We are the crisis of capital

John Holloway, author of Change the World Without Taking Power, argues that our response to the global economic crisis should be to create spaces outside of capitalism, not demand that it exploits us better

June 16, 2010
6 min read


John Holloway is professor at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico and author of the influential Change the World Without Taking Power.

We are the crisis of capital and proud of it. Enough of saying that the capitalists are to blame for the crisis! The very notion is not only absurd but dangerous. It constitutes us as victims.

Capital is a relation of domination. The crisis of capital is a crisis of domination. The dominators are not able to dominate efficiently. And then we go into the streets and tell them that it is their fault! What are we saying, that they should dominate us more effectively?

It is better to take the simpler explanation and say that if the relation of domination is in crisis, it is because the dominated are not prostrating themselves sufficiently. The inadequacy of our subordination is the cause of the crisis.

Faster, faster, faster

This is Marx’s argument in his analysis of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall in Capital. The law of value is the rule of faster, faster, faster. The value of a commodity is determined by the labour time socially necessary to produce it, and this is constantly being reduced. To produce value, workers must work faster and faster, or else (or additionally) the same effect can be achieved by the introduction of machinery. If machinery is introduced, workers must in any case work faster and faster to offset the costs of the machinery.

In other words, if the rate of exploitation remains constant, the rate of profit will tend to fall as the organic composition of capital rises, corresponding to the rise in the relative importance of machinery in the process of production. The only way for capital to avoid the fall in the rate of profit is by constantly increasing exploitation.

Exploitation cannot be regarded as something static. There is a constant drive to go faster, a constant transformation of what capitalist labour means. This means not only the intensification of labour in the factories but the ever-increasing subordination of all aspects of life to the logic of capital.

The very existence of capital is a constant turning of the screw. Crisis is quite simply the manifestation of the fact that the screw is not being tightened fast enough. Somewhere it is meeting resistance: resistance on the streets perhaps, organised resistance perhaps, but not necessarily – it may just be the resistance of parents who want to play with their children, lovers who want to spend an extra hour in bed, students who think they can take time to criticise, humans who still dream of being human. We are the crisis of capital, we who do not bow low enough.

In this situation there are really only two solutions. The first is to say sorry, apologise for our lack of subordination and call for more employment: ‘More jobs, please exploit us more and we shall work much harder and faster, we shall subordinate every aspect of our lives to capital, we shall forget all this childish nonsense about playing and loving and thinking.’ This is the logic of abstract labour, the ineffective logic of the struggle of and by labour against capital.

The problem with this solution is that not only do we lose our humanity but we reproduce the system that is destroying us. If we are successful in helping capital to overcome its crisis, the ‘faster-faster-faster’ will continue, the subordination of all life, human and non-human, to the requirements of value production will be intensified. And then there will be the next crisis and so on until all humanity (and probably a lot of plant and animal life) is extinguished.

Refusal to bow

The alternative is to abandon the struggle of labour and declare openly that the struggle against capital is inevitably a struggle against labour, against the abstract labour that creates capital, against the faster-faster-faster of value production. In this case, we do not apologise, but rather take pride in our lack of subordination, in our refusal to bow to the capitalist logic of destruction. We are proud to be the crisis of the system that is killing us.

The latter option is more difficult. In capitalism, material survival depends on subordinating ourselves to the logic of capital. If we do not do that, how are we going to live? Without a material foundation, autonomy from capital is very difficult. It seems a logical impossibility, and yet this is the impossibility in which we live, the impossibility with which we constantly grapple.

Every day we try to reconcile our opposition to capital with the need to survive. Some of us do it in a relatively comfortable way, by finding employment (in the universities, for example) that allows us to create spaces in which we can fight against capital while receiving a salary at the same time. Others play for higher stakes, foregoing (by choice or necessity) any form of employment and devoting all their energies to activities that go against and beyond the logic of capital, surviving as best they can, by squatting or by occupying land and cultivating it, or by selling anti-capitalist books, by creating alternative structures of material support, or whatever.

In one way or another, but always in a contradictory manner, we try to create cracks in capitalist domination, spaces or moments in which we live out our dream of being human, spaces or moments in which we say to capital, ‘No, here you do not rule: here we shall act and live according to our own decisions, according to what we consider necessary or desirable.’

There is nothing unusual about that. We nearly all do it: not just lefties, not just readers of Red Pepper, but anyone who devotes energy to creating social relations on a different basis, on the basis of love, friendship, solidarity, collaboration, fun. That is our humanity, that is our sanity (or our madness). We all do it all the time, and yet we are always on the brink of failure, on the edge of collapse.

That is in the nature of the struggle: we run counter to the flow of capital. We are never far from despair, but that is where hope lives: next door to despair. This is a world without answers, a world of asking-we-walk, a world of experiment.

Crisis confronts us with these two options. Either we take the highway of subordination to the logic of capital, in the clear knowledge now that this leads directly to the self-annihilation of humanity; or else we take the hazardous paths of inventing different worlds, here and now and through the cracks we create in capitalist domination. And as we invent new worlds, we sing loud and clear that we are the crisis of capital, we are the crisis of the race towards human destruction, and proud of it.

The idea of creating cracks in the domination of capital is developed in John Holloway’s new book, Crack Capitalism, published by Pluto Press


John Holloway is professor at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico and author of the influential Change the World Without Taking Power.


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