Without Taking Power". When you speak, it isn't long until the hall cooks - mainly with inspiration! Is someone finally beginning to speak of "revolution" formulating a perspective for change in the de-politicized area of science? What is your understanding of "revolution"?
John Holloway: When the book appeared last year, I didn't know what the reaction would be. Perhaps I was thinking more in academic categories than in political categories. What would the Adorno- and Foucault experts say?
How did people react to your interpretation?
The real surprise came when I traveled to Argentina last October to present the Spanish-language edition. Many people at the book reading spoke of the enormous need for discussion. I felt some hostility among many old-leftists (in a crisis, discussing new ways that point forward) and a widespread enthusiasm among the young, especially among those engaged in district assemblies and in the movement of the Piqueteros (1). In Mexico, I had very similar reactions with less intensity since the situation is different. In Germany, I could not predict the reaction but it was wonderful last year at the BUKO and this year at the Attac summer academy.
People want to speak again about revolution. Perhaps they don't use the word "revolution" but nearly everyone knows that capitalism is a disaster that destroys humanliness or humanity (2) and threatens complete disaster. More and more people struggle for another world and that struggle means nothing but revolution.
The problem is what we mean by revolution. Obviously revolution means creating another society in place of capitalism. I think it's important to say we don't know how we can accomplish this. Certainly we have many struggles that already point us in a direction. Many struggles show us what way we should not go. Revolution can only be imagined as a discovery process and as a question. More and more I am convinced the problem is stopping the constant production of capitalism, not destroying capitalism.
GRR: You reveal another direction with the title of your book. What is central to you isn't the power to govern or parliamentarianism. Rather "we" must set out on the way of organizing ourselves and discovering our own power. You use the inclusive term "we". Is a strong "we" part of the "discovery process"? Can the term "multitude" be paraphrased as the "revolutionary subject" (Hardt/ Negri)?
J.H.: Yes, I begin with a "we" because it's hard to begin with anything else. Beginning with a "they" whether defined as the "working class" or whatever implies our distancing from the question about changing the world. The "we" is the central category since the problem is changing the world. Speaking of "we" raises an open question: who are we? We are the working class. However this is only a redevelopment of the question, not an answer.
What does it mean to speak of the working class as a subject instead of as an object? Only objects can be defined, not subjects. A subject is necessarily an open question, a rebellion against objectification, and a rebellion against definition. Revolution is not an answer to the question but an articulation of the question, an explicit articulation of a We as in worker councils.
Speaking of subjects means speaking of action. Subjects act. Therefore the concept of the working class is important because it emphasizes how action is organized in capitalism and how capitalism transforms action into estranged work. The concept of the working class also illustrates the dependence of capital on us because the existence of capital depends on the estrangement and exploitation of our action. This is vital since the understanding that the rulers depend on the ruled is the starting-point for the empowerment to speak about revolution. All this is lost in the concept of the "multitude" that says nothing about action or about the dependence of capital on us.
You were presented as a Marxism researcher at the Attac summer academy in August 2003. The question whether you describe yourself as an anarchist or as a communist is impossible on account of your statement on identity. The term "anti-identity politics" or "anti-politics" was used with your appearance. Revolutionary action should arise, you write, in a series of events as for example with the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle or presently in Cancun/ Mexico and no longer in organizations. Why are events central rather than organizations?
Yes, you are right. I would prefer not to label myself. There is a terrible tradition of the left in labeling people to avoid hearing their arguments. We must break this habit.
By "anti-politics", I mean a kind of politics and praxis not connected or adjusted to the structures of the state. The goal of revolution should be already contained in our forms of action and organization. Capital constantly tries to draw us to its terrain in its own way. Our struggle always consists in pressing the battles on our own terrain to gain ground in another dimension..
The question of identity is important. Capital is occupied with identities and definitions.
When capital succeeds in defining a struggle, winning us is easy. Defining us means setting our battles on a terrain that can easily be integrated in the reproduction of capital. Capital has few problems with struggles of blacks, women or gays as long as these struggles remain in the assertion of an identity. What causes problems for capital are the battles that cannot be controlled in a definition.
Consider for example the zapatistas. From the first, the Mexican government tried to get rid of their struggle by representing it as an indigenous struggle or a Chiapas conflict. An important part of the zapatista struggle consisted in dodging such definitions by saying: "We are indigenous but we are more than indigenous. Our struggle is for humanity and humanliness." They didn't ask about our solidarity. Instead they urged us to take up the same struggle, as we are able. Capital cannot deal with this undefined struggle, integrate this struggle or even pretend to fulfill its demands.
When I say we should orient ourselves in events, I don't mean organizations and organizing are not important. These events clearly couldn't take place without organization just as every good party needs organization. Still the organization is not the end or goal of the event. In the best case, these events (like Seattle, Cancun, 1968 or the zapatista rebellion of January 1, 1994) open up a new world and transform us in a new dimension. These events break time and break continuities. They transpose us into a situation of thinking on new paths. They show us our possibilities. I think the only way of thinking about revolution is a way that breaks time and breaks continuity - above all the continuity of our subordination under capital.