A talk by
19th May 2011
The Free Hetherington
13 University Gardens
(NearByres Road/ Hillhead Underground Station)
The author of Crack Capitalism (2010), and Change the World Without Taking Power (2002) will be visiting the free Hetherington on its 109th day in occupation. As usual, there will be free tea and coffee served at visitor’s own instigation, and an evening meal.
Google Map: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=the+free+hetherington
Facebook Event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=223559130993733
“Crack Capitalism, argues that radical change can only come about through the creation, expansion and multiplication of ‘cracks’ in the capitalist system. These cracks are ordinary moments or spaces of rebellion in which we assert a different type of doing.”
The full text of Change the World Without Taking Power (2002) is available online here (free): http://libcom.org/library/change-world-without-taking-power-john-holloway
John’s talk and the subsequent discussions will focus on ‘The Force of Negativity and the Rage Against the Rule of Money’ (see below)
The Force of Negativity and the Rage Against the Rule of Money
“We can only try to emancipate ourselves, to move outwards, negatively, critically, from where we are. It is not because we are maladjusted that we criticize, it is not because we want to be difficult. It is just that the negative situation in which we exist leaves us no option: to live, to think, is to negate in whatever way we can the negativeness of our existence” (Holloway, 2002, p.5)
For Holloway, the challenge is to develop a way of thinking that builds critically on an initial negative standpoint: a way of understanding that negates the untruth of the world (Holloway, 2002, p.8). Yet, as Chtodelat argue, the potency of negativity has largely been lost at the political and institutional level to the force of positivism and consensus. “Dialectics is the consistent sense of non-identity”, said Adorno (1973, p.5) and for Chtodelat, in retrospect, the twentieth century appears to us as a search for a “true” absolute negativity, which would not have anything positive in it and would represent a pure nothing or a pure disjuncture. Benjamin Noys, meanwhile, has recently rethought the role of the negative for philosophy and for political practice. His book, The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, is a reminder that no revolutionary approach to politics and philosophy is able to overlook the contribution that contradiction and antagonism make to a critique of actually-existing forms of domination on the one hand and a renewal of agency on the other. Returning to Holloway, discussing the concept of ‘the scream’ in his book, Change the World Without Taking Power:
“Negative thought is as old as the scream. The most powerful current of negative thought is undoubtedly the Marxist tradition. However, the development of the Marxist tradition, both because of its particular history and because of the transformation of negative thought into a defining ‘ism’, has created a framework that has often limited and obstructed the force of negativity. This book is therefore not a Marxist book in the sense of taking Marxism as a defining framework or reference, nor is the force of its argument to be judged by whether it is ‘Marxist’ or not: far less it is neo-Marxist or post-Marxist. The aim is rather to locate those issues that are often described as ‘Marxist’ in the problematic of negative thought, in the hope of giving body to negative thought and of sharpening the Marxist critique of capitalism” (Holloway, 2002, p.9).
Holloway’s brand of revolutionary negativity has not been without its critics. Antonio Negri took Holloway to task for believing he could liberate himself from the problems of dialectics in purely negative terms and for neglecting the affirmative potential of ‘constituent’ power. Meanwhile, reviewing Negativity and Revolution, co-edited by Holloway, Marina Vshmidt praises the book for demonstrating the virtues of placing negative dialectics, contradiction and antagonism at the heart of the revolutionary project, but criticises the contributors for largely avoiding “the wilting touch off the empirical” . Nevertheless, for us, at a time when the crude, instrumental voluntarism of the ‘Big Society’ is framed as an academic priority, when social collapse and the crisis of capitalism is recast as individual failure and maladjustment, when ‘the Left’ follows capitalism’s program by ‘demanding’ more jobs, more growth and more justice, the force of negativity becomes a potent tool in what Holloway calls “the rage against the rule of money”. This talk and discussion will thus explore the force of negativity as an antidote to all those forms of false demands, mediation and negotiation that obscure a fundamental critique of political economy.
“That is our starting point: rejection of a world we feel to be wrong, negation of a world we feel to be negative” (Holloway, 2002, p.2)
Adorno A (1973) Negative Dialectics, Routledge.
Holloway J (2002) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today, Pluto Press.
Holloway J et al (2008) Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism, Pluto Press
Noys B (2010) The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, Edinburgh University Press.