Chapter 11 - Revolution?

Submitted by Django on May 1, 2011


If crisis expresses the extreme dis-articulation of social relations, then revolution must be understood as the
intensification of crisis.

This implies a rejection of two distinct understandings of crisis. Firstly, it rejects the traditional concept of the crisis
as an opportunity for revolution. This is a concept shared by Marxists of many different perspectives. The argument
is that when the big crisis of capitalism comes, this will be the moment in which revolution becomes possible:
economic crisis will lead to an intensification of class struggle, and this, if guided by effective revolutionary
organisation, can lead to revolution. This approach understands crisis as economic crisis, as something distinct
from class struggle, rather than as being itself class struggle, a turning point in class struggle, the point at which the
mutual repulsion of capital and anti-labour (humanity) obliges capital to restructure its command or lose control.

Secondly, this approach rejects the view that the crisis of capital can be equated with its restructuring. This view
sees crisis as being functional for capital, a ‘creative destruction’ (to use Schumpeter’s phrase) which destroys
inefficient capitals and imposes discipline on the workers. The crisis of one economic model or paradigm of rule
leads automatically, in this view, to the establishment of a new one. The argument here is that a crisis is essentially
open. Crisis may indeed lead to a restructuring of capital and to the establishment of a new pattern of rule, but it
may not. To identify crisis with restructuring is to close the possibility of the world, to rule out the definitive rupture
of capital. To identify crisis with restructuring is also to be blind to the whole world of struggle that capital’s
transition from its crisis to its restructuring has always involved.

Crisis is, rather, the falling apart of the social relations of capitalism. It can never be assumed in advance that
capital will succeed in recomposing them. Crisis involves a salto mortale for capital, with no guarantee of a safe
landing. Our struggle is against capital’s restructuring, our struggle is to intensify the disintegration of capitalism.


The moving force of crisis is the drive for freedom, the reciprocal flight of capital of capital and anti-labour, the
mutual repulsion of capital and humanity. The first moment of revolution is purely negative.

On the side of capital, the drive for freedom involves the spewing out of nauseating workers, the insatiable pursuit
of the alchemist’s dream of making money from money, the endlessly restless violence of credit and debt.

On the side of anti-capital, flight is in the first place negative, the refusal of domination, the destruction and
sabotage of the instruments of domination (machinery, for instance), a running away from domination, nomadism,
exodus, desertion. People have a million ways of saying No. The driving force is not so much insubordination, the
overt and militant refusal of capital, as non-subordination, the less perceptible and more confused reluctance to
conform. Often the No is expressed so personally (dying one’s hair green, committing suicide, going mad) that it appears to be incapable of having any political resonance. Often the No is violent or barbaric (vandalism,
hooliganism, terrorism): the depradations of capitalism are so intense that they provoke a scream-against, a No
which is almost completely devoid of emancipatory potential, a No so bare that it merely reproduces that which is
screamed against. The current development of capitalism is so terroristic that it provokes a terroristic response, so
anti-human that it provokes an equally anti-human response, which, although quite comprehensible, merely
reproduces the relations of power which it seeks to destroy. And yet that is the starting point: not the considered
rejection of capitalism as a mode of organisation, not the militant construction of alternatives to capitalism. They
come later (or may do). The starting point is the scream, the dangerous, often barbaric No.


Capitalism’s survival depends on recapturing those in flight. Workers must work and produce value. Capital must
exploit them. Without that, there would be no capitalism. Without that, capital as a whole would be left in the same
position as the unhappy Mr. Peel:

‘Mr Peel… took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of
production to the amount of £50,000. Mr Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3000 persons
of the working-class, men, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, "Mr. Peel was left
without a servant to make his bed or fetch his water from the river." Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for
everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!" (Marx 1965, p. 766)
Mr Peel ceased to be a capitalist (and his money ceased to be capital) simply because the workers fled. In the
West Australia of that period, there did not exist the conditions to force them to sell their labour power to capital.
Because there was land available, the workers were not separated from the means of doing. Mr Peel’s export of
capital turned out to be a flight into emptiness. His incapacity to reunite himself with labour meant that he ceased to

The recapture of the workers in flight depends on the double nature of the workers’ freedom. They are free not only
to sell their labour power, but also free of access to the means of doing. The answer to Mr. Peel’s problem, in West
Australia as elsewhere, is to separate the workers from the means of doing by enclosure. People must be deprived
of their freedom to do what they like: freedom is gradually enclosed, hemmed in. This is achieved by the
establishment of property, the appropriation of the land and other means of living and doing, so that in the end the
people have no option but to choose freely to be exploited by Mr. Peel and his like.

Property is the means by which freedom is reconciled with domination. Enclosure is the form of compulsion
compatible with freedom. You can live wherever you like, provided of course that it is not the property of others;
you can do whatever you like, provided of course that it does not involve using the property of others. If you have
no access to the means of doing, because all of it is the property of others, then of course you are free to go and
offer to sell your labour power to them in order to survive. That does not mean that the owners of the means of
doing are obliged to buy your labour power, because of course they have the freedom to use their property as they
wish. Property restricts the flight of those without property, but it does nothing at all to restrict the flight of those who
own property. Quite possibly, when the workers (or their descendants) eventually returned cap in hand to Mr. Peel
(or his descendants) to ask him for a job, they found that he had already invested his money in another part of the
world where he would have less problem in converting it into capital.

The basic formula for the recapture of those in flight from labour is property. Those who do not want to labour are
entirely free to do as they like, but since the means of doing are enclosed by property, those who do not wish to
labour are likely to starve unless they change their attitude and sell their labour power (their and only property) to
the owners of the means of doing, thus returning to the labour from which they have fled. Hemmed in, they can try
to escape by stealing, but risk being hemmed in even more by the operation of the judicial system. In some
countries, they can try to escape by turning to the system of social security or public assistance, which, by and
large, keeps people from starving to death on the streets, but, more and more, these systems are designed to
return those in flight to the labour market. They can try to escape by borrowing, but few lenders will lend their
money to those who are not using their labour power as property to be sold on the market, and even if they do
succeed in borrowing, the debt collectors will soon come knocking. In some cases, those in flight set up their own
businesses or even form co-operatives, but, in the relatively few cases where these survive, they do so by
subordinating themselves to the discipline of the market, by integrating themselves into forms of behaviour from
which they have fled. The system of property is like a maze with no exit: all paths of flight lead to recapture. In time,
the walls of the maze penetrate the person trapped within. The external limitations become internal definitions, selfdefinitions, identification, the assumption of roles, the adoption of categories which take the existence of the walls
so much for granted that they become invisible. But never entirely.

Capital is not hemmed in in the same way. On the contrary, property is its passport to movement. Property can be
converted into money, and money can be moved with ease. The curtailing of the flight of capital comes through
periodic crisis as mediated through the movement of the market, through the relative attraction of different
investment opportunities. It is above all crisis, and the changing in market patterns through which the threat
manifests itself, that forces capital, in flight from non-subordinate labour, to confront that labour and face up to its
task of exploiting. The confrontation with labour is a confrontation with anti-labour, with labour in flight from labour.
The confrontation involves the ever more intensive exploitation of those workers who have chosen freely to be
exploited and the ever more profound enclosure of all the means of living and doing that, if left unenclosed, might
stimulate the flight and non-subordination of the workers. Hence the twin drives of contemporary capitalism: the
intensification of labour through the introduction of new technologies and new working practices, and the
simultaneous extension of property to enclose more and more areas (genes, software, land). The more capital is
repelled by people, the more it is forced to refashion people in its own image. The more frenetically capital flees
from non-subordination (globalisation, in other words), the more violently it has to subordinate.

Capital becomes more and more repulsive. More and more, it drives us to flee. But flight seems hopeless, unless it
is more than flight. The scream of refusal must also be a reaffirmation of doing, an emancipation of power-to.


To break from capital, it is not enough to flee. It not enough to scream. Negativity, our refusal of capital, is the
crucial starting point, theoretically and politically. But mere refusal is easily recaptured by capital, simply because it
comes up against capital’s control of the means of production, means of doing, means of living. For the scream to
grow in strength, there must be a recuperation of doing, a development of power-to. That implies a re-taking of the
means of doing.

Power-to is already implicit in the scream. Flight is rarely mere flight, the No is rarely mere No. At very least, the
scream is ecstatic: in its refusal of that which exists, it projects some idea of what might exist in its place. Struggles
are rarely mere struggles-against. The experience of shared struggle already involves the development of relations
between people that are different in quality from the social relations of capitalism. There is much evidence that for
people involved in strikes or similar struggles, the most important outcome of the struggles is often not the
realisation of the immediate demands, but the development of a community of struggle, a collective doing
characterised by its opposition to capitalist forms of social relations. Barbarism is not as merely negative as the
classic dichotomy between socialism and barbarism suggests. Struggle implies the reaffirmation of social doing,
the recuperation of power-to.

But the recuperation of power-to or the reaffirmation of doing is still limited by capital’s monopoly of the means of
doing. The means of doing must be re-appropriated. But what does that mean?

The appropriation by the working class of the means of production has always been a central element of
programmes for a transition to communism. In the mainstream communist tradition, this has been understood as
the appropriation by the state of the largest factories, as state ownership of at least the ‘commanding heights’ of the
economy. In the practice of the Soviet Union and other ‘communist’ countries, this did little to transform doing itself
or to make doing the responsibility of the doers themselves. The term ‘means of production’ has generally been
avoided here precisely because it conjures up images that are difficult to dissociate from this tradition. The problem
remains, however: if the means of doing are controlled by capital, then any flight from capital comes up against the
need to survive, the need to do in a world in which we do not control the means of doing. As long as the means of
doing are in the hands of capital, then doing will be ruptured and turned against itself. The expropriators must
indeed be expropriated.

To think in terms of property is, however, still to pose the problem in fetishised terms. Property is a noun which is
used to describe and conceal an active process of separating. The substance of capitalist rule is not an established
relationship between a person and a thing (property), but rather an active process of separating us from the means
of doing. The fact that this separating is continuously repeated does not, for us, convert a verb into a noun. The fact
that it becomes a habitual separating does not in any sense make it normal, any more than the habitual beating by
a man of his wife makes that normal or converts the verb of beating into a noun, or an established fact. To think of
property as a noun, as a thing, is to accept the terms of domination. Nor can we start from the means of production,
for the distinction between production and doing is itself a result of the separation; nor even from the means of
doing, for the very separation of means of doing from doing is a result of the rupture of doing. The problem is not
that the means of production are the property of capitalists; or rather, to say that the means of production are the
property of the capitalists is merely a euphemism which conceals the fact that capital actively breaks our doing
every day, takes our done from us, breaks the social flow of doing which is the pre-condition of our doing. Our struggle, then, is not the struggle to make ours the property of the means of production, but to dissolve both
property and means of production: to recover or, better, create the conscious and confident sociality of the flow of
doing. Capital rules by fetishising, by alienating the done from the doing and the doer and saying ‘this done is a
thing and it is mine’. Expropriating the expropriator cannot then be seen as a re-seizure of a thing, but rather as the
dissolution of the thing-ness of the done, its (re)integration into the social flow of doing.

Capital is the movement of separating, of fetishising, the movement of denying movement. Revolution is the
movement against separating, against fetishising, against the denial of movement. Capital is the denial of the social
flow of doing, communism is the social movement of doing against its own denial. Under capitalism, doing exists in
the mode of being denied. Doing exists as things done, as established forms of social relations, as capital, money,
state, the nightmarish perversions of past doing. Dead labour rules over living doing and perverts it into the
grotesque form of living labour. This is an explosive contradiction in terms: living implies openness, creativity, while
labour implies closure, pre-definition. Communism is the movement of this contradiction, the movement of living
against labour. Communism is the movement of that which exists in the mode of being denied.

The movement of doing is a movement against the denial of its sociality. Memory is an important part of this, the
communal putting together of the experience of collective movement and of opposition to its fragmentation. The
movement of the sociality of doing implies social or communal forms of organisation. 'The workers' council spells
the political and economic defeat of reification’, as Lukács points out (1971, p. 80). It cannot, however, be a
question of reifying in turn the workers’ council or soviet as a fixed model: each phase of struggle throws up its own
forms of communal organisation. It is clear, for example, that the internet is permitting the creation of new patterns
in the formation of collective struggle. What is important is the knitting or re-knitting or patch-working of the sociality
of doing and the creation of social forms of articulating that doing.

The movement of communism is anti-heroic. Heroes stand out from the community, draw to themselves the
communal force of action. The revolutionary tradition is full of heroes, people who have sacrificed themselves for
the revolution, people (mostly young men, it must be admitted) who have abandoned wives, children, friends, to
dedicate themselves selflessly to changing the world, confronting physical hardship and danger, often even torture
and death. Nobody would deny the importance of such figures, and yet there is something very contradictory in the
notion of a heroic revolution, or indeed of a revolutionary hero. The aim of revolution is the transformation of
ordinary, everyday life and it is surely from ordinary, everyday life that revolution must arise. The idea of a
communist revolution is to create a society in which we are not led, in which we all assume responsibility, so our
thought and our traditions must move in terms of the non-leaders, not the heroes. Militancy cannot be the axis of
revolutionary thought, although certainly the work of ‘militants’ is crucial in any form of organising. Revolution is
conceivable only if we start from the assumption that being a revolutionary is a very ordinary, very usual matter,
that we are all revolutionaries, albeit in very contradictory, fetishised, repressed ways (but then the heroes of the
revolutionary tradition were also contradictory, fetishised and repressed in many ways). The scream, the No, the
refusal that is an integral part of living in a capitalist society: that is the source of revolutionary movement. The
weaving of friendship, of love, of comradeship, of communality in the face of the reduction of social relations to
commodity exchange: that is the material movement of communism. The non-subordinate are the anti-heroes of
the revolution.

Revolution is the ‘return of the repressed’. ‘The return of the repressed makes up the tabooed and subterranean
history of civilisation.’ (Marcuse 1998, p. 16) Marcuse is speaking here of the movement of the pleasure principle
against the reality principle, but the point has a general validity. Communism, we said, is the movement of that
which exists in the mode of being denied. Communism, then, is the return of the repressed, the revolt against
fetishism. To start theorising from militancy is something like pre-Freudian psychology, focussing on the manifest
symptoms rather than that which exists in a state of subterranean repression, in the mode of being denied. This is
surely the political importance of a theory of fetishism, that it starts from the force of the denied and the revolt
against the process of denial.

That which exists in the mode of being denied is not just a project: it exists. It exists as the creativity upon which
capital depends. It exists as the living blood which is the sole nourishment of the capitalist vampire. It exists as
negation, as non-identity. It exists as revulsion, as flight from domination, as the substance of capitalist crisis, in
much the same way as, in Freudian theory, the repressed is the substance of neurosis. It exists as the driving force
of the explosion of debt. It exists as the sociality upon which private property (the negation of that sociality)
depends, as the intense sociality of production which is concealed by the integument of private property, but which
makes the claim of private property ever more grotesque. It exists as the movement of anti-fetishisation, as the
crisis of fetishised forms. It exists, therefore, as the crisis of the labour movement itself, as crisis of its
organisational forms and of its received ideas. It exists as the crisis of working class identity, of which this book is
undoubtedly an expression. The force of that which exists in the mode of being denied is the crisis of all identity,
that of capital and that of labour. As such it is to be welcomed: our struggle is not to establish a new identity or
composition, but to intensify anti-identity. The crisis of identity is a liberation from certainties: from the certainties of
capital, but equally from the certainties of labour. The crisis of Marxism is the freeing of Marxism from dogmatism; the crisis of the revolutionary subject is the liberation of the subject from knowing. That which exists in the mode of
being denied exists as creative uncertainty against-in-and-beyond a closed, pre-determined world.


Revolutionary politics (or better, anti-politics) is the explicit affirmation in all its infinite richness of that which is
denied. ‘Dignity’ is the word that the zapatistas use to talk of this affirmation, meaning by that not just the aim of
creating a society based on the mutual recognition of human dignity and dignities, but the recognition now, as a
guiding principle of organisation and action, of the human dignity which already really exists in the form of being
denied, in the struggle against its own denial. Dignity is the self-assertion of those who are repressed and of that
which is repressed, the affirmation of power-to in all its multiplicity and in all its unity. The movement of dignity
includes a huge diversity of struggles against oppression, many or most of which do not even appear to be
struggles, but it does not imply a micro-political approach, simply because this chaotic richness of struggles is a
single struggle to emancipate power-to, to liberate human doing from capital. It is an anti-politics rather than a
politics simply because it moves against and beyond the fragmentation of doing that the term ‘politics’ implies, with
all its connotation of orientation towards the state and distinction between public and private.

The struggle of that which exists in the form of being denied is inevitably both negative and positive, both scream
and doing: negative because its affirmation can take place only against its own denial, and positive because it is
the assertion of that which exists, albeit in the form of being denied. Anti-politics cannot therefore just be a question
of doing ‘our own thing’, because ‘our own thing’ is inevitably oppositional. Nor, however, can it just be negative:
actions that are purely negative may be cathartic, but they do nothing to overcome the separation on which
capitalist rule is based. To overcome that separation, actions must point-beyond in some way, assert alternative
ways of doing: strikes that do not just withdraw labour but point to alternative ways of doing (by providing free
transport, a different kind of health care); university protests that do not just close down the university but suggest a
different experience of study; occupations of buildings that turn those buildings into social centres, centres for a
diiferent sort of political action; revolutionary struggles that do not just try to defeat the government but to transform
the experience of social life.

Merely negative action inevitably engages with capital on capital’s own terms, and on capital’s terms we shall
always lose, even when we win. The problem with armed struggle, for example, is that it accepts from the
beginning that it is necessary to adopt the methods of the enemy in order to defeat the enemy: but even in the
unlikely event of military victory, it is capitalist social relations that have triumphed. And yet, how does one defend
oneself from armed robbery (capital) without being armed? The problem of struggle is to move on to a different
dimension from capital, not to engage with capital on capital’s own terms, but to move forward in modes in whih
capital cannot even exist: to break identity, break the homogenisation of time. This means seeing struggle as a
process of ever-renewed experiment, as creative, as negating the cold hand of Tradition (but not negating the antihomogenising thrust of memory).

This implies a non-instrumental concept of revolution. The orthodox Marxist tradition, most clearly the Leninist
tradition, conceives of revolution instrumentally, as a means to an end. The problem with this approach is that it
subordinates the infinite richness of struggle, which is important precisely because it is a struggle for infinite
richness, to the single aim of taking power. In doing so, it inevitably reproduces power-over (the subordination of
the struggles to the Struggle) and ensures continuity rather than the rupture that is sought. Instrumentalism means
engaging with capital on capital’s own terms, accepting that our own world can come into being only after the
revolution. But capital’s terms are not simply a given, they are an active process of separating. It is absurd, for
example, to think that the struggle against the separating of doing can lie through the state, since the very
existence of the state as a form of social relations is an active separating of doing. To struggle through the state is
to become involved in the active process of defeating yourself.

How, then, do we prevent the process of fetishisation, the breaking of doing, the separating of doing and done? It is
surely wrong to think in terms of a continuous process of organisation-building. Certainly there must be an
accumulation of practices of oppositional self-organisation, but this should be thought of not as a linear
accumulation, but as a cumulative breaking of linearity. Think of discontinuities rather than continuity, flashes of
lightning which light up the sky and pierce the capitalist forms of social relations, showing them for what they are: a
daily repeated and never –re-determined struggle to break our doing and to break us, a daily repeated struggle to
make the abnormal seem normal and the avoidable seem inevitable. Think of an anti-politics of events rather than
a politics of organisation. The events do not happen spontaneously. Like parties, they require work and
preparation: here the work of dedicated ‘militants’ is crucial. But the aim is not to reproduce and expand the caste
of militants (the organisation) but to ‘blast open the continuum of history’ (Benjamin, 1973, p. 264). The shift from a
politics of organisation to a politics of events is already taking place: May 1968, of course, the collapse of the
regimes of Eastern Europe too; more recently, the development of the zapatista rebellion, for all its organisational
formality, has been a movement through events, and the wave of demonstrations against global neo-liberalism (Seattle, Davos, Washington, Prague, and so on) is obviously event-centred. At their best, such events are flashes
against fetishism, festivals of the non-subordinate, carnivals of the oppressed, explosions of the pleasure principle,
intimations of the nunc stans. For revolution is the explicit unification of constitution and existence, the overcoming
of the separation of is and is-not, the end of the dominion of dead labour over living doing, the dissolution of

How then do we change the world without taking power? At the end of the book, as at the beginning, we do not
know. The Leninists know, or used to know. We do not. Revolutionary change is more desperately urgent than
ever, but we do not know any more what revolution means. Asked, we tend to cough and splutter and try to change
the subject. In part, our not-knowing is the not-knowing of those who are historically lost: the knowing of the
revolutionaries of the last century has been defeated. But it is more than that: our not-knowing is also the notknowing of those who understand that not-knowing is part of the revolutionary process. We have lost all certainty,
but the openness of uncertainty is central to revolution. ‘Asking we walk’, say the zapatistas. We ask not only
because we do not know the way (we do not), but also because asking the way is part of the revolutionary process


This is a book that does not have an ending. It is a definition that negates itself in the same breath. It is a question,
an invitation to discuss.

This is a book that does not have a happy ending. Nothing in this book has changed the horrors of the society in
which we live. How many children have died needlessly since I started to write it? How many since you began to
read it? If the book has done anything to weaken or dull the scream or to conceptualise it out of existence, it has
failed. The aim has been to strengthen it, to make it more strident. The scream continues.

This is a book that does not (yet?) have a happy