I had the pleasure of seeing John Holloway last week, and meeting his compañera Eloína, an equally impressive character. They were in San Francisco thanks to Andrej Grubacic at CIIS inviting him to be a visiting scholar to present his work over three nights of lectures. I could only make the last one, where he set out to show how we are the crisis of capital. The next day we had them over for lunch, so we had a fantastic leisurely afternoon over a good meal, spending about three hours talking and laughing and enjoying the sun streaming into our dining room on a beautiful afternoon. Eloína is a computer scientist who has become an ethnobotanist, and runs a nursery in Puebla, Mexico where they live. Her work dovetailed with some other folks who passed through a year ago, who have done a lot of work on the hydrological history and future of the Valley of Mexico, so we happily shared their books.
Sara Maria Acevedo caught me asking a question of John Holloway at his talk.
I read John’s Crack Capitalism during the week before he arrived and really liked it. There are many places in the book where I felt a very strong resonance with the analysis I made in Nowtopia, and I was honored to discover that he quoted me in his book. Like his earlier book Change the World Without Taking Power, he is taking a very deep and basic Marxian concept, in this case the dual nature of work, and expanding it in fresh language, reworking the concept to confront and unpack the despair we often find ourselves feeling in the face of global capitalism. Part of his mission, too, is to repudiate the cul-de-sac of traditional Marxism with its elision of the dual nature of work in favor of an emphasis on the struggle between capital and labor. Holloway emphasizes again and again throughout his books that capital and abstract labor are two parts of the same thing. If your radical politics starts from what you do as wage-labor, as abstract labor, you are already trapped in the logic of capital. The point is to fight against abstract labor, against the subordination of our “doing” (whatever we may choose to do) to the logic of money and markets.
The ambition of Crack Capitalism is impressive. He situates most of the divisions and schisms facing contemporary radicals in the subordination of subjectivity to abstract labor. It can seem a bit dense and complicated at moments, but overall I want to congratulate him on a well-done effort to bring these concepts out into the light of day and making them quite accessible and clear. Here is a quote where he summarizes his critique of identity politics:
Identification or reification is an enormously destructive force in everyday struggle. We give our protests a name, a label, a limit. Our struggle is the struggle of women, of gays, of workers, of the unemployed, it is the struggle for indigenous rights, for uncontaminated food, for peace. It may be that we are at least vaguely aware that our struggles are part of a wider whole, perhaps even that they are the product of the way in which human doing is organized in the world, but, precisely because that form of organization seems permanent (‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’), we enclose our struggles within limits, within an identity. And so we have a world full of protest, a world of people aware in some way that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way society is organized, and yet so many walls separating these struggles, so many dykes preventing them from flowing into each other. And all these walls are identifications, the grand framework identification of the capitalism-that-is-and-always-will-be, and the lesser identifications of ‘we are gay, we are women, we are indigenous, we are Basque, we are Zapatistas, we are anarchists, we are communists’. And all these identities become so easily the basis for sectarianism, the perennial self-destruction of the left that makes life easy for the police. Far more effective than any system of secret police, identity is the reproduction of capital within anti-capitalist struggle. (p. 114)
Pioneer Monument gets a cleaning in SF...