Epilogue to the updated edition of How to Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on March 6, 2024

Change the World Without Taking Power


Moving Against-and-Beyond

Reflections on a Discussion1


Fine, but what on earth do we do?

Of all the questions and criticisms that have come up in the last two years of discussion2 that is the one that throbs in the mind most of all.

That capitalism is a catastrophe for humanity becomes more obvious every day. Bush, Blair, Iraq, Israel, Sudan and the slaughter and the torture. Our scream has intensified over the last couple of years. ‘Am raging and incandescent and very frustrated because I can’t figure out where to put all this anger.’ A letter from a friend expresses the frustration of millions.

The rage is silent and it is also vociferous. It is embittered, furious frustration but it is also Argentina and Bolivia and the anti-war movement with its demonstrations of millions. A movement of movements, a cacophony of movements.

The question is urgent. Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Colombia stand as present realities and also warnings of the possible future of the whole of humanity. What can we do to stop this disaster and avoid its extension? How can we change the world? How do we find hope? To pose the question of power and revolution is not just an abstraction (a ‘some day in the future’) but a question of how we think and act now.

The traditional answers are in crisis. Blair and Lula, each in his own way, have proved yet again that voting for a ‘left’ party leads only to disillusion. The Leninist revolutionary parties do not offer any prospect of change either: not only is their history a history of repression and oppression, but even to think of the revolutionary seizure of power makes little sense when there is no revolutionary party anywhere in the world (with the exception of Nepal?) with the slightest possibility of taking power.

But then what? Violence becomes attractive or at least comprehensible. It is not hard to understand the actions of the suicide bombers. There is no doubt that millions around the world would rejoice if Bush or Blair were assassinated tomorrow. And yet that is not the way: such acts of violence do nothing to create a better world.

Not the state, not the violence of terrorism. But then where do we go?
Some readers have wanted to find an answer in this book and have felt frustrated. But there is no answer, there can be no answer.

Some critics have argued that to criticise the traditional answer to the question of revolution (take power and change society) without proposing an alternative answer is to demobilise social struggles or to promote (willingly or unwillingly) a proliferation of micro-politics which leads nowhere.3 They are wrong: the book does not create a crisis of the traditional concept of revolution but pleads for its recognition as the basis for starting to talk seriously about revolution once again. The crisis of the traditional concept was there already: it is the refusal to recognise it that demobilises struggle, that makes it impossible to talk honestly about changing the world. The scale of the debate around the book is a reflection of the crisis of the traditional forms of anti-capitalist struggle.

But how then? The terrible question is still there. Does the absence of an answer mean that we should just sit at home and moan? For some critics, that is the implication of the argument. To reject the idea of taking state power is, for them, to reject the need for organisation.4 Nothing could be further from the truth: to reject the idea of taking state power is to pose the question of organisation.

Questions, questions, questions, but where is the answer? The desire for an answer is in part a reaction of looking for a leader (tell us which way to go), but it also reflects the desperation of our situation: what on earth do we do?

What follows is an attempt to take the question further (but no, still not to give an answer), while at the same time responding to some of the criticisms.5


What is the alternative to struggling for control of the state?

There is an alternative to the state. Indeed, the state is simply the movement of suppressing that alternative. The alternative is the drive towards social self-determination.

Social self-determination does not and cannot exist in a capitalist society: capital, in all its forms, is the negation of self-determination. Furthermore, individual self-determination does not and cannot exist in any society: our doing is so interwoven with the doing of others that the individual self-determination of our doing is an illusion.

What remains is the drive towards social self-determination. This begins with the refusal of determination by others: ‘No, we will not do as we are told.’ The starting point is refusal, insubmission, insubordination, disobedience, No. But the negativity implies a projection that goes beyond mere negativity: refusal of determination by others carries with it a drive towards self-determination. In the best of cases, the sentence then gets longer: ‘No, we will not do as we are told, we shall do as we think fit: we shall do what we consider necessary, enjoyable or appropriate.’ The No carries a Yes, or indeed Many Yeses, but these Yeses are rooted in the No to existing society – their foundation is a grammar of negativity.6 The Yeses have to be understood as a deeper No, a negation of the negation which is not positive but more negative than the original negation.7

The No that carries many Yeses is a moving against-and-beyond. The move towards self-determination is a moving against the society which is based on the negation of self-determination and at the same time a projection beyond existing society – a projection in dreaming, in talking, in doing.

Against-and-beyond need to be held together. Traditional revolutionary theory assumes that the ‘against’ must come before the ‘beyond’: first we struggle against capitalism, then we go beyond it and enjoy the promised land. This argument was perhaps tenable in a movement certain of its victory. But we no longer have that certainty, and the exclusive emphasis on against-ness (on a logic of confrontation)8 tends to reproduce the logic of that which is being confronted. Moreover, we cannot wait for a future that may never come. It is necessary to move beyond now, in the sense of creating a different logic, a different way of talking, a different organisation of doing. The drive towards self-determination cannot be understood in terms of ‘first we destroy capitalism, then we create a self-determining society’: the drive towards self-determination can only be just that, a moving forward of self-determination against a society which negates it. We, the moving of self-determination, set the agenda.

The ‘against’ can no more be separated from the ‘beyond’ than the ‘beyond’ from the ‘against’: the assertion of self-determination necessarily means moving against capitalism. Capital is the rule of value, of money, of thingified social relations that we do not control. The assertion of a ‘beyond’ necessarily brings us into conflict with capital (in its various forms). Confrontation is inevitable even if we reject its logic. The realisation of our Yeses cannot be separated from the struggle of the No, just as the No, to have force and meaning, cannot be separated from the struggle to realise our Yeses.

This (the No to alien determination and the Yes to determination of our own lives) is not self-determination, because, in a world in which the doings of all are intertwined, the only self-determination possible is one that involves all people in the world. The only possible self-determination is conscious social determination of the social flow of doing. What exists now is not self-determination but the drive towards self-determination: not totality, but the aspiration to totality.9 If we refer to social self-determination by the simpler term of communism, then it is clear that communism (at present, at least) can be understood only as a movement, a drive, an aspiration, and we can say with Marx, ‘Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ (Marx and Engels 1976, p. 49).10

The drive towards social self-determination is a moving against-and-beyond (beyond-and-against) the barriers that confront it. There is no autonomy, no self-determination possible within capitalism. Autonomy (in the sense of self-determination) can be understood only as a project that continually takes us against-and-beyond the barriers of capitalism. Communism is a moving outwards, an unrest of life, an overflowing, a breaking and transcendence11 of barriers, an overcoming of identities, an irrepressible project of creating humanity,12 a flow of a river into new land, sometimes breaking against rocks, flowing around them before washing over them, sometimes making mistakes, taking unforeseen turns, but never resting, always pushing on in a cacophonous torrent of mixed metaphors. This flow cannot be programmed, it has no precise aims, it follows rather a utopian star, a star that rises from all the projects and dreams, all the projected beyonds in our against, all the Yeses contained in our No to a world of inhumanity. Rebellion cannot rest contented, but drives outwards and onwards towards revolution, the total transformation of human doing which is the only real basis of social self-determination.

We start then from the fissures, the cracks in capitalist domination. We start from the No’s, the refusals, the insubordinations, the projections against-and-beyond that exist all over the place. The world is full of such fissures, such refusals. All over the place people say, individually or collectively ‘No, we shall not do what capitalism (the system) tells us to do: we shall shape our lives as we think fit.’ Sometimes these fissures are so tiny that not even the rebels perceive their own rebelliousness, sometimes they are groups of people involved in projects of resistance, sometimes they are as big as the Lacandon Jungle – but the more we focus on them, the more we see the world not (just) as an all-pervading system of capitalist domination but as a world riven by fissures, by refusals and resistances and struggles. Always these fissures are contradictory – easy to criticise, easy to make fun of: they must be contradictory because they are rooted in the antagonisms of capitalist society. Our movement against-and-beyond is always an in-against-and-beyond charged with the limitations and stupidities of existing society. What is important is not their present limitations but the direction of their movement, the push against-and-beyond, the drive towards social self-determination. The practical and theoretical problem is how to think and articulate and participate in this moving against-and beyond.

It is sometimes argued that in the transition from capitalism to communism, unlike the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the new form of organisation can not develop in the interstices of the old, that it must necessarily be a single transformation. It is now clear that there is no alternative: a single total transformation of world capitalism to world socialism or communism is unthinkable, so the only possible way to think about radical social transformation is intersticially. Even if one were to think in terms of taking state power, the particular states would at best be no more than that, potential gaps in the fabric of capitalist domination. The issue then is not whether one thinks of revolution in intersticial terms or not, but what is the best way of thinking about and organising these interstices. In other words, there is no alternative to starting from fissures in capitalist domination, and thinking how these rebellions can move against-and-beyond the capitalist forms of social relations.

Revolutionary theory is part of this flow of resistance against-and-beyond, a feeling the way forward, a breaking on rocks, an attempt to see in the dark: not a laying down of the correct line, but part of the movement and as contradictory as the movement itself.13 A theory that drives towards self-determination is, whatever its contradictions, in the first place critical – a critique of that which negates self-determination, a critique of the fetishisation of social relations that hides even the possibility of self-determination from our view, a critique of the fetishising that constantly threatens to suffocate the drive to self-determination.

The drive towards self-determination is not instrumental: we do not start from an aim and deduce from that aim the path we must follow to reach that aim. It is rather a movement outwards, a path that is made in the process of walking – walking in the dark, guided only by the light provided by the utopian star of our own projections. Walking in the dark is dangerous, but there is no other possibility.14

Walking in the dark, guided by the light of the utopian star of our own projections and driven by the fury of our No to present inhumanity. Our movement is in one direction. We stumble, take wrong paths, revise our course, but try to go always in the same direction, towards social self-determination. Each step is a prefiguration of the goal of social self-determination. It is not a pivoted, two-stage movement. That is important, because traditional revolutionary theory is a pivoted movement, with the winning of state control as the pivot: first we must do whatever is necessary to win control of the state, then, in the second stage, we shall move out from the state to transform society – first we go in that direction, so that later we shall be able to go in the other.15 The argument here is directed against this idea of a pivoted movement, this idea of a calculated going in that direction so that later we can go in the other. The criterion for judging an action in the traditional concept of revolution is: does this help us to attain the goal of winning state power? The approach here suggests a different criterion: does this action or form of organisation take us forward in the path towards social self-determination? Does it prefigure a self-determining society?

Capital (and the state as a form of capital) is the negation of our drive towards social self-determination. The stronger our drive, the weaker is capital. The weaker our drive, the stronger capital. There is no middle term.16 There is no pivot. Our strength (the strength of our drive towards social self-determination) is immediately the weakness of capital (which is the negation of that drive). The question of revolution, of how we move forward from rebellion to revolution, is quite simply ‘How do we strengthen our drive towards social self-determination?’


The moving out against-and-beyond is a moving out from everyday experience. It cannot be otherwise.

The drive to self-determination is anchored in the everyday practice of its negation. If that were not the case, the struggle for communism (or for another world) would make no sense. Self-emancipation would be impossible and the only possibility of revolution would be a revolution on behalf of, a revolution led by an elite which would do nothing more than lead to a restructuring of class domination. That is the difficult core of the communist bet. This is the terrible political-theoretical challenge hurled at us by the Zapatistas in their simple statement that ‘We are women and men, children and old people who are quite ordinary, that is rebels, non-conformists, awkward, dreamers’17 (La Jornada, 4 August 1999).

To take seriously the idea of self-emancipation (or the self-emancipation of the working class) we have to look not for a pure subject but for the opposite: for the confused and contradictory presence of rebellion in everyday life. We have to look at the people around us – at work, in the street, in the supermarket – and see that they are rebels, whatever their outward appearances. In the world of possible self-emancipation, people are not what they seem. More than that, they are not what they are. They are not contained within identities, but overflow them, burst out of them, move against and beyond them.

The rebelliousness that is in us all starts with a No, a refusal of the alien determination of what we do, a refusal of the alien imposition of limits on who we are. From this No there arises also a creative charge, the drive towards determining our own lives, a drive no less ordinary than rebellion itself. We come together to complain and protest, but more than that: at the level of everyday gossip, in the back-and-forth of friendship, in the comradeship that develops at work or school or neighbourhood, we develop forms of cooperation to resolve everyday problems. There is in everyday intercourse a subterranean movement of communism, a drive to create and construct and resolve cooperatively, in our own way, without the intervention of external authorities. Not all social relations are commodity relations: the commodity form imposes itself, but ordinary life also involves a constant process of establishing non-commodity or even anti-commodity relations. There is not an outside capital, but there is certainly an against-and-beyond.18

The movement is a contradictory process. We establish non-commodity relations, non-capitalist forms of cooperation, but always as a movement against the dominant forms and always to some extent contaminated by those forms. Yet through these contradictions we recognise forms of relating that go against the commodity or money form and that create a basis for projecting a different form of society: forms that we commonly refer to as love, friendship, comradeship, respect, cooperation, forms that rise upon a mutual recognition of shared human dignity.

Organising for revolution is then not (or not just) a question of the organisation of a particular group of people, but the organisation of a pole of a contradiction. To put it in class terms: the working class is not a group of people but the pole of an antagonistic relation.19 The class antagonism cuts through us, collectively and individually. To think about the articulation of revolt is to think of the articulation not just of those who but also of that which drives against-and-beyond capital. All-important is the form of organisation. The movement of the drive towards social self-determination (the movement of communism) implies the promotion of certain forms of relating.20 In other words, to say that capital is a form of relations means that it is a form of organising or articulating social intercourse, the social interactions between people. To see it as a contradictory form of social relations means that it contains (or seeks to contain) antagonistic forms of social relations, anti-capitalist forms of articulating social intercourse. These anti-capitalist forms are potentially the embryonic forms of a new society.21 The birth of that society is the movement of the drive towards self-determination, the movement from rebellion to revolution.

There is no organisational model, but there are certain principles, which are developed through struggle and which are an important feature both of the current movement against capitalism and, in diverse expressions, of the whole history of anti-capitalist struggle. The organisational form which I take as the most important point of reference is the council or assembly or commune, a feature of rebellions from the Paris Commune to the Soviets of Russia to the village councils of the Zapatistas or the neighbourhood councils of Argentina. The ideas of council organisation are also present in many of the current attempts in the world to respond to the crisis of the party as a form of organisation. Necessarily, such attempts are always contradictory and experimental, always in movement. What interests us here is not an analysis of the current movements, but a distillation of tendencies present within them, a sharpening of the polar antagonism to capital.

Possibly the best way of thinking about the organisation of the drive to self-determination is in terms of movement. First a moving-against: a moving against all that separates us from the shaping of our own lives. Capital is a movement of separation: a separating of that which we have done from ourselves, the doers, a separation of the doers from one another, a separation of the collective from our control, a separation of the public from the private, the political from the economic, and so on. This separation is a movement of classification, of definition, of containment. It is by this movement of separation-containment that we are excluded from any possibility of determining our own doing.

The No to capital is a refusal of separation, of the separation of public from private, the political from the economic, citizens of one country from citizens of another, the serious from the frivolous, and so on. The moving against capital is a moving against definition, against classification. It is a coming together, an overcoming of separations, a forming of a We, but an undefined, non-identitarian We. The drive towards self-determination implies a constant moving, constant searching and experimenting. Once we confuse the drive towards self-determination with self-determination itself, as in certain interpretations of autonomy or in the idea of national self-determination, once we confuse the aspiration to totality with totality, once we think of communism not as a movement but as a state-of-being, once we think of the moving, anti-identitarian We as a new Identity, once we institutionalise and define a moving against definition, then all, all is lost. The moving against capital is converted into its opposite, an accommodation, an acceptance.22

Such a moving against definition is very much present in the current wave of struggle against capitalism: in the rejection of sexism and racism, the attacks on national frontiers, the organisation of demonstrations and events in a manner which transcends national forms, in the organisation of groups and meetings on a non-definitional basis. What is emphasised is not organisational definition (as in a Party), but indefinition (as in a party): not separation from the community, but integration into it. If one thinks of the movement against the war or the social centres in Italy or the neighbourhood councils in Argentina, it is clear that there is no question of formal membership. In many cases, the practices of the organisations are consciously or unconsciously woven into everyday life in such a way that there is no clear distinction between a ‘political’ activity and an act of friendship.23

The integration of rebel organisation into daily life24 means that great importance is attached to aspects of life and personality which are systematically excluded by party or state-oriented organisations. Affection and tenderness become central aspects of the anti-capitalist movement, as they are of other social relations.25 This is important, for an instrumental organisation (organisations which have the aim of taking power, for example) tends to limit activities and discussion to that which will contribute to reaching the objective: everything else is regarded as frivolous and accorded a secondary importance. To think of organisation (not the organisation) as articulating the anti-capitalist feelings of everyday life means that there is no limit; no limit to the range of personal concerns and passions that can be included, but also no end to what is being fought for: a rolling, growing, roaring NO to all oppression – we want everything!


The notion of self-emancipation, then, implies that we start from a ubiquitous rebelliousness, a ubiquitous potential for self-determination, a ubiquitous moving against-and-beyond existing limits. In this sense, a concept of self-emancipation is necessarily anti-identitar-ian,26 necessarily dialectic. The aim of revolutionary theory and practice is to distil or articulate this rebelliousness, this moving against-and-beyond, refusing capital and projecting beyond it. Note that this is a quite different starting point from the Leninist concept of revolution. Lenin’s workers are quite different. Lenin’s workers are limited, self-contained. They struggle, but they struggle up to a certain point. ‘The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness’ (1966, p. 74). They are contained within their role in society, they are defined. They can go beyond their limits only if taken by the hand by people from outside, by professional revolutionaries. There is a gap between the capacities of the working class and the social revolution which is necessary. This gap can be filled only by the party, by the leadership of a dedicated and disciplined group of militants who act on behalf of the oppressed. If we start from a limited subject, the only possible revolution is a revolution on behalf of, a revolution through the state.

This argument also stands opposed to the common view that, in order to avoid isolation and win over the majority, we must be moderate in our proposals. The view here is just the opposite: moderation bores and alienates everyone; it is important rather to address the radical anti-capitalism that is part of everyday experience. Certainly, any movement must seek to articulate the common denominator of protest, but the common denominator should be seen perhaps not as a set of demands we can all agree upon, but as the scream of rage and horror that is part of the experience of all of us.

That does not mean that everyone is a radical anti-capitalist at heart, but simply that radical anti-capitalism is part of the daily experience of capitalist oppression. The problem of organisation is not to bring consciousness from outside to inherently limited subjects, but to draw out the knowledge that is already present, albeit in repressed and contradictory form. The task is like that of the psychoanalyst who tries to make conscious that which is unconscious and repressed. But there is no psychoanalyst standing outside the subject: the ‘psychoanalysis’ can only be a collective self-analysis. This implies a politics not of talking, but of listening, or, better, of talking-listening. The revolutionary process is a collective coming-to-eruption of stifled volcanoes. The language and thought of revolution cannot be a prose which sees volcanoes as mountains: it is necessarily a poetry, an imagination which reaches out towards unseen passions. This is not an irrational process, but it implies a different rationality, a negative rationality that starts not from the surface but from the explosive force of the repressed NO.

Note that this approach is not characterised in any way by a romantic assumption that people are ‘good’, but simply by the assumption that in a society based on class antagonism, we are all permeated by this antagonism, we are all self-contradictory. Certainly we are limited, as Lenin pointed out, but being limited is not a permanent condition but means rather that we drive against those limits. To think of revolution is to focus not on the limits of people but on the overcoming of those limits, the drive beyond those limits. The notion that we are all rebels, that revolution is ordinary, can only be sustained if we see people as contradictory, as self-divided subjects. We are rebels fighting for the survival of humanity in one moment, then we go to the supermarket and participate actively in processes that we know are leading to the destruction of humanity. The drive towards self-determination is not a characteristic exclusive to a particular group of people but something present in contradictory form in all of us. If we understand class as a polar antagonism, then we can see the drive to self-determination as a formulation of that polar antagonism, so that class organisation has to be seen not as the organisation of dedicated militants but as the distillation of this drive.

To put the point slightly differently, we are all composed of different, often contradictory parts. The question is how these parts are articulated. Think of an army, for example: it is not that all soldiers are inherently evil, it is rather that an army consciously articulates certain aspects of the soldiers’ personality and suppresses others in order to convert them into obedient killers. So with capitalism: capitalism is a form of organisation that promotes an articulation of our contradictions which is highly destructive, socially and personally. The problem of revolutionary organisation is to promote a different articulation of these parts, an articulation which promotes the distillation of creativity and the drive to social self-determination.

The issue is not to look for a pure revolutionary subject, but to start from our contradictions or limitations and the question of how to deal with them. We can project the awareness of our limitations on to some sort of saviour (God, state, party) supposedly free of those limitations or we can think of the overcoming of those limitations as a process of collective self-emancipation, with the assumption of all the difficulties that that inevitably involves. This collective self-emancipation can be seen as a process of distillation of that which aspires to radical change.

Is there not a danger here? What if the scream against oppression takes a fascist or reactionary form,27 what if that which is unconscious and repressed is both sexist and racist? If radical anti-capitalism is part of the daily experience of domination, it is also true that reproduction of that domination in its worst forms is also part of that daily experience. How do we guard against that? With the rise of the right in many parts of the world, and after the re-election of Bush, this is a very real problem.

What if the people do not want what we think they ought to want? This is the problem both of bourgeois democracy and of the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the movement for universal suffrage gathered force in the nineteenth century, the problem for the bourgeoisie was ‘How do we ensure that the masses want what we think they should want?’ The answer given was by ensuring that the masses were included by a form of articulation which simultaneously excluded them (representative democracy) and by linking the extension of the franchise to the extension of compulsory education (later to be supplemented, of course, by the impact of the mass media). The same problem arises again in a different context with the Russian Revolution: the revolution was to give power to the working class, but what if the working class did not want what the party felt it should want? The answer given by the Bolsheviks was that the party decided what was in the interests of the working class – the dictatorship of the proletariat became the dictatorship of the party and those who were not in agreement were denounced as bourgeois reactionaries. At the time Pannekoek argued that Lenin was mistaken in seeing the issue in terms of adherence to the correct line, that it should be seen rather as a question of the form of articulation of the proletarian will: if social decision-making is organised through factory councils, then the interests of the proletariat will automatically prevail without any need for arbitrary decisions by a body acting on behalf of the proletariat – since the bourgeoisie will obviously have no place in the factory councils.

I think that Pannekoek is right, that the question has to be seen in terms of the forms of articulation of decision making, rather than in terms of the imposition of a correct line by a party or by intellectuals. The problem of ‘what if the people want the wrong things’ cannot be solved by recourse to decisions ‘on behalf of’, though clearly intense discussion of what is right would be part of the process of self-determination – it is clear from the history of Stalin and the Soviet Union, or indeed from the history of bourgeois democracy, that decisions ‘on behalf of’ the people are absolutely no guarantee against the unleashing of terror. There is a very real problem here. We scream, but both we and our scream contain elements that point both towards an emancipated society based on dignity and in the opposite direction, towards authoritarian racist, sexist oppression. How can we who are so deeply damaged by capitalism create an emancipated society? How do we filter out the destructive elements of our own impulses (our own – and not just those of those right-wingers over there)? The only possible answer, if we put aside the idea of a body that decides on our behalf, is through the articulated discussion that constitutes self-determination and that constitutes also a process of self-education through struggle. An anti-authoritarian form of articulation will tend to filter out authoritarian expressions of the scream. This is still no guarantee of correctness, but perhaps it will at very least ensure that we die of our own poison rather than of the poison given to us by others.28


The drive towards self-determination implies therefore a critique of representation, a moving against-and-beyond representation.29 Representation involves definition, exclusion, separation. Definition, because representative and represented must be defined, as well as the time for which the representative acts on behalf of the represented. Exclusion, because definition excludes, but also because there are many elements of everyday life (love, tenderness) which it is hard for someone else to represent. Exclusion too because in choosing a representative, we exclude ourselves. In elections we choose someone to speak on our behalf, to take our place. We create a separation between those who represent and those who are represented and we freeze it in time, giving it a duration, excluding ourselves as subjects until we have an opportunity to confirm the separation in the next elections. A world of politics is created, separate from the daily life of society, a world of politics populated by a distinct caste of politicians who speak their own language and have their own logic, the logic of power. It is not that they are absolutely separated from society and its antagonisms, for they have to worry about the next elections and opinion polls and organised pressure groups, but they see and hear only that which is translated into their world, their language, their logic. At the same time a parallel world is created, a theoretical, academic world which mirrors this separation between politics and society, the world of political science and political journalism which teaches us the peculiar language and logic of the politicians and helps us to see the world through their blind eyes.

Representation is part of the general process of separation which is capitalism. It is completely wrong to think of representative government as a challenge to capitalist rule or even as a potential challenge to capital. Representative democracy is not opposed to capital: rather it is an extension of capital, it projects the principle of capitalist domination into our opposition to capital. Representation builds upon the atomisation of individuals (and the fetishisation of time and space) which capital imposes. Representation separates representatives from represented, leaders from led, and imposes hierarchical structures. The left always accuse the leaders, the representatives, of betrayal: but there is no betrayal, or rather betrayal is not the act of the leaders but is already built into the very process of representation. We betray ourselves when we say to someone ‘You take my place, you speak on my behalf.’ The drive towards self-determination is necessarily anti-substitutionist. Self-determination is incompatible with saying ‘You decide on my behalf.’ Self-determination means the assumption of responsibility for one’s own participation in the determination of social doing. The rejection of representation means also a rejection of leadership, of verticality. The assumption of responsibility implies a drive towards horizontality in organisational forms. It is clear that horizontal forms do not necessarily guarantee the equal participation of all in the movement: they may well serve as a cover for the opposite – the informal taking of collective decisions by a small group. Nevertheless, the drive towards self-determination implies the assumption of mutual respect and shared responsibility as organisational orientations. Mutual respect, shared responsibility and also shared ignorance: the drive towards self-determination, towards the creation of a society based on the mutual recognition of dignity is necessarily a process of searching, of asking. This implies a relation of listening rather than talking, or rather a relation of listening-talking, of dialogue rather than monologue. In such a relation, no person can assume that they have the answer: the resolution of problems is a common pursuit, a movement through questioning and developing the questions. Preguntando caminamos (asking we walk) becomes a principle of organisation and this implies a rejection of vertical structures which inhibit the expression and discussion of questions and doubts. The moving is always a moving outwards, a moving into the unknown.

To say that representative democracy is not an appropriate model for the drive towards self-determination does not, of course, mean, that direct democracy does not have its problems.30 There is the classic argument that direct democracy is appropriate only to a small community: how you could possibly fit millions of people into a single assembly and what meaning would it have even if you could achieve it physically? But even within a small community there are lots of practical problems concerning those people who are unable or do not wish to participate actively, the disproportionate weight that is acquired by those who are most active and articulate, and so on.

Such problems are probably inevitable, in so far as a fully developed system of direct democracy would presuppose the participation of emancipated humans. But we are not (yet) emancipated subjects: we are cripples helping one another to walk, falling frequently. There are undoubtedly some who can walk better than others: in that sense the existence of what is sometimes called a ‘vanguard’ probably cannot be avoided.31 The issue is whether these half-cripples rush ahead – as a vanguard – leaving the rest of us crawling on the ground and calling to us ‘don’t worry, we’ll make the revolution and then come back for you’ (but we know they won’t), or whether they try to move in step, helping the slowest.

Probably direct democracy cannot be thought of as a model or a fixed set of rules but rather as an orientation, an unending struggle to distil the drive to collective self-determination that exists in each and all of us. Where decisions have to be taken that go beyond the scope of a particular assembly, then the classic response of direct or council democracy is not representation but delegation, the insistence that the delegate must be immediately responsible to those who have chosen her as their delegate in this matter: the mandar obedeciendo of the Zapatistas. There is always the danger of the institutionalisation of such delegates, that they become converted in practice into representatives taking the place of those who have chosen them – that their existence as delegates becomes separated from their constitution as such. Certainly rules (or the establishment of accepted practices) on reporting back, rotation of delegates, and so on, can help to prevent this, but the core of the issue is the process of collective self-emancipation, the practice of active participation in the collective determination of the social flow of doing. These are the problems with which so many groups all over the world are currently grappling in what can only be a process of experimentation and invention.

There can be no organisational model, no rules, precisely because the drive towards self-determination is the moving of a question. What is important is not the detail but the thrust of the moving: against separation and substitution, towards the strengthening or weaving of the community, out into the unknown. What else can we do but follow the utopian star: the dream of a human world composed of projections against-and-beyond the inhuman world in which we live?

The drive towards self-determination is not specific to any one organisation or type of organisation. It is a continuum that stretches from helping someone to do something or cooking a meal for friends, through the millions of social or political projects that aim to create a better world, to such developed forms of rebellion as the Russian soviets or the neighbourhood councils of Argentina or the Zapatista communities of Chiapas. For all the discontinuities and differences, they all form part of the same moving, the same drive towards self-determination, the same drive to create a world of non-commodified relations, a world not ruled by money but shaped by love, companionship, comradeship and the direct confrontation with all the problems of living and dying.


The drive towards self-determination is not compatible with the aim of taking state power. The state as a form of organisation is the negation of self-determination.

There is a terrible, explosive lie at the heart of Leninism. It is the idea that the seizure of state power is the culmination of the drive to self-determination, that the taking of state power was the culmination of the soviet movement in Russia. Just the opposite is true: the seizure of state power in Russia was the defeat of the soviets, the attempt to take state power is the opposite of the drive towards self-determination. The notion of a soviet state or ‘a state of the Commune-type’32 is an abomination, an absurdity.

The drive towards self-determination moves in one direction, the attempt to win state power moves in the opposite direction. The former starts to knit a self-determining community, the latter unravels the knitting.

A central issue for any movement of rebellion, large or small, is: do we channel our movement towards trying to win state power or influence within the state? There may be obvious material benefits to be gained from doing so, but it is important to realise that the state is not a thing, not an institution, but a form of social relations, that is, a process of forming social relations in a certain way, a process of imposing certain forms of organisation upon us. The state is a process of reconciling rebellion with the reproduction of capital. It does so by channelling rebellion into forms which are compatible with capitalist social relations. Where the drive towards self-determination is anti-definitional, the state is an attempt to turn that drive around and channel it into definitional forms. The state is incompatible with self-determination simply because it is a process of determination on behalf of. The existence of the state, the separation of public and private which that existence entails, is simply that: some people decide on behalf of others.33 The state is a process of substitution: it substitutes itself for the community.34

Of course, the on behalf of constitutes a sort of community, the community of those on behalf of whom the state acts: its citizens. Where the drive towards self-determination knits a community based on the cooperation of different people with their different qualities and passions, their variety of active subjectivities, the state moves in to break and recompose this community on the basis of prior individualisation and abstraction: people are separated from their doing, constituted as abstract individual beings. The separation of the public from the private, the political from the economic or social, is fundamental to the state as a form of organisation: but this separation is a separation of being from doing. The state relates to people as beings not as doers, and since the beings are abstracted from their social doing, they can only be seen as abstract and individual beings (citizens). And since these beings are separated from their doing, from their moving against-and-beyond themselves, they are necessarily defined, limited beings. The community is conceived not on the base of a cooperative doing but on the basis of beings, self-contained, defined, limited. And since they are abstract, they are substitutable, and since they are limited, they must be substituted, integrated into a structure that acts on their behalf. The state, by its very existence as a form of separating being from doing, is a process of substitution, a process of demobilisation.

But are we talking here of the state or the party? Both, it makes no difference. Both state and party deal with limited beings. The notion of a drive towards self-determination implies that people are potentially unlimited, that we constantly drive beyond our own limits, our own being, our own identity: limited beings, but limited beings who constantly negate our own limitations. In other words, people are understood as doers, as creators, not as beings. It is only on this basis that we can talk of the ordinariness of revolution, that is, of revolution as self-emancipation.

Both the state and the party construct a community, but in this community there is no room for communal self-determination. Communal self-determination is excluded as dangerous in both cases: in the case of the state because it is incompatible with capitalist domination; in the case of the party because the ‘masses’, composed of limited beings, cannot be trusted to lead us in the right direction. Trotskyists are quite right to analyse the fate of the Russian Revolution in terms of a process of substitution: substitution of the class by the party, of the party by the leadership, of the leadership by the leader. What they do not see is that this process of substitution is already inscribed in the party form itself and in the attempt to take state power.35

But am I not confusing here two quite different things, the bourgeois state and the working-class (post-revolutionary) state? What I say may be true of the bourgeois state, it is argued, but not of the working-class state.36 The answer is that the term ‘working-class state’ is nonsensical: it is rather like talking of working-class value or working-class capital. The state is a specific form of relations developed historically for the purpose of administering on behalf of, that is, excluding. To talk of the council as a form of state is like talking of asking friends to dinner as a form of commodity exchange, just because they are likely to bring a bottle of wine. This is a blurring of categories, a blurring that has enormous political consequences, precisely because it permits a slide from self-determination to authoritarian rule, a hidden reversal of the drive towards self-determination. To speak of post-revolutionary Russia as a ‘soviet state’ conceals the movement from the soviets (expressions of the drive towards self-determination) to the state (a form of organisation that excludes self-determination).

There is no room here for a ‘but also’.37 There is no room for saying ‘Yes, we must build forms of self-determination, but also it is important to struggle through the state.’ The two forms of struggle cannot exist peacefully side by side simply because they move in opposite directions: the state is an active and constant intervention against self-determination.

There is no but also, but is there room for a but in spite of? Does it in certain circumstance make sense to say: ‘We are building forms of self-determination and we know that the state is a process of negating self-determination, but in spite of that, we think that, in this particular situation, struggling through the state can give us a way of strengthening or protecting our struggle for self-determination’? This is a question that is, initially at least, quite distinct from the question of taking state power. There are many people who quite clearly reject the notion of taking state power but nevertheless see it as important for their struggle to influence or gain control of parts of the state apparatus.

This is a difficult question. Most of us cannot avoid contact with the state. We have, as it were, a ‘situational’38 contact with the state: our situation, our condition in life brings us into contact with the state, we are forced to engage with the state in some way. This may be because of our employment, or because we depend on state unemployment subsidies or because we use public transport, or whatever. The question is how we deal with this contact and the contradictions that are inseparable from it. I work as a professor in a state institution: this channels my activity into forms which promote the reproduction of capital – authoritarian forms of teaching and grading, for example. By working in the state (or in any other employment) I am actively involved in the reproduction of capital, but, in spite of that I try to struggle against the state form to strengthen the drive towards self-determination. Living in capital means that we live in the midst of contradiction. It is important to recognise these contradictions rather than to brush them under the carpet with a ‘but also’. It is important to understand our engagement with the state in such situations as a movement in-and-against the state, as a movement in-against-and-beyond the forms of social relations which the existence of the state implies.39

Can we extend this argument to extra-situational, chosen contact with the state?40 Can we say, for example: ‘We, in this social centre, are struggling for the development of a self-determining society; we know that the state is a capitalist state and therefore a form opposed to self-determination; nevertheless, in spite of this, we think that, by controlling our local council, we can strengthen our movement against capitalism’?41 This is essentially the argument made by certain social centres in Italy and by movements in Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere.42

Probably the validity of such arguments for a voluntary, chosen contact with the state will always depend on the particular conditions: there is no golden rule, no purity to be sought.43 Thus, for example, the Zapatistas in Chiapas make an important principle of not accepting any support from the state, whereas many urban pro-Zapatista groups in different parts of the world accept that they cannot survive without some form of state support (be it in the form of unemployment assistance or student grants or – in some cases – legal recognition of their right to occupy a social centre). The important thing, perhaps, is not to paint over the contradictions, not to hide the antagonistic nature of the undertaking with phrases such as ‘participatory democracy’, not to convert the but in spite of into a but also.44 But the translation of ‘in spite of’ into ‘but also’ is precisely what is involved in our contact with the state. Engagement with the state is never innocent of consequences: it always involves the pulling of action or organisation into certain forms (leadership, representation, bureaucracy) that move against the drive to self-determination.45 The crushing force of institutionalisation should never be underestimated, as experience in all the world has shown, time and time and time again.

The other point to be made is that the nature of the state itself is changing (not just of national states, but of state-hood as such). Everywhere states are becoming more directly repressive, more removed from any semblance of popular control. While the necessity to struggle in-against-and-beyond the state is always present, the idea of simply turning our back on the state (as the Zapatistas have done) becomes more and more attractive.46 Certainly, the ever more widespread disillusionment with state-centred politics in all the world should be seen not as a problem but as an opportunity.47

The attempt to win state power is not compatible with the drive to self-determination. And yet many or most of the current movements of rebellion combine both strands: in the pro-Zapatista movement or the movement against neo-liberalism in general, those who think in terms of conquering state power work together with those who reject the state as a form of organisation. This seems to me to be good. Any movement for radical change will be, and should be, a dissonant mixture of positions and forms of organisation. My position is not at all one of ultra-left sectarianism: I understand my argument as an argument within a movement, not as an argument to divide or exclude. The aim is not to create a new Correct Line. It is precisely because the movement is a broad one, and because we are all confused (whatever our degree of ideological purity), that it is important to discuss clearly. The fact that those who channel their struggles towards the state combine with those who reject the state as a central point of reference should not prevent us from saying clearly that we should be aware that there is an enormous tension between the two approaches, that the two approaches pull in opposite directions.48 ,49

The argument in this section has centred on the distinction between the drive towards self-determination and a movement on behalf of. But it may be objected that there is nothing wrong with a movement on behalf of, that it is all that we can hope for, the only realistic way forward, the only practical way of changing the world. What is wrong with a revolution on behalf of, especially if it improves the living conditions of the poor and makes a stand against the almost universal prostration of political leaders to the dictates of US imperialism? It may not be perfect, but surely it is completely unrealistic to hope for anything better?

The problem with a revolution on behalf of is surely that it always involves suppression of the drive towards self-determination. A movement on behalf of, no matter how benevolent its intentions (at least initially), always involves a determination of the doing of others and therefore a repression of the moving towards self-determination: the people cannot be trusted to know what is good for them. Such a movement may possibly lead to improvements in the living standards of the poor (which is very important), it may lead to significant changes in the social structure (as in the Russian and other revolutions of the twentieth century), but it is inevitably repressive in the sense that it comes into conflict with self-determination, in the sense that whatever direct democracy exists is inevitably limited, subordinated to the decisions of those who know what is for the good of the people.50 It might be argued that at least it has eliminated the worst inequalities, that at least it constitutes a stumbling block in imperialism’s headlong dash to destroy humanity. Can we really hope for anything better? Yes, I think we can: it is not yet time to give up the dream of human dignity.

‘All very nice, all very dainty your distinction between revolution on behalf of and revolution by, very poetic your talk of human dignity, but haven’t you forgotten that when it comes to the crunch, it’s a question of violence, of physical force? We can develop all the self-determining projects or revolts we like, but once they become annoying (not even threatening) for the ruling class, they send in the police and the army and that’s the end. That is why we need to control the state, so that we can stop police or army repression. That’s the way things are in the real world. So what’s your answer to that, Professor?’51

I hum and I haw and I have no answer, but suggest three points. First, control of the state guarantees nothing. Control of the state on behalf of the working class (however that is understood) does not necessarily reduce the distance between the working class and the state. The state continues to be repressive and the police or army will tend to suppress any action of the working class which does not match the expectations of the state which rules on its behalf. It may well be that left-wing governments will give more leeway to autonomous projects or revolts than more right-wing governments, but the fundamental issue is not the composition of the government or the sympathies of the ruling politicians but the balance of social forces.

Second, organising as a revolutionary army which aims to overthrow capitalism in military confrontation makes little sense, both because it would be very unlikely to win against the might of military technology and because an army engaged in military conflict inevitably reproduces the hierarchies, the values and the logic of all armies. There could be nothing further removed from the drive towards self-determination than military organisation.

Third, there still remains the problem of how we protect ourselves from state violence. Probably we have to think in terms of forms of deterrence that discourage such violence. One form of deterrence is, of course, armed defence. The existence of the Zapatistas as the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) is one important example: they are not armed in a way that would allow them to win a full military confrontation with the Mexican army, but they are armed sufficiently for it to make it unattractive for the Mexican army to intervene with direct military force. However, ‘unattractive’ here cannot be understood in purely military terms, in terms of violence against violence. What makes military intervention ‘unattractive’ for the Mexican army is not just the armed violence that the Zapatistas could oppose to the army’s violence, but above all the strength of the social connections that the Zapatistas have woven both with their own communities52 and with the wider community in Mexico and beyond. Deterrence of state violence, therefore, cannot be understood simply in terms of armed defence (although this may be a necessary part of it) but above all in terms of the density of the web of social relations which integrate any particular movement into the surrounding society. But that brings us back precisely to our main argument: what is crucial for the self-defence of a movement for social change is the degree of its integration into society, and such integration implies organisation in a way that runs against-and-beyond the state process of separation.


The drive towards self-determination moves against-and-beyond representation, against-and-beyond the state and, above all, against-and-beyond labour.

Although the issue of democracy and the organisation of assemblies attracts more attention, the central problem that underlies all attempts to develop the drive towards self-determination is the movement of doing against labour. If by labour we understand alienated labour, labour which we do not control, then clearly the drive for self-determination is a drive against labour,53 a drive for the emancipation of socially self-determined doing, a push towards the conscious control of the social flow of doing. The drive towards self-determination is quite simply the development of our power-to-do, the drive of power-to against and beyond power-over.

Democracy, no matter how ‘direct’ its structures, will have relatively little impact unless it is part of a challenge to the capitalist organisation of doing as labour. That is why it is important to think not just of democracy but of communism, not just of people but of class, not just of rebellion but of revolution, meaning by that not a process of social change instigated from above by professional revolutionaries, but a social change which transforms the basic organisation of doing in society.54 It may well be argued that a radicalisation of democracy would necessarily lead to the abolition of authoritarian command in the organisation of doing (that is, to the abolition of capital), but very often all the emphasis in radical discourse is put on democracy and none on the organisation of labour. This can give the false impression that radical democracy is possible within a capitalist society, a society in which doing is organised as labour. Moreover, and this is important, to separate the struggle for radical democracy from the struggle of doing against labour means to overlook the anger and the resistance that is part of the experience and tradition of the labour movement. If by communism we understand a self-determining society, then democracy means communism: it is simple, obvious and should be stated explicitly.

Doing exists in constant revolt against labour. Collectively or individually, we are probably all involved in some sort of struggle against the alien determination of our activity – by refusing to work, by arriving late, by sabotage, by trying to shape our lives according to what we want to do and not just according to the dictates of money, by coming together to form alternative projects for the organisation of our doing, by occupying factories or other places of work. The very existence of labour as alienated doing implies a constant tension between labour and the doing which strives against its own alienation. This does not imply the existence of some pure, a-historical doing which only needs to be emancipated, but signals rather that alienation cannot exist without its contrary, the struggle against alienation: alienated doing cannot exist without its antithesis – the struggle of doing against its alienation. This is obscured by the ambiguity of the term ‘work’ in English. If we take ‘work’ as our starting point and understand by that alienated or waged work, then this crucial tension is lost.55

That doing exists in constant revolt against labour is clear. The more difficult question is whether it is possible for doing to move beyond labour before there is a revolutionary abolition of capitalism. The traditional view is that, although factory seizures would certainly be part of the revolutionary process, the abolition of abstract, commodity-producing labour presupposes the abolition of the commodity-based economy and the creation of a planned economy, and this in turn presupposes the conquest of state power by revolutionaries. In fact, historical experience suggests the contrary: the failure to radically transform the labour process has been one of the most striking features of ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ states. This failure can, of course, be ascribed to particular historical reasons in each case, but it can also be argued that there is a more fundamental reason: that there is a basic conflict between a revolution on behalf of, which inevitably involves command over those on behalf of whom the revolution is made, and the social self-determination of doing. Social self-determination cannot pass through the state, since the state, as a form of social relations, is the separation of determination from society.

To point out the difficulties of the traditional view does not, however, solve the problem of how we can envisage an unalienated doing in a society based on alienation. The problem is that social self-determination of doing implies conscious control of the social flow of doing. Can this be achieved in a partial, patchwork fashion? The creation of cooperatives or the transformation of occupied factories or workplaces into cooperatives has long been a feature of working-class struggle. The limitations of such cooperatives are clear: in so far as they produce for a market, they are forced to produce under the same conditions as any capitalist enterprise. The problem is not the ownership of the enterprise, but the form of articulation between different doings. If these doings are articulated through the market, then the doers lose control of their own doing, which becomes transformed into abstract labour.

The creation of cooperatives solves nothing unless the articulation between different groups of doers is tackled at the same time. The move towards self-determination cannot be seen simply in terms of particular activities but must inevitably embrace the articulation between those activities, the re-articulation of the social flow of doing (not just production, but production and circulation). The drive to self-determination cannot be understood in terms of the creation of autonomies, but necessarily involves a moving beyond those autonomies. Factory occupations or the creation of cooperatives are insufficient unless they are part of a movement, that is, unless they simultaneously reach beyond to the creation of new articulations between people who are beyond the particular cooperative project.

A wave of factory occupations (and the establishment of cooperatives) is part of any major movement of rebellion – Argentina being the latest and most obvious example. The question is how such a movement should be oriented, whether towards the state (in a demand for nationalisation of the enterprise, for example) or towards the establishment of a network of links between producers (and consumers) independent of the state. This has been the issue discussed in the case of many of the factory occupations in Argentina. From the point of view of transforming society and transforming the labour process, it is clear that orientation to the state, while it may preserve employment, is unlikely to lead to radical change. The only way forward would seem to be through the progressive expansion, the constant moving-beyond, of alternative doings, not as isolated, autonomous projects, but as nodes in new (and experimental) forms of articulation. It is only in this sense, as part of a movement from below, as part of a thrust not towards a state but towards a commune of communes or council of councils, or towards the creation of a new commons, that social planning can be an expression of social self-determination.56

This is not an argument in any sense at all for a romantic, back-to-rural-idiocy view of communism.57 I am not arguing that we should give up computers and aeroplanes, and it is clear that such activities imply a socialisation of doing that goes far beyond the local level. The drive to self-determination can only be understood as a drive towards world communism, towards a form of organisation that promotes the development of our power-to and the conscious determination of the global social flow of doing. In classical terms it might be said that the issue is how to make the social relations adequate to the development of the forces of production. The objection that we need some form of state to control complex technological development is blind to the fact that the state is one aspect of a form of social relations (capital) which hinders technological development, hinders the unfolding of our capacities to do things, our power-to.

The most immediate problem confronted by anyone who tries, individually or collectively, to emancipate their doing from the rule of capital, is the question of survival. Rural groups (such as the EZLN) can often rely on their control of the land to assure a minimum of subsistence, but in the cities rebels do not even have access to that. Urban groups usually survive either on the basis of state subsidies (sometimes forced by the groups themselves, as in the case of the piqueteros who use the roadblocks to force the government to give money to the unemployed) or on the basis of some mixture of occasional or regular paid employment and state subsidies. Thus, many urban groups are composed of a mixture of people in regular employment, of people who are by choice or by necessity in irregular or occasional employment and of those who (again by choice or necessity) are unemployed, often dependent on state subsidies or some sort of market activity for their survival. These different forms of dependency on forces that we do not control (on capital) pose problems and limitations that should be recognised.

We are inevitably confronted, it would seem, with the issue of control of the results of our own doing (means of production). As long as capital appropriates the results of our doing (and hence the means of production), our material survival depends on subordinating ourselves to the rule of capital. At the core of the struggle of doing against labour is the struggle against property, not as a thing but as the daily re-imposed process of appropriation of the results of our doing. In any struggle against capital, refusal is the key, refusal to allow the appropriation of the results of our doing. But refusal is sustainable only if backed by the development of alternative doings in a growing network of articulation. In other words, the development of alternative forms of doing cannot be postponed until after the revolution: it is the revolution. To resist is to create alternatives in a constant moving against-and-beyond.58 It is hard to see how else we can go forward.


Moving against-and-beyond the state, representation, labour, against-and-beyond all the fetishised forms that stand as obstacles to the drive towards social self-determination: such a moving against-and-beyond is necessarily always experimental, always a question, always unsure, always undogmatic, always restless, always contradictory and incomplete. Moving against-and-beyond is obviously anti-identitar-ian and anti-institutional, in the sense that it is a moving against-and-beyond anything that would contain or detain the creative flow of rebellion. This does not mean that we simply negate identities, but that any affirmation of identity (as indigenous, women, gay, whatever) be seen simply as a moment in a going-beyond the identity: we are indigenous-but-more-than-that. The same, surely, with institutions.59 We probably need recognisable forms of organisation (councils, neighbourhood assemblies, juntas de buen gobierno). However, the danger in any form of institutionalisation (or identity) is the possible separation of existence from constitution, the subordination of we do to what is. Identity and institution as concepts direct attention to what is, whereas the drive to social self-determination is a drive towards the absolute rule of we do. In this sense, the principles of council or communal organisation (the subordination of delegates to instant recall, the Zapatistas’ mandar obedeciendo, and so on) seek to ensure that these forms of organisation are anti-institutional, but obviously the danger of institutionalisation is always present. In a society in which doing is subordinated to being, any attempt to subordinate being to doing means a constant struggle against the current, in which any staying still will always be a moving backwards.

The drive towards social self-determination is a struggle to transform time and slough off history. Self-determination implies liberation from identities, from institutions, from the determination of the present by the past, from the subordination of we do to what is. This means a breaking of time, a shooting of clocks. The time of capitalism is the time-in-which we live: a time that stands outside us, that measures our actions, that limits what we do. Our push is towards a society in which we-do knows no limits, in which time would become the time-as-which we live, a time which ‘exists only as the rhythm and structure of what it is [people] choose to do’ (Gunn 1985). The ‘abstract and homogeneous progression leading from past to present to future’ would be replaced with the ‘temporality of freely chosen actions and projects’ (Gunn, 1985). The drive towards self-determination is a push towards a society liberated from history, from the past determination of present actions: towards a post-history (or perhaps the end of pre-history, the beginning of history, but of history in a very different sense), in which actions are not determined by the past but characterised above all by an opening towards the future.

We do not live in such a society, but we struggle towards it. The drive towards self-determination is a drive against homogeneous time, a drive to liberate ourselves from history (in the sense of determination of the present by the past). There is no sense in which time-in-which (homogeneous time) leads us to its own transformation into time-as-which; there is no sense in which the past-determined history in which we live leads us automatically to the post-history (end of pre-history) that would be an opening towards the future. On the contrary, time-in-which and past-determined history are highways leading straight to the cliff over which we human lemmings seem determined to leap to our own destruction. Communism then is not the culmination of history, but the breaking of history.

This does not mean dismissing the past (the past struggles against capitalism, say), but it does mean rejecting the wallowing in the past that is such a common feature of left debate (the endless regurgitating of ‘Stalinism’ as an explanation of everything, for example). We must respect that past struggles against capitalism were also struggles against time, struggles to create a tabula rasa, blows against the continuum of history.60 The past lives on in the present, but not as a series of causal chains that show the way forward, above all not as Tradition,61 but as music, as suggestion box, as a series of constellations of struggle that change in appearance as the constellation from which we view them changes.62 The struggle now, as before, is the struggle for an absolute present, in which existence does not become separated from constitution, a time-as-which where every moment is a moment of self-determination, a tabula rasa free from determination by the past – filled no doubt with the dreams of the past, with the past not-yet redeemed in the present, but freed of the nightmare of history.63 ,64


Is a socially self-determining society, a communist society, really possible? We do not know. We say that ‘another world is possible’, but we do not really know if it is.

But it does not matter, it does not affect the argument. Communism (self-determination) remains as the sea to which all rivers run, as utopian star, as urgent necessity.

Communism is the sea to which all rivers run. The drive to self-determination is not a political slogan nor an academic construct, but inseparably rooted in a society that systematically negates self-determination. The argument is not normative, not that we ought to struggle for self-determination, but rather that ‘No – we shall decide ourselves’ is already given in the ‘You shall do that.’ If that basis does not exist, then there is little point in talking of communism or revolution. The first problem of theory is to eat carrots, to open our eyes, to see the invisible.65

Communism is a utopian star: not one that exists out there but that springs from our experience of negating the negation of our self-determination, of projecting that negation as a star to follow. It is, in other words, the present phantasmal existence of the not-yet. All that has been said here about the drive to self-determination, about moving against-and-beyond that which exists, is no more than sketching out a direction. It is not (and cannot be) a blueprint, a set of rules to apply in any particular situation.66 This is no call for purity. The drive to self-determination pushes against-and-beyond the state, but in the meantime the state exists and with it the messy problem of how we deal with it. It is clear that we want to move against-and-beyond the state (that the state is not the road to changing society), but how we should do this will always depend on the particular situation. Similarly, the drive to self-determination pushes against-and-beyond labour, but in the meantime we have to survive and this usually means engaging in some way with the rules of labour. The utopian star is unquenchable, but the light it casts does not create a highway that we can march upon. The only paths that are open to us are the paths we make ourselves by walking.

Communism is a utopian star, but it is more than that. It is not an unreachable goal that inspires us, it is an urgent necessity.67 It is emphatically not just a postulate to orient political practice.68 It is clearer now than ever that human self-annihilation stands firmly on the agenda of capitalism and that possibly the only way to avoid it is to create a society in which we ourselves determine social development, a socially self-determining society. The drive to social self-determination is urgent, a frenetic search for cracks in the surface of domination, a hope against hope.69

Perhaps, above all, communism is wave after wave of unanswered questions, a world to be created, a world with commas, but no full stop

  • 1For their comments on an earlier draft of this epilogue, many thanks to Chris Wright, Dorothea Härlin, Sergio Tischler, Raquel Gutierrez, Nika Sommeregger, Néstor López, Luis Menéndez and Werner Bonefeld.
  • 2The book is an invitation to discuss, and, if the number of commentaries and criticisms it has received are anything to go by, then it has been a very successful invitation. With many of the criticisms I disagree, some I recognise as valid, in all cases I feel honoured by the care with which the arguments of the book have been discussed. The written comments on the book (over a hundred) can be found in the web page of the publishers of the Argentinian edition, Herramienta: www.herramienta.com.ar For me an important part of the response has also been the large number of people taking part in the many public presentations of the book – over 1200 people in the main presentation in Buenos Aires in late 2002, but also over 500 in Berlin in the spring of 2004. To all who have taken up, in however hostile a manner, the book’s invitation to discuss, I am immensely grateful.
  • 3On this see especially the excellent discussion by Alberto Bonnet (2003). See also Bonnet (2005).
  • 4Atilio Borón agued this explicitly in a debate in the UNAM in Mexico City in May 2004.
  • 5Criticisms will be addressed explicitly mainly in the notes. This epilogue is in no sense a complete response to all the criticisms nor a just reflection of the richness of the commentaries on the book. It is simply an attempt to develop the argument in a certain direction while responding to some of the points raised in the discussion. There are many commentaries that raise points that go beyond the present text – and some of the richest discussions of the book are not even mentioned in this epilogue. It is in the nature of the argument that more attention is paid here to the critical commentaries rather than to the favourable reviews.
  • 6For a criticism of this emphasis on negativity see the generally sympathetic discussion by Massimo De Angelis (2005) and the much more hostile review by Michael Lebowitz (2005).
  • 7See Adorno (1990, p. 158): ‘To equate the negation of the negation with positivity is the quintessence of identification; it is the formal principle in its purest form. What thus wins out in the inmost core of dialectics is the anti-dialectical principle: that traditional logic which, more arithmetico, takes minus times minus for a plus.’ However much we focus on the ‘other world’ which we hope is possible, it is important to remember that the cutting edge of the drive to another world is negativity, our refusal of the world that exists. On the enduring importance of negative theory, see the work of Johannes Agnoli (Agnoli 1999, for example) and the commentary on this book by Werner Bonefeld (2004). For a criticism of the influence of Adorno’s negative dialectics on the book, see the commentaries by Peter Hudis (2003) and Rubén Dri (2002).
  • 8For a critique of the logic of confrontation, see Benasayag and Sztulwark (2000) and Aubenas and Benasayag (2002).
  • 9This distinction between totality and aspiration to totality is the explosive contradiction at the heart of Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness. See above, Chapter 5, section III.
  • 10Whether the book is ‘Marxist’ or not does not matter, of course. Nevertheless, against the many critics who have seen it as an abandonment of Marxism, it is worth pointing to Stoetzler’s (2005) acute comment that ‘Holloway’s book is an essentially orthodox intervention (in the sense of revisionist of the tradition by loyalty to its founding texts) concerned with transmitting – like that message in a bottle – an unredeemed theoretical achievement of the past into a contemporary “political scene” that is dominated by the busy-ness of “activists” and party/trade unionist/NGO cadres and their typically rather hectic thinking that tends to be amnesiac of its own historical conditions and contradictions.’ On this, see also Fernández Buey (2003).
  • 11Negri (2002, p. 184) says that he refuses ‘absolutely any form of transcendence’. Although he probably means something else by transcendence, it remains true that in his and in other post-structuralist approaches, there is no possibility of understanding struggle in terms of moving-against-and-beyond. The connection that is often made between this book and Hardt and Negri’s Empire is politically and theoretically ill-founded, except in the sense that both argue for a rethinking of revolutionary theory. On the question of the connection with post-structuralism, see Seibert (2004); on the contrast between this book and Negri’s theory, see Bonefeld (2004).
  • 12The drive to social self-determination is no more than a rephrasing of Marx’s crucial distinction between the architect and the bee (Capital, Chapter 7, discussed above in Chapter 3). The distinction between humans and other animals is not their present self-determination of their doing, but their (negated) potential self-determination. In that sense, self-determination (which can only be social) is the project of creating humanity.
  • 13Marcel Stoetzler expresses this beautifully when, after pointing to many contradictions in the argument of the book, he says ‘it is perhaps part of the appeal of the book that it gives expression to real contradictions by being itself contradictory’ (Stoetzler 2005).
  • 14The argument in this section is directed against the criticism made by Alberto Bonnet: ‘An exclusively expressive politics is impossible – and with it any revolution conceived in these terms. But let us accept for the sake of argument that it were possible. Then, many thanks, but we will stay with the (supposedly) instrumental politics. We prefer it for a number of reasons that would require various pages to present, but let us stick to the key point: expressive politics is irrational politics. A politics without objectives (and expressing oneself authentically is not an objective) cannot be evaluated rationally, a politics without organisation (and an escola de samba does not count as a political organisation) cannot be democratic, and so on. Moreover, we know of some expressionist experiences in political history, but they are not exactly among the most revolutionary …’ However, it is hard to see how radical politics today can be other than expressive, in the sense of a moving outwards in a general direction (the utopian star), but not towards a precisely defined goal. As Barry Marshall puts it in his discussion of the book (2002): ‘it entails a negative, questioning movement which instead of plotting a direct course of social change, moves like ripples in water, ever outward’.
  • 15The assumption of a two-staged pivoted movement is central to many of the criticisms of the book. See Mike Gonzalez (2003), for example, or Peter McLaren’s (2003) comment that ‘Holloway’s cry that “we do not struggle as working class, we struggle against being working class, against being classified” really amounts to attempting to abolish capitalist relations of production by pretending that they aren’t there.’ It is not a question of pretending that capitalist social relations do not exist, but of pushing now against-and-beyond those relations rather than taking them as an iron cage against which we can do nothing until they are completely abolished.
  • 16This argument is developed in my reply to Joachim Hirsch, ‘The Printing House of Hell’ (Holloway 2003a).
  • 17‘Somos mujeres y hombres, niños y ancianos bastante comunes, es decir, rebeldes, inconformes, incómodos, soñadores.’
  • 18Hardt and Negri (2000) are right in arguing that there is no ‘outside’ to which we can appeal: we are all inside capitalism. What they do not emphasise is that being inside means (inevitably, because of the contradictory nature of capitalism) that we constantly move against-and-beyond capitalism.
  • 19On the question of class, see now the edited collection Clase=Lucha (Holloway 2004a).
  • 20The book has been criticised for not paying sufficient attention to the question of organisation (Wright 2002; De Angelis 2005). What should perhaps have been made more explicit in the book is that to speak of social relations is inevitably to speak of the way in which our social interactions are organised. To say, for example, that the state is a capitalist social relation is to talk of the state as a specifically capitalist form of organisation.
  • 21This is a point emphasised by Raúl Zibechi: see Zibechi (2003).
  • 22This is the answer to those who accuse the book of adopting a neo-liberal approach. Both the current wave of struggles and neo-liberal politics can be said to be reactions to the crisis of the post-war (Fordist) pattern of domination-and-resistance, but where neo-liberalism seeks to contain this crisis, anti-capitalist struggle seeks to exacerbate it. Orthodox Marxism pretends that the crisis does not even exist.
  • 23On this, see for example Zibechi (2003).
  • 24A feature of clandestine organisations is that their clandestinity makes integration into the community difficult: see for example the account of the German Rote Armee Fraktion by Margrit Schiller (2001). That this is not always the case is clear from the experience of the Zapatistas.
  • 25Néstor López recounts how an old lady’s request to an asamblea barrial in Buenos Aires to help find her lost dog separated the traditional revolutionary left (who regarded such an activity as absurd) from the rest of the assembly, who organised a search – and found the dog.
  • 26For a defence of the importance of identity against the argument of the book, see Rajchenberg (2003), Romero (2002).
  • 27This is a point made by Marcel Stoetzler (2005), Gegenantimacht (2004), Carlos Figueroa (2003) and Felix Klopotek (2004). A related point is made by Aufheben (2003) who argue that I fall all too easily ‘into a cheer-leading of any form of resistance’. The argument in this epilogue is that it is important to start from the scream (any scream) but to articulate that scream as drive towards self-determination.
  • 28This is a reference to Chico Buarque’s song ‘Pai’.
  • 29The issue of democracy is raised by Michael Löwy in his discussions of the book (2003, 2004). See my replies to him in Holloway (2003c, 2004b). See also Figueroa (2003).
  • 30The current wave of struggles in Argentina has unleashed a rich discussion of hor-izontality and the problems both of representative and direct democracy: see Bonnet (2003), Mattini (2003), Thwaites (2003, 2004), Zibechi (2003). For an excellent discussion of the practicalities and difficulties of organisation, see Colectivo Situa-ciones and MTD Solano (2002).
  • 31See the argument put forward by Thomas Seibert (2004).
  • 32The quote is from Lebowitz (2005), and the same phrase is used by Cruz Bernal (2002), but similar arguments are advanced by Callinicos (2003), Borón (2003, 2005) and Hearse (2003). Is this just a verbal distinction, a question of terminology? Not at all: the absorption of two opposite forms of organisation under the same concept is a blurring that plays an important role in the transformation of self-determination into its opposite. For an important discussion of the relation (or rather, lack of relation) between Leninism and revolutionary theory today, see Bonefeld and Tischler (2003).
  • 33The basic principle of anti-state politics is stated simply and clearly by Leticia of the Zapatista Junta de Buen Gobierno Corazón Centrico in the celebration of the eleventh anniversary of the Zapatista uprising: ‘We have the intelligence and capacity to determine our own destiny’ (‘Tenemos intelligencia y capacidad para dirigir nuestro propio destino’) (La Jornada, 2 January 2005).
  • 34There is no idealisation here of existing communities. By community here I understand the potential for social self-determination, the social drive towards self-determination.
  • 35There has been much talk in recent years of the creation of a party of a new type having a different sort of relation with movements of social protest. The most obvious examples are Rifondazione Comunista in Italy or parts of the PT in Brazil, but there are movements in the same direction in a number of countries: see Marcos Del Roio’s commentary (2004). However, as Fausto Bertinotti made clear in his recent intervention in the European Social Forum, the central issue for such parties is still the lack of revolutionary consciousness among the workers and the role of the party in bringing such consciousness to the workers.
  • 36This argument is put forward by Borón (2003), for example.
  • 37Some of the kinder reactions to the book have taken the form of ‘You are quite right, but also it is important to struggle through the state’; see for example Hirsch (2003), Bartra (2003). For my reply to Hirsch’s argument, see Holloway (2003a).
  • 38On the notion of situation, see the work of Colectivo Situaciones (2001), Benasayag and Sztulwark (2000).
  • 39On the notion of ‘in-and-against’, see London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group (LEWRG) (1979).
  • 40Obviously, the distinction between ‘situational’ and ‘non-situational’ contact with the state is not a clear distinction. As a professor in a public university, I have a situational contact with the state, but I was not born a professor: it was, initially at least, an extra-situational choice.
  • 41One of the most impressive experiences in the discussion of this book was the discussion that took place in the Centro Sociale of Garbatella in Rome, where one of the leading members of the Centro Sociale (Massimiliano Smeriglio) is also president of the local municipality (Municipio XI of Rome).
  • 42See Hilary Wainwright’s book, Reclaim the State (2003).
  • 43This is the important and difficult point raised by Seibert (2004), Gegenantimacht (2004), Smeriglio (2004) and Bertinotti (2004) in their discussions of the book. Certainly the danger of any such contact with the state is that the ‘in spite of’ can very quickly become converted into a ‘but also’ and the drive beyond the state become lost. Any contact with the state will tend to separate leaders or representatives from the rest of the movement. On the question of elections see the commentaries of Claudio Albertani (2003) and Carlos Figueroa (2003).
  • 44It is precisely because of the practical difficulty of such situations that it is important to emphasise that the state is a specifically capitalist form of social relations. This can be too easily lost in analyses that point to the contradictory nature of the state: see Mabel Thwaites Rey (2004). The fact that the state (like any phenomenon in an antagonistic society) is contradictory does not mean that it (like capital, like value, like money) is not a specifically capitalist form of social relations, a form of organisation that impedes the drive towards social self-determination.
  • 45Armando Bartra’s (2003, p. 134) metaphor of wearing a condom in our contact with the state is suggestive, but underestimates the force of institutionalisation.
  • 46Some critics (Mathers and Taylor 2005, and also Joachim Hirsch and Hilary Wainwright in recent discussions, for example) have argued that the book is a reversal of the position that I previously argued for (with others) in In and Against the State. I do not think this is the case, although I do think there is probably a shift in emphasis connected with the changing nature of the state.
  • 47I do not think we should call, as Rhina Roux (2003) does in her careful discussion, for a ‘recovery of politics’. The point is rather to develop with self-confidence the drive towards social self-determination. This is what I understand by anti-politics.
  • 48The tension is clear in the development of the social forum movement, most recently in the clash between ‘horizontals’ and ‘verticals’ in the European Social Forum, London, 2004.
  • 49A similar point might be made in relation to Venezuela: favouring an anti-state approach to changing the world does not mean simply condemning out of hand the apparently state-led process in Venezuela, but rather being aware of the tensions and dangers inherent in the dissonant interplay of the different forms of struggle in this case: that the driving force, despite appearances is not the state but popular revolt and that the relation of the state to this revolt is contradictory, at best. For a very different view, see Tariq Ali (2004).
  • 50For a defence of the idea of revolution on behalf of, see the commentary by Francisco Fernández Buey (2003).
  • 51This is an important point raised both in public discussions of the book and by a number of critics: see, for example, Almeyra (2002), Borón (2003), Manzana (2003) and, more questioningly, Gegenantimacht (2004).
  • 52Luis Lorenzano (1998) rightly emphasises the importance of seeing the Zapatistas as an armed community rather than as an army.
  • 53To speak of the drive towards self-determination being a drive against labour does not, of course, mean that a self-determining society would be a land of Cockayne in which roast chickens fly past waiting to be plucked out of the sky: ‘work’ would still be necessary to ensure the reproduction of society, but it would be a society in which what we do would be determined by what we decided was necessary or desirable, with no clear distinction being made between ‘necessary’ and ‘desirable’, and therefore no clear distinction between ‘work’ and ‘play’.
  • 54This has been a point of discussion in the Zapatista journal, Rebeldía: Rodriguez (2003), Holloway (2003d). For an interesting comment, see Huerta (2004).
  • 55The same argument could be made in other words by speaking not of ‘doing’ and ‘labour’, but of ‘unalienated’ and ‘alienated’ work; but the very separation of work from other forms of doing (play, for example) is surely a characteristic of alienation. For a discussion of the concept of doing see the commentaries by Wildcat (2003), Imhof (2004), Reitter (2003), Aufheben (2003), Rooke (2002).
  • 56For a discussion of this, see Palomino (2005).
  • 57In the ‘real world’, however (so it is objected), trains and power stations have to be run and computers constructed. Such complex activities require centralised, state-controlled coordination: see Bonnet (2003). I see no reason, however, why such activities should not be organised democratically, by a council of councils. The objection that we need a state to perform such tasks confuses the form of social relations (the state) and the function to be performed (running trains). On this, see Bonefeld (2003).
  • 58See the title of the book by Aubenas and Benasayag: Résister, c’est Créer.
  • 59On the supposed necessity of institutions, see Enrique Dussel (2004) and the response by Néstor López (2004) and the discussion by Belén Sopransi and Verónica Veloso (2004).
  • 60See Tischler (2005, p. 7).
  • 61In this I agree with Negri when he says ‘what we need is a political critique of tradition. Oppression is founded on tradition.’ (Negri 2002, p. 120). And see Marx at the beginning of the Eighteenth Brumaire: ‘The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.’
  • 62See the exciting discussion of time and constellations of struggle in Tischler (2004).
  • 63See Vaneigem, ‘an ideology of history has one purpose only: to prevent people from making history’ (1994, p. 231). And also Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s Ulysses (2000, p. 42): ‘History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’
  • 64This is a very partial (and inadequate) response to those who have criticised the book for its non-historical approach. See Bensaid (2003), Romero (2002), Méndez (2003), Vega (2003), Manzana (2003), Bartra (2003), Smith (2002), Grespan (2004), Kraniauskas (2002) … and my replies: Holloway (2003b, 2003e). A related issue is the question of objectification and alienation, which I do not discuss here but recognise as important: see Löwy (2003) and my reply to him (2003c) and also Centro Rodolfo Ghioldi (2002), and Callinicos (2005).
  • 65Clearly what we can see at any particular moment is part of the whole constellation of struggle, but theory pushes at the limits of visibility, strains its eyes. The problem then is whether what theory sees really exists, or whether it exists only in our imagination, but that problem can be solved only through the articulation of theory and movement.
  • 66The theorist is not a theatre director, as Nika Sommeregger pointed out in her comments on the draft of this epilogue.
  • 67See Eduardo Galeano: ‘She is on the horizon – says Fernando Birri –. I approach two paces, she goes two paces further away. I walk ten paces and the horizon moves back ten paces. However much I walk, I shall never reach it. How does utopia help us? That’s how it helps us: to walk’ (‘Ella está en el horizonte – dice Fernado Birri –. Me acerco dos pasos, ella se aleja dos pasos. Camino diez pasos y el horizonte se corre diez pasos más allá. Por mucho que yo comine, nunca la alcanzaré. ¿Para qué sirve la utopia? Para eso sirve: para caminar’) (Las Palabras andantes, cited in Chiapas, No. 13 (2002), p. 134). Yes, but the communist horizon is much more than that.
  • 68This is the interpretation of Marxism proposed by Enrique Dussel, but it effectively waters down completely the critical force of Marx’s argument.
  • 69Is this epilogue fully compatible with the argument in the book? I do not know. I hope not. It would be nice to think that I have learnt something in the last few years and that the epilogue moves against-and-beyond the book.



3 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on March 7, 2024

The "Paris Commune to the Soviets of Russia to the village councils of the Zapatistas or the neighbourhood councils of Argentina" are all forms of political power, of "taking political power", leaving the pillars of the building standing. All were absorbed by the capital and violently repressed. I disagree with Negri when he says "what we need is a political critique of tradition". We need to recover our tradition—bereft of the political—long lost in the shroud of history.