By John Holloway
Since the ideas of socialism were first debated there has been conflict between reformist and revolutionary advocates; those who feel justice and equality can be achieved through piecemeal reform and those who argue that only a single momentous revolution can accomplish that goal. Holloway tries to bridge this apparent contradiction. He maintains that we need to create pockets of resistance, islands of alternative life styles or, as he prefers to put it, create ‘cracks’ in the system. In a sense he is also advocating what has been termed the ‘second culture’, ie a culture in opposition to and alongside the hegemonic capitalist one.
He offers 13 theses in what he hopes is a clear and accessible guide to moving beyond capitalism by creating mini-revolutions in our own individual lives, in our localities and communities. He argues that the dangers facing humanity are so urgent that we can’t wait (do revolutionaries wait?) for the revolution but must work to undermine the system where we are. He says ‘…the idea of a future revolution has become the enemy of emancipation.’ The practice of the left has been ‘to repeatedly commit suicide …by ignoring or destroying lines of continuity [between small victories and the chief goal]; by condemning reformism, by using language that only the initiated understand, by the use of violence in a way that alienates many people.’ While that may be partially correct, it is certainly not the whole picture; most revolutionaries I know fight actively for local and partial victories, but these don’t lead irreversibly or smoothly to the overthrow of the system.
We have to think the world through our ‘misfitting’, he argues. We must see capitalism not as something solid, as dominant, but in terms of its cracks, its crises, contradictions and weaknesses. Of course we have to protest against the system, he says, but if we only protest, we allow the powerful to set the agenda.
The long section on abstract labour is unfortunately very complex and highly theoretical and will have little relevance for the reader looking for concrete ways forward. Although it is a valid discussion, it seems that Holloway is advocating opting out of the labour process altogether as the only real means of challenging and overcoming capitalism. In today’s complex society in which we rely on sophisticated commodities this may seem utopian. It could be better discussed in terms of alienation, I feel.
This book is an attempt to answer the question: what can we do? We know taking state power is not an option at the present time. We cannot hope for the great revolution, we have to start creating something different here and now. Moving from capitalism to socialism is qualitatively different from that of feudalism to capitalism. Socialism cannot arise within the interstices of capitalism but only when the world of capitalism is overthrown. It seems, however, that Holloway is arguing for building the new system within the interstices or cracks in the system. A challenging and useful book, but does it offer a solution?